Friday, July 31, 2009


I respect people who use the ear prompter. I do.

I don't use it. I may have a lost a job or two because of it, but I'm fully TelePrompter proficient, and they normally have cue cards up at auditions. The only time I get into trouble is if they want me to do it without my glasses. Even then, though, I've usually studied the script enough to get by on memorization.

But some people are more comfortable with the ear prompter and are really good at using it. But I think it only really works in a solo situation. When you're playing host/narrator and you have a bunch of lines and you're the only one speaking.

Twice now, though, I've been in situations where I'm paired with someone and they're trying to use ear prompter and I'm not. And both times it hasn't worked at all.

The timing gets all gummed up. Especially like today. I took a half-hour last night and some time on the bus to memorize the lines. Not verbatim, but enough to paraphrase and at least get the cues right for my scene partner. But she was locked into her ear prompter, and if I said something a little differently or it took me a little more or less time to say it, she'd get all messed up. I'd say something and there'd be a long pause. And we were supposed to be a husband and wife having a normal conversation in bed. It was ridiculous.

Also I think sometimes people get totally locked in on a specific read. They've got their lines recorded and are repeating back what they hear in their ear and they're not making any adjustments. The director gave us several specific notes and she didn't really take them at all.

That might be something other than an ear prompter problem, but still. They say it frees them up to focus on the other person and the relationship and stuff, but I think having the lines in your head (generally) is a much more natural way to go.

Also, internalizing the lines helps you better understand what's actually happening in the scene. It was clear she didn't "get it" on one of the key important points, and she never quite got it. This, I think, is where theater training really, really helps.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mission Impossible

These are actual words from an actual character description from an actual audition I went on this morning:
Needs to have a deep, dramatic "movie trailer" voice, NOT an announcer voice at all ... good driving energy, a little gruffness preferable ... a delivery with authority, but not yelling or selling ... a cool read, and can have some edge ... big and full with delivery, but not ominous ... approachable and friendly, but not too announcer-like.
Got it? Now go! Go, monkey, go!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


My travel shelf

I'm thinking about a trip. Once again, like the old days, on my own. Which is fine. Go where I want, when I want, and do what I want. Turn around and double-back 30 miles to check out that scenic overlooked you carelessly skipped? No problem! No one to yell at you or complain.

So I've been thinking about my options. The first things that occurred to me are two discarded itineraries from the past. First is fall in New England. Fly into New York, stay a night at my sister's and hang in Manhattan, then get in a car and wander up the Hudson Valley, cross over to Vermont, head up through the Green Mountains, get to the top, then turn around and head back down through New Hampshire and the White Mountains. And do it all from Monday to Friday to minimize crowds and save money on off-night lodging.

The other one is New Mexico. Open-jaw flight, arriving in Albuquerque, doing Santa Fe and Taos, then heading over to the Four Corners. Hit the natural wonders and Indian reservations, particularly the Hopi pueblos, which are set on three giant mesas above the desert in Northeast Arizona. From there, head down through Sedona and fly back out of Phoenix.

But for some reason these trips aren't really tugging at me. I know part of the reason they came to mind, in addition to being pre-planned, is that they knock off two states (Vermont and New Mexico) I haven't yet been to. I've got just six to go.

So now I'm thinking ... London. A giant hole in my travel history. I've been to Bratislava, Slovakia and Zaanvordt, Netherlands and Zaragoza, Spain -- places where probably fewer than one percent of Americans have been to -- and I've never been to London. Or Rome, for that matter.

But I hadn't priced international travel for a while and was shocked that taxes and charges pretty much double the airfare. Insane. And, of course, London's ridiculously expensive. Another itinerary on my agenda is open-jaw to Lisbon, where I'd get a car, head up to Bilbao, through the Pyrenees, southern France, the Cinque Terra in Italy and finally end up in Rome, where I fly back. But that's a two-week trip, or 10 days, minimum. And similarly expensive for these precarious times.

So more research is required. But September/October is the time. Great months to travel -- off-peak, fewer people, fewer kids.

Oh and Japan. That's another one ...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sock it to me!

