Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sins of the blogger

I haven't added up the numbers just yet for an end-of-the-year report, so I will instead blog a little about this blog.

I started it to document my experience putting up The One Eyed Cat & Other Tales of Need. From there, I decided to keep it -- mainly as a personal journal of my experiences as an actor and writer. It is ridiculously inwardly-focused, I know, so it is by no means a "must-read" or even a "would-read" on the theater scene.

But that's okay with me. It's mainly something for myself now. This has been a fascinating time of my life and I'm glad to have documented it. Someday it will likely provide amusement -- again, mostly for myself.

Having said that, I read a lot of other blogs -- some of them performance-related, others not. Many of those blogs seek to contribute wisdom or impart information to others or provide fodder for debate. Sometimes I do that, but mostly I don't. But here are things, based on my reading of others' blogs, that I will never do with this blog:
  • Apologize for being away or for not blogging. As if anyone cares.
  • Start an entry by saying I have absolutely nothing to say, then going on for paragraph after paragraph anyway. When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
  • Back-date posts, as if it's important to fill every day with a new post. That's cheating.
  • Say anything about anyone else I wouldn't say to their face. Which is why this blog is pretty boring.
  • Refer to myself in the third person.
  • Talk about "my readers" or address them directly in that way.
  • Create multiple issue-specific sub-blogs that I don't bother to keep up.
I'm sure there's more. I will add to the list as necessary. Bye-bye 2008, you mostly shithole of a year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The long road home

Dad and sister
Great Falls, December 26

Since I visited in June, Dad's Alzheimer's has continued to progress, if not accelerate. 

He was still calm and peaceful, as he was then -- not nearly as tense and anxious as he was a couple of years ago. He still seemed to recognize us -- or at least to recognize us as familiar people, people he was glad to see. He does this thing where he reaches out and touches my chin, and I THINK it's because of the facial hair, which he always disliked. He used to tell me to "stand a little closer to the razor next time." It's ironic, I guess, that the thing he hated is now a touchstone of sorts.

And he still has pretty much just the two words in his vocabulary -- "here" and "yes." Sometimes he tries to say more, but it comes out mostly as a stutter. The doctors have no idea what's going on inside his mind, whether there's something he's actually trying to say.

And physically, he's healthy as an ox.

On the downside, some of the activities he was able to engage in just back in June, he can no longer do. He's down to eating, tying his shoes -- the very basics.

But he was happy to see us. There is that. It's impossible to predict what the next year will bring, but I hope he can hold on to this place for a while -- this place of ... relative peace and contentment. And that I can use that time to make his days easier.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Under the tree. Not.



Great Falls, Maryland
Christmas Day

Imagine what I could do with a camera that isn't primarily a phone.

So far my main Christmas wish -- well, my main material wish -- has not come true. A digital camera of my very own.

I'm not picky. I just want it to be blue. Canon, Nikon and Olympus all make fine compact digital cameras in perfectly acceptable shades of blue. Any one of those will do. The Nikon's prettiest. The Canon's probably the best quality. Olympus has sentimental value.

Ya hear me, Santa?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Yes we need a little Christmas ...

Holiday Card 2005

I've been having trouble with the Christmas spirit the past couple of years. All the stress and the travel and the gifting and the family issues just seemed like more trouble than it was worth.

So last year, to reduce the stress, I took the unprecedented step of not doing my annual holiday card, which I had been doing since 1995. It was a huge production. It required, first of all, a photo of me engaged in some wacky adventure -- rollerblading, sky diving, snorkeling, acting -- which kind of kept up the pressure for me to actually engage in such ventures during the course of the year. Then there's the content, and the design and the printing and the envelopes and the authentic Christmas stamps and the labels, and the personalization of each and every one. Anyway, a couple of hundred dollars and a dozen or more hours later ...

It was kind of a relief not to have to do it last year, so I skipped it again this year. But now I'm wondering which was the chicken and which was the egg. Did my scrooginess cause me to not want to do the cards, or did not doing the cards cause or aggravate my scrooginess? I think there was definitely some latter in there. I mean, once I got all the production done, I really did enjoy sitting down and writing them out, sort of reconnecting with old friends and getting in that spirit of thinking of others (to the extent a card with a picture of yourself on the cover has anything to do with others). Some of these people I hardly ever see.

And people have noticed! Several people last year were concerned they might have gotten bumped from the list. (Though no doubt for every one of those there were several who were relieved to not have to reciprocate -- or at least feel guilty for not reciprocating.) Several said they actually save them from year to year. That's amazing to me. And kinda cool.

So I think maybe next year I'll get back into it. I've loved Christmas all my life, and I'd hate to lose that feeling permanently. And yes, I got grief for the 2005 one ...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Frozen

Entrance, Diversey Harbor

So there's no kitchen water here at Gaza City West. Pipes froze again.

We went through this last winter. In fact, I was several weeks without reliable kitchen water, what with the pipes freezing, then bursting, then freezing again and bursting some more then awaiting superior parts and craftsmanship, etc. 

But the overhaul last year apparently didn't take. Or at least wasn't sufficient to withstand below zero temps. So there's been a lot of porting water from the bathroom sink to the kitchen, and boiling water in the kettle to use to wash dishes and just generally other yucky inconvenience.

All in all, I suppose it's better to lose the water in the kitchen than the bathroom. So there's that. And tomorrow promises to reach the '20s, which may just shake things loose.

It could be worse. At least I have heat and electricity. 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow day

Belmont Harbor

Took a nice long walk by the lake today. It was beautiful. And not too, too cold.

That's the place I go when I need a little perspective. 

Also, waiting in the vestibule was the package from Amazon. I've gotta get a grip, man.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bad Santa

I spent several hours today yelling at Amazon and the Post Office as each blamed the other (along with non-existent roommates and allegedly thieving neighbors) for losing a package containing two fairly vital Christmas gifts. I will be thoroughly pissed if they don't make it here on time.

And I'm feeling like I'll never use Amazon again if their "super saver shipping" means they send it by USPS instead of UPS. Who the hell entrusts packages with the post office? Hell, they probably won't even respond to my vicious e-mail, which was likely only read by a bot anyway, which accounts for their first reply completely ignoring and not answering my questions.

I don't know why I let this ruin my day like that. I guess because we've been plagued here by remarkably incompetent postal service over the years (one time we didn't get mail for two weeks) and this was the last straw.

So I did something I've hardly ever done since I've been out on my own. I took off in the middle of the afternoon and had a nice late lunch at Wilde, cozy by the fireplace, with a burger and fries and two blue moons. Then I came home and fell asleep on the couch.

And now I'm going to attempt to mainline some holiday spirit by watching White Christmas, one of the best 38 movies EVER.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

None of yer damned business!

Occasionally you go to an audition and they ask you your age. Usually at photo shoots, for some reason. Maybe because they're not as experienced as an established casting agency?

I don't know, but it's wrong. Sometimes you're handed a form and one of the lines asks you to fill in your age, but often that's accompanied by "If you're under 18." That's simple to ignore, but at these print castings they pointedly ask you. I think it's illegal.

Even if it's not, it's irrelevant. Unless they're shooting for a liquor company or a cigarette manufacturer, in which case they need to see that you're "legal." Otherwise, what's the point?It's not how old you are, but how old you look. If they're casting for people "35-to-40" and maybe you look that range but you're not, are they going to turn you down? It's ridiculous.

So when they ask I usually blurt the first thing that comes to mind, which is usually within 3 to 5 years of my actual age (but never over). Anyway, that was today's annoyance.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Whiteout

I missed a commercial audition yesterday, which I don't think has ever happened. But I don't feel too bad about it.

