Sunday, March 25, 2012

Meet Chef Rei of Panzur: A Hudson Valley Foodie Gem

Rei Peraza, Chef and Owner of Panzur in Tivoli, NY

Nestled into the little Hudson Valley town of Tivoli is an exceptional restaurant that rivals the best the big city has to offer - Panzur. Chef Rei Peraza owns this little gem, and his passion and deft hand bring the magic.

This is not a restaurant review, but I will say that I love the food here. Sophisticated and satisfyingly homey at the same time. Molecular gastronomy together with rustic goodness. Wonderful atmosphere and a team who are cool, but not "too cool" to be good at what they do and make you feel taken care of. 

I highly recommend the house-made jamon de pato (duck ham),  one of the staples of the ever-changing menu. And Panzur has prepared not one, but two, of the best foie gras dishes I have ever eaten... anywhere (including the most highly lauded restaurants in the country). Yeah, it's good. You should go.  

They make wonderful drinks too. My favorite is Pinga de Oro. Yes, I know what it means...

So, I posed a few questions to Chef Rei, the genius behind all this goodness... 

Q. How do you describe your food to people? 

A. The real answer... I cook what ever comes out, what ever I am feeling at the moment. If I try to put myself in a box, I tend to get a bit stagnant.  The other answer: progressive Spanish with French, Asian, and Latin American influences.

Q. I have been particularly impressed with your subtle and meaningful approach to "molecular gastronomy" techniques. You are the anti-Moto so to speak. Tell me about your philosophy on this matter.

A. Thanks, simply put, I think "MG" is dominated by techniques that can be easily learned and repeated by even the most basic of cooks, I believe these techniques should be intertwined with more conventional/classic techniques. If these style/techniques become dominant they can yield a gimmicky soulless cuisine.  

Q. When people taste your food, what will they know about you?

A. I am intense, in your face, not subtle... not scared I will hit it big or crash and burn.

Q. How do you come up with new dishes? 

A. The creative process always varies. It can really be any kind of sensory experience whether it is a trip to the supermarket, something I read about in a magazine or book…really anything can spark an idea. Then I elaborate on it, until I feel I've achieved the balance I am looking for.

Q. What is your process for then developing the dish? Does your imagination taste it? Smell it? See it? Which sense leads the way? Or is it more of an intellectual thought process?

A. I tend to create a dish in my head and mentally "make" it over and over trying to look at it and taste it from different angles. By the time I actually make it I am always closer to the finished dish. The most important thing is flavor, then smell and finally the presentation.  Sometimes I just need to talk it over with someone, my sous chef or my wife for example. The act of talking about it can bring it together in my mind.  

Q. Why live and have your restaurant in the Hudson Valley?

A. I grew up mainly in South Florida with next to no seasonal change and once I came to the Northeast, I loved being somewhere with distinct seasons. It's hard to explain but I have moved around a lot and this is where my wife and I feel the most 'at home' if you will.  It offers a nice balance of country living without being completely separated from the city, which is great both for my family life and my business.  

Q. What is your passion? 

A. I have a passion for life and for its most basic pleasures. Obviously I am all consumed by food, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, beer -- if you can eat it or drink it I am obsessed with it – all of it from growing it, to conceptualizing, to its execution.

Q. What led you to the work you do today?

A. Trial and error.

Q. What would you be doing if you weren't a chef?

A. I would make wine and own an open wheel race team.

Q. What is your opinion of cooking reality shows like Top Chef, Chopped, Next Iron Chef, etc..? Would you ever…?

A. The idea of a cooking shows are great, Its been a huge part of the growth of our industry. If it were the right show and the right time, I would do it.  

Q. Who are your favorite artists?
A. Beethoven. He was a genius. I was kind off obsessed with his life. If you align his music with life, you can hear what he was feeling. In those days music came from within as there was very little to be consciously or unconsciously inspired by.

Q. What music is moving you these days?

A. It depends on my mood, lately I have not been listening to much music. Up until Panzur I never allowed a radio in the kitchen, and soon after receiving a new ipod for fathers day I promptly washed it. I listened to everything... those who know will tell you I love Billy Joel, great song writer, not just the old stuff, but all of it and I associate his music with different stages of my life. But if you were to magically listen to my laundered ipod you will here everything from Eminem to Pink Floyd... and of course Beethoven .

