Friday, August 31, 2007

Workin' for the weekend

Work has been a bear. All week. All summer. For much of the year, actually. Which is good.

But I'm fried. I had this giant video editing project that's sucked up hours and hours this week because I was determined not to work this weekend. And I got most of it done -- enough to allow me to relax and enjoy the last semi-official weekend of summer.

So some of the work has been pure drudgery/hell, but some of it has been among the best, the most satisfying and fulfilling of my career. Which is awesome. I've really felt on top of my game lately. Which has coincided perfectly with this theatre hiatus I'm on. Without it I might go crazy. I've decided I really like to work. Well, check that. I really like MY work. I might not like digging ditches so much, but I love what I do. Probably because I do it well (and vice versa).

It's such an interesting contrast to the acting. I think I've mastered the work I do for my clients -- the writing, the strategy, the problem solving. Their appreciation and relief and sometimes surprise that someone "gets them" is palpable and genuine. Sure, I've been doing this almost four times as long as the acting, but I think it really started with a gift. Which I don't think I have for acting. Reviewers used the words "workmanlike" and "journeyman" to describe my work. That is to say, it's serviceable. It rises above mediocrity, but it doesn't blow anyone out of the water. And it may just be that, without that spark, that gift, no amount of honing the craft will bring it to that level where it needs to be.

I'm not sure about all that, but it seems an interesting theory. I just feel fortunate that there is something in this world that I know I really do excel at and that can give me satisfaction and rewards for years to come.

Anyway, food for thought. But enough thinking. It's Miller Time.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dress-up

One thing that's always a little dicey to me about commercial auditions is how far you go in costuming your character.

Normally it's very straightforward -- for men at least. You get a written character breakdown or a description from your agent and you go with some variation of "casual," "nice casual," "business casual," or "business."

But sometimes you're auditioning for a character that may or may not involve some degree of costuming or props -- stuff you wouldn't necessarily find, much less wear, from your normal wardrobe. And I always seem to be a little off in how far I go.

A week or so ago was "Aging Rock Star." I sat across from a guy I've known (in acting circles) for almost two years and I didn't recognize him at all. He had giant aviator sunglasses, a bandana, jeans, jacket, boots -- the whole getup. When normally he looks like he stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad. I had very little rock-n-roll gear (he actually borrowed his son's clothes), so I was pretty minimalist -- boots, jeans, t-shirt, etc. -- and decided to rely mostly on my acting skills.

Then this week one of my auditions called for what was described as kind of a nerdy scientist/lab worker guy. They specifically called for a starched, short-sleeve dress shirt and tie, and also added that the guy never spends more than $7 on a haircut. I mean, they were really detailed. So I went all out (I'm sure partly because "nerdy guy" is much closer to who I am than "rock star"). Black pants, white socks, white s/s dress shirt, black tie, hair slicked down. I even wrapped white tape around the nose piece of my glasses. Of course, I get there and they're directing us to play it way, way down and really straight.

So there you go. I continue to audition a good bit -- about a dozen or so this month -- but I've been taking a really zen attitude toward it all. I just substituted "zen" for my original wording of "who gives a shit" because that's not quite accurate. I prepare, I try, but it honestly doesn't make a difference to me whether I get it or not. Maybe that's hurting my chances, but it's definitely better than pinning all your hopes on the merest suggestion of a potential gig.

I've just been so busy with work that I don't really need the money from the kind of gigs I've been auditioning for. I can make more at home than at a lot of these jobs. Plus it takes so long to get paid -- 90 days minimum -- that acting money feels a bit like funny-money anyway. It's all very abstract. I'm trying not to be too cavalier about things, but I just turned down another really small, last-minute, low-paying job last night.

And I think, damn, I've done that at least a half-dozen times in the past few months. Then I add up the money "lost" from all these gigs and it would barely be enough to pay a month's bills. Before taxes. And agent commissions.

Anyway, today is "straight-talking, no-nonsense" business guy. At least wardrobe-wise all I have to do is put on a suit.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Road Trip!

I just realized I haven't been away all year long. It's crazy. Before acting came along, my favorite thing in the world was travel. I'm easily thrilled, and there's nothing like being in a new place, with a surprise around every corner.

I've been wanting to see Starved Rock since forever.


