Monday, December 28, 2009

The New Year is almost here!

I realize that I have not been blogging AT ALL for the past several months. Life, as it has a tendency to be sometimes, has been overly complicated, scary, painful, messy, hurtful, stressful... I think you get the idea.
I've decided that I am putting my focus on getting a 9-5 gig to get myself out of my financial mess while at least trying to keep a "toe" in the biz. The last two times I left, I left completely and so coming back was always like starting over. This time, I want to at least keep an eye on things from a distance and continue working to try and get an agent again. That has been a main goal for the past six months anyway and so I will try to keep at that. Truth is, at this juncture, without an agent, I am sorta a hamster in a wheel.

I am happy to say that CAPTAIN STARGOOD is now on IMDB and more episodes are being edited for the new year. I wish Laird and Larry all the luck in the world with the project! I also worked on a short film this fall called TURKEY BOWL which is supposed to be submitted to the festivals - it was a great time filming for two days! And THE HOUSE OF NUNZIO has been submitted to the TRU 2010 Play Series.

I have mixed emotions at this time of year about so many things. 2009 was filled with some great "moments" and some fun projects but ultimately I am looking forward to 2010. Reality sometimes dictates what our actions, must be...even crazy bohemian artists have to pay bills and buy food and take care of the necessities in life. Sometimes that means taking on tasks and jobs and responsibilities we'd rather not have to. But ultimately, that does not mean we are finished, or through or "have left the building."

I'm just gonna be on a different floor for awhile!

Wishing you all a New Year filled with health, success and happiness!
(the photo is from The Killington Shakespeare Retreat 2009 - a real highlight of the year for me on so many levels!)

Monday, October 12, 2009

OPA! an old unfinished post from October

I can't believe it's been a month and a half since I've blogged. It's been a busy time with lots of personal strife (I'll save that for my other blog) and of course putting this latest incarnation of OPA! on its feet and trying to get THE HOUSE OF NUNZIO in better shape!

I know I have talked about working on new material in earlier posts and once again I encourage actors to do it if and when they have the chance. Having the opportunity to work on a new piece more than once, as it changes, has been particularly enlightening and has brought some challenges to me as an actor - and lots of rewards.

But what I really want to express in this post is the importance the audience plays on our work. I mean, ultimately, that is why I want to do the work, to share it with others. While the process leading up to the opening has always been exciting to me, so much more can be discovered once the audience is in the seats - particularly in comedy and musical comedy.

Our opening weekend of OPA! is a prime example. Finally having an audience helped us to find the rhythm for the piece, helped us to see the moments that are working and others that might not be. However, as I have mentioned to the producer, just because they aren't laughing, doesn't mean it isn't funny. Sometimes, if actors haven't been holding for laughter than the audience will begin to hold them because they want to hear the actors. Sometimes, as in OPA!, the audience is dealing with listenting to an accent and some of the humor may pass before they laugh. Sometimes people are smiling quietly and that is ok too. The temptation for actors is to begin to push the comedy or force a moment or change things altogether if the audience doesn't laugh. For the most part, I think that's not the right way to go. Certainly if the audience isn't laughing, and you have another idea or you're not feeling it's very funny either, than maybe it is worth a tweak. But often, if you trust the moment, if you don't rush it, it probably is funny even if the screaming laughter isn't coming.

(There was more to say, but clearly I did not finish it - now it's three months later but still thought I'd post it)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Looking ahead...

Since I haven't blogged in a while...thought I would take a quick moment to talk about some great projects that are coming up for me and what my focus has been in the past few weeks.

First, I have been talking to a lot to folks about living in the moment, and while I can certainly see the benefit to doing it more often, to stay there all the time just doesn't work in this business, at least not for me. You MUST be thinking and planning ahead and be "ready" for the moments that come to you that can make a real difference in your career. Once your in them, then by all means enjoy them if they're great or leave them behind if they're not, but I just think it's good to be prepared - maybe it's was my cub scout training or my mother's lists and plans. In any case, I've been trying to strike a balance recently and I feel it's paying off.

I had another call-back last week and even tho I didn't get the gig, I felt great about my work (after a couple of auditions where I really felt disconnected). I've also been having seminars with agents and casting directors in the last couple weeks and getting great feedback and feel pretty confident that I will be working with an agent again this Fall!

And speaking of this Fall:

I am very excited to be reprising my role as Manos in OPA! with Queens Theatre in the Park. The show will also reunite me with director Sam Viverito, who directed me in EVITA many moons ago. I am beyond excited to be working with him again. That begins rehearsals on September 10th and plays weekends in October!

My play, THE HOUSE OF NUNZIO, is having a private reading on September 17th in the city directed by Jamibeth Margolis and we are planning an invited reading later in the fall and an Off-Broadway run next year!

In November, for TWO PERFORMANCES ONLY, the incomparable Kellie Johnson and I are doing a cabaret at The Duplex in New York City!

