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Archive for the ‘Employment’ Category

Dinner Detective

In Comedy, Employment, Theatre on February 5, 2015 at 10:21 pm

As part of my recent scramble for theatrical employment, I have joined the Bay Area cast of Dinner Detective: “America’s Largest Murder Mystery Dinner Show!” It’s incredibly fun as an actor and often involves a meal for the cast, which is always a plus. Of late, I’ve been doing several off-site shows, which are generally private events for local corporations. Last week it was HP, this week it was Google.

I won’t spill the beans of precisely what I do in the show — no spoilers! — but it’s interesting to note the differences between the two events and the two companies.

Walking in to HP, the dominant aesthetic is sleek and clean-lined. One wonders if one has stumbled upon a secret training base for James Bond villains. The free Starbucks Coffee machine is a dead giveaway that villainy is twirling its hipster moustache somewhere in the vicinity. They’ve got awesome displays of the kinds of projects they’re working on and a full kitchen and staff, with excellent service. They’ve kept an oak tree alive in a central courtyard, its twisting organic fractals highlighted by dramatic lighting at night, splendidly offset by the clean, clean lines everywhere else.

The people themselves — most of whom are actually vendors that work with HP — are all dressed in upper business-casual, almost all of them could model for Anthropologie and Nordstrom — or obscure quarterlies with names like Dogme-95 Cabin Chic and Beluga Mudbath Eros. The wine and beer flow freely at the open bar, and the volume in the room rises as the evening rolls on. It’s accoustically hot in there, and several key moments of our show are lost amid the chatter. At one point late in the performance, about thirty people leave the dining area and retire to the Starbucks Coffee Machine to continue their very loud conversations. While those who stay are clearly interested in our show, we are still competing to be heard — no way to sneak a fart at HP, they’ll hear it three floors away.

Because the dinner is a buffet and I don’t have a chance for a break due to the role I’m playing, I don’t get a meal. Our green room is a hallway leading to an exit. At the end of the night, two of the cast interrupt notes from the Host — who is essentially our director for the evening — to say they simply have to leave because it’s so late and the drive from HP to wherever they live is so long. I am astounded by this. One does not interrupt one’s director during notes unless there’s an emergency: building on fire, ubersexy Anthropologie models scalding the homeless with hot Starbucks, corporations forced to pay taxes on foreign income — things like that. When I leave, there are four or five of the partygoers out front, figuring where to go to create their little afterparty. It’s fascinating to watch drunk people with money as they wrangle for top dog in the fuckability olympics. I wish them a festive evening and they wave me away with the casual arrogance one reserves for gnats and fruit flies. They make more money in a day than I make in a month.

The Google event is at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco. The lobby looks like Loki’s private throne lounge. I want to go back there for a meal or drinks sometime, but I think I have to lose forty pounds and wear all black. Also, money. So. Anyway: the event is in the Velvet Room, where the walls are gigantic floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains. There are four wooden columns in the room, each stained in a deep, rich tone that hearkens back to Boston’s Oak Room and various similar old-school establishments. Again, clean lines dominate the Clift, but with quirky leather chairs sporting cattle horns and faux fur — though the Velvet Room’s plush darkness is nicely offset by the white linen on the tables and matching slipcovers. A row of tealights in the center of each table adds pretty sparkles. As we’re rehearsing in the space beforehand, our Host says that we’re safe to go more adult with the humor: this is a private show, the people from Google are smart and savvy. We don’t want to go too far, but it’s safe to pepper some jokes.

Everyone from Google is dressed very casually. Not even business casual: the sheer number of plaid shirts is remarkable. Not merely plaid: un-ironed plaid. Maybe even a button missing from a collar or something along those lines. It’s important to note, however, that even though there’s a lot of plaid, it’s the very most fashionable and recent plaid. No Black Watch or Royal Stewart Tartans here, no Tattersall, Madras, Glen or Houndstooth: it’s all variations on Windopane, Graph and Shepherd’s Check. Most resplendent in his blue and white Graph Check is the boss, and it’s clear that the smartest men in the room are those wearing the same pattern.

