Thursday, December 29, 2005

Gettysburg

This post has almost nothing to do with performing. Except for when I paid the $11 for the audio-cassette tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield I briefly thought, "If there's a chance I might someday write a play or a sketch about the Civil War I could probably write this off on my taxes."

I spent the holidays in D.C. and one of the highlights was touring Gettysburg, which I had never done. I didn't know quite what to expect. Would I just be standing in the middle of a big, featureless open field trying to conjure the greatest battle of the Civil War entirely from my imagination? Luckily, it was nothing like that. It was really very impressive.

I'm not a Civil War buff, though I've read a thing or two and seen some documentaries and movies about Gettysburg. But you can't really appreciate it until you're actually there, standing on the two parallel ridgelines (which nicely rhyme: Seminary and Cemetary) separating the two armies by just a mile of open field, with scattered farm houses, barns, orchards, fencelines and boulders. The audio tour was richly detailed and the 26 miles of roads through the park well-marked with hundreds of monuments along the way. Everything from simple milestones marking the left and right flanks of a particular regiment or brigade to elaborate obilisks and even temple-like memorials commemorating every state and every unit engaged in the battle. In fact, the monuments alone, many of them a hundred years old, are interesting artifacts in themselves.

And, of course, the numbers -- more than 51,000 dead, wounded and missing over three days, out of a total combined force of 165,000 soldiers.

I need to go back someday. A couple of hours is not enough. You could easily spend a full day there.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Holidays!

So this is the much-anticipated holiday card, arriving in peoples' mailboxes by today. Top discarded caption ideas: "Oh, Christ! Christmas again?"; "Don't be cross -- it's the holidays!"; "Don't leave me hangin' ... have a happy holiday."

I woke up at 5:15 this morning thinking of all the things I have to do. Like get my plays submitted for production and awards. I went through this big thick book and found a bunch of opportunities. But the process is long and complex. I need to find some time to get that done. We really do need an intern here at Danger Boy Productions.

I've also got to get the screenplay in gear. I have pages and pages of notes, dialogue and skeleton outlines I've been working on for the past month. I've got the opening scene done but I need to flesh out the outlines, particularly for the first two acts, before I do much more actual writing. The software I bought is really cool and will be really helpful. I am hoping to have some time next week to make some progress on this.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Done and done!

After a busy weekend of printing, folding, trimming, personalizing, labeling and stamping, the holiday cards finally went out. At 12:30 this morning. So everyone should get them by Christmas. I'd post it here, but that would ruin the surprise. Now I can finally focus on Christmas shopping.

I did hear about Saturday's audition. The director really liked my work and wants to offer me sort of a supporting background player role. Not as good as what I auditioned for, but it still might be a good opportunity. We'll see. The show's a long way off -- April.

Monday, December 19, 2005

2005: The Year in Numbers

With the year just about wrapped up, it's time to quantify things. Because if you can't ascribe a numerical value to something, then it's not really worth anything, is it?

For the year:


  • 8 commercial bookings (TV, print, film, industrial)
  • 44 auditions (commercial)
  • 37 auditions (theatrical)
  • 12 theatrical productions
  • 71 theatrical performances
  • 1 show (5 plays) written and produced

I have no idea what any of this means in terms of progress.

I'd say pretty good for my second full year of really going after theatrical and commercial work.

Compared to last year I had only half as many commercial bookings, though they were more lucrative in 2005, so this year's 8 actually amount to a higher total dollar amount than last year's 16. I had almost the same number of commercial and theatrical auditions -- 5 fewer theatrical, but 1 more commercial. I was in two fewer shows but had almost 20% more performances.


And like last year, I wrote and produced my own show. Last year was sketch, this year short plays.

So I suppose qualitatively (if indeed that's any measure!), I'm doing better.

I don't know. We'll see what next year brings. I hope even better and bigger parts in even more prestigious venues. Like it would be nice to have an actual speaking role in a feature film, instead of just an extra part. A national broadcast commercial, instead of just cable. Performing in more full-length plays instead of mostly one-acts. Some payoff for past auditions with major theatres like the Goodman and Steppenwolf and some of the key next-tier groups.


Those are some new year's wishes.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

All's well that ends well

So I think I'm going to sue some folks. But I can't really talk about it right now. I'm meeting with an attorney next week.

On a happier note, after almost deciding to cancel the Ionesco audition, I went ahead with it and it turned out very well. Sometimes these are just big cattle calls and you're hustled through so quickly that you're not even sure what happened. I mean it's never as bad as you see in movies and TV -- really rude people crushing actors' spirits. Maybe that happens in NY or LA, but not here. It's generally a very warm and supportive community. But often the process can be ... brisk?

But this time the director took time to look over my resume and ask questions and engage me in conversation, both about my background and the play. It's funny -- when he looked at my resume he said, "Wow, you've done a lot!" And the truth is, that's everything -- every single acting thing I've done is on that piece of paper. People who have been in the business longer than I have actually have to be selective with what they keep on their resume. I'm just about there. I think I've taken the line spacing and the type font as low as they can go, so at some point next year I'll have to start dropping things.

Anyway, the conversation was great and I think that's where I can really stand out, because I'm intelligent and quick. They also laughed quite a bit during my reading and were very complimentary afterwards. With the odds the way they are it will most likely lead to nothing, but I am very happy and relieved that I presented myself well -- especially since I was doubtful up until two hours beforehand about whether I should even go.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What have I gotten myself in to?

So I've got this audition scheduled for Saturday, and yesterday I went to the theatre to pick up the sides (portions of the script we'll be performing in the audition). They had copies of the full scripts there for review and the text was, well ... difficult. I commented to one of the other actors there that the more I read it the less I understood it.

The playwright is Eugene Ionesco, who I had heard of and knew to be an abusurdist. Other than that I hadn't read or seen any of his plays performed. This is where having a theatre degree would be very helpful. The language and the imagery were beautiful and funny in places but the story was so obtuse that it had me wondering what the play was actually about. I guessed it had something to do with man's search and struggle for meaning. With, possibly, some comment on religion. A Google search this morning revealed these takes on it:
  • In the play, Ionesco depicts religion as an expression of conformism and of the alienation of idealism to the establishment.
  • A man stifled by his stable marriage unsuccessfully seeks fulfillment elsewhere.
  • Ionesco has succeeded in showing desperation and the impossibility of satisfaction.

Oh, that explains it. I'm not so sure about this audition. This is not really the kind of play I would go see, so why would I want to be in it? Also, in looking at the theatre's web site, it's clear that the people there are very heavy hitters. Way out of my league. No more so than the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Court and Chicago Shakespeare people were out of my league, but with all of those I submitted my headshot and resume and they invited me in. The process with this one is you just call for an appointment. Really I prefer the other way -- you take a look at me and what I've done and decide whether you want to see me. This is like a blind date. Even more random than that, actually.

In fact, I'm surprised I even got an appointment. Their system is they announce a couple of weeks in advance that you are to call in at a specific time and date to schedule an audition slot. A few theatres do this and usually you get busy signals for two hours until all the slots are full. Maybe I got through because it's Ionesco and most actors know better?

