Former Hofstra Student Now a “Gossip Girl”

By Kelli DeWalt

The hit series “Gossip Girl” may dish some pretty dicey rumors, but Margaret Colin, who plays the catty mother of Blair Waldorf, knows where real gossip thrives: on the Hofstra campus. That’s where Colin first learned her craft, thirty years ago.

Photo Eric Liebowitz

Photo Eric Liebowitz

A Long Island native, Colin chose the University because of its great reputation and fabulous alumni such as Francis Ford Coppola and Madeline Kahn. Hofstra also provided her with a generous scholarship and grant aid, which was important because she’s one of five kids. Fortunately, she says, it worked out for the best.

“My first semester there, I was enormously comfortable. I was cast right away,” Colin says.

The professor who cast her and became her mentor was Dr. Richard Mason. “He didn’t really take anyone under his wing; he focused the laser of his attention on you. So, he hurt you and tortured you at the same time,” she says.

Fellow drama student Jean Tafler remembers Margaret in college as having “a sophistication that was beyond her years at Hofstra . . . she was always 30 years old.” She’s not surprise by her success because, “with that maturity and sophistication, she was more savvy about the business side than the rest of us.”

Tafler recalls that when Margaret and two other girls were on the publicity crew for one of the shows at the University, their supervisor was another student, Tom Savage. Whenever he had notes for them, he wrote on the board “Tommy’s Angels” – a reference to the then popular television show “Charlie’s Angels.”

While most actors struggle for years after college before landing a substantial role, Colin received hers in her junior year at Hofstra. “I was doing a ‘Clearing in the Woods’ when an actor came to see me and left his agent’s card backstage. I auditioned and got a job.” That job was “The Edge of Night” a half hour soap opera on Channel 7. While she went back to take classes a couple of times, she never graduated, yet she would like to.

“I think I have to set a better example for my children and actually get my degree. . . I wouldn’t mind going back to school for it but I’m not going to take math. So, if Hofstra felt like giving me an honorary degree I’d be really thrilled,” Colin says.

From “The Edge of Night,” Colin starred in such popular soaps as “As the World Turns” and “Now and Again,” as well as movies such as “Pretty in Pink” and “Independence Day.” Currently she’s on the ever-popular “Gossip Girl.”

Colin was given the pilot and was impressed by its flashiness. “After you do theater you need a money gig,” she says. “It was a put together, slick and glamorous show that was shot in New York.”

The show soon became a success and with that success came perks. “I love the clothes,” she says. “Watching that wardrobe room explode with more and more designer bags — it’s become very contagious.” She’s also impressed by her costars’ instant fame as well as hers. In reference to Leighton Meester and Blake Lively, she says: “I’ve never seen anyone with only a year and a half of being on a television series under their belt, be on the cover of W and Vogue.”

While Colin hasn’t been on the cover of the latest fashion magazine, she has a following of her own. “I can’t go to high schools; I can’t go see my cousin and nephew in plays because I’d be swamped,” she says. “It’s very entertaining. I’ve never been on such a television hit such as this and certainly not for this demographic.”

Colin’s favorite episode was one in which all her models for her show at fashion week disappeared. “It was such a wonderful out of control moment and she was so sabotaged by these vicious young women,” she says. She also admits how brutal her own character can be: “I think Eleanor at her best is an absolutely, wonderful reason why Blair is so obnoxious.”

gossipgirl1Hope Lybeer, a 15-year-old from Georgia and avid viewer of the show, expands on this point, noting that Eleanor is always very strict and critical with her daughter Blair, because she doesn’t want anyone to do something that would detract from the ‘Waldorf’ name.”

In real life, Colin is the honorary co-chair of “Feminists for Life,” an organization of women who oppose abortion. She heard about the organization from her mother, who was an active member. “The idea that the unborn don’t have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the rights to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, she didn’t accept and neither did a lot of people 36 years ago,” says Colin.

She believes that the early feminists were very much in support of a child’s right to be born and she doesn’t see this view as conservative. “I think it’s a kind of radical idea that you want everyone to be born,” she says. “You want everyone that’s been created to be born, wanted or unwanted, planned or unplanned.”

Colin takes pleasure in this often controversial subject and enjoys speaking to people about it, especially the younger generations who grew up with abortion as right. She was even invited to the White House along with her friend, actress Patricia Heaton, to speak on the subject when President George W. Bush was in office.

