Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Boof!

I got massively sick Sunday night -- sicker than I can ever remember being. Actual hospital sick.

They said it was a kind of stomach bug, but the more immediate problem was the dehydration it caused. I couldn't hold anything down, not even water, so after 6 hours of throwing up I stumbled to a cab to the emergency room and got pumped full of IV fluids and drugs.

For the next 36 hours I was completely wiped out. I had to cancel two auditions, which really sucks. One of them I can possibly make up another day. But I guess I was lucky. If this had happened on a Friday or Saturday there is no possible way I would have been able to go on stage. I mean, I could barely stand. To hell with that "show must go on" crap. I would have to do the show curled up on the stage in the fetal position with a bucket next to my head.

Anyway, I'm just grateful to be feeling human again. You know those times when you're sick and it's just so overwhelming you can't imagine a time when you could possibly feel well again? That's what it was like.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

I like breaking things

Last night in the show I broke a lamp. Well, just the light bulb on the lamp, I guess. But it wasn't supposed to happen. I got a little carried away and threw a pillow and it bounced off the couch and knocked the lamp off the table. Luckily they had extra bulbs on hand because it's a pretty critical prop in the next play I'm in. Come to think of it, it was kinda critical to the play in which I broke it -- I think one of the final lines after I leave the stage is "turn off the lamp." I wonder what they did?

Anyway, it was a nice moment in an on/off night. For some reason I was feeling self conscious. (Maybe because my Mom was there.) There were times on stage where I was totally in my head and thinking, "Here I am on stage, she's doing her line and when she's done I'm going to do my line, then move over to that corner and now I have to be angry, etc." That's no fun. But the breaking the lamp moment was pretty genuine. And my final monologue in Mr. Paradise went well.

I just can't get over how beautiful the language is in that play. And I give it a different read every time. It's tricky because the language is so heightened and poetic, so you have to play it like music but, on the other hand, it's got to sound natural, too. My scene partner, Maura, is really cool -- she said it was really powerful last night. I will miss doing this character.
The world will be warm and serene and as young as tomorrow. Then all the old, sweet, gentle voices will be distinguished once again. You will hear wind in the trees and rain on the roof and the songs of long lost poets. Guns explode and destroy and are destroyed. But this -- these little songs, however little and unimportant they are, they keep on singing forever.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The review

Here's the full review. It's kinda tough to get over the hump when the critic isn't crazy about the plays themselves. But at least he didn't say our performances sucked. And actually, in the context of the review -- and removed from the context of my ridiculous expectations -- it's not at all as bad as it felt yesterday.
This Dream Engine/Indefinite Theatre/Gorilla Tango Theatre production dusts off four playlets by Tennessee Williams, all written before The Glass Menagerie launched his legend. Interesting primarily because of who wrote them, the pieces showcase immature versions of Williams's signature characters: monstrously loquacious moms, disaffected boy-men, doomed, defiant heroines. But as demonstrated by the plays' various walkouts, part of a familial line running straight back to Ibsen's A Doll's House, the adolescent dramatics of the patron saint of runaways were fully formed even then. As stand-alone theater, however, these works are just too pat to be credible. Director John Zajac's ensemble of journeymen and fresh faces generally does good work, but only Rebecca Prescott really cracks Williams's source code.
I'm still proud of the work I've done, especially in Mr. Paradise, and hope I can get more people to come out to see it. It's funny, tons of people came to Christmas Twist -- like 25 friends, plus friends they brought. Maybe because I had a big part or because the text was familiar or maybe it was the holidays bringing people together. It's hard to predict. But it would have been nice to have a stellar review to lure more people out to a remote corner of Bucktown on a freezing winter night.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hooray I'm a journeyman

Our review in the Reader came out today. I'd post it, but it's not online yet -- though if it were super positive you can bet I'd go to the trouble to retype it.

Anyway, he didn't hate it. His main complaint is that the plays themselves aren't that great. They're "interesting primarily because of who wrote them" and "are just too pat to be credible." I can see his point somewhat. I was describing them the other day to someone as more like "sketches." Not in the comedy sense -- more like impressionistic, in that, if not fully formed, they do reveal a lot of the themes and archetypes that Williams would later become known for. But I also think the language in parts is as beautiful as in any of his masterpieces, and for that alone they're worth seeing. Plus it's only 12 bucks and an hour -- a pretty reasonable investment of time and money for a rare glimpse into Tennessee Williams as a young man.

