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


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


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


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

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


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!"