 Q. What question do you wish people would ask you?

A. What would you like to eat? I am going make you whatever you like. (Usually its the other way around)

Q. What are a few of your favorite things?

A. Spending time with my wife and son. Sounds selfish but I love sharing in what I do with them. 

Q. How do you curate your life?

A. With the relationships I have and the memories I hope people will have of me.  

Q. What would you want for your last meal?

A. Too long to describe, years ago this was a topic on a long road trip between my wife and I.  I discussed in great detail breakfast, lunch and dinner with the appropriate snacks in between, all matched with its perfect beverage albeit great wine, beer, coffee. Unknown to me she wrote it all down, and for special occasions since she has made some of those impossible meals/wines a reality. In retrospect, it wasn't what I would eat, but with whom.   

Q. What is your favorite cocktail or beverage?

A. I love wine over any thing else. I am still mystified that it’s just fermented grape juice. 

Q. What is your philosophy of life in 12 words or less?

A. Try, as hard as you can, to live your passion. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Juana Medina: An Illustrated Life

My first encounter with Juana Medina was through Twitter. I started following her and became enchanted with her illustrations. So much so, I asked how I could get a print of the image that first appears on her website, a cat curled up in an orange chair.
"Gato" by Juana Medina

The bio on her website revealed the following on her background: 
Juana was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. She studied at the Corcoran College of Art+Design and at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where she has also been a Faculty member.
She has been awarded by the National Cartoonists Society and has illustrated books for Random House, Alfaguara Editores, Texas University Press and Editorial Norma.
Juana currently lives between Washington, DC and Providence, RI. She is working on multiple collaborations and is always eager to explore different venues to tell stories

I learned more about Juana and her work through her answers to my questions...

"Cling" by Juana Medina

Q. How do you describe your work to people?

A. Most of my illustration work relies on very simple traces and economic -but expressive- use of line. I like using ink and gouache color sparingly. Simplicity is very important to me. My design and animation work rely a little more on color and line, but humor and lightheartedness tend to be a constant.  
"Gala Night" by Juana Medina

Q. What lead you to the work you do today?
A. Life gave me as a present the ability to draw, I was stubborn on realizing it was a gift and took it for granted for a very long time. Little by little, life has shown me that I better take care of that ability, enjoy it and use it for good.

Now, there's a less glamorous but more detailed story behind this. As I was growing up, I would easily get in trouble for doodling on my books and notebooks. For creating collages and cartoons that were not always seen positively by my teachers (but were enjoyed by my peers). As I grew older, I ended up studying Physical Therapy; while doing so, I found great difficulty memorizing the verbal description of muscle insertions and the paths of nerves, veins and arteries. So more than once, I made agreements with professors where for exams, I would draw in great detail anatomical structures and physiological mechanism, instead of writing long descriptions as responses. Not everything went smoothly then though, more than once I was frowned upon when they (my professors) would see cartoons I would draw of them. Drawing just came naturally and it was and has been since I can remember, a language I rely on constantly to get my point across.

After years of drawing bones and muscles (and working with patients, too), life brought me to the United States. That gave me a fresh start and I opted to take art more seriously. I studied at the Corcoran College of Art + Design and then finished my studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) -- both spaces* granted me opportunities to explore further what I wanted to do; they challenged me and offered completely new conversations and platforms to explore my capabilities as an artist.
That lead to the work I do. That, and having a highly encouraging family.

*Both spaces have also offered me great inspiration and challenges, while working at them as a teacher.  

"Chrysler Building" by Juana Medina

Q. How did creativity emerge in your life?
A. I was lucky to be born in a family where everyone has some sort of artistic outlet, so for a long time, I took the ability to draw for granted and the creative nature of my work as something everyone could do. Little by little I started learning how, just as I was not so good at math and music, some others were not that prone to drawing. That made me see I had to explore my abilities further, be more disciplined and challenge myself much more when it came to drawing and creating. 

"Little Red" by Juana Medina

Q.  What is the source of your inspiration?
A. There are many, many things that will get me inspired to work. Music, seeing other people's w’rk, watching dancers perform, nature… the most minuscule thing, like watching a leaf fall, can turn into inspiration for work.  
"Dancer" by Juana Medina

Q. What other creative outlets do you have?
A. Besides illustration, design and animation, I write a lot. I have great interest in storytelling and how it happens. Illustration and design can offer great tools to tell stories, I find animation as more of a vehicle for it, but writing -whe–her it appears in the final product or not- is the hemming and springboard for most of my stories.  