Anyway, I will look over the sides and figure out if it's in my interest to go -- which it will be only if I think I can make a good impression.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The dreaded holiday card

So every year for the past 9 years I've created this elaborate holiday card. Issued under the auspices of my faux production company, Danger Boy Productions, it features a cover photo of me (Danger Boy) in some wacky, "dangerous" situation (skydiving, rollerblading, under water, with a baby, with a woman, etc.), and includes updates on the year's activities. One year I did it in the form of an annual report to shareholders. Other times it's been a poem or a song or some other thing.

Back when I started this, the card was probably my only real creative outlet for the whole year, so it was a lot of fun and i put a lot of work into it. The past few years, as I've been acting and writing, it's become more and more of a burden. Plus, most people are already inundated with my frequent e-mails.

But it's turned into a monster. More than a few people seem to have grown quite attached to it, so there's an expectation out there. Tonight is do or die. I've got a photo, and a decent concept, so I will mess around and see if whether, Virginia, there will be Christmas card this year. And whether I want to commit the 10-15 hours it will take to lay out, print, trim, fold, personalize, address, stamp and send these muthas.

Or maybe, just maybe, Christmas isn't about me. Perhaps it's about wishing others well? Hmm, I doubt it, but anything's possible at this point.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Bird in hand

I'm being considered for an understudy role for a show going up in April and running to June. This is the absolute earliest I've ever had to commit to a show. Usually it's two months out and you have a pretty good sense of whether something else will come along or not. It's a good theatre company, but I just don't know. It's a huge commitment of time (I'd be understudying 2 roles) for a payoff of only two guaranteed performances. And it would preclude just about any other work during that period since I'd be on standby Thursday to Sunday.

I don't know. It would be a good learning experience, of course. There's even money in it. Though it's "theatre" money not real-world money. Which means train fare, probably.

This is where I need a mentor. I always end up bugging whatever director or actor I've most recently latched onto.

And I have nothing lined up for January. That worries me. The past two years I've done Sketchfest. But I'm a playwright now -- screw that!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Hand in glove

I had a really fun audition last night. It wasn't even a show I was super-interested in, but I went because I kinda knew the writer and I think it's just good to be out there auditioning regularly. If you audition infrequently then each one becomes magnified way out of proportion to its actual importance. On the other hand, there have been times when I've had as many three auditions back-to-back in a single day. In those cases, it's hard to give each one the focus and energy required.

Anyway, the script was very funny and the character was pretty easy to relate to -- a king who's pretentious, self-centered and long-winded. There was a line of dialogue where he said something like, "You don't know how lucky you are -- I wish I were you so that I could gaze at me." So they responded very well to my reading and that felt good. And they asked me to read some more since I have a conflict with their callback date, which is always a good sign. Still, they're a well-known comedy company with an excellent reputation so they'll be seeing hundreds of very funny actors. It doesn't even matter. It's just nice to come out of an audition without that nagging feeling of, "If I'd just done this better or that differently ..."

Yes, stretching your boundaries is good, but fit is also important. In the show I'm doing now, Throwing Smoke, I play a baseball player. I'm glad I'm doing it, but I don't physically look like a ballplayer. And when you don't look it, it's hard to feel it, and when you don't feel it, it's hard to project it. If I was maybe playing a fussy or bookish or intellectual ballplayer, that would be different. Regardless, it's still a fun show, mainly because the guys at Steep are a great group. They do good work but they don't take it or themselves too seriously. Which is good, because we've had so few rehearsals in which the whole cast was there that every run is an adventure. An adventure in ass covering.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Screenplay

So I started this thing. I actually wrote the first scene, which is all out of order because before you actually start scripting out a screenplay you're supposed to put together a pretty detailed treatment or outline of all the major points through the three acts. It's not like a sketch where you can just start writing then go back and easily shift stuff around. But I had this opening scene so ingrained in my head I just wanted to get it down on paper.

So now I need to go back and really plot out the whole thing. I've got a laundry list of ideas and snippets of dialogue, and situations and plot points and things. I also need to get proper software. Formatting these things is a bitch, so I need to pony up the $100+ for the software, which will be a good investment. So, progress.

I also went out and got this big, thick book, Dramatists Sourcebook, and I've been going through the hundreds of listings for places I can submit my plays for publication, production and awards. It's a huge process. I need an intern.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

*Blink*

So a while back I was struggling with a decision over whether to sign on for this show I was asked to be in. I hemmed and hawed and kvetched (mostly to myself) and finally said no. It just wasn't the right thing for me right then. As it happens, the production was canceled -- this after weeks of rehearsals. I feel bad for the people I know who were in it, but am relieved that I made the decision I did. And, as it turned out, I got this other show I'm doing now.

Sometimes accepting a part is a slam dunk. But many times it's not. Maybe it isn't the best role, or you're unsure of the script or the company that's producing it. So you spend a lot of time weighing all the pros and cons (at least I do). The biggest issue is, will accepting a less-than-ideal opportunity preclude you from taking something bigger and better that might come along? On the other hand, what if you decline the part and then nothing else presents itself? So it's a bird-in-the-hand thing, and every role is a gamble.

I'm reading this great book called Blink, which is Malcolm Gladwell's followup to the truly outstanding Tipping Point. In it, he presents all this evidence (statistical and anecdotal) showing how our mind works on a subconscious level, making decisions better and faster than the conscious mind can make with reams of data and analysis. It's really extraordinary.

For me, I've always thought that the greatest benefit of experience, the true hallmark of wisdom, is learning to trust your gut instincts. I've always struggled with that. I overthink. But I'm getting better. I'm hoping this book will ultimately present, not just findings, but some strategies to help me do that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Birth of a notion

It's amazing how a change of venue or anything that gets you out of your normal situation and routine can spark your creativity. I started writing over Thanksgiving and think I'm on to something that will be really fun and interesting -- a screenplay. I actually had a screenplay treatment I did for my Second City film course, but I'm not as interested in pursuing that story right now. This will be good.

I should be writing every day anyway, but I don't. At least not in a focused way -- I'm always writing bits and pieces of stuff here and there, but don't really buckle down unless it's for a specific project, like One-Eyed Cat. It's hard, though, when your regular job is writing. I've found I only have 3-4 hours of good writing in me on any given day. I've gone longer when I had to -- because of a client deadline, for instance. But the quality really does go down after a few hours. So when I'm caught up in client work, churning out brochure or web copy and other stuff, I don't really have a lot left to give.

I hope with the holidays to be able to devote some serious time to this. I've got the first act pretty well scoped out. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I'm a literary vampire

Not sure if that's quite the right term for it. But I'm constantly evaluating everyday situations bits of conversation as potential fodder for future projects. Maybe I'm more like a prospecter. Or a miner or a harvester.

Anyway, like tonight, my sister was making some kind of point about something (who knows what it was? I was busy thinking about how I could use it for my own career gain) -- I think the point she was making was that she wasn't a snob who thinks she's better than others. And I chimed in, "Of course not, you put your $1,000 imported silk designer pants on one leg at a time like everyone else!" Heh. Well, like my mom said, it's funny but it needs work. In fact, I've already re-worked it from the original, which went something like "silk-lined, fur-trimmed pants," but anyway, the point is ... not sure what the point is.

