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.