While Colin has been in the business since college, she has no plans of stopping any time soon. “I really want to play more dynamic women on stage, more powerful, life-changing women on stage,” she says. She’d also like to be more involved with her community. Montclair State University, near her home in New Jersey, has asked her and her husband, Justin Deas, to teach master classes.

What would she do if she weren’t acting? Colin notes that she’s also a mom, political activist and “runs an empire.” But, she adds, “I’d make an excellent president.”

Watch a clip of Margaret Colin as Eleanor Waldorf:

Published in: on April 16, 2009 at 9:55 pm  Leave a Comment  


By Emily Lovejoy

A ghoulish tale of sex, drugs, rock and roll and murder is told by English professor Zachary Lazar in his novel, Sway.

Photo: Emily Lovejoy

Photo: Emily Lovejoy

With his second novel, Sway, Hofstra’s own Zachary Lazar has received the kind of literary attention most writers can only dream of.

Set in the 1960s, Sway weaves together the stories of the Rolling Stones, filmmaker Kenneth Anger and the infamous Manson family into a haunting mix of both fact and fiction.

The three intersecting stories in Sway have a ghoulish quality and the novel reads almost like a sophisticated campfire tale. The book contains elements of Satanism and murder. “Things like Charles Manson were recent enough that they were still in the common culture and they were sort of like ghost stories,” Lazar says. “It was always stuff I was really interested in when I was a kid growing up.”

Sway is considered a work of fiction, but it is based in fact. According to Lazar, “none of the events are made up, except for little mundane things, conversations, behind-the-scenes kinds of interactions, but the big events are all true.” For someone who is not well acquainted with the Rolling Stones, the Manson family or Kenneth Anger this may seem hard to believe; the exploits of these people are larger than life. “The challenge of the book was to stick to what was true because it was bizarre and extreme in a lot of ways, murders and crazy drug episodes and this sex, drugs and rock and roll stuff. The trick was to make it seem real,” Lazar explains.

Although he wasn’t alive during the 1960s, Lazar says he consulted a wide variety of sources before writing the book. “When you read many accounts of the same event they’re always different so you can kind of make an educated guess about which is the best or truest version,” he says. The ultimate test of the novel’s truth came when it was released in England: “There were a bunch of people who were a part of the Stones’ circle in the ‘60s and several of them read it and said I got it right,” Lazar says.

Kenneth Anger, says Lazar “was someone I didn’t know really about until I started this book and his name kept cropping up in books about the Rolling Stones that I read.” According to Lazar, Anger, now in his eighties, wasn’t thrilled about his portrayal in Sway. Lazar isn’t aware if Keith Richards or Mick Jagger have read the novel. Was he nervous writing about real people? “Not as nervous as I should have been,” he says. “I just didn’t really think of the possibility of them even really reading it. … I’m glad I didn’t think about it before because maybe I wouldn’t have written it.

The critical response to Sway has been impressive. “It got a lot of good reviews,” Lazar says. The New York Times gave one of those rave reviews, saying, Sway “reads like your parents’ nightmare idea of what would happen to you if you fell under the spell of rock ’n’ roll.”

Lazar’s third book is already completed, but not yet released. The book will focus on his own father’s tragic murder after testifying against a Bernie Madoff-style real estate billionaire. Again, Lazar will be putting a creative turn on true events, but this time around, the novel will be considered non-fiction.

Like every great writer Lazar is influenced by others. “My favorite writers are still people like Fitzgerald and Hemingway,” he says, “who I read when I was in college and formed my idea of what I wanted to do.”

Lazar is well aware of the difficulties that come along with trying to become a successful published author, “Just persevere because you face lots of rejection and struggle for many years before any of this happens like Sway. So, you just have to be very patient,” he advises.

Lazar recently received a fellowship to write a Princeton for a year, but hopes to return to Hofstra, where he currently teaches part-time, offering courses in Creative Writing.

Published in: on April 16, 2009 at 4:25 am  Leave a Comment  

“Dark Knight” Inspiration for New Hofstra Film

By Sabriana Raco

Backed by the Drama and Dance Department, seniors Louis Aquilar and Chris D’Amato and their professor created and produced a detective film, “On the Rocks.”

Photo: Sabriana Raco

For Louis Aquliar and Chris D’ Amato, the success of their film series “On the Rocks” could not have come at a better time.

Both students are seniors, hoping one day to bring the film to the big city. In a project that began their sophomore year, the drama majors where able to get hands-on look at what it was like to write, produce and act in their own film with the help of Professor David Henderson.