I guess it's that I have all these ideas and bits and pieces of stuff floating around, along with some bigger Concepts and Frameworks and things, and the important thing is to just get writing. Not to worry so much about "This is going to be a two-act play about Topic or Theme X" but instead to just write about what excites you and see where that takes you. That's kind of how the other stuff I've produced came about.

The biggest obstacle some writers have is that they think they need to have it all mapped out and logical before setting out, when really you just need to get to it and everything will eventually fall into place. So I've got ideas. For plays, screenplays. Who knows? And it's times like these that I get excited about plunging back in. I'm so pleased with the plays and other things I've written and produced so far. But if that's all there is, then it's just a hobby.

On the other hand, I just received this book I ordered -- sort of a playwright's resource, with long lists of places where I can get my plays produced, published and in competition for awards. And it would be so like me to invest a lot of time trying to get recognition and awards for the plays I've already written instead of creating something new. Hmmm. Hey, here's an idea: maybe I can do a bit of both? What's that called again? Balance?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Steppenwon't

Get it? Clever, huh?

So I didn't get a callback audition from Steppenwolf. I'm not super-surprised. It was definitely a longshot -- but still, a disappointment. Yeah, yeah, it's an honor just to be asked. Still, it's an even better honor to be cast.

It's hard to measure "success" in this business. Especially when my peers -- people just starting out in acting -- are half my age. By some measures I've done pretty well. Lots of shows, lots of audition opportunities (including with some of the premier theatre groups in the city, if not the nation -- Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, The Goodman), some decent commercial work ...

I'm taking this a year at a time. If I can say each year that I've grown more as an actor and had better, richer opportunties (bigger roles, better venues, etc.) than the year before, I will consider it a success. And so far I've been able to say that. If things stall out, and stay stalled for an extended period, then that is the time to consider quitting. I love performing, but it won't be worth the sacrifice if I'm at the same level in a few years as I am now.

Fortunately, I have a backup. I can always go back into the corporate world, make more money than I can imagine having now, and get my fulfillment from other things -- travel, photography, writing.

They say a lot of people quit just short of success. And, of course, the successful ones all endured their share of failures along the way. Perspective is difficult. When you've got your head down and you're pushing through all the day-to-day stuff, it's hard to tell a bump in the road from a truly insurmountable obstacle. Or "insurmountains" as I used to call them. That's why it's good to lift your head up and take stock now and then, which I guess is what I'm doing. I don't know. I've always believed that if you focus on the essentials -- the stuff right in front of you that you can control -- then the bigger things will inevitably come to you. I'm kind of rambling now, so I'll just sign off with a quote that I used to have on the wall of my office: "The world was made round so you wouldn't see too far down the road."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Let it bleed

I always read the theatre reviews -- to keep up with what's going on and also to sort of study what critics are looking for (if that's really possible). In my darkest of hearts, though, I confess to feeling a wee bit of schadenfreude when I see particularly negative reviews. It's human nature, I suppose.

As an actor I'm supposed to hate and dismiss critics. It's true that they can sometimes be excessively cruel or unfair. Like when they called two of the actors in my first show "fatties." But I've performed in shows that have been panned, and the people running it excuse it away -- "Oh, that paper/critic hates everything!" But I think there's always some kernel of truth beneath the vitriol. That review of my first show had good ("brainier than most") and ... less good ... things to say about it, and though I didn't necessarily agree with everything, I heeded some of the points. For instance, part of my goal for the second show was to write more strong woman characters, which I felt I did. So that was helpful.

But I don't know what I'd do if I got a review like these here, culled from this week's Chicago Reader:
  • "Despite a cityful of excellent actors begging for work, [the director] has assembled a cast of astonishing mediocrity."
  • "This is yet another sloppy, unoriginal attempt at sketch comedy that relies on easy targets, with predictably dull results."
  • "Two hours of self-absorbed diatribes punctuated by occasional Hallmark moments of tenderness."
Ouch. So that is why I was so worked up waiting for the review of One-Eyed Cat. The Chicago Reader can be merciless. But they kinda have to be. They review tons and tons of shows -- it's the most comprehensive theatre coverage in the city. It is so ridiculously easy to put up a show in this city that they obviously must sit through a good deal of crap, and it has to be frustrating.

Still, I'd kill myself if I had a review like that. You're supposed to be thick-skinned in this business and I would say my skin is certainly thicker than that of the average person for whom "frequent rejection" isn't written into the job description. But less thick I think than those who have been doing this for a long time. But I wonder if anyone is really that thick-skinned. Some of the cavalier attitudes I see ("Oh, this thing? I dashed it off in an afternoon!") are probably more of a defense mechanism than anything else.

Anyway, here I go again writing about stuff instead of actually doing. I've got lines to memorize and audition notices to respond to. Blogs are the tool of the devil.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Derailed: Must Miss!

Yeah, I stole that line from Seinfeld. But 99.7% of the nation's critics were right. The movie bit. Worse yet, I'm not even in it! They cut my scene. No doubt it's something I did. Like taping my resume to the back of my coat. Oh well, it's probably for the best -- I risked getting overexposed anyway with the back-to-back releases of this and Weather Man. {/sarcasm}

Tonight we finally start rehearsals for Throwing Smoke, which is good since it opens in less than 3 weeks (yikes!). And because things have been a little too ... unbusy lately.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

These dudes are awesome

I went to see Competitive Awesome last weekend. These guys are hilarious. They're off to L.A. in February, so go see them now before they get big. You can say you knew them when.

I've been diligently working my way through all the shows I need to see -- shows by friends and fellow actors and writers and directors. (Aaron from Competitive Awesome was in my graduation sketch show at Second City). It's a constant battle, though. As soon as you whittle your list down, three or four more get added.

But going to see other peoples' shows is a big part of being in this business. You do it to offer support to friends, to assuage the guilt for spamming the universe with your own show news, and for general karmic purposes -- hopefully you get what you give. Sometimes the last thing you want to do after being stuck in a theatre or rehearsal space all week is go to another theatre and see a show. And sometimes you do end up seeing some real stinkers. But I've seen a lot of great stuff, too. And I really, really enjoy seeing people I know on stage, particularly if they're doing something different from what I've seen them do in the past.

In fact, of the 50+ performances I saw last year, all but two of them involved someone I knew as either an actor, writer or director. There are other shows around town I'd like to see, but I feel like I have to use my limited show-going time to support friends.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Another ending

Another show ended. Number 11 for the year. We had a great closing, with our biggest audience yet. And a fun wrap party -- from what I remember of it. I will miss some of these people a lot.

But chances are good I will see or work with many of them again soon. There's maybe one degree of separation among the members of the Chicago acting community. I could go see any of the 150+ shows playing right now in town and if I don't know someone in the cast or crew I could flip through their bios and make a connection to another actor or director we have in common. That after less than 3 years of performing. It's a nice, close-knit community that stops just short of being overly incestuous.


I didn't make it out to Derailed yet. It was a hard-drinking weekend with the cast party Saturday, and a late-night show I saw on Friday, after which we adjourned to the bar with the cast. Work is a little calm -- maybe I'll sneak out to a matinee this afternoon ...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Grand Rapids is neither grand nor rapid ... discuss

I had what would have been a very simple, well-paying commercial gig yesterday. If only it wasn't 3+ hours from Chicago.

