Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: By the numbers


Another performing year comes to a close -- the third full year of pursuing theatre and commercial work. Here's how it breaks down:
  • 11 commercial bookings (TV spot, industrial and print)
  • 48 commercial auditions
  • 10 theatre productions (2 full-length plays, 4 one-acts, 4 readings)
  • 44 theatre auditions
  • 3 short film productions
  • 12 film auditions
  • 1 6-week acting class
  • 4 one-act plays written
  • 7 play festival submissions
  • 2 plays produced
Not bad. A ton of work -- over a hundred rehearsals on top of that -- so, yes, lots of activity. But progress? I don't know. In commercial terms I was hoping to get a union national broadcast spot, coming off last year's national cable spot. That didn't happen. But I had a few more bookings, and total commercial revenue actually tripled. A quarter of my total income came from acting this year, which is one-fourth of the way to becoming a full-time working actor, I guess.

Theatre-wise, my goals were to do fewer but better shows. Better meaning bigger roles and better venues. I got the fewer part right -- down to 10 from 12. But only two of those were full-length plays, and one of those was an understudy role. But they were both very good experiences with good groups. I performed in 4 more one-acts -- I'm the f'ing king of one-acts. But again, I definitely got something out of all of them.

Another goal was to move beyond extra work to actual speaking roles in major feature films. That didn't happen, but I did do three short films, so maybe that kind of experience will help me get there.

As for writing, I wrote and produced a sketch show in 2004 and a collection of one-acts in 2005. This year I continued writing, drafting four more one-acts. I took a different route on production, though, sending them out to 7 local and national festivals and competitions. Two ended up being produced so far, so that's cool.

I hardly got anywhere on the screenplay. Maybe this year.

Looking ahead, I guess my goals remain the same -- a national union spot; better quality, higher profile theatre opportunities; some kind of television or movie role. I might take those plays and produce them in another show of my own, and maybe I'll look to get some of the older ones published.

So there we go. Time to drink!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Yikes

That was some anger. But the computer is pretty vital to me as someone who writes for a living (and as an art). Anyway, it's back. I had to drive down to the South Side to pick it up because every time I called DHL I got a different story about their ability to deliver it. But it's back.

It's frustrating because I have terrible, terrible luck when it comes to customer service of any kind. Like Dell's inability to send me a box, or DHL's ability to deliver my computer, I have a long track record of bizarre, one-of-a-kind mishaps. The cable company cuts off my service because they mistake my apartment for a non-paying neighbor's. A client repeatedly sends a huge, much-needed check to an ancient address after a half-dozen attempts to correct their records. The post office loses my mail. A brand new TV is delivered broken. And so on and so on ... it's just unbelievable.

I think I'm just exhausted. Performances and rehearsals running right up to the 19th, then jumping into the x-mas frenzy, then x-mas travel. You can't really relax when you're a guest in someone else's home, even your parents'. And Dad is very sick, causing tremendous stress and sadness. Then back here, computer issues, a gig today where not only did my agent give me the wrong address for the client, but they gave the client the wrong phone number for me. Confusion and lateness ensued. Plus with all of that I've been learning my lines for the January show, so I feel like I've had no vacation, no rest.

But of course I should count myself lucky. Yesterday on the bus coming from the train coming from O'Hare, this guy got aboard and he was clearly a bit unbalanced. He was 7 cents short and the driver wouldn't move the bus until he ponied up. He started getting unhinged, the bus driver threatened to get the police (a station was just across the street), which angered the guy more. Someone threw in the 7 cents but it was too late. The cops came and the guy was kicked off the bus and he was yelling that not only did he lose 2 dollars, but now he had to walk.

The driver was right. He can't just give discounts -- I'm sure he's accountable at the end of his run. And physical violence is a very real threat in his job, so it's probably not good to take a chance. But still, this poor son of a bitch was now stuck. Lord knows how long it took him to come with that $1.92. Afterwards, when it was too late, I wished I had stepped out and given him 2 bucks so he could just get on the next bus.

I don't know. I'm complaining about computers and stuff from the warmth of my apartment and about family disappointments and about having too much work and this guy probably had to walk to the shelter or treatment center or wherever he was going. I understand his anger and frustration. It comes from powerlessness and feeling like you have no control in the face of the petty, daily injustices of life. It is a sucky, sucky world.

Enough. I promised myself this wouldn't be a blog about everyday bullshit like this. So from here on out, back to writing about acting (and writing).

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Happy f'ing holiday, bitch

I have now been without a computer for two whole weeks. I f'ing hate Dell, which took 3 days and 5 phone calls just to get me a box to send the damned thing to them, and DHL, which doesn't know the meaning of "I'm out of town until x day and time, so please don't try delivering it then." The holiday card looks like it's going to be an MLK day card, and getting client work done has been a minor miracle. It's good I don't have the computer now anyway because I'd probably punch it again, requiring a trip back to Dell.

This company I did an industrial for a couple of months ago has been calling for weeks to schedule a makeup voiceover session. They've arranged and canceled at least 3 times. It's always, "We've got to have this in 24 hours or we're totally screwed," and I bend my schedule around to do it and then they call at the last minute and say they don't need it right away after all.

The latest attempt was scheduled for tomorrow, which I wasn't super happy about because I've been out of town for four days, and a day at home to catch up would have been nice. But it turns out I had access to a car (their studios are in North Bumfuck, 30 minutes to 3 hours from here, depending on traffic conditions). Naturally they called today to postpone again. So now they want to do it the day after new year's, meaning I'll be taking the damned train out there and burning 6 hours (for a 1-hour gig 30 miles away -- that's public transportation for you, a system ideally suited to those for whom time has absolutely no value whatsoever).

And I have lots to do but have been tethered to home for the past 6 hours on the hope that DHL might make a second attempt to deliver today. Which it looks like they are not. Meaning another day tomorrow penned in the apartment waiting. I would really like to kill someone right now. I should go ride the bus -- there's always someone I want to kill on the bus.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Tennessee Williams

If organizational ability is any indication, this Tennessee Williams show should be good. At our first rehearsal, more than a month before opening night, they presented posters and postcards, all printed and ready, which is quite a feat. The graphics are actually very cool, but not up on the website yet. And a press release has already gone out to the media, which is excellent.

If it turns out artistically as good as the marketing effort we'll be in great shape. I don't know, though. I hadn't considered before getting into it just how daunting this will be. These are from a set of one-acts that were just recently published after spending most of their lives in a Texas archive. So one of the plays I'm doing has never been performed (publicly, at least) on any stage anywhere in the world. I will be performing Tennessee Williams' words for the first time, a world premiere. Yikes. The other one is a Chicago premiere and has a monologue I do at the end that is as beautiful as anything he's ever written. So I'm feeling a heavy weight of responsibility.

The other thing is, maybe Williams didn't publish these for a reason. They are from very early in his career. But some reviews I've read from other productions around the country are mostly favorable -- they seem to agree that they're worth staging and, if not up to the standards of Glass Menagerie or Streetcar, definitely show flashes of his later brilliance. The one we're world premiering I'm not completely sold on. But rehearsals just started, so maybe its quality will reveal itself in the weeks ahead.

Anyway, right now I just need to get off-book during this two-week break. It has been amazing the past couple of days to get a little bit of my life back. Verrrrrry relaxing, even among the holiday mayhem. Just to spend a night in front of the TV is like a gift.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Break

Tomorrow is the start of what should be a week-long break from rehearsing, performing and auditioning -- my first completely free day since Thanksgiving.

I was so tired last night waiting for the damned bus (for a half-hour) that I almost had a breakdown. This theatre is so damned hard to get to -- it's over in Bucktown, requiring a giant L-shaped, two-bus commute. And because the cross-town buses suck so hard it takes an hour to go just 3.5 damned miles door-to-door. Thinking about it, I could have walked it faster.

So the last thing I wanted to do last night was rehearse this new show. But now we're done and on a two-week break (during which I have to get off-book on the two plays I'm in -- so I guess it's not much of a break).

And now today I start my Christmas shopping. I hope people aren't expecting a lot of creativity. Humbug.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

*cough*

I think this performing 18 days in a row thing has caught up with me. I've got this nasty, dry hacking cough that's been causing me some problems on stage. The other night I was actually in tears trying to suppress it in one scene. And another night I missed a cue while strategizing when I could run off stage for a gulp of water and a really hard, satisfying cough. I have to do it kind of creatively, during scene transitions, as I'm on stage for almost all of the second act.

