Monday, March 31, 2008

Lazy Sunday

When you start repeating headings, you've been blogging waaaay too long. And/or much.

Sunday shows are tough. It's usually hard to draw an audience and yesterday's show was no exception. We had a handful of people, but had to proceed anyway because there was a reviewer there. 

It's especially difficult coming off Saturday nights, which are usually crowded and raucous and festive, so the contrast is pretty vivid. And people are pretty tired.

STILL, in spite of all that, we managed to pull off a pretty good show. Not our best, but not a stinker by any means. Everyone seemed to be high energy. I'm not sure I got to where I needed to be always, but I had my moments.

Now we play the waiting game, with three more reviews due. I have to hand it to these guys -- we've had six shows and there has been a reviewer at every one so far! These next ones are pretty important. If they're awesome, that will help draw crowds for the rest of the run, give an extra boost to our marketing and generally create some good mojo.

If they stink? Well, then we need to regroup and do our best to have fun through the last ... wow, I was going to say three weekends of performances, but I just checked the calendar and found we've got FOUR weekends left. Okay then. Four weeks. Wow.

*Crossing toes*

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bringing the pain

Last night was a good night. I really thought hard about my character and where he's coming from, thinking again about the whole "feel it, don't just say it" thing. 

Up to now I've been playing him mostly angry. He's just been fired, and on top of that learns over the course of the play that he'll likely be indicted and face jail time, too. All with a wife at home who's pregnant with triplets. Oh, I guess I should have said *SPOILERS*.

So anyway, I've been working to add more texture, bringing in more hurt, sadness and desperation. And tonight, in my big monologue, especially, I think I really got there. I really "felt" it. 

To get there I did a little "method"-type stuff, which is so cliche, of course. But I thought back to the incident last year with me alone and barfing on the floor and going to the hospital, which I so eloquently recounted in The Callback show. I even re-listened to the podcast on my iPod before the show. 

It all sounds ridiculously self-indulgent. Listening to yourself getting choked up recounting a terrible story in order to prepare yourself to feel the way this show's character should. But it worked for me.

I hope it turned out well. I was talking afterwards in the bar with people from the show and it wasn't clear that they saw any difference -- they said I was doing just great before. So we'll see. The Trib was there, which is kinda big. It will be totally embarrassing if they call me out for being histrionic or melodramatic or something. Serves me right for messing with stuff after rehearsals are through.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Weekend 2

I never know if/when friends will show up to my shows. It seems to vary a lot. Once in a while, nobody comes at all -- like if it's just a single night or in a far off location or if I haven't promoted it a lot. Other times, tons come out. I had 25 people come to see a show the year before last. And, of course, when they're really "my" shows -- things I write and produce -- the turnout's even bigger. But generally there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the number of attendees.

And many of them are like me. They don't want to commit in advance because you never know what you're going to feel like doing that night, right?

Anyway, I hope anyone at all -- friend or stranger -- comes out this weekend. Apparently the books are a little light. It would be great to have big crowds for the reviewers.

The worst is canceling a show just before curtain. That's happened a few times, usually on Sundays. I hope we can get all our performances in. I'm never nervous about performing, but I do get anxious thinking about attendance. I don't mind performing for small crowds -- some of my best shows have been for 3 or 4 people. But I still feel bad for them -- some people are self conscious in a mostly empty theater.

Enough of that. I did re-read the play this week, which sounds dumb, because we've been performing it over and over for weeks now. But I'm offstage for a couple of parts and, even when on-stage, there's a lot of business we have to attend to while others are in the spotlight. So it was a good exercise. I've got some ideas for deepening, sharpening and freshening a few things.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Workout? Eh, more like a jewish workout ...

(That's from Seinfeld. I have no direct knowledge of jewish peoples' reluctance to get athletic or work up a sweat.)

I joined a new gym this month. It was tough leaving my old place. It was very cool. Not a lot of meatheads or trixies. Not many frills, either. Okay, no frills. But it was small and independent and a real neighborhoody place.

Then the evil corporate gym started building DIRECTLY across the street, which I thought was really not right. It took them like 2 freakin' years to finally finish the thing and I strolled in there for a tour, knowing full well I would never pay their exorbitant fees ... just for the sake of clean, modern facilities ... and a greater number and variety of classes ... and a 50-foot climbing wall ... and machines with your own personal screens that you can plug your iPod into. And a pool. TWO pools -- one outdoor. Wow. 