Q: What was your biggest inspiration for the film series “On the Rocks”?
D’Amato: It all began when the premiere of the “Dark Knight” came out. Me, Louis and David had met up during the summer to see the film and while we were waiting on line to purchase tickets, David thought it would be a great idea to create and write our own film. David had been on sabbatical and invested the time and money to help us construct the film.

Aquliar: Another major part of the inspiration for the film came from a show that we do at Hofstra on Wednesdays in the Drama Department called “Cabaret;” it is theater, acting and music. Chris and I had always had the desire to write, produce and act in our own film and seeing it happen was a thrilling feeling.

Q: What were the main ideas and themes behind the film?
Henderson: Much of the film is based around class movies and old black and white films. This was the angle both Chris and Louis wanted. Some of the themes derive from old movies like “Casablanca” and “Third Man.” The movie [has] a detective story line.

Aquliar: The shining star is the main character, Jack Bullet, who is this unstable, depressed character with his own inner problems. His costar is the complete opposite; Sal is this all-around family man who has everything together. It shows how these two opposites are friends and need each other in their life. It has a positive theme because it shows the importance of friendship and having supportive people in your life.

Q: Did you always know that you wanted to pursue a career in the film and theater industry?
Aquliar: Ever since I was little, I wanted to act. I love it all, from theater to films to anything where I perform for people. It has been a passion of mine for a long time.

D’ Amato: I have always enjoyed acting. When I was younger I would pretend I was an actor and act out different roles in my house. My family always gave me support and encourages my dreams everyday, so I am very lucky.

Q: What are your thoughts about the film and theater industry today?
Henderson: Being a professor in the Drama Department, I see many students who have the passion and drive to want to pursue their dreams within the entertainment field. In the Drama Department you have to be passionate, especially when starting out. These students know that theater is not something you get into for the money; you do it for the passion and heart.

Q: While constructing the film what were some of your fears during production?
Aquliar: My concerns mainly had to do with the comedic area of the film. My biggest worry was that people were not going to understand the film; we wanted to be both serious and funny at the same time. In the end it all worked out, so my worries were put to rest.

Q: How did you both handle acting on film? Were you nervous?
Aquliar: If you are going to pursue a career in the theater and film industry, you have to know how to separate your fear from your performance. It’s very natural for me to be on camera. When I would audition for roles, I would say the waiting would get me nervous. Once I would get in there and start acting, my nerves would calm down. I feel it’s like that for many people.

Q: What were some of the funniest moments you can recall from filming?
Aquliar: Going to the three locations where we shot the film. The scene for Jack Bullet’s office was filmed in David Henderson’s dining room. There was a night club scene called the Fat Brass; it was suppose to be this old hip 1930s night club. We filmed it at a spot called “Brasserie Julien”. In Red Hook, Brooklyn, we went into this alley way and we saw a man laying there. We tried to figure out how we could get him to leave so we could film. We ended up giving him twenty dollars and a pack of cigarettes and he left.

Q: What are your plans after college? Will you still pursue film and theater careers?
D’ Amato: Absolutely, I want to take this career as far as I possibly can. I plan to move into Manhattan with a few of my friends and Louis. We are hoping to take “On the Rocks” to the next level and hopefully some producer will like it and use it in film or theater.

Q: Are you looking forward to the Hofstra opening this spring?
D’ Amato: It will be interesting to see how the students react to the film. People who know about the film and understand the theme behind it will appreciate it. For those who do not, hopefully they can have laughs and just enjoy a night of people getting together and having fun.

Watch the pilot episode of On the Rocks and visit their Facebook page

Published in: on April 16, 2009 at 3:49 am  Leave a Comment  

Hall of Fame Sports Writer Shows Off Versatility

By Ashley Kooblall

Photo: Marianne Vecsey

Photo: Marianne Vecsey

George Vecsey has been living the life most writers could only dream of. He’s covered everything from sports to religion, in all corners of the world. And if you the think the 2001 National Association of Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame inductee is ready to call a quits, better guess again; He’s just getting started.

His latest work, Baseball: A History of America’s Favorite Game, was published in 2006 and is proof that Vecsey is still performing in his prime. It is the first sports book of its kind to fit into a history series whose authors include Karen Armstrong, Hans Kung, Ian Buruma and Alan Brinkley.