So today is the final Twist performance, with a big group of old friends coming. I don't know if it's because of the holidays or what, but lots of friends have come out for this show. Almost all of them friend-friends, as opposed to actor friends. There are a couple of people who will probably be thankful that I'll be taking them off my show e-mail list -- people whose shows I've gone to repeatedly but who haven't reciprocated. It's odd. There are people whose shows I don't attend, but then I take them off my list.

Yesterday was first rehearsal for the January/February show. This group really has their act together so I am looking forward to it. Then after two more rehearsals this week I have a full two weeks with no shows or rehearsals or anything. Sweet.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Up at the crack-o-noon

Yow. I can't remember the last time I woke up this late on a school day. We closed the Steep show last night and the usual festivities, combined with official closing festivities, means I didn't get home until ... not exactly sure when, but 3 am sticks in my mind. And I had the hiccups, which is always a bad sign.

So for the final show, Jamie, our director, said I could just go wild with bits if I wanted to, so we took what was a 7 or 8 minute play and pretty much doubled its length. But it was fun.

The premise of the scene is a guy in a diner notices a sign over the counter that says, "NO SKRONKING." He then proceeds to interrogate the waitress over what "skronking" means. We never find out, but he guesses. In the script, he makes these guesses with a variety of gestures. In rehearsals we made up our own. Jaime gave me free reign to explore and we picked the best 3 of a couple-dozen bits: 1) I do a "magic" trick, pulling a quarter out of her ear; 2) I take a big bit of pie and show her the chewed up results in my mouth; 3) a funny obscene gesture.

So with Jamie's blessing I told Melissa, my scene partner, that I was going to do a variety of bits between numbers 2 and 3. I started scouring the prop shelves and my imagination and ended up doing the following:
  1. used fork to flick hunk of pie onto No Skronking sign;
  2. flicked change off my elbow, catching it in my hand;
  3. pulled out handcuffs, considered and discarded;
  4. pulled out deck of cards, shuffled, had her pick a card;
  5. chewed gum and spit it into the air, catching it in my mouth -- on first try, thank you (a trick I learned from the Pretenders' original bassist, Pete Farndon -- RIP, Pete!);
  6. performed Michael Jackson "Billie Jean" dance moves, including balancing on toes and world's worst moon walk;
  7. did three clapping pushups;
  8. and for the topper, in a move that I thought more than twice about, pulled out postcards for the other show I'm in (with my name on cast list circled and labeled "ME!" and the words "CLOSING SUNDAY" scrawled on it) and handed them out to audience members.
It was a beautiful moment -- a combination of acting, improv, vaudeville and standup. Jamie was dying, Melissa was actually in tears at one point and the audience was eating it up. It was a great way to go out. Most importantly, I think it impressed the guys at Steep, which I'm really happy about. Maybe that will lead to another opportunity down the road.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bobby Two Beers

That has always been my chosen Indian name -- Bobby Two Beers. (Either that or "Gel in Hair.")

I thought of it tonight because after the Steep show I was to have only TWO BEERs. Because not only have I been feeling run down, but I have a meeting tomorrow morning with a Very Important Client. One who is, basically, providing something like a third of my total income this year.

And yet, I had more than two beers. I'm not drunk by a longshot, but I had more beers and stayed later than I wanted to. But what can I do? These guys are fun. We play this ridiculous game that shocks you as a penalty, either for slowness or simply due to random chance, depending on the version we're playing. They also play "Beer Die," which is something like Beer Pong, only played with dice instead of ping pong paddles and balls.

Anyway, it's hard to get away. It's the holidays, after all, and this is a reunion show after all. But I will be paying for this. I do believe I've hit the wall. Five shows this weekend (including a special command performance for a corporate group) -- the last thing I wanted to do tonight was go to the theatre. But once you're there it's all so energizing and fun.

But "Bobby Two Beers" isn't about having only two beers. The name originated in college. When I'm at a crowded place and I don't want to make multiple trips, I'll just order two beers at once. And if people ask, I just say I'm bringing one to a friend ...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Halfway through

I have completed 9 of 18 consecutive performance days and I am feeling none the worse for wear.

Of course the Monday-Wednesday show is pretty simple -- a very short one-act. As I've said, the partying is more grueling than the acting. In fact, a director friend was there the other night and noted how suited I was for the role. It's not much of a stretch so therefore not very stressful.

Twist had a great night last night. An old, old friend from work who I haven't seen for a couple of years came out, so that was awesome. She was there for some pretty critical points in my life -- my entry into the agency world, the implosion of the Chicago office, and our near-simultaneous resignations and startup of our practices. A friend of hers who recently left the communications job at a major national retailer now heads the local office of a top PR firm. It would be great to work together again on some projects. Now that we are supposedly in the midst of Internet 2.0, perhaps we can go back and relive the heady late-'90s.

Anyway, the performance thing will probably hit me harder when it's over. Sometimes the absence of something is more pronounced than the thing itself.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Affirmation

It seems when I'm feeling most down about things a nice little thing happens to make things feel a little better.

I didn't get cast in that show I was auditioning for, which is too bad. I mean, I audition all the time, but I kinda wanted this one. It's a good play with a really hot company. I read it three times, auditioned twice for three different characters, but ... oh, well, the rejection phone call was exceptionally gracious and nice. And at least I redeemed myself with these people. Next time.

Anyway, that, and some other projects I heard about over the weekend got me a little down. At this Steep reunion show you're suddenly catching up with a couple dozen people you haven't seen for months or even a year, and everything everyone else is doing always sounds more glamorous than what you're up to.

So yesterday I shot this industrial. It's for a big maker of wireless headsets. And it's funny, actually, because in my day job I just recently wrote a script for an industrial video for this very company. This was a different video, though. And I honestly didn't think I'd get the gig. They shot us in profile at the auditions and, well, I don't think my side is my best side. I'm more of a head-on guy. The nose seems to extend a bit too much for my liking from profile.

But I got the job. And when I got there they wanted me to be a small business owner who works out of his home, talking about the challenges and the rewards and how this earpiece makes my life easier. They gave me a few suggested talking points and assured me we could stop and start and do it in small pieces.

So this is me, right? My everyday. Simple. I did a 3-minute monologue straight out of my life and they were like, "Okay, that's a wrap!" I had an hour-and-half slot and I was done in less than 5 minutes. They were pretty blown away. But they probably got a lot of models for the shoot who weren't really actors, so they were probably having a long day at that point.

They had so much extra time we did a second one, for which I had to be ... a city planner. Another topic I just happen to have some familiarity with.

So that was nice. And easy money. The Steep show is going great, but the partying is killing me. These people are FUN.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Glove Samaritans

Twice in the past couple of weeks I've had the experience of strangers on the street yelling and gesturing at me while I look all bewildered because I'm plugged into my iPod and can't hear what they're saying.

It turns out both times they were telling me I dropped my gloves. Today it was the UPS man on Grand Avenue. I was way across the street and he was yelling from his truck and this construction crew on the corner was waving in my face and I had no idea what was going on until I unplugged my headphones.

I hate being that person. Especially when people are going out of there way to be really nice to you. I mean, losing your gloves in Chicago when it's 15 degrees is a pretty big deal, and someone's trying to help you out and you're totally oblivious.

I never used to walk down the street listening to music, but now ... Christ I spend so much time on trains and buses and waiting for trains and buses, going from auditions to gigs to rehearsals to shows. And you can't always read or do a crossword, especially when you're bundled up, but I don't know. Maybe I'll go on a music strike for a week and see what it's like just listening to the thoughts in my head. That used to be entertainment enough ...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Steep Family Reunion

Today was the final rehearsal for No Skronking, part of the Steep Family Reunion one-act fest. It's been a fun process, working with Jamie and Melissa and the rest of the gang.

There are a huge number of actors in the show this year -- something like 35 -- and it's as much a social event as a theatre experience. I foresee many hangovers this holiday season.

Day 4 of 18 consecutive performance dates complete. So far, so good. At least I don't have any more lines to learn. For the next two weeks.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Energy

In the second show I ever did we were rehearsing a sketch and the director yelled, "Rob, get your energy up!" At the time I had no idea my energy was flagging or that it was visible to observers or even what I was supposed to do to get it back.

