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Posts Tagged ‘acting’

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.

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.