Dan and Dick at the Undisclosed Location

The event went pretty well. I was a little nervous because a) we only got to run through it with everyone together, including the non-actor guests, twice and just a few hours before we went on, b) this was the biggest audience I've performed for -- a thousand people, c) I wasn't sure how/if we were going to manage to get them to simmer down enough to actually listen to us, and d) I was wearing paper clips for cufflinks and Dan was wearing scotch tape for shirt studs.

As it turns out, the first segment was probably lost to anyone not in the first couple of rows of tables. But people were just settling in to dinner, so there was a lot of hubbub. The second and third segments, and the final one -- the big one -- turned out great. And all of our sundry office supply accessories managed to hold up. So that was a huge relief.

I was also a little anxious because I couldn't wear my glasses. It's one thing performing blind in a black box theater with 50 people in it. It's a whole other thing on a narrow stage 5 feet off the ground in front of a thousand. But I could hear and sorta sense they were along for the ride. And I managed to get my lines right, so all's well that ends well.

Beyond the performance, it was a fascinating spectacle to witness. No expense spared. Lavish decor and production and food and service, etc. Wish I could describe it more, but it's all top-secret.

The whole confidentiality thing also made me acutely aware of my exhibitionist Facebook/blogger existence. Not being able to photograph and document and video everything I saw and heard and said felt really weird. Which is precisely why I need to step back, put the iPhone and laptop down, and read a damned book.

You bet your sweet bippy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Auditions

Auditions have slowed down a bit lately. I just had two this week.

One of them was for a casino. I've auditioned probably 20 or more times for casino commercials and only made it into one. But this one was a step above the typical MOS (without sound) b-roll of groups of people throwing dice, dining and dancing. This was a host/narrator role. And I've got a nice, slick suit and look for that. I took the time to memorize the lines, which was fortunate since they had me do a read without my glasses.

The other was a tourism spot. I read the breakdown and I was your basic husband. They wanted some humor and stuff, too, but I was told we'd be given a line or two at the audition. That's all I knew. Only at the audition the casting director was talking about the scenario and the lines and I had that weird feeling like I just came in on the middle of the conversation. I had to ask a lot of questions to figure out what the scenario was.

It was only when I got home and looked again at the email that I saw the little tiny link at the bottom of the breakdown with the script. That would have been super-helpful.

Naturally, it was the second one that called to check my availability for a shoot. Weird how that happens.

I'm not holding my breath. "Check avail" is a long way from "hold" which is a ways away from "booked."

But at least I made something out of a meager week.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

All good things ...

I was at the casting agency today auditioning for something and in another room they were auditioning people for Harris! It looks like they're planning another round of the campaign for the fall, which means the spots with me in them will likely be rotating out.

It was fun while it lasted. A good year. It's trickled down significantly in recent months (though a friend just Facebooked me that someone saw it running today).

I think they've got me for a two-year term, though, so some "hold" checks might still trickle in over the coming year.

A good gig. A damned fine gig.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Piano men

My excellent pal Chas scored me a comp to see Billy Joel and Elton John from the rooftop where he works.

Okay "see" is a bit of misnomer. More like "heard." Since the stage was facing the other way.

Nevertheless, it was a very good time. The sound was great, and we got to see some pretty colors.

I've always wanted to get on one of those rooftops! And best of all, it was free. Tickets, food, drink -- all included. I never get the hookups! Never. So it was nice being one of those people for once, as opposed to the guy standing on the street listening with a backpack full of warm beers (me during the Police concert), or the one in the stadium, $250 poorer.

Thanks again, Chas!

Monday, July 20, 2009


I woke up at 5:30 in the morning Sunday, after having gone to bed at 2 am. I couldn't help it. I was so excited.

Since I was a kid I always hated Sundays -- church, bad TV, school the next day. And it's taken me many years to get to where I can really enjoy the day. Lately I've been shifting all my work and errands and stuff over to Saturdays, so that Sunday stays pretty open.

The best thing is the first thing. Breakfast outside at the corner diner. I don't know if there's anyone who appreciates dining outside as much as I do. Maybe it's because I don't really have a decent porch or anything now. But just being out there in the early morning sun, reading the paper, drinking coffee and eating French toast. It's the best.