What the hell is energy? It was a hard thing to learn and just as hard to define. My natural state is pretty reserved -- I've been told I come across as kind of cold and withdrawn. So doing the opposite of that (sober) was a challenge. I guess energy is focus, attention, volume, presence, engagement. Yeah, pretty vague, but you know it when you see it and, more especially, when you don't.

I used to do all kinds of physical stuff to get my energy up before a show. I had this ritual where I'd do 25 pushups before going on stage. In one show where I had to do this really angry monologue I was, literally, bouncing off the walls before the show. Climbing them, jumping off them, even throwing my body against them.

Everybody does different things. Some people lay on the floor plugged into their iPod, others chat away about anything and everything, others practice with their scripts. In this one show, this older actor, Jack, was sitting in a chair quietly backstage while the rest of us were running around. He explained, "Before I go on I just try to RELAX." That was a revelation for me.

In any case, at some point I stopped doing the pushups. I don't know when or why. But the energy is now much more second nature than it used to be. I still warm up -- vocally and physically, stretching, etc. But I'm not all hyper about it.

So, what is energy? Being on your toes instead of flat-footed (figurately and almost literally). Going out and commanding the stage, filling the theatre. Jumping on your cues, being physical, really listening to the other actors. That, I think, is what makes acting so exhausting sometimes.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Just show me the f'ing money!

It's funny how differently my various agents operate when it comes to bookings. One agency gives me phone calls and e-mails way in advance with everything I need to know -- wardrobe, directions, character description and, of course, the important stuff: how much I'm going to make.

That's the main question. What am I being paid? Commercial work isn't like theatre -- you're not doing it for the "art." You don't turn up your nose and say {accent=snooty french}, "Zee money? She is not important!" {/accent}. That's a pretty basic piece of info most people want up front. For whatever reason, it's sometimes treated like an afterthought. Not by me, of course. Before I agree to a booking, yeah, I want to know how much it pays.

Time is also money, and another agent is real loose about time. I like to know before I go on a gig whether it's going to be two hours or eight hours. To me (and, I believe, most humans), that makes a lot of difference. And sometimes, with this agent, I'm made to feel like I'm super-persnickety for wanting to nail that down. I don't think it's unusual that I might have other things -- work, theatre commitments, auditions, uh, life, etc. -- to balance.

In the end, it is all about the money, and that's why these things happen. I'm not bringing in major dollars for them so the amount of attention I command is not going to be what it is for the heavy hitters booking network beer spots.

Still, until then, I operate the same way I've done in business or other aspects of life. Like we're all on an equal plane. Respect, yes, courtesy, certainly, deference, of course, but I'm not going in begging for more gruel -- I have value and expect to be treated that way, and to be paid what I'm worth.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Oops. Not anymore!

I realize now that when I've been accepting projects and setting my schedule, I've thought in terms of "Will I have the time?" when I should be thinking, "Will I have the energy?" Capacity on my calendar doesn't necessarily translate to capacity in my will.

Whatever. I managed to catch up over the past few days (though I would have liked to do a little more of nothing), and I'm in good shape for No Skronking. But now I've got this callback audition tomorrow night that I've got quite a bit of prep work for, learning the sides and re-reading the play. These are the people who I had my two worst auditions ever with and I'm amazed they invited me in in the first place, so I want to do a good job. Which I guess I have so far since I got called back.

Other stuff. Deadlines this month for four different play competitions, one of which would require me (if I got in) to find a director in New York. And I'm on hold for an industrial -- or a commercial, I'm not sure -- for next week, which would be cool, though I should shut up about it so as not to jinx it.

Oh yeah, and clients are kinda expecting things from me, too ...

Caught up!

Cool.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Inertia

Usually once you open a show all the hard work's done. But I feel like we've barely opened. With the compressed rehearsal schedule, last weekend was like previews instead of opening -- still some things we were ironing out. I managed to get all my lines in, but it took two performances to do it.

Even last night, after almost a week off, things were a bit shaky for most of us. The flubs aren't anything the audience would necessarily notice, but we do. So we decided tonight is the REAL opening. Huzzah.

I should have used the holiday and plane travel and such to work on my lines for the next show, but ... I don't know. We're supposed to be off-book by Tuesday, but I still seem so much in the midst of this one. It'll be okay, I'm sure. It's just 5 pages. I would really like a day to just do nothing. But this is what I ask for when I'm between gigs, so I really can't complain, I suppose ...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Scripts

Some scripts you read and they seem so perfect, so well-executed, that they immediately, on the first read, conjure in your mind the exact picture of how they will turn out in production. Your job as an actor is just to hop up on the crest of the wave and ride it in.

Other scripts you read and you just go, "Huh?" Those take considerable analysis and effort by the directors and actors to make them work.

Or maybe it's not a matter of good and bad. Maybe it's just what you personally respond to. I don't know. But I do find it amazing just how much fun you can wring out of a script you initially thought was kind of lackluster.

That's the situation with this new show I'm rehearsing. It's written by Shel Silverstein, who I knew as the novelty songwriter who wrote "A Boy Named Sue," which was performed famously by Johnny Cash. But apparently he's written lots of other stuff, from plays to poems to children's books.

Anyway, long way of saying that this play is actually turning out to be fun to work on. I signed on mainly to work with the director who asked me. He's a fellow actor I've worked with a couple of times who's really, really funny and doing very well right now -- he's all over television in a couple of national spots. So working with him, and the other actor, has been a real exercise in creativity and discovery. We're finding lots of great, interesting moments.

It's also a bit intimidating working for a director that you know could step in at any moment and do twice the job you're doing as an actor. But you try not to think about that ...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

All's well that ends well ...

We had a great opening. Good crowd, I managed not to flub my lines (at least not in a way that was noticeable to the audience), and the toe got along okay, wrapped in tape and two layers of socks.

Not much time to relax this morning, as I had to prep for today's audition, which went okay, I guess. I mean, it definitely did in that I got invited to callbacks next week. But not for the part of the Dad that I read for. Which makes sense, I think. He's supposed to be a retired firefighter and I don't think I'm the right type. So they're calling me back to read for several other roles.

Now to get ready for tonight's show. I haven't run my lines yet today and I definitely need to do that.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Purple

So I took off the sock and looked. This is the color of my toe. Especially underneath, on the bottom part, which is really weird.

Ow.

This reminds me of a funny thing. Well, not so funny at the time, but perhaps in retrospect. An actor friend of mine, David, was understudying at Chicago Shakespeare. Obviously, understudies fill in for principals who are sick, hurt or otherwise indisposed. One night he got his opportunity to go on and he proceeds to ... break his foot! Unbelievable!

Still, he managed to finish the show. (There's no 3rd string in theatre.) So if he can do Shakespeare on a broken foot, I suppose I can suck it up and get past my stupid toe issue.

Having an ice time

Final dress went great last night. I got most of my problem areas ironed out and I think we're ready to go. One problem, though. I seem to have broken my toe.

Well, whether it's broken, who can say? A doctor, perhaps, but since nothing can be done for a broken toe there's little point in that.

It's really pissing me off. I go shoeless for half the play and I made this fast move and stubbed my left middle toe really, really hard against a chair leg. It hurt like hell. When I got home and took off my sock it didn't look too bad. There was a little blood, some slight bruising around the toenail. So I iced it and went to bed.

Then I woke up at 4 am and it was throbbing really badly. I looked again and it was swollen and black and blue. I iced it some more and tried to sleep with my foot propped up on a pillow. I haven't checked it out this morning -- that's right, I slept in my socks -- but walking requires much gingerness.

I've been so clumsy during this production. I wonder if I've got some cerebellum issue? I'm not the type to get injured or sick all the time. In fact, those people annoy me -- the ones who are always hurt or coming down with some dreadful malady. I always suspect it's a plea for attention.

Anyway, this is bad. I mean, most of the play I spend hunched over anyway, but there are some physical moments, especially near the end, where I try to manifest Scrooge's spirtual rebirth with a physical transformation. Yeah, that's right. So we'll see what happens with that.

Dumbass!

Okay, upon googling "broken toe" to find an image, I have decided, based on the really heinous pictures of mangled toes that came up, that mine must be merely bruised. But it still hurts like a mother ...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Weak link?

Oof. Terrible rehearsal last night, and I was a big part of that. Flubbed lines, missed cues, etc., etc., etc. They say it's good to get that crappy run out of your system before opening, so I hope it was an anomaly.