Who would have thought Illinois can be pretty beyond the lakefront? Not me. Thank you Father Time (and Mother Earth) for creating this wonderland of sandstone canyons and waterfalls within a two hours' drive of Chicago.

And one fortunate side effect of the flooding we've had ...


... all but two of the trails were closed. Because otherwise I would have felt compelled to do all 14 of them. This rooftop poking up out of the Illinois River is a picnic pavilion, under a dozen or so feet of water and a hundred yards from the new shoreline.



All kinds of exciting stuff in this world to see ...

... anyway, back to reality. Two auditions to prep for ...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tormenta!

Scenes from my block after yesterday's (first) storm:


The broken tree above hit the wires, causing this light pole a hundred yards or so up the block to come down, too:


It's been a weird summer. June was cool. You couldn't go anywhere without a jacket or extra layer. July was perfect. August has been nothing but heat, humidity and non-stop t'storms training through the area.

As a result, I hereby declare an extension to the Summer of Rob, which was never clearly defined anyway, but I suppose was presumed to encompass "meteorological" summer (June, July, August). So now we'll be observing astronomical summer, taking us well into September, which is one of the best months weather-wise anyway.

There is still much to do. With so much going on in the city, it's hard to get away, but some road trips are definitely in order. And I still haven't actually swam in the lake yet this year. Or kayaked the river. If only I could pry these plastic streetfest cups from my gnarled hand.

I did get an offer of a small part and an understudy role, but I've done that before and I'm not interested in putting in all that work for so little reward. I'm really not sure when I'll work in theatre again. And I'm not all that worried about it either.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Good Actor

There's nothing like working with non-actors to make you feel like DeNiro.

I am on Day-I-Don't-Know-What -- 5? 6? -- of a 7 or 8-day shoot over the course of several weeks. This time behind the camera, as part of my job-job. We're interviewing these execs, trying to get some compelling, concise messages, while also presenting them as natural, spontaneous human beings.

It's amazing what happens when you take intelligent, articulate people, passionate about their work and their family, and stick a camera in their face. People are so guarded, so afraid of making a mistake, so worried about how they'll come across. We've been working hard, getting them to a place of comfort, but it hasn't been easy.

It makes me realize that I am easily a better actor than 95% of the population. That just leaves, what, 15 million people in the United States alone better than I am? I don't know -- watching these people struggle is probably the same exact feeling directors and casting agents get when they see me perform. It's all relative.

Monday, August 20, 2007

I see dead people

They pass right through me. Or by me.

Shunned!

Weird.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Airshow!

One of the best features of the Summer of Rob is Leisure Time Fridays. The weather's been so lousy lately with the heat, humidity and rain, it seems every Friday is the best day of the weekend. So I've been knocking off early to hang at the lake. Though not totally "knocking off," I guess, since I usually take work with me.

But LTF was particularly enriching this week because the Air Show is in town and they rehearse on Friday. So all of the heart-pounding, ear-smashing fun without the annoying crowds!

But that didn't stop me from going Saturday, too. Check out this stealthy mutha:

And how about this cute little monkey:

Almost enough to make you want to have kids. Almost. Okay, not even almost. A little.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I'll take Pot Pourri for 500, Alex

In tribute to Merv, some miscellaneous musings:

* I auditioned today for the part of "Aging Rock Star." When my agent called about it, I was like, "What part of 'aging rock star' makes you think of me?" Then I realized it. "Aging." Christ on a cracker. It was kind of a busy morning and I was running out of time
and thought, "Damn, I better get in the shower." Then I thought, why? I'm a rock star, damnit!

* I may just be street-fested out. Or CatFighted out. This weekend was #14 -- and I've been to a couple of them twice -- so I've spent the equivalent of a work week, or more, at street fests this summer. Maybe it's the heat. Maybe it's the crowds. Maybe it's the beer. I'll say it's the heat and leave it at that. So there's another spate of them in September, by which time it should be a little cooler.


* I attended the Bataan Death March of theatre Friday night. Three f'ing hours. Now I do have some slight ADD issues, but I can endure three hours of theatre when it's something really great, like Osage County. But hell, even Chicago Shakespeare finds a way to keep their shows under two-and-a-half hours (at least the ones I've seen there). This was a one-act fest. Of new, untested plays. By AMATEURS. No way should you keep people in a hot stuffy theatre for three hours under those circumstances. A couple of the plays I enjoyed. A couple of others I would have enjoyed more if I wasn't so damned annoyed and antsy.