The nutrition/vitamin supplement company that did this photo shoot in September wanted me on tape for this in-house video they're doing. It was very easy work, just a couple of shots, and they were very organized and had me in and out of there in less than 3 hours. Plus they were really nice people, which is almost universally the rule -- unlike those assholes from Minnesota a few weeks back.

But, oy, the driving! People in the Midwest have a completely different conception of acceptable travel times than people from the East Coast (from which I hail). On the East Coast, you can get to other major cities within an hour or two. Or the mountains, or the beach. I remember when I first came to Ohio somebody bragged about all the incredible things that are within JUST a six-hour drive from Columbus! And when I chose to fly home for Thanksgiving (instead of the 6.5-hour car trip), they thought I was some kind of diva. So anyway, where I come from, 3+ hours is considered a long drive. Out here it's half a day trip.

So Derailed is getting some pretty crappy reviews! It really doesn't look that good, but I'll still go see it to see if I'm in it. Probably not 'til Sunday, though.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Derailed

Derailed opens this Friday and I have another small extra role. Again, I have no idea how much of me or even whether I'll appear on screen. At least this one looks like it's got a pretty big marketing budget behind it -- the trailers are on TV every five minutes.

Look for me at the crime scene -- should be lots of police cars, emergency vehicles and flashing lights. I enter the building and pass Clive Owen as he's exiting. Then later I follow a body bag on a stretcher out of the building. I'm wearing a blue sweater and black leather jacket.

These little parts are cool and all, but I need to start getting actual roles in these movies. Roles with lines. Of course, as I read over the casting round-ups, a lot of those parts go to more experienced actors, Second City people, etc. One of my agents got me an audition a while back for a small speaking part in Ocean's 12, and I actually made what's called the "Director's Reel", meaning it was me and two other actors being looked at by the film's director.

I don't know. Most of the casting directors working on these films know me or know of me -- I'm at their places doing commercial auditions all the time. Still, I sent a mailing out to them a few weeks ago just to make sure they know of my background and interest.

Anyway, I'll be checking this movie out this weekend and reporting back. In the meantime, you can read here about my night on the set.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Moments

Two very good shows this weekend. Bigger audiences, and actual kids in attendance, which is a good thing when you're doing a kids' show. They seemed to be really into it. (The older kids mostly -- some of the stuff is a little over the heads of the very young ones.) And the adults, too. I got some really nice feedback from friends and strangers alike. I was kind of tired and hungover (another unforeseen danger of doing a daytime show) but managed it like a trouper (i.e., I didn't barf on anyone).

One of my favorite things about performing is challenging myself to make every performance a little different, even if it's as basic as changing or adding a gesture or movement or delivering a line in a different way. Some shows are more flexible than others, in terms of your freedom and ability to improvise. In sketch comedy, especially, it's fun to surprise the other actors by bringing out a new prop or changing up the costume some. It's a fine line -- you don't want to pimp your scene partners or subvert the director's vision of things, but even in the most structured show you can make small, subtle changes around the margins to keep things fresh and create some really special moments. And, of course, the best of these moments are the ones that aren't planned at all.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Blue Man

I like this photo. It's from a print shoot I did a couple of months back. That's another pretend wife there with me.

The photographer did a great job, especially in matching us up -- there's a real harmony to our expressions and poses. It's like we actually knew each other's last names.

It reminds me that I should get new headshots done. A lot of people are doing color now. And when I got mine done, I hadn't done a lot of acting. It's kind of a chicken-and-egg thing. You can't get acting jobs without headshots and it helps to know a thing or two about acting to sit for good headshots. Like making your eyes more expressive.

I also like the blue. In an insurance commercial that's going up on national cable soon I play "blue man" -- not like Blue Man Group, I'm just blue about my current insurance coverage. Should be interesting. Or embarrassing as hell.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Can I do smarmy?

So I had a commercial audition this morning and my agent said I needed to be really cheesy and smarmy. Hmmm, smarmy ... yes, I believe if I reach really deeply into the remote, untapped recesses of my psyche I can perhaps summon up smarmy.

Unfortunately, the instructions were vague. I do a sort of Phil Hartmanesque smarmy. Think Phil Hartman with 1/100th of the talent. But when I got there they said they were looking for a more greasy, seedy kind of cheesy/smarmy. That I'm not so good at. I can't help it -- I'm neat as a pin. I tried and put on this weasly, south-side, used-car salesman kind of accent, and I did stuff like picking at my teeth, but I don't know ... I think I have a limited range. Or maybe it's just my range, and I shouldn't judge it.

When you see interviews with the great comic actors, they're always asked where they got a certain character. And they always have colorful stories like "There was this crusty old guy who used to hang out in front of the OTB on 2nd Avenue" or "there was this chain-smoking lady who sold tamales on the corner." I don't seem to run into people like that. Or, more likely, I don't do enough observing and interacting. Usually when I'm out I've got a sort of tunnel vision. Friends will walk by and wave a hand in my face to get my attention. I need to look outward more.

So when I do "wacky" characters for shows or commercial stuff, usually I draw on a comic or actor I admire. When I think weasly, I think Jon Lovitz. When I think huckster, I think Dan Aykroyd. When I think effete foreign guy, I think of Martin Short's Franck in Father of the Bride. When I think of effete non-foreign guy, I get the Niles Crane character. Luckily I'm not good enough at doing them that it comes across as a ripoff. But I take little pieces of other peoples' characters. In the second show I did, someone noted that I was doing my legs like Ed Grimley. That was inadvertent. So even when I don't mean to, I steal other peoples' stuff.

I don't have a snappy conclusion at this time.

Monday, October 31, 2005

And just like that ...

It was just yesterday that I wrote, "So now we'll see if all those great opportunities that come my way when I'm really swamped land on my doorstep now that I have the time for them." And not three hours later I was asked by a director to be in a show that goes up in December. It's a one-act, so it would be very manageable time-wise -- enough to keep busy without being inundated. And it's with some good people I know. I just have to see the schedule. More later.

Of course, that's the ideal -- to be invited into a show without having to audition. That's another key benefit of working a lot. The more people you know, and the more people that see you perform, the more likely you are to get brought in like this. In fact, of the 11 shows I've done this year, I had to go through the traditional audition process for only 5. Of course, the fix was in with One-Eyed Cat ...

Oh well!

So The Weather Man didn't do so well at the box office this weekend. Number 6, making only $4 million. It's a real shame -- I really liked this movie. I know it's dumb to be so invested in a movie where you only had a dinky extra (okay, FEATURED extra) role, but I've been following it so long that I feel like I'm part of it.

The reviews were interesting -- they either loved it or hated it. And a couple of my friends said they didn't really care for it. I think based on the trailers, people were expecting a laugh riot, so they felt a little gyped when it turned out kind of dark and grim. It looks like the studio didn't know how to market it. It's like an indie film with a big studio budget. Oh well.

