Saturday, July 29, 2006

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king

Actors are famously self-absorbed. That's a given. But when an actor is called self-absorbed by his fellow actors? Then you've really got something.

I personally was self-absorbed long before I started acting, so I've been fighting this throughout my adulthood. Reminding myself to do more listening than talking, to ask questions, to shut up well before peoples' eyes start rolling back like window shades. So being conscious of your tendency for self-absorption is half the battle (the other half, actually doing something about it.)

Anyway, I was reminded of this last night at a party attended mostly by actors. I talked to this guy I knew, about his career and his life and all sorts of things. Later a friend came up and said, "You and [Clyde] were talking a long time." And I said, yeah, we were talking about his new job and stuff. She replied, "And he didn't ask you anything about you, right?" Yup, pretty much!

I've actually gotten used to that. And experiences like this just help me become more aware of how I come across. If anything, I think I tend to undertalk these days because I don't want to bore others to death. Or myself. That's when you've really done it. When you're actually boring yourself. Speaking of which ...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

D-Day

D as in Daniels. As in the casting director at Steppenwolf. We did not get the ass-kicking I worried about. For the most part it was pretty uneventful. I shouldn't say uneventful. It was great. The experience just didn't stand a chance of standing up to my ridiculous expectations.

We did our scene and, though I feel we've done it better, it was pretty good (and Darrell assured me afterwards that it was good). She gave us some direction and we re-did a section and she felt we nailed it. Tempe (my scene partner) made the point that we really showed we take direction well, which is important -- not every actor is good at that.

She also really liked my headshot, which I wasn't so crazy about, so that's cool. My resume, on the other hand -- well, that's a story for another day. But it turns out that dickhead director may have had a point.

In retrospect, I really put waaay too much stock in this -- as if getting in front of her for a couple of hours would be an instant ticket to stardom. I didn't literally think that, but I did put too much emphasis on it. In the end, the true value of the course was exactly what it always was -- an intense, valuable experience that will help me improve my work. Talk about intense. Six weeks of classes, 5 hours apiece, plus another 5-6 hours a week of practicing with Tempe. Anyway, we were exhausted afterwards. But that didn't stop us from closing the bar.

One kind of cool thing. I figured she wouldn't remember me from when I auditioned for her last fall. But at one point she was talking about understudying, and how that can be a great opportunity to break in to the theatre, and how they were casting right now for an upcoming production. I just reached up to scratch my head and I guess she thought I was raising my hand. She said, "Yes, we've pulled your headshot, Rob." Which was cool. If it is what it actually sounds like. We'll see.

The thing I am reminded of is there are so, so, so many actors out there. Even scarier, there are hugely talented actors who will never be "known" or make enough to earn a living at it. Duh.

I'm tired. And I'll miss some of these people. And I've got lines to learn.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Begendings

It was a little bit touch-and-go there in rehearsals, but our one-night remount of The Problem went off without a hitch. More than that, we may have done it better than we ever did in its original run. So that was not only a great relief, since we only had three short rehearsals to get it back on its feet, but exhilarating as well. The audience was great. Really appreciative. And, unexpectedly, we got PAID. And a little more than actor-type chump change.

This is probably the funniest, most well-written play I've ever done. It's almost like it directs itself -- hell, it pretty much acts itself. I would guess it's almost impossible to screw it up. If you ever get a chance to see a performance, check it out A.R. Guerney's The Problem. Actually, if you're in Chicago, there is a company called Rogue Theatre that's putting it up right now in Andersenville. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with it.

So that's done. I caught a little time this weekend to work on my lines for the show that opens in JUST TWELVE DAYS. They're actually coming pretty quickly. I really think that the more things you work on, the more efficient you can be with each one.

And then Tuesday is final class. Which will be great. I'll be down to one thing -- the Speaking Ring show. Though I confess to a wee bit of anxiety about not having The Next Thing clearly on the horizon. I guess I wouldn't mind two weeks off at the end of August. But beyond that I will probably devolve quickly into self-loathing. But that's another day. There will be plenty of time later for the loathing.