"Hectic Plant" by Juana Medina

Q. Who are your favorite artists?
A. This is a tough question to answer. As I learn of more artists, I admire each a little more. But here are a few that come to mind right now (and why I admire them):

Alfred Hitchcock’s attention to detail is staggering.

The richness in color, emotions and narrative on Julie Taymor’s productions is quite moving.

I grew up loving Mafalda and I’m still in awe of Quino’s work, his ability to express emotion through line and the intelligence of his observations on society are simply masterful.

Chavela Varga’s force and passion are admirable, her voice holds strength, character and power. It can make you empathize, believe and be moved.  

Eva Zeisel is a great model of a thoughtful designer, a gracious artist and a playful creator. Her work is delightful and her ethics are something to look up to.

Reading is another way to be humbled and fall in great admiration for people’s work. Murakami, Neruda, García Márquez… that’s a whole other list.   
"Feet on the Ground" by Juana Medina

Q. What are a few of your own favorite pieces/works and why?
A. There have been pieces I love because they have implied overcoming great challenges, they might not be the most appealing ones, but they are highly significant. There are some others that were great fun to work on. 

I have a drawing of a black, bold brushstroke of ink that I love. People look at it with some pity, thinking I’m pulling their leg saying it is one of my favorite pieces. But, after drawing many, many circles with brushes dipped in ink, there was something that seemed to work well on this one and that makes me love it.  

Most of my favorite work has come from collaborations, because they always allow me to see my work through a different perspective. Collaborations to me, are about communicating effectively and creating something where two or more voices have to be represented in great balance, that isn’t always easy, but gosh, they’re fun experiences! 

"Drafting Table" by Juana Medina

Q. What music is moving you these days, and why?
A. Lately I have been listening to Latin music more than usual. Cold months are always a bit hard on me, Latin music helps me stay warm. I’ve also been listening a lot to Feist’s Metals album and in a very nostalgic way, to Cesaria Evora. 

Q. When people see your work, what will they know about you?
A. Hm. Good question. I think we’d have to ask them.   

Q. What question do you wish people would ask you?
A. Would you like to grab some tea*?
*I'd take ice cream, too. 

Q. What are a few of your favorite things?
White, crisp paper. 

"Theodore" by Juana Medina

Q. How do you curate your life?
A. Had I been asked this question a couple years ago, my answer would probably have been quite eloquent and seemingly wise. But this last year has been very different from many others; there have been many unexpected changes that have forced me to see life in a very different way. I’m learning to take life slowly. I am learning to be patient. I am trying to learn from those who inspire me and not be affected by those who hurt me. I am appreciating humbleness and modesty. I am redesigning my life. 
I have thought of how to answer this question over and over again. My final conclusion is, I could answer graciously and shortly and move on to the next question. Or I could be frank and share openly a little about my life. This is not easy to do so; one, because I enjoy keeping my personal life private and two, because I wonder how the world would take an answer like the one –I have already decided- I will write below. So for the faint of heart, please proceed to the following question. 

For those who might be going through hardship and need to know some others have been there too, here it goes: In the last 18 months or so, I have lost a number of dear friends and family without being able to go to their funerals; I had to go through major surgery, had an accident that left me for many weeks on crutches, lost my job, experienced a major break-in, had to switch cities… being an immigrant, I am waiting to hear on a visa application that will define whether I can stay in the country I love or not. It has been hectic, it has been painful and it has been tough, very tough. It has implied tears, moments of doubt, and forced a difficult situation where uncertainty is the main constant. There’s very little glamour to what I just shared. But here’s the cool part: A couple months ago, after saying goodbye to a friend, I had to walk back to my car through a flight of slippery stairs. It had been raining, it was pitch dark black and to add to this lethal mix: I am extremely clumsy. She knows me well, and from her door she asked if I was okay. I replied loudly “I’ll be fine” and waved back at her. With all factors combined, chances were, I’d slip and fall and crack my head open, but I didn’t. And the words “I’ll be fine” echoed in my mind for a while. I have decided to believe I will be fine and in order for that to happen, I am arming myself with courage, good will and passion, to make fantastic things happen. I am lucky to have wonderful friends, to hold faculties to see, read, talk, express and experience… 

So I have decided I will be fine by redesigning my life and taking this year as a year zero, where life has granted me (in a not-so-fancy way) a perfectly blank slate to make of it the best I can. So I am working hard on things I love to do, taking a day at a time and allowing myself to be mesmerized by inspiring books, thoughts and people.  

