Thursday, May 31, 2007

It begins

So one-half of my week has officially opened up (okay 4/7ths of my week).

It was weird. This has been such a crazy week, with long days of work, and as I was trying to figure out how to fit everything in, it occurred to me that I have Monday to Wednesday nights off. For the first time in 6 or 8 weeks. It was a huge, huge relief.

In three more weeks, I'll have all 7 nights off. And I just turned down another show in order to keep it that way.

I have an excellent plan in store for the Summer of Rob. More to come on that ...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Awesometown. Population: Us

The TimeOut review is now online and it's everything we hoped it would be. Well, I think it's great -- I assume others are similarly pleased. It just goes to show you how subjective these things are, when two reviewers can come away with such opposite impressions of a show. Though I guess they weren't quite opposite -- the Reader didn't hate it, after all, they just thought it was, I don't know, lackluster?

So two out of three reviewers agree: The Castle rules. Come see it! Three more weekends.

The Castle

-5 stars-

The Trap Door Theatre, located at the end of a long gangway between two street-facing buildings and entered by passing through a restaurant’s back hallway, has always felt a bit clandestine, like its name might be particularly apt: a secret space where you might find hidden treasure. And that’s exactly what you can find there at the moment—Right Brain’s The Castle is a small fortune.

In Kafka’s story, a land surveyor named K. arrives in a village believing he’s been summoned to work by the castle that overlooks the village. The villagers, who have great regard for the castle even though none of them seems to know what happens there, view him with great suspicion; the innkeeper tells him he needs a permit to stay there, though no one knows how such a permit might be obtained. This is only the first of the frustrations K. will encounter in his futile quest to gain entry to the castle.

A story where nothing happens, and happens repeatedly, might not sound like edge-of-your-seat theater, but Robbel’s vivid staging is one of the most inventive and exhilarating things we’ve seen onstage in ages. K.’s struggle to make sense of the seemingly arbitrary rules and mores of the village and bust through suffocating bureaucracy is brought to life in golly-gee-whiz fashion by an outstanding ensemble that pulls double duty creating David Marcotte’s live percussive sound design. Who knew a cerebral portrait of alienation and xenophobia could be so damn thrilling?—Kris Vire

Monday, May 28, 2007

Such a dumbass

It's weird, I consider myself a pretty smart person, with pretty good judgment. But occasionally I get this blind spot, where I'll pull some completely boneheaded move. At Saturday night's show, I tried something new with my character, which is fine to do, but I've just been so caught up in exploring things and keeping it fresh and interesting and exciting, that I somehow neglected to discuss it beforehand with the director. It didn't seem to me at the time like a radical departure, but I realized afterwards that it was. And he was furious. Soooooo furious.

It was a weird feeling. I think generally it's pretty hard to get somebody you're not related to or in a relationship with THAT mad at you. I actually felt like crying, which I would have done if I was the type that cried. I wrote this long apologetic e-mail and he accepted my apology so I think things are cool, but I hope I didn't completely kill the relationship with him and the theatre company. I guess time will tell.

So that was a drag, to say the least.

In the meantime, we got a pretty nice review from Chicago Critic, which is basically this theatre blogger who probably sees 200 shows a year. And the TimeOut review should be posted any day now. It's actually 5 out of 6 stars, not 4 out of 5 as I thought. Thank god for these -- between the reviews and almost 36 hours straight spent outside, with old friends and new (and one very funny dog) has helped my outlook considerably.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

This. Just. In.

As we were warming up tonight, our director got a call from a friend who said he saw a blog by the reviewer for the other publication and that it had good things to say about us. (I'm being cagey so as not to jinx things.)

I'm a big "trust but verify" guy (this motto being Ronald Reagan's sole contribution to society), so I googled and googled and finally found the blog. He says The Castle is "fantastic" and people can read for themselves when the review comes out Tuesday. I also went on the publication's website and found a page that I think is not supposed to be up there, showing 4 out of 5 stars for The Castle (when you click through you get an error page.) Which is awesome as hell.

What a shot in the arm after the Reader's semi-crappy review. And in the face of scant Memorial Day weekend crowds. I can't wait to see what they say.

And, of course, I must then dismiss it immediately, as reviews matter not a wit.

Right.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Half a thumbs up

One review is in and it was pretty mediocre. As I suspected, they didn't care for the adaptation but they liked the direction. As for the acting, which I thought was a wild card (in terms of what they'd say, not how it actually is), they were critical, citing "hesitant performances and ample swallowed dialogue." We have no idea what that means or to whom it could possibly apply.

