Thursday, March 30, 2006

8 Day Week

It's Thursday night and I have two 12-hour days ahead of me. This film is killing me. STILL glad I'm doing it but, oy, the pain. I was told two rehearsals and we had five. And I definitely hadn't counted on a 6 am call tomorrow. At a place in the woods a half-hour away. And I'm not a roll-out-of-bed-and-head-to-work guy. That ended in my 20s. I like some time to wake up, get showered, fed and fully caffeinated before heading out. That way I hit the ground truly running. So by my estimate I have to wake up in about 2 hours.

Why not go to bed now? Well, we just finished rehearsal for Back of the Throat at 10, and it always takes a while to wind down from rehearsing/performing. This was The Big One. The night the understudies took the stage and had really our only opportunity to show the director how hard we've been working. (He leaves town after opening night, leaving things in the hands of the assistant director.) It went okay.

It's been hell preparing for this night, getting the lines down. (In the midst of six rehearsals this week, not to mention juggling four client projects in various stages for my jobby-job.) And, of course, no matter how much and how hard you run the lines, once you get up and do the blocking and work with the props and the costumes (not to mention physicalizing beating the shit out of your scene partner), they all suddenly escape you and you turn into Stuttering John, calling out "line" every other page. I don't know, they seemed pleased. Very pleased. More pleased than I was. But I did my best.

More than likely, everyone will stay healthy and we won't have to go on until our scheduled dates, which are almost five weeks away. By then I'll have it down 177%.

But tomorrow? Tomorrow should be a disaster. They're predicting thunderstorms. For our picnic scene.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Shouldn't fake fighting only make you pretend sore?

Yesterday the understudies learned the fight scene for Back of the Throat. I don't have much stage combat experience (people actually go through training and get certified in fake fighting with fists, feet, swords and other weapons) so it was all kind of new to me. The guy whose ass I was kicking was really good. The first time I "hit" him, his reaction was so realistic I thought I actually hurt him. I broke out of character and said, "Oh God, I'm sorry, are you okay!?" Acting! Thank you!

This is going to be a long week. Rehearsals every night, then we shoot the film all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Yesterday we were tromping around the woods at one of the county forest preserves, rehearsing and mapping out the camera angles and stuff. Three days of shooting to get 8 minutes of finished film.

It's good experience, though. Already I can see it's going to be a challenge having an intimate kissing scene with a camera three inches from your face.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Dr. Robert (aka, Weenie Face Redux)

These are photos from that photo shoot I did for a health care company. The one where they made me shave. I like the one on the left better. The one on the right I think shows a few too many flaws -- bumps and dents and stuff. They are very good quality, though. Very nice work. Can't blame my defective face on the photographer.

You'd never know how much pain I was in for the one on the left. Imagine standing on one leg, and pulling the other one back and craning your neck so the sole of your foot rests on the crown of your head. That's not what I was doing, but it felt like that.

These are being used on the company's website and print brochures. It's nice to see the actual results of your work. Sometimes you'll do a photo shoot and never see it. And who knows, maybe these photos will actually cure cancer! How cool would that be?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

When it rains ...

Man, I had a very unbusy month or two there, performing and "work"-wise. Now suddenly everything is happening at once. I'm rehearsing the show and the film, and working on lines for both, plus auditions and bookings and other stuff. And on the other side, all kinds of clients, old and new, are coming out of the woodwork with new projects.

It's weird how a kickstart in one area of your life seems to be catalyst for other areas to suddenly take off. Like when one cylinder fires, they all start going. I don't know why that is, but it happens all the time to me. And I don't believe much in what theologians call "spiritual mumbo jumbo," but I do feel like there's some kind of energy you send out when really focused and directed that sort of bounces things back at you. I don't know.

On an unrelated note, I got an e-mail from my sister this morning. Her ex-husband was on an airline flight the other day and saw me in the Assurant spot. That's happened several times now and it's fun to think of people you haven't seen for years suddenly seeing you on TV and spitting up their cornflakes.