"Reading in Barcelona" by Juana Medina
Q. Any advice for people trying to follow their dreams?
A. Remain curious.  

Q. What would you want for your last meal?
A. My mom’s lasagna.   

Q. What is your favorite cocktail or beverage?
A. Sorbete de Curuba*. Have you tried curubas? They are fruits that grow –mainly- in Venezuela, Colombia and Peru. They have a soft –but thick- skin (the outside feels a little like peaches to the touch) that is green and yellow when ripe. But the inside is pink! When you open them, it’s like a color explosion taking place in front of your eyes.

In Colombia, they take the seedy inside of this fruit and grind it to make juice, then they add milk and sugar and serve it in tall glasses with a straw. It’s smooth, refreshing and sweet. Highly recommended if you visit my homeland.

*sp. Sor-beh-teh   deh    coo-roo-bah, I think it is translated as Banana passionfruit, but that does not sound half as good as “curuba”

"DC Cityscape" by Juana Medina

Q. What is your philosophy of life in 12 words or less?
A. Work hard, be kind, have fun.  

Q. Where can we find you online?
A. At please come over anytime! The doors are always wide open.  

Many thanks Juana for your heartfelt honesty and the beauty and positivity you bring to the world. (You can also follow Juana on Twitter here)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Forgetfulness. Poet Laureate Billy Collins.

As I slowly emerge from the fog of a TED altered state, memories of the magical moments there arise. Two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins won over my heart. I am now a poet groupie. Although his dry and witty TED talk is not yet posted, within it he did share some animations of his poetry, including this one below.

It is not that I forgot about him, I was so immersed in the mundane aspects of work and life in 2001 that I never knew he was Poet Laureate. Sad.

But happily I can enjoy his work from this moment on...until I forget.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Calexico: An Immense Amount of Cool

I lived in Arizona for a few years. My favorite things about the place are Pizzeria Bianco and Calexico. (Oddly, I actually saw Calexico at Pizzeria Bianco once.)

Indie rock + Mariachi + Jazz + an immense amount of cool = Calexico.

Tell me what you think....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Wisdom and Whimsy: Meet Melissa Townsend, Artist

"Zoe" by Melissa Townsend

Meet Melissa Townsend, Artist.

I first saw Melissa's compelling owl paintings on the wonderful design blog I was enchanted. One (at least) of her paintings is on my short list of new art I want to acquire. I can't exactly tell you why I am so drawn to her owl paintings, but perhaps it is that interesting combination of intensity and whimsy. I think she has captured something special. When I interviewed her, I gained a bit more understanding behind the power of the paintings.

Melissa's statement about the owl series is quite profound.

The owl/bird paintings come from a place of desiring freedom in life. A freedom to be and to exist with purpose, with great delight, even when suffering comes. Opportunity to discover the depths of who you are, your potential, and your biggest dreams. Freedom that speaks to the profoundness of endurance, and not giving up. Not so long ago somebody said this to me: "on the other side of pain is break-through." I have realized this to be a true statement.

"Burton" by Melissa Townsend

"Carl" by Melissa Townsend

"Olivia" by Melissa Townsend

"Stewart" by Melissa Townsend

"William" by Melissa Townsend

I got to ask Melissa a few questions about herself and her work.

Q. How do you describe your work to people?

A. Most of the time my work appears whimsical, fun, light and quirky. However, the work is quite intentional on a deeper emotional and spiritual level. I sort of imagine the painting being infused with a message of hope and a richness that is felt more than anything. I have found that the measure of depth in certain pieces is usually quite unexpected by the viewer. That is why most of the time it is left unspoken. But, the deeper meaning is important to me and definitely present.

Q. What led you to the work you do today?

A. Definitely a lot of doodling with my favourite pencils, playing with colour and paints; looking at photography and pretty things; letting my imagination run; overcoming fear and doubt and of course breaking some art school rules.