As for the acting, the "ensemble of journeymen and fresh faces generally does good work." I'm guessing I'm not one of the fresh faces. Journeyman. So my work is basically reliable yet unexceptional. Oof. He did at least highlight one actor's performance: "only Rebecca Prescott really cracks Williams' source code." Good for Rebecca -- she's my scene partner in one of the plays and deserves the praise.

I know reviews aren't supposed to matter. And as an "artist" I'm supposed to dismiss them entirely as I hear actors and directors do all the time. But I always think, however much they may just represent "one person's opinion," there's something to be learned from them, some kernel of truth to take away. They also matter, of course, in terms of marketing.

So we'll see what the others have to say, when and if they come out ...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Opportunity Lost

So I auditioned for this show the weekend before last and they ended up asking me to be in it. But I wanted to read the plays first. It was a small, little-known group producing original work, so definitely a fair request.

Unfortunately, last week I was so caught up in teching and preparing for the Tennessee Williams show that I just didn't get around/couldn't summon the energy to read them. They sat on my hard drive and I launched them a couple of times, but then something else came up. So I lost the part.

They were totally cool about it. They had to move and make a decision and I understood that. And they understood my point -- I was very upfront, telling them I'm trying to do more full-length plays but will continue to do one-acts if there's a role or opportunity that holds out something new or especially challenging for me. Which is absolutely true, but also a safe way to cover myself if I read the plays and they stink. Because otherwise you're like, "I'd like to read the plays first," and then you call them back with a no thanks and it's pretty hard to cover the fact that you don't think much of their work. Actually, even if the plays were fantastic, it would still be a difficult decision because taking this gig precludes you from other, maybe better/higher visibility opportunities -- full length plays and such.

In any case, I'm not beating myself up over it. My focus last week was precisely where it should have been, on the show that I was opening. And however good the plays are, I just don't know at this point how much my career will be helped by doing yet another one-act for yet another little-known company.

I mean, it's a total crapshoot. Doing the Tennessee Williams one acts was a tough decision. Yes, it's Tennessee Williams, BUT this was a company I don't know with a very short track record. It turned out to be the right call, but there was a lot of uncertainty and doubt.

This process never gets easier. Anyway, I've got other auditions and callbacks coming up, so I'm sure there will be something. There almost always is.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Clever headline

Opening weekend went great -- technically, artistically, commercially. I didn't realize until all the seats were set up that this theatre can easily hold a hundred people. (We didn't get that many -- maybe over the course of the three-show weekend.) And we've had several reviewers in, so if those turn out positively that would give us some nice momentum into next weekend.

I was told that my Mr. Paradise was very scary and sad, which is cool. One audience member told me he had no idea what I was going to do next, which is precisely what I was going for. And a dear fan who knows me well said it's completely different from any character I've played before.

It's also only the second time (okay, third if you count film) that I've performed without my glasses on, which I guess makes a pretty big difference in not only my appearance but my expressiveness. Maybe I should get contacts, as I've been advised to do in the past. I've just got really bad eyes (itchy, I believe, is the medical term) that are very sensitive to having foreign objects shoved in them. The only thing that keeps me from tearing them out with knitting needles is a dangerous and debilitating drug that is right now taking years off my life. But I suppose contact lenses have come a long way since I last tried them in high school, when they were carved from slabs of granite.

Another bold step for me and my ego in this production is my hair. In the first play I have it all slicked down and even parted -- I haven't parted my hair in a decade and don't even own a comb. I feel like an idiot on the bus and won't make eye contact with anyone. And in the second one I rinse out the goop that normally keeps it from looking like a mass of grey brillo, so it's a total mess. Now everyone gets to see what I look when I get out of bed in the morning.

I also get to wear a wife beater tee in public and I am ashamed to admit that I rather enjoy the look of it.

Anyway, one more show this afternoon. We'll see if anyone shows up -- between the Bears game and the snow, we are likely to see only the most diehard of theatregoers.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Opening Night

SO ready to finally get this on tonight. In front of an audience.