I feel like I'm playing a bad game of whack-a-mole. Every time I tackle one problem, another comes up. There were a half-dozen weak spots where I wasn't nailing my lines, so I worked those over and over and then suddenly a new crop of problems comes up elsewhere. Lines I thought I knew suddenly eluded me. Timing was off. And at one point my accent went totally out the window.

Yikes. I'm hoping it was just fatigue. Yesterday was a busy day and I wasn't working off much sleep. I've got to really focus. I don't know what I'm going to do for this audition Saturday. I read the play and it's great, but I don't really see how I'm going to get off-book on the sides in the next 48 hours.

On the other hand, I find sometimes the best way to learn something is to start on something else. It's like a step-ladder effect -- know something 80%, then move on to something new and suddenly the other thing gets easier. Don't know if that makes sense, but it's a valid learning principle that I was taught somewhere.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ow

We are doing so well with Twist that tonight we just sat on the comfy couches in the lobby and did a line-through. It was nice to rest my ribs. They still hurt and get re-hurt every rehearsal when I do this backwards bounce/flip thing off the bed. Which nobody asked me to do -- I just thought it was cool and fun and funny.

The director replaced the bed with an upholstered bench-like thing. Partly to make it easier to bring on and off but I think also to kind of limit my acrobatics, which scare him. He'd be even more scared if he knew how much I hurt myself that night.

I agreed to do an audition on Saturday and only afterwards did I see in the e-mail that the director wants me to have the sides memorized. It's only a few pages, but I really think I should be investing my time in the show I'm actually in, that actually opens this Friday, and not the show FOUR shows from now that I may or may not get.

But it's a good group, they invited me without my even submitting for it, so I will probably do it. Or try to -- I have to read the play, too. I don't know when.
And tomorrow afternoon is rehearsal for the next show I'm in after this one. Then two more rehearsals for this show.

It's crazy that I have to worry now about what I'm doing in March, but that's the way it is ...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

18 Days

I've probably done something really stupid. I was offered this show in December and I took it. It runs Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights -- conveniently, my only three days off from Christmas Twist. As a result, I will now be performing 18 days in a row. Yowza. Right after that, I have two nights of rehearsals for another show going up in January/February. So 20 days.

But it's a pretty casual thing. It's with Steep Theatre Company. Each year they do this "Family Reunion" thing where they bring together old cast members from past shows for a few nights of one-acts. The script for mine is short -- just six pages. But it's a lead role, which I've never had there (in one play I had just two lines!). And the director is a great guy who I really like.

These guys are fun. After their shows they break out the beer, open up the theatre and have a big party. Actually, last year the partying started before the shows even did. Hmmm, I don't mean to make it sound like they're not serious. They are, and they do good work -- just not in that annoying Master Thespian way.

I may regret this in December when my I'm behind on Christmas shopping and holiday cards, but right now it seems like a good move. I had a night off earlier this week and I had no idea what to do with myself.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

#283

I went to this audition today and it looks like every actor in Chicago was invited. I was number 283! And there were easily 25 people in line behind me. How is it possible they would need to see that many people for a potential print job? I guess they were looking for all types, because I ran into three people I know there -- a tiny Asian woman, a young Pakistani man, and a 30ish big white dude. So maybe there will be roles for all.

I did not get the big print job I was on hold for for Friday, which is a shame. I think it was supposed to be lucrative. I did instead get this very small gig earlier this week. So it's this ongoing pattern of the past few months -- lots of activity, semi-decent gigs, but no jackpots.

Theatre-wise, a friend called with a potential role that would happen in December, but the scheduling is ridiculously tight, between Twist opening next week and Thanksgiving the week after. I'm not sure where we'd find time to rehearse. But it's with a good group of guys who would be fun to work with. So we'll see about that.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Christmas Twist

This is one funny f'ing show. I didn't think so when I auditioned or even when I read the whole play the first time. But when we got everyone in the room and read it together? Funny as hell.

I don't know. There is definitely something about adults playing children with ridiculous cockney accents that's hilarious beyond compare. That is certainly part of it. But it's more than that. A parody, it has lots of Pythonesque moments and tons of terrible puns and other silly jokes. Right up my alley.

It's been a tough process, actually. Normally you have six weeks to rehearse a show. We have four. Getting off book has been hard. I started early, got ahead of everyone, then fell behind, and am now caught up (thanks to a full five hours of practice today). But I have a huge amount of lines (I'm Scrooge, damnit!), so it's been hard. The funny thing is, nine times out of ten when I call for a line, the line is "humbug." I know, it's a big joke among the cast. Someone told me tonight, "Here's a hint, when someone mentions Christmas, it's a safe bet that your line is 'humbug.' "

Of course, it's not that easy. Sometimes it's "bah."

Anyway, this is going to be a very good show. I got to the point tonight where I could control my laughter at the other actors. But it's hard. They're really, really funny.

We open in nine days, which is pretty scary. Still much work to do ..

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Northern Lights

My new one-act, Northern Lights, debuted yesterday at Chicago Dramatists and I couldn't possibly be happier with the performance or reception. I was actually marveling all day about how few times in life -- or mainly in this career, I guess -- that I can enjoy a moment of pure, unqualified happiness and satisfaction. Everything always comes with "buts" and "ifs," like, "it's a good role but with an unknown company," or "it's a commercial spot, but it's only regional," or "the money's good, but the product is unknown," etc.

But this was perfect. The director, who's the artistic director over at Pegasus Players, found and brought out all the important moments in the script, and even some larger themes and ideas that I didn't realize were there. And the actors, with just two hours' rehearsal were pitch perfect -- funny and real and heartbreaking. They were both top notch talent -- one was an equity (union) actor. He was very gracious. He gave me his card and urged me to make the play into a short film, which I hadn't even considered but am intrigued by. A director I know was looking a while back for short scripts to film, so who knows? If I do it, he's got the role locked up.

I was worried, actually, that the Dad part was underwritten. As an actor, I try to make sure the actors in the pieces I write all have something to do. But he thought it was a wonderful part to play, so I was relieved at that. The director also gave me his card and was very complimentary of my work, so I might explore that.

Afterwards, each of the playwrights had a Q&A with the audience and I got some really positive feedback. Chicago Dramatists has been doing readings of new works every Saturday afternoon for years and years so they have a real following. The people are pretty knowledgeable and not at all shy about offering constructive criticism. But based on the comments, I don't think I need to change a single word.

The other plays were excellent, too. I was in very good company. According to the theatre they get 60-70 submissions for the 10-Minute Workshop, so to be among the five chosen is quite something.

Thank you to the actors, Thomas McElroy and John Sanders, and to the director, Alex Levy. You guys are the best.

Friday, November 03, 2006

I am beautiful?

Wow. So it looks like they may want me for that "beautiful people" gig. I'm glad I stuck it out for the two-hour wait -- lots of people ended up bailing. I have no details, but they've asked me to hold the date (which could always fall through.) So there ya go. You just never know what they're looking for.

I've been on a tear the past couple of months. I just got booked for another industrial next week, which will make 5 on-camera gigs in a little over two months. Six if I get this other thing.

The pace lately has been nuts. I have three auditions today -- two commercials, one film. I just counted -- 50 auditions in three months, which is more than double the usual pace. That includes theatrical stuff, but I've never had this much activity over a sustained period like this. It's always been really up and down. I don't know if it's me or something happening in the industry, but it's crazy. It will probably average out and I'll get next to nothing the rest of the year.

It's hard to keep focused on each individual one, and they all kinda go by in a blur. I'll go sign in at an audition and I'll have to look up which agent sent me. Then I'll get a callback or a booking and I'll have to really probe my memory and my records to figure out what they're calling me for.

Not complaining, of course. It's just weird.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The beautiful people

Know how to feel real ugly? Stand in a room for two hours with a bunch of models.

For most commercial auditions you get a range of people coming in -- the description you often get from the casting agency is that they're looking for people who are "good looking, but not too good looking." They want people who are fairly attractive, but not intimidatingly so. So everyone looks pretty normal. Well, slightly better than normal.

Print work is another story entirely. For this audition today, I was one of maybe 3 or 4 actors out of 50 people waiting there. The rest were models. It's a really weird feeling. Almost everyone in the room was stunning. Most of the women were easily 5' 10" or taller and size, I don't know, 4s, and dressed to kill. I felt really self-conscious. It was like high school. A couple of us normal (okay, better than normal!) folks huddled together in a corner. I became distinctly aware of how out of date my dress shoes are.