Born to two journalists on July 4, 1939, Vecsey pursued an English degree at Hofstra University. As an undergraduate, he worked as a student publicist in the athletic department, and right before he graduated in 1960, he began covering Yankee games for Newsday. He continued at Newsday until 1968, when he then joined The New York Times, covering a variety of sports.

In 1970, Tina Roberts, an editor at The Times, asked Vecsey to become a national correspondent in Louisville, Kentucky, where he covered a range of stories from coal mining to the Kentucky Derby. It was here he wrote what he now considers his favorite article for the Times, a story of an earthen dam giving away in West Virginia, killing 150 people. His reporting exposed a coal company for not being honest with those who lived nearby.

“It was the best reporting I’ve ever done,” Vecsey said.

When he returned to New York, he became a Metro reporter, covering Long Island until May 1977. He spent the next four years serving as a national and religion reporter for the Times.

Religion was a different field from what Vecsey was used to, but he welcomed the challenge. “As reporters, we learn to be quick studies of what we’re covering, and that’s what I did,” Vecsey said. “I learned as I went along.”

He’s had the privilege to interview the Dalai Lama, Pope John Paul II, Tony Blair, Billy Graham and a multitude of other significant figures.

Out of all of these, he was most impressed by the Dalai Lama. “I remember his intelligence, humility, laugh and warmth,” Vecsey said. “He had messages for America laid in between the lines. He had a lot to say about hedonism in a more developed world.”

Vecsey returned to the world of sports in 1980, becoming a feature sports writer. In 1982, when legendary sports writer Red Smith died, Vecsey was chosen to write the Sports of the Times column.

On the international front, Vecsey has covered seven consecutive World Cups.

vecsey“He has a breadth of interests rarely seen today,” said Roy Johnson, former Times writer and editor-in-chief of Men’s Fitness. “He’s as passionate about soccer as sports are popular in the U.S. He was my role model in that regard. Now we are in an area of specialization in which few writers have the interest in reaching beyond their comfort zones.”

Vecsey says he loves soccer because “some of the world’s greatest players like Cristiano Ronaldo add so much spontaneity and creativity to the game.”

He’s also covered all of the Summer Olympic Games, from Los Angeles in 1984, to Beijing in 2008.

Sports’ writing has evolved greatly from the time Vecsey began his career. “We didn’t have the Internet back then,” he says. “I had my misgivings about the Internet because it’s untouched by human hands. Nowadays, people who aren’t necessarily working in the field can get the word out in print via the Internet, like bloggers.

“It’s very easy for the general public to read something online by someone sitting in their underwear,” Vecsey said. “It bothers me that people take them seriously.”

Having lived through a number of steroid scandals, Vecsey said that he’s “surprised by how far we’ve come in 10 years.”

“People criticize reporters for not telling the truth about baseball steroid use,” he says, reflecting on the recent Alex Rodriguez buzz, “but what people don’t realize is that baseball players don’t approach reporters to confess.

“[Baseball players] toss a few socks to keep the wolves away; they do things and sort it out later,” he says. “I’m surprised that great players have been disgraced but at the same time, I’m not surprised, given the human condition.”

Vecsey is often praised for his astute observations on the human side of sports. “He’s got a worldliness that you also find less and less on the sports pages now than when I began my career,” said Johnette Howard, author of The Rivals and former sports columnist for Newsday. “He’ll go on these rambles where he drops down someplace and he writes as if he’s part of the story. He gives you these impressionistic takes on things, sets the scene, gives context, makes acute observations about what he found when he got there, all in 800 or so words.”

In addition to articles, Vecsey has wrote over a dozen books, five of which are best-sellers. Among his books are: Joy in Mudville in 1970, a history of the New York Mets; One Sunset a Week, the story of a revolutionary coal-mining family in Appalachia, 1974; and the Coal Miner’s Daughter, with Loretta Lynn, a 1976 best-seller which was made into an Academy Award winning motion picture in 1980, starring Sissy Spacek.

Martina, another best-seller, is an autobiographical story of Martina Navratilova. Martina is a “deeper and far more textured portrait than just about any other sports book I’ve ever read,” said Howard. “Vecsey is among the deans of American sports columnists.”

Vecsey, who resides in Port Washington, Long Island, is married to Marianne Graham, his co-editor of NEXUS, the Hofstra yearbook. They have three children and five grandchildren.

“I consider myself blessed,” Vecsey says. “There’s nothing in this business that I wanted to do that I didn’t have the chance to do.”