For most shows you get various people sitting in on the process -- ensemble members, friends of the director, etc., so you get some sense of what people respond to. But this has been totally closed (which is fine). It's just been the director, cast and crew and, after a while, when people have seen it over and over, there aren't many surprises. So I can't wait to find out what happens tonight with an actual audience.

For Mr. Paradise I play this grizzled old hermit poet. So I've been shopping and picking up bits and pieces of bizarre things to wear (often from the women's department) and creatively staining them and roughing them up. And accessorizing, of course. No crazy old genius is complete without his accessories.

The weird thing about this theatre is there isn't a freaking mirror anywhere. Okay, in the bathroom there's one. But I have no idea what I look like. It's probably good. I probably don't look nearly as bizarre as I imagine, and most of it should come from the inside anyway, as it did early on in the process before all the stuff.

The other weird thing about this theatre -- which is a wonderful space, by the way -- you have multiple groups rehearsing at once in various (non-soundproof) rooms. And they're mostly improv people. So they are VERY LOUD, with their Big Booty and other games. So it will be nice performing without that distraction. It's also a hassle because with a theatre rehearsal, you generally have the whole cast and crew show up on time. With improvisers, they seem to trickle in over the course of an hour, so people are traipsing through your space constantly. And by the time everyone gets there, they all start filing out again for a smoke.

"HEY! We're doing WILLIAMS, people! TENNESSEE WILLIAMS!? STF UP!!"

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

As seen on the web

Back in October I shot an industrial that's now up on the web. I serve as a co-host, guiding site visitors through their options for obtaining financial aid.

You can see it here.

I feel like I was a little "off" that day. My voice was kind of high up and in my throat. And my energy compared to the other actor comes across lower.

But the suit is fabulous! Back when I worked in an office, in the pre-business casual days, I owned a bunch of suits. When I stopped wearing them every day I decided I would just get one really, really nice suit, in black, and wear that everywhere.
This is version 3.0 -- the exact same label and style suit, purchased three times over the past decade. I wear it to the occasional wedding, funeral, nice dinner or stuffy business meeting. And now for auditions and bookings casting "businessman-formal."

I tell you this suit has gotten me several jobs I probably would not have otherwise gotten. It's like Kramer and his Tony Award going to Sardi's -- I don't take the suit to auditions, it takes me.

So that's me. An empty suit. I can live with that.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sweet

After a 9-hour rehearsal today and 3 hours yesterday, we are in very good shape. As the director said, we could put it up right now and it would be a very good show. But we've got three days and three rehearsals to get it in even better shape. That's a great place to be in.

This weekend was the first time we got to work with all the props and scenery and costumes. Hell, we've barely had a chance before now to work on the actual stage we'll be performing on, which is not at all unusual in Chicago theatre. Usually, for much of the process, you're in a room somewhere, with the stage dimensions roughly blocked out with chairs or, if you're lucky, tape.

Also, most "black-box" theatre is pretty bare bones -- scenery and props are minimal, imagined or mimed. But they've got some pretty intricate set design on this show, with a crew of 3 people spending 2-3 minutes between plays undressing and redressing the stage.

So it all really came together this weekend. And my worrying was, as usual, mostly for naught. Now my worries can move on to other parts of the project. Will the media come out? Will we be reviewed? Will they like it? Will audiences come? Yes, we're doing Chicago and world premieres of rarely -- and, in one case, never -- produced plays by one of America's greatest playwrights, Tennessee Williams.

On the other hand, the producers are a young, new company. The venue is also almost brand new, and a little off the beaten track. But they've postered and handbilled and press released the hell out of this town. I guess we got a mention on local NPR the other day and a listing in the Sun-Times of key shows to see in the new year.

So, we shall see. I'm not the producer -- I've just got to focus on my own contribution, and on taking what is, probably, a B+/A- effort at this point up to an A+ by Thursday night's press preview.

I guess the Bears had a good day, too.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Theatre Auditions

Some actors busy themselves honing their craft. I tally numbers. Whatever. I find it interesting -- and sometimes analysis brings a little meaning and context to things.

