Friday, June 29, 2007

I hate models

I often get called to these cattle-call commercial auditions, which often attract a mix of actors and models. You can tell the two apart pretty easily. The actors are friendly, chatting each other up about recent shows or reading plays or books, and carrying a single (often black-and-white) head shot. The models carry "comp cards," sit stony-faced, content to stare into space for more than an hour with nothing to occupy them other than their cell phone. Plus they're abnormally tall and good looking.

And the women! I guess I haven't been down to Rush Street or other such tacky nightspot type place in a while, but according to the woman models I audition with, the definition of "sharp" or "festive New Year's Eve wear" is really, really short shorts in bright greens and fuchsias paired with 3-inch heels that have straps that wrap halfway up the calf and some type of lingerie up top.

Plus they're annoying. They ask you questions but don't listen to the answer. They gripe and grouse. And this chick the other day behind me in line couldn't seem to turn her head without her mid-back-length corkscrew curls whipping around and smacking everything within a three-foot radius. Including me.

I would take a picture, but I just learned that even when my phone is fully muted, it makes that loud shutter sound, probably to prevent people like me (or worse) from surreptitiously snapping photos and posting them on the Interwebs.

Pictured above instead is a pretty sunset from last night. I got my longest ride in yet on the new bike -- 12 miles roundtrip -- spoiled only by John Mayer's pretentious warblings.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I'm a winner!

Wow, one of my plays won a prize tonight -- the "artistic merit" award! And I was just doing this for fun and as a favor.

What a blast it was. This One-Page Playoff competition was a great idea. Fifteen 1-to-3-page plays, 6 actors, 3 directors. We all see the plays for the first time less than an hour before curtain. It was insane. I was in five plays and barely had a chance to read through them all and only got to run a couple of them. But it turned out great. And the audience really enjoyed it.

Greg, the director, did a great job picking actors for this. Everyone there could do a first read really, really well. Most people would assume that all actors should be capable of picking up a script and "performing" it right away. But some can't. Some very talented actors are just terrible at it -- it's painful to watch. They stumble and skip and put the emphasis on all the wrong words and totally destroy the meaning. I'm very good at working with script in hand. Other things I probably don't do as well -- like making bold, creative choices -- but that I'm good at.

In addition to acting, I submitted two of my own. I just took a couple of the plays I've been working on and went snip-snip and found scenes that could sort of stand on their own. And as it turns out, my scene from Northern Lights, which got a reading in its entirety last fall at Chicago Dramatists, won an award. The audience votes for their top three, but I didn't place there. The Artistic Merit award is judged by the show's producers. So I guess it's a bit like the Irving Thalburg award. Still, mine was probably the most "serious" play there.

The really funny thing was, I got cast in it, so I actually performed in my own play. As the 60-year-old father! Things were so frantic the director didn't even know I had written it at first, and was wondering how I knew the pronunciation of all these Latin names for the constellations. And the audience didn't know I wrote it, since it's a blind process, until I jumped up and accepted my award.

So the whole thing was very trippy. A second scene I submitted was read in a sort of "grab-bag" competition, where they pulled it out of a folder randomly and performed it while the judges were tallying their scores for the main competition. This was from a play that I'd been struggling with, but I got really great feedback on it, which made me happy.

The whole night makes we want to go back and work on these plays some more, which I'd become a bit disenchanted with when the director I wanted couldn't do them. But there is definitely something there. Something solid to build on. So we'll incorporate that into the Summer of Rob. No pressure, just for the pleasure of perfecting them. For now.

But for tonight I will rest on my laurels. And my gift box from a place called Kiehl's, which I never heard of, but apparently is some kind of luxury maker of lotions and things. This was a Women's Theatre Alliance event, after all. So some lucky lady may get my Mango Liquid Body Cleanser and Ultra Facial Moisturizer and other stuff. Maybe from ebay.

I love a parade

Well, not really. Most parades I hate. This one, every year on the last Sunday of June, is a fun one. (The semi-precision gay rifle corps being among the chief highlights.) Last year I had to stay relatively in one piece mentally because I had a show that evening. Not this year! Not for the SoR.

Tonight is a quick break from said summer. I'm doing this simple, easy theatre thing -- a reading of 1-page plays for a theatre fundraiser. I just show up, read them over, rehearse a little and perform them, all in a couple of hours. That's my kind of process.