Q. What is your background and training?

A. At age 12 we moved from central Alberta to a secluded, out of the way small town in Northern British Columbia where art training was limited. My parents sent me to private watercolour classes from a nearby neighbour who painted for fun. Soon after that I started to attend more specialized out of town summer school art classes. Because we were so isolated, my parents ordered art supplies for me through the mail. I still have one of the paint brushes, a palette and a couple of the paints from that time, just for keepsakes. After high school with 2 local Scholarships and the graduating Art Career Award, I headed to Malaspina University College, now called Vancouver Island University. I later transferred to NSCAD University, in Halifax, where I graduated with a Major in Fine Art and Minor in Drawing. I continue to study on and off with local artists and through the local Extended Studies Program at NSCAD University.

Q. How did creativity emerge in your life?

A. I drew and daydreamed from the beginning. It was almost a problem. Ha! Indeed there are crucial things that have impacted and inspired the creative side of me. I have been very influenced by my dad, a musician and music teacher, who continuously played stunning music around my brothers and I! I can't forget my mom's inventive cooking. She is like a cyclone in the kitchen and without exception, composes the most incredible masterpiece dishes, every time. But it was when I was 12, during a summer art class where I distinctly remember being quite proud of this little bird I had made out of pencil crayons. My instructor seemed very pleased with my work. I could see that my parents saw something special too, something creative, worth looking into. This was a pivotal moment where I really started to sense that push of wanting to create. I cannot emphasize enough how the act of dreaming has been a key ingredient for my inspiration and in making art!

Q.  What is the source of your inspiration?

A. So many different things. Excitement and hope, if you can imagine the feeling being tangible. Dreaming crazy big dreams and journeying through faith kinda go together for me. Interior design, beautiful photography, other artist's work, pattern, colour, fabric, the sky, the plains of Alberta, a special moment, somebody's story, music and knowing that I'm doing what my heart desires. When I work hard, it inspires me to want to work harder. I guess to sum it up, all of life inspires me and I never know when inspiration will hit.

Q. What other creative outlets do you have?

A. I love eclectic (vintage & modern) house design. I like to draw house plans, it's a little bit of a hobby. I love walking really fast with my dog, Walker. I love hosting intimate dinner parties, but I barely have time for that sort of thing these days. And sometimes my husband and I sing together.

Q. Who are your favorite artists and why?

A. I love contemporary American painter, Melissa Peck. She inspired me from the start and I just love her subject matter and cheerful perspective. We've spoken a little over email and I'd love to meet her one day. I admire her vibrant colours, her pencil marks and how her work makes me feel. Something about her work makes me feel like I'm home. 

More recent discoveries would be Samantha Fox, Michelle Armas and Miranda Skoczek. I am completely swept away by their skill, mark making and colour palettes!

I also have my favourite local Canadian artists: Dennis Austin Reid, Ambera Wellman, Drew Klassen and Barbara McLean to name a few. These artist's make some of my most favourite art!

I have so much respect for French artist, Degas. I saw his work in Paris and was surprisingly overcome with a lot of emotion and inspiration all at once. It was amazing! Also, there's Jackson Pollock. I appreciate his story of his success and heartache. It grips me. Canadian artist, William Kurelek is another favourite. I grew up with my dad reading to us the books that Kurelek illustrated. Plus my dad is also Ukrainian and grew up close to where Kurelek lived. I feel a special connection to Kurelek's work.

Q. What are a few of your own favorite pieces/works and why?

A. My favorite works are usually the ones I've just finished. So truly, I don't think I've made my favorite work yet.

Q. What music is moving you these days?

A. I will always feel a special connection to classical and instrumental music because of my dad and my childhood memories. Lately, I've had Jeremy Riddle playing on repeat. I also really enjoy listening to stories while I paint. My music selection tends to change often and sometimes I need total silence while I work, especially if the work is difficult or intense.

Q. When people see your work, what will they know about you?

A. Of course different people will see different things. Some people will see that I love to have fun. Others will feel the depth and seriousness that I tend to find difficult speaking about. Overall, I would want people to know that I believe in hope above anything else. It's as though the paint itself is holding hope.

       "It's as though the paint itself is holding hope."

Q. What question do you wish people would ask you?

A. I wish that I could ask people more intimate questions and listen to them tell me their story and hear about their own connections to my work. Then maybe I'd be able to open up more and tell those people everything that's happening in the work. With the work up on the wall, I already feel as though I am being quite vulnerable. More incoming questions can start to freak me out. I'd like to know more about people before I share.

