Tuesday, May 30, 2006

One strike and we're out

Back of the Throat is finally done. We "struck" the set on Sunday and everyone helped out, which is a little different from what I'm used to, but it was cool. I volunteered to tear stuff apart and got to use hammers and crow bars and stuff, which was fun.

It's been almost 4 months since I picked up the script and started learning lines. Confession: I never quite got to the last 3 pages of Bart's lines. But Sean stayed healthy, I did my bit as Carl and it all worked out.

Next up I'm doing a staged reading for the Women's Theatre Alliance and a one-act for a new group called Black House Theatre -- a couple of good, manageable opportunities that will also afford me the chance to do a few things this summer, like going to street festivals and the beach and maybe even away somewhere for the weekend. Unlike the past couple of years, where I was working all the time on weekends, and most weekdays.

I've turned down a lot of opportunities lately. A show that opened the same weekend as Back of the Throat closed, one or two additional readings for WTA, which conflicted with the Black House show. A late-summer show that I just didn't feel was quite right for me (plus I want to stay flexible for other opportunities I have my eye on). Another thing that I already can't remember.

I don't want to be known as someone who says no a lot, but right now I just can't book myself for 5-7 nights a week unless it's something really special. I think one or two acting projects at a time are plenty. For now, at least. Until I get bored ...

Friday, May 26, 2006

Ahhh ...

I just finished up another playwright festival submission, #4 for the year. This one specified very clearly that the play should have no prior production, so I had to use the new ones. I revised them some more since the first drafts, but still it's a little weird. My other plays had gone through lots of drafts over months and months, with lots of feedback from others. These, on the the other hand ... well, I'm counting on having improved some as a writer.

But it's a good competition. It's been going on for years, and when you google it you get lots of hits from writers citing it on their resumes.

I just thought of something. What if I don't win anything? That would be a drag.

Anyway, one more deadline next month then I'm all set until fall.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Confidence

Back of the Throat closes this weekend. One truly unexpected benefit of doing this show was watching the veteran actors work, from the table read all the way to the stage. Part of it was probably Stuart's directing style -- he seemed to give them a lot of freedom to try things (then, of course, weighing in with his verdict on the way to go). But also the actors themselves really took command of the process, or at least, their end of the process.

It was inspiring to watch. Especially Sean, who's been around the Chicago scene for years and was a member of the late and very highly esteemed Defiant Theatre Company. Throughout the process he took total charge of his character. He had thought it out, he made strong choices and he always had solid reasons for why he made those choices. The director might disagree and ask him to make another choice and he was, of course, cool with that, too. But he was constantly bringing things to the table. Charging around the stage like he owned the fucking place.

And it's made me realize I need to shift my style. I remember when a took a job as press secretary for the Ohio Attorney General. I had never been a press secretary, had only visited Ohio once for my interview and knew next to nothing about the state, its history, politics or personalities. (Why the hell did they hire me again?) Lee (the AG) told me early on that I could use my inexperience to advantage. Take some time to listen and learn and if I was cornered or put on the spot, I had that to fall back on. Expectations were lower. That was very helpful at the start. Then, at some point it became clear that that phase was over. It was time to step up and be more assertive. I think he actually pointed it out to me, which is funny. It was like Forrest Gump -- "Run, Forrest!" "Stop, Forrest!"

Anyway, as an actor, stepping into a world I knew really nothing about, I've approached things with a lot of humility. I've been very upfront with directors and other cast members that I've only been doing this for a couple of years because I feel the assumption is I've been acting my whole adult life (or longer). So it gives me some freedom. Freedom to make mistakes, freedom to ask questions. In my very first scripted show I asked, "What's a tech rehearsal?" That's something I learned from an old boss at Ogilvy. He was the boss of the place but he was never afraid to admit when he didn't know something. I think that kind of honesty actually shows a lot of confidence.

But getting to my point, it's time I shift things. And I've actually already been doing it with this new show I'm rehearsing. Trying to step up and bring more to the table. A lot of directors have told me the same thing: that I'm very good at taking direction. They'll give me a note and I'll turn on a dime and deliver what they're asking. And that's a good thing, obviously. But it's time I bring more to the table. To step up more as a real partner in the creative process. I would always express my opinion in the past, but the way I did it, carefully and tactfully and couched, maybe game across as timid or asking for permission. I'd be more reactive that proactive. And, as in life, I required a lot of reinforcement or acknowledgment.