The Googlians are approachable, and some are quite aggressive in their own approach to the murder mystery. I’m supposed to be dressed like a member of the Hotel staff, but because I didn’t do my due diligence on what the staff wear, I stand out slightly: instead of black pants, black apron and black shirt, I’m wearing black pants, black apron, white shirt, black vest, black tie. One of the kitchen staff stops me to ask if I work in the restaurant as well — I explain that I’m an actor. He says I look exactly like a waiter. I realize that I could wear this same outfit, enter through the kitchen of a restaurant where they have the same uniform, scoop several tips off the tables and skedaddle. I hope I’m never that desparate, but now I know I’ve got the right camouflage.

Except that — of course — all the Google guys in their matching plaid variations immediately see the difference between my uniform and those of the other servers. I’m stopped as I’m bussing tables to be interrogated. But the other servers have decided that, owing to my height and silvering beard and slightly more formal uniform, I am El Capitáno: they pretend to confer with me for direction, clarification and such. They decided this on their own. These guys are now my favorite. I am rescued from interrogation by Mario, who says the Chef needs to talk to me. The Google Plaids thus recognize my status and cross me off their lists.

Well into the dinner, one of the detectives makes a couple mistakes, inadvertently insulting a guest. (We’ll hear a lot about this later, in notes from the Host after the show.) Owing to the relative freedom of my character, however, I am moving past the most fun table in the room near the end of the night when the other detectives says, “I think we’ve been a little hard on you guys tonight …”

Pitched for the ears of those closest to me, I say, “‘Little hardon‘ … ?”

This causes a carpet-bombing ripple of amusement in that corner of the room. It is quick, subtle and extremely effective: they can’t stop laughing.

When we get our notes for the evening, we learn that there are several audience members who felt that some of the actors’ jokes were unnecessarily cruel or inappropriate.

I have a momentary spike of alarm until I remember that the audience response forms had already been submitted before I made my cock joke. My quiet, subtle and hilarious cock joke. I am off the hook, ladies and gents, so of course I’m writing about it here.

In the end, we never get our curtain call: the hotel needs the room cleared by 8:25, something that came as a late-in-the-game surprise for our Host. When I head toward the kitchen to return the black apron they loaned me for the night, I see one of the guys who was suspicious of me early on — one of the only ones not wearing plaid, I should note — and he shakes my hand in the Lobby. “You totally had me fooled, man, the way you talked shit about working in Hospitality. Awesome show!” I thank him and head to the kitchen through the bar. I return my apron and thank the staff profusely. One of them asks if I want a job. I say yes, and she laughs. Joking with the underemployed actor. Ha ha ha. Yep. Zinger.

When I exit through the Velvet Room, I notice three of the other actors in the space, each pretending to look for something they left behind. It’s clear that they have no reason to be in there — none of us bring anything personal into the space other than our cell phones. I realize in an instant why they’re there: we didn’t get our curtain call, and we’re all desperate for validation of our work, our selves, our choices — both as actors and as people: tell us you liked us, please, so that we can continue to justify this lifestyle, this profession, this quiet 4:30 am doubt that whispers us awake and sits us hollow-eyed on the edge of our bed wondering if we could have had a family, a house, a car, a career … if only we’d killed our dreams and used their corpses to fertilize a fresh crop of practicality. It saddens me to see them doing this, and it saddens me even more to realize that I didn’t have to exit through the Velvet Room, either. I could have gone back through the kitchens to the service elevator. I am just as desperate as they are, but now that I’m aware of it I’m also deeply chagrined.

I make a beeline for the exit. Two of the hot Asian Indian chicks I saw aren’t in the room, and their giggles were my primary reason for this path.

That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

They left before dinner was served.

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Today’s Haiku

In Comedy, Employment, Intent, Open Mic, Standup, Theatre, Writing on January 22, 2015 at 9:44 pm

I’ve started doing standup at open mics in SF.

The following are haiku based on my experiences en route, during, and at home afterward.

If you like them, I welcome your comments. If you hate them, I welcome your comments.