So in looking at last year's theatre opportunities:
  • I auditioned 44 times (including callbacks) for 27 theatres
  • Of those, 7 were general season auditions, and 23 were for specific productions
  • Of those 23, only 8 did not result in a callback offer
  • Of 14 callbacks attended (I turned down 1), only 5 did not result in an offer of a role
  • All together, I was offered 9 roles (accepting 7) as a result of these auditions
  • I got an additional 4 roles outside the audition process
So, numbers-wise, things look pretty good. (As one might say, I'm a pretty successful actor -- on paper.) It's good to be getting as many callbacks as I've been getting, and to convert them to actual roles. Of course, the ones I didn't get are from some pretty nice theatres -- Chicago Dramatists, Stage Left, Hypocrites.

As I've said, it's not about the quantity, it's about the ... well, quality is not quite the right word. Let's say level of opportunity, or premium venue. In that regard, I went back to the Goodman and TimeLine and American Theatre Company, which was nice. I got into 11 theatres I hadn't auditioned for before, including Victory Gardens, Hypocrites and Chicago Dramatists, which is cool.

So, what am I doing strategically to move my career along? I worked some on my skills in the advanced scene study class at Profiles. That's something. I got some more good experience with all the performing and auditioning I do. I try to network by seeing shows and attending fundraisers and stuff.

I suppose a smarter alternative would be to focus on just a few places whose work I respect and do whatever I can to get in there -- volunteering, working behind the scenes, etc. But that's no guarantee, either. There are so many actors and so few roles at the premium venues and at the end of the day it really just comes down to talent. And I like being on stage. I don't mind hard work or even grunt work, but I couldn't imagine being in maybe one or two shows a year and spending most of my time working the box office, or assistant stage managing. Not in this stage of my life.

Oh well. I'll think about that tomorrow. Just for fun, here are all the numbers for all the theatres since I started doing this a few years ago. Because, yes, it's all about numbers ...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Lull ...

We rehearsed the two plays I'm in last week so they're focusing on the other two this week. So NO rehearsals for me until Saturday. Next week we start tech and dress rehearsals, so I guess we'll have plenty of opportunities to run through things, but this week of inactivity feels a little odd. I'm working my lines, especially the monologues, over and over, but there's no substitute for doing it on stage and with your scene partner.

I'm going to try and enjoy this quiet time. Or at least put it to good use. Getting things clean and organized around here. Doing my 4th quarter taxes. Maybe seeing some movies -- there are about a hundred that I need to see.

Things are relatively quiet on the audition front. No word from agents. I actually backed out of a theatre audition on Sunday -- it (and I) just didn't feel right, and I'm trying to work on listening to my instincts. Had a good one on Saturday. And there are at least three opportunities going on this weekend but I will be almost completely booked in rehearsals. Figures. This, of course, is the time where I start wondering what's next when this show closes in mid-February. Nothing lined up yet, not for lack of trying ...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Spoke too soon?

Last night went much better. I actually got to try a lot of interesting things and felt like I had some freedom. Most of all, I had fun and was able to relax, which definitely helped my creativity -- and my outlook.

I definitely like this play more than the other one. Or I like doing it better. It really is beautiful.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Holiday Cards Out!

Just in time for Little Christmas/The Epiphany ... or Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I've never been this late before and was considering just not doing them. These are homemade, and quite an ordeal. Probably 15 hours or so in production, printing, trimming, folding, labeling and sending. But I actually heard from a few people who were wondering where the card was this year. And since I also use it for agents and casting directors and people like that, I figured better late than never.

The lines have been going amazingly well with these Tennessee Williams plays. It's so musical. That, I think, makes them easier to memorize. Like with a song, you recognize when something doesn't quite fit. Of course, doing them at home and calling them up when you're on your feet with the other actors and the director and crew and following your blocking is a whole other thing.

So far this has been a tough process. Williams' works really are like a song -- I feel like they want to burst free, that if you just sing it out and follow the natural rhythms, like jumping into a river and riding the current, that you'll get to where you need to be. Like function following form, maybe. But right now we are breaking it up into little tiny bits and working those mercilessly -- it's just not feeling quite as fun as it should. It's always work, of course, but it should feel more exhilarating. It should feel like performing a symphony, but right now I feel like I'm tuning a piano. Or maybe dusting the piano stool.

Of course, now that I've written this I think the thing to do is talk to the director about it. Maybe there's something I'm not quite getting about the process ...