I'm doing this for a director friend of mine. I can't keep saying no
all the time -- eventually people will stop calling altogether. Readings are a simple way to stay in the game. What I'd really like to get this summer is a short film -- something easy to work into the schedule. There was an opportunity Saturday -- a couple of them, actually -- projects needing last-minute fill-ins. But Saturday was too good a day to give up.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fawning it in

Last night I stumbled into one of the best shows I've ever seen.

A bbq was breaking up and we were figuring out what to do and the question came up, "Are there any good comedy shows going on?" And I said, there's this one show called TJ and Dave up IO, but it's on Wednesday nights at 11. After exhausting every other option we thought, what the hell, let's see what else might be playing there late on a Friday night. I was expecting some half-crappy student show.

Turns out? TJ and Dave. With special guest Tracy Letts (Steppenwolf actor, playwright and penner of the screenplay for Bug). What an amazing night.

I'd heard about these guys since forever, and saw TJ perform a sketch once at Second City. Anyway, they're legendary in improv circles. Definitely two of the best improvisers in Chicago, which makes them two of the best in the world. (Which you wouldn't necessarily know from the bewildering commercials they do for Sonic!)

I've sat through easily more than a hundred improv shows in Chicago and, as anyone will tell you, it's hit and miss, to the say the least. Or maybe to say the best? So it's a wondrous thing see it executed at this high a level.

TJ especially. In an hour-and-a-half, he never yelled, he never fell down, never ran around the stage, never mugged unnecessarily or flailed his arms or made farty noises or anything else. Instead, he filled the stage, the whole room, with a genuineness and honesty that's hard to find in legit theatre, let alone improv.

For example, in the opening scene, they each took a position on the stage facing each other and as the lights came up and after a moment of silence, TJ transformed himself into an awkward teenage boy trying to get an adult to buy him some beer. He never once said "dude" or did a Spicoli impression or stabbed the air with Eminem-style hip-hop hands. Something just came over his face and his posture in the most subtle, barely detectable way that spoke volumes.

The whole show was like that. Just incredible. The others were impressive, too, of course. And Tracy, I don't know how much improv background he has, but he was right there with them the whole time.

I used to hate to see good shows because it depressed me, sharpening the spotlight on my own mediocrity. But this was truly awesome. I was so caught up I neglected to snap a pic with my camera phone! Check 'em out.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

More summer fun

The Summer of Rob is also about fireworks. Every Wednesday and Saturday night at Navy Pier. I'd like to say my little camera phone took the above photo. But actually, mine looks more like this (well, exactly like this):

I guess when you zoom, the photo gets really small. And shitty. Jon Stewart was right -- why get a device that's both a shitty phone AND a shitty camera? Oh well. It's fine for closeups. Fireworks from 2 miles away? Not so good.

Anyway, having the bike is great for impromptu fireworks picnics, and for breaking away in the middle of the day to work outside.

I'm really starting to neglect the acting stuff a little. Audition notices are piling up, and some passing by. I did a couple of theatre auditions this week, but ... I don't know. Work is keeping me so busy and, lately, is more satisfying than some of the acting stuff I've been doing. And there's just too much fun to be had ...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

There I was ...

... doing the crossword ...

... when all of a sudden, SMACK!

Hilarious. Life is weird.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

auf Wiedersehen to The Castle

We are so lucky. Lennie (below) took hundreds of amazing pictures throughout the production process -- from rehearsals to parties to, interestingly, lots of wardrobe changes.

This is the best documented show I've ever been in. And I'm a sucker for documentation. And there are still the "official" photos to come.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Who's beautiful?

Just down the street from one of the big casting agencies is this building. It's a nice message when you're going to and from an audition.

(I snapped this today with my zoom at 4x.)

I remember the "You Are Beautiful" project when it was launched here a couple of years ago. You'd see this message in different media around town, usually in unexpected places. My favorite was on the West Side in this industrial neighborhood where I was rehearsing a show. Across from the warehouse where we rehearsed was this empty lot, overgrown with weeds and surrounded by a chain link fence. And in the holes of the fence, they had stuck white styrofoam cups spelling out "You Are Beautiful."

It was cool ... with the contrast and all.

Sweet ride

All the pieces are all falling into place. Today
I bought my new bike.

It's been years since I've had one. When I was a kid, we rode everywhere. It was the suburbs. Then when I got my driver's license, the bike got less use. A couple of thefts later, I pretty much gave up on them.