Last two nights: SF
Open mic standup is fun
Ev’ryone is sad

White guy wizard beard
Walking lone through the Mission
Nobody comes near

Unemployment sucks
Hard to wake up before nine
Debate: write or wank

How to get to BART
All I have is a dollar
Soccer moms need cock?

Foot fungus in chunks
Time to get some tea tree oil
Expensive? Sell death

Job interview good
Haven’t said too much but then
Ha ha foreskin joke

I will look like that
When I’m sixty-five years old
Need to learn more spells

Guilty Christmas cards
Are the only kind I send
Mass apology

Pornhub so much fun
Comment on the happy vids:
“No sex life for me.”

She-she speaks the truth
Thus inspiring standup act
Transformation thence

Satan has a bump
Satan shares his bump with me
Now I have a rash

Cabbage soup today
Blood pressure too god-damn high
Dad expressed concern

I am unemployed
This is White Male Privilege:
I am still alive

First audition miss
Since one seven seven six
Shame chagrin and guilt

House so cold at night
Heating with the gas stove thanks
Yes I know the risks

Money running low
How to get to open mic
Soccer moms are gone

EDD card what?
Oh that paid the WordPress fee
Monetize or die

Postcard mystery
Last year so anonymous
Then the postcards stopped

Jobs I Didn’t Get, Part II: Sam the Snowman

In Employment, Theatre on January 20, 2015 at 9:03 pm

In late September I got a text message from Television’s Drew Boudreau; Drew played Max Detweiler in The Sound of Music with me at Sierra Rep in Summer of 2014; he’s a lovely guy and a brilliant improvisor — if you’re lucky, you’ll see his work with Improv Shmimprov. If you’re even luckier, you’ll get to work with him: he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Drew was texting me to make sure I knew about an audition for a non-AEA tour of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. They were looking for Sam the Snowman — specifically someone who could impersonate Burl Ives.

I know I’m pudgy, but Burl Ives? Wowsers. Guess it’s time to go full Paleo. Still, given enough time (and the right motivation) I can impersonate just about anybody.

Except the casting directors needed the audition video asap.

So much for time.

Motivation? $700+ per week. Boom! Motivated. But what to focus on more: mastering the material or mastering the impersonation?

I chose to focus on the material, as I could nail down the voice later on. (Besides, said the logical part of my actor brain, if they’re smart, they’re already searching for actual Burl Ives lookalikes / impersonators. I’ll master the material and at the very least I’ll have a solid audition reel … for a very, very specific role.)

Sides and sheet music were provided digitally, but accompaniment was up to me. I had one day in which to prepare  and shoot and edit and upload and submit my audition video, so I found karaoke tracks for the relevant songs. Guess what? They weren’t necessarily in the right key. So, in order to make sure that I had all my ducks in a row, I also each song a cappella as well.

Fully memorized, I donned an appropriately Christmasy tie and cozy vest. However, there was a problem: none of my nice pants were clean and pressed. Could I risk shooting this video in my underwear? Tricky: the lighting was provided naturally from a window situated camera left, and as a favor to my neighbors I generally avoid the windows when traipsing about in me skivvies. In the interest of time, I chose a nice and relatively new pair of jeans (purchased, as it happens, in the company of the affable and aforementioned Drew Boudreau in Summer of 2014), and commenced shooting.

It always takes longer to shoot, edit and upload than one thinks. And, by the time one has assembled and honed and polished everything, a degree of deadline-drunk hypnosis sets in: eyes on the clock, one foot in front of the other, nothing’s-gonna-stop-me-now!

Except it’s a good idea to share the video with other people in the business in advance. Looking back, I feel that I should have taken a little extra time to hit up Carla Spindt, Dyan McBride, Allen Fitzpatrick, Ken Sonkin, Brian Herndon, David Studwell, Mark Booher and George Maguire (and anyone else I might have neglected to include in this list) for their thoughts before sending the video to the casting directors.