Derailed comes out November 11. We'll see how it does. And if I'm in it ...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Time Off

So looking ahead at my mostly empty performance calender, I was thinking, "was it a bad idea to turn down the new show?" Then I realize that rehearsals would start this coming Monday and I'd be back in a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night plus Saturday and Sunday morning grind and I know I made the right decision. This week off has been great. I had several big deadlines for work and it was a comfort to know that, if need be, I could work into the evenings. Oh, and I relaxed some, too.

If all I did was act then there'd be almost no question about taking the show. You're an actor, so you work. And actually, even though I do have a day job, that has mostly been my philosophy anyway. Somebody told me, on hearing my packed schedule, that there's something to be said for quality and, of course, I agree. Who wouldn't? But there's also a lot to be said for staying active, and in circulation. You're an actor, you should act. Yes, I've been in a few less-than-stellar shows, but I don't regret any of them. Maybe one or two. If you're a person with an open, active mind, you can almost always get something valuable out of every experience, good, bad or in-between. And I have. Even if it's learning what not to do.

So now we'll see if all those great opportunities that come my way when I'm really swamped land on my doorstep now that I have the time for them. I'm not too worried. I continue to audition. I've got another one coming up Monday that I read the play for yesterday and, if the last couple of years is a guide, I will probably have more than a dozen others before year-end.

So my two big priorities now are to catch up on other peoples' shows and to start writing. I don't know what's next. More short plays? A full-length play? A screenplay? I've got to figure that out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

One-Eye: The Ugly Truth

A couple of last One-Eye loose ends. The question I got more than any other was, "So is that a real cat or what?"

Yes, it -- or "she" -- is real. She belongs to Gretchen and her name is Leona. Or possibly Lucy. I'm never sure, as I just call her Black Cat. Or One-Eye. Or Ol' Gross-'em-out.

And as you can see here from this authentic un-retouched photo she does indeed have only the one eye. She was found that way as a kitten. But due to my delicate sensibilities, I had the graphic designer airbrush out that gaping socket, which I can barely stand to look at in real life, let alone on thousands of postcards and posters for eternity.

In its raw form it probably would have made an even more compelling icon for the show but, what can I say, I'm a sucker for aesthetic purity. Call me Adolph. If only all of life's little imperfections could be swept away with the click of a mouse.

I love the poster. If anyone wants a fantastic graphic artist, let me know -- Jason Adams is the best, and I can get you his contact info.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Do I look like this guy?

I hope so. He's the actor that I auditioned to understudy for this afternoon at Steppenwolf. Not sure how much is based on looks, but I imagine they do seek a certain similar physical type. When they were casting for understudies for John Malkovich, I thought that would be a stretch, but hey, this guy's got funky glasses, too, right? And the guy who auditioned after me also had cool specs.

The audition went well. I think. I was super nervous beforehand but had it under control in the actual audition. The casting director said "beautiful" and "very nice" several times and something else when it was over that I didn't hear because I was busy blacking out from relief. I don't know if that's her style, to be supportive, or if she really was impressed. I've heard things like that at other auditions and not been called back. I don't know, we'll see what happens. This was without question the biggest, most important audition in my three years as an actor. I'm glad it's over. I love the play, and will definitely go see it whatever happens. The playwright, Richard Greenberg, has had several Broadway hits, including Take Me Out so, again, very cool.

Long three days. Evangeline opened, so most of Saturday and a good bit of Sunday were devoted to that. Plus preparing for the audition. Plus I went to see a friend's show Saturday night. Plus today I had two major work deadlines -- a speech and a marketing presentation. So a lot ...

Evangeline went well. Small houses, some rough spots, but at least I held up my end. I was prepared and I gave good performances.

So now I'm looking at an empty calendar for the week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off from performing. It feels like ... a gift. But I'm sure by next week it will feel like a curse. I turned down a project that would start up in a couple of weeks and I think it was the right decision. Eleven shows in 10 months is plenty. And I've got another audition next Monday that I have to read the play for.

Now then, where did I put that life I had?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Evangeline


We're "papering the house" for Evangeline today. Which means free tix for industry folk. Opening weekend is tough for a lot of shows -- reviews haven't appeared yet so there's not a lot of marketing momentum going at the start. I'd like to get some people out but I think I called in every last favor for One-Eyed Cat. I let everyone know about it, but haven't done any arm twisting/head bashing.

I do hope people come out. It really is a beautiful story. I hope we do it justice. Lines like "Meanwhile apart, in the twilight gloom of a window's embrasure, sat the lovers, whispering together, beholding the moon rise over the pallid sea and the silvery mist of the meadows." That Longfellow fellow's no hack.

In one sense, the fact that it's mostly verse makes it difficult to memorize. On the other hand, though, the meter gives you a clue when you have the lines not quite right -- you sense that a word is missing or that maybe that modifier goes after the subject instead of before.

I've never performed so early in the day -- 1pm. Usually I have the whole day to do a final working and re-working (and re-working, etc.) of the lines. We're meeting at 10 to do a run-through/final dress, but I'm going to need to do some more practicing of my own in the shower. I'm feeling just a tad less prepared than I'd like. But everything will be fine -- it always is.

Friday, October 21, 2005

At the movies

I went to the premiere last night of The Weather Man and it was very cool. I'm on screen longer than the little clip on the website -- a good, I don't know, 4-5 seconds or something -- and it was a really interesting feeling. Hard to describe. Kind of a rush -- funny, embarassing, weird.

What was even more interesting was seeing how they turned that long, grueling day into a really funny, effective scene. And then how that fit into the larger film, which is really, really good. A nicely written, offbeat script and beautifully shot. The producers were talking about how good Chicago looks in the movie, about the city being one of the stars of the film, and they're right. I don't recall another movie that showcases Chicago as beautifully as this one does. It was written by a Chicagoan, so it kinda figures, but Gore Verbinski did such an amazing job of evoking a mood with the camera shots and the pacing and the color palette and the music. Definitely a movie worth seeing.

And, of course, I fully recognize that any monkey can be cast as an extra. The woman up there playing my wife isn't even an actor. But I like to think it takes a particularly attractive monkey to be picked for some key background scenes with the stars of the film.

Merde! As the credits were rolling last night I realized I've been spelling Nicolas Cage's name wrong. No "h!" Oops.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A really good day

Rehearsal for Evangeline went great tonight. For most of this process I've felt so behind, like I was treading water and struggling to keep up with everyone. Being caught up with One-Eye, I had to miss a number of rehearsals, and I didn't get to my lines until late. So until the last couple of rehearsals, I was struggling just to remember my lines and my blocking and keep track of the costumes and props and all that, so, of course, with all that going on it's almost impossible to actually act. But it's really come together, and this is the really, really fun part of putting on a show -- when you're relaxed and trying new things and experimenting and truly connecting with the material and the other actors. It's the best.

This afternoon I finally got over to Steppenwolf to read the play for next week's audition. It was so cool -- the scripts have the playwright's edits and markings all over, since, I guess, he's still working with it. It was such a great moment -- at one point I looked up and saw the pictures of Gary Sinise and John Mahoney and all the others who I should know by sight but don't and it was really ... inspirational. I don't know, it's been three years and still I take none of this for granted. Some people are so casual -- or they talk so casually -- about their work. "Oh, I just threw this script together" or "I showed up at the audition and looked at the script for the first time," etc. I don't want it ever to be like that.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

248 served

That was our total audience for the five-show run of One-Eye. A very respectable number for that venue and the type of show it was.