But again, I'm not paying a 100 jillion dollars a month. I casually asked about an "actor's discount," which only one tiny gym I know of offers. And they said yes. Yeah, but 10 or 20% off exorbitant is no deal. What? 50% off? Holy crap!

So yeah, it costs me less to go to my new gym with all those extra amenities. An offer I couldn't refuse. And in terms of destroying home-grown mom-and-pop businesses, at LEAST this isn't a Bally's or some enormous national chain. It's a chain, yes, but still Chicago based, and with only 4 branches. A nice compromise.

Anyway, today, after several weeks of going there and using the weight machines and spin classes, I finally took advantage of said amenities. So after a couple of auditions this morning I headed over. I did a half-hour on upper-body stuff then hit the pool for a few laps, then the hot tub then the steam room. It was awesome. Except for the stinging in the eyes. I need goggles.

So always ask for an "artist's discount." It's well worth it, and who knows? It just may be your ticket to a world of unexpected (and certainly unearned) luxuries.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A few reviews

Some fairly decent reviews have come in for the show.

TimeOut gives us 4 out of 6 stars, calls the cast "hardworking" and says the play "never bores us." They had some criticisms, but it was, on balance, positive.

These people called Factory "Chicago's oldest surviving non-equity theater," something  I was not aware of. Cool. They also have some pretty interesting insights.

And this last guy was "impressed" with my performance, among others, and also had some interesting things to say about the show.

So no one's lambasted us, which is good. They had some issues -- with some of the technical stuff, the complexity of the story, some of the acting. I don't dismiss reviews out of hand. I think there's always something to learn from them.

And there's no denying they're important to marketing. So it's good the most positive one was TimeOut, which also has the biggest audience. Apparently the Reader and Tribune are expected this next weekend. Those will be really important.

I'm going to work some more this week to ensure that I'm not, as one reviewer commented about unnamed cast members, merely "delivering" instead of "feeling" my lines. That's something I can be guilty of. The whole "feelings" thing, as I've mentioned in the past ...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Five cool things

The very best gigs ...
  • Require no makeup
  • Take just half an hour
  • Accept the clothes on your back as wardrobe
  • Are located just up the street
  • Pay more, hour-for-hour, than your regular job
That's a nice start to the week.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Overture, curtains, lights ...

Opening night was great -- packed house, high energy, responsive audience, etc.

The weird thing is, I don't get all that amped for opening night. For me, the real opening was the preview, or even the final dress for the ensemble members. You know, when you're running the show, all the way through, without stopping, with all the costumes and props and lighting and sound effects and an audience is there watching -- that, to me, feels like the opening. I was giving everything I had Thursday night and Friday night, so Saturday was like the elusive, impossible 110%.

In fact, in many ways, tonight is the night. Apparently a couple of reviewers are coming. And it will be a real challenge getting an audience on Easter Sunday, and getting that critical mass of people is often critical to raising and maintaining the energy in the room which contributes to a great show. So really if I've got any extra nths of performance energy in me, this is the night to tap it. My worst nightmare is a review that says, "An otherwise stellar production was marred by Rob Biesenbach's leaden acting."

Not that I've gotten one of those. Usually it's the insult of omission -- where several actors get raves and I'm one of the ones not getting any particular notice, which is likely how it will be here.

... on with the show this is it ...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The 10th cast member: my ego

I have to keep in mind there are eight other people on stage with me. Every time there is the slightest giggle or titter from the audience I assume it's about me. There may be a fistfight going on a spotlit platform 20 feet away, but I always think that it's me there, in the dark, doing the funny little thing with my right upstage eyebrow that has the audience all atwitter.

Not to say I'm a ham. (Though I am.) But I do a pretty good job resisting going for the easy bit, and always keep in mind that whatever I do has to forward the narrative, otherwise it's not worth doing. But I do try to infuse every line, every gesture with something -- something unique or surprising. It's a fun way to work, and it keeps you on your toes, creatively. 

I just have to be sure I'm not disengaging from the other characters or the story. Early in the rehearsal process when I asked an ensemble member if I was going too far, she basically said there's no such thing as too many bits with this group. 