Q. What are a few of your favorite things?

A. I really love family, friends and my dog more than anything. I love my mom's cooking, old wooden floors, sparkly things; big windows so the sun can shine in; the prairies; the big prairie skies; pretty pillows; hand crafted things and unique necklaces.

Q. How do you curate your life?

A. I try to evaluate the temperature of my heart... I ask myself "is this a good idea for me - or is this not?" I tend to take a lot of time with this.

Q. Any advice for people trying to follow their dreams?

A. Don't doubt yourself! Overcome fear and anxiety, because those things can steal your dreams. Fully believe in your dreams, especially if they seem impossible! And no matter what kind of bad day you've just had or no matter how discouraged a person has made you feel, don't let your dreams go. You are the only person in the world just like you. And you are the only person that can live out your own dreams. Mila Mulroney expressed it best when she said "you were born an original, don't die a copy!"

Q. What would you want for your last meal?

A. Most definitely a big plate of my momma's & grandma's Ukrainian cooking!! And maybe a nice charcuterie tray.

Q. What is your philosophy of life in 12 words or less?

A. Your dreams are precious, protect them and never let anything steal them.

Q. Where can we find you online?


Melissa Townsend

I love that the first drawing Melissa can remember was a bird. And now her owl series is so compelling. I have no doubt she will take flight.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Meet Francis Guinan: Actor, Steppenwolf and Beyond

Meet actor Francis Guinan, one of the most creative, madly talented people I know.

Rondi Reed and Francis Guinan in "August: Osage County"

I first met Francis Guinan when I worked at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago many years ago. (Pretty sure I got the job there because I had no aspirations of being an actor myself.) The first play I saw there was Athol Fugard's A Lesson from Aloes. I was wide-eyed as I watched the actors in rehearsals and started to understand for the first time the passionate, tangible power of live theatre--and how uniquely special is was to be at Steppenwolf Theatre in that place and time. Francis was joined in the play with fellow ensemble member Joan Allen, and guest actor Danny Glover.

Francis Guinan and Joan Allen in "A Lesson from Aloes."

I came to learn that theatre is a really big deal in Chicago, perhaps even more than it is in New York City, and it has a special heart and soul. The way I see it, Chicagoans go to theatre and support the theatre community--they are personally invested and passionate about it. They embrace new works. Chicago theatre does not rely on tourists to support it. Like everything else about that great city, it is authentic and out there. Chicago Theatre is like a scrappy start-up company. They take risks and give it all they've got. They adapt and change on the fly and if it doesn't work they fail fast and move on. If it does work, it is amazing and hits a chord that resonates with your heart and soul.

Here is a clip from one of Guinan's Steppenwolf performances in David Mamet's American Buffalo. The play was directed by Amy Morton and his fellow actor is Tracey Letts (author of August: Osage County) Here is a clip from that performance:

Some background on Fran...

Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1951, Fran grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He graduated in 1976 with a master's degree in theatre from Illinois State University. While at Illinois State, he met and studied with many of the original members of Chicago's world-renown Steppenwolf Theatre, and joined the ensemble in 1979. 

Guinan moved to Chicago in 1979 and helped establish Steppenwolf in the city after the company's move from the suburbs where it originated. In the three years that followed, he appeared in numerous productions including Balm in Gilead, A Nightingale Sang, and True West, roles he reprised when the shows later moved to New York City. 

With Steppenwolf, he has appeared in nearly forty productions including the Tony Award-winning Broadway productions of The Grapes of Wrath and August: Osage County which also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

In 1989 Fran made the move to Los Angeles. He remained based there for seventeen years as a typical “working actor,” appearing most notably as Edgar in Eerie, Indiana and as Dan in The Mighty Jungle. His many TV roles include Murder She Wrote (once as killer, once as victim), and Star Trek (three roles as various aliens [Voyager, Enterprise]), as well as assorted doctors, businessmen and lawyers. Other numerous TV appearances include The Beast and Grey's Anatomy. His film credits include appearances in the short film Typing, as Master Pakku in The Last Airbender, Low Tide, Guinevere, Speed II, Constantine, Shining Through and Hannibal.

In 2006 Francis and his family returned home to Chicago. He has worked almost continuously since then: fifteen plays (nine for Steppenwolf), five films and three TV roles, including the powerful performance of Governor McCall (Mac) Cullen on the Starz original series Boss.