The check came in from Second City and it's really interesting how the dollars work out. The way things are calculated for this particular time slot, Second City gets the first $175, then 50% of every ticket after that. So when you have a relatively small house, like opening night, with 34 people, well, you make almost no money at all after Second City gets its cut. But when you get 55-60 like we did for three shows, it works out pretty nicely. (I should add that Second City gives you a ton in return for their cut -- rehearsal space, tech director, box office, house manager, etc. -- all very worth it. Plus they charge no money up-front for rent.)

So all together, I basically covered my marketing expenses. I confess to spending too much on marketing. I get professional design and printing of the kind you'd typically see for a show with a longer run or at a bigger venue. But to me it's like that old workplace saying, "Dress for who you want to be, not for who you are." Hmm, yeah, that is indeed a very OLD saying. Anyway, I just wanted marketing materials that reflected the quality of the show.


So now I need to pay the director and sound designer, which will mostly come out of my own pocket. As Rob, says, "We're not doing this for the money." Still, aside from the obvious practical benefits of money (it helps us eat, etc.), it also has an important symbolic value. It's an expression of worth. Or something. I don't know, but these people are professionals and they should be paid accordingly.

So One-Eye's a wrap. I've got the plays online here so you can either see what you missed or relive your favorite moments! I might submit them for production in other venues, either together or separately, not sure.

So with that, this journal, or blog, now has a new name and look. I will continue to write here about my experiences in performing, for as long as it's of interest to me and others. And now I have to get to rehearsal. Yesterday we were there for 9 hours. Oy.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

On work

It's weird to go around town without posters and postcards and tape and pushpins. For something like 8 weeks I was so hyper-attuned to every bulletin board, store window and shelf space that could carry One-Eye swag -- like the way before a big move you're checking every alley and dumpster for clean, sturdy boxes.

Producing was difficult. Even for a little show like this. It's just this constant feeling any time you're awake, thinking, "I could be doing something more right now. And if I don't, will I pay for my indolence with an empty house Friday?" Still, it's hard to imagine entrusting the job to someone else. They would have to be really spectacular and gifted, because there's no way they'd outwork me. Outsmart me, yes, but not out-hustle. I wish I was better at shortcuts. I'm very buy-the-book, process-oriented.

I like to always have lines to work on. I record them on a little digital recorder and play them over and over, when I'm in the shower or at the gym or doing housework. In fact, I really hate showering if I don't have lines to work on. It feels like completely wasted time. If I don't have lines I'll work on monologues.

Now I'm facing the prospect of some time off. There are opportunities, yes, but do I take them? I'm not sure. I'd like there to be a balance. When I'm working my ass off I complain -- like the back-to-back commercial and industrial shoots the past two weeks. It was grueling. Now, of course, I've had no calls this week from agents so I'm wondering if my career is over.

It's really ironic that acting naturally attracts people who are terribly insecure and at the same time, every single element of the process is designed to reinforce that insecurity. How would you like to be told NO 9 times out of 10? Or 19 out of 20?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Steppenwolf

So I've been called to audition at Steppenwolf, which is really, really cool. It's for an understudy role for a mainstage production going up early next year. Just to audition there -- easily one of the 5 or 10 most storied and prestigious theatre companies in the country -- is a huge honor. But I need to read the play, which you can only do at certain hours at the theatre, since it's unpublished. I'm going over there today to pick up the sides at least.

Evangeline has taken up so much time. I'm about 90% off-book but still have a lot of work to get it down. We open in -- crap -- 9 days!

Now that One-Eye's over, I guess this journal thing will transmogrify into a regular actor's blog. Still some loose ends to tie up on the show, though -- I want to get the five plays fixed up and put on my website and registered with the Copyright Office. And I have to get the final box office figures from Second City so I can pay the director and sound designer. After that, this site will probably get a different look. Or maybe I'll just create a new one.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Addendum

I should add that I will miss the cast very much. That's the hardest part of ending a show. Well, one hard part is saying goodbye to a character you've been portraying and living with for so long. When the show goes away, the character sort of dies. Though, like people, it tends to stay with you long afterward, becoming a part of your thoughts and who you are.

But yes, the other thing is the people. Sometimes you form really strong bonds with fellow actors. You're all sharing a unique experience -- one that's often tense and grueling and exhilarating -- so that naturally draws you together. You try to stay in touch, but it's hard. Still I've managed to hold on to some friends from past shows, and that's really nice. In what other worlds do you get to make new friends at this age?

Everyone was so nice after the show, telling me that they felt privileged to be part of it. And I was saying how honored I was to have them in it! Seriously, one issue with Skybox shows is that they run just once a week. So I've got some pretty high-octane actors tying themselves up for 5-10 weeks and they get only once a week to perform, instead of three or four times.

But I do love them all. They are really wonderful -- and I heard so many good things about them from family and friends. So thank you so much, Jonathan and Hilary and Jack and Spencer and Cameron and Cat. I will always be grateful for the work and creativity and love that you put into these scripts.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Done!

Wow. What a relief. I know I should want this to go on forever, but as producer it was just a daily struggle and torment to fight and scrap and hope for every last ticket sale. We had a good house last night, about 55. I won't get the final numbers for a week or two, but I think we had 240 people over the course of the run, which is pretty good for a show of this type -- a non-traditional, non-sketch or improv comedy show.

Of that total, a good third were friends and family coming out for me. Yes, it would be nice to reach a broader audience, but that is more than offset by the fact that I am just so blown away that so many friends thought enough of me and the show to take the time to see it. I know how hard it can be to motivate and get out to see other peoples' shows. Sometimes you just don't feel like it. Especially theatre people who have been rehearsing and performing all week -- the last thing you want to do on a free night is to step inside another theatre. So it really means the world to me when people come to my shows.

And again, everybody -- friends, strangers, fellow actors -- were so generous in their praise. People love this show. And they're not just blowing smoke up my ass. They're effusive. It's a great show. I'm a damned good writer. I am a playwright.

And right now I'm going to revel for a bit in the show's success, and keep thinking positively. Though I admit all day trickling into my head are names of people who did not come to the show. People whose shows I have made a special effort to see. Friends who ... well, I know if they did something special like writing a play or singing in a band or exhibiting their art or running a marathon, I would go out of my way to see them. But I won't think about that now. I will focus instead on all the people who did make it out. There is plenty of time later to create a blacklist. Ha! Kidding. Sort of.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Moo


Actors know they're cattle. We accept that. We just don't need it thrown in our faces. "Don't sit there! The chairs are for the crew!" "Let the crew eat first!" "Don't wander far from your pen!"

The 4-day shoot turned into 3. Overall, a very odd experience. There were some major logistical snafus on Monday -- location switched, equipment not arriving, 90-degree heat -- so things were tense from the start. Normally the producers and directors make you feel really good about what you're doing, a positive atmosphere being critical to getting good results from everyone. On this shoot I had no idea where I stood. It felt like I wasn't giving them what they wanted.