It's not a matter of arrogance, but forcefulness and confidence. What you project comes back to you. And you know what? I'm pretty damned good at this. I've packed a ton of experience into a few short years -- a total of four years of classes, close to 40 stage productions plus commercial and film work and writing and producing.

It brings me back to something I read a couple of years ago when I was just starting out. This great director, Mick Napier, who's directed mainstage shows at Second City and done a ton of other things that have earned him huge respect in Chicago has these ten rules for actors. I think they're wonderful and I've worked to adhere to most of them, but the one I need to tackle now is #3, where he says "fuck your fear." I'll conclude with an excerpt from Mick:

"We want to see your power, not your fear. Nobody has time for your fear. When I direct, I assume competance.....not inability. If I, as director, must constantly spoon feed and suggest and coddle the actor in regard to their ideas, lines, and characters, then there's a 90% chance that the person is coming from a huge space of insecurity. The more you approach a director or other actors in this needy manner, the more you will alienate yourself from the director's power and your own. If you find yourself in a show and you are afraid......then fake it. Do the first three things on this list and discover that the more you are percieved as powerful, the more powerful you actually become."

Monday, May 22, 2006

So what's your favorite color? And why?

Quickly now. You have about 7 seconds and there's a camera pointed in your face and how you answer will effect whether you get a job or not.

That was this morning's audition. The "what" was easy, but the "why?" Who's ever thought of why they like a particular color? You just do, you know?

That's how they go sometimes. An interview or a surprise question. It's actually nice for a change, as opposed to hitting an imaginary satellite dish with an imaginary bat or pretending you're a home buyer and you've found just the right house.

Anyway, it's not what you say, but how you say it. I imagine they're looking for things like expressiveness, personality, attitude, demeanor, comfort level, flexibility, etc.

My answer? "Blue." Why? "I've never really thought about it. I just like it. Maybe because it's a color found in nature? The color of the sky? Or maybe it's because I look good in blue. I have about a dozen of these blue shirts at home." And that was it. The casting agent agreed I look good in blue, for what it's worth.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Inspiration

So I just wrote another little one-act play today. Or I should say drafted. "Wrote" implies it's finished, and though it is complete from beginning to end, it will surely need revising. I think Hemingway said "the first draft of anything is shit."

But it made a nice bookend for the week, which I started by writing (drafting) another play. One of the things I've been concerned about is whether I should try to put up (write and produce) at least one show a year. I'm still not sure I want to do that, but if I do I am suddenly, in one week's time, about 30-40% of the way there. More importantly, I realize there's a lot more in me than the One-Eyed Cat.

It's been a good week. I was going to write something yesterday about having lots of lines in the water and how, sure, that's good and all, but occasionally, you want to land something, or least get a bite. In addition to the two plays, this week I've had 4 auditions (1 commercial, 2 print, 1 film), I rehearsed the new show that's going up in June, I attended one Back of the Throat performance (even though I've already performed, like a ninny I feel compelled to continue my obligation to attend the shows), attended a screening of the film I did last month, and I've gone to see two shows that friends are doing.

That's kind of where I got the inspiration for today's play. I saw these one-acts by this great playwright, Neil LaBute. They all took place in a car with just two characters in each. For several of them, all the dialogue was spoken completely by one character. The other actor was absolutely silent, just reacting. I thought it was amazing and thought it would be really fun to write something like that.

When one person's doing all the talking it's like a confessional. And even though the silent actor doesn't get any lines, there's a ton of work going on with the expressions and body language. It's just such an interesting way to tell a story. It allows for lots of subtext, drawing the action out gradually and subtlely in little dribs and drabs.

I wrote it specifically for this actor friend of mine who was in the LaBute show. He actually played my dad in One-Eyed Cat. I think I'll send it to him.

So yeah, a good week. I may not have landed The Big One, but I've got some keepers ...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Who's yer daddy?

I am SO not the dad type. Physically or otherwise. Yet I get called to audition for dad roles on occasion. This was an odd one.

For most print jobs the audition consists of what's known as a "looksee," where you go to the photography studio and they snap a few pics. Partly they want to see that you take direction well and can give them different stuff. But they also want to make sure you actually look like your headshot, which is a big problem with some people.

For this one today, instead of a looksee they wanted us to take a few digital shots of ourselves and e-mail them in, which would be pretty convenient if not for the fact that I don't own a digital camera. My friend Elena took this and it's actually pretty damned good. And not just the model. It reminds me I need to get new headshots at some point. Most people are going with color now, and I'm just better at it than when I first started.