Anyway, good preview last night. An audience of actual outsiders who hadn't seen the show 3-10 times. Not as raucous as the insiders, but definitely with us all the way. We'll see what tonight has in store ...

Friday, March 21, 2008


After 10 rehearsals in the past 11 days we seem to be ready. Last night was the best run ever. Some ensemble members were there and they really liked it.

So tonight's the preview, then tomorrow the official opening, then Sunday, I guess, the regular run begins. Lots of milestones in this production. Anyway, we'll finally get to see what regular people think.

This is a tough, tough play. Very complex, with lots of video components, which not only have to play properly, but we have to time our lines perfectly to fit the gaps between. Plus plenty of other lighting effects and sound cues. AND, it needs energy -- lots and lots of energy, straight out of the gate and then in ever-escalating amounts throughout the 1.5 or however many hours.

And then finally, there's the actual acting. I felt like last night I settled into some pretty on-target emotional places after lots of veering back and forth. So I think I've found it. I just need to re-find it 18 more times.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Back in business

You gotta love a place that sells you a "metal ring that looks like a wedding band" no questions asked. My $10 "stage" ring being among the loot hauled in by the geniuses who robbed my place. The way these things go, I'm guessing they got 47 cents for it.

Anyway, I'm back in business with a new 10-dollar band, and ready to play married again. And the insurance company called today and offered up a surprisingly handsome settlement of my claim. Who knew an 8-year-old laptop, 
with just a 6 GB hard drive and probably 64 MB of RAM would be worth so much, let alone the 4-year-old one?

So I'll be able to replace the bike and, if I choose, even get a replacement laptop. Or, as the insurance guy said, go to Vegas! But I will probably put the extra toward paying off the new computer. And just maybe buy myself a little treat. Like this ...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Opening this weekend: Ceres

Ceres finally opens this weekend -- that's right, Easter weekend. It was either that or compete with an even more sacred holiday, St. Pat's.

Ripped from today's headlines, Ceres is the story of an elite, secretive unit of a venerable Chicago brokerage firm, under fire from an ambitious attorney general (one Stewart A. Spritzer). As the investigation unfolds, watch as this tight-knit crew descends into a spiral of bitterness, recriminations and betrayal.

We preview this Friday at 8 (10 bucks), have an opening gala Saturday at 8 (30 bucks includes admission, plus drinks, food and after-party), and the "regular" run begins Sunday at 7 ($20). From there, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through April 26.

For complete info, go to Factory Theater's website.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Feelings and stuff

I know from self-help literature and Oprah and the various victims' movements that I'm supposed to feel "violated" by this break-in, but I guess I don't know what that means.

I just feel generally that my apartment is sullied now. Like it needs to be exorcised.

I don't feel necessarily less safe. I've never felt super-safe here, as compared to living on the 33rd floor of a high-rise, behind multiple secured doors and a doorman and among a "target-rich" environment of hundreds of apartments that significantly reduced my odds of being robbed.

I know I'll feel safer later this week when the management company installs the modern steel door and window bars I demanded. I still marvel that they got in through that hole. Out of curiosity I measured it today -- 11.5 x 11.5 inches. It had to be a kid. I guess there's some justice in the fact that he'll likely be dead or in jail before his 18th birthday.

So I guess you could say I'm a bit angry. Not that angry, though. Decades of city living caused me long ago to give up the comfortable notion that criminals are victims of their circumstances. Most of them are just flat-out low lifes.

Speaking of victims, I'm not interested in being one. In college I was robbed on the street. They stuck a gun in my face and got away with my 15 dollars and a draft of my term paper. It was pretty scary, but I got over it. Wrapping your identity in the negative things that happen to you, whether it's crime or disease or injury, is no way to live a life.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Ever since leaving the security of a high-rise 3 years ago I have feared a break-in. One of my first purchases was an old baseball bat for next to my bed. Almost every time I come home I've thought, "Is this it? Is this when I'll find my home broken into?"

And Friday night it finally happened. They were persistent. They broke the glass on the door, unscrewed and tore off the bars, reached in to unlock the deadbolt and, even after all of that, crawled through the 12x12 hole to reach the deadbolt at the bottom of the door. At least I don't feel like there was something stupid I did, like leaving the place unlocked or under-protected.

