Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ho-hum

Got booked in a commercial. Not the one I wanted. And not as a principal, but as an extra. Which bites. Especially after two separate auditions for two different casting directors plus one callback.

I'm taking the part in the play I was offered. Actually, it will be multiple parts, some of which I guess I get to choose. And it's Kafka, so that should be interesting. So now maybe I can appreciate and make the most of this time off with rehearsals starting in a couple of weeks?

See, now would be the time to be in a show, with the weather so crappy. Not May and June ...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Three cameras -- such luxury!

This industrial I shot this morning was the easiest thing ever. They actually had THREE cameras, which is nearly unheard of. Usually you have to do multiple takes from multiple angles and it takes forever with the set-up and all. But this was a breeze. Then I went to spin class in full makeup. Luckily they keep the lights kinda low.

I got offered a role from one of this weekend's auditions. Of course, it wasn't the one that I felt was the really great audition -- it was the one I was having trouble getting up for. Though clearly I rallied. I think I was just tired.

So, like an a-hole, I asked if I could have a couple of days to decide because I'm waiting to hear on this other thing. I just really, really liked the script and the character in the other one. Callbacks for that are tomorrow and the next night, I think, so I'm feeling like if I don't hear back by this afternoon then they're probably not calling me. So then I'll just take the part I was offered and stop squashing the bird in the hand.

I submitted two of my three plays to that local festival happening, which is great. I'm really glad I finally did that this year. The funny thing is, the one I didn't submit is the first one I started. I just lost interest in it. The other two I like, one of them especially. They are both grim, of course, taking place in a post-apocalyptic world of disease, famine, tyranny and mayhem. And even if they don't get picked for the festival, which is super-competitive, I can use at least one of them in my own show.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Stop me if you've heard this one before ...

I should be preparing for this audition I have at 1 o'clock, but I'm having a hard time getting into it. Yesterday I had one of the best auditions of my life (well, the short life of my acting career), so instead of building on that, in typical self-destructive fashion I am probably going to screw this one up, partly by sitting here blogging about yesterday instead of preparing for today.

Yeah, so this audition ... it required a British dialect, which usually takes me a lot of time to get into, so I spent a ton of time on the script, more than I usually do. I think I normally go in prepared, but for this I probably spent a good 5-6 hours on this 3-page scene. And as a result, I got really into the text and made a lot of interesting discoveries, which I hope came out in the reading.

Anyway, when you're auditioning they'll often tell you ahead of time that they might stop you in the middle and that it's nothing personal, of course, it's just that they're running short on time. So it's not surprising when it happens. But this time, I kept waiting for them to stop me and they never did. Which I have to assume is a good sign. I mean, they didn't just mysteriously find or create extra time out of a vacuum, so they must have been sufficiently taken with my performance.

I hope I get a callback. I really enjoyed the scene and the character. It was very, very real and relatable. Today, on the other hand, the piece I'm auditioning for is in sort of an absurdist style. Very broad. Big bold swipes at society and authority and all that. And I'm having a hard time getting into it. But now I'm going to give it another shot in the last hour I have to get ready. At least there's no accent ...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Using my time wisely

In between auditions, and waiting to hear about auditions, I've been doing some more writing. There's this annual ... event in town. I use "event" because it's hard to describe. Maybe it's a happening. It involves music, performance and other media and is tres hip -- in fact, they've got a great following among young non-theatre-goers.

Anyway, they enforce a strict 7-page, 7-minute limit. I've never submitted because I could never write anything both coherent and meaningful in so little space. I have this compulsion that requires me to give my works a solid structure -- a beginning, middle and end (actually, a set-up, first turning point, midpoint, climax and resolution, per the 5-point structure I've been taught). And they're looking for stuff that's more ... impressionist in nature. And avante garde and all that.

But whatever. I've been working on several pieces, at least one of which I will definitely submit. The other's a maybe and the other's not even finished. We'll see what happens. It's highly competitive.

Meanwhile, I submitted Northern Lights to another festival. And, I suppose if I'm serious about mounting another show of my works I need to get on that. I've decided August is the ideal time, as there's less competition from other shows. That, and the plays themselves, is as far as I've gotten.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Good day

Today I had a callback and booked two jobs -- an industrial and a print shoot. (The thin man one, actually, so I guess I was unhealthy looking enough.)

It's about time. I've been auditioning like crazy -- 10 commercial auditions so far this month.

Today's callback was nuts. There must have been a dozen people from the client attending. They were pairing us up and I got to do the scene with two different people. After the second time, they said, "Nice work, you really nailed it." Which they hardly ever say. The thing is, I'm not sure whether they were saying it to me, to the other guy or to the both of us. I have a feeling it was the other guy.