So when they told me on Day 3 that they wouldn't need me for the 4th day, I was kind of surprised, but it seemed par for the course with these folks. My agent got me paid for the day anyway, so it was like a paid holiday. Still, it was weird. Though I just heard this morning from my friend who was there for Day 4 that the crew said great things about me. So who knows?

Overall, a very strange business.

Final performance of One-Eye tonight, with Dad, sister and others in the audience. Should be a great evening. I'd love a sell-out, but would be happy with the crowds we've been getting.

I guess I should have some big, momentous feelings to report at this juncture, but I don't. It's been a great run and I'm very happy, but also, there's so much going on. All of us are in the midst of other projects ramping up, so those naturally exert a pull on you psychologically, physically, emotionally. Even though you go out and there and give everything on stage, it doesn't consume you day-to-day like it did before. As they say in The Ledge, "I'm ready."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I almost died

And not on stage this time.

This weekend I had two whole days off and G and I went over to Michigan. Disappointed over scant wildlife sightings, other than a couple of chipmunks and one blue heron/type bird, I proclaimed, "Damnit, I want to see some wildlife, even if it means a 400-lb. deer smashing through our windshield." I say stupid stuff like that all the time and never knock wood or any other available surface. As fortune would have it, the next day we're flying up the highway at 70 mph and in broad daylight, 1pm, this deer comes out of the woods and runs straight across our path. It was a full-on brake-slamming, rubber-peeling moment. We stopped so hard the engine shut off. Thank god for my cat-like reflexes, which saved us from eating a fatal deer sandwich for lunch.

Other than that, the trip was great. Another Internet-free weekend.

Right now I'm on day 2 of a 4-day commercial shoot. It was supposed to be just 3, but they added a 4th. When I groaned, my agent said, "Hey, it's money, right?" And I was like, yeah, but I have actual work-work to do this week. So I'll be doing that at night, I guess. Plus I am woefully behind on memorizing my lines for Evangeline, so that's going to bite me in the ass Wednesday night.

One-Eye closes Friday. We should have a party, but I have about 90 minutes to plan it. Dad and others coming in this weekend for the show, too. Breathe ...

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Awesome night!

Great house last night. 55 or so, not exactly sure. Plus tons of old friends. Some who hadn't seen a show of mine since the very first ones I did three years ago, so it was great to show that, yes, I really can act! People are just so gracious in their praise for this show. The stories really resonate.

And my pal Jonald brought ANOTHER 9 people! Amazing. He rules.

And mad props to Hilary for bringing her own huge entourage!

I care too much about numbers, I suppose. But I really would like to pay our director a decent wage.

Small world story. I am doing this industrial video next week, a 4-day shoot in which I play a real estate agent. Turns out one of the days my co-star is a good friend of mine who was at the show last night. She is "young, single woman" that I show a condo to in Lincoln Park. We're going to have a blast.

I am so, so, so proud of this show. If I never do another thing, this would be accomplishment enough.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Watching the Orionrise

Here is the story of my 22-hour day.

Yesterday I did this commercial up in Green Bay. My call time (i.e., the time I was supposed to be there) was 11:30 am. So I made the 4-hour drive through rush hour traffic and got there just in time to ... sit on my ass for 9 hours while they finished another spot. We wrapped up at just past midnight.

I suspected it would be a mess since they put me through FOUR auditions, and changed the script every time, even at the actual audition. But the money was good. And I guess it will run nationally on cable for several months, with a chance for an extension if it does well. It's funny, because sitting here now I just saw one of their commercials airing.

So do I sleep in Green Bay a few hours and fight the traffic back to Chicago in the morning? Sounds like a good idea. So I don't. I got in the car and did 200 miles in 3 hrs, 15 min. I feel like I should have made it in 3-flat. Damned gas.

So tonight I think I'm going to unload the remaining One-Eye postcards by doing a quick circuit of key theatre spaces around town. Don't know how much can be done to get people out at this point, but I'd feel bad if we had an off night and I hadn't at least tried some more. A bunch of people I know are coming out tomorrow night, so we'll see.

Oh, Orion. My favorite constellation. It's visible only in winter, but obviously winter's coming because on the drive home it was just slightly above the Eastern horizon, laying on its side. I've never seen it so low before. All the way home it was out the left window and getting higher in the sky. It was nice company. That and a box of fig newtons.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Nicolas Cage & Me

For whatever damned reason, I can't post photos right now, so you'll have to go here to see me standing right behind Nicolas Cage and Hope Davis in The Weatherman, which FINALLY opens next month. I was an extra for a day -- okay, a featured extra -- in this film almost a year-and-half ago.

Anyway, on the trailer that runs on the site's home page (above), I am in this tiny little scene and you can just barely spot me if you hit the pause fast enough. They filmed for an entire day and got lots of other shots for this scene, so we'll see how much of me actually makes it to the screen. You can read the back story here.

The movie's opening has been pushed back numerous times, which is usually a pretty bad sign. Michael Caine is also in it, and the director, Gore Verbinski, did Pirates of the Caribbean, so you'd think it would be decent. Who knows? Either way, this is one Nicolas Cage movie that's getting my $9, that's for certain.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Nice turnout

I think I use the word "nice" too much. But it's a good word. Tidy. Like my show.

Word up to good pal and former classmate Jonald, who brought his posse of TEN PEOPLE out last night to see the show. Thanks, Mr. Brown -- you, your cousins and friends rule. Of course, I may change my tune once I read his review. Jonald's a budding entrepreneur, so check out his Chicago Hotlist site for cool happenings around town.

Anyway, we had a good crowd last night -- about 45 people -- with good energy working for us, so I was really pleased.

Just two more performances. I'd really like to get a sellout or two ...

I'm very tired, my apartment is filthy and I've got spoiled chicken in the fridge (thankfully, I gave it a sniff test last night before making it into dinner!).

Friday, September 23, 2005

Will they come?

So now I'm wondering what kind of house we'll get tonight. Last week, people pulled out all the stops -- Jack brought like a dozen people, Rob blast e-mailed his list, 14 of mine came out -- all to ensure we get a nice big audience there for the reviewer. I hope this week isn't a letdown. I only know of a handful of friends that are or may be coming, and I don't know how effective the review will be at pulling in strangers. It's not like it was Critic's Choice or Recommended. I did e-mail it yesterday to my list, which I think is around 150 people, and posted it on message boards, and I went up Clark street to check on posters and created a little label that I affixed to them ("Engaging" ... "admirably honest" ... "Durang meets Python" -- The Chicago Reader). So we'll see. It's a little like the anxiety of throwing a party ... times 11.

I hadn't really focused yesterday on the Durang-meets-Python comment. That is way cool. A couple of people asked me who Durang was, but theatre people will get it.

Yesterday I had this photo shoot, which was nice, easy money. I judge a commercial job by whether it pays as much or more than my regular job. Sometimes they don't. This one did. It was for some company that creates customized vitamin regimens based on an analysis of your DNA. No shit. I was to look "healthy and confident." Very confident. The photographer said, "Can you show me smug" and I was like, "Please, I was born with a shit-eating grin on."