But I still don't look like a dad. Which, generally, I consider a good thing.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Back in the Saddle

So there was this deadline today for a one-act play festival. I had decided not to submit because with Back of the Throat and work I was too busy. Which helped fuel my anxiety the other day over my writing -- that I should be cranking out new material and submitting it regularly instead of just shopping around my old stuff for awards.

A friend had even reminded me of the festival last week and I again said I wouldn't be doing it. Even if something I wrote won, it would just be produced for one night. What's the point? Then I looked again at the details and realized that the judges would be all these really key theatre people from around town.

Then I was pissed again at myself for not getting something together. Then I forgave myself because putting Back of the Throat first was the right thing to do. Then I was standing at the bus stop yesterday with two extra hours in my schedule because a rehearsal was canceled and an idea came to me. I had the whole play outlined in 20 minutes.

It's a premise that's been bouncing around in my head for a year or so now. A guy goes to the doctor and gets bad news. Only it's not that he's dying, it's that he's going to live. After months of preparing for imminent death, he suddenly gets a second chance. Which he doesn't want because he's put together a pretty good plan for his last few months on earth and has burned a lot of bridges -- career, relationships, finances.

Anyway between yesterday and today I got it written up and actually submitted it on time. So I feel really good about that, and am relieved, frankly, that the inkwell isn't dry.

That's a pretty good start to the week.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Phew!

All went well last night. Such a relief!

The audience and other actors seemed pleased. No significant flubs on my part -- though I got a little creative with a couple of lines, I found my way back. It was hard getting out of my head and not thinking about my next line or move, but it came across fine -- the character is pretty broad anyway. I managed to have some fun with it and bring a few different things to the role that people liked.
The fighting was tough. Kareem's smaller than Adam, but he struggles a lot more, so I'm kind of sore today. A good-sized house, too.

I'm going to hit the lines again this afternoon and try to relax and have some fun tonight.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ready

Last night was the "put-in" rehearsal for Back of the Throat -- my one and only chance to get up there and rehearse with the other actors before going on. The actor I'm stepping in for even attended, which he was not at all required to do, so that was really, really nice. It went okay. Actually, he said it looked really good and he actually picked up some ideas to add to his own performance, so that's a nice compliment.

I would have loved to have run through it 10 or 12 times, but that's asking a little much I suppose. It's going to be tough. The dialogue is so rapid-fire. I'll be fine. I'm not usually nervous before a performance, but when you work for three months just for two nights on stage, the stakes seem a little higher. I knocked off work around 1 so I could run lines a few more times.

I've decided I don't really like the stage fighting. Between my gullibility and my scene partners' acting skills, I always think I've actually hurt them and that bothers me.

I hope we get a decent-sized crowd. I've got people coming out to both shows, but the artistic director said we're a little light tonight. Plus it's monsooning out, which isn't good. We'll see if anybody walks out in a huff when they announce the understudy is playing tonight ...

It's also my birthday. I can't think of a better way to spend it than on stage, working. As self-absorbed as I am, I really don't like making a big deal out of my birthday. It seems kind of silly to me. Birthdays are for kids.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Monologues

For theatrical auditions they'll usually ask you to prepare one monologue or two short contrasting ones. Sometimes they'll say prepare one monologue but have a second one ready in case they ask. For me, they've never asked. Which I usually take as a bad sign -- based on that first monologue, they're thinking, there's nothing this guy could possibly show us that would make us cast him.

But yesterday they asked for the second piece. Which, naturally, I also take as a bad sign. Clearly I didn't show them enough in the first piece. They have to see a second one to even figure out what I can do. Obviously I'm overreacting. And overthinking. If I clearly stunk with the first they wouldn't have bothered with the second, right?

Also, it was a little strange. The new dramatic monologue I've been doing is from Back of the Throat, and I'm pretty happy with it, unlike with my other dramatic monologues. But the show is playing right now. One of the casting people had actually seen the show, and knew the principal actor playing the role.

So maybe they wanted to see something I did independent of that. Or maybe they really did just want to see a contrast. The piece is dark and violent. So I gave them a good comic one I do.

I don't know. Monologues are weird. You heard it here first.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Activity or Action?

I’m often reminded of the saying, “Don’t mistake activity for action.” Particularly on mornings like these -- we had first rehearsal last night for a new show I got cast in, rehearsal tomorrow night for my Back of the Throat performances this week, commercial audition yesterday, theatrical audition later this morning. Etc.