The snow didn't seem too bad to me yesterday afternoon, but I guess later on, about when I was headed out, it got worse. Throw in the fact that the city has apparently stopped plowing the streets and you get gridlock. Twenty-five minutes waiting for the bus, another 25 minutes to go two miles.

I called my agent and said I was going to be late. She called the casting agency, which said they were cutting off auditions at 5 pm sharp. Which is a bit odd. I'm not sure I understand how they can routinely get 30 minutes to an hour behind each day yet still manage to stop exactly on time. I could have hopped in a cab, I suppose, but the cabs have to navigate the same snowbound streets as the buses. So I finally abandoned the bus, walked a couple of blocks to the nearest train station (I actually got a full block ahead of the bus by walking), and took the train home. 

The other thing is, this was another of those bizarre casting decisions. The role was auto mechanic. Yes, yes, I was supposed to the head auto mechanic, but that doesn't make it much better. My agent said the other day that ours is not to question the wisdom of the casting people, but I can't help but feel when I get called as a farmer or mechanic or factory worker that I just fit the age range and they need extra bodies to fill out the schedule.

So yeah, I tried to get there, but I wasn't going to kill myself over it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Voila!

My newly overhauled website is finally up and running. Introducing robbiesenbach.com, V 2.0.

It's not just that I hadn't changed the design in four years, or however long it's been in existence. It's more that the old site just didn't really reflect who I am anymore.

When I started getting really into the acting, I downplayed the business side of my life, giving it just a single page in a site otherwise filled with headshots, performance dates, acting resumes, plays, sketches and other things.

I was in a kind of in-between place. I didn't want to overemphasize the business side, lest the theater and commercial people think I was a dilettante or hobbyist. And I was a little concerned that my clients, on the other hand, would consider me some kind of fruitcake, so I didn't really make use of the domain or the rb.com e-mail for business stuff. Eventually, of course, people started googling me and found the site anyway.

Then I finally came to the conclusion that there's no need to hide either side of my life from anyone. In fact, it's my contention that each reinforces the other. The acting stuff boosts my creativity in my daily work -- and, in fact, I've actually brought the acting and creative writing into client gigs. And the business stuff ... well, I'm not sure how that impacts the arts side, other than from a marketing standpoint.

Either way, I'm out of the closet, as it were, and going forth with both feet proudly forward.

In the new year I'll add some bells and whistles. (Well, if you call video bells and whistles ... but I'll be filling it out some.) For now, though, this is me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Milk

Excellent movie. Very, very moving. Maybe a bit slow toward the middle, but overall fascinating. 

It's ridiculous how little I knew of this story. I mean, yeah, I was a kid and all and, of course, consumed with my own things. And movies, being stories, do tend to assemble the pieces of history into a comprehensible narrative, sometimes with or without the aid of facts.

But so many things. I guess I assumed Harvey Milk was a lifelong politician. But he was this establishment guy, working for an insurance company until he was 40, then he dropped out, moved to San Francisco, became a hippie, and then in just the 8 remaining years of his life became active in the community and then politics, building up a political organization from nothing to become city supervisor.

So it brought that story to life for me, and wove in all these other historical threads -- gay rights, Anita Bryant, the rise of the religious right on the back of the "morality" issue, early statewide referendums that sound a lot like the ones going around now to deny gay rights. Amazing.

I'll be interested to read more, to separate the fact from the fiction, but I love a story about people who maybe find their calling late(r) in life. That has a lot of appeal to me. There's going to be some changes coming. It's all out there.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Swimming with the fishes

Yesterday's taping went really well. It's this national retailer that's going to start opening up "express" versions of its stores under a different name and brand. The first ones open out on the West Coast and we created a batch of ads to accompany the roll out as it (we hope) goes across the country. Naturally, we were pushing for openings in LA, Manhattan, Chicago and other top ten media markets. Ca-ching, as it were.

It was interesting to learn why they picked us. Again, I was surprised to even be called back, and I got the idea with my end-of-the-day timeslot that I was just filling out the schedule. But they took all three of us that auditioned together that afternoon, saying that we had really good chemistry together. It probably helped that the two other actors knew each other already, and I guess I faked an easy familiarity well enough.

I think having the camera on us in the audition, and having the client there really helped bring it to life for us. We were more "visual" than we otherwise might have been. Looking at each other, instead of into our microphones, even gesturing and touching each other and otherwise interacting like humans. In fact, I seem to remember that that was one of the lessons from classic audition texts -- don't be afraid to touch your scene partner. 

So it was a good day. We had a lot of fun and got to improvise and shape the scripts, even adding our own buttons and punch lines. I can't wait to see the finished product, with my voice coming out of an inanimate object.

The actors I was paired with were pretty first rate, too. One was in Batman and the other was waiting to hear on a role from the Goodman. I think I held my own, but I was definitely swimming a little above my league, to mix metaphors. In deeper waters? Either way, at least I didn't sink ...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wow, I rule!

I got cast for that voiceover gig. And it's actually a pretty big thing. The casting agent even told my agent, "I hope he knows what a big deal this is." Believe me, I do now! 

It's for a major national retailer, a series of 6 or 7 spots, running on TV in local markets across the country. And it's SAG, which is awesome.

I'll be doing the voice for an animated character, which is hilarious. I didn't even have to do some wacky "charactery" voice. Just plain ol' me. Well, me, playing an imperious, know-it-all CEO type, so that's not such a stretch.

They told me to rest my voice, drink lots of water and get lots of sleep. Weird. I've done a number of all-day shoots and have never gotten that instruction before. So now it's making me sorta nervous. And probably means I won't fall asleep until 2.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The one after 100

I got a callback yesterday, which was nice, because I'd been feeling like I was in a rut. It was that voiceover one, Lucky #100. So that was cool. They're taping tomorrow, so I don't think I got it, but it was nice to be called back.

And I did this other audition on Friday that was my best in a long time. I don't think I got that one, either, or I would have heard by now, but the breakdown called for a "snooty, arrogant a-hole" -- totally up my alley! I was supposed to be complaining to my waiter about a laundry list of offenses. Amazingly, the guy playing the waiter is an actor I know who actually played my waiter in a show I did a few years ago. He was serving me poison soup. So there was lots of chemistry and good mojo and motivation going on.

We had lots of room to improvise, so I went off on everything from the decor to the wine to his appearance. At the end, the casting agent went, "Wow, it sounds like you've got some real experience in this area!" Yup, that's me -- natural born a-hole.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Closing time

Closing night, Bustin'

Another show has come to an end. It's typically a bittersweet occasion. Like college graduation -- you had the time of your life, but you're definitely ready to move on. On rare occasions it's been a complete relief. You just want to be done and out of there.

This one is really different. I'm accustomed to insular theater people (like any other people) getting caught up in their own thing and thinking it's the most precious and special thing that ever was, all objective evidence (reviewers, audiences, ticket sales, etc.) to the contrary. This show was really something -- an amazing collection of people giving everything they have to it and loving every minute of it and everyone in it. Even drawing out a grouchy introvert like me.

And creative as hell. Everyone working every night to top themselves and top each other -- not in a nasty-competitive way, but in the fun way that keeps you on your toes and raises your game. There's a google group for the cast and crew and the other day one of the threads got more than 150 posts. I left the wrap party around 4 am and there were still lots of people hanging out.

Today everyone's going through some serious withdrawal. The weekend will be especially tough, not being together. It helps that it's the holidays and we'll all be quickly sucked into that madness to distract us.

But I haven't had an experience quite like this in the five or so years I've been doing theater. Maybe I should quit while I'm ahead.