* Auditions are weird. You heard it here first. But you go to these theatre auditions and it's very clear that certain roles, the major leads usually, are already assigned to that theatre's ensemble members, or people closely affiliated with the group. So in some ways it feels a little bit like a charade. But then they invite you anyway and you wonder, do they just need enough people in the room to make for a viable audition, so the ones they've picked will have other people to read with? I don't know. Maybe I'll be surprised.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Just to clarify ...

... lest I sound petulant ... as I was explaining to someone, the difference between stripping down to boxers in a play on a stage and doing so in an audition for a medical video, is this ...

In the play, it's not about me in my boxers. It's about the story and characters.

In the audition, it's about a group of strangers examining my body to see if it looks okay and to make sure it's not too hairy and maybe picking over every quirk and blemish and saying, "What's that? Can we do something about that? Etc." Really not interested.

And it looks like I wasn't the only one, because late last night I got a call from a different agent asking me to come to the audition. So they may be having trouble rounding up people.

Not to say I can't be bought. There's principles and there's pragmatism. Not sure what my price is. It's definitely not $340. A thousand maybe. Maybe.

And "career suicide" was probably a little dramatic. It would more accurately be termed "career euthanasia."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Am I a turd?

That's the question I asked my agent today. She said no, but I felt a little like one.

Frustrating day. The computer's down again -- it has motherboard issues. (Don't we all?) Or maybe it's the AC adaptor. Either way, it can't hold a charge. We won't know until the tech guy who called at 10 am FINALLY gets his ass here. Or rather, next door, at home, where my computer is.

So that's when the turd issue came up. At the Internet cafe, trying to fulfill various client obligations, the phone rings and I'm hoping it's Dell. Instead it's an agent. Telling me about an audition tomorrow for some medical thing.

"They want you in your boxers -- is that okay?" Uhhhh, I guess ... "How's your chest? Is it hairy? It can't be too hairy." Huh, uh no, not too hairy. Wait, they want me stripped all the way down to my boxers? "Uh-huh."

And how would this pay if I got the job? "$400." You know what, I'm going to pass. Is that okay? Am I turd?

She assured me I wasn't. But for $400, minus 15%, minus time for the audition, getting to and from, minus time for the shoot IF I even get it ... forget it.

I stripped to my boxers for a show before, no problem. But for this? Somehow it seems different. One of my first commercial jobs was for another medical industrial. I had to wear one of those stupid robes and get fake injected and poked and probed. The crew joked, "You want this for your reel?"

Ha-ha. Today I take a stand for personal dignity. And possibly also for career suicide. Time will tell.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

StreetFestaPalooza

I've been to so many street fests this summer, I was toying with the idea of starting a separate Guide to Chicago Street Fests blog. But then I realized they'd all basically report the same features: overpriced beer, cover bands of varying quality and lots of pretty, white people.

Nevertheless, there are some subtle differences from fest to fest, mostly around the margins, worth commenting on. So here's my rundown.

June 2: Belmont-Sheffield Music Fest

I was still doing a show, so my festing was seriously constrained at this point. I had to miss CatFight at this one, but did stop by for one mostly unremarkable afternoon. The best thing about this fest were the craft vendors, from whom I picked up a few more of
these:

By "these" I mean the wrist-thingy, not the beer. Though I had a few of those, too.

June 10: Ribfest

This festival was truly unique. As mentioned, most of these even
ts are known for attracting a lot of pretty people. The rib eaters? Not so much. It was actually a little scary. And super tense, as rib shortages and long lines combined to get people really agitated. I didn't care about the ribs, really. I was just there for the beer. And I've got a real aversion to people licking and smacking their fingertips, so this was a tough one.

Also this weekend was one of the best fests: Midsommarfest up in Andersonville. And the Wells Street Art Festival. AND St. Mike's. All of which I did not get
to attend. Again, due to show schedule. But seriously, lumping all these together in the same weekend is really poor planning. And Ribfest was a very sad consolation prize.