What does it all add up to? Is it strategic? Is it really getting me anywhere?

I run into more and more actors who tell me they’re stepping back from theatre. After doing commercial work they’re less inclined to do low- or no-paying theatrical work. Of course, I also know that sometimes “taking a break” means you just haven’t gone to the trouble to get your headshots out and pursue audition opportunities. It requires constant attention, and it’s a pain in the ass.

Or worse, you’re just not getting cast. I realize how lucky I’ve been to get cast so often -- that it’s probably more a result of my unique blend of age and inexperience. Most of the actors my age have been acting all their adult lives, so they’re at a place where they’re no longer auditioning for some of the types of projects I audition for. I have less competition. Pity the 25-year-old woman -- there are hundreds, probably thousands of them competing for the same roles in this town. Many can’t get commercial representation. The really beautiful ones do all right, and the quirky ones can find a niche, but your average cute, blond, 20-somethings are a dime a dozen.

Still another friend is stepping back from theatre stuff because she’s also an artist. (Not to mention holding down a full-time job.) And it reminds me I should be doing the same thing with my writing. Do I take all these acting projects to avoid the really hard work of writing?

Am I even a writer? I’ve written two songs -- does that make me a songwriter? Isn’t a songwriter out there every day, toiling at their craft, creating and trying to get their work sold? I’ve written the five plays -- can I legitimately call myself a playwright? Yes, they were produced and performed, but what else have I done? Like right now on my opportunities list are at least three theatre companies looking for short plays. I should be creating new ones and submitting them to these places. Am I really too busy? Or just afraid that those five are all I’ve got?

Then there’s the screenplay. I haven’t touched it in three months (though I’m constantly mulling it). Ugh.

I guess I am a writer since that’s how I actually make my living. Sure it’s writing brochures and web copy and speeches and annual reports for corporate clients. But it’s still writing. Paid writing.

All the same, focus might be a good idea. It’s easy to feel like you’re doing something when you’re doing a lot. But are you doing the right things?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Understudies, etc.

The other understudies have started going up, and it's really fun to watch. Adam was in Thursday and did a great job. It was like watching a whole new show, with the different dynamics between the actors. I'll go see Stesha today, and watch her give a lap dance to someone else for a change.

I'm starting to feel a little more nervous. I'm going to need to block out some serious time Wednesday and Thursday to really, really work. One thing I'm looking forward to is the stage combat. For the past couple of months I've been attempting to throw Adam around, who has probably 3 inches and 30 pounds on me. The principal actor, Kareem, is more my size, if not a little smaller. If I'm not careful I may end up throwing him into the back row.

One of many good things about this play is that I got a new monologue out of it, which I used at an audition yesterday. I've got about 6 monologues and two of the directors in the room yesterday have seen me, I think, 7 times in the past two years. So it was good to give them something new. In fact, we joked about it at the top of the audition. And this was definitely different -- top of the lung screaming and spitting angry. They seemed impressed. Or maybe they were scared -- not so much of me but for me. I tend to get a little dizzy and lightheaded when I emote like that.

At least I was really feeling it. When I first started acting, my teacher felt I was pushing the emotions, rather than having them come up organically. That's a tough thing to tap into if you're accustomed to, you know, suppressing things. Anyway, I think I've finally started to discover that thing he wanted me to find back then. Or at least I'm getting there anyway ...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Money for nothing

Nothing quite takes the sting out of a bad audition like unexpected money.

Apparently, the Assurant spot has been extended through July, so my agent had a nice little check for me today, which is cool. The initial run was for three months, with the possibility of extensions periodically for up to two years, so it's nice to have that working for me down the road and continuing to multiply. Who knows, maybe I'll finally get it on tape ...

Eight days until I go on for Back of the Throat. I feel bad, I turned down a staged reading that a director I know asked if I could do. But it would take up three days next week, when I feel like I really should be putting everything I can into BoTT. I've only got two shots to get it right.

The other two understudies go on this weekend (separately) so it will be fun seeing them on stage. Weird, also. We three have been rehearsing together for weeks and weeks and weeks, then we're given one pickup rehearsal each to get used to performing with the principals. So that will be a totally different ballgame, trying to create some instant chemistry with these guys. Again, everybody's been totally cool and supportive, so that will make things significantly easier.

Still, I'm glad it's not me going up tomorrow night. I got past a lot of major client deadlines on Monday so I've got some time during the day to devote to this, and I can really use it.