Since that time, a friend who watched the video has told me that the jeans pretty much destroy any chance of awesomeness. I would have thought that haunted dollhouse + modern art + cluttered bookshelf did more than the jeans to distract, but perhaps they collaborate on a one-two punch to knock the viewer firmly into the land of Meh.

Here, then, is the video:

Within three hours, one of the casting directors accidentally hit Reply All in an e-mail, so I was treated to this:

“He is really lovely. Not an exact Burl Ives impersonation, but he is very good.”

Followed by,

“Ha, well, that wasn’t supposed to go to you, but I’m glad I had nice things to say. I loved what you did with the material.”

As I had been holed up in my house pounding out audition videos for a variety of projects since returning to the Bay Area, I was craving interaction and, most dreaded need of the actor, validation. Intoxicated by the endorphin rush that follows praise, I was perhaps too festively ebullient in my response to her, thus jinxing and ostracizing myself in one fell swoop.

I did not get the job.

Jobs I Didn’t Get: Thenardier

In Employment, Theatre on December 18, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Since returning from my summer at Sierra Repertory Theatre in lovely Sonora, California, I have been auditioning for jobs all over the country via video. This has required the cobbling together of material, often at the last minute, often with sub-standard karaoke tracks or — heaven forfend! — a cappella.

A company in Indiana was holding an open call for Les Miserables. On their website were character breakdowns with sheet music and accompaniment they required us to use in our auditions. I auditioned for both Javert and Thenardier. I could have gone for Valjean as well, but I’d rather play J or T and I had a short time in which to prepare the material. So I downloaded everything I needed and got to work.

Mystery of the Ages: All of the Javert material was played at an incredibly fast tempo. Imagine Javert’s Suicide at three times the speed of the original recording. Perhaps there is a superb reason for this — maybe they were tired of actors taking ten years to get through all the schmackt, maybe they’re planning to shorten the show by playing dramatic moments at 78 rpm — but it made all emotional and focal transitions feel comical. How the hell was I going to sell this?! And here’s the kicker, friends and neighbors: the name of the track was, Javert Suicide Slower. So, if that was slower … what the fuck was faster? The Nathan Lane recording? I’d love to add Klezmer orchestration to this:

How can I now allow this man — ZING! — (slide whistle loop-de-loop)
To hold dominion over me?! (oh-ooooooooga!)

So it was a relaxing pleasure to be able to work on Thenardier, which was played at the actual speed one might associate with a reasonable and balanced production. Here, then, is my audition video for Thenardier.

Master of the House:

I did not get the job.

Spelling Bee at Berkeley Playhouse: Auditions and Callbacks

In Employment, Theatre on March 20, 2014 at 10:07 pm

I’m documenting my experience playing Vice Principal Douglas Panch in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Berkeley Playhouse (BP). In the past, when I’ve written about my theatrical experiences, it has usually been in hindsight, and/or filtered through a fictional, amalgamized company. The one time I told the truth as I was experiencing it was during Oliver! in Idaho, and I didn’t follow through with consistent writing at the time. In this instance, I plan to document my entire experience, including the highs and lows as they come.

A little background: I’ve been acting for a long time. Started in 1989. In 2009, I hit what I didn’t know at the time was my personal glass ceiling: playing Max Bialystock in The Producers for Solano College Theatre, followed immediately by The Storyteller in The Cotton Patch Gospel for Custom Made in San Francisco. Bialystock won me a Sacramento Elly, Cotton Patch got me nominated for a BATCC Award. Right around that time I was offered a job directing Thoroughly Modern Millie at Solano College, which I accepted.

In hindsight, while it paid very well, directing Millie was the wrong way to go for my career. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Theatre Department at Solano College was on a fast-track to destruction — though at whose hand, precisely, remains a mystery as of this writing. I stuck it out, having been privately told I was the first choice to step in as head of the Theatre Department when George Maguire retired. Directing The Wizard of Oz at SCT in 2011 remains one of the single most disappointing artistic experiences of my career to date, for reasons detailed elsewhere. My last, and apparently final, directing job at Solano College was The Three Musketeers in 2013. Adapted by Charles Morey, that production was in many ways an artistic triumph. However, it was not enough to get me the full-time faculty position at the college, for which I am eternally grateful: it would appear that the college has succeeded in stamping the Theatre Department down into the same realm of mediocrity in which most other community college theatre departments reign supreme. I would have been deeply unhappy under the oppressive thumb of a school determined to disembowel our every endeavor.