It's enough to make you want to wear a box on your head.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Women

Saturday's the day when my new play premieres in a staged reading at Chicago Dramatists. I'm excited. The director is the artistic director of a pretty well-regarded theatre here, so I am interested in what he and the cast will do with it (in the 2 hours of rehearsal we have to prepare Friday night).

I've been working on my next play and it's going okay. Right now it's lots of good dialogue in a search of a more solid structure. And it's running long, so may not fit the 10-minute mold. It's a two-person scene involving two women, with a possible cameo by a male ghost. I felt it was important to balance out the cast from the three other plays, which feature women in supporting roles only.

I had this great writing teacher at Second City. One of the guys was complaining that he couldn't write women characters and she was having none of it. She said, write them as if they're men and give them a woman's name. Which is completely true. I guess he thought his female characters had to sit around talking only about makeup and cramps.

Other than the obvious reasons, it's a practical thing. If you want to attract good actors to an ensemble, you need to give them all something to do.

Three times fast: "paper FAFSA"

That is hard to say even one time. As I found out, over and over and over again Friday for this industrial shoot. It went well -- good script, good crew -- but it was a long day. Twelve pages of script, three takes (at least) of each page, twice over. It was about college financial aid, so I learned a new word (acronym, actually) which I could barely pronounce when used in a sentence. I kept saying FASFA.

I guess I didn't get the industrial for today, which is fine. It's kinda risky doing paid work outside your agents. And I'm actually relieved not to have to schlep out to the burbs today. It was a long weekend. I had two auditions yesterday that required prep for most of Saturday. I had to read a play, study and prepare sides, prep a monologue and practice a song on guitar. For one of my pieces I actually used the song I completely blew in an audition a few months ago. So I feel like I got that monkey off my back.

Both these shows are cool but it looks like I'm conflicted out because of this other show I accepted. I hope I made the right decision about that. I've been trying to trust my gut on these things, but I overrode my instincts with my brain. Time will tell if my brain's a big dummy.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It's about time

I was just reminded of the Lemonheads song, "It's About Time." (One of my favorite lines: "Patience is like bread I say, I ran out of that yesterday.")

Anyway, I've said before that the actor's time is among the last considerations in any production. Like for commercial auditions, they just tell you when to show up. When I first started doing this, I would try to arrange things with my agents so that, you know, I didn't have an 11 am audition and a 4 pm audition -- I'd try to adjust the times so they're a little closer together and I didn't have to waste a lot of time away from work. I learned that's not how it's done. You go when and where you're told, your time be damned.

Now I'm getting it on both ends. I was offered a role in this show (the one where I completely choked in the audition) and it's a good thing. It's these Tennessee Williams one-acts that were just recently published and have rarely been performed (and never in Chicago). So that's great.

But it's a couple of months from now and I have great difficulty committing so far out. I'm auditioning all over the place now and who knows what else may come up? But they were really leaning on me for an answer, so I took it. A bird in the hand and all that.

Meanwhile, I SUPPOSABLY have a shoot tomorrow and I have no idea where I'm going. I've learned to be patient -- all week I was wondering if this gig was going to happen but I refrained from calling my agent because I get this vibe like I'm being a pest for wanting to know whether I'm booked on Friday, let alone when and where. So this morning they called and said info is on the way. It's 3:30 and still not here.

AND, I got a call about a possible gig on Monday. Another industrial. This one not through an agent but through someone who knows someone who knows me. Anyway, it's risky because I have no representation. So I asked that I be paid on the spot and that it end in time for me to make rehearsal Monday night -- I don't think those are unreasonable conditions. But again, much silence has ensued.

Maybe I'm too demanding. Maybe just more demanding than people who are a little more relaxed about their schedule. I don't know. It's a respect thing. Or power. I just try to approach this business like I'm on an equal plane with others. I mean, if you don't respect yourself, who will?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ow

I'm wondering how you tell broken bones from mere fractures. Or bruises.

Tonight in rehearsal I leapt over this chair and people thought it was funny so, naturally when we did the scene again I had to try to top it. So the second time, the chair slides out from under me and I came down, body stretched horizontally, from probably four feet in the air. Gravity being what is, it all happened very fast, so I'm not sure what hit first. From the way I feel, I am guessing it was the rib cage, followed closely by the left hip. The pinky finger took it pretty bad, too.

It was probably the fourth or fifth most painful moment of my life. Of course, I had to act like it was the funniest thing on earth -- which it kinda was. Except for the excruciating pain part, which I think I covered pretty well (ACTING! THANK YOU!!) I am icing the various parts now but am guessing there will be serious hell to pay in the days and weeks ahead. Already feeling very stiff. Breathing deeply hurts.

Now for some horse tranquilizers and a good night's sleep.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Choke!

Oh, holy crap, I kinda choked in another audition. But I think I turned it around.

Yesterday after my scene was done on the film they raced me back from the burbs. I had about an hour before turning back around and going to an audition. I was exhausted after a couple of nights in a row of 4-hours' sleep.

So I start my monologue and *poof*, after the first line I'm lost. I asked to start over, which is completely cool, particularly if you handle it professionally and non-chalantly -- instead of all, "Oh, GOD, I'm soooo sorry, can I start again please? This never happens, I swear! I feel awful! Oh, I suck." No, you just say, "I'm sorry, can I start over?" And you do it.

Only this time when I started over, I still lost it after the first line. The problem is, I hardly ever use this monologue. (It's Tennessee Williams, and usually you're called to do more contemporary stuff, but since this was a Tennessee Williams play I was auditioning for, it seemed appropriate.) The other thing is, most of my monologues have a couple of versions, depending on the time you're given. Sometimes you've got a minute, sometimes two.

So for this audition I thought I'd use the long version -- you know, air it out a little. With Williams they're usually looking to make sure you've got a good grasp of his heightened, almost poetic language, so I wanted to make the most of it. And then that rarely used section totally escaped me, in spite of at least an hour or two's practice over the past few days.

As I realized I'd forgotten it mid-sentence I just made up some gibberish to get to the end of a thought. In my peripheral vision I could see one of the auditors turn to the other, and I knew it was obvious I was lost again. But I just said, fuck it, I'm too tired to stress over this and I just made up a transition so I could fast-forward to the section I knew better and went for it, totally balls out. I don't think I've ever done that monologue better.

I wasn't even that embarrassed afterwards. I knew I'd get points for poise and turning around a bad situation and, sure enough, I got a callback. Sweet.

I would love to just relax today, but I've got that audition, plus another, then first rehearsal for A Christmas Twist ... humbug!

Now for something really hard

Today is the Chicago Marathon. The course runs, literally, a hundred steps from my front door. My block is around the Mile 8 marker on the course. It's pretty cold this morning but I couldn't really sit here and ignore the crowds and cheering, so I went down to the corner to check it out.

I'm not much of a jock-sniffer but I can see how at the heart of sports are drama and great stories, and it really is kind of inspiring watching the runners go by. (The finish must be really dramatic -- they're still relatively fresh at this point, a third of the way through.) All ages and levels of serious, some in costume (with the inevitable Running Elvi), the Kenyans way out front and sprinting, the wheelchair racers, people with their names written on their clothes so the crowd can call them out and cheer them on personally. It's cool, the connection between the spectators and participants. Of course, I still feel kinda silly doing that, so I stand there, hands in pockets, trying to show my appreciation and respect with a smile or my eyes, or just being there in the cold and the drizzle, all the time conscious that I maybe look like Robert DeNiro at the political rally in Taxi Driver.

I was having a conversation once with a friend who's a runner. I was wondering what percentage of the population had completed a marathon -- like versus the number of people who have skydived, which I think I heard is around 2 percent. She felt the number of marathoners was much smaller. Anyway, the point is, I think it's important to do something in your life that few other people have done. I don't know why, I just do. I skydived, which I feel good about, but when it comes down to it? That's just taking a step. Anyone can fall. Sure, it takes some nerve (or stupidity or a low or reckless regard for your own life), but running 26.2 miles? I think that takes some pretty herculean effort and will.

So it's good perspective when I think about, you know, acting being hard.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Out of the woods

Well, not quite. After a 17-hour day, door-to-door, I've got one more scene to shoot tomorrow.

It was awesome being outside, on a lake (this forest preserve was beautiful -- rolling hills, placid water, turning leaves, little island, blue heron, honking geese, and freshly-stocked trout bursting from the water all over like popcorn), but it was a long, long day. And though we were all tired and cold and the restroom facilities were third world at best, I remarked that nobody had a worse day than the poor little bass that we hooked, rehooked and pulled out of the water over and over and over again. At least one animal was hurt in the making of this film.

