Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sins of the blogger

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

The long road home

Dad and sister
Great Falls, December 26

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

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

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

And physically, he's healthy as an ox.

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

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

Friday, December 26, 2008

Under the tree. Not.



Great Falls, Maryland
Christmas Day

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

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

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

Ya hear me, Santa?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Yes we need a little Christmas ...

Holiday Card 2005

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

Frozen

Entrance, Diversey Harbor

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow day

Belmont Harbor

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bad Santa

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

None of yer damned business!

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Whiteout

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Voila!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Milk

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

Swimming with the fishes

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wow, I rule!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The one after 100

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

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

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

Monday, December 08, 2008

Closing time

Closing night, Bustin'

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 05, 2008

There I am!

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 04, 2008

100

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

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

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

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

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

So there we go. 100 auditions, 328 days.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A stand for dignity

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

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

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

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

See you in the funny papers

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 01, 2008

Slow day


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

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

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

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