Whatever. This particular reviewer had a recent back injury and was forced to stand for the whole 90 minutes. That would impact my enjoyment, for sure.

Anyway, the TimeOut review comes out Tuesday -- maybe that will balance things out. That reviewer seemed to really enjoy the show. Which means nothing, really, just an observation.

When the reviewer isn't crazy about the play itself, you're pretty much screwed from the outset. The real downside is I would have liked to have used the review to bring more people out. A couple of friends have shown up, and others are coming, which is cool. And a couple of Castle people came out to my Bailiwick show, which was very nice and which ended with a great crowd.

So here ya go:
THE CASTLE Kafka describes the plot of his unfinished 400-page novel, in which hapless land surveyor K. fails to find the government official he believes has engaged his services, as "marching in place." In this 2002 off-Broadway hit, adapters David Fishelson and Aaron Leichter condense the book's nonaction to 90 minutes and exaggerate its comedic paranoia. But not surprisingly they can't really make the story march forward. Right Brain Project's midwest premiere features Tony Ingram and Nathan Robbel's charred, corroded set, which strands K. in the pit of an abandoned furnace, and as director, Robbel cleverly turns the 11-person ensemble into K's "accidental" tormentors. But generally hesitant performances and ample swallowed dialogue dampen many of Robbel's and Kafka's most vivid images.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Closing a Dream

Tonight we close the Bailiwick show. Audience-wise it's been a little shaky. Opening was good, but last night was pretty sparse. I'm hoping we close out with a bang.

None of my friends have come, but between the other show and this one, people are probably making a choice. And I guess I didn't really promote it all that hard. I mean, I don't think I'm showing anything in this role and in this play that is particularly unique or that people haven't seen me do before. The character himself is a little ... two-dimensional. I've worked hard to try to bring something more to the role but, as the director's parents said the other night, "You were really MEAN!"

I had hoped it would come out that Principal Miller -- or Howard, as I've named him -- is tired, frustrated and a little scared of a world that's changing before his eyes and out of his control. He's been given no resources or help to take care of these Spanish-speaking students. Plus his mother's been very ill. All of that I had to make up to give him some texture.

Anyway, despite all that, it's been a fun experience. And it's given me an opportunity to use my pidgin Spanish on the girls. Who are great, by the way. Carla, who's a native speaker from Peru, is very funny, and has a great accent and really funny observations on things. And Nilsa, who's actually like 4th or 5th generation, so her own rusty Spanish has gotten a workout.

We were wondering how much would come across to the audience since much of the play is in Spanish. But on opening night we got a bunch of laughs. Then we found out they were all Carla's friends, who could actually understand 100% of what was going on.

Probably the best thing about this show is that it's kept me from spending too much time concerning myself over the Reader and TimeOut reviews for the Castle. Which should be coming out in the next couple of days ...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Smooth

Opening weekend went great. It all came together. We had three pretty strong shows, and it was actually fun to do. Reviewers from the Reader and TimeOut were there, so we'll be sweating that out. I think Kafka's a tough sell, especially when the weather's nice, so hopefully they'll have something good to say that will bring in the crowds.

I don't know, though. If I were to make a prediction, I'd say they will comment favorably on the direction. Nathan did a wonderful job of pulling this monster together and getting us all working as an ensemble. The use of music, rhythm and movement adds a ton to the story.

I can see them faulting the script, though. It's not for everybody, and it is an adaptation after all. And a translation of an adaptation at that. I think there are places where it could be trimmed down a bit. As for the acting, that one's a wild card. We'll find out in a few days.

Now to turn my attention back to Interpreting a Dream. I feel pretty ready with that one, too. And I'm proud, actually, that I've managed to pull it off. Especially with all that's been going on.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ready

I think I'm all set. Got the kinks worked out and feel ready to do my part.

I have no idea at this point whether this is a show that audiences will come out and enjoy seeing. We're all so immersed I've lost all perspective. Hell, our first rehearsal was one day short of two whole months ago. So it's been a long, long process, and I'm glad to finally be at this point.

It's been a while since I've been on a show schedule. For the next five weeks my Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday plans are set. And, after next week, when I get through the other show, I'll have my weeknights back. It's like adjusting to a whole new cycle.

The last concern now is if this company has the marketing juice to get audiences and critics out. We don't have a lot of competition -- not too many openings this week -- so that should help. We'll see, though. Playing for an audience is always preferable.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The backslide

This always happens with my lines for shows. I start really early on them because I'm concerned about getting it done. So I quickly get out ahead of others in the cast. Then, just when I feel I have them down, I backslide and start losing them. It's like that last 10-20% takes more than half the time.