Most of Saturday I was feeling pretty lucky. The place wasn't wrecked, and nothing unreplaceable was taken or broken (antiques, clothes, etc.) Even the big-ticket items -- TVs, stereo, etc. -- were left untouched. What they got were two old laptops. Thank blog I had taken my new laptop with me the night before.

It wasn't until I got home from rehearsal last night that it occurred to me. Bikey. Not even a year old. That pissed me off. 

The cops were nice. Very impressed with my meticulous record-keeping -- I had all the model and serials numbers of the computers right at my fingertips. 

This is sort of my second brush with crime in the past couple of months. I swear that the next person who comes close to harassing or bothering or even touching me on the street is going to get a mouthful of their own balls.

I know. Big talk for a guy who slept (intermittently) last night with the light on and his laptop and baseball bat under the covers with him ...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hole in one

The shoot is done. Today's 10-hour day was a double-shift -- so double-pay and no work tomorrow. Even Steven indeed -- completely makes up for the lost job.

It's so funny. You never know what exactly won you the gig. More often than not, it's something completely unexpected. Today the director offered up that he picked me because I was funny. Even though, he said, there's nothing particularly funny about this shoot -- he just liked that.

And here I thought I blew it. (Hard to believe it was just Monday that I auditioned.) Anyway, there were no lines to prepare and when we got there they just said we'd be swinging an imaginary golf club. So I did a few practice "swings" in the waiting room and went in when I was called. The camera rolled, I swung, did a little shimmy here and there like you do when you're willing a golf or bowling ball onto a certain trajectory. Then, completely spontaneously, I said,"Hole in one! {Beat} And on a par 5!!" (If you know golf, that would be Herculean, next to impossible -- like Tiger Woods on 11.)

They asked if I golfed and I said something like, "Oh, I used to, but haven't in a long time. I shoot like a 110 or something ... but I know my way around a set of clubs." The correct answer, of course, would have been: "YES!"

So there you go. You just never know what's going to get you a job. Which is why you should just go in and be yourself

Tomorrow I am going to do NOTHING. But spin class. And pay a few bills. And a couple of errands. But that's IT! I swear.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Even Steven

Okay, so it looks like they're adding a third day to this shoot. So I'm coming out about even.

They were running behind today and ended up sending Caucasion Dad and Caucasion Kids home. Good news: we still got paid. Bad news: call time tomorrow at 8:30 am. So 10 hours on the video shoot followed immediately by 3 hours of rehearsal.

Then potentially more shooting Friday. Followed by a marathon tech rehearsal Saturday. And more rehearsal Sunday. And Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. And shows Saturday and Sunday.

I am SO tired I can barely blog. Luckily, work-work has calmed down considerably. It's rare that things work out that way, so I'm not complaining. Much.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I guess it's true what they say ...

When God closes a door, he opens a window. Of course, as everyone knows, your standard window is maybe just two-thirds the size of your average door.

All this to say that after not getting that gig, I got offered another. At about two thirds what the other would have paid.

So that's fine. Better than nothing certainly. And here I am at almost 6 pm, about to head to rehearsal, knowing that I have to be somewhere tomorrow for a shoot but I have no idea where or when. And really, I am okay with that. Tooootally.

Regarding Auditon #3 this morning, they're talking pretty much like I'm the one, but we'll see. It doesn't shoot until April anyway, so anything can happen between now and then ...

Anyway, God still owes me. Don't think I'm not keeping track.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Opportunity cost

I was put on hold today for this print job I auditioned for last week. A giant cattle call with, literally, several hundred people passing through. At the audition they asked about my availability over a six-day period. I told them I was available 4 out of the 6 -- the other two being this coming weekend, when I'm in tech for the show.

So today they asked me to hold one of the 4 days I had available. Then they came back and asked about 1 of the 2 I wasn't. I said I still wasn't, and then it turned out that was the only day of the 6 they could use me. And there ya go.

And I was at another audition this morning and the casting guy let me know that that other client definitely wanted me to come in for the second callback tomorrow. He said they "love" me. And I'm thinking, "If they love me, then go ahead and book me."