Stay tuned...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Stick with it

This little blurb responds to two of my earlier posts which raised questions about how long I would attempt to stay in the business as an actor (this, my third time around) and if I have what it takes.
Answers: Yes...I do have what it takes and YES I need to stay in the game...ya gotta be in it to win it...it's all about "THE CLIMB!"

So it isn't a question of whether you should, or how you will, or can you do it...it is a matter of KNOWING it is who you are and that you are happiest even just in the pursuit of it! Find ways to make it work!
I am a success because I choose to be one! My resume and experience and professionalism all speak for me and the rest will come as I put all of my positive energy into the pursuit.

Recently I found out that the audition I mentioned in yet a third post here...well...let's just say my perception of what happened in the room was, it turns out, not anything like what I thought. In this case, that was a pleasing thing to learn, but ultimately it teaches me a much bigger lesson which you'd think I know, maybe have even preached, but don't always practice:

You have no idea what people are thinking and you shouldn't spend your energy trying to figure it out, or worry what they think or what they say after you leave the room. Since so much is out of your control and you really don't have any idea what they are thinking - why not just think the best. And the way to make that easier? Bring your A-game every time - be prepared, pleasant, pliable and punctual. Leave it all in the room, no matter what happens; how short the time is; what you are asked to do; whether you get a response or not. Leave the room with your head high and know that it will come to you. Maybe not that exact gig, or even a project done by those folks. But all of the work accumulates and is bringing you to someplace amazing. That work itself is success - it is a testament to the journey of creativity that must drive all of us, particularly actors.

Now I may not be able to make it work all the time, or always feel great, or always practice this little message, but darn it...I'm gonna make sure I try a bit harder to enjoy it as it happens and remember that I love being an actor and nothing is gonna change...no matter what!

Friday, July 17, 2009

If you just don't seem to fit...

should you quit?

While lately I have been attempting to embrace my quirk, well...quirks, I have come to realize that much of my talent lies in being able to do lots of stuff - maybe none of it GREAT (that is for others to decide) but between the looks I have: give me a mustache and I can play a Greek; give me a beard and my decent Persian accent and I am from the Middle East. I can play drunk convincingly well, do decent accents, sing from upper bass to tenor and so on. And yet all of this seems to make me almost unmarketable because I fall between two many lines. I am not "enough" of one type or one "strength" to land anything.

All of this comes from a great many auditions in the past two months where the feedback has been remarkable, to the point where I am often in the room for over 15 or 20 minutes doing everything under the sun, and being told how great I am at ALL of it but then never getting a call to do ANY of it. And I can only assume it is because people come in who can only do one of the things I do but they do it REALLY WELL and probably a bit better than me. Or they don't do it any better, but their type is closer to what that character would be - fatter, taller, younger, older, hotter, more Latin looking, less ethnic looking - you get the idea.

It's not like a lot of this stuff is new to me. I remember in college someone came from The Barn Theatre to audition the juniors and seniors for possible summer stock work. I sang from EVITA and nailed it, did Doolittle's monologue from MY FAIR LADY and nailed it and then did something else too. At the evaluation they said I blew them away with my voice and had them rolling with the monologue but that I gave them "mixed images." They said they wouldn't know what track to put me in because I fell "in the cracks." Those were their words, not mine. I remember feeling completely confused because I had assumed my versatility would be needed in stock where you might be asked to play a host of roles and ensemble parts in a varied season. I still think that I am right on that as a general rule, and maybe they were just blowing smoke up my ass cause they thought I was crap, I suppose I will never know. But it is interesting to me at this stage in my career that I feel like I am getting SO close and giving the auditions of my life (especially vocally) and yet I just can't get anything to land.

I have also been told by managers and agents that knowing your type and doing everything you can to fit into a specific "mold" or "track" is imperative to knowing where you fit in the business. Trouble is, I feel I could fit all over the place. Does that mean I don't fit anywhere? And if I don't fit, then what is the point?

I am on the verge of being forced out of the business of acting for the first time in my life. Now I have left before...twice before...but I made the decision to leave each time for different reasons. This time I don't WANT to leave, but debt and bill collectors and to be honest, a way of life is demanding that something come thru or I need to get a real job again and leave the biz behind. And when people say "just wait tables." or "take temp work," I want to scream! I DID THAT 20 years ago (well not wait tables but you already know that story) and to be honest, I can't afford to do that. I created a life for myself that I am TOTALLY willing to give up if I can be a working actor. But if I CAN'T be a working actor, then no, to be honest...I won't give up dinners out and vacations and cruises. I realize you can't have it all which is why I gave it all up two years ago.

A former student and friend (who also cast me in a couple projects which I am FOREVER grateful for) said to me that maybe I don't want it bad enough. I don't want to believe that, but maybe his is right.

I am sure that some of this seems to be free-flow thought with no rhyme or reason and I am certain that some of it is tied to earlier posts and may seem redundant. For that I apologize. All part of the actor's lifetime I guess...

What is in store???