Friday, December 05, 2008

There I am!

I got several reports in the last couple of days from Facebook people saying they'd seen the holiday commercial I did. One even said where they saw it, so I paid extra attention to the local spots during the Today Show's 9 o'clock hour this morning and managed to catch it myself.

It actually turned out pretty well. I don't like how I look, which is pretty typical, but the ad itself looks good. It's high-quality, and not cheesy like you'd expect from a local commercial.

It's funny that even relative strangers are spotting me lately. A guy I barely know, who I've just seen around auditions (and who vaguely and disturbingly resembles Bill O'Reilly) came up to me yesterday at the casting agency and said he saw the holiday ad. Then a little later in Pilates class, one of the women asked if I was in a commercial or if I have a double walking around.

So that's fun, in a strange kind of way.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

100

Today I had my 100th commercial audition of the year. Usually I have around 45 or 50. And the year's not even over. Crazy.

Actually I had two auditions today. Number 99 was the exact way you'd see it portrayed in the movies or on TV. The character breakdown said I was supposed to be wacky, crazy, over the top, with strong, funny, physical business like moonwalking, dancing, etc. The casting agent emphasized that to me again before I went into the room (where the client was), and said they'd probably have me do both scripts, give me some notes and have me do them again.

So I went in and did my best, got all crazy "unafraid to make a fool of myself" per the explicit instructions, finished up, expected to do the next script and they immediately said, "Thank you!" 

HA! Psyche! It wasn't that great a gig anyway.

The second was a voiceover audition which was mainly interesting in that I was paired with this guy who I don't know, but know of -- he's sort of an improv hero here in Chicago. Incredibly respected and famous to, oh, about 3,000 people. So that was neat. He was nice, even introduced himself. I never know what to say in these situations. Seems silly to say, "I really respect your work." On the other hand, you don't want him to think you're a dope that doesn't recognize him.

So there we go. 100 auditions, 328 days.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A stand for dignity

So I had an opportunity for a tiny little commercial part that would run for just a few weeks in one city on the East Coast.

The rate was even lower than for that job I bitched about last month. Lower by a third! On the upside, it would be a two-day shoot, and the "days" would actually only be a few hours, so I'd make double that low, low rate. Minus agent commission. AND minus transportation costs.

My agent was really cool about it. I said it was an issue of principle. She understood and even went back to them with a higher rate, which they couldn't do. So then, of course, I couldn't very well say yes. I mean I could, but ...

Oh, well. I guess it's a sign that the economy can't be that bad if I'm kicking perfectly mediocre money out the door.

See you in the funny papers

I still can't used to seeing myself on TV or my picture in the paper.

A slightly similar phenomenon hit me today. There I was, thumbing through the Trib's business section, when I come across a quarter-page ad. That I helped create! Crazy.

It's not my favorite in the series, and it's mostly based on an idea that came from the client rather than my own. But it's still cool. Page 43.

In other news, I will have to go the paying route to get the new website done. At least it will be done, and it will look great. Gotta spend money to make money, right?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Slow day


First (sticking) snow of the season! Awesome. And soooooo nice to not have to go out in it.

I've had a very unproductive morning, in spite of a pending deadline. I think when I don't have quite enough to do, procrastination rears its head. It knows that I almost have too much time to get done what needs doing.

On the other hand, I always like to be a little ahead, because sudden audition appointments can totally blow up an otherwise-comfortable schedule. Maybe lunch will get me motivated.

I did approve the final designs/programming for my new website. Now just the long, painful process of getting it all converted over. I'm waiting to hear from my volunteer webmistress to see if she can work with what we came up with. New Year's is my new deadline ... 

Sunday, November 30, 2008

On this night of a thousand flaws

Wow, we just had our roughest show of the run. Now, in a show that has maybe a hundred different sound cues, you wouldn't think a couple of dropped ones would be a big deal. But they just happened to come at some pretty critical moments.

The first was during this hilarious-ass quasi-dance number that Corri and Sara do. It's early in the show and it's the first really crazy thing that happens, after a fairly sober and realistic first scene. So it's pretty critical to the momentum of the evening. If people are falling out of their chairs, we know it's going to be a good night. But tonight the music blinked out. We were all paralyzed backstage. Good thing they weren't -- they just kept on energizer bunnying.

Then it happened again in the next scene when Dan and Dick are introduced. So the whole night, things were a bit off, timing-wise. Still, nobody really complained. It wasn't even that big a topic after the show. Everyone just went out and did their best to have fun.

For my part, the top button of my tuxedo coat popped off while I was reaching for the ubiquitous chapstick backstage. I held up my end by calmly sewing it back on. Go team.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving

Pentagon 9/11 Memorial
November 28, 2008

I visited the September 11 Memorial at the Pentagon this afternoon. It was beautiful.

When you think about it, it's like, "Benches? Really?" But the whole thing is really nicely done. The benches are like artworks, almost abstract -- they look like wings, or the head of a bird. With pinkish marble tops that match the gravel below.

And together it's really impressive. I could see visiting it over and over again because it changes from day to day, hour to hour, season to season. I'd love to see it at night -- apparently the little water pools below the benches are lit up. Or on a sunny day, I'm sure the shadows cast by the benches make an interesting effect.

The benches are laid out by age, or year of birth. So the first one you see as you enter is the memorial to a 3-year-old who was on the plane. The names of her family members -- mom, dad and 9-year-old sister, also on the plane -- are inscribed on a plaque, and their benches are further in. So it starts out with just one bench in a row to itself, then an empty gap, then another for her sister, in a row of her own, than a large gap and then suddenly the field expands further and further as you get into people in their 30s and 40s and 50s. Then it tails off to a point again, for the very oldest victims, in their 60s.

Those who died on the plane have benches facing toward the Pentagon, those from the building face outward.

So many different sensations -- odd, unsettling and inspiring. The planes from National Airport roaring overhead. The different colored (newer) stone on the wall of the Pentagon. The sound of the water running in a current under the benches, like little brooks. The view of the new Air Force memorial just across the road. The caretaker carefully sweeping the gravel off the metal dividers.

I keep going back to the shape of the benches. They kind of soar, like spirits.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Who was that turkey?

Last night I was half-paying attention to the TV when I caught a glimpse of a turkey being carved up. Something clicked in the recesses of my subconscious and it was only later, in bed, that I realized that turkey carving the turkey might have been me.

That was my main activity in the little local commercial I shot a couple of weeks ago. I know turkeys are pretty ubiquitous this time of year, but something about it seemed so familiar. I'd be surprised if it's running already, as I heard they only were going to air it for two weeks, and since it's a Christmas shopping commercial, I would think they'd hold off until closer to then.

The turkey carving was a pretty tense affair. I'd never done it before and they only had one bird in reserve. I've seen some turkeys just absolutely maimed at the hands of a less-than-skilled carver so I was kind of nervous about it. It actually turned out pretty well. Maybe I'll take over the carving duties this afternoon.

So be on the lookout for a fake patriarch enjoying faux Christmas with his make believe family, coming soon to a local station near you.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Butch it up

Yeah, that's what I was told at an audition yesterday. And no, I wasn't offended. It was kinda funny. This new casting agent there really put me through the paces, which is fine. I'm fine with getting direction -- I want to give them what they want.

I was playing a customer to an auto service shop, just explaining my simple desire for quality service and convenience. After the first take, it was "Butch it up." So I went a little deeper with the voice, a little tougher. Second take was, "Okay, now smile." Third take? Who knows. I don't feel like I got where I needed to be to portray a "real" guy in Nebraska or Kansas City or wherever this thing's going to air.