After all day outside we moved to our second location, a crazy old house that was like a museum of mid-20th century kitsch. And all day I was angry. My character is an abusive, alcoholic father. I got to shove a kid and slap him and cuss at him and scream at him. Pretty much everything I want to do to most kids I run across on the streets.

The director and crew and other cast members had very nice words about my performance. It's funny, a couple of years ago I was having real trouble portraying anger credibly. Until Joe Janes locked me in a room and didn't let me out until I got the sock. Complicated story. You sit on the floor, face-to-face with another person. They have a sock and you want it more than life itself. You will do anything for it but you must stop short of causing them physical harm.

As I'm sitting there feeling perfectly idiotic, asking and begging and cajoling, Joe is coaching from the side, egging me on and prodding and upping the ante until after a while, damned if I wasn't screaming and cursing and frothing, yelling, "GIVE ME THE FUCKIN' SOCK, I WANT THE SOCK, I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU YOU GODDAMNED BITCH!!!" I kinda broke the rules with the physical threats, but I got there. And now it comes pretty easily. I just think about the phone company, or Dell customer service, and I'm downright murderous.

They put makeup or something in my hair to darken it. I hope it comes out. I washed it so it wouldn't get on my pillows, but it still looks funny.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Into the woods (again)


They say you should never work with children or animals. Tomorrow I've got both -- an 8-year-old boy and a fish. Probably several fish. And a few worms. It's for this short film that begins shooting tomorrow. A fishing scene (obviously), with me and my "son" on a pier out on a lake somewhere. I guess this is nature week.

It's funny, there are some eerie similarities in this scene to one of the plays I put up last year, If Fish Could Scream. Maybe what I wrote is not so original.

Anyway, I hope the kid's all right. Hell, he's the only actor in the production who has his SAG card, so he should be! He's good and all, but in rehearsals he's been pretty ... hyper? And distracted. And that's in a classroom. I can't imagine what happens when we get him outside, with water and live animals. I don't know, I'm a big "children should be seen and not heard" guy, but this ain't a silent movie.

Actually, he's not so different from a lot of adult actors. One thing I learned in my very first show was to always, always, always listen to the director. Even if he's not addressing you directly. You never know what might be relevant to you. So I get really distracted with side conversations during rehearsals. I just like to focus.

Who knows. The worm will probably be the uncooperative one on the set.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

21 hours in Indiana

The industrial shoot went well, considering I had maybe four hours of sleep each of the two nights before. The crew was smart, and efficient and fun, and I got to swim and bike and see a little nature. I also got to experience the strange phenomenon of full-body makeup -- I feel bad for the people who used the pool after us.

I got over the whole "I'm too young for this" thing. It turns out joint replacements aren't just for old people anymore. Or so they tell me. Mary Lou Retton recently had her hip replaced at 37. So part of their marketing approach is to remove the stigma of this kind of surgery for otherwise young, healthy people. So I was cool with that.

However, that doesn't explain the actress I was paired with as my wife. Don't get me wrong. She was very nice and all, but ... how do I put this? She wasn't quite my Mom's age, but she was a lot closer to that than my age. I mean, she had grandkids. Sure, she was youthful and in great shape (for a grandma!), but still ...

Now I know how the women who date me must feel ...

Meanwhile, back in Chicago

While I was packing for Indiana, Allstate was sending an Olds Cutlass plummeting from the Marina Towers into the Chicago River. I auditioned and had a callback for this spot. Not as the driver, but as the director -- the guy who played the director, obviously.

It was also a bummer because I'm not sure I got a good shot at the callback. The thing about this business is, you have zero control over your schedule. You get a call, usually between 2 and 5 in the afternoon, telling you have an audition at 10:15 the next morning. If you happen to have something else scheduled, tough. So when they contacted me for the callback I had a really important meeting at my jobby-job that I couldn't cancel.

They did push my time back to the very end of the session and I was able to scoot out of my meeting a little early, but I told them it would be really tight. And as it was, I got there just 10 minutes past my appointment time. It was frustrating, but I don't regret attending to the work that actually pays my bills. But even though they knew my situation, I can't help but wonder if coming in late had something to do with not getting picked. Of course, not getting the gig is nothing new.

Anyway, this spot would have been nice exposure. And I really would have liked to see that thing hit the water. And, well ... the contrast between the two gigs is kind of illuminating, career status-wise.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Awesome news

My newest play is going to get a reading at Chicago Dramatists, which is a major venue here for playwrights.

They have this Saturday Series that's very popular and respected where they do readings of new works. The November 4 reading is devoted to five plays chosen in their 10-Minute Workshop competition. I'm psyched. I wonder how many submissions they got?

This one is called Northern Lights, and I'm very proud of it. Like Shimmering Souldust, which was a finalist at another competition a couple of months ago, this one is a little grim. It's about death and insanity and other things.

It will be great to see it up on its feet and get feedback. Maybe I am a playwright ...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Where do I find a swimsuit in October?

For a lot of jobs you bring your own wardrobe. Often they have stuff there that they've bought, but first choice, to keep costs down, I suppose, is to use what the actors already have. So for this shoot on Monday there's a pool scene. Urg. I knew I should have gotten a new swimsuit this summer when I read in the New York Times that the long-hemmed board shorts are way, way out. And I think they would look kinda ridic in this shoot, since I'm supposed to be like 60 or something. So that's my project for the next couple of days. Finding one right between summer and cruise season is going to be tough, though.

Frankly I'm also not super keen on exposing my pale, bloaty body right now. I put on some extra weight the past 6 months that I'm not too happy with. I wonder what lipo costs?

I picked up the Christmas Twist script last night and I have a TON of lines! And we open in 5 weeks and 1 day. This shouldn't surprise me, I suppose, since I'm playing Scrooge. It would stand to reason he's pretty integral to the plot. It's 70 pages and Scrooge is on at least 50 of them. A little daunting. Not impossible, I suppose, but daunting ...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Performance Anxiety

I told another actor once that I'm uncomfortable auditioning for people I know. He said I was weird.

Today I auditioned at this theatre where two of the directors have seen me do monologues no fewer than eight times between them, there and at other venues around town. I was just glad I had new material they haven't seen me do.

Still, though, it feels awkward to me. They've both directed me in several shows, so I feel like they know me too well -- my hangups, bad habits, weaknesses, limits, etc. It makes me feel ... transparent. I'm presenting them a polished product, but they've been around for the messy part, to see how it's made. Like sausage. Or something.

Of course, they also know my strengths but I don't really focus on that. Which I know is not a very positive outlook. But neither has cast me in over a year so ...

Anyway, I was excited to show them something new and I practiced it and they greeted my warmly but ... I just don't think I quite delivered. Urgh. So the rest of the day will be consumed by flinching.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Snake Eyes!

After much consideration over whether I wanted to pay $30 for a movie, I decided this afternoon to go to the Midwest premiere of Stranger Than Fiction. I think I got the last ticket in the 3,000 seat house.

As it turns out, in spite of many hours spent sitting on a bus right in front of Will Ferrell (that's a sliver of my seat on the photo's right side), the most you can see of me is a bit of ear and a distinctive, salt-and-pepper shock of hair. There might be more, I don't know, but it went pretty quickly. I'll have to wait for the DVD to pause and rewind it multiple times.

Oh, well! It was still a very good movie. At least, I enjoyed it. Shades of Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, if you like that kind of thing. Which I do. And I got to see Dustin Hoffman accept his lifetime achievement award from the festival organizers. He gave a pretty nice speech.

And Will Ferrell came out and was very, very funny. After about 30 minutes of Dustin hoopla, complete with career retrospective film clips, multiple introductions and his speech, Ferrell came out and said that he was under the impression that he was getting the lifetime achievement award, and he'd invited 900 friends for the occasion.

So check out Stranger Than Fiction, opening nationwide Nov. 10. Don't see it for my ear. See it because it's a damned fine film.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Crap, I'm old!!

I got booked for this industrial, which is cool. All I knew from the audition was that it was some sort of health care company. They had me run in place and pantomime gardening and golfing. (Though not a regular golfer, I told them that I could credibly swing a club, but where the ball goes is anyone's guess.)

