Monday, June 30, 2008

Here

Went home for a short visit this weekend. My Dad is down basically to two words: "here" and "yes."

I'd say given the options from his vast vocabulary over the years, these are among the more positive words one could end up with. And here has an existential quality to it. Wherever you are, you are here.

I'm not sure he specifically recognized us, but it was clear he was happy to have us around. And it was actually pretty sad when we left. He didn't really understand.

The general deterioration continues to accelerate. I'm not sure where he'll be by this Christmas. His physical health is good, but his other faculties ... 

Well, puzzles like the ones above are the one thing, besides eating, that can occupy him. It was sad seeing him work on these -- though it did provide a glimpse of his old character. He's always been super-industrious, and he tackled these like he used to get absorbed in his financial tables, to-do lists, yard work and the stuff he always brought home from the office.

And he does seem happier, less anxious and irritable than he's been. I guess the only upside of all this is you are blissfully free of a lifetime of regrets, disappointments and grudges. There is that.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The road(s) not taken


I just turned down a part this week. It's with some pretty cool people that I've worked with, but it just wasn't right. The timing was good -- fall -- so it wouldn't interfere much with my summer plan of not doing much of anything but enjoying myself. But the part was small.

Not that I expect (or deserve) a big role every time, but it's a lot of sacrifice and a lot of time and, well, when I'm in a production I like to really be in it, all the way, with lots to do and playing a character that's pretty integral. So that's that.

Another part I turned down has its show opening this week. That one was a scheduling issue. The part was great. We'll see in the next couple of weeks how big a mistake that was. And a third one is going on right now.

I really don't want to be the guy who says no all the time. Though I think being able to say no is a good skill to have. And I do think I say yes enough to have not pissed off the whole community. Yet.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What's that thing called? Oh, acting!

Some commercial scripts kinda stink, others are really, really good. (I guess the same goes for stage scripts.)

When you get to do a really good script it can be really exciting. Or even a script that "fits" you well.

I had both today. One was for a "businessman," and it was pretty straightforward and close to who I am.

The other was a piece written by Daniel Burnham -- the "no small plans" guy. And it was a blast to do it. To try to put a modern, conversational emphasis on these century-old, almost poetic words of his. And a funny thing happened -- as I got to the big climax, I ... FELT something. Inside. Like, I don't know, a feeling. Whatever it was, it felt great. And I think it showed.

You rarely have the luxury of a great script that fits you to a T, so your job as an actor is to fill in the blanks, find that purpose and connection somewhere and convey it in a compelling way. I don't always get to that place, sadly. But it's nice when it happens. Even if it feels a little like cheating.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

You look great

Whenever I'm finished getting a haircut, Paul, my little hair cutter dude says, "You look great." And, according to him, every time he says that I laugh.

I don't always feel so great lookin', which is a switch from how it used to be. For most of my life I had a vastly inflated idea of my own looks. My three-room apartment has seven mirrors on the walls, for chrissakes.

Now? It's like Dorian Gray. Cher was right (how often do you get to say that?): there's nothing good about getting old. I used to object to that -- but that was when I was in my '30s. Lately I've started to see exactly what she means.

And this isn't some actor's vain self-flagellation thing. If anything, the acting has given me a more accurate picture of things. Especially when I go to castings alongside fashion models. Lately it's become clear to me that I need to gain 25 lbs., which one would think is an okay problem to have, but the places I need to gain it are the wrists, shoulders, upper back, collar bones and neck.

At least my hair is nice. I've got that. In fact, it's entirely possible that that's all Paul is talking about.

Monday, June 23, 2008

"I know what a reservation is."

Canyoneroooo

"I don't think you do. If you did, I'd have my car. See, you know how to TAKE a reservation, you just don't know how to HOOOOOLD the reservation. And the holding is really the most important part. Anyone can take. Take-take-take ..."

It's sad that I know that Seinfeld routine almost verbatim. It's a shame the car rental people don't, or I wouldn't have been saddled today with this behemoth and its Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint.

Other than this little glitch, today's print booking was a breeze. No makeup, no waiting, in and out in about an hour. Or half the time the commute to Orland Park took.

What's really funny is the eerie similarity to the DePaul gig from last year. In both shoots I was playing a chief technology officer, in blue shirt and black pants, standing in front of a mainframe full of colorful cables and stuff. Weird!