But wouldn't a "real" man be working on his transmission and changing his oil himself? I think I look exactly like the kind of mechanical nincompoop who needs help with his car.

I was sick, too. I've been knocked out for the past two days with a freakin' killer cold, and it just completely saps my energy and motivation. And I've got stuff to do, and summoning the will and ability to get it done is near 'bout killin' me ...

Then again, it's not cancer. So there's that.

Monday, November 24, 2008

And then there were 4 ...

Belmont Avenue
November 23, 12:39 am

Wow, suddenly now we have just four shows left. Happily, no show this Friday, so we get a bit of a Thanksgiving break. And like any smart theater, they close on a Saturday instead of Sunday, so people aren't doing a show hungover from the wrap party.

One of the things about the neighborhood where the theater is located is its proximity to the Kennedy. When I'm stumbling home late to catch the Belmont bus, there's often a truck parked on the street with, presumably, a truck driver sleeping in the back of the cab.

It just makes you a little philosophical in the wee hours of the morning, thinking about the different paths people take, the different lives they lead.

One of the reasons I left DC, lo those many years ago, was that I felt I hadn't really lived among "real" people. Everyone was pretty homogenous -- at least everyone in my circle of young, middle-class, college-educated, government-type strivers. So when I went to Ohio I saw lots of the real world. Farmers, factory workers, union members ... um, those guys who wear the fez hats and drive the little cars. Shriners? 

Anyway, acting has also opened up my eyes to different people and the way they live. When I was starting out, I was mostly striving for security, a pretty conventional path. That was definitely the right choice for me then. Probably the only conceivable choice in my mind and at that time. 

So, I guess since this is the week for giving thanks, I am thankful for the eye-opening experiences I've had. I'd like to think it's made me a little more empathetic. Of course, one would have to have seen what a close-minded a-hole I was back then to see the difference ...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Whiff!

I've been in an audition rut lately. Of a dozen auditions in the past four weeks, only one went anywhere, and it was just about the lowest paying job you could imagine.

But not even any callbacks. I keep going to the casting agency to audition for something new and in the other room people are doing the callback from something I went out for the week before. 

And this morning I had one where a woman and I did the scene twice and they just looked at us like we'd pissed on the carpet or something. That one wasn't totally in my control, since it was two of us, but it was odd. I mean it's been a while since I had one where I just absolutely knew right then that I'd blown it completely. 

It's too bad, because a couple of these were really nice scripts. I don't know. I met with Agent A last week about exclusivity and told her I definitely want to streamline -- three agents are at least one too many, maybe two. But deciding between A and B is a really tough decision. She said that if the choice was sharing me or losing me, she'd rather share, so that's cool. Anyway, she indicated also that I'm a real asset to them, and much in demand, and it's nice to be wanted by three agencies.

But Agent C definitely has to go. They're mostly a distraction and an annoyance right now -- they pop out of the woodwork and send me on something that one of my "good" agents could be representing me on. I'd love to break up with them via e-mail, but feel I owe them at least a phone call. Yuck.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In Between Days

I am really missing the ol' Factory family this week. Having done 4 shows in a row has made it feel especially odd to be away from the theater for a few days. It really is a fun bunch of folks.

I think I do best in structured social situations. Who am I kidding -- any kind of structure in any area of my life is usually welcome. But just a schedule that brings everyone together at an appointed time and an activity that gives us all a common touchstone -- that tends to make the socializing easier, gives it a starting point or a foundation.

In a few weeks it will be all over, and time to move on to the next thing, whatever that might be.

I hope we get good crowds this weekend. I had four friends out last weekend, so that was nice. What's cool about this group, though, as TimeOut basically said, they have such a fun time doing the show that they don't necessarily give a shit whether the audience gets it or not, or whether they're even there. I mean, we want crowds and ticket sales and all that, but we'll do a show for an audience that's one third the size of the cast and still tear the roof off the sucker.

And not just because there's plenty of cold, frosty Busch Light waiting in the fridge upstairs.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Little more politico

I'm tired of the grumbling about Obama picking old Clinton hands (and perhaps even Clinton herself) for this administration. First off, you're gonna need experienced Washington hands in the White House and Cabinet. Where else do you go to get that? The failed Bush administration? Carter?

Speaking of Carter, he ran as a Washington outsider and proceeded to fill his administration with good ol' boys from Georgia, which didn't work out so well.

Finally, the Clinton years were a pretty sweet time, relatively speaking. Bush took a lot of his top people from, of all places, the Nixon and Ford administrations, for chrissakes.

You can't make change if you can't get anything done, and these people will help Obama get his agenda through. 

And what a man, what an adult, what a pragmatist, for not punishing Lieberman. I would have sent that damned turncoat to Siberia. 

Gobama. How nice to have a president who's a better person than I am.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rock-n-roll


So what's a Factory Industry Night like? Part private house party, part family dinner, part revival meeting, part celebrity roast.

What a blast. We had audience members calling out lines, doing some light heckling, talking amongst themselves and to us. It was great.

Not all of them were Factory people, but many of them had some Factory connection (since there are really only 2 degrees of separation between any Chicago actor and another anyway).

But yeah, I wish every night could be industry night. Plus they have a kick-ass logo.

Factory World, Party Time, Excellent

Bustin' Opening Party
11/08/08

Who could not have fun playing with these people?

Tonight is a special Monday night show for industry. I am promised it will be a total blowout. The industry night for Ceres wasn't so crazy that I recall, but that show was kind of different.

It's been a good weekend of houses, so four in a row will be cool. In fact, tonight we'll pass the halfway point of the run, which is insane.

I do hope there's beer.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The InterWebs


After years of resistance, successfully avoiding Friendster and MySpace and their ilk, I have finally gone and joined up on The Facebook. It seems to have reached some sort of tipping point in the past month or two, where suddenly even luddites were signing up and I could no longer resist the trickle of Friend invites.

So far so good. It's not changing my world or anything, but I can understand now why my niece and nephew find no need for phone calls, voice mail or even e-mail. Really it does make keeping in touch pretty simple. And I'm impressed with how it brings together so many things -- chat, e-mail, blogging, photos, message boards, youtube, invitations, etc. -- in one place.

And I did manage to get hooked up with an old friend I'd lost touch with. My philosophy had always been, if anyone wants to find me they can google me. And anyone I'd want to find I'm probably already in touch with. But what Facebook does is it reminds you of people you'd completely forgotten about. So that's a nice thing.

Next up is tacking LinkedIn. I've got a profile up, but haven't yet reached out to sign up friends, or contacts or whatever they call it over there.

Part of that is I've been waiting to get my website overhauled. Unfortunately, that project has been delayed. The goal was to have it up by the end of October. I've done my part, writing up all the copy, but the redesign and conversion process has hit some hiccups. Thus far I've been relying on the kindness of friends, who have been outstandingly generous with their time and talent, but I might just have to suck it up and pay cash money for some professional intervention.

I just want it DONE. The more I've worked on it the more I hate and am embarrassed by my old site. Who knows, maybe this is something that would be useful for me to learn on my own. I've heard Dreamweaver and programs like that actually make it pretty easy.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mister Pissy

Man, I do tend toward the negative sometimes. There I am, at a paying gig, bitching about having three auditions the next day, complaining that two or three agents are competing to sign me as exclusive, annoyed at low pay or ill-fitting roles. When others are talking about never even hearing from their agents.

I'm not generally a negative person. I'm not a downer. I know that. But I am critical. I am always analyzing, judging. I want more, and I want things to be right. Things can often be better. Not always, but usually. Some people see that as negative. Some people also have low expectations.