Since May of 2013 I have been unemployed. There have been one or two small independent projects which have paid a couple hundred dollars, but I had arrived at a personal crossroads: at age 40 I remained firmly ensconced in a semi-upper echelon of community and regional theatre, not yet a member of Actors’ Equity, but having done this for so long that accepting a $250 travel stipend for a nine week commitment was suicidally embarrassing. I was offered work here and there, but it was all small-time, small-fry, small-pay. 100% Rinky Dink.

The jobs I accepted were the ones that a) paid well and b) weren’t embarrassing.

Then came an opportunity to audition for SHREK! the musical, at Berkeley Playhouse. I leapt at it, fumbling, and failed. First mistake: wrong material. I have nothing in my rep book which would suitably pop me into the Shrek spot in the minds of anyone watching. I sang something that was very general, and quite boring. I knew it at the time, but I was too broke to get my hands on other music. Yes, even taking the bus to the library and photocopying sheet music was impossible. No, nobody who lives close to me has sheet music I could have copied. I was in a pit I had allowed to erode beneath me, but determined to leap out of it by willpower alone.

I was called back for Shrek, but at the callbacks I was seen only for Farquaad. In all honesty, as the Farquaad sides were a late addition via e-mail, I didn’t work terribly hard on them. My work that night was what could only be called pure shit. Truth be told, I was really, really confused: why was I called for Shrek but then lumped in with the Farquaads, with no explanation? I was struck dumb by this turn of events, barely able to speak. It dredged up every lurking phantom of self-doubt, every insidious goblin that has ever jabbed me awake in the wee hours. Had I been out of the game so long? Was I suddenly transformed into everything I loathe?

I had been asked — either in person at the audition, or via e-mail, not sure which came first — if I would also be willing to read for Douglas Panch, the one role which remained uncast in BP’s production of SPELLING BEE. At the callbacks, I was told they would read me for Panch as soon as they could. After reading and singing badly for Farquaad, I waited on the stairs of the Berkeley Ballet School (which shares space with BP) for hours, the numbers of bunheaded women carrying heavy dance bags down the stairs dwindling along with the numbers of actors called back in the foyer below.

Asking an audition intern/assistant if I was in fact called back for Shrek, I felt certain I had misunderstood: I must have misread the e-mail, I must have mis-heard their words at the audition; he confirmed, however, that I was called for Shrek. This only served to compound my doubt. It was as I was sitting on those steps, listening to several other men singing the music I had worked for the last two weeks to master, that I made up my mind to leave. Had there been a back door, I probably would have. But the only way out of there was down the stairs, past other people and past the doors to the callbacks space. If the doors opened as I was making my getaway, wowsers, everything that was bad would be worse. I sat, frozen with indecision, very much aware of how pathetic my situation had become: my work is so universally unknown that I am sitting here thinking of ways to escape an audition for what is, essentially, a community theatre.

I was read for Panch by Matthew McCoy, Casting Director and Assistant to the Artistic Director. He recorded my reading via tablet or smartphone of some sort, to e-mail to Kimberly Dooley, director of SPELLING BEE. He thanked me for waiting, I replied with something amusing and polite — I’m full of amusing and polite statements in case of soul-crushing embarrassment — and, rather than raise the question of for which role, precisely, I had been called back, I quietly collected my belongings and left.

I could not trust myself to keep it together, whichever way things might fall. I have dissolved once when discussing an issue with a director, and I will never allow myself to do so again.

No surprise came with the e-mail telling me that I was not cast in Shrek!, but the e-mail that came a couple weeks later offering me the role of Panch was a pleasant surprise.

Here’s what I believe now: I was never seriously called back for the role of Shrek, for any number of reasons (non-AEA? Poor audition material? The role was pre-cast?), and Farquaad was an afterthought. Panch was what they wanted.