It's so hard. When they give you a note, ask you to change the reading up, almost every time after I leave the room I think, "Damn, I could have taken it further!" They always say it's better to go over the top, to take it past what they want, cause it's easier to reel someone in than to prod them to give more. So I thought, crap, I blew it. Of course, of the three jobs, it's the best and most lucrative -- like it pays almost three times the other two jobs combined.

Oh, well, gotta leave that one behind -- off to another this afternoon ...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Thin Man

There was a notice the other day that one of the local casting directors is looking for "VERY skinny" people for a photo shoot. It's for a drug that eases nausea in cancer and HIV patients.

For a moment I thought of submitting myself for the audition. Then I thought, well, apparently none of my agents submitted me, so I must not be quite "VERY skinny." I've lost all objectivity, and personally have at least 14 body dysmorphic disorders, so I don't really know exactly what I look like to others. I do know that a few years ago I got certifiably "VERY skinny," 15 lbs. lighter than I am now. One friend actually asked if I was seriously ill. Damn, those were the good ol' days.

So I'm feeling all healthy and fit, then sure enough, one of my agents calls with an audition for these guys.

Luckily, it's not one of those Joey Tribiani things, where my face would be plastered on billboards as the STD poster boy. This is a campaign to doctors, not the public. And the money's good. Though 15% less good than if I had just gone and booked it myself.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

On the afterlife

I'm not seriously thinking of quitting. But I am seriously thinking for the first time about what life would be like without performing.

There's a dumb saying that goes, "If you make backup plans, chances are you'll use them." That sort of implies that if I don't put it all on the line, cash in my 401(k), get three roommates and halt my work-work altogether, that I'm not seriously committed to this.

My backup plan isn't a plan at all. It's the life I had before. In it, I would go back to working full-time, maybe in an actual office. The work would be satisfying, and I would go back to making several times what I'm making now. I'd have paid health-care, which would really be handy for those times when I run up a $2,000 bill at the emergency room. I'd basically go back to the days when I had no worries about money, which is not an inconsequential thing. Of all the things money can buy, the most important one is the freedom from worrying about money.

On the feeding-the-soul side of things, I would travel again. Before acting, that was my favorite thing. I've been all over the U.S. (44 states!) and Europe and have tons more places on my list. There's almost nothing better than exploring and experiencing a new place.

I'd get serious about the guitar. And invest in lessons and equipment (an electric and an acoustic 12-string) so that what I play would be not only more enjoyable, but more listenable.

I'd get more seriously into photography. I was really into it when I was a kid and have always taken good pictures. My tastes are kind of pedestrian (landscapes, nature, etc.), but I think I've got a good eye for composition. I've added a few of these to this page, to kinda remind me of those times.

And I'd still write, maybe even put on shows when the whim hit. Maybe act a little now and then. And read. I love reading.

Then I've always thought, when I'm really old, I'd take up art. I'm even worse at drawing and painting than I am at music, but I figure, like with guitar, if I apply myself I could get up to a certain level that's personally satisfying, if mediocre.

That all adds up I think to a pretty nice, if conventional, life. It's something to think about. To know that the options, if things don't work out, aren't that bad ...

Monday, February 12, 2007

On quitting

If I were to quit this, it wouldn't be because of today's film audition, where they seemed not to have a lot of experience working with actors. From the audition notice seeking actors with "formal training and experience" to the e-mail urging us to arrive 15 minutes early to fill out the paperwork to the final remarks informing us that we were all talented but it will come down to who best fits the types they were looking for -- including a personal note to me that I really didn't come across as a working-class Chicago South-sider (see my photo to the right and ask yourself if you would have called me in for such a role based on my look) -- it was all one "no-duh" moment after another.

And it wouldn't be because of tomorrow's commercial audition where I have to do the copy in the voice of the Jetsons' dog Astro -- not for a short, simple "rut-roh," but for a full 30 seconds of dialogue.

It wouldn't be those things at all because they are pretty much par for the course. Crazy shit like this happens all the time, and I'm mostly fine with it.

But I got to thinking about this the other night because of a conversation I had at the closing night party with the husband of one of my castmates. I don't remember what his question was, but I found myself in the middle of a long, convoluted explanation of the circumstances under which I would quit acting.

To try to summarize it without the handicap of several Blue Moons, I would say that I would quit when I felt I was stalled, no longer making progress in my career. I've described before what I mean by "progress" -- continuous improvement in the roles I'm getting and the venues I'm playing, whether it's better-known theatres or more lucrative commercial jobs.