This one will just run in trade media, so I doubt I'll come across it. Unlike the DePaul ad, which I also NEVER see. I see the campaign ALL the time, in the Trib and on CTA platforms, but never with me in it. Always the Asian dude, or the black dude or the woman or the other dude. What's wrong with ME? Am I not a credible chief technology officer?

I guess to this company in Orland Park I am. And my fancy vehicle sure suggests it!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sicko II

There's this story, probably an urban legend, about a woman who wakes up with an itchy nose. She blows it, only to find a cockroach had crawled up there. (That'll make you sleep on your stomach for more than a few nights.)

That's how I felt today. Like I had a giant insect crawling up and down my right nostril. It didn't help that it was a shoot for a cheese maker, and I had this plate of really fragrant cheese in my hand for an hour. It brought a special poignancy to this nice little house party scene, as an occasional tear rolled down my cheek.

Speaking of smells, something fishy's going on with this job. We were told it was for Internet use, strictly to a non-consumer audience. But they were talking at the shoot about this ad appearing in major magazines, like Architectural Digest.

That would be problematic, given what we were paid. And given what the vouchers we signed clearly said. This should be interesting.

I am SO happy to be horizontal right now. Oh, and I was so concerned about canceling at the last minute? Turns out one of the people there was a replacement -- the original actor got into a car accident yesterday and had to cancel. So yeah, no one's indispensable. 

Sicko

My embarrassing "old lady" bag of medicinal aids

Yesterday at around 2 o'clock my head started draining like a faucet, and it didn't really stop for 8 hours. This cold came out of nowhere. I mean, I had a little scratchiness the past few days, but this presented itself not at all via the usual process.

I honestly think sometimes your body fends these things off for you when you've got major commitments going. This one waited until Alice was over. But this afternoon I've got a print booking and while I got a good night's sleep and things are definitely better today, I'd say I'm still barely at 70% health capacity.

So what's the accepted etiquette/procedure on this? With theater, it's obvious -- the show must go on, and all that. Unless maybe you've got an understudy.

But this morning I was wondering. I mean, I can definitely do the job, but it will be with a fistful of kleenex. (For some reason, even double-doses of Tylenol Cold aren't having their usual effect.) I feel bad for the people who will be working with me. But also imagine they wouldn't appreciate me canceling on just a few hours notice. Somebody could probably be found at the last minute -- there are plenty of idle actors and models out there -- but why create havoc for them?

So I guess I'll go. And hopefully they've got enough makeup to cover my rudolphian nose.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Two for one

So that print job that had me on hold then released me two hours later, came back a couple of weeks afterwards and put me on hold again. But I wasn't counting my chickens and, sure enough, they released me again yesterday.

But then within the same 24-hour period I apparently booked two other jobs that together equal what the lost one would pay. That's happened to me over and over. I get released on a job, then others come along and I end up making the same money but working twice as much. Weird.

Still would love the big blockbuster job. I had one about a year or two after I started that may not have been a true blockbuster (a national, prime-time network spot), but it ultimately paid as much as my last half-dozen or so jobs combined.

That's the thing about this business -- for most people, at least. You book your first job and think, wow, I can easily make a living doing this! Because you think you'll get four or five of them a month. When instead you average, like, one a month. Lately things have seemed more active, but then that damned law of averages always comes along, with its peaks and troughs.

Damned laws ...

Monday, June 16, 2008

June: Cook County

St. Michael's Church -- June 14, 2008

A tough weekend. At least 4 decent street fests going -- I managed to make it to three.

In the process I missed the Tonys. Which, I confess, I've never seen anyway. (Ten years ago I was visiting New York, well before I ever started acting, and the bar where we were drinking had the Tonys playing on the TV. I thought that was such a New York moment.)

In any case, I was really happy for August: Osage County. I feel so privileged to have seen it in its original production here. (For free!) It's funny to think that 30 years from now it could be as ubiquitous as Death of a Salesman or Glass Menagerie. And I feel bad for the people who now have to see it without the exquisite Rondi Reed and electrifying Deanna Dunagan (though Estelle Parsons is no slouch, I imagine).

I just read a hilarious quote from Tracy Letts, comparing the satisfaction he gets from writing versus acting. He said winning the Tony (not to mention the Pulitzer!) was way better than auditioning for J.A.G.