So every night for the last three nights I've screwed up my lines for the Mayor. It's a ton of lines. He speaks almost continuously for 4-5 pages. Anyway, it's like I start to get a little too comfortable so I start adding in bits -- some funny physical gesture or different line reading -- and that's what screws me up. Because inside I'm giggling like a schoolgirl at my own funny bit, then I get lost or jump or have some other problem. One more rehearsal to go. I've got to nail this.

The same thing's happening with the other show. At least I've got two more rehearsals for that one.

I'm so freaking tired. Sunday was neither the restful nor productive day I planned. It was sort of an attempt at productive that went awry, so I got little done AND little rest. Tomorrow is three back-to-back auditions. I need to remember this next time I'm thinking that doing two shows at once would be a good idea. Note to self: spite is never a good reason to take on a show.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A day to call my own

This is my first day in over a month free from the obligation of work or rehearsals. Of course, there are plenty of other quote-unquote obligations. At least three shows are closing today that I should probably go see. But then I think about the people I'm seeing them for and I realize I've been to several of their shows and they've never reciprocated. So that one's easy, I guess.

The only reason I have off from rehearsal is that this is load-in day for The Castle. So the ensemble and crew are over at the space, moving and building and painting. We're not obligated to be there, but I do feel like it would be kinda nice to help out. But I just really feel like I need this day for myself, especially since tomorrow starts 14 straight days of rehearsals and performances.

Last week was really stressful, running and running and running from place to place. I was so burned out by the weekend that I was even resenting social obligations. But it's amazing what a couple of margaritas can do for one's outlook.

So how shall I spend this day? Strangely, the things I was really looking forward to were errands and chores -- cleaning the kitchen, straightening out my finances, shoe shopping, organizing my files. But suddenly this morning, in my post-French toast stupor, none of that feels terribly pressing now. I think I will go for a super-long walk. Maybe to the theatre. Urgh.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The memoirist

This memoir project is pretty interesting. I just provided comments to the first chapter this morning. I have no idea really what I am doing and few qualifications as a literary editor, but I am doing my best to help this client out. He's just writing this for himself and his family, so I guess the stakes are lower than if he was looking to get it published. Still, it's his story, his life -- so I do feel an obligation to do it justice.

And he's got an interesting story to tell, from a dirt-poor childhood in north Georgia hill country to Harvard Law School and partnership at a major law firm. It kind of makes me think of my own extraordinarily ordinary upbringing. Plain old middle class army brat. Though we traveled around a lot -- we had six homes in eight years -- most of that was when I was too young to really be cognizant of it. By the time I was eight we settled for good in a bland tract-house subdivision populated mostly by government workers -- mid-level bureaucrats and military officers -- and their families.

Both my parents went to college and the four of us were expected to also. It was never really a consideration that we wouldn't, and we all did, all of it financed by our parents, thanks to Virginia's excellent, and excellently-priced, state university system. Other than their divorce, it was a mostly struggle-free life. And though it lacked the kind of color that makes good artistic fodder, I suppose I should count my blessings. One, two. Okay, done.

Anyway, I've always wished I had better stories to tell, because I think I'm well-equipped to tell them. And obviously that's why he's asked me to help him out with his. So I don't know. Maybe this project will provide some unexpected inspiration.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

And the hits just keep coming

So this afternoon's meeting ran long and I should have just done what other people do. Pack a full day's clothes and work so I don't have to go home. But I didn't do that. So I made it home with perhaps 90 seconds to change clothes for rehearsal, pick up my scripts and maybe chug a yogurt. Then I discover I have the wrong keys. I am locked out. Which never happens and is evidence of brainfry. So I was 45 minutes late to rehearsal, which is a really bad thing.

Both yesterday and today's rehearsals really sucked for me. Because the days were so stressy I just never really got a chance to focus on the show and I was dropping lines and screwing up left and right. And we're getting down to the proverbial crunch time here. Not many run-throughs left before tech. I've got to really get my shit together!

But tomorrow's another day like the rest. Client deadline, client deadline, audition prep, practice Dream lines, noon Dream rehearsal, 2:30 commercial audition, work, practice Castle lines, Castle rehearsal.

There was mention tonight of taking away our Sunday off, and I heard my soul snap in two.

It's not the volume, it's the scope

Things are nuts. And it's not so much that I have too many things to do, it's that I have so many different kinds of things on my schedule that it makes me feel really pulled in a hundred different directions.