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Inspiration 2

So I neglected to mention another main inspiration to me: people who create their own work. I just get so excited (well MOST of the time) when I go see work that isn't mainstream, that doesn't have a big budget or big producers. I'm talking about showcase pieces and free Shakespeare in the Park (not the Public although they do great stuff too). I just have such an appreciation for those who do this type of work even tho it doesn't get them any money, it rarely gets covered by the press or gets the attention of industry. These actors and directors and other creatives do it because they love the craft - they just wanna be "doing it" and if Broadway or TV or even the regions aren't calling...they are gonna do it themselves damn it!

So big cheers to all the artists out there makin' it happen ON THEIR OWN!

I want to highlight a production of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS I saw today in Central Park produced by Boomerang Theatre Company. If you have the chance to see it in the next couple weekends - you'll be glad you did. It is a perfect example of the type of inspiration I am talking about.

You can visit them here and find out about the show...

It also brought back memories of a production of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS that I was so fortunate to be a part of. Trevor Nunn created a musical comedy version of the play (not to be confused with THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE) in 1978. He stayed fairly true to the Shakespeare text but songs were written in place of some of the soliloquies - for example, Dromio of Ephesus has a quite a long speech about his being "beaten." In this version, it was replaced by the song, He Beats Me!

In case you want to see me in action from that production...(1987/88) here it is - sorry about the quality...

Clip from dress rehearsal of The US Premiere of this musical version of The Comedy of Errors (this adaptation includes original music by Guy Woolfsenden and lyrics by Trevor Nunn). Directed by RSC director Maurice Daniels with musical staging by Beverly Fletcher. This clip is the song, He Beats Me! sung by me as Dromio of Ephesus

Friday, July 10, 2009

Inspiration

I believe inspiration comes in many ways and brings about a variety of results, but in the entertainment industry, I almost feel as if inspiration is as crucial as talent. And I don't want to confuse drive with inspiration. Drive is something within while inspiration may become drive, but it begins as something outside of ourselves. Maybe we are inspired by local hero's who no one has ever heard of but we know who they are. Maybe we are inspired by the troops; maybe the President; maybe a rock star or missionary or sports figure. We may also be inspired by a painting or nature or a song.

For me, inspiration normally comes from people and from music. My mother (who I think of and miss EVERY day) has always been an inspiration to me. Her support and struggles and "life" inspired me to go after my dreams in the first place. In moments of despair or seeming failure, I have been inspired to move on because of her example. BTW...the painting above right was painted by my Mom and fits well with today's inspirations!
My friends in this business are also an inspiration to me - I am constantly amazed by their endurance, their perseverance, their "drive" and their heart! I salute them!

Today, I was inspired by two things and I wanted to share them:

A friend of my dear friend Evan (who I am now acquainted with) posted this on his Facebook Page and I hope he does not mind me sharing it...

"(he) dreamed for years of traveling the world, living in NYC and being a working actor. Though there were some very dark times, the dreams never died and now, one day at a time, they continue to come true. I am so grateful to all the people in my life that have given me hope when I was hopeless, help when I was helpless, and love when I felt unloveable! I am so blessed!!!!!"

The second, is the song The Climb sung by Miley Cyrus. Whenever I am ready to give up, or walk away or throw in the towel, ultimately it is music (and let me be clear that it is often "the lyrics" of that music) that revives me, re-awakens me, gives me hope, lifts me up, and renews my soul. Music is more than the "food of love," for me...it is the food of life. So, as I face some really tough decisions in the next few weeks - mainly, taking a 9-5 job and leaving my acting career (or maybe I should say my continued "attempt" at an acting career) in the shadows, I will keep singing this song and try to hold the lyrics close to my heart...try to believe it and live it.

The Climb lyrics
Songwriters: Alexander, J; Mabe, J;
Miley Cyrus

I can almost see it
That dream I am dreaming
But there's a voice inside my head saying
"You'll never reach it"

Every step I'm taking
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking

But I gotta keep trying
Gotta keep my head held high
There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb

The struggles I'm facing
The chances I'm taking
Sometimes might knock me down
But no, I'm not breaking

I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I'm gonna remember most, yeah
Just gotta keep going

And I, I got to be strong
Just keep pushing on
'Cause there's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb, yeah!



Thursday, July 9, 2009

What to do?

After having left the business...TWICE (well, the performing end anyway), I told myself that this time around I would give myself more time to...well...make a living at my craft. I would say "make it" but that sounds silly to me. The last couple times I came back, I wasn't as focused, and each of those two times, I think I was back for about two years and then left.

Well...once again it is coming up on two years since I came back to acting full-time and I have only had one contract show and that was at the very beginning (thank God for Steve and Gail at Surflight). Two years is not a long time and yet overall, I have been in this for a REALLY long time. And at 43, when you are broke, have no survival job, the unemployment is about to run out, you have debt and bills to pay, and no contract is being offered, you have to start weighing the options.

While I feel I have been giving the best auditions of my life, have been really going after everything possible and feel I've gotten close on some things, close don't cut it.