So I just googled the company and found they make hip, knee and other joint replacements. Good christ, do I look that old? Am I that old? Maybe I'll be portraying the dashing youngish patient who blew out his knee prematurely playing ball in college.

Oh, well, it's a gig. My third industrial/commercial job in six weeks, which is good. Plus it's my first booking with this particular agent. It's weird -- I've gotten a decent amount of work from other agents, but not once with these guys in three years. Of course, they haven't sent me to too many auditions ...

Now excuse me, won't you -- it's time to go soak my dentures.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Writing or Acting?

People sometimes ask me which I like better -- acting or writing. The short answer (but it only works if you have kids) is, "Which of your children do you like better?" See, you can't really choose one over the other -- you love them both equally, but maybe for different reasons.

People who don't have kids get the long answer, which probably makes them regret they asked.

First, nothing compares with the exhilaration, the adrenalin rush, of acting. After a show, when I'm talking with friends, I'm like a different person. I can't stop chattering. And it's weird, at some point I feel this sensation -- it's like a *whoosh* feeling that washes over you from head to toe. I think that may be the post-adrenalin crash. Anyway, there are few things as exciting as being on stage. At their best, those few moments are pure -- undiluted and untainted by regrets, doubts, or second-guessing (at least until you get off stage).

Writing is an entirely different thing. One of the great things about acting is the connections you form with other people -- castmates or the audience. That's an amazing thing, when you're actually feeling something just ... coming through the air. Like invisible threads between people, through the darkness. Extremely cool.

Writing is a mostly solitary exercise. In fact, some of my favorite moments are those Saturday mornings hunched in front of my computer banging something out. It's equally satisfying but on a different plane than acting. It's more internal, more intellectual. Sometimes it just flows so effortlessly, it's like breathing. It's autonomic. It comes from something inside you that you didn't know was there. Then, of course, you come to your senses and spend hundreds of hours rewriting ...

Writing can be
as emotive as acting, but in a quieter, more private way. And when you do it well and get it "right," it's extraordinarily satisfying. And, of course, there's a paper trail, and I am a sucker for documentation. I do think I'm a better writer than an actor, for what that's worth.

So that's the long answer. Don't you wish you had kids?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bummer

So I was waiting to hear on a potential job that would have taken me out of town for three weeks -- to Orlando, Cannes (!), and Sydney (!!). A sort of combo of acting and my regular work-work, it would have been really sweet, and included a few days' R&R in Thailand.

But I learned today it's not happening. I knew it was a big maybe, but was still getting excited for it. It would have been fun -- and lucrative (I'd be billing at my day-job rate, which is about double my acting rate). But I'd have had to pull out of this holiday show, which would have been unfortunate.

Oh, well. Now to focus back on being here for now. Today I dropped off my new one-act for a local competition, so that's my sixth festival submission this year, and I'm three-fifths of the way to having a new show of my own to put up. And it may be time to dust off that screenplay ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

*Tap-tap* Is this thing on?

Seriously. I just checked my resume to see if I've got an old, defunct phone number on it. Next step is to test my phone. I mean, I totally underperformed in the British accent audition, so I wasn't expecting to hear from them. But these other projects? They were like, "Great job ... now your schedule is clear for this, right? ... and this is the best number to reach you? ... cool, we'll talk to you tomorrow ... etc."

Then nothin.' Zip. I mean, I didn't have my heart set on these parts or anything, but, again ... wtf? Maybe I was trying to cram in too much. I don't know. Another one tonight. We'll see what happens with that.

I'm not super-bummed or anything. More like ... mystified. This is where you start doing dangerous things like analyzing your audition wardrobe and trying to determine if you've got an "unlucky shirt" or something ...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Wtf?

By my rough calculations I have auditioned for about 14 one-act festivals in the past few years. I was cast in 10. I'm used to getting these things. As I've said before, you're often auditioning for 5-10 directors, so the odds are much more favorable than usual.

So when I went to this callback earlier this week and did what I thought was a pretty good job, I figured I got it. But I guess I didn't. Damn it.

Not sure I even have time to do all these projects I'm auditioning for now anyway. I'm trying to squeeze in a quick film or show before rehearsals begin in mid-October for A Christmas Twist, but the timing is tight. I went to a film callback yesterday and they seemed pretty interested. The role is a bit weird. The film opens with my character hanging from a noose, then he gets hit by a car, beaten and pistol whipped. I don't know about that one. I've got another one this afternoon -- we'll see if it's a little less ... pulpy.

The industrial scheduled for yesterday was postponed. My agent said they're talking about expanding the role. It would be really sweet money, but I'm not holding my breath. Then I got a call yesterday -- well, I don't want to jinx it. It would be pretty amazing if it happens, but I'd say it's a big maybe at this point ...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

How the other tenth lives

So I shot this small commercial today (and it was small -- something this company is providing to its dealers/franchisees to air in their local markets if they want) and it was all pretty straightforward. Drive there, stop here, look proud, look happy, look confident, check your mirrors, push the button, etc. Six hours later and it's a wrap.

What was interesting was the venue. It was about an hour northwest of Chicago, and it was like some magical foreign land. Rolling hills, horses grazing in meadows, deer drinking from streams. I never knew such beauty existed within an hour of the city.

Anyway, it's at this person's house. We're told to pull into the service driveway. I park the car and, is that the house? No, that's some kind of maintenance shed (the size of your basic ranch house). So I walk across the gravel lot and up on the rise, okay, that's the house. No, that's the gym with the climbing wall and sauna and guest quarters upstairs. Alright then, past the gym, that one's the house, right? Well, not really. It's where the daughter stays. I mean, it's 5 or 6,000 square feet and there's a pool in back that overlooks the polo field, but it's not really THE house. Which I never got over to see. It was behind another fence and hidden behind the hundred-year old oaks. But I imagine it was something.

So I was like, um, why do these people need the $500 or whatever for shooting on their estate? Turns out the family owns the company (among many other entities) that the commercial is for.

It sure was beautiful out there. It just makes you think, you know? Maybe I should have been a Forbes 400 CEO instead of an actor/writer/consultant. Oh well. Next life.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pulling back a bit

I did something I almost never do. I canceled an audition. It was the Irish accent one.

I feel kind of bad, but I've got a major work deadline Wednesday morning that's taking up a lot of my time and I just didn't have the time necessary to sit down and work the monologues. Part of it is the accent -- I need a good chunk of time reading, thinking and speaking it to capture it. But also the monologues are very complex. They're very conversational, with lots of asides and tangents and obscure Irish colloqualisms that I'd have to dissect. So I canceled.

Besides work I'm feeling a little overwhelmed anyway. I've got all these callbacks I need to prepare for and it wasn't until I sat down and looked at it that I realized that I was called back to all three places I auditioned for on Friday and Saturday -- one film and two theatre. Including the one where I did the British accent, surprisingly. So I figure I'm batting a thousand with the accents and I'm going to retire a winner.

I took the Nancy Grace stuff off the prior post. I can't have that heinous blowpig's visage on my site. But the experiment was funny -- some googlers did find their way there because of it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Guidance

The British accent went well. I actually had an actor friend of mine who's good with dialects read my monologue into my voicemail, which I recorded and used for reference. It was really, really helpful and I felt good about my delivery. For whatever reason, I'm less concerned about the Irish one on Monday. Maybe it's because the play is by an Irish playwright, so you can really hear the rhythms and inflections in the words.

Last week was a busy week -- shot two scenes for a film, did two commercial auditions, one film audition, two theatrical auditions and attended three shows. Also got another booking for next week. Still, there's plenty to be dissatisfied about, I suppose ...

Actually, one of the shows was at the theatre where I recently took an acting course. I talked to my instructor there afterwards and asked if we could have a beer or something at some point to talk about things. I just really want some direct, personalized feedback on where I stand, what I should be doing, and what my potential might be.

It's like this -- since I started doing this, nobody's pulled me aside and said, "Hey, you've got the gift, you're going to go really far." Which is fine. On the other hand, nobody's said, "Look, if you're expecting to be 'successful' at this, you might want to hang it up now." I feel like I'm stuck somewhere in between, at a level of mediocrity that neither excites great attention nor is worthy of an intervention.

Maybe my expectations for feedback are unrealistic. In the corporate world, I always knew where I stood. If I wasn't told specifically, I went looking for it. Wherever I worked I always wanted to know that I was bringing value to the organization and I had a future there. This experience, though, is more dispersed. I don't have one "boss" to report to. It's itinerant. I'm a gypsy. People are invested in you only for the duration of the project they hired you to do.