Mmmmmmm ... looooooathiiiiiing.

Friday, July 21, 2006

It's a small world (but I wouldn't want to paint it)

At any given time there are almost 2,000 students studying at Second City. Hundreds more enroll each term. It's a wildly diverse group in terms of age, background and goals. But one thing they all have in common is that their parents believe these students are actually performing on the Main Stage. And that they're just a discovery away from appearing on SNL.

No amount of explaining seems to disabuse parents of this notion. Even after they come to see your student shows, I suppose it's all still a little abstract to grasp -- for the same reason my parents thought I was in advertising, when I was actually in PR.

So when one of Second City's touring companies (there are three), visited Washington a while back, my Dad and his wife went to check it out. And I was mortified to hear that my Dad approached one of the crew and asked if he knew me. Yes, me, who was but a student there, one of thousands, almost two years ago. Dad reported that the guy nodded and said, "Oh, yeah, sure," and I thought at the time, "Poor guy, doing his level best not to burst a proud parent's bubble."

Flash forward to last night. I'm attending a fundraiser for the theatre group I'm performing with in a couple of weeks and I run into someone from another company I've done a couple of shows with. She says, "Did you hear Josh met your Dad?" Josh is a member of that theatre company. And he's stage manager for one of the Second City touring companies. What are the odds?

So I guess I owe Dad an apology for doubting him.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Class #5

Just finished our second-to-last class. We went six hours tonight, which is very long but it was important. This was sort of our "final dress" before next week when Steppenwolf's casting director comes in and observes and critiques us.

Remarkably, the ass-kicking I had feared never came. Maybe that's for next week, but it looks like I'm in the clear. It's really something.

I think we're in pretty good shape. The things the instructor had us work were very manageable. So we know what we have to do in our last few rehearsals before the final class. I'm lucky in that I was paired with someone I really get along with. It's a romantic scene -- although there's not really any outward romance going on. It's mostly yelling and acrimony and throwing stuff. At me. Ouch. Tupperware hurts. That's my only complaint -- being paired with a girl who doesn't throw like a girl. Anyway, I think the fact that we get along and enjoy each other's company shows through on stage -- you can't really fake that kind of connection.

I'm doing too many things again. Class, plus 3-4 rehearsals a week for class, then there's the Speaking Ring show, which is three rehearsals a week, plus this benefit performance Saturday night. I've really been neglecting my work-work, and that's going to show if I don't make some serious progress the next couple of days. And I haven't even started getting off-book for Speaking Ring.

And tomorrow morning is just a little too near at this point ...

Monday, July 17, 2006

All That Jazz

Saturday night was a fundraiser for the theatre where I'm taking classes. This is the fifth theatre fundraiser I've been invited to this month, but that's a topic for another day.

Anyway, these guys party hard, which I really respect. I left at about a half-past I'm-not-sure-when, but I do know the paper was on my step when I got home. Here's a tip: when you get only 4 or 5 hours of sleep after drinking your blood's volume in beer, spending the day on a boat is probably not the wisest choice. Actually, I think the cold lake water was a curative, but things were a bit touch-and-go there for a while.

I discussed my class anxiety with my scene partner. She just thinks we're doing really well. I'll choose to believe that. One of the instructor's early notes to me was to be more "real." That is his big emphasis in class -- that we need to let go of all our theatrical affectations and just deliver our lines as naturally as we would in everyday conversation. I told him that was difficult for me because my natural demeanor is calculated and superficial.

I was told at the party by a couple of classmates that I remind them of Bob Fosse. To which I said, "Oh great, I'm being compared to a big, gay dance choreographer!" But they said actually he was straight, and quite the babehound. Who knew? They said it was not so much the physical appearance as the way I speak and express myself. It surely wasn't my dancing, I know that.