And in the "'back to reality" department, I was in this audition this morning and feeling okay about it. I had to be a snobby French waiter. No problem there. I can definitely do snobby, and I come equipped with a handful of ludicrous accents. Apparently they were only seeing one person from each agency for the role, so that was kind of a boost. I was paired with a guy playing the customer, and as the casting agent was looking over our resumes she asked the guy, "Wow, how was it working on Arrested Development?" D'oh!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The part not gotten

Behind every closed door is an open window. From every end comes a new beginning. When life hands you lemons ... whatever.

So I didn't get the part for Caravaggio. Which was not at all unexpected. I don't know, but for whatever reason, I take at least some ... what, satisfaction? ... in accurately predicting the outcome. I didn't think I'd get it, and I was right. Yay, me.

My philosophy has always been to expect the worst and you'll never be disappointed. Which is kind of a laugh line and can be a self-fulfilling prophecy if you go around all the time moping and expecting failure. Maybe it's more accurate to say, "Hope for the best and prepare for the worst." Anyway, I find preparing in my mind for these negative outcomes greatly smoothes the way when they come along. (Lest some expression of visible emotion ekes its way out.)

This is shaping up to be an interesting year. Yeah, interesting. It is either one of those times where you plateau just before breaking out to a new, higher level, or it's the start of a permanent flatline. Obviously, from this perspective you can't tell which. In the first two full years doing this I've had great success. And tons of work -- 14 productions in 2004, 12 in 2005. But many of those were smaller things -- readings, one-acts, festivals and such. So I had big lead roles in smaller productions. Now it seems I'm going to have to settle for smaller roles in bigger productions as I advance. I can deal with that. It would help to know, of course, that this is a transition, though, and not the end of the road.

It's funny, I just had a meeting this morning for my day job where a client agreed to a project that will actually pay me more in the next 4 months than all my acting work (theatre and commercial) has paid me in the past two years. Hell, it'll pay my rent for the next year and beyond. That's some interesting perspective. And it certainly does reduce the sting somewhat. And it does make me wonder a bit what the hell I'm doing. Oh yeah, seeking fulfillment. That.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Film fun

Shooting this film is going to be fun. We had our first rehearsal Saturday and the writer/director is looking to us to help refine the dialogue and make it more natural, to us and to our characters, which is something I know I'm good at.

Back before I ever really started seriously writing ("creative"-type writing, as opposed to business/dayjob writing), I always felt that if I could partner with someone who's good with plots I could be the person working on the dialogue. And the actors who have performed my stuff often say how naturally my dialogue flows.

So we're going to do an extra rehearsal or two to improvise the scenes and see where we can sharpen and improve the script before shooting, which is great because I am always contributing my opinion anyway and in this particular instance it's specifically requested.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Shiny happy people

I don't trust people who are really bubbly all the time. I always assume they're medicated. And actually, in this business, it's a safe bet that most of them are. It's strange how creativity and depression seem to go hand-in-hand.

I should be more empathetic, I'm sure, but it's tiring being around people who are always "on." Come on, get off the happy pills and wear your life's burdens on your sleeve like an adult.

About once a month or so it seems I wake up with a start at 3:30 in the morning and spend at least a couple of hours fretting over just about every aspect of my life. This morning it was: am I getting enough commercial work? Are my agents really working hard for me? Should I get new agents? Is it the casting directors I need to reach out to? Why don't get I called for speaking parts in local TV and film productions? How's my theatrical career going? Why am I just an understudy? What will my next role be? And the one after that? How's that screenplay going? Should I be focusing on playwriting instead? Should I be trying to write and produce a stage production every year like the past two? What about my regular career? Should I be marketing myself more? Are my rates too high? Are they too low? Why do I have a website for my acting but not my dayjob? Why haven't I updated my business cards? Should I get some more headshots out? Are my headshots out of date? Should I be taking acting workshops offered by casting agents -- is that the way into more auditions? Why don't I suck it up and shell out the $2-3K for a voiceover demo? What about my health? Why does my body now hurt in places it didn't before? Do I look as old as I am? Or as old as I feel? My sweaters need shaving. When did my beard go gray? Why can't I, after four years, play the song that motivated me to pick up the guitar in the first place (Green Day's "Good Riddance")? Would a better guitar help? More lessons? My mattress is almost 10 years old -- does it need replacing? So's my TV -- when's that going to die? Why couldn't I solve the crossword today? How's my 401(k) doing? Is my accountant overcharging me? Why can't I spot reduce? Why do I keep forgetting to buy drano for the tub? Who keeps stealing my newspaper? Am I ever going to join my college's alumni association? Etc.