If I don't get this one I'll be ticked.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


In spite of a lifetime of warnings about the sure consequences of horseplay, I persist in engaging in it. And yesterday I paid the piper, with what I'm diagnosing as a hematoma on my right elbow, but which may be a bad bruise. And I woke up with what is either a broken left hip, stemming from said horseplay, or a massive crick from a night's sleep favoring the non-hematomal side of my body. 

Coincidentally, yesterday was a "drinking rehearsal," designed to give us a sense of the booze-soaked vibe that infuses the play. Acting drunk is tricky. A real drunk works to conceal his drunkenness. So slurring, weaving, stumbling, etc. won't do. Still, I'm not sure how I convey it exactly so it comes across. From what I'm told, I become louder and more effusive when I'm drinking. But how does that "read" to strangers in an audience who don't know the "regular" me? For all they know, maybe I'm just a loud and effusive guy.

So this week we start tech, with 13 of the next 14 days occupied by rehearsals, previews and performances. I'm hoping the intensity of the next two weeks will resolve a lot of the questions that I and others have about relationships and objectives and things. On the other hand, this is a pretty complex play, with video elements, movement pieces and surreal moments all woven in, so just getting all that figured out and finalized will be a job in itself.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Who's got a warmth problem?

Not this guy!
So I had a callback today for that job I thought I screwed the pooch on. Due to my alleged lack of warmth. But it turns out I was warm enough. Or, more likely, good at faking it.

And it was a total small-world thing. They were pairing men and women as co-hosts/narrators. The first woman I was paired with, we did a casino commercial together a couple of years ago. The second woman, we shot an industrial together last year, right in that very studio where we auditioned today. And a third one came in -- I've run into her dozens of times at auditions and I think neither of us knows each other's names.
Anyway, not only did I get the callback, but ... I got the gig? No. Put on hold? No. Put on check avail? No.

I got called back. Again. (Again.) Who does two callbacks for jobs like this? Hardly anyone. The only other time I got called back more than once was for a job that was an absolute nightmare. 

But these people seem cool, so I don't mind coming out again. If only it wasn't, like so many of these jobs, smack in the middle of nowheresville ...

(Actual Photo. This is not Gaza City.)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Finally! My best side!

I was at a print audition yesterday where they actually took a picture of the back of my head. If I get the job, I'll be very disappointed.

Actually, they did the front, too. And the sides. But this was a first. The back actually looked a little better yesterday, as I hadn't just gotten out of bed. Still ...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Summer of Rob Redux?

The dance went remarkably well, including my patented, highly perilous chair-walk thing (in which I confidently approach chair, place foot 1 on seat, foot 2 on top of chair back, sending the whole thing onto its back on the floor, all in one fluid motion and without falling).

Rehearsals really have been fun. Still, I've been reluctant to accept (or audition for) other commitments beyond this one. I was invited to audition for a couple of shows that would start directly on the back of this one, meaning I'd be rehearsing 4-5 times a week for the next show while performing 3 times a week for this one. I'm really not ready for that.

And there's this cool festival in June, but ... I missed June last year being in a show. I want to have a June. And maybe even another Summer of Rob, if that's possible ...

Monday, March 03, 2008

The ol' razzle dazzle

Last year I wrote about this really stupid thing I did in a show. I was vague about it at the time because it was so mortifying, but basically I turned this long, ridiculous monologue into a song-and-dance number. Well, I guess just a dance number, since I didn't sing. But it was something I'd been working on for a couple of weeks, right in front of everybody, and one night I tried it.

The director was pissed, and rightly so, but at the time it really didn't seem like a radical departure for the character or the scene or the play, which was fairly stylized. (And my character had a cane in his hand anyway!)

I immediately felt stupid, apologized profusely and all that. Looking back it doesn't seem nearly the disaster it felt like at the time. And the reviewer in the audience sure didn't seem to mind -- he gave us a glowing review.

All this is to say that in the play I'm rehearsing now, I've got this giant monologue and we've been working it and working it, just as we have with other parts of the play, and last week they decided it should be ... a stylized dance number. Complete with top hat and cane. Which I am all for!

I can't dance worth a damn, but I have considerable grace and elan. Tonight the ensemble is back to watch, so this should be interesting. As long as they know I was directed to do it!