So what was positive about the these past two days? Um, I didn't have to do the damned farmer audition -- the shoot date conflicted with the show. I guess that's not so positive.

I was not for one moment embarrassed or self conscious about doing an erectile dysfunction audition. I mean, it was for a print job - they just took pictures of us standing there smiling. It was funny that maybe they (the auditioners) were extra conscious of things. They had a couple of pretty girls there being all nice and sweet and encouraging ("You look GREAT! Good smile! Okay, more of that! Awesome!"). They were sort of like ego fluffers, as it were. 

In spite of the unexpectedly long and ridiculously low-paying day yesterday (there I go again!), there were many fun times and enjoyable moments. I learned how to carve a turkey. We laughed a LOT. The people were nice. And the kids ... I generally don't like kids. Especially in the abstract. But I often find that when I meet and get to know specific kids, they're usually pretty cool and fun to be around. I could be very open to the concept of having kids, if not for the fact that I surely would screw them up. It's like a genetic predisposition in our family.

Tomorrow I meet with Agent A and tell them that I want things simpler and less complicated. I want fewer agents, not more. I'm open to the idea of exclusivity and have been invited by all three to be exclusive. I told Agent C no and Agent B maybe. It's down to A and B and I'm torn. I'll describe the issues I have and listen to what they have to say.

Then I will relax and have a kick-ass weekend of shows and fun and occasional trans fats.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Shafted

Wow, today I had the absolute worst paying job of my five-year commercial career. Sure, I've made less in pure dollar terms, but on an hour-per-hour basis, this was the bottom of the heap. A 10-hour shoot day, plus several hours travel, and a wardrobe fitting yesterday that, with travel to the far, far burbs took four hours. 

It's a local commercial that will run for a few weeks around Christmas. There's no buyout, there was no payment for the fitting, no overtime, and the entire fee itself was less than your basic session fee. Just awful, and one more thing pushing me toward the union. I mean, really, it starts to get into areas of dignity and principle.

On top of that, my phone was ringing off the hook (or whatever the cell-phone equivalent of that cliche is), with calls from agents. Three auditions tomorrow, with Agents B and A competing over at least one of them, if not two. Then frikking Agent C, coming out of the woodwork for the first time in months with two auditions earlier this week. Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in.

I finally set a meeting for Friday with one of them to get this thing resolved once and for all. It's killing me. This week is killing me. Completely.

And to top it off, all three of the auditions tomorrow are problematic in some way. When I got home and looked over the breakdowns, I realized that with two of three I have major scheduling conflicts with the shoot dates. In one of them I'm playing the role of a FARMER. Again!!

A freakin' farmer ("medium to large build, weathered face, looks like he's spent a lot of his life outdoors" -- yeah, that's me). And another one is for an ED drug. Yup, that's what I want to be -- the next face of erectile dysfunction.

Gah! Gotta get this makeup off.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Suck it to me!

So we got a pretty middling review from TimeOut. Three stars. Which would be great if they rated on a four-star scale. And not too bad if they used a five-star scale. Unfortunately, they use six.

Basically, they found it a little too insidery, with lots of jokes at the expense of plot. But the quote I'd pull from it would be, "Solid laughs to be had." And that's not even taking it out of context. That's true to the reviewer's viewpoint and true in real life. It's a funny show and people will have a good time.

The shame of it is, a review's most important function is for marketing -- helping get butts in seats. That will be important over the next four weeks and we can't use it for that.

Oh, well. At least they spelled my name right. And that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Whoa, tough crowd

Friday and Saturday night we had pretty quiet audiences, so it was tough. It's funny how you can do the same show with the same energy and timing and sometimes the room is on fire and others people are sorta sitting on their hands.

I don't really blame the audiences. Usually it's some totally undefinable something that you can't pin down. But it does give you an oddly unsettled feeling.

Then Sunday we had a really, really tiny audience. Really tiny. Like intimate dinner party tiny.

And you know what? They were louder than the previous two nights. That's happened to me a lot. Sometimes you get a really great night out of a really small audience. Maybe it's because they're pulling for you, or maybe it's because the cast just goes all out with a "what've we got to lose" abandon.

Either way, it was a nice capper to a quiet weekend. Hopefully, with more reviews and word of mouth we can do the last two thirds of the run and really mow the place down.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Residual benefits

I picked up my second residual check for the commercial and it was even more than the first month's. That confirms what I've been hearing from friends, whose e-mails suggest it's running a LOT.

I thought that was odd, that it would be running more now than before, especially with economy. But my agent told me that this tends to happen -- in tough times a company is more likely to keep an existing ad running rather than investing in a new one. So that's great news, in terms of this particular job. Less great news for the potential to get other ones.

Anyway, for however many months it lasts, I've definitely got an appreciation for the union. Especially since I'm booked next week for a little short-term local spot that doesn't even pay as much as the session fee for the union ad. That's crap.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Final election thoughts

First, I still do a mental double-take when they say "President-elect Obama." I'm not sure I've completely processed the magnitude of all this. 

Second, I hope all the people newly energized by this election -- and those brand new to the whole, you know, concept of voting at all -- will follow through and maintain their involvement in the process, even in the face of the disappointments, stumbles and compromises that are an inevitable occurrence in politics and governance. I fear that they will be the political equivalent of those who discover the joy of reading through Harry Potter, but never pick up another book that doesn't have magic and wizards.

Finally, a note for Chicago media. Obama's presidency is a national story, not a local story. I was watching ABC Tuesday night and even though it was clear much earlier that Obama had it in the bag (as if the West Coast wasn't a total lock), I was still eagerly awaiting Charlie's official pronouncement. And just as he was delivering the momentous words that "Barack Obama has been elected president of the United Sta-", the fucking affiliate here cut in with local coverage.

It's hard enough to find a national TV news source with a shred of credibility, but the last person whose opinion I want to hear and face I want to see is some puffed-up nitwit from the local news. This is NOT your story. Obama is president now. It's time to surrender the parochialism ("Congo plane crash has a Chicago connection -- update at 10!" and leave the national news to the adults. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

It's morning in America

Wow. What a night. What a country. 


I can barely believe it. Yes, we can!

Countdown to Hope


About an hour 'til the first polls close in Indiana and Kentucky. I cannot believe this day is finally here.

I actually woke up kind of nervous this morning. Since last Wednesday an unnatural calm came over me. Part of it, I think, was having voted and part of it was Obama's final major media blitzkrieg that night. After that, to me it just seemed McCain wasn't really trying any more. Yes, he's flying all over, he upped his ad buys, but he seemed to be just going through the motions.

So yeah, a little nervous now. But I have to keep reminding myself that a loss could only result from outright, widespread fraud or polling that is so far, far off that you'd have to start questioning the fundamental laws of physics to get your arms around it.

Anyway no parties for me, no downtown rallies. I'll be right here, with my laptop and Charlie, George and Dianne -- maybe the last network news team with a little class  and gravitas. (I forgive you guys for your petty debate moderating, btw -- all's well that ends well.)

I turned down an audition for tomorrow. It's way out in the burbs, unreachable by public transpo, but mostly I'm pissed they would hold an audition tomorrow of all days. It was annoying enough to go to one today, but tomorrow I plan on being either hungover, still drunk, or dead in the bathtub, bleeding out from self-inflicted wrist wounds.

By the by, my prediction: Obama 344, McCain 195. And that's starting to feel overly pessimistic.
 
Please. Please, please, please oh please ...