But after college I got a new Schwinn
10-speed for my birthday, and I totally got back into it, riding up and down the Potomac River, out to Mt. Vernon, up through Rock Creek Park. I loved that thing.

Then I started rollerblading and never really biked again.

Now I'm back in the saddle, and more excited than I've been in a long time about almost anything. I did lots of research and shopped around and talked to people, like my spin instructor and triathletes I know, and settled on this sweet thang.

Specialized Sirrus hybrid, with thin littl
e tires that really move. And a grooved seat to reduce impotence problems!

We're going to go everywhere. Wednesday night fireworks. The beach. North Shore. South Side. Unexplored neighborhoods. Rehearsals. Errands. I've got mobility!

Let the Summer of Rob commence.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Miller Time

This is what the Summer of Rob is about. Well, partially about. Drinking and eating outside. Thank you, Holiday Club, for your Bucket-o-Mini-Beers night.

Okay, the camera phone thing has got to stop. Mainly because I've determined my hands (pictured here to depict scale of mini-beer) are very un-photogenic.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The only way to fly ...

Today I had an 11:25 am audition. I was home by 11:31. And I even stopped at the store on the way back.

My dream is to work for this theatre company, no
t least because it's just one block from my apartment. But it likely won't happen. They're very, very good, and have access to the city's top talent. Yet every year for, I think, the past four years, I've gone there and done my stuff at their season generals. And every year I don't get called back.

At least, though, I've shown them something different and new every time. Whether it's better, who knows? I would capture this picture of mild disappointment with my awesome new camera phone, but the lens creates super-disturbing distortion in close-up self portrait mode. Instead, here is my Franz Kafka magnetic finger puppet. He's saying, "Get used to futility. Chump!"

Toy #1

I am so excited about my new camera phone. Yes, RAZRs have been around so long they're no longer cool. But they're pretty good phones.

I was sort of waiting around to see about the iPhone, but everything I've read tells me it's going to be a couple of years before they're down to a decent price. And I've determined I'm not an early adopter. Let others be the guinea pigs so Apple can work out the inevitable kinks.

Like they've done with the RAZR. This is the newest model -- 3G, with high-speed Internet and a 1.3 megapixel camera with 8X zoom.

Now I can start taking pictures -- ideally more imaginative than this one -- of all the things I see on the street that make me wish I had a camera phone. (Or a small camera.) Funny signs, street art, weird people.

And I can make phone calls on my mobile phone while actually moving around. How awesome will that be?

It's a brave new world.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The transfats on my countertop

I bid goodnight to the last of the revelers at around 4 Sunday morning, went back inside and found my apartment surprisingly untrashed. Yes, some people apparently used the hand towels in the bathroom, but I reminded myself that that's what they're there for. And people wore their shoes inside, but I didn't have Shawna there hectoring guests to strip to their socks.

The only real evidence left over was the motley pile of high-fat snacks they left behind. Just the worst crap you can imagine -- Funyons, Fritos and other things I forget. I felt a little bad for not feeding them, but, being theatre people, there was very little indication of when, whether and how many people would actually show up. So I committed to a couple of cases of beer and left them to their own devices for food.

I tossed the remnants of just about everything. The only thing I salvaged was the Pringles Salt & Vinegar "potato crisps." As I was trashing the junk, I took a taste of one and pronounced it utterly awful. I think the stuff I eat has made my tastebuds particularly sensitive -- all that flavor! Or it could be that this stuff really is just awful crap.

In spite of that, I kept them around for 48 hours, occasionally tasting one, then two, thinking maybe the taste (or my opinion) would change. Neither did, but I kept nibbling. This is why I can't have this stuff around the house. When I was 10 or 11, after my parents separated, things were kind of "loose" over at Dad's place, and I got to eat pretty much whatever I wanted. On several occasions one summer I consumed no less than two-and-a-half cans of Pringles in one evening, chased by a liter of Coke. The subsequent vomiting was tremendous -- almost herculean in its ferocity -- but not enough to stop me the next time, or the time after.

So finally this morning, as I was making my broccoli, tomato and spinach egg white omelet, out went the last of the Pringles. Fare thee well, mine old foe.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Home stretch

We've really got some momentum now and the houses are filling up. It's a little surprising because the weather is amazing and there are three or four major outdoor festivals going on right now. If I wasn't in this show, I know I'd be out there.