I will have to find some biographical material at my local videotorium. The only image I have of Bob Fosse is Roy Scheider's depiction of him in All That Jazz. Which I actually haven't seen. Yeah, that's how straight I am.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Invisible Man

I can't believe we're two thirds of the way through class. I had been anticipating it with more tension and fear than eagerness, but so far it's been okay, and I'm just trying to figure out why.

I mean, right up front the instructor warned us that it's going to be tough and he was going to be very direct and that some of the things he says and the way he says them to the students he's worked with in the past are going to seem very harsh to the unitiated. So I've been bracing myself. And so far it hasn't come. He's given me notes and stuff but nothing I couldn't manage once told. And up to now most of the comments have been for my scene partner more than me.

Naturally, my mind has been at work dissecting this. Here are the top explanations I've come up with:
  • My acting is beyond repair, so there's no point in offering constructive critique;
  • The scene is not about me -- I was given this part to fulfill my destiny as an inconsequential support player;
  • He thinks I can't take it;
  • This is all some ridiculous stunt from the good folks at Punk'd.
I really don't know. It's very perplexing. I know my scene partner is a better actor that I am. More experienced, certainly. More successful, too.

There is this big monologue toward the end of the scene that we haven't really worked yet. The stage directions call for me to cry, which is really weird. I haven't yet. And I haven't been yelled at for not doing so, either. So maybe that's coming next week? Maybe I'm being lulled into submission just before a major ass kicking? I don't know.

I do know I've got the anger thing licked. He wanted us to up the stakes and get angry and it was really funny, because the instructor said we both are clearly people who don't go around confronting people really violently. We're nice. So I got the note and I went at her and I actually scared her to the point she forgot her lines. So I don't know. Maybe I am good.

I really am perplexed. He says he's generally going to avoid telling us what we're doing right because people then tend to try to "hit" that note every time and it become self-defeating. But I'd really like to know if I'm doing well (okay, he tells us all we're generally doing well, but ...) or if I'm just creating some awful non-impression. Right now I feel like wallpaper.

We'll see what happens next week. This has been grueling. Class is supposed to go from 6 to 10 but we actually don't end up getting out until past 11. Add the commute and "come-down" time and you're not getting to bed until 1. I have been tired for a week.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

On a brighter note ...

I sat in last night on rehearsals for my play, The Shimmering Souldust of Matotanea. Even though the old anxiety came back of watching my work being performed a little differently than how I imagined it in my head, I know that will pass, as it always has. The actors are strong and the director is smart. I shared a couple of thoughts with him and he was very open to that, which is cool.

On the train ride afterwards he said when he first picked up the play he figured he'd hate it based just on the name. I laughed, because it really does sound pretentious. Though it's unquestionably poetic -- almost musical.

Also rehearsed the play I'm performing in -- both part of the Vitality Festival in August. Lots of dialogue -- it's going to be work.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Another annoyance

Speaking of asswipes, I was at an audition Saturday where the director (who I actually knew, from a show we both performed in a few years ago) made some glib remark about my resume -- basically, "Look at Rob, he keeps every single show he ever performed in on his resume!" I know it doesn't sound like much, but since 95% of the time you're treated really well in auditions and at gigs, the few times where someone is even the slightest bit glib or condescending or unnecessarily critical really stand out. I was telling another actor about it last night and he really got worked up over it, which I think worked me up even more. I was initially just peeved.

But yeah, I've got a lot of stuff on my resume. It's because I DO a lot of stuff. It's not like I've got my first-grade manger scene as "other shepherd" on there. Every performance on that resume is from within the past 3 year. Most directors I meet are impressed with the amount of work I do instead of sitting around getting fat in front of X-box.

I guess I sound a little angry today. I'm not usually like this, but you know, you work your ass off in this business, very often for no or little pay, you make huge sacrifices, ruin relationships with the people around you, and put yourself on the line -- your ego, your emotions, everything that's personal and important to you -- and you don't expect much. You find it so personally satisfying that you do it anyway and you don't expect to be fawned over or get your ass kissed. But a little appreciation or, at the very minimum, a basic level of respect, is not too much ask.

MF'ing cellphone in an MF'ing theatre!

