by Laura Foti Cohen
From opera to painting, classical music to documentary filmmaking, theater to television to dance, in front of and behind the camera, Ebell members’ careers and passions span the breadth of the arts.
Carol Worthey’s Beachwood Canyon home surrounds her and her husband with art and music of her own making. A rack of her original compositions fills a wall in her music studio, while her paintings cover the living room walls. This multi-talented composer and artist has so many projects going it’s difficult to keep track.
She is converting her piece “Elegy” into a symphony. She teaches composition and ear training. She is writing a book entitled Turning Life into Art: How a Composer Works.
How does she do it all? “When I work on something – a painting, a musical composition – I’m focused on that, but there’s a unity across all my work. Music pervades everything I do, but what a joy to work in other media.”
Music grabbed Carol early: Her father and Leonard Bernstein were roommates at Harvard and he was a frequent guest in her parents’ house. She was the first child admitted to concerts and rehearsals at Tanglewood, the beloved summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She composed her first opera, a 90-second piece entitled “The Pixies,” at the age of three.
Examples of Carol’s work can be found on her website, http://www.carolworthey.com.
Melissa Wildman has a background in theater and dance She studied art history at Yale and trained as a classical pianist and a ballerina before receiving a scholarship to Alvin Ailey and going on to perform on Broadway and around the world in such shows as “Oh, Kay!,” “Jelly’s Last Jam,” “Sophisticated Ladies,” “Cats” and “The Lion King.” She was in “Bojangles” with Gregory Hines, as well as other movies. She says, “It scares me when schools cut back on the arts. We are all challenged economically, but I am a champion for the arts because I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t been able to express myself artistically.”
Melissa’s current passion is producing a feature-length documentary entitled “Mr. Soul! Ellis Haizlip and the Birth of Black Power TV.” It will showcase “SOUL!” which Melissa calls “an important show, the first black ‘Tonight Show’” and “the birth of diversity on TV.” “SOUL!” aired from 1968-1973 in New York City and was hosted by her uncle, who died in 1991.
“‘SOUL!’ was the first show to feature African-American artistry and serve as a platform for political expression.” Melissa says. “It illustrates the emergence and acceptance of African-Americans on TV during a time of much unrest. The show debuted just six months after the King assassination.” Roberta Flack, Maya Angelou and Arsenio Hall made their first TV appearances on “SOUL!” Other guests included Patti Labelle, Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte, James Earl Jones and Sidney Poitier. Melissa is interviewing many who appeared on the show, as well as African-American leaders and pundits for their perspective on its importance.
Opera singer Irena Tchillingarian Gibbons sang with her husband and neighbor/pianist Lars Roos at the Ebell a year and a half ago, just one performance in a career that has included roles with opera companies in Los Angeles, Seattle, Rome and elsewhere. Her career began after her graduation from USC, when a Fulbright scholarship took her to Vienna.
“Music has been my life,” Irena says. “It’s a lot of pleasure, love, discipline and work. It takes total dedication. One of the difficult things with voice that doesn’t apply to instruments is that you are your own instrument. You can’t drink, smoke, stay up late; you have to take care of your body. You can’t go to loud functions and talk at the top of your voice. It’s a lifestyle. But of course you have to love it and that’s the bottom line.”
Like Melissa, Irena despairs the cuts in arts education. “Music is very important for young people because they get all computers and no music,” she says. She teaches privately and enjoys working with students who love to sing.
Patricia Rye, founder of the Society Players, was born into show business – her father was a Broadway actor – and started her career as a child actress. A graduate of the High School of the Performing Arts and the American Theater Wing, she made her Broadway debut in “Anniversary Waltz” with MacDonald Carey and Kitty Carlisle Hart at age 14.
“I came out to L.A. in my late teens,” Patricia relates. “My father had gotten a role on the old Eve Arden show. He did ‘Hazel’ with Shirley Booth and several movies. I catch him on TV sometimes.”
She remembers, “After coming to L.A. I hit the in-between age: too old for kids’ roles and not old enough for other parts. My interests changed and I got into public relations, fashion and industrial shows, where I spent most of my career.” Patricia served as president of the National Association of Visual Communicators, the audio-video technology industry. Now, she says, “the association is gone and the industry is gone. It’s all computers now. This is quite an amazing phenomenon, that a whole national group could disappear off the face of the earth.”
What led her to founding the Society Players? “We had so much fun doing a show called ‘Fluff and Then Some’ [in honor of Fluff McLean] that we decided to keep doing it. We started out doing Christmas shows. The first one we did was an environmental theater piece, like Tamara, in my house.” In December 2010, the Society Players performed a series of Christmas radio shows in the Ebell’s second-floor theater. “It’s perfect because the Christmas show is circa late ’30-40s and the architecture is ideal,” Patricia says.
The Ebell’s ranks include top behind-the-scenes talent. Cinzia Zanetti has been a makeup artist for film and TV since the 1980s. She has received three Emmy nominations and is currently working on “The Mentalist.”
“I do a mix of film, TV and pilots, as well as press junkets and publicity. I used to do commercials. I’m working on my own photo shoots,”Cinzia says.
Cinzia got her start in the business in doing makeup in a department store for Borghese. She took lessons in New York with Bert Roth, a makeup director for ABC. She moved to Los Angeles and studied at the Joe Blasco School for Makeup, then started working freelance in 1984 on nonunion movies and music videos. She was glad to be able to join the union in the 1990s.
Many faces and many locations define Cinzia’s years in the business. Location shoots have taken her to China, Rome, Mexico and many U.S. states. Among the stars she has made up are Anthony Hopkins, Jeff Goldblum, Ben Stiller, Rob Lowe, Hector Elizondo, George Lopez, Patrick Dempsey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Garner, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Hathaway, Shirley Maclaine, Sonia Braga, Angela Bassett and Isabella Rosselini.
“You never know who you’ll meet next. You learn a lot from exposure to a lot of different people and places,” Cinzia believes. “It’s creatively fulfilling a lot of the time. But you need major stamina, as well as talent, to make it in the business because the hours are long. A lot of it is your personality too – it helps to be gracious.”
Prior to working in makeup, Cinzia had jobs in banking, real estate and financial aid. “I’m glad I had that experience because by 24 I already had a life and didn’t need to rely on my job to give it to me. I don’t put the business on a pedestal so I have a realistic attitude. It’s good to see a little of the world before you get into this field. I’m very grounded despite all the celebrities.”
Another below-the-line artist is set designer Amy Vuckovich, who has worked on “Gilmore Girls,” “The Shield” and an American Girl movie, “Chrissa Stands Strong.” She holds a degree in painting from Cal Arts and a Masters from AFI and belongs to the set decorators union, Local 44. With fellow Ebell member Susan Arena, she co-founded Artstarcamp, a school of fine arts for children that meets in Amy’s backyard.
“I have always been a creative person,” Amy says. “My family is chock full of creative self-made women. My great aunt, whom I liken to Auntie Mame, was the interior decorator hired by Stanely Marcus to create the look and template for Neiman-Marcus. My grandmother was a mezzo-soprano with the Met in New York.”
The creative aspects of set decoration and teaching give Amy a thrill. “When I am set decorating I get to think about how to build a character that has never existed and what their hobbies or habits are. I think about what helps to tell the story visually, which is the next layer after a script is written. When I teach kids to paint, I get to see the light go on when they see, maybe for the first time, how to control a new language for communicating their ideas. Both set decoration and painting are languages without words. That is why I like them.”