This job pays more than most other local non-AEA jobs, but my preliminary calculations indicate that I’m making about $.26 per hour. My unemployment has run out. I did not get the job at REI. We have many expenses. Veronica will only tell me how she truly feels about my employment status when she is intoxicated.

I hear it a lot these days.

The Kind of Work I Want to Do

In Employment, Intent, Theatre on February 2, 2014 at 8:56 pm

It’s a sad day. Philip Seymour Hoffman has apparently died. I say apparently because there is a large part of me — my entire soul — which wishes for this to be a massive hoax. Until I hear otherwise, I am going with the news sources (WSJ, CNN, PBS) reporting that he is, in fact, dead from an apparent drug overdose.

The first thing I feel is great sadness: Hoffman had a quality about him that made me feel as though he and I were great friends who simply hadn’t met, yet. I have, in my mind, this unwritten agenda of things to do in life, and one of the items I’ve only today realized was high on the list was to thank Philip Seymour Hoffman for the amazing breadth and depth of his work. Simplicity is central to everything he does, and seems to be the path to honesty in acting.

I don’t know if this is true for you, but it is for me: when I lose someone I admire, a strict stock-taking is prompted in my mind and soul. What have I done with my life? How come I never met them / didn’t know them better? Why is my life bogged down with the kind of mediocrity against which I rail when holding petty court at a rehearsal or on break while filming, and to which I return to rest at the end of the day? Why is my nest cluttered with shit, and why is my work gathering dust while I frantically try to get all the dishes done or sweep the floors before V gets home?

Ridiculous bullshit, all.

So I’m focusing on the kind of work I want to do. And it’s pretty simple to sum up: I want to do the kind of work Philip Seymour Hoffman did. Does, in all extant samples of his work. Simplicity. Honesty. Bullseye.

I’m not pleased with my career — or lack thereof — and its effects on the rest of my life. Such a big mistake coming back to California from NYC. So foolish. I do not know if I will ever feel otherwise. The idiocy of that decision hangs over everything I do like a vast, deadly avalanche that has fallen, is about to fall, will fall.

Maybe I can find a way out of it. Maybe if I approach everything with honesty and simplicity, I can find the path away from the nest I’ve cluttered together under the threat of impending disaster.

So here’s the kind of work I want to do:

In Film, I want to work on well-written projects, only. No more impassioned note sessions with writer/directors who can’t understand how to use an apostrophe or comma. If they don’t know how to do that shit, I’m not in their project. I want to work with brilliant writers, brilliant directors and brilliant cinematographers. People who do work like this:

In Theatre, Regional Theatre is as low as I’ll go from now on. The next project I’m in is THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at Berkeley Playhouse, a venue that appears to be Community Theatre (I’ll know more as rehearsals progress; if you’re interested, ask for updates). Here’s some honesty for you: the only reason I took the job is because it’s directed by Kimberly Dooley. She’s one of the founders of Shotgun Players, which, for my money, is the best (most daring, most potentially powerful, most impassioned) theatre company in the East Bay — possibly in the Bay Area.Working with Kimberly will be, I hope, a helpful lubricant to penetrating Shotgun. Zing.

There are other places I’d like to work in the Bay Area: Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley Rep (I’ve understudied there, once), TheatreWorks, possibly ACT and definitely Marin Theatre Company. But the reason I love Shotgun Players so much is simple: they have that lithe, quick, spare quality that keeps theatrical art vibrant. The larger a theatre company gets, the more slowly it moves, until it becomes bogged down in political struggles between the Artistic Director, the Managing Director, the Board of Trustees, the Designers, the Donors … What was once a powerful, dynamic space in which miracles were possible becomes a behemoth wallowing in its own inability to create without upsetting the myriad apple carts others have built on its haunches.

