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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ 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.

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.

Questions for Actors

In Theatre on August 20, 2014 at 3:31 am

I intended to write every day this summer. Being out late with my fellow cast members is not conducive to consistency, unless the consistency one seeks is sleeping past 10 am every day. In truth, I prefer being up early. I like getting things done. Thus has my carousing been cut down and my sleeping time moved to much earlier in the evening.

Last time I thought about blogging on here I wanted to interview some of my castmates. Here is a list of questions I am considering asking them. If you’re reading this blog — and there has been quite a bit of activity of late, fourteen entire views yesterday, that’s quite a jump from the usual zero — then mayhaps you will chime in with some questions for my fellow actors.

Here’s what I’d like to say, as an introduction to the subject of questions for actors: the first question every actor or every group of actors is asked by an audience member at a talkback is, “How do you memorize / learn / remember all your lines?”

My response is simple: How do you know your name and address, fuckmook? REPETITION, that’s how! If you walk around in a small space saying and doing the same thing for several hours a day for weeks at a time, guess what? You’ll have it so well memorized that you won’t sleep at night because it repeats on a loop in your head. Worse when it’s a musical. Doe, a deer, a female deer — SHUT THE FUCK UP. This is why actors smoke pot: to get some fucking sleep when cheery voices are shouting hummable tunes in our brainpans.

The second question asked at every talkback is something along the lines of, “Do you all get paid for this?”

Yeah, thanks for salting that wound, you ticket-affording asshat. Here’s the simple answer: NOT ENOUGH. We are, all of us, struggling to stay afloat. Want to know how bad it is? No, you don’t. You’d prefer to come to the theatre and tap your toes and hum the tunes and wipe a tear away during Edelweiss. You don’t want to know how hard it is to pay rent or visit the doctor.

So, having clarified those two points, let’s move on to the questions. What follows are things I’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview, or things I think actors should be asked in general. Read on.

1. What did you want to be when you were growing up? Why?

2. When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?

3. When did you realize that this is a financially unsupportable lifestyle?

4. What do you do on the side in order to make ends meet?

5. What is the most desperate thing you’ve ever done for cash?

6. Are you a whore?

7. Would you like to be?

8. What are you doing later?

The following questions should be asked later, after the actor has prostituted itself in order to survive:

1. How do you feel about yourself right now?

2. Oh, did I get that in your eye? Sorry.

3. Not sorry, actually; what did you think being a whore was about, whore?

4. If you answer more questions, I’ll give you this Starbucks gift card that maybe has $4.00 left on it. You down?

The following questions are asked at Starbucks, where the actor has used the gift card to get a small coffee which it sips gratefully, eyes still stinging from the interviewer’s fluids.

9. Of whom, artistically, are you in awe — and why?

10. If you could resurrect one dead actor and return them to age 20 with all of the knowledge they possessed when they died, who would it be and why?

11. At what are you best?

12. Do your family / loved ones support you in your work, and how does the answer to this affect your work, if at all?

13. Have you ever farted on stage / set, and did you cop to it?

14. What is the one thing one should never do onstage / on camera?

15. What is the one thing one should always do onstage / on camera?

16. Aside from this interview, have you ever fucked anyone to get ahead in your career? If so, why? If not, was it from lack of offers or do your parents pay your rent?

17. Do you fuck your parents in exchange for rent money? Tell the truth, whore.

18. Are you gay yet?

18.5. Would you like to be?
18.5, a. What WOULD you like to be that you aren’t already?

19. Where should you be, instead of right here?

20. Who should be here instead of you?

Those are the questions that bubbled to the surface first, gentle readers. Share your thoughts, please — with the caveat that I will use the questions I find most useful. If you submit a question and I don’t use it, you’ll be fine.

The Sound of Music: Stumble-Through, Day Off, Work Act II

In Theatre on July 2, 2014 at 7:38 pm

The Fallon House Theatre is a charming, small, older venue with no flyspace and any number of ghosts rumored to be hanging about. It’s in Columbia, California — an old west town that is a state park with little shops and saloons and hotels and such. I love working there.

On Sunday, we stumbled through the show. It went rather well; last night, we worked through Act II. Soon, I shall begin shifting set pieces and such. Fun times.

Ruby and Grace informed me early on Saturday or Sunday that my name was Captain Farty McPoopyPants, but then one of the other girls (under her mother’s direction, I think) said she felt bad calling me names. The new name became Captain Pancakes, which seems to have stuck.

Why Pancakes? Your guess is as good as mine.