The really nice thing about a photo shoot is you just stand there and do what you're told and you get direct, instant feedback on everything you're doing -- "Chin-up (good!), now tilt your head camera left (good!), shift your shoulders to the right (perfect!), take a half step over (that's it!)... okay, give me confident (perfect!), now determined (good!), now curious (excellent!), thoughtful (great!)." It's a nice contrast to this show I'm rehearsing, where we are working as an ensemble to create a lot of the movement and even the text. I've just been so drained I haven't been able to give that process everything I can, so it's nice to just relax and take direction for a while. They're not all like that -- some are really grueling and others are long and boring -- but, again, for the money and time it's a pretty sweet gig.

Now I have to staple 30 headshots/resumes and get them down to my agent's. Good times.



Thursday, September 22, 2005

"Tidy and engaging"

No, not me -- the show! That's according to the Chicago Reader, at least.

The review came out today and I honestly was about to vomit in my mouth on the way to pick it up. There's a bookstore three miles from my place that gets the paper (it's a weekly) hours earlier than most other places in town. So I went down there to get it, came back, typed it up (it doesn't go online until tonight or tomorrow), and e-mailed and posted it all over the Internet world.

I was really worried they'd have something particularly savage to say about the show, as they very often do about others, so I was actually hoping toward the end for a merely tepid, mediocre review. But I got more -- so much more:

THE ONE-EYED CAT AND OTHER TALES OF NEED -- This tidy, engaging little collection of one-acts from Danger Boy Productions comes courtesy of writer Rob Biesenbach and director Rob Chambers, Second City guys both. Like Biesenbach's scripts, the acting is occasionally workmanlike but admirably honest and unmannered. Jack McCabe and Spencer Wawak, the oldest and youngest in the ensemble, fare best in scenes driven by generational conflict, while Jonathan Beran and Cameron Jappe are most adept with lighter, Durang-meets-Python stuff. There's a faint familiarity to all the scenarios, but only The Ledge, a two-suicides-meet-cute bit, feels completely played out. And as directed by Chambers, Jappe and Catherina Kusch make even that one go down easy -- so to speak. -- Brian Nemtusak

It's funny that The Ledge was his least favorite -- audiences have seemed to respond really strongly to that one in particular. And I suppose it can be interpreted as a tad condescending in places -- "little one-acts" and "occasionally workmanlike." But hell, I'll take "engaging" and "admirably honest and unmannered" any day! Very interesting word choice indeed, considering I wrote this about them just a few weeks ago: "I'd like to think there's a unique point of view. And some true, honest moments. That they're at least compelling and hold the audience's attention."

Now I can breathe. If I have the energy, I will create little labels with quotes from the review and stick them on the posters that are up around town.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

On disappointing others

Being an actor means you are going to be a constant source of disappointment to those closest to you. It means being busy when they're free -- 4 to 7 nights a week, including Fridays and Saturdays, plus very often Saturday and Sunday mornings and/or afternoons.

And that's just theatre. During the weekdays you're also at the mercy of talent agents and casting directors, calling you in to auditions and bookings, usually with less than 24 hours notice. This is Wednesday and I've been to 3 auditions and one half-day commercial booking. On top of that, you've got your day job. I'm immensely fortunate that mine is pretty flexible.

I actually went back and counted -- so far this year I have had exactly 4 weekends off (that's weekends with no shows, rehearsals or auditions). Three if you count Friday night as part of the weekend, which most people do. I haven't had a Friday night off since July 22.

I was all set to take a 3-day weekend -- Saturday to Monday -- in a couple of weeks. I'd arranged to get out of rehearsals for Evangeline, and leave first thing Saturday, after my Friday night show. And now I just got called for a 3-day shoot of an industrial video, Monday to Wednesday. Lots of people work lots of hours, or odd hours, but this is a business where you have so little control over your schedule. If you can't make the audition or the gig on the date they have scheduled, then tough luck. Rarely, at this stage, will they work around your schedule. And, unfortunately, I'm not in a position right now where turning down a couple thousand dollars is advisable.

In the past two years I have worked on Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4th of July, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, the day after Thanksgiving, Superbowl Sunday, my birthday, other peoples' birthdays, etc. Not many people are interested in putting up with that kind of thing. Those who can and do are really ... special.

Mind you, this beats the alternative. I'm grateful to be busy and working and in-demand. It just comes with a lot of guilt and stress.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Origins (Part 2)

If Fish Could Scream is the oldest of the five plays. I wrote it originally as a sketch back in my Second City writing classes almost two years ago. At the time, I wrote it mainly as an exercise -- much of my writing tends to be people standing around talking. Sure, they're saying clever things and all, but they're still just standing around. So I wanted to write something that had some action and object work that not only served the story, but actually helped drive the narrative.

I probably thought of fishing because I used to go fishing a lot with my Dad when I was a kid. Plus, I think the casting motion is very graceful, and would look nice on stage.

Anyway, I expanded it to a 10-minute play when Second City was accepting short play submissions for a show of one-acts they were doing. My play wasn't chosen, but I did get cast to perform in the show (The Egg & Idle Chatter).

This one evolved quite a bit over the course of the year. A lot of dialogue carried all the way through the various drafts, but I kept working and re-working the core conflict between the father and son, trying to make it more specific and more real. And simplifying things as much as possible. This was the play that gave us the idea for age-appropriate casting -- having an actual child play the child, instead of a 24-year-old. In fact, that's what the Egg director said was the main issue with the play -- that it really demanded a child actor, which didn't really work for that show.

For most of its life it was titled "Fathers & Sons," but I was never happy with that because it's the name of a Hemingway short story and has been used by lots of others. If Fish Could Scream is a more interesting title, and is based on a line in the play that actually comes from my real life: when I was a kid, fishing with my Dad one day, I asked, "What if minnows could scream?" and my Dad replied, "There probably wouldn't be too many fishermen."

Other than that, there's nothing really autobiographical at all in this play.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

57

That's the size of last night's audience. Fourteen of them my friends, or people my friends brought, plus a couple of armies of fans brought by other actors. I'm happy and relieved to an extent that's impossible to describe.

But more important than the numbers, we put on a really good show. Different in a lot of ways from last week, but just as good -- maybe better. A cell phone went off (twice!) during one of the plays and the actors plowed through and overcame it. They are great. I feel dwarfed by their talent. In fact, my own performance ... I don't know what it is. It's hard to get out of my head when I'm worrying about the box office or the critic or whatever. I'm glad now I'm in only one of the plays, but I also feel like I'm not really showcasing myself much as an actor. Maybe someone else could do more with the role. I don't know. Who wrote this character anyway?

So the reviewer got to see a fair representation of what we do, and a good-sized house. I couldn't have asked for more. I don't mind so much being judged as long as we're being judged on what we're really capable of.

And again, the people who attended, friends and strangers alike, were really complimentary and very gracious in telling me afterwards how much they enjoyed the show. People really love these stories. And everyone it seems finds something that relates very directly and personally to things going on in their own lives -- an ill parent, a bad breakup or a strained relationship.

So I'm not even going to concern myself with what the reviewer says. Honest. I can wait 'til it's published. Just 119 hours from now.