The problem area that lies between the work I want to do and the work I’m doing is simple: nobody knows my work. I’d allowed myself to get trapped working at Solano College Theatre, which, while itself a once-vibrant Regional Theatre in Fairfield, CA, reached its high-water mark with The Producers in 2009 and has receded ever since. The college gutted the company in 2011/2012, and it’s now nothing more than a community college theatre department. Sad, sad days. So, while some of my best work was being done at SCT 2008 – 2013 (as both actor and, eventually, director), nobody came to see it.

The result is that, in many ways, I have to start over. While my resume is impressive, I was spending so much time at Solano that nobody in the greater Bay Area had any idea what I was doing. It’s basically impossible to get anyone to come see your show if they have to drive more than 30 minutes and/or cross a bridge. I actually offered to buy some people a tank of gas and dinner if they would come see The Producers. They never responded to that ridiculous plea, rightly turned off by its sheer desperation. That could easily be a contributing factor to my not having worked at any of the biggies in a while.

So I’m starting over. At 40, soon to be 41, years of age, I am doing Community Theatre for less-than-minimum-wage, all in the hopes that the simplicity of my own work will lead to more jobs at better theatres that pay a living wage and are creative springboards to wider, deeper ponds.

Cross your fingers, gentle readers, and comment if you have any thoughts you’d like to share.

Edward and the EDD Monster

In Employment on December 11, 2013 at 9:00 pm

In order for any of the following to make sense to you, I need to make something clear: job happiness is very important to me. When I am unhappy in my job, I get deeply despondent. Being underpaid, undervalued or anything along those lines causes a sadness so deep in my soul that I can barely function. This would be why I can never work for, say, Restoration Hardware, ever again. Deep, deep sadness. I’m talking two martinis with a club sandwich on my half-hour “lunch” in order to numb my soul. That kind of sadness.

Where I currently stand: I’ve been unemployed since May.  Last time I was unemployed (2008 / 2009), it was more Funemployment, because I’d been working more regularly, and the labyrinthine calculations EDD uses to figure out how little they can get away with giving us worked more in my favor. This time, however, I’d been working at Solano College off and on, sometimes well-paid, sometimes not. If what I have been told is true, then EDD calculated my checks based on what I’d made 18 month before I applied.

A little clarity: if one is teaching a single class that meets twice a week for two hours, that’s only going to pay so much. To be honest, it’s barely enough to make my rent; gas and food are not part of the equation. So, driving from Livermore to Fairfield twice a week for a two-hour class? Not really worth the gas expense.

When I was teaching Musical Theatre Audition Technique as part of SCC’s now defunct Actor Training Program, I was also either directing something or preparing to direct something there at the school. In one case, I was playing Daddy Warbucks in the adult cast of Annie while simultaneously directing the Vallejo Youth Cast of the same production, using the Lead Director’s staging. This was under an ambitious — but ultimately WAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY too expensive — project heading called a Hybrid Musical. I believe the original notion was that adults would play the leads with a rotating cast of children in supporting roles. This idea was unpopular, so the team in charge of these projects decided to have one Adult Cast and two Youth Casts. Same set, same props, similar costumes (though it was clear, upon watching a Youth Cast of Bye, Bye, Birdie, that they first tried to get some, if not all, of the actors — youth and adult — into the same costumes. Oh my God, what were they thinking?!), same music, staging and choreography.

A McDonald’s of Musical Theatre.

The conceit being that their Youth Actors were just so darn good that, with the excellent guidance of the various teaching artists they’d hired, no audience would be able to tell the difference. Because it’s a good idea to assume that your audience is stupid, and to try to fool them into being happy watching Youth Theatre when they thought they were paying to see Grown-Ups. So many disastrous decisions were made during the planning process of these shows that I am amazed we got them on their feet and they did well. In some cases, we had multiple sold-out shows. Which is what happens when there are two Youth Casts and one Adult Cast, and both of the Youth Casts go to see each other and the Adult Cast, bringing their entire families, for multiple performances.

But I digress. Let it be sufficient to say that feast and famine were occurring within months of one another during my time at Solano College, and that the gas expense traveling to and from those jobs was ridiculous. (There are buses during the day, but no way home at night.) So it appears to me that EDD has calculated my checks based on the times when I was teaching one class, directing nothing, and barely surviving on what I earned.