It's trite but so true that none of this stuff looks nearly as bad in the clear light of day. What is it about the middle of the night? When you're a kid it's what's under your bed. When you're an adult it's what's inside your head.

And I don't think the Thai food helped either. The shoot went well today. Nice people, decent money, and not nearly as cheesy as I thought it might be. The product is still weird, but the spot was well-produced.

Friday, March 17, 2006


I have a very unusual commercial shoot tomorrow. They didn't use casting agents or talent agencies, auditioning people directly instead. Most likely to save money. It's kinda risky. I could end up having my face plastered on late-night informercials for the next 50 years. But I have been advised by actor friends to just take the money and run. Hey, at least it's not porn!

Back of the Throat starts previews in just 2 1/2 weeks and I am SO far from being ready to step in for the Bart character. Carl will be ready no problem, but Bart has got so many f'ing lines! If you took out every character's lines but his, it would probably be 40-50 pages of text. Of course, what are the odds of the actor getting sick or injured? In over 30 productions in the past three years I've only seen that happen twice. Hmmm ...

I did a table read the other night for Women's Theatre Alliance. Sort of a playwright's workshop where they get together, go over scripts and give feedback to each other. Anyway, one of the writers I knew from a show I did last year. She's been around and even won a freaking Emmy back in the day. I talked with her about my struggles with the screenplay and she said just go for it. When you first sit down to paint, nobody expects Picasso. The thing is, I don't want to just turn out junk. I want my first screenplay to be great. McKee says you should expect your first 10 screenplays to be trash. But I don't have time for that.

I'm feeling it's more and more unlikely that I'll be cast in the full production of Caravaggio. The director says she's definitely keeping me in mind but, cripes, they held FOUR DAYS of auditions!

Sunday we rehearse for this short film that's shooting in a couple of weeks. This will be a fun process. The writer/director is very much looking to us (it's just two actors) to help develop the script through improvisation.

I am tired.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Director's Pet

A fun thing happened in Sunday's understudy rehearsal. These are run by the assistant director, and the director also comes in to observe at times, which is really cool. I've been working pretty hard on my lines and decided to try going off book for the Carl part and I guess I impressed them. So in the full cast rehearsal the director was sort of razzing the other actors, saying "guess who's already off-book for Carl!" And, of course, they gave me shit and I was like, "Oh, man, I'm gonna get beat up after rehearsal!"

But it was good. The hard work paid off and I got to show both the directors that I'm really committed to this.

Of course, the thing is, I started working on the lines four weeks before rehearsals started. So what's probably going to happen is the other guys will catch up fast then pass me. They're very good and probably can get faster results with less work than I can. Plus I'm only about 15 pages into Bart and he totally dominates the first 60 pages. So I've got a lot of work to do. A lot.

And it doesn't help that I keep taking on other projects. I'm doing another reading tonight, auditioning tomorrow night, shooting a very shady-sounding commercial Saturday and I actually got that film role I was auditioning for, so rehearsals for that start Sunday. Unfortunately, my own film -- the screenplay -- is being neglected. But maybe the time away will produce a breakthrough ...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The 18-hour audition

The Caravaggio reading went really well -- better than I expected given the limited time we had to get it on its feet. It's not just that we had only three rehearsals, but they were compressed into just a few days -- Wednesday to Sunday -- so it was very intense. But the crowd was very responsive and everyone was happy with how it went.

They're holding auditions for the full production this week. Those of us who did the reading don't have to audition -- the 18 hours of rehearsal and performance were our audition. That gives you a leg up, but it's by no means a sure thing. It will be very competitive. Hell, we had two equity (union) actors just in the reading, one of whom has done Broadway and is an ensemble member at Steppenwolf! So I can just imagine the caliber of talent they'll attract this week.