June 24: Gay Pride Parade

The mother (queen?) of all parades. Always a fun time, and right out my door. The precision rifle drill squad is definitely not to be missed. And here's a hint: the color on cheap mardi gras beads tend to run on a hot day, so avoid white.

June 30: Pizza Fest


Neither festive nor adequately stocked with pizza, this one a was a real failure. Unlike Ribfest, which had dozens, maybe scores of rib purveyors, this one had a mere four stalls selling pizza. The lines were a hundred feet long. So I spent my tickets (another serious problem -- a ticket system instead of cash) on beer. Multiple thumbs down.

July 4: Taste of Chicago
I swore I'd never go to Taste again. Just a horrible experience. Unless literally rubbing slick shoulders with fat, tank-topped suburbanites is your idea of fun. But I was dr
agged there, on just the worst, most crowded of days to go during this 10-day fest. At least the bike makes popping in and out of fests easier.

July 7: Wrigleyville SummerFest

One word: CatFight!. Finally! And the mid-afternoon heat kept the crowds away.

It's funny. This one was sponsored by a church, so they had to censor their lyrics (no "masturbation" in Green Day's Paradise) and antics.

July 14: Folk and Roots Fest

Of all the fests, this one probably has the most authentic music, with artists from all over the world playing everything from digardoos to zithers. This is a good one to smuggle your own beer into. And the crowd is nice and relaxed -- it's not the scene or meat market that some of these can be.

July 15 Rock Around the Block

CatFight Redux!

One of the great things about this fest is the liquor stores along the block were selling giant beers out of tubs. So you avoid the overpriced fest beer. Also, one of the fests that goes until 10 on Sunday night. Also saw Hairbangers Ball for the first time!

July 20: Old St. Pat's

This venerable old fest advertises itself as the world's largest block party. Not sure if that's true, but it is undoubtedly huge. Easily a couple thousand people. The church boasts of dozens of marriages that resulted from people meeting at the fest, so the women especially tend to go all out -- high heels, skimpy dresses, those crazy zig-zag parts in the hair.

The great thing about the Catholics is the admission price comes with FIVE beer tickets. They fully expect everyone to drink at least five beers. Awesome. (I had six, as a
member of our group found a few random tickets on the ground.)

Saw some band called Rusted Root, who I didn't recognize until the final song, when they played their hit.

July 21: Sheffield Garden Walk

One of the major fests in town, but it's gone seriously downhill since the local businesses reduced their support for it and it got moved from the streets into a big church parking lot, which just isn't the same. Still, I like the mix here of religion and commerce:


And this year, for a change, I actually got to tour a few of the nice neighborhood gardens. Few things are as fun as peaking in and poking around other peoples' homes.

July 28: Taste of Lincoln


Once again, ladies and gentlemen ... CatFight!!



I'm becoming a little self-conscious about snapping CatFight photos, so the quantity and quality is seriously diminishing.

July 29: Summer on Southport

Some street fests are really family-oriented. That's how this one was. But it was a pleasant enough way to spend a Sunday afternoon/evening. And I went to Dairy Q
ueen for the first time in several decades, which was cool.

This, by the way, is one sign that you've chosen a less-than-cool street fest. The Surf Photo guy.




So that's the roundup for June and July. Next up: Retro on Roscoe. Let the Summer of Rob continue!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bad actor

One month into the Summer of Rob and the livin' is easy. Right now I don't miss being in a show.

I've had enough toes in the water with the commercial work, auditions and the reading to not feel totally out of touch. I'm constantly running into actor friends. And I've generally got a much more relaxed attitude about things.

Perhaps too relaxed. A few audition opportunities have slipped by -- but they were things that I wasn't feeling super-enthusiastic about anyway. So it's good to be a little picky. It may be getting a little ridiculous, though. The notices sit in a file with little notes under them like "Air show weekend" or "Conflicts with North Halsted Market Days."

And even now, as I audition around, the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up at the words "Rehearsals begin in September." Damn, September is SUCH a nice month. I'd hate to miss it, especially with the current heat making outdoor events a little less practical.

We shall see. Must get back into my writing. But the problem with writing for a living is, it makes writing on the side particularly difficult. When I've been writing all day for clients, I don't have a lot left for my plays.

That's a decent excuse, but not a good one.

Here's to August!