So, now Ruby is General Disarray (thank you, South Park) and Grace is Admiral Flugeloom. They seem satisfied with their titles.

Monday we (Maria, the Baroness, Max, Rolf and Lisette [company manager]) went wine tasting in Murphys. It was lovely. The number of wine tasting venues in Murphys has skyrocketed in the last few years. Where once there were maybe seven, now there are twenty-five. The order of business was as follows:

Lunch at Firewood (I had the turkey burger)
Tasting at Hatcher
Walk walk walk
Tasting at … um … there was wine, and I’m forgetting which one … but Lisette works there and it was lovely
Walk walk walk
Tasting at Lavender Ridge
Cheese yum brief discussion of religion hmmm wine yum
Walk to Murphys Creek with wine, cheeses, quince paste.
Wade in the creek (I cannot do this barefoot: agony)
Wine, cheese, quince paste
Throw sticks for the awesome English Labrador
Wade some more
Flirt
Wade
Flirt
Walk walk walk
Ice Cream
Walk walk walk
Ride back to Sonora

It was oodles of fun. I made some people laugh.

Tonight we work Act I
Before that, I’m going thrift shopping: my jeans have ripped.
It’s 93 F outside, and my car has no air conditioning.
Fun times.

Spelling Bee: First Rehearsal

In Theatre, Uncategorized on April 25, 2014 at 8:06 pm

March 8, 2014
Thoughts on my first rehearsal for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Berkeley Playhouse, as dictated to my phone while moving my car during a break at rehearsal. I will include both what my phone perceived and my attempt at translation, followed by elucidation as needed. Enjoy.

“Thoughts on my first rehearsal for spelling bee Playhouse, largely based on well everything. The cast appears all to be under 30, possibly even under 25. I feel like a dinosaur. I’m wearing plaid vest red tie navy blue shirt weather double batch the next AM., is that matters is that I feel so old in this cast I think I could I’m old enough to be something simple father.”

The cast appears all to be under 30, possibly even under 25. I feel like a dinosaur. I’m wearing a charcoal plaid vest, red tie, navy blue shirt. Overdressed. Will have to slob it up over the next couple months. This is a new experience for me: I feel so old in this cast, I think I’m old enough to be their father.

“The directors very attractive.”

The director seems to be a lovely human being. That always helps. I say “seems” because I have made the mistake of believing first impressions in the past, and it did not turn out well for me. So, I’m cautious. But she really does seem to be awesome. Time will tell, and I will trust with a grain of salt.

“I’m determined to be on my best behavior in this cast, but generally that’s true of every cast I will try to come apart. At the moment always comes when I make jokes that actually, it doesn’t always come. But it could come. And since I suspect that the majority of my doctors last year for from 510, and specifically Berkeley California, then I am cautious about making jokes. So dot dot dot its tricky.”

I’m determined to be on my best behavior in this cast, but generally that’s true of every cast of which I become a part. And the moment always comes when I make jokes that upset or offend someone. It doesn’t always come, actually. But it could come. And since I suspect that the majority of my cast hail from the 510, and specifically Berkeley, California, then I am cautious about making jokes. So … it’s tricky. I always assume that Theatre People will get my jokes, will be entertained by my schtick. Apparently, however, I am an acquired taste. Having been attacked and vilified by complete strangers — in a Theatre group — on Facebook, I am cautious. I will try to stay silent, say nothing, interact with nobody. That is a very difficult challenge, because I’ve hardly left the house since last May. I feel a bit like Robinson Crusoe thrust into a garden party.

“Interesting the first two musical numbers reversed are considered group members in which I do not appear to sing it note I have spoken words with them and I suppose it was good that I was there, but. No focus is given to my aunts music is fun absolutely fine, not necessarily I’m entering the cafe close email goodbye.”

Interesting: the first two musical numbers we rehearsed are “group numbers” — in which I do not appear to sing a note. I have spoken words within one of them and I suppose it was good that I was there, but: thus far, no actual focus is given to my material in the music. Which is absolutely fine, we had a lot of material to cover. Panch does not sing anywhere within the score. I hope that we’ll get them nailed down before it gets stressful. I can already feel how peripheral I am to this production. I’m entering the cafe across the street to refresh my beverage before returning to rehearsal, so I will close this email and say goodbye.

***

Interesting to note how accurate some of this was.
As of this writing, we have two weeks left. The reviews are all stellar, and there are currently some cheap tickets available via Goldstar: http://www.goldstar.com/e/81887

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.