But people are coming. Friends, too, which is nice. And everyone really seems to be enjoying themselves. As are we. In spite of the injuries. We were on a streak there with someone getting hurt every night. Chris lost his ankle down the back-of-the-stage crevice and twisted it. Bil slipped and broke his pinky finger. I stepped on Colby's heel really, really hard. And almost took out Tony's eye the other night with my staff. Hmmm, sounds like a trend here. But I'm responsible for far less than 50% of the injuries, that I know.

For my part, I'm mostly just black and blue up and down the legs. Twelve people moving heavy wooden boxes in semi-dark, close quarters means lots of bumps and scrapes.

For some reason I got it into my head to host a party tonight. One of the cast members has a midnight show around the corner and I suggested we all booze it up at my place first. Sounded like a good idea at the time. Luckily my place is never more than 20 minutes from pristine.

Been doing some shopping lately for some cool summer toys. Things should be nailed down next week, just in time for the Summer of Rob to officially commence.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A welcome lull

I've had two commercial auditions in two weeks. (One of them actually was for a Kenny Chesney video, which is hilarious.)

Normally, I'd be a little angsty about this, but work-work has been so damned busy, with long days and chunks of days blocked out on my schedule. I had visions of having to back out of multiple auditions or bookings (which is a real no-no), but so far there's only been one audition I've had to miss. So I'm kinda glad about the quietness.

Work has been busier than it's been since probably 1999/2000. I've got four major projects going and a handful of smaller ones, all of which pay 3 or 4 times what commercial gigs pay. This guy I've been partnering with is really aggressive in going after business, which I appreciate. He's always like, "We need to get this project done and out of the way so we can get more business!" So we've been churning away for this client, basically taking on the work that their former ad agency used to do (poorly). The big agencies really suck, and this client is SO relieved to be working with people who both "get it" and can get it done.

In this business, sometimes you get work that's fun and challenging and sometimes you get stuff that just pays well. If you're lucky, a project offers both. But if it's a stinky project and the pay is great, then that's okay, too. So on one end of the spectrum I might be editing attorney bios for a law firm (yawn), and on the other I am scripting and performing in videotaped comic sketches for a Fortune 500 tech company's worldwide new employee orientation program.

So in the next 2 months I'll be making probably twice what I did in the first 5 months of the year. My inner capitalist is re-emerging, I think.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


For whatever reason I had been highly anticipating EMI's release of the Paul McCartney catalog. Yes, I know, Paul is the cloying I mean, cute Beatle. Somehow in his dotage he became a completely corny old man. And I've always been a George fan, followed VERY closely by John (almost tied), then Paul and Ringo.

But none of that matters. The point is, I have the entire Beatles catalog, thanks to a really awesome client who burned the whole thing for me one day, but I don't have as much of the solo stuff. And there were a number of Paul songs I was looking forward to getting.

So this week I downloaded: Band on the Run, Jet, Magneto and Titanium Man, Listen to What the Man Said, Mull of Kintyre, and Maybe I'm Amazed. These are songs I remembered loving from my childhood. And I've since listened to them probably 10-12 times apiece. (It's what I do -- getting into something and then completely draining the life out of it through obsessive usage.)

And what I learned was ... several of these are some really trite, lightweight, contrived, '70s pop confections that make my fillings sting. I mean, the lyrics for a couple of them are completely nonsensical.

STILL, there's something about them. Maybe it's nostalgia -- though nostalgia for the faux wood paneled, shag carpeted basement from which my bedroom was carved is hard to imagine at this point.

But as I listen (and re-listen), there's something to these songs. There's a real joy to them. I don't know if it was a
burst of creative freedom after being set loose from the Beatles and John's ever-judgmental glare or maybe the bales of pot he was smoking at the time, but everything about these songs, from the lyrics to the beat to the bizarre trombone backing to the vocal phrasing and creative arrangements just says ... I don't know ... unbridled exuberance? He is an amazing songwriter. And he sounds like he's having a really good time. Which is awesome.

That's the indefinable something, the x-factor about performance. When the performer is very clearly having the time of his or her life, it's absolutely infectious.

We've got a little bit of that going with our show. Especially in the transitions. I was saying tonight that the transitions are almost more fun than the scenes -- the music, the rhythm, the movement. It's very cool. And the audience I think really enjoys it, too.

So, yeah, I've just compared us to the Beatles. Nice. And yes, by the by, we are bigger than Jesus! Wanna make something of it?
Jet! with the wind in your hair of a thousand laces.
Climb on the back and we'll
Go for a ride in the sky.