Go Chicago.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hating the skin I'm in

The skin is the body's largest organ. It's there to protect you and ... hold your bones and guts in, I suppose. My skin has always been my biggest betrayer.

As a child, my greatest fear was being kidnapped and tied up -- something that TV indicated is a pretty common occurrence in life. Not because of the scariness or separation from family or the threat of death, but because, being tied up, I wouldn't be able to scratch.

Most people find a shower refreshing. I hate it. It was worse when I was a kid, before I discovered moisturizer. The first hour or two after a shower was spent feeling like whenever I moved my skin would crack open.

The eyes always itched, too. Since at least high school, I'd rub them so hard they'd be bloody red. A co-worker once did an impression of me, the chief feature of which was persistent eye rubbing.

Later on, around the age of 30, either because of the age or due to moving to a different part of the country, with a different climate, more dryness in the air, and far, far more pollutants, the condition became especially aggravated. In the eyes, and on the face. Doctors determined I was allergic to ... everything. Pollen and dust, especially. Meaning it's terrible outside in the spring, summer and fall, when things are growing, and also terrible inside, all year long. The eyes aggravate the skin, and the skin aggravates the eyes.

The condition is also what's known as "atopic." Meaning, basically, any change aggravate things. For instance, when I shave, that aggravates the face. The only thing that feels worse is when I don't shave.

I see one of the very best allergists at one of the very best hospitals in the country. He says I'm a one-in-ten-thousand case. We've done it all -- from dust covers on the bed to every manner of antihistamine, eye drop, inhaler, salve and ointment. They even tried drugs normally given to cancer patients.

The only thing that's helped are two drugs that threaten devastating long-term consequences to my health -- to pretty vital things like my eyes, my liver, my bones, etc. But without them my eyes would be beet red and nearly swollen shut and my face -- it feels like being buried in an ant hill, with fire-ants crawling and biting all over. So that's been my choice -- long-term versus short-term. Oh, the other thing that's great for my skin, besides the harmful drugs? Sunlight! Yum.

This spring seems to be worse than usual. I barely slept at all last night -- I couldn't wait for the morning and my fix.

I saw a great documentary the other night -- Kurt Cobain: About a Son. He talked about the chronic, debilitating, seemingly untreatable stomach pain he suffered from all his life. Heroin was apparently the only thing that made it better (though that's just the kind of justification a drug addict would come up with). At several points in his life he talked about the pain being so bad he sometimes wanted to blow his head off. Ironic, huh?

I don't feel like blowing my head off. Given everything we've tried, I'm under no illusion that even that would get rid of the itching. But I do sometimes find myself wishing we could know when we were destined to die. If was going to die anyway at 50 or 60, I'd be a lot less concerned about the long-term consequences of my choices. 

So there ya go.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dream role

I was once asked on an audition application what my dream role was. I had no idea. I'd only been acting a year or two so it's not something I'd been thinking about all my life, like maybe people raised as actors might do. I've never been much in the frame of mind to have favorites or least favorites anyway -- whether it's a role or anything else I've done. Usually my favorite thing is whatever I'm doing at the moment.

But the other day I downloaded the original soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar, and it occurred to me that that was definitely my favorite musical of all time. Or opera, I suppose. Rock opera. Whatever it is, it's my favorite -- probably because it was the first one I really heard and definitely the first I saw on stage.

I remember when I was a kid playing the record on my parents' stereo, wearing the big, clunky earphones, following along with the lyric book. We had the original -- the chocolate brown cover, with Ian Gillian from Deep Purple as Jesus -- so that's the version I downloaded.

I also remember at the time loving Pilate's parts -- all the emotion, frustration, anger ("Don't let me stop your great self destruction/Die if you want to, you misguided martyr!") It was so powerful. Definitely more powerful than anything you see (or I saw, at least) in real life. Other than my parents' arguing, that is. Hmmm. I guess it's a lot less amusing in real life.

Anyway, at the time, I didn't think, "I'd like to play Pilate on stage someday!" It was more like, "I'd like to be Pilate!" Not literally, but in this sort of imaginary world. That's how far acting was from my perspective. Not something I'd remotely consider. 