Monday, November 03, 2008

4 out of 4 stars

Dan Rowan (God), Dick Martin (St. Peter),
Jesus and Satan

We got our first review, from this local theater blogger, and it's pretty nice -- 4 out of 4 stars -- and I even got a little shout-out: "a hysterical [Dick] Martin played as St. Peter by Rob Biesenbach." There are also some cool photos of us and the awesome, awesome set.

So that's a nice start to things. This guy really enjoyed himself, and that's the whole point. In fact, he says:
"Will this story cause hours of discussion and debate? I think not! Will this production have audience members running to their clergy in order to revisit all they have been taught? No Way! What this show will do is take you away from the "stuff" going on in the news and politics, gas prices and the economy for 90 minutes of fun. What else can one ask for?"
And the way I described it in my e-mail and blog:
"Economic freefall got you down? Check out the Factory Theater's production of Bustin' Out of the Hell ... If you're looking for answers or searching for meaning in these troubled times ... keep walking! This play is pure fun."
Conclusion: this is one perceptive fellow! 

The return of weeknights

Even though it hasn't been all that long since I've had my weeknights to myself, it sure feels like it. Hmmm ... looking at the calendar actually shows that 21 of the past 24 Monday to Thursday nights were spent in rehearsal, so I guess it has been quite a while.

I'm exhausted. This is when it usually hits, when opening is done and suddenly you're inactive enough to finally notice how tired you are. In fact, yesterday afternoon I was all out of sorts and the last thing I wanted to do was trudge out to the theater and do a show.

The whole day was odd. Between the hangover and the time change and the oddly warm but gloomy weather, everything felt a little off. That's one of the many awesome things I forget sometimes about theater. It presents that personal challenge to go out there, no matter how you feel, and summon from somewhere the energy and drive to just do it.

And it's nice to do something physical (besides working out at the gym). My jobby-job is almost entirely intellectual/mental. This is something I actually have to get up and get off my couch or chair and really do

Yes, there is nothing quite like the doing. Doing is good.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A grand opening

Awesome weekend of shows. You couldn't ask for a better opening -- well, I suppose you could, but you'd be one demanding son-of-a-bitch.

Friday's preview had a good house, obviously friendly, and we did a nice, solid show. Saturday's opening was likely another "insider" crowd, since we were charging 30 bones (albeit, with an open bar gala afterwards), and we pretty much rocked the fucking thing. There was one fairly major technical glitch, in which a really essential prop was not placed on stage, and yet the actors managed to get some of the biggest laughs of the night with their ad-libs.

And tonight was the press opening, with a good-sized house, especially for a Sunday night, and another killer performance, extra especially since most of the cast was hung over from the gala.

I had this really nice moment, where a bit I did that wasn't even in the show until the last week of rehearsals (and which I didn't come up with), really, really killed. Satan had to hold his line forever 'til the laughs dissipated. 

This show is so inspiring. These are some really funny fuckers. Scott wins ad-lib of the night for coming up with "Hell's production of Waiting for Godot, where Godot arrives."

I tell you, I was on quite the spiritual high coming home. Right up to the moment when the little hipster coming into the CVS looked me in the eye and remarked, "Sparkly!"

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mistah Spahkle


One thing I didn't anticipate for this show was that I would be wearing glitter. You know, to give me that heavenly aspect and all.

It's not so much the wearing that I mind, it's the removing. Which I have found next to impossible. And what a sight I make riding the Belmont bus at 11 pm with glitter on my face. At least I'm heading in the right direction (Halsted).

The other odd thing is I'm not wearing my glasses in the show, which is quite a trick when your eyes are 6X and 6.5X (that's 20/600 and 20/650). I can't see a fucking thing. Honestly, my 20/20 vision spans a narrow range from 4 to 6 inches in front of my face. I'm sure it's pretty amusing to watch me do the crossword backstage, nose pressed against the newspaper. At least I can't see the people laughing at me.

I've worked without glasses before, but that was in a very short scene where I was doing a monologue, so things like eye contact and navigating my way around set pieces wasn't a big issue.

Here it's a little harder, but I'm doing it this way to create some semblance of a vague impression of an idea of Dick Martin. That and parting my hair on the side. And a thus-far pitiful attempt to grow sideburns.

But I think it's also produced a helpful side effect. The disorientation and detachment I feel definitely help put me in that zone of Dumbness where I need to go -- long trip that it is.

And I haven't broken anything or anyone yet. Except my leg, of course. Will definitely be breaking a proverbial leg tonight. 

See? I'm even making very bad jokes, just like Dick Martin. Total immersion, baby.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My secret shame


Just about every weeknight for the past few weeks I've been getting in from rehearsal late -- 10:30, 11:00, 11:30. And I spend a couple of hours reading through several dozen political sites, message boards and blogs while half listening to the Daily Show and Colbert Report repeats.

But before I get home, I pass the 7-11 (formerly the beloved White Hen, before its absorption into the Evil Empire that is Southland Corporation). Anyway, as I pass the Sev, it occurs to me, "I ought to pick up some beer ... just in case." Because, you know, you never know. What if you get home to a beerless fridge? Big problem.

Unfortunately, also in this 7-11 is a decently stocked chip aisle. And several times now I have picked up a bag of chips. Munchos, Cheetos and even Fritos. WTF? It's not Saturday! And this in spite of the fact that waiting for me at home are not only perfectly good slices of lean turkey breast but also no-fat strawberry-banana yogurt. I mean, what could be better than that?

Fritos, that's what. Bleh. So I devour this alleged snack size bag, which, deceptively, contains 3.5 servings, pushing the calorie and fat count to Big Mac proportions. 

I don't know what's happening. Show-related stress? Election-eve anxiety? A belated concession to mid-life malaise? Or, or, may it just be that eating essentially the same six meals a day for 8 or 9 years is starting to bore me? Unpossible.

I do know this, though. Fishing last night's Frito bag from the kitchen trash just so I could count the calories and fat grams has only compounded the indignity of this whole sorry episode.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bustin' Out of The Hell

After six weeks of laughing at ourselves, I think we're about ready to see if actual people will find this show as hilarious as we do.

If you're looking for answers or searching for meaning in these troubled times ... keep walking! This play is pure fun. And bring your Dictionary of Cultural Literacy -- it's bursting at the seams with pop culture references both obscure and ... less obscure.

It's really been a treat. As I've said before, these are some of the funniest people I've worked with.

Bustin' Out of The Hell opens this weekend and runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights through December 6:
  • Preview is this Friday, Halloween night, at 8 pm. Just $10. And if you come in costume, it's only $10!
  • Gala opening (with food and booze after!) is Saturday at 8:30 pm. $30.
  • "Regular" opening Sunday at 7 pm. $20.
You can go here for tickets.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jerk store!

I get the best ideas for my commercial auditions when I'm walking to the bus. After the audition, unfortunately.

There is something that takes hold in that room. An inertia. I've described it before as having your feet stuck in wet cement, where I can't quite get myself to "move" far beyond what I went in there to do.

They tell you to never be afraid of going too "big" -- that if you're to err at all, it should be in that direction, because it's easier to rein an actor in than to try to pull more out of him. On the other hand, it seems whenever I go in there they're out in the waiting room advising all of us to give it a very natural, low-key read (and often you can see from their expression that they've sat through a long day of over-emoting actors).

I pride myself on being pretty directable. And I've been told, on both commercial shoots and in theater, that I really take notes to heart and very quickly adjust my performance accordingly. 

But something about the audition setting. I feel myself adjusting, and I probably am visibly adjusting, but it's not until a few minutes after I leave the room that I think, "Why didn't I go farther? Why didn't I do it bigger?"