So...I am left with the "what to dos?" I certainly want to give this more time and yet ya gotta have money to live. I have been applying for lots of different jobs over the past two months as a safety measure but in truth, many would take me out of the business again.

I'm certainly glad to be working on 1812 and have just been asked to reprise my role in OPA! this fall but neither are contract gigs. And without an agent, it's a bear.

So, here I am, again, with the question...what to do?

Monday, June 29, 2009

A plug for CAPTAIN STARGOOD

I am really excited to talk about one of the latest creative projects that I have had the privilege to be a part of. While I have not had the opportunity to do a TON of voice over work (or in this case, character creation voice work), whenever I have had the chance, I have always had a ball. I suppose part of it is the atmosphere and the way in which you work when you are doing voice over recording work. You can be in any clothes you want, there are always chances to do it over, there are always LOTS of laughs and it is an amazingly collaborative experience.

Working on CAPTAIN STARGOOD was no different. It has been great fun and the first two episodes are now up as webisodes on YouTube and the website http://www.captainstargood.com/

I think there is real potential in this little project. I am the voices of Dr. Einkopf and Jimmy the Cabin Boy. It's a hoot!

We launched the site last night and now it's being shared with the world! Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The waiting is the hardest part...

Preparing for auditions and call-backs takes work. But ultimately, if the auditions go well, or you at least feel you've done good work, there is joy in those moments. If you don't go to auditions, you certainly aren't waiting for a call. But when you have done good work and get good feedback and then don't hear anything...it can take a toll...especially if you get even closer with a call-back or two. And unlike other arenas, you won't get a call, an email or letter saying that they went with someone else. Now if you have an agent, they will often inquire for you, but if you don't, and a lot of us don't, you just won't know until the cast list shows up on Playbill or you know rehearsals have started without you.

It's during those times that you have to focus extra hard on what makes you glad to be in the biz. Keep going to auditions, keep sending things out, keep taking classes and meeting people. It's too easy to start feeling sorry for yourself, wondering why they didn't choose you when you know you knocked it out of the park and they even said so! We have to keep reminding ourselves that it is about the work that we create and part of that is just enjoying the auditions and call back as that creation even if it doesn't lead to THE JOB.

I've been waiting over a week now to hear about the First National Tour of Mel Brook's YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN after my call-back for Igor last week. I had to learn a song and two scenes from the show and I thought I did a great job and the Musical Director seemed to really like my work in both the audition and the call-back. But now...nada. So today, I dropped thank-you notes off at the casting office for the assistant who sent me the sides, the casting director, the reader and the musical director. And I have to stop "waiting" and let it go. That doesn't mean i won't pay attention to what is going on with the show - on the contrary - any time they have replacement or understudy or any sort of call for Igor, I will try to be there. But I have to stop waiting for another call or it impedes me from doing other things and moving forward.

I hope I can practice what I preach in this case. I've had some other great auditions in the past few weeks and haven't even gotten a call-back for those projects. We used to say you have to do 100 auditions to get 10 call-backs and 1 show. Here's hoping my show is comin' up.

I do have SOME good news to report...I have been cast in a reading of a new musical and the webisodes of CAPTAIN STARGOOD that I have created two voices for launches this week.

So let's not wait for something to happen or for a phone call that may never come. Let's just keep goin' after it on multiple fronts and believe that when the call comes; when the contract is ready for our signature, that we will be ready and grateful and deserving!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When the stakes are REALLY high

So I am sure this is the same in most professions - there are levels of achievement or moments that are "larger" than others (for lack of a better term). Maybe they are larger because they bring more money or prestige or as I often say, they are "career changing moments." How can we do our best in those moments when indeed, so much is at stake? We really want the job...we really need the money...we've been working for it for SO long without a break that this seems like the one thing that will turn it around!

The best we can do is just that: our best. For actors, that means knowing as much as you can about a show, a part, the creative team the politics the realities of the budget...all of it. It means preparing our material like no tomorrow as if we already have been given the contract and are in rehearsals for the show. It means believing that it IS our chance, our moment and going in and with all the nerves that will find us there, all the heart pounding adrenalin of the moment, that we still find a way to present ourselves professionally without passing out or crapping our pants. And when we walk out of the room, no matter what has happened, believing in ourselves that it was just a moment and the results are out of our control.

And as my dear friend and Broadway actress Michele Ragusa recently said to me, "You have no idea what the people on the other side of the table are thinking. They can be scouring and you get the part."

So when faced with the really "high stakes" moments, we must prepare, pray (hey it never hurts) present professionally, pridefully exit and then poop (just kidding, I wanted to keep using P words). But seriously, that idea of "letting it go" is probably as important as the prep work. If you don't let it go and it hasn't gone your way, or you don't get the next call or the offer, it can rip you up inside. It can keep you from eating or sleeping and it can make you question your passion and your drive. Don't let it - after all it is one moment in front of a few people. If you believe they have your life in their hands, maybe you need to re-examine your life. YOU have your life in your hands and while fate and these few people may not bring you, in that moment, what you want, don't let them, or anything control your destiny.