The other big thing this Sunday was the opportunity to see one of my best friends. She lives just a couple of miles away but I haven't seen her or her husband in more than a year. It's just really nice to hang with someone who really REALLY knows you, and appreciates you for who you are.

Interspersed was a a good workout, some biking, some eating, some drinking, and a pretty cool streetfest at this new little park by the river downtown. (You actually wouldn't know it was fun by the photo above. Down by the river were by-then mostly abandoned vendor/craft tables. Up the hill was the food and the beer and the bands and stuff.)

It's good to be busy.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

7 months later ...

... my website is finally complete.

When I put it up, I didn't have much video, or a good way to display it. But my web person found this really cool software that provides a nice experience for the user while giving me complete control of the content -- adding, deleting, swapping whatever I want.

So now I've got video. And when I get hold of just a couple of the projects I've recently done, I can finalize my reel and change out the rough-cut that's on there.

The software also works for photos, so now I've got a more complete photo gallery.

What a relief! Of course now I've thought of a few more things. Some additional work samples over on the business side, etc. I know it will never be truly "complete," but hopefully by having control of as many elements as possible I can at least try to keep it up-to-date.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dance, monkey, dance

I took this job that I was pretty reluctant about. It's a private event, one-night only, in which I'll be recreating my Dick Martin impression, only this time with a different Dan. (Dan had a conflict.)

The event is a party at the home of a local gazillionaire, and that's what I wasn't so sure about. That I wanted to be the "hired help" on display for a thousand (literally, 1,000) well-heeled guests.

I don't resent or envy the filthy rich. That was a never a goal of mine, or else I certainly wouldn't have gone into PR, much less acting. I made certain choices a long time ago, and other choices more recently (to give acting a try instead of going back to the world of full-time office work). And I don't regret them at all.

Nevertheless, it's not a good time for me to be reminded, quite so vividly, of the consequences of those choices. I like my consequences abstract, thank you very much.

But I'll be working with some people I know and like. And, in fact, joining us actors in the show will be some friends and family members of the host, so maybe it won't be quite so much a thing where we're completely isolated in a little pen around by the service entrance. Which, for the most part, we surely will be. But I don't know, something about that "in it together" concept makes it sting a little less.

Should be an interesting night. In the meantime, I'm trying to re-summon my inner Dick.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

No way, Jose

I got put on hold for a job -- an industrial, no audition, kind of a low fee.

It's an evening shoot at a retail store. So that make me think it's after closing time. I ask, "Is this going to be one of those middle of the night things? Because I'd have to really think twice about that." Oh no, they say, early evening, they're sure.

Then when they call back it turns out the fee is actually 25% less than the originally stated fee.

So I said, it's definitely IN Chicago, right? Because for that low a fee I wouldn't want to burn a bunch of money renting a car. Oh no, they said, definitely in Chicago.

So today I got an email. I'm booked! Midnight to 4 am. In Aurora, Illinois.

I said no way. I've got too much work to do this week to be up all night. And with car rental, gas and the agent's fee, my final net would be about half the original stated fee.

And they were fine about it. They just called one of their backups. I was really worried it was gonna be a big deal.

I am astounded that factors like fee, time and location don't seem to be big dealbreakers for some people. They are for me. And if that makes me difficult, then so be it ...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Published (ish) in the NYT

A couple of weeks ago the New York Times' photography blog, Lens, talked about some famous photographers who got great photos out of their camera phones, so they invited their non-famous readers to submit their own camera phone art.

I uploaded a few and two got picked. I guess they got 1,500-plus submissions and selected 300 or so. Kinda cool. That's one of them, above. Here's the other:

They can be seen in context here. Advance to the third page of photos, and look at the second row, photos 4 and 5. (Though I think the position depends on your screen resolution.)

Looking at the rest of the pictures was actually pretty inspiring. I mostly do landscapes and buildings, but there are some pretty artsy and abstract things there, as well as offbeat portraits. I need to do more of that. My stuff (if it can even be called that) is very literal. Pedestrian, maybe. I've got a good eye for composition, but the pictures I take are pretty conventional.

Which is pretty much in line with my basic MO. I prefer realism. The concrete, the tangible. I need to start looking more with a different eye. A more creative eye. Here's a bit of a start. Not crazy or anything, but a little more dramatic than the usual pics I take.