So we'll see how that goes. And if it happens ...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ephemerality

The film shoot went fine the other day -- the most notable thing about it was how uneventful it was. Very strange. It's almost like it never happened.

We had one rehearsal, just a table-read, really. Then we shot the scenes in just a few hours. (I guess it wasn't that huge of a challenge. Or they cast it well. Or, perhaps, I'm just that good.) Granted, mine was a supporting role in what was, overall, a very short film. Eight or nine lines total. But the scenes were kinda critical -- actually, in a short film, hell any film, every scene is critical.


Anyway, I was the lead character's romantic interest, and we had to gin up all this chemistry out of virtually nowhere. I don't even know her last name (the actress, that is). Quite a contrast to the many hours and hours we spent on Differentials getting to know each other. Of course, it was just the two of us in that film, but still.

Usually you come off a project with a lingering kind of feeling -- like it's still with you and a piece of you was left with it, etc. But this was so quick and cut and dry it feels like, I don't know, last week's auditions. Ephemeral. At least I'll have the DVD to remember it by.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

An accent waiting to happen

My embarrassment threshold has gone up considerably since I started acting. I've had to do all kinds of ridiculous stuff in auditions and performances. I've played a cheerleader, a solid gold dancer and a female cat. I've worn a dress, multiple wigs and nothing but boxers. I've forgotten lines, tripped over scenery and kissed a man.

But for some reason, I'm really shy about doing accents. If I'm asked on the spot to do a British accent I have the hardest time with it. I can eventually get it if I've got the script to work with and can practice on my own for a few days, but anything spontaneous and I'm a total mess.
So I've got two auditions coming up that require British and Irish accents and I'm a little concerned. I've got text to work with in advance but still ... this is something I need to get over. I know I can do it, but it feels like singing did before I started having to do that in front of people.

The other thing is, most of the accents I've done on stage -- British, French, German -- were purposely over-the-top, done for broad, slapstick comedy-type stuff. When the point is to make people laugh, it's not a problem. My fear is being unintentionally ludicrous.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Decrepitude

I've got a pretty decent draft of this new one-act I'm working on, the third new play I've written in the past several months. It's about a young man, disturbed and suicidal, and his father who, naturally, is dying of cancer.

It's been brought to my attention that a lot of my work lately is about death and decay. I guess it's been on my mind some. I've always felt young (read: immature) for my age but at a certain point there's no denying the inevitable things that start happening to your body, no matter how fit you are or how much you resist the things that age you most -- kids and mortgages. Weird aches, niggling ailments, lingering injuries.

Nothing debilitating (though, I suppose, checking in with a doctor might help confirm that), but insidious nonetheless. It starts to work on your brain, your mental state, your outlook. I'm not so afraid of death -- I'm more afraid of disability. And the fact that I don't do certain things I used to do without thinking (like vaulting off four or five foot ledges in rollerblades), concerns me some. Like right now I can't believe I used to do that without a helmet. Am I getting complacent, or is fear of possible injury a healthy, mature thing? (And I've had some very, very painful rollerblading wrecks in the past, giving up at least a pound of flesh to the asphalt.) So yeah, the only thing worse than death is acting dead.

Anyway, I guess that's where my head is now. But I do love this play. It's got some real poetry to it. I'm going to get it in shape for a competition coming up later this month.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Spoke too soon

I'm on hold now for one of those jobs I said in my previous post that I didn't get. Crossing my toes ...

In other news, I've overhauled my performance resume. For the past couple of years I just kept cramming more and more onto the page (because I've been doing more and more). In fact, it was only this year that I'd accumulated enough credits to actually have to start taking something off for every new thing I added. Even so, I'd reduced the font size all the way down to 7.5 and the line spacing to zero.

So when Erica Daniels called my resume a "disaster" in my acting class, I felt it was finally time to take a step I'd been resisting -- creating separate resumes for stage and on-camera work. As she said, the theatre people don't care about my on-camera work, which is likely true. On the other hand, the commercial casters do like to see that you've done stage work, especially improv, which I think lends you some extra credibility. I'm still thinking of having one comprehensive web-only version, but updating three resumes (and I update at least once or twice a month) could become a real chore. Especially for the poor girl who actually makes all these changes on my website ...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Scrooged

So I guess I'll be playing Scrooge for the upcoming holiday season. Not something I ever pictured myself doing, but this is a different kind of Christmas Carol. It's a Dickens parody, involving multiple characters from several of his works.

My reading was a little odd -- the first thought that jumped in my head from the script was "Dick Cheney." After all, who's a bigger scrooge than dead-eye Dick? So that's how I did it, as Cheney. Actually, I don't do impressions, I do impressions of impressions. So this was my impression of Darrell Hammond doing Dick Cheney. It hurt my throat. Anyway, I guess it worked. More details to come.


So to be cast again in theatre is good. August was a huge month for auditions -- 18 in all (a lot for me) -- and I was figuring something would pan out. In fact, I was feeling less than great about it all until I tallied things.

I had 5 theatre auditions, resulting in 2 callback auditions and 2 offers of roles (one of which I didn't take). And two of those were general season auditions, so sometimes you might hear from them months later. Then I had 7 auditions for commercial/industrial jobs, resulting in 1 callback and 1 job (the Miller industrial). For film, I had 3 auditions resulting in 1 gig, which we're shooting next week.

That all sounds really good, and I'm happy to be doing the things I'm doing. But if, say, the multi-part national commercial for Dell worked out or if the Goodman wanted to cast me, I suppose it would be possible to be even happier. Or the film that's shooting in Northern Michigan at the height of fall. That would have been like a vacation.

So. Scrooge. I see bad wigs in my future.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sweet Shoot

Just got back from 24 hours in scenic Milwaukee for a video shoot. (Note: though it may look like an appealing idea to dine by the river there, it actually smells. Quite bad. Maybe I just caught it on a bad fish-kill day.)

Anyway, it's just SO nice to work with a crew that's efficient (no sitting around wasting time, no cooling your heels for 2-3 hours after your call time), a client that's reasonable (able to make quick decisions, not micromanaging and second-guessing and not doing it by committee) and a cast that's fun and easygoing (sometimes on these one-day things you don't get to know people very well and everyone's got their "game face" on -- "I'm a pro, and here are all my marvelously impressive credentials to prove it").

It was fun being back at Miller Brewing in a different capacity, after years of them being a client for my jobby-job. The people there are great. And it's doubly fun drinking actual beer during a shoot, once I learned taking actual drinks (as opposed to the "stage kiss" style fake sips I was doing) was not only encouraged but required. I was a customer in a bar who was by turns loquacious, combative and inquisitive. In the sole casting miscue, someone else played the drunk. (It was a training video for servers.)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Unexpecting the expected

Maybe I was playing down this Goodman thing too much. I did okay, but right afterwards I thought I was going to throw up in my mouth a little. I was on the freaking mainstage! Last year (as is customary with lots of auditions around town) we weren't in the actual theatre, just a nondescript room. I mean, the stage itself was bigger than whole theatres I normally perform in. It didn't freak me out at the time -- it was actually kind of cool to work on filling that big a space. But afterwards it really hit me.

I think because I didn't have a lot of time to get nervous. I got there early and they were actually running ahead of schedule. So I filled out my stuff and was up in less than 10 minutes. I did okay.
But I knew going in I wasn’t getting cast anytime soon at the Goodman. So my goals were to show him something different from last time and, ideally, to demonstrate some progress since then. I got a little inside my head on the Shakespeare one (one of the two monologues had to be classical), but I think my first one was pretty good. It was pretty intimate, though. As I think about it, was it big enough for the space? Oh, well. Like last year, they were exceptionally nice and supportive (as most people are).

Anyway, expectations. Since almost everything in this business is beyond your control, I have been trying to loosen up and let go of things. But there I went, envisioning auditioning in a room. Like this commerical audition this morning. There was no advance script, which isn't unusual. When I got there they said it would just be an on-camera interview. So they're a health care company and I immediately start thinking of anything positive I could possibly say about the state of healthcare in this country or in my life.


And when I get in there, the questions are these: 1) Where are you from? 2) What are the places where you like to hang out in town? 3) What’s on your iPod? Okay. Obviously, it’s not what you say, but how you answer. I tried to be friendly and open and genial and articulate and smiley and toothy and natural and casual and fun and trustworthy and warm.

And spontaneous.