Bus Stop: Next Stop, Livermore! Part III

In Theatre on February 24, 2014 at 12:47 am

The producer is in the bar at Uncle Yu’s, slamming a double scotch and desperately calling everyone she knows. She even calls the set designer, isn’t that nice of her? She knows he’s done some acting, and it’s not really his sort of role but would he be willing to fill in or does he know someone? Thankfully, this set designer is realistic regarding his type and the time he would have to lose 30 lbs. before opening: one week. He declines, all gracious charm, and says he’ll put the word out. The producer keeps calling people.

The designer, after his luck with the door, is cautiously sending out feelers to the young male lead types in his network. Prophecy: none are close enough / available / willing to do the role. [Ed.: originally, the word “door” linked to a blog I wrote about finding the right door for the production of Bus Stop upon which this bit of fantasy is based. The gist: in 2008, Role Players Ensemble could only find one type of door for the entrance to the diner: a contemporary internal tract home door. I tried to find a better door. Shenanigans ensued. We were stuck with the shitty door they had. Moving on:]

On her third scotch, the producer sees something amazing; she blinks, leans forward … there, across the restaurant, a very handsome young man is putting on a customer’s cowboy hat at the behest of the customer and his younger, bleached and leathered wife. The handsome young man is a waiter. Server. Whatever the fuck, he’s wearing the hat and he looks … let’s not jinx it: he looks like he might work if we tweeze his eyebrows.

At his side, she stuffs a hundred-dollar bill into his hand, “You’re coming with me, I’m a theatrical producer, we need your help immediately, where’s your manager and will this nice man let us borrow his hat for twenty minutes? Here’s fifty as a deposit on the hat.”

“I’m the manager,” says the manager, overhearing from the host station. Drunk producers are loud.

“I am borrowing this darling boy for twenty minutes, please do not fire him, there’s a set of comps we open at the Bankhead next week tell them I sent you and before any of you think I am going to do naughty things to this boy I want you to know that I am happily married for the fifth time and so it shall remain!”

This does not stop her from thoroughly squeezing the young man’s biceps, pectorals, buttocks and one or two other pieces of prime real estate as she whisks him across the street and down the block and into the middle of rehearsal with a triumphant cry of, “I’ve found our lead!”

Rehearsal stops dead.

Director: Can he act?

Producer: Of course he can, what’s your name young man?

Waiter: Bo.

Director: You’re shitting me.

Producer: Ever done any theatre?

Waiter: That’s what I’m studying at the local college.

Producer: This is a paid production. Contracts are involved. Could you get the time off from school and Uncle Yu’s?

Waiter: Sure. I usually work lunch, I’m only filling in —

[Edward has to interrupt: I know it’s completely unrealistic. It’s what I’d want to happen. Can you blame me?]

Producer: Shut up, Edward.

Waiter: I have to finish my shift.

Director: That’s fine, be here tomorrow night —

Producer: Tomorrow night, seven o’clock, erhm, six forty-five on the dot, darling, early is on time in theatre and if they haven’t told you that at the college yet you should kill them all.

Waiter: I’m always early. Except where it matters.

He smiles a little at the female lead. She stops her frantic and destined-to-go-unanswered text to the former male lead.

This is the miracle they needed. It galvanizes the cast, new energy and innovation zap into the show and it sells out every performance. The Village Theatre has a pretty nice talent show, proving that there is Talent in Danville. The set finally has curtains on the window, the front door has a real window in it, and there is a snow machine and everything else the set designer could dream of, to improve the show.

Right?

Right. A wonderful fable.

But what really would have to happen would be an independent production company in Livermore approaching Role Players with a brilliantly prepared presentation which they would have to be insane to ignore, particularly because it will cost them very little or nothing at all and Role Players will get the credit for originating the production.

This would possibly involve a new director, and one or two actors might need to be replaced depending on conflicts.

It’s possible. I would even say plausible, were there an independent 501-c3 in Livermore who could pull it off.

Do I think it will happen / would have happened / could ever happen?

Maybe, with the current (as of late February, 2014) management of Role Players and the Village Theatre.

But could it ever have happened in 2008?

Nah.

Bus Stop: Next Stop, Livermore! Part II

In Theatre on February 18, 2014 at 10:25 am

[As mentioned in my previous post, this is a portion of something I originally wrote in another time and place. I share it here for reasons previously stated; if you haven’t read Part I, that’s where you should begin.]