So I think that's a nice little goal to have. To play Pilate on stage someday. It would have to be a very, very low profile community-type production. Maybe in Plano, Texas or somewhere like that. But that would be fun. Or Caiphus would be awesome, too. He's a little closer to what passes for my vocal range, but I don't think I'm tough enough to play him.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The great outdoors


A few years ago I was walking through the Piper's Alley/Second City complex, passing the Starbucks, when Mancow Muller, who was apparently coming from the movies, (and is a world-class jackass, btw), pointed at all the people in there and wondered aloud to the woman who was with him (for his money, obvs) why people spend time hanging out at coffee shops.

I can think of multiple reasons. To get away from roommates. Maybe their apartments suck. Perhaps they're lonely. Or they just want to get the hell out of the house.

For me, I like the outdoor access. Every time you get a new place you make compromises. You just can't get everything you want among the many competing priorities -- location, space, amenities, price, etc. But I hope to never compromise again on having a balcony or patio. (My dark, dank, insecty fire escape doesn't count.) If I had one now I would be out there ALL the time -- reading, working, drinking, eating, napping.

So for now I've got the neighborhood, which I pretty much consider an extension of my living room. Argo rules, and gives you two hours of free wi-fi with a purchase. And now that I have a laptop with more than 30 minutes of battery life, I can take full advantage of it. I plan on making it my branch office this summer.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Auditions

When I first started doing theater five years ago, I checked and responded to the online listings obsessively. They're posted at 6 pm every Monday and Thursday. Sometimes on those nights I'd be CTRL+REFRESHing over and over waiting for the updates.

And then I'd go through them, pick the ones that seemed right for me (in the beginning it was almost anything that didn't require being another race or gender) and do my cover letters and package my headshots and send them out.

Sometimes I'd get a little behind, which meant going through the listings a day late or, every once in a while, doing two days' worth in one day. Tonight I found myself going through five days' worth of postings, going back all the way back to May 27. When you're that behind, they're almost all stale and no longer valid.

Then I go through my running list of postings I've pulled and find the deadlines for those, too, have passed. I don't know. My criteria are much stricter now. Not having a car, I don't do suburban theater. I also prefer to do shows for more established companies -- ones where you're more likely to be reviewed by the media and considered by the Jeff Committee. Then, of course, there's that "no working in the summer" thing of late.

Anyway, in looking at the word doc with  all the postings I've responded to over the years, it's now 41 pages long. And near the very top is the listing for the third theater audition I ever did (and the ninth submission overall). I remember it well. It was for Stage Left. I was very naive then. I worked really hard on it -- read and studied the play, practiced my monologue. I was really confident that I'd get the role -- never mind getting called back. Which I didn't.

Very odd. So now at the end of the list are a handful of opportunities that may or may not expire before I get to them. I'm a very bad actor. 

Sunday, June 08, 2008

R.E.M.

United Center: June 6, 2008

R.E.M. came to me late in life, post-college. It was the Out of Time CD, and their biggest hit, Losing My Religion, that got me. From there, I quickly devoured their back catalog, helped along by the Eponymous hits collection and working my way through all the old mumbly stuff, From Murmer through Green

I can remember so many moments in my life, some pivotal, others not so much in retrospect, that played to an R.E.M. soundtrack. There was the roadtrip to Charlottesville, home of dear ol' U.Va., in my brand new stylin' car -- a '91 Honda Civic EX. With me was a girl I'd been wooing persistently but had been mostly (inexplicably!) resisting. She wasn't ready to be with me, but also was annoyed at the shallow relationship I was in with a waitress almost a decade my junior. Fall on Me came on the radio, with the lyric, "A simple prop to occupy my time." That's what the waitress was, I explained -- a distraction until she came to her senses. (Which she ultimately did.)

Next was the business trip to Seattle. I hadn't done much traveling up to then and I found the place so different, so exciting. And our group was a ton of fun, drinking our weight in alcohol every night. Captured on video is a scene of me singing Losing my Religion, aided on the chorus with hits of helium from a party balloon.

Later on in Columbus, I was at the very end of another relationship when we went to see the Monster tour. The concert was awesome, but all we did was argue afterwards. After we broke up I went through that period of simultaneous terror at being alone and exhilaration over the freedom at hand. I remember one morning the clock radio woke me up to What's the Frequency, Kenneth, and I leapt out of bed and started crazy dancing around the room -- at that moment I felt like the very best times of my life were all ahead of me.