I think Fran has given some of his best on-screen work in this series. (The nature of stage work is ephemeral and his greatest performances there are for the priviledged few whom are present.) This first clip offers an overview of the show with clips of Fran. In the second video Fran, as Mac Cullen, is on-screen with Kelsey Grammer. How Fran is able to convey so much with only his face is astounding. 


Fortunately, Fran let me ask him a few questions.

Q. Acting is such an interesting profession. Everyone thinks they could be an actor and so few are good at it. How did acting emerge in your life?
A. I started doing after school activities in high school. I dropped the football team in the first week of practice. I tried out for the Talent Show and got into that. Plays followed (Brigadoon, Fiorello). Chorus. Speech Contests. I once memorized “The Face On the Barroom Floor” for State contest and got an Honorable Mention.

From there I got a masters degree in theatre (acting/directing) from Illinois State University. It was there that I met many of the people who formed the original membership of the Steppenwolf Theatre Co., which I joined in 1979.

I have lived and worked as an actor and (rarely) a director my entire adult life. For this I consider myself extremely lucky.

Q. How do you approach the art of acting?
A. I ascribe to no particular approach to acting. Indeed, I find myself drifting into a confused silence when talking about acting. I really don't know how it's done. “Imagination,” boldness, humility, the ability to speak clearly before groups of people. I have never read Stanislavsky for longer than 20 minutes without dropping the book in utter tedium.

I am most comfortable on the stage. I like film work, though the camera terrifies me. I've grown slightly more comfortable with it lately. My primary motivations for working on film remains the higher pay and health insurance for my family.

Q. What Inspires You?

A. By inspired I believe you mean moved to action. Wow. That's tough. I am moved emotionally rather easily. It's A Wonderful Life; that scene in Ratatouille where the food critic drops his pen.

I can be enraptured by some rare stage performances (Dancing At Loughnasa, Tracy Letts, Laurie Metcalf). Several painters and illustrators leave me in wonder (van Gogh, Matisse, Marc Ryden, Banksy).

I suppose what really inspired me lately was a website dedicated to sketchbooks. There one sees scores of sketchbooks containing personal artwork. I read there that for more than one artist the sketchbook was a true outlet. Most importantly, it didn't matter if it was “GOOD”; technical accomplishment was secondary...just putting ink or paint or graphite to paper was the important thing. 

I guess that inspired me. I started painting children's blocks again. My technical accomplishment waxes and wanes, but that is secondary.

Q. What other creative outlets do you have?
A. Painting the children's color blocks, like I just mentioned. And I love photography. I recently bought a Nikon D5100. I have yet to take better photos with it than with my point and shoot Olympus.

Chicago Near Planetarium in the Fog, Francis Guinan

Merged Downtown Chicago, Francis Guinan

Chestnut Street Philadelphia, Francis Guinan

Steppenwolf Sign 2011, Francis Guinan

North Avenue Beach Winter Night, Francis Guinan 

Q. Who are your favorite artists and why?
A. Banksy for his simplicity and boldness. Mark Ryden for his technical brilliance, warped world view and sense of humor. Lucian Freud because his painting disturbs and discomforts me.  Alex Gross and several other new Surrealist painters. Gross uses bizarre imagery and circus poster techniques.

Q. What would you want as your last meal on Earth?

A. A strong cup of coffee on Lake Lugano.

Q. What music moves you?

A. I particularly enjoy Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Journeys. Peter Gabriel's older stuff like Passion.
John Phillip Souza.

(Fran, I can honestly say you are the only person I know who mentioned Souza.)

Q. What are the favorite roles you've portrayed?
A. Sharkey in The Seafarer. The themes of death and redemption are rich for me.  

Colin in Absent Friends. I realized I could do comedy for a sustained amount of time in the company of other seriously funny people. 

Gaev in The Cherry Orchard. I could never completely get my head around him but found it to be an endlessly productive journey of discovery. 

Charley in August: Osage County. Fun to be in a hugely successful production. I found that Charley became simpler as the run progressed. I was “acting” very little by the time I left the show.

Q. If you weren't an actor, what would you be doing?

A. No idea. A laborer of some sort, probably.

Q. What will people know about you from your performances?

A. I hope I'm invisible. That's one of the reasons I like escape myself.

Q. What is your philosophy of life in 12 words or less?

A. The greatest skill is to see what's right in front of you.

Thank you Fran, you are wonderful.