This building corner looks kinda like the prow of a ship. The light pole spoils it a bit. Or maybe it adds a little something. Another angle ... a counterpoint, perhaps.

Anyway, still getting used to the iPhone. Though I think the first two, taken with my old Razr, are just fine ...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Hangover, followed by (lower case) the hangover

Marathon afternoon/evening yesterday. My friend Steve came downtown and we did it up, frat-boy style. Wrigleyville, post Cubs game. Murphy's Bleachers and Yakzies, then on to Leona's for dinner (where they serve 22-oz Bud Lights for $3.75!).

Then on to Webster Place to see The Hangover from the second row. FANTASTIC movie, but OW my neck!

Then way up to the North Side to Champions, where I was the champion of beer drinking. Late-night bus full of drunks down Clark St, where we stalled at Addison due to cops jumping out of their squad cars and chasing people with guns drawn. So I got out and hoofed it the final half-mile.

Then off to bed to cap off the alcohol with some liver-perforating acetaminophen, plus a couple more when I woke up. Thankfully, with no Tiger in the bathroom or baby in the closet.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

What a day that was

Grueling shoot. Hot lights, hot room, wool sportcoat, lots of on-site edits and wordsmithing.

Lots of copy. Plus legal issues that required multiple readings of whole sections of script with different name options.

Stinky-ass rental car. Seriously, it had the funk of death in it. I didn't dare open the trunk for fear of finding Jimmy Hoffa or the Lindbergh baby in it.

Voice doing funny things. Way up in my throat, tight and constricted and high. So I was struggling all day to bring it down into my knees -- or at least my chest.

In spite of all that, it was a pretty good day. Good people to work with and very appreciative, and I feel like I was able to do good work.

And the company I did it for is the same company I did a job for several years ago. I never managed to get footage for my reel, but now I've got a contact.

One big bad sign of the economy: places I've been calling to track down photos or video. The contact person's no longer there. In the case of a major financial services firm, the whole marketing department has been eliminated. Oy.

But with today's footage (or the video from a few years back), plus the Kentucky shoot from a couple of weeks ago, I think I'll finally have what I really need for balancing out and finishing my reel.

Ow, my throat hurts.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Tears of a clown

Finally, finally, here is the result of that super-lucrative job I did earlier this year.

Well, one result anyway. Ultimately this, or an image like it, will go on a brochure or a stand that holds brochures or some other packaging and delivered to doctors to promote this medication.

It's kinda freaky. The eyes, even without the glasses, don't look like mine at all. In the super-giant version they sent they look normal, but shrunk down like this they look like beady little brown snake eyes.

Creating those tears in my arms apparently took several months of CGI work. (At the shoot I was holding bags of styrofoam pellets and balls and other things.) And I think while they were at it they took some other liberties with the CGI. I know my teeth aren't that white, for instance. I think the triceps is mostly mine. I recall them specifically saying I looked too muscular (no lie) and they might have to adjust that, too.

What will be really funny is if my doctors, who actually prescribe this very eye drop for me, receive a mailing or handout with my picture on it. Even if they look at that stuff, they probably won't recognize me.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Wait, I get it

I think maybe I'm sick. When I get a cold I lose all energy and motivation.

Still, I rallied this evening. (Before crashing again.) Getting things done is just a matter of, you know, doing things.

Uncomfortably numb

I woke up early from a bad dream this morning and it kind of set the tone for the whole day. I've been tired and out of sorts and unproductive. Let's say under-productive.

There are so many things I need to do, mostly having to do with networking and studying the market and meeting people, etc. But I just haven't been attacking it like I should and it's wearing on me. Procrastination's an ugly thing that I thought I had licked a long time ago.

I got booked on another job today, which ... is great. I don't know. It's decent money, but I'm just not feelin' it. Also I was put on hold for another job next week. Also good, but ...

At least my "clump" theory doesn't seem to be holding. I don't have to wait 'til September for another booking. That's something.

Monday, July 06, 2009


Museum of Science & Industry

You hear those stories all the time about native Chicagoans who have never been up in the Sears Willis Tower. Non-natives like me are less likely to take things for granted and more likely to get out and see things. Still, I've got a few blinds spots.