Like today. I had to revise a bunch of materials I'm writing for a client. Then on to a commercial audition (where all the other characters had to be "model attractive," while mine needed to be merely "attractive"), then on to the gym (which was critical because I missed yesterday due to 9 straight hours of meetings and travel), then a client meeting to present the materials, then rehearsal. In between (like during workouts and showers) practicing my lines for both shows I'm doing. I'm actually ahead of schedule now because I got up so early.

I'm also serving as an editor of sorts for a client who is writing his memoirs, which is kind of cool. Yesterday was a big meeting on winding up a major project that's been going on for a year now, then out to the 'burbs for a meeting to start up a brand new project, where I'll be writing and performing some sketches for a big tech company.

Tomorrow is work, rehearsal, audition, work, rehearsal. Bleh. Right now it looks like we've got Sunday off, which would be awesome. I haven't had a weekend day off in a month.

I don't know, busy is good. It keeps my mind off things. But I really am trying to avoid rehearsing or being in a show for the second half of the summer. Still, it's a little scary when I think about this turning into this.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Blowing the lid off the reality TV industry

I know that reality TV is often scripted, staged and, more frequently, reenacted. But I guess I didn't have a full appreciation for the chicanery until last night when I happened upon an episode of a certain show starring a certain washed up rock star.

Said rock star was introduced to a young gentleman named Todd, who, as misfortune would have it, recently got dumped by his wife Martha. So the rock star takes Todd to Vegas to show the poor guy a good time.

Typical Hollywood story, right? Nerd meets rock star, rock star takes nerd to Vegas to get him laid.

Only thing is, this dude has never been married. And his name isn't Todd. He's an actor. I know this because I have been in several productions with him in Chicago before he moved out to L.A. It was thoroughly surreal. (And no, the show isn't Surreal Life.)

I'm being slightly sketchy about the details here because I assume this is a secret. (Presumably to shield the masses from the reality that reality TV isn't real.) It has to be a secret because he's the only actor I know who promotes his gigs as much or more than I do, so I would have heard about it. So I won't out him here. But he is pictured in the photo gallery on my site.

Anyway, it was a helluva gig. He had almost a full half-hour of camera time with a near-legendary former rock star. What's interesting is that when reality television first got big, there was huge concern among working actors that it would take their jobs away. And though it's long-since been a haven for actors and models competing on things like Amazing Race in the hopes of getting noticed, or people making up characters and stories on Jerry Springer, this took things to a whole new level.

So congratulations. "Todd." And sorry to hear the news about you and the wife. Can I call her?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Breakin' rocks in the hot sun

This is the hardest show I've ever done. More than any other, working on it has felt like ... work.

It's like two shows. There are the 12 scenes and my contributions to those. Then there are the transitions between the scenes. Twelve people all circulating around a small stage, trying to rearrange multiple, heavy wooden set pieces without hurting each other. All carefully choreographed, set to music and rhythm, and including vocalized sound effects. Moving smoothly, with intention and purpose, quickly but not hurriedly.

So the many, many weeks of rehearsals have been very necessary. But now, starting today, we're finally doing nothing but run-throughs, and it's coming together nicely.

It helps that the RBP people are cool. And they throw fun parties. (Parties that don't start until 11:30 or 12, which has been its own challenge, but I'm adjusting.) And it feels like a real ensemble -- people who like and support each other, working hard and trying to crack each other up, which is the way it's supposed to be.

I can't tell from my vantage point whether this adds up to a show people will want to come see and enjoy once they're there, but I do know that when an ensemble is clicking and clearly having fun together, that's at least half the battle.

I am totally not killing myself this week!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Self musement

I haven't done any writing in a while. Well, I write every day for work, but I haven't touched the plays. I just don't feel pulled. Or maybe pushed? It's not like there's any great clamor, any hue and cry among the theatre-going public to see my works get staged.

With all that's going on it's really hard to find the motivation to get back to them. They need a lot of work and I'm not sure I'm up to it. I need a muse. Maybe I can rent one.

I read a very interesting quote from Paul Westerberg (American's greatest songwriter, if you didn't know) the other day. He said that a musician can put down his instrument and stop playing, but an artist has to play. He can't stop.

I've been calling myself an artist, because I have made art, both in my acting and my writing. But I'm thinking lately I'm not an artist. Maybe an artisan. Or a craftsman. Someone who can -- or has been able to -- craft (and get produced) a decent play or song or poem, but is not, at heart, a playwright, songwriter or poet.

I feel, right now, adrift.

Not only can I not see the shore, I don't know what the shore looks like. I can barely imagine it. There have been times in my life when that was exciting. This isn't one of them.