There was one other snag: the first day I was in front of students at Solano was in late February of 2010. But the College had been calculating my pay as having started on February 1, 2010. This I did not know. And for those first few weeks, I was still collecting unemployment. Oddly, Solano doesn’t pay a dime until, like, your second month of employment. So you can work all of February and they won’t pay until March 1, and that first check is tiny. So if I had known in advance and cut off my unemployment benefits on February 1, there was no way I could have bought the gas to get to and from the production meetings, etc., that happened all month prior to my first day directing. (To say nothing of auditions and callbacks, for which I was not paid.)

The instant I realized what was going on, I called EDD.

They were not nice at all. Confusing and unhelpful. It seemed that the people to whom I spoke were deliberately unkind and trying to provoke a verbal altercation. I had to then schedule an interview for several weeks later. In the interview, the woman I spoke to was even worse. It was baffling.

The result was that because I didn’t know I was being paid before I began actually working, I had to pay a rather large fine. Even though I called them voluntarily. So I started paying it off a little at a time. And then I forgot about it for a long time. And then I wasn’t working at Solano College any more, and I applied for unemployment (June, 2013), and I suspect that perhaps the final unpaid $57.00 of that fine was haunting me. Because I get a miniscule amount of money, particularly compared to what I was making during my last employment at Solano College: directing an incredibly successful production of Charles Morey‘s The Three Musketeers.

Yes, I should have paid that $57.00 sooner. But I’ll be honest: I’m absent-minded. Driving back and forth every day, 120 miles round-trip, my focus was on the show and applying for the Full-Time Theatre Faculty position at the college. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while or paying attention to this installment, you know I didn’t get that job. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that once I got that job, I could start to pay off all of the debt (medical and otherwise) that’s looming over me like some mythic biblical sword.

Which brings me to my current plan. EDD sent me a notice in early November or late October saying my benefits were about to run out. So I stopped looking at their website (the creaky, clunky CalJobs), which I may have already been avoiding for weeks due to the almost complete absence of theatrical work listed therein, and focused entirely on jobs listed elsewhere. It was at this point that I paid that $57.00, embarrassed that I hadn’t done so yet, and figuring that my time with them was done and I’d better crank out my NaNoWriMo project super-fast, get it edited and published so’s I can get some money asap.

Out of the blue a notice arrived from them that my benefits had been extended. I was about to mail it back with all the appropriate boxes checked, when I saw that they wanted proof that I’ve been applying for jobs.

Back into my e-mails I dove, scrambling for information until I could get the form filled out.

Back into CalJobs I dove, adding resumes and skills and eagerly searching the job openings that CalJobs sees as a likely fit for me.

None of them are likely fits. Well, maybe one or two. I’ve applied. I’ve heard nothing.

Then it hit me: in order to get EDD to keep sending checks, I need to apply for jobs. They think I’m a potential Warehouse Foreman because I worked in Shipping & Receiving for Staples #84 in Boston in 1999. I would rather be writing than working as a Warehouse Foreman, but in order to keep getting checks, I should apply for every single job they send me.

And … wait for it … at every job interview for employment in which I would be utterly miserable … wait for it … I will pretend to be categorically insane. Boom. If it’s a big corporate job, I’ll go Sadistic Sociopath. If it’s a warehouse job, I’ll go Fancy Evil Mastermind.

I will record every interview and transcribe them herein.

If I get hired for some big corporate management job, I will maintain my persona the entire time, blogging furiously until I am discovered and my employment is terminated. Step One: Make sure that severance package is cush! Or at least make sure it’s Nimrod, son of Cush.

What do you think of this brilliant plan, O Avid Readers? I’ll be honest: I haven’t gotten a single non-theatrical job interview at all, in years. So we’ll see. This plan may not work. But tell me: are you interested in reading about my exploits in the Land of the Terminally Unemployable? Would you want to hear the recordings?  Are you a Rhinoceros? Why? If not a Rhinoceros, why not? Have you considered alternatives? Please explain.