There was the trip to California, my first solo vacation ever. I drove down the PCH from San Francisco to L.A. over five life-changing days. It was the most beautiful place I'd ever seen. And there was something about doing it alone that just concentrated and purified the experience. You know, without an outlet, someone to talk to, it all just cycles back and builds more intensely inside your head. That got me hooked on road trips and solo travel. I had one CD with me -- New Adventures in Hi-Fi, maybe my favorite R.E.M. album -- and I played it over and over and over again. I'll always associate Departure and Electrolite and Be Mine with the winding cliffside roads along the shores of the Central Coast.

During a particularly bad period at my old work, Walk Unafraid got me through mass layoffs, client defections, bitterness and small betrayals. And all the noisy drunken singing. Man on the Moon on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight at Mike & Sheri's in Columbus, (Don't Go Back to) Rockville to myself on nearly every long car trip.

There are many, many, many others. What a band. What a life. What a concert!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Alice

The show last night went great, considering it was our first real uninterrupted run-through in the space with full lights, sounds, costume, etc. And the (small) audience that was there seemed to get something out of it.

The production is a funny little hybrid. We're still reading, but we've got costumes, props, light and sound cues and, in one scene, live video. Actually, that's one of my scenes. I have to interact with Alice through the lens of a video camera. I don't see her. And she only sees me on a TV screen. The audience sees me live and on video but, interestingly, according to the director, everyone's eyes were on the TV screen which, I suppose, tells you something. Either about our addiction to electronic media or, maybe, my own personal lack of charisma.

Anyway, now that I've seen it all together I feel pretty good about the show. It's got some things that could be improved -- it is, after all, still in workshop -- but I think it's mostly an involving and entertaining 90 minutes. 

From the audience feedback, though, it seems I'm not the only one confused by what's going on in the bird scene. I really tried to work on it, but it is very odd. Lots of squawking of gibberish and all.

So there we go. One down, three to go. Next performance is next Friday.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

By the way ...

Gobama!

Hillary? I've been a longtime, unswerving supporter of you and your husband. You're really putting that to the test. Stop it.

For the love of the game

I have two roles in this latest show I'm involved in. One of them fits like a glove. I took to it right away, have brought lots of creative stuff to it and the director's very pleased.

The other one? I play a sort of a bird. Part of a trio of heckyl and jeckyll type characters who squawk and spout nonsense. See, this is part of why I stopped doing improv -- my chronic uptightness. (Along with not being terribly good at it.)

Anyway, the difference is noticeable and I just need to freakin' get over it, get out there, and be the best damn most absurd bird I can be. By no later than tomorrow night.

As for the other character, it's a lot of fun. Last night there was a fundraiser for the theater where each of the five plays presented a short scene and our director picked this scene with my "good" character in it. Not necessarily because I did it well or anything, but it's just the best scene to stand alone out of context from the rest of the play, I think.

So that was a nice evening. We had to cut out early after our scene (for a final run-through), so I  didn't get to see many of the others or mingle with the other casts, but it was fun performing. I do like the performing.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Breathing room

Project From (What's worse than hell? Oklahoma?) is done, and I can't recall a greater sense of relief. Now to see if I can actually recover some extra money for all that I put into it -- stuff that was outside the scope of what we agreed to. Arguably. And therein lies a big question mark.

So now I've got a bit of a break. Other than some minor wrapping up and loose-end tying on a few projects, I've got nothing big and definitive facing me for the foreseeable future. Which can be a little scary, but is not atypical. For the most part, the past two/two-and-a-half years have been super busy, though, so maybe this recession-like thing is starting to catch up with me. Luckily, I've got that 6-month cushion "they" always advise you to have but which can be so elusive.

Still, that's no way to get ahead. It's times like these where I start to think about going back to a regular office job/career track. That would be the end of the acting for sure. The commercial part, definitely, and the theater stuff mostly. I've already scaled back the theater considerably, so that wouldn't be too big a deal. The commercial work would be tougher to give up -- I seem to have really picked up some momentum in the past year or so.

Who knows. What will likely happen is new projects will come in the door and I won't even have time to consider this longer range stuff. But I should. I've been told I'm not getting any younger ...