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 I became distinctly aware of how out of date my dress shoes are.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


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


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


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?