Like they'll have you read it different ways ("Okay, now try it with authority, more formal. Now do friendly, like you're talking across a table to a friend. Okay, do it like you're brimming with confidence, now try cocky," etc.), and it seems the more reads they ask you to do the better you're probably doing, because they see something in you that's worth exploring.

Maybe I'm second-guessing too much. Maybe my instincts "in the room" are the right ones. Maybe I'm subconsciously and accurately calibrating my performance based on subtle things like the mood and feel of the room and the people there.

Or maybe I'm just an uptight ass who can't let go.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A day in the country

Greenwood Cemetery
Hinckley, Illinois

This weekend was load-in for the show. Not being part of the ensemble, I wasn't required to go but I thought I'd help out anyway because I don't get too many opportunities to paint stuff and do all those other things homeowners take for granted.

Plus there was free beer and pizza. Okay, free Busch Light and pizza. Still ...

It was actually a fun time, and the set is going to look AMAZING -- all vintage '60s psychedelic. I'm so used to black box theater with minimal or even no sets at all. I think it will go a long way toward putting the audience in the right frame of mind for the show -- for those who don't know the Factory, especially, setting the expectation that this is going to be a zany kind of romp. And this being tech week we'll see how the sound and lights and costumes all add to the effect.

I would have, and probably should have, gone back in on Sunday to help some more, but I'm really trying to keep this balance, to preserve a little something for me. Just having that one day off out of nine is important to me. It's going to be a long week.

So we headed out to the monthly Sandwich Antiques Market. It's this huge outdoor fest at a county fairgrounds out in the country, 90 minutes west of Chicago. This was the last one of the season and, given that and the crazy windy weather, the pickings were a little sparse. Still, it was nice to be out of the city and get a taste of fall before the madness starts.

And to visit this cool little cemetery I like. It sits on an unnatural pimple of a hill right in the middle of a cornfield. How could you not turn off the road to see this place?


You'd have to be one incurious monkey, that's how.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Small drought

I had no commercial auditions this week, which in some ways was kind of a relief. I had some semi-stressful work and other stuff to take care of.

Still, I haven't gone a full week without an audition or booking in six months. There was a chance for a booking, but I had a meeting I had to go to.

I keep looking for symptoms of the crashed economy. In my work-work life, a client canceled a project after their budget was slashed something like 80%. On the commercial side, auditions have definitely dropped, but they've been dropping on and off for years now, so we'll see if it's permanent or just part of the cycle.

What I have noticed is the quality of jobs I've been going out for seem to have diminished significantly in the past few weeks. Little one-offs, cheapo stuff, local "bargain" type ads and industrials.

And I don't dare open my quarterly retirement statements. Nothing good can from that. Thank you, George Bush ...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Soccer Mom

Man, do I hate this woman. It started the day she was selected, with her frousy hair and her PTA meeting tone of voice. It grew at the convention, with her excessively nasty, insulting and distorted attacks on Obama.

And it flourished, day-by-day, with the ever-flowing stream of revelations that undermined the image her handlers carefully crafted for her. The abuse of office, the pettiness, the power-mongering, the financial shenanigans, the outright hypocrisy on abortion and earmarks and the bridge to nowhere and so many other issues, to say nothing of her pathological lies about all of this.

But this was the best of all. Maybe the final nail in the coffin in which her manufactured Aw Shucks Moose Hunting Soccer Mom image will once and for all be buried for good.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The night owl, and other assorted nocturnals


I'm on this raccoon schedule again. Rehearse every night, get home around 10:45, browse all the political sites, catch the midnight replays of Daily Show and Colbert, then off to bed hoping to get 5+ hours of sleep before the alarm goes off.

(I guess "raccoon" in the sense of the nocturnal activity, not so much the knocking over of trash cans and eating garbage.) 

Anyway, with the schedule and some crazy work stuff I've been super low energy, and it's been showing at rehearsals, I think. And I've gotten into lazy habits -- doing crosswords and playing with my iPod between scenes. 

So tonight I got back into a regular pre-show routine -- stretching, doing vocal warm-ups, focusing and preparing and generally staying alert. I think it helped my performance some (though I missed a cue).

On the other hand, I probably got a little too hyped up. It's a tough crowd -- everyone's so damned funny, and it's easy to get caught up in it, throwing out one-liners, trying to impress people, to fit in. That's when my mouth gets ahead of my brain and I tend to cross the line to obnoxiousness.

Ah well, something else to keep me up ...

Monday, October 20, 2008

15 days


Give it up for Eero Saarinen, ladies and gentlemen. His Gateway Arch is, without question, the most photogenic 17,000-ton hunk of stainless steel in the Western world. I know from personal experience that it's impossible to take a bad picture of that big, beautiful arch.

And put a charismatic leader of historic proportions in the foreground and you've got a true Kodak moment.

Holding my breath that nothing in the next two weeks will stop the voters out in Bumpkinland from electing this crazy, anti-American, terrorist-loving socialist into office.

Gobama.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ghouls in the hood

North Albany Street

When I first moved to Chicago, I lived downtown. I considered Belmont the frontier of civilization. When I went out with a woman once who lived north of Foster I thought I was driving off the edge of the earth. When I ventured to the far end of the Brown Line I marveled at the street-level El tracks -- I'm out in the country!

Even more than dating, theater has opened my eyes considerably to Chicago's many, many fascinating neighborhoods. Places I might not otherwise have visited, or at least spent real time getting to know. Like Uptown, Rogers Park, West Grand Avenue, and hidden pockets of Lakeview, Bucktown and the West Loop.

The Factory is out in the middle of nowhere -- or at least it seemed to me nowhere. I probably never would have ventured over there if not for theater. I mean, Chief O'Neill's is a fine pub and all, but that's about it for the odd little area where Addison, Elston and Kedzie meet.

After much asking and investigation, I finally discovered what the neighborhood is actually called -- Avondale. (I think.) 

Anyway, the place has grown on me. On my walk from the bus twice a rehearsal day I pass nicely kept homes on a street that seems stable, working class, family-oriented and predominately Latino.

And, of course, where there's Latinos there's elaborate seasonal lawn decor. They really go all out for Dia de los Muertos. Jack-o-lanterns, orange lights and cobwebs are nothing for these folks. We're talking coffins, life-size ghouls, multiple hangmen, house-scaling spiders the size of mini-Coopers. It's kinda fun.

As an adult, I'm not a big of Halloween, but am fascinated by decorative excess. For me, there's always been a fine line between tacky and pretty. My secret shame is blue-colored Christmas lights (though I'd never put them up on my home.) And I love the baroque-era cathedrals in Europe, all dripping with sculptured cherubs and gilded ornamentation.

Christmas should be really interesting.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Master Debater

It kills me to not be able to watch the debates live. I keep telling myself I want to watch them "clean," free of taint from all the analysis and pundit jabber. 

But on the way home from rehearsal last night I caught a glimpse of flatscreen through someone's window -- it had a chart with CBS's insta-poll showing Obama had won. The same way Project Runway was spoiled for me.

Still, I can't seem to watch these things in a vacuum anyway, so as I was watching the replay I kept checking the political sites and the live-blogging and the twitters.
 
I wonder if I'll ever be able to watch TV the same way again. And I wonder if that's a good or a bad thing. I also wonder what I'm going to do with my time and fretting capacity once the election's over ...

A little less fraudier

Last night went considerably better. I have no idea why, but there was actually laughing during my bits instead of the usual stony silence. And the director was happy.

The funny thing is, I kinda flubbed a line and then laughed at myself. The director noted that my expressions were especially goofy in that scene. So I guess the lesson is, if I'm trying to look like a big, dumb, funny idiot, the best thing to do is to act naturally.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fraud

My part in this show is deceptively simple. My lines are all very short. And they're often preceded by nice, easy cues like, "What do you think, Peter?" and "What say you, Peter?" 

