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.