Not that I don't love the work for its own sake. I do. Closing weekend, and the whole run, was amazing. Performing on stage is the best, or, at minimum, the second-best feeling in the world. But I want to be successful. Not necessarily "rich" or "famous," or the other common definitions of success in this business. Because I already feel I've succeeded. I have carved out a second career out of absolutely nothing and done some really great things I'm proud of. But if I stagnate, if I stay at the same level, that's not success for me. If I was where I am now after, say, ten years instead of the four it's been, I would consider myself unsuccessful. Or if I'm still where I'm at now in -- I don't know, one, two, three -- or however many years I would consider myself unsuccessful.

So the tricky part is figuring out whether I've hit a plateau or a wall. And deciding how long I'm going to spend trying to determine which it is. I really think that's what this year is about.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Fare thee well, Mr. Paradise


Closing weekend. Two shows to go.

We've had wonderful houses. Audience members actually unrelated to any of the actors or crew, which is pretty amazing for Chicago fringe theatre. I wish, though, more people I know had seen it. Directors whose productions I want to be in. Friends. Etc.

Nothing on the calendar ahead but auditions. Precarious times.

Today the world is interested in gunpowder. Poetry cannot compete with the sound of bursting shells. These are the times for the discovery of new weapons of destruction, not the resurrection of neglected poets.
-- Anthony Paradise

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Now casting

"HOST. Male or Female. 35-45, open on race. Needs to be likable, congenial, charismatic."

Is that all? No.

"Someone we like and would want to have a beer with." Hold up, isn't this how we elected our last President? Wait, there's more.

"Warm, fun, open and friendly."

Oh, and exhibit all this after you've been waiting 45 minutes for your audition slot after trudging through 8-degree weather. And don't mess up your lines.

I am still waiting to be called for an audition where they're casting for "Cold, detached, hyper-judgmental skeptic with a touch of bile. Someone we'd want to throw a beer at." That's the role I was born to play.

It's funny -- I've had three commercial auditions this week, which isn't unusual. What's unusual is they're all from the same casting agency. There are two to three that cast probably 90% of the commercial work in town. This particular one I used to get called to all the time when I first started. Then they stopped calling me in. My agents said they were still submitting me to the casting agents, so I never really knew why. (Luckily, the other casting agencies picked up the slack.) I assumed they came to the conclusion I was no good.

So it's been really sporadic with these guys for a couple of years now. And then suddenly I'm called in there this week as many times as they've called me in the past three months.

I'm certainly not complaining. It's just a little confusing, never quite knowing where you stand. Or why.

Oh, well. Tomorrow's another day. A day in which I am asked to be "commercially attractive to 'real' people." {Sigh}

Saturday, February 03, 2007

ADR

Last weekend I had to go into a studio to re-dub all my dialogue from a short film I did last fall. It's really interesting to learn how common this is, even in feature films. Sound is so important and SO hard to get right "live." Especially outdoors. In addition to uncontrollable background noise, a thousand things can go wrong with the equipment -- or the people running it. Also, lots of times in editing they'll have to change dialogue, in order to sharpen a scene or make up for something they cut or the original take just wasn't that good. Anyway, it happens a lot.

So I showed up at the building and was searching for the studio when this woman I passed said, "You're the actor, right?" This has happened several times and it's disconcerting every time. "What am I giving off?" I think. Desperation? Insecurity? Vanity? And every time it's because they've been watching you on a monitor for hours on end. And I always get, "You look just like you do on screen."

Anyway, she confirms that I'm here for the "ADR," which, to me means only one thing: Alternative Dispute Resolution, according to standards prescribed by the American Bar Association. At least, that's what it meant in a former life. But in this life it stands for "Automated Dialogue Replacement."

And it's really cool. You stand in a studio booth in front of a microphone and a big screen showing scenes from the film. Behind you in another room are the technicians or editors or whatever. They run your scene in short bits, so you watch and listen through headphones at the way you originally delivered the lines. Then you re-record them as faithfully as you can -- the tone of voice, the emotion and intention behind it, and the precise timing, so it matches up with your lip movements and facial expressions on film. It's quite an art. Or maybe it's a science.

There are two ways to do it. One is to hear your orginal reading through headphones and try to speak the line simultaneously into the microphone as you're listening. That proved harder to me than the other way, which was, they give you an electronic cue that tells you when to start speaking and you try to match it up with the action on film.

I think I was good at it. I'm a pretty good mimic, so when I hear the original line a few times I can reproduce it pretty faithfully. Still, it took a good couple of hours and I only had a dozen or so lines in two scenes. And you don't have the other actor there with you, so you have to sort of reproduce that intimacy and chemistry just from watching your scene partner on screen. "No, your chuckle was lighter there. With just a hint of knowing slyness and a bit of flirtation. Can you give me that?"

So, another good skill to have.