First order of business: contracts! Not something many community theatres are good at, I’m giving Role Players the benefit of the doubt: contracts are on the table, and (we’re bordering on fantasy here) Role Players is willing to reimburse all gas and travel expenditures to and from Livermore for the duration of remount rehearsals, tech and performance. (Even if they were not willing to do that, in my experience many if not most non-AEA actors in the Bay Area would agree to a remount of this nature; assuming they still like the show and their castmates, of course, there’s something alluring in the shoddy glamour of a community theatre tour.)

So: we’ve got the actors and the director signing contracts. Things are looking good. It’s unrealistically rosy. Which invites the Jinx. This is what happens when things seem to be going swimmingly in theatre: someone will invariably predict success. The Jinx, being alive and well, rears its ugly head and swoops into the building, scattering seeds of doubt, distress, jealousy and betrayal whithersoever it may. Whether it’s an actual force of nature or just chinks in the armor of human nature, the Jinx is always there. Lurking.

So let’s watch where the seeds take root: will it be the supporting actress who thinks she could do it better than the lead? Will it be the chorus boy who has a jealous crush on the male ingénue and wants said ingénue’s hot girlfriend out of the show? Will it be the director who so longs for the lips of this or that actor, s/he is willing to risk the entire production by re-casting that actor in the lead, in hopes of some flustered, dusty fellatio in a props closet or the parking lot of Wal-Mart after the preview performance? (Understand that these are generic instances and do not apply directly to the cast of Bus Stop, thanks.)

The Jinx will come to fruition in one of two ways. The first, if we’re lucky, is that an actor will have an unpleasant revelation while he’s looking at the contract. Actors being actors, however, it’s more likely that he will come to his realization the night before the first rehearsal in the new space. He won’t call the director, but he will leave ten minutes earlier than usual to try to catch the director outside the theatre, break the bad news, and still have time to make a 7:30 movie with a girlfriend. The bad news is this: the male lead cannot do the show. Whatever his reasons — and they could be anything but he will devise something dire and serious — he is completely unable to go any further with the project.

This prompts two immediate questions from the director: a) if it’s so fucking serious, how could you not have known about it before now?!; and b) what the fuck is wrong with your brain you fucking asshole, how could you do this to me?

If the actor is very clever, he will devise something that has at its heart a kernel of truth, to which he can cling with complete sincerity. He will also make it something he could not possibly have known about before that very day. The director will buy it. If the actor is very good, he will use his natural alarm and anxiety in the situation to fuel honest tears, which will stun the director. Having had to struggle to get that kind of performance during rehearsals, the director will swallow the actor’s story hook, line, sinker and dinghy.

The actor departs, promising to keep in touch. The director marshals his resources, adjusts the strap on his used Kenneth Cole attaché case and marches courageously into the theatre to break the news. People are shocked. The female lead immediately dials her now-former opposite, leaving a whispered an impassioned inquiry via voice mail. As she is doing this, the director is telling the cast why the actor cannot do the show; surprisingly, even this old war-horse with over a decade of community theatre and semi-professional regional theatre is moved to tears. Briefly. It is a moment that the female lead will recall decades later in the bar at O’Flaherty’s, drawing deep on a Parliament and staring off into the middle distance, “I heard he moved to New York, that’s actually why I came. I never expected to get work. Funny how that happens. Little fucker never called any of us again. Far as I know, he’s fat and married in Suburbia. At least I am in New York.

Back to the present: one actor dropping out sends shockwaves through the cast. Those who considered it begin to reevaluate. The female lead is only here because he was going to do the show. Her parents were coming down from Oregon to sort of officially meet him but she made her mother promise not to freak Dad out. Or smile at him with big eyes and teeth that say marry my daughter, marry my daughter, you’re the first straight actor she’s ever liked and the last guy was a meth-head who hit her. A lot.

The production is in danger of breaking down here. Realistically, it probably would. In Edward’s Imaginary Theatre of Yes!, however, the producer steps in with bold and encouraging words: “You are all under contract. That actor will have me to reckon with and his reputation will suffer. We will find a replacement. You are all wonderful, truly the most amazing and talented cast I have ever seen in my life. This show will be a complete success no matter what. I feel it in my bones. Now, I want you all to work very hard today. It’s going to be tough, but I know that together, we can do it. I will find you a new lead. Hooray!”

Actors are generally desperate people. This rousing speech brings them to their feet, applauding and cheering. Rehearsal gets off to an unnaturally cheery start, with the director working all scenes in which the male lead is not an immediate part; the Stage Manager reads the lead’s lines from the second row, completely monotone. It’s a superb performance by all involved.