In the acting business, more than any other, we rely on the opinions and views of others to get work - these "others" in any given moment, are evaluating our talent - and talent is subjective so one person on the panel can absolutely LOVE us and another can HATE us. We are not Internet Tech folks who either have the skills or don't. We are actors, with our own craft, our own skill set, our own way of performing and selling it - we are ARTISTS. And if we are artists can we really ever abandon our art? I suppose we can, but at what price?

I have said, throughout my career, on several occasions, that if it doesn't happen here, or now, or with this show, or this part, I am walking away. And as many of you know, I have walked away, a couple times. BUT...I am an actor. It is who I am. It is what I do. And now...at this "moment," I choose NOT to walk away. I choose to stay in the mix, to keep auditioning, to understand, that at any level of this business I will continue to be rejected. But I will continue to be hard-working, focused, professional and try to always bring my A-game to the table.

"Ain't nothin' gonna break my stride...nobody gonna slow me down, oh no, I've got to keep on movin'.

I trust that you will do the same.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who am I anyway?

Am I my resume? That is a picture of a person I don't know.

So as most of you know, those are lyrics from the opening of A CHORUS LINE. I often think of them on audition days (appropriate I guess), but today, I was especially mindful of them as I came back with a marathon day of auditions. I got appointments for all three EPA's that I wanted to go to (one for a new musical, one for the Broadway revival of FINIAN'S RAINBOW and one for the season at Gateway Playhouse). The first two...not so hot. I couldn't help but think that some of the criticism that I have received from industry folks lately had infiltrated my subconscious and caused me to choose material and present myself in a way that I normally wouldn't. Now that would be fine if I felt good about it, but I didn't. To be honest, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I was watching myself as I sang my songs - and I saw myself with a strange focus, not moving at all - sort of like an animated corpse. Me? A corpse?

So, I was kinda disappointed with myself and thinking about the lyrics above and then, by some fate, I ran into a friend of mine, who asked me to listen to her audition as she was trying out a new song. When she came out, she asked me what I thought. "I love it!" I said. "And I've never heard it but it has great range and is really quirky!" She got a big smile on her face and said, "You know...I've decided that it's time I embrace my quirk!"

"Embrace my quirk!" "Embrace my quirk!"

I told her immediately that I LOVE IT and that I was stealing it as my new mantra! I realized in that moment that I DO know who that person is in my picture! I DO represent those rolls that I have played and what ties them together is ME and my "quirk!"

So I changed my song choice for the last audition, had a BLAST and sang my face off! It was character, it was vaudeville, it was fun, it was me embracing my quirk. I loved it, and they seemed to love it too!

Clearly, I'm gonna do all I can, as I move forward in this nutty profession to do what I feel most comfortable doing. If they love it...great! If they don't...oh well. I can't keep trying to please all of the people all of the time, or I will lose myself and end up pleasing NO ONE!

"Embrace your quirk!"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gearing up to audition!

I do think that actors need to "gear up" before auditions - at least I know I do. I suppose the actual routine of gearing up has changed over the years for me, and certainly there are basics like making sure you know what type of call you're going to, what you're gonna be using for the audition in terms of song(s) or monologue(s) or sides and what the heck your gonna wear. But for me, it is more about a preparation and mindset - things that prepare me but then ultimately calm me before I walk into a room. And when I am not auditioning on a regular basis (as I have not been over the last three months) it takes me days to "gear up." I usually need to rid myself of the same ole fears of old - not good enough, not right for the part, not a good enough resume, haven't auditioned for them enough, not young enough or now...not OLD enough looking. All of those things creep around and the longer I don't go to an audition, the stronger those little demons become. I think I touched upon some of this in coulda, shoulda, woulda!

So now I basically go to the AEA website and take a look at the upcoming EPA's and Chorus Calls and try to find a day where there are multiple auditions that I am at least remotely right for. I target a day like that as my "first day back in the game." I print out the audition notices, figure out what I am going to sing or present at each audition and picture myself doing really well when I walk in the room.

I used to tell my students that if you could get to a point in your career where you could feel like your auditions were mini performances; presenting the best you could in that moment each time, and enjoying yourself regardless of who is in the room or what takes place in the room that is out of your control, then you would have so much more joy - and ultimately more success in your auditions. It took me a VERY long time to get to that point and really, it's only been the last few years that I have been able to sustain it over periods of auditions. However, after a break...I always find that it usually takes me a few to get back to that place. I find myself nervous, worried, psyched out, almost desperate when I walk in the door. "I really need this job, please God I need this job..."

Ultimately now, I am usually much more relaxed at auditions although I do end up feeling differently at different types of calls. Appointment calls are of course, the best way to go if you can get them (on your own, through an agent or a friend on the project). Having your own time and knowing they are already interested in, at the very least, your type, often makes you feel like you're already "in the running." When I go to EPA's and Chorus Calls, I try to understand that it is about showing the people on the other side of the table my professionalism, my courtesy, my talent and my type - and even those things aren't always of interest to an associate who knows the show is cast, three times over, and this required call is just that...REQUIRED. But I've gotten work from EPA's and Chorus Calls so I try not to take them for granted and as much as I often bitch about them and the low percentage of offers and blah, blah, blah...I do understand that it's important to go; to get out there; to be seen and heard and send it out into the universe.

