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.


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


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


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.


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, 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.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


The good news: I don't have to go back to Waukesha on Monday. The bad news: I don't get the money for Monday's half-day. More bad news: the downside of hotwire is you're hardwired into your choice -- no cancellations or changes. 

I still returned the car early anyway. And I can get half the insurance money back at least. Yes, it was nice to do a little errand out to the 'burbs, and to take a little 3 mile trip in 10 minutes instead of 30 to 45. But having the car even for a mere two days reminded me again why I sold my car years ago. I turn into a complete and utter asshole in traffic. To me, it's the ultimate lack of control.

The trip up at 5:30 am? Exactly two hours flat -- for a trip that google maps actually calculated at 2 hours. Trip back? Three-and-a-half. As much as I complain about the ol' PT, it does allow you tons of times to read and puzzle and get other things done.

The gig itself was fine. I played a radiologist, wore a lab coat and a big lead smock and play around with a $10 million piece of machinery. On the downside, I had to listen to the photographer's misinformed rantings about Obama, taxes, and the government in general.

And they didn't tell us we were working with children in the afternoon. LITTLE children. Like 3 years old. Though they were definitely smarter than the Obama-hater, they were even harder to control. And I'm not exactly known for my mad kid skilz. (Though that's not why Monday's cancelled. They made that decision even before I told my story about drinking furniture polish and getting my stomach pumped when I was a kid. Yeah, the parents were BIG fans.)

I am looking forward to a day chock full of nothin' tomorrow.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Hot for hotwire

It's time like these when a car would be really, really handy.

I've been booked on a print job up in Waukesha for Friday and Monday, and the car rental fees from the places in my 'hood were pretty crazy. But then I went on hotwire and found a car for $16.95 a day! Plus taxes, yeah, but still for four days it's about a third the cost. The only problem is I have to schlep out to O'Hare to get it. Anyway, those guys are great.

So I have to be in Waukesha at 8 am. Which means leaving no later than 5:30 am. Which really sucks. Back when I worked at the agency, a client had a plant in Waukesha. When we'd visit we had to be there for first shift, which was at 5 am, so we'd go up the night before. This one time we were working so late we didn't roll into town until around 1 am. The woman at the hotel front desk gave us a serious double-take when we asked for a 4 am wake-up call.

And THAT is the story of how, for us, the feeling you get when you have to schlep to Waukesha was known as Wauknausea.