Worse than snakes on a plane.

Last night, in our closing performance of Twist, with friends there and my Mom in from out of town, during the entire 75-minute show, at what precise moment would you expect a cell phone to go off? Yes, the most critically important, dramatic, turning-point moment of the entire evening. I really wanted to jump into the audience and kill the fucker. I was half-seriously contemplating during the curtain call giving the finger to the general vicinity where the unknown offender was sitting.

I managed to keep it together and not react or jump or anything, but it seriously destroyed the emotional moment that was supposed to take place. I mean, there wasn't even any dialogue at that point. It was completely silent, just before lights out. Bastard. After all the opening speeches and program notes warning people to silence their cell phones, how does this still manage to happen?

All I can hope is that the phone call was alerting this guy that someone close to him had died in a terrible accident.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Reprieve

So it turns out I have too many conflicts to accommodate Collaboraction rehearsals, which is a shame. The director was cool about it. He understood the situation I was in and that I was conscientious in trying to figure out the schedule before committing to the other show. I would have done it, of course, and driven myself crazy if necessary, but I understand how it would be too difficult for him to work around. I guess I also underestimated the number of rehearsals necessary for the role.

It would have been a nice experience to have. Especially after all the torment of the audition process which, looking back, may have been a sign. I'm not sure what I would have done differently, though. Decisions about shows are always tough -- a small supporting role in a bigger venue versus a lead role in a smaller one ...

Plus I think if I was involved in the other show just as a writer, I'd have a hard time getting people to come out and see it. If friends are going to schlep out to theatre, they want to see you perform.

So my schedule still sucks the next four weeks, but at least I'll have a couple of days off per week.

Friday, July 07, 2006

End of summer

That's me and a guy known as "Gus" watching helplessly as my brand new Frisbee floats off toward Indiana. The full story can be found here, and I can't help thinking the whole episode is a metaphor for the quickly vanishing Summer of Fun I had planned.

Suddenly I am booked 4-6 nights a week for the next month. How does this happen? When your goal was to take it easy and kick back for the season?

Well, you start small. You accept a little supporting role in a show, figuring it would be a light commitment with a good payoff -- excellent director and venue. And you continue to audition, because that's what you do when you're an actor (or should do), and you get offered another role, only this one's a lead with a fun script with a group you've been wanting to work with for a while. So you take it. It's a one-act, so how grueling can the process be? Three rehearsals a week, it turns out.

On top of that you have class once a week (plus 2 rehearsals) and then, oops, out of the woodwork comes this commitment you vaguely committed to a couple of months ago -- reprising a performance you did last year for an upcoming theatre fundraiser. And those lines are not coming back to you like you expected, so you begin to realize you just may be up the proverbial shit's creek without a straw.

And, of course, still no rehearsal schedule for that first show -- the one I auditioned for A MONTH ago. Now I have to go polish my silver. And that's not a euphemism. Mom's coming to town Sunday for the final performance of Twist.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Another show

So I got cast in another August show. It's actually the same festival where my new play is a finalist. So that's cool. As I've said before, being involved in a show as "just" a writer is not quite the same as being in the cast. So this should be fun. I admire the work these guys do. There were, literally, a hundred actors at the callback, so my place in the cast was by no means a shoe-in.

I hope I'll still be able to do the Collaboraction show in August. I committed to them first, but I haven't gotten a rehearsal schedule yet and now I've got all sorts of conflicts for July. There's just so much going on. I just got a callback for another show I auditioned for on Friday. And I agreed to take part in a fundraiser for this theatre company I did a show with over a year ago -- they're having a couple of us perform the one-act we did then. I thought it would be pretty easy, but now I'm looking over the lines and it's not coming back to me quite as quickly as I expected.

And class. That's like another show itself. I'm almost off-book, but still have a good bit of work to do before Wednesday. And, of course, I've got the show tonight. I don't want to get into that trap where you lose focus on the show you're actually in because your attention is turning toward other shows you're rehearsing. Anyway, off to the theatre ...