Published in: on April 16, 2009 at 3:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Passion for Dance

By Amanda Domurad

Seniors Autumn Dolan and Kristen Collins share the stage with modern greats.

Autumn DolanKristen

For the past two summers, Autumn Dolan has studied at the American Dance Festival at Duke University, where she has danced for such high profile choreographers as Trisha Brown and David Dorfman. Back at Hofstra, Dolan has worked with such guest artists as Martha Clarke and Nathan Trice.

Fellow dance major Kristen Collins has spent her summers dancing in repertory projects at New York University and Bates Dance Festival, working with companies and people she has long admired, including Keigwin + Company and Nora Chipaumire of Urban Bush Women.

Dolan hopes to land a job with a modern dance company when she graduates this May, and Collins hopes to become a choreographer. But first, we got them to stop moving long enough to answer a few questions.

Q: When did you start dancing?
Autumn Dolan: My mom enrolled me when I was three at a local dance school taking ballet, tap and jazz. At 12 years old I studied at Miami City Ballet. During the summer before my senior year of high school I went to Boston Conservatory and fell in love with modern. My modern teacher there convinced me that dancing is what I needed to do and when I got back home I changed my major on all of my college applications.
Kristen Collins: I started dancing when I was three, here on Long Island, and continued seriously through high school. Making it my major was an obvious choice for me.

Q: What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had, either on stage or at rehearsal?
KC: On opening night of my first performance freshman year at Hofstra, my foot got caught in my skirt and I fell straight down to the floor. Apparently it only lasted a split second and no one noticed, but I felt like I was down there forever.

Q: What’s your favorite style of dance? Least favorite?
KC: I am most interested in the exciting experimental world of post modern dance, but I still love and appreciate the classics in ballet and modern. My least favorite style of dance is one that is a product of marketing and advertising, like “lyrical” dance, which for me involves no rich history or practice.

Q: Who or what are your inspirations?
KC: Anything and everything has the ability to inspire me – teachers, art, music, bodies, a nice day, a bizarre dream. Ordinary pedestrians have been inspiring me lately.
AD: Ah so many! My parents really inspire me as well as my peers who I dance with. As far as the dance world goes, I am incredibly inspired by Jennifer Nugent, Miguel Gutierrez, Robert Battle, Martha Clarke, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Laura Halzack, Doug Varone, Twyla Tharp just to name a few. I know and/or have worked with all of them, well… except for Twyla and Doug Varone, but one day! As a young artist and choreographer, I find myself being like a sponge – taking everything in and using it toward how I perform and what I choose to create. It is vital to be open- minded.

Q: What’s going on through your head when you’re on stage doing a solo and the audience’s eyes are on you?
KC: You can feel when the audience is with you or not, and when they are, it allows you to take hold of the space on a more intimate level.
AD: When I am onstage I know there is an audience in front of me but I can choose to acknowledge their presence or not. I like to play with the level of vulnerability between the audience and myself. It is sometimes hard to not think, ‘Oh, no, don’t mess up,’ but if I do, the audience won’t really know since they do not know the choreography. I have actually been working on a solo since September, which I am performing at Dance Theater Workshop in NYC. I’ve performed it several times at Hofstra and still have the original feelings of a bunch of eyes staring at me but I just have to get that out of my head and live in the moment because with dance it is here and then it is gone. You can never reproduce that moment.

Q: Do you find music to be essential when choreographing?
KC: My most recent choreography, “There’s Nothing I Hate More Than Stopping for Pedestrians,” was a 10-minute piece with no music, that was sent to the Northeast’s Gala Performance at the American College Dance Festival. Silence gives you the ability to set your own pace and rhythm, which I think can be very exciting.
AD: I do not think music is essential. I have used it in different ways during the creation process; sometimes I have used a song or piece of music first, which allowed the movement to come later. I have also made movement first, from an emotion or story, and then found music or just left the piece in silence. One time when making a piece, I created the movement using a random artist or song like Wu -Tang Clan and then would perform it to Bach; there is something about the opposition of the percussive bass of movement to the light strings.

Q: Do you see dance as an integral part of your life in 10 years?
AD: Of course! This is my passion and my life and there isn’t a way that I can’t see this not being a part of my life in 10 years, whether it is performing with a big company and traveling the world or with a small Brooklyn-based group or even just creating my own work. I know it will transcend in my life somehow. It is like my own form of therapy.

Published in: on April 16, 2009 at 3:32 am  Leave a Comment