But the trouble is -- or, one of the troubles, aside from getting the voice down -- I feel very, very unfunny compared to the rest of the cast. Seriously. Abysmally unfunny. 

These are some hilarious fucking folks. Every single night people come up with these ad libs that just leave everyone falling on the floor. And it's that kind of show and that kind of process and that kind of theater where that's totally encouraged. The playwright is actually in the cast, so it's extremely cool of him to welcome and embrace that.

So I wish I could be contributing more. Two problems, though. First, again, my congenital unfunniness. But second, my character, based on Dick Martin, spends most of his time telling really bad, unfunny jokes.

Growing up I used to watch Laugh-in, and thought it was hilarious. Or pretended to think it was hilarious. But looking at it now on YouTube, I see it's actually pretty lame now, by today's standards. All of Dick Martin's bits were totally corny or really bad puns. Just lots and lots of schtick.

And the writer did a terrific job capturing that lameness. So here I am, on the spot, delivering all these intentionally crappy jokes and trying not to bring the show to a crashing halt while doing it. And not always succeeding. I mean, grinning like an idiot can only get me so far. I feel like there's more I should be doing. I would love to get one of the truly funny people in the cast to do my role one night in rehearsal, then I could steal all of his or her ideas.

Maybe my costume will be funny. Or sideburns. Sideburns might just have the potential to carry this part.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Shenanigans

Most of the acting world these days uses Actors Access, a free (for actors) online service that allows talent agencies, casting directors and clients to easily exchange the info they need to cast and book actors for commercial work. (It's amazing that not so long ago, talent agents, responding to casting notices, would physically go through their files of actors' headshots, bundle up 20 or 30 of them and messenger them over to the casting agency. Crazy.)

Before Actors Access, a few intrepid talent agencies started their own proprietary online systems. And they asked their talent to pay to be listed there -- something that's viewed variously as unethical/illegal to kinda shady to "whaddaya gonna do?" The purists will tell you that never, under any circumstances, should talent be asked to pay talent agencies. But that advice is mainly to warn people off the many truly shady "talent" agencies that ask for upfront fees and then do nothing for their talent. Here we're talking about actual, legitimate talent agencies. So the practical will say, "Okay, I'm getting lots auditions and bookings from these people, I'll go along for the sake of argument."

So these fees, I could see at the time, were not TOTALLY unreasonable. Now some agents have kept their own systems. For whatever reason, they don't want to use Actors Access. And not only do they still want to charge actors to be listed on their proprietary systems, they want to charge them. A LOT. Like over $100. And not just once, but every year.

Nevermind that actors are being asked to help support a proprietary system when a perfectly functional free one already exists. But what kind of system could possible cost SO much money that these kinds of fees, from all their talent, are required to keep it running? Yes, you're assured they're making no money off the system, that that's just what it costs. Even if you give them the benefit of the doubt, you're being asked to support what seems like a very bad business decision to invest in a redundant system that costs that much.

Whatever. So then -- and we're just speaking hypothetically here -- after having reluctantly paid the fee initially, you're asked to renew a year later. You decline, saying it just doesn't seem worth it, vis-a-vis the amount of work you're getting from them. Lo and behold, a year later you get a booking via their system. SO, even though you've declined to renew and pay the fee, they've kept you on it anyway.

And now you're reminded again what a great value the system is to you. But then you answer, why should I pay now when you've kept me on there for free? Sounds like it's of more value to you to keep me on the system, even when I'm not paying for it, than to not have me on it.

Ipso facto.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Words matter


Between the crashing economy and the increasingly angry and dangerous mobs at the McCain/Palin rallies, this has been one scary-ass week.

Time will tell if Obama can deliver on his beautiful words. But in a world where perhaps almost nothing can be done to head off our own generation's Great Depression, HOPE is something we're going to need a whole lot of.

Together, we cannot fail. Not now. Not when we have a crisis to solve and an economy to save. Not when there are so many Americans without jobs and without homes. Not when there are families who can’t afford to see a doctor, or send their child to college, or pay their bills at the end of the month. Not when there is a generation that is counting on us to give them the same opportunities and the same chances that we had for ourselves.

We can do this. Americans have done this before. Some of us had grandparents or parents who said maybe I can’t go to college but my child can; maybe I can’t have my own business but my child can. I may have to rent, but maybe my children will have a home they can call their own. I may not have a lot of money but maybe my child will run for Senate. I might live in a small village but maybe someday my son can be president of the United States of America.

Now it falls to us. Together, we cannot fail.
Gobama.

Crash?


Okay now, I am officially terrified.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

On being Dick

In this new show I play St. Peter. Though he's not really old bearded St. Peter of heaven's gate. He's Dick Martin. From Laugh-in.

Now I have no idea why I was cast. It certainly wasn't about any physical resemblance to Dick Martin. Basically, in the audition, at the very last minute it occurred to me: "Smile huge like a big fucking idiot!"


And I did. And it seemed to work.

But even though the director assured me it's not necessary to resemble Dick Martin, I do feel an obligation to capture something of his character beyond the big dumb grin. So I've been working hard on the voice, among other things.

Trouble is, he's not super-distinctive. It's not like Arnold Schwarzenegger or George Bush, where millions of people do an impression of him every day. And, in fact, most of my impressions are just that -- impressions of other peoples' impressions. 

But with Dick, I've got to start from scratch. From what I've picked up from YouTube, he's got kind of a nasal voice. Not high-pitched and whiny. Deeper and thicker. More like his sinuses are stuffed up. And he has a way of wrapping his mouth around consonants and elongating the vowels.

Then again, as I was explaining this detailed process the other night, one of the actors said, "It doesn't really matter." As in, hardly anybody in the audience will know or remember what Dick Martin sounded like. It was more than three decades ago, after all. So that's some good perspective, I suppose.

You bet your sweet bippy.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Damn, they went and put baby in a corner!

Yesterday my agent called to check my availability for stand-in work. For Mister Patrick Swayze.

How funny is that? That would have been a total hoot and a half. Right up there with almost doing a commercial with Nick Lachey and almost doing a photo shoot with a member of Wu Tang Clan. 

But they didn't call back. Too bad. He's here shooting a new series for cable, which is great for Chicago, and this is the first time I've been called. Hopefully it won't be the last.

Bummer! I would have had the time of my life!

(Funny how I've never actually seen that movie but can still mostly quote it.)

PS: I see the similarity now! The Internet says he's 5'10", and my resume says I'm 5'10". There you go.

Monday, October 06, 2008

THERE'S Waldo!

Finally, I saw the Harris spot. Most of it, at least. It's hard to catch when you're half-watching TV, as there's no dialogue for most of it. But yesterday, there I was, watching the Dallas Game on CBS (and reading the paper, surfing the Internet and playing guitar) and there it was. 

It looked great. I guess they shot it in HD -- a lot of people who have seen it marvel over the clarity and quality. Me? I think I looked OLD!

Meanwhile, I have GOT to get off this Internet. It's killing my productivity. Between the political coverage on the New York Times and Washington Post sites, I regularly check Pollster.com, Politico, RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight. I'm reading probably 50 stories a day. It would really be killing me if the news weren't so damned good (like the fact that in only 2 of the last 16 presidential elections has the candidate enjoying Obama's position in the Gallup poll failed to win).

It's amazing -- 2004 feels like 20 years ago from a technology standpoint. Yes, there was the Internet, but nowhere near this level and quantity of analysis and information. I'm like that fat guy at the all-you-can-eat buffet.