At the end of the day, my friends in the biz and I always say this to each other when we are going through angst over auditions - if you don't go, you can't get work...plain and simple. Or as the lotto folks would say, "Ya gotta be in it, to win it!"

So next week, I have one of those audition days that I spoke of all set - with three possible calls on the same day - welcome back!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I never waited tables...


I was talking to a bartender recently about how my mother (who's parents owned a restaurant) made me promise, that as an aspiring actor, I would NEVER wait tables.  She told me it was one of the hardest gigs in the world and that I should do anything but that.  I made the promise, and have kept all of these years.  But of course the conversation made me think, again, of all the things we as actors do to make money when we aren't fortunate enough to be in a show that's "paying the bills."

Here are just a few of the things I have done to make money - some of them more artistic than others:

Office temp work at places like Columbia University, Bankers Trust and Chrysalis Records (where I was offered my first full-time job in the city after just two weeks of temping - I turned it down)

Arts Administration at a variety of non-profit arts organizations in the area (something I still do)

Director of little ones (K-5) in musicals

Ebay...believe it or not, I have been able to supplement my income a couple times in my life by selling stuff on Ebay

Landscaping for just a couple folks but I do love playing with my hands in the dirt

Massage...I even have a table!

Gambling...I know, I know, inSANE...but I won $5000 on a quarter slot once and was able to pay my bills AND my rent for a couple months.  

I know there are some other wild gigs that people have done while struggling in this business - is it all worth it?  I think most of us would say, without hesitation...YES! (most of the time)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My big peeve!


If we have had any lengthy conversations about the theatre lately (and especially musical comedy), then you have already heard my rant - if not, well, I thought I would put it all down in an effort to "let it all go."

Over the past several years, agents, some casting directors, and yes, even some directors I have worked with, have begun a frightening mantra that seems to be a trend these days.  It is simply this:  "You're too big; that's too much.  It needs to be smaller, more intimate...more REAL!"  

Excuse me, did you just use the word REAL in a sentence that refers to me on the stage in a musical about fish?  So why this shift in today's theatre from what was always something more than...outside of...and yes, "LARGER than life," to small, motionless, deadpan and real?

I will tell you my thoughts...of course.  It is film and tv acting and the technology of film and television trickling down like Reagan's economics into the world of the theatre.  And let me make this clear.  We are not talking about a 20 seat theatre with two actors in an intimate moment - but even if we were, I would still argue that theatre is by nature, presentational and isn't it the audience who has paid to see the performances and characters that we have created? If, as actors, we are just doing the work for ourselves and our directors, being as REAL as possible, I believe that is a disservice to paying audiences everywhere - they may not always understand, but if they don't see it because we are speaking upstage all the time and don't hear it because we are whispering, then they CAN'T understand it.  Ultimately however, I am talking about musical comedy, big characters, and to use my example above, sometimes we are talking about FISH in big theatres! And yet the response is the same, over and over again from a great number of industry in today's market.  Now, I get the agent thing.  They are looking for actors that can BE small and more refined with voice and gesture because their commission is in television, commercial and film NOT the theatre. If you can't bring it down for camera work where the close-up is right on your face and the boom mic 5 inches from your head, it ain't gonna fly.  I get that.  But musical comedy?  Really? Come on folks.  What is up with that?  This idea that only small and intimate is truthful is just nuts - ever watch the sitcom Alice?  Those are some big characters but I believe every minute of it because it is rooted in truth.

Now if this was just about me, you might say, "well, you are Mr. Vaudeville...maybe your time has passed." But in discussing this with a multitude of trained, experienced and frustrated actors lately, it appears that it has become the new text for a lot of industry folks and I have seen and heard examples of it outside of myself.

The days of the fourth wall, exaggerated expression, vocal projection, (what is now called "indicating"),  three-quarters front...those days, of you know...acting, seem to be over for a great many who hold the creative authority on many projects.  Or, at the very least, they are using this mantra as a lazy and unspecific way of communicating to actors -  "we don't want to work with, use, or hire you, and we don't have the time to be more specific."  I wish the latter were true, but I fear, having spoken to younger actors, and directors, that the training is moving in that direction and most say, it is a direct reflection of film and tv and techniques developed for that style of acting.  More intimate, more real, less concerned with the audience and what they will see (after all they should be able to hear it since everyone is wearing mics!).

This, I will tell you, is not only extremely annoying, it is disheartening.  I have three stories and then I will draw this diatribe to a conclusion.  