I feel lucky to have been part of this. I really had no idea originally of the scale of the thing. They flew in the director from London! And the playwright has a long list of Hollywood and Broadway credits (including a Pulitzer Prize nomination). Man.

So we shall see. The best thing is, after we all sort of struggled (okay, Broadway Bob, as we call him, didn't seem to struggle much) with it, things really came together. My role had a lot of comic elements in it and I think I found them and hit them pretty well. The dramatic moments, too. So no matter what happens I feel that I gave the director a pretty solid indication of who I am and what I can do.

Plus we got P-A-I-D paid. Unprecedented for a reading. I love this theatre company!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Joie de vivre? Moi?

So I auditioned for this small grad student film the other day and it was a good time -- I actually got paired to read with a girl I'd done a show with a couple of years ago, so that was cool. Anyway I got a callback but before the second audition the director called me and was really bummed that I had major schedule conflicts the weekend of the shoot, which happens to coincide with tech rehearsals for Back of the Throat.

So I told her I'd check with the assistant director to see if understudies were obligated for both days of tech and as we talked about it we came to realize that he was auditioning for the same part. Acting in Chicago really is like living in Mayberry. Anyway, there we are, both at the callback and we can't help notice what different types we are. He's got kinda long shaggy hair and a beard, a sort of artsy/professory look. If you remember 30something on TV, he's a ringer for Gary, Michael's friend who, after several congenial seasons, was unceremoniously run over by a truck (oops! *spoiler*).

When I went in I asked the director about that and she said we both have ... {pause} and I chime in, trying to be ironic and facetious, "joie de vivre?" And she goes, yeah, you both do, you really do! And I'm thinking, wow, I am SUCH a good actor! Because anyone who's spent time with me knows the joie wears off pretty quickly. If not my joie, then certainly the joie of being around me.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


In the midst of rehearsals for Back of the Throat I have three rehearsals this week for a Sunday reading of a new play, Caravaggio. Readings are usually an opportunity for writers and directors to see and hear a new work "up on its feet," and get a sense for what works and what doesn't. An actual full production of the play may be months or years in the future.

This one actually has set production dates this fall, so the process here is really like an extended audition. So while readings are often a chance to get a little stage time between projects, have fun, and meet and be exposed to new people in the community, this one's a little more serious. In fact, they're auditioning people next week, so it's important (if I want the part) to do well. Which means I better get around to reading the play, among other things.

Readings usually draw good, appreciative audiences, often industry people, so they're fun to do. I've never attended one myself, though I've performed in about 10 of them, and I often hear from audience members that, when it's good, you pretty much forget the actors have scripts in their hands. And most readings these days are more active than static -- the actors move about the stage and interact with each other, rather than sitting on stools.

It's also fun because the time is so compressed. You have just a few rehearsals to make character choices and other decisions that you would spend weeks and months intellectualizing in a full-length production. It's perhaps like when an artist goes out into the field and quickly captures something on canvas, with an instant impression and fast brushstrokes and an eye toward polishing it up later in the studio.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Odd requests

So the agent calls about this commercial audition in Milwaukee and, as often happens, we wouldn't see the script until we got up there. That's not unusual. But what was strange is they made a big deal beforehand that the client wants to make sure we're good at memorizing copy. Okay. To me, that's like making sure a tailor knows how to thread a needle or asking a pianist if she can play scales. Memorizing lines is pretty much part and parcel of what we do every day.

(Probably what this all means is they anticipate multiple revisions right up to and through the shoot, which can be a scary sign.)

But then I got up there and it was a pretty tense scene. Actors all about in the waiting room toiling over their lines. It was a few paragraphs, maybe a hundred words, and people were really uptight. I had maybe 15 minutes with it and I knew I couldn't get it down 100% word-for-word, but I paraphrased some and got all the points in.

And they were SO impressed! They asked if I was using an ear prompter and I was like, no, nothing up the sleeve (or ear canal). I think it helped that it was written well, with a logical flow. A lot of times you're working with scripts that jump from one non-sequitor to another, and that's hard. Also the concepts were pretty familiar -- it was business stuff, the kind of stuff I've read, and written for clients, lots and lots of times. So, for once, my non-acting background was a big help.