I took care of a couple of them this weekend, on a long, 25-mile bike ride. I'd been to the Museum of Science & Industry, and in spite of the fact that I like science and have no real problem with industry, I found it kind of dated, overly-commercialized -- "The good folks at John Deere demonstrate the wonders of modern ('60s-era) agriculture" -- and really hot and stuffy. But I'd never explored Jackson Park, the site of the 1893 World's Fair.

I got interested in it after having been the last Chicagoan to read Devil in the White City, which was mostly worth the slog through the first 100 pages. So I explored Olmstead's lagoon and the original "Wooded Island," both much bigger than I had anticipated. The fair itself must have been quite a sight. The island even had a restored Japanese garden, after the original one was destroyed by fire during WWII (and probably not so mysteriously, at that).

Other highlights of the adventure included this Lawn Bowling court. Lawn Bowling!

And I finally got down to Northerly Island. I still say a small air strip is a better use for the land than one more lakefront park, but they did do a nice job of it. Once you get past the snack bar, the beach and the music pavilion, a major chunk of it is nicely underdeveloped compared to other local parks. It has a long bike path that runs through acres of wildflowers, with sanctuaries for native plants and birds and beautiful views of the harbor and the city. And some amusing sculpture -- a tribute, I assume to the island's former function.

Still a few things left to see on the list. Beverly (Southside! And highest point in Chicago!), Pullman District, the Botanic Gardens, Brookfield Zoo. Hot Doug's. And, of course, back to the Willis Tower to get out on the new glass balconies!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Breece D'J Pancake

Back at UVa., a bit of a legend in the halls of the English department was the brief tenure of one Breece D'J Pancake, who came from the hollows of West Virginia to the more refined academic circles of neighboring Virginia and made quite a splash in his few short years.

He got some stories published in The Atlantic, made a deep impression on those he met and, apparently, like any good artist, took his drinking very seriously. Joyce Carol Oates compared him (favorably) to Hemingway. Others compared him to Faulkner. At age 27 he put a shotgun in his mouth and blew his head off.

I recall a professor or two mentioning him reverently. (He was there just a few years before I was.) Being an underly curious ungrad -- especially as it pertained to things not actually assigned to me -- I never explored his work at the time. And over the years as he (or the notion of him) would occasionally pop into my head, I'd wonder whether I'd misheard or even imagined the whole thing. Indeed, the name "Pancake," which was all I recalled of his name, didn't exactly inspire confidence that he was anything more than a phantom from some hungover portion of my brain.

Then along came the Internet, and I recently googled him. The first fact I found was that Breece Pancake was his actual given name. (He was from West Virginia, after all.) The unusual "D'J" was the result of a printer's error on one of his galleys. He liked the apostrophe so much he adopted it.

In any case, I found a little volume of his short stories at my neighborhood Borders and started reading. He really was something. I suppose he's Hemingway-esque in the tough, muscular nature of his stories. But they're harder, grittier and more modern. And he had a bit of a poetic flare, especially in evoking the countryside where he grew up -- again, much like Hemingway could do:
"Daylight fires the ridges green, shifts the colors of the fog, touches the brick streets of Rock Camp with a reddish tone. The streetlights flicker out, and the traffic signal at the far end of Front Street's yoke snaps on; stopping nothing, warning nothing, rushing nothing on."
He's also reminiscent of Faulkner in laying out the dysfunction and the culture of his homeland -- lots of fights and filth and whores and incest. And again, like Hemingway, lots of hunting and fishing and drinking.

Anyway, it's been a bit of a joy discovering his works -- the few that exist, at least. It's reminded me that I have a bit of a love/hate thing with short stories. I like that you can pick up a collection like this and start anywhere and get a full story if you have just a limited time. On the other hand, every chapter starts a whole new investment of time and energy in figuring out who these characters are and what's going on.

There are, sadly, so few pictures of him, but the one up there is the most common one you'll see. I love it. For better or for worse, it captures that sadly romantic image of the brooding, tortured artist. Which works just fine for the people who aren't the friends and loved ones constantly hurt by that person's illness.

Breece D'J Pancake -- check him out.