The first took place a couple weeks ago when I had the good fortune to see MARY STUART on Broadway.  At intermission the group I was with (which included two actresses - one of whom has been in the biz as a professional longer than I) asked if I was enjoying it.  "I am so frustrated right now," I said.  There were looks of dismay and confusion.  To which I said, "It is so brilliant, so amazing, and this is exactly what acting and theatre should be, and yet today, so many with the power-at-hand would think this "too big...too much...over the top acting."  And it immediately began a conversation about the mantra and the bullshit that is now being preached in classes and auditions and rehearsals.  All of you industry folks...go see it and take note:  THOSE are some larger than life, indicating, big-ass performances that are rooted in character work and certainly not intimate or small and most are heralding the work as brilliant! Now industry folks would NEVER say anything negative against two amazing and heralded actresses from London, but deep down, they know, that if an actor came into a class or an audition, and did a monologue from that show, like it was done in the production, they would say, "STOP!  That is way too big, it's not real...why did you indicate with your hand over your head the clouds rolling by?"  I could go on and on but I won't!

The second, is something that happened to me in an audition recently, and while I did my best to follow the requests of the casting director and follow him over any cliff, at the end, I was left hurt, frustrated and completely convinced that there will be less and less work for character actors as the days go by if people continue this ridiculous movement of REAL.  But I digress. The story is this:  I went in to audition for FINDING NEMO, THE MUSICAL.  I won't name names...if you want to know, it isn't that hard to find.  In any case, I walked in, and the accompanist, who seemed to be involved as musical advisor or director, wanted to make sure I knew the music I had prepared from the show.  He played it once, quietly and I was ready to go to my mark in the center of the room.  He stopped me and said, "Wait!  Don't you want to sing it thru with me to make sure you have it?"  I was like, "Sure, that would be great!  I didn't realize we had the time."  We proceeded and he got a glow on his face.  When I finished he said, "Man you have this and it sounds GREAT!  Let's do it!"  I was feeling really confident because I had seen tape on the show and I felt really perfect for Marlin and I knew the music well and had prepared the sides.  I sang the shit out of the music and the casting director said, "Well, it's clear that you can sing it, but you need to be able to act it."  Now I thought I WAS acting it, but clearly he was not happy.  He gave me adjustments which I followed and I sang it again.  He was still not happy.  We began to go over the sides and he stopped me, saying things like, "That's too big...you are indicating...what do you think Marlin is really feeling?...you need to make it real."  REALLY?  REAL?  I would be playing a clown-fish, and actually I would be holding a rod, that has a puppet fish on the end and moving around the stage primarily presenting my character using my voice and my hands to control the puppet's face and body!!!! REAL? REALLY?  But, I didn't say a word, I just tried to give him what he wanted.  Then he decided he needed to "get in the space with me."  He was Nemo now and I was to keep his attention.  I chased his ass all around the room, had to hold the door to keep him from leaving - it was ridiculous.  The musical director got up and went to the window with discomfort as clearly he knew that the casting director was trying to make a fool of me, and when I left the room, there was a roar of laughter.  Now, in the end, upon reflection, I believe this had NOTHING to do with me being too big.  The casting director was pissed that I had gotten the audition in a "roundabout" way and was gonna make me pay for that.  But my point is, he used that same damn mantra as if telling  me the truth would be too much work, and worse, he didn't consider me when I would have been f'n AMAZING for Marlin.

Finally, (I am sure you are all grateful to see that word if you are even still reading) is an experience that has now happened to me the last three times I have performed in a large venue. I have had a multitude of audience come up to me after performances and say, "You were the only actor I could understand."  Now, in each of those situations we were all on mics, but being on a mic, doesn't mean you can be understood.  You still have to enunciate and project.  You still have to hit the back wall.  You still need to act and be something MORE than real. 

At the end of the day, I am not sure I can be what the industry needs me to be since i am already larger than life in my real life!  Maybe I have passed my time...maybe I was born too late.  The one saving grace, is that thankfully, there still are some casting directors AND a good number of directors who seem to understand and believe as I do, that theatre, especially musical comedy, is, to quote a good friend and director, "faster, louder, funnier!"

 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting to work on new material


Having had the great opportunity to be involved in reading two characters in a "re-worked" script tonight, I'm feeling particularly grateful.  First off, I love the piece and was fortunate to be involved in a staged reading of an earlier version last year.  Second of all, I am working with people I admire and respect.

I believe that every actor, if they get the chance, should work on brand new material.  Whether a reading, workshop, showcase or premiere.  Being involved in the creative process from the very beginning is an amazing experience even if the material isn't brilliant, or marketable, or producible.  And every once in a while, if you have the chance, you get to work on something pretty darn good.

I have been very fortunate in my career to be involved with a great many new projects: readings, workshops and premiers.  Although I must admit that I have never worked on a project from reading, thru workshop to premiere and would love that opportunity some day.  

Now don't get me wrong, there are realities you need to face when working on certain stages of new material.  Probably the two most important are:  don't presume, even if you think the material is amazing, that it will ever progress past the stage it is in; and two, don't assume if it does, that you will go with it!  And the second one can be hard to swallow for any performer particularly if you've created the character at the start.  But realize there are so many factors that may cause you NOT to be asked back.  Let's hope it isn't because you didn't have the goods or were a "problem" for the creative team.  But if you feel the work was great and you were a true pro, there are things, just like in auditions, beyond your control.

Maybe you were asked to be involved because the creative team wanted to include you but the role really wasn't a perfect fit (this happened to me with GO, GO BEACH but I knew going in, if it went further it wouldn't be with me and I was ok with that - hey, I got to work with the amazing Stafford Arima and current Tony Nominee, Gavin Creel!); or maybe your part gets completely written out or the age changes dramatically or even the sex changes; and maybe...and this happens a lot with shows that move on to a more "productive" stage...they get a bigger name to play your role.  But try not to lose heart.  If you are proud of your work, it will be remembered - who knows when the director or writers will call you up for something else or even a later stage of that new show if something opens up that "fits."  And if the show does become successful, once it hits the regions, you'll already be familiar with the material and can go in having already worked on it, which can sometimes be a great advantage with short rehearsal times.

So I guess what I am saying in all of that is work on new material WHENEVER you have the chance and whatever else will be, will be.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Being sick and auditioning...


Since I've been sick for the past few days, I thought I would write my thoughts about being sick and auditioning.  Please note these are NOT my thoughts about being sick and performing - that I will save for another time.  

I supposed I can sum it up best with an actual experience that happened to me.  This was YEARS ago and I had gone in to audition for a new musical at The Public Theatre.  Don't recall what it was, but it was being cast by Jordon Thayler, a casting director I admire to this day.  At the first call, I was feeling great, ready to go and at 100%.  I gave a great audition and Jordon was impressed with my work.  He called me back the next week to audition for the director and writer.  I was sick as a dog.  Keep in mind, I was much younger and greener and wasn't sure what to do.  I decided to go in and do the audition, not making any excuses, but would attempt to do my best.  This was the WRONG choice.  Jordon came to me after the call back and basically said, "Don't ever do that to me again.  I was expecting what I saw at the audition and that wasn't it.  If you are sick and can't do it, then you should have just contacted us and tried to reschedule or choose to cancel it over making a bad impression."

It was a lesson I learned the hard way, but in truth, no matter how much actors think they can "act" around it, in an audition situation, you should be going in at as close to 100% as possible. If you already know you are sick, can't hit the notes, and sound like a frog...unless you are auditioning for a frog, you shouldn't do it.  And certainly, if you do make a choice to go in and audition sick, don't whine and complain to the table that you ARE sick.  Sometimes life sucks, but it is better to leave NO impression, than a bad one.

This is just my opinion of course, but it has been reinforced by many casting directors and producers in my career and I often told my students at NYU TISCH the above story and warned them about the perils of auditioning sick and ESPECIALLY going to call-backs sick.

Here's to healthy auditions and call-backs!


Friday, May 8, 2009

The coulda, shoulda, woulda...

I have these types of days as an actor more often than I would like.  
Those days where there are EPAs (Equity Principal Auditions) or Chorus Calls and I find a reason NOT to go.  Those reasons? 
Well, it could be that it's raining and I am depressed.  It could be that I am not feeling well or my voice doesn't seem to be at 100%. Maybe it's that the show is "probably already cast" so why should I go?  Could be that I don't have the perfect material to audition for that project. 

Whatever the excuse, the coulda, shoulda, woulda days effect a lot of actors.

Bottom line is this:  if you don't go, they can't hire you.  Several of my actor friends and I always have this chat about motivating ourselves to keep going, keep auditioning, staying in the mix.  

In this past week I had 4, yes count them, 4 coulda, shoulda, woulda's!  

I need to make these days fewer and far between and turn them into, DID IT days.  Because those days, eventually, can turn into, GOT IT days!!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pick up where you left off...

So i have decided to begin a second blog...apart from my Poetry, Observations and Other Musings, and devote this space completely to my life as an actor.  I know...just what we need...another blog by some wanna-be performer documenting the struggle and dream of success. 

But in this case, I've been at it so long that I would rather think of this blog as a continuation rather than something brand new.  I am not a Broadway veteran, I am not a household name and I am not new to the biz; green and just starting out on this path.  I've been a performer, of some kind or other, since I was 9 years old and a professional actor (whatever that means) for over 20 years.  I have thoughts and opinions on A LOT of things, but most of the other stuff I will save for my other blog or letters to my Congressmen.  

Here...I just wanna share the day to day journey from someone who's been there, done that, but didn't quite get to do THAT!  And who knows?  If it helps someone else, or it makes someone else in my shoes (and there are a good many of us "rank and file pros" out there) feel less alone then it's all good.  And if it turns out it's just another pile of ramblings signifying nothing...I'm ok with that too!  ;-)

Hopefully we'll all get at least a laugh or two!  OH...and just for visual fun, this will also highlight the many faces of Patrick!

BTW...that is the lovely and talented Natasha Romeo yankin' my ear!