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Posts Tagged ‘actors’

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Eight — C&R X

In Fiction, Horror, Theatre, Writing on October 12, 2017 at 11:54 am

(Sometimes you are dusty. Let these mummified hands brush you clean. Listen to their first insidious whispers here.)

Day Eight: Wednesday, 26 July / Friday, July 21 2017 – C&R X

As he braces himself to fire,Weedbeard’s right bootheel touches a small patch of the insect grool and is burned away on the right side. He doesn’t notice, racking a fresh charge with a lever on the underside of the shotgun as he shouts, “Rocksalt, Fatherfucker!” The second blast is a dull roar; my ears are still ringing from the first.

The blast of salt tears through the baby doll, its larval plorper and the rotting hand, burning chunks splattered backwards onto Dolly Lurker’s porcelain skin – which now cracks, like actual porcelain. Dolly Lurker is gnashing its giant flapping shutter trapdoor teeth, breaking spider legs with juicy, meaty chunkings; the arm of the rotting hand holding the nightmare baby doll jutting off at an odd, jaunty angle like FDR’s cigarette holder. We have nothing to fear but a giant mouthful of spider legs! This thought is all mine, and it’s a relief to not hear others in there.

Weedbeard racks a third charge with the lever – I look over: this is a revolving shotgun. I say, “Fucking rad!” – but I’m drowned out as Weedbeard bellows, “Thrice-blessed by Rabbis, Priests and Pagan Conjurers! Smoked in the Smokey Smoke of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme!”

As he says those last five words, ancient harmony wells up around us: thousands of monks, angelic choirs, every hippie who ever lived? Whoever it is, there is a moment of soul-wrenching beauty as that harmony coalesces around Weedbeard. He fires the shotgun on the button of the musical phrase.

There is a strange stillness to the blast – the salt crystals meet a barrier in the air for an instant, but the words Smokey-Smoke appear in the air, in a circle, around the blast. Is this the smoke of the blast, or the smoke in which the salt was smokey-smoked? I don’t know. But it puffs out into those words and then is sucked into every shard of salt – and the barrier is broken.

Dolly Lurker is blasted back against the wall, shrinking, two hands reaching up to hold its cracking face together, spider legs scrabbling at odd angles for purchase on anything. One of them is caught on the doorjamb of this upper door and rips out, falling to the floor with a clatter. Weedbeard has racked a fourth charge and blasts the leg away from the door; it shatters, but even the shards twitch and jumble about. I have a feeling that they’d slice anyone they could reach right now.

“Ma-MA! Ma-MAAaaughlghghghllllrrrrrghhhhh … ” Dolly Lurker sounds like it’s back down at the bottom of the stairs. I’m standing – when did that happen? – and I move toward the door to look.

Judy and Weedbeard both grab my arms and pull me back. I’m fighting them. Why?

“You heard the voice, didn’t you, Edward?” Judy says.

“It’s got a deeper hold on you that it would if you’d never heard it,” Weedbeard says.

They’re strong, but I’m determined to look through that door. I’m dragging them toward the opening. It looks innocuous. Just a doorway. I say, “How do I tell you both to fuck off but in a very respectful way?”

Weedbeard steps in front of me, grabbing me by the shoulders. I’m able to push him toward the door. I’m not usually this strong. “This is why I told you the memory was unsafe!” he says. “This doorway is warded and therefore acts like a portal – memories are malleable and can be changed here! You passed out when Alan fell, you didn’t see all of this. You need to step back to your present before you alter this leaf of time!”

But I’m pushing him. We’re almost at the door. I’m winning.

It feels so good!

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Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Seven — Voice Memo II

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 30, 2017 at 11:52 am

(This blog is a gateway drug: start here.)

Day Seven: Tuesday, 25 July 2017 – Voice Memo II

[Sound: fumbling thud and scrabble, a muffled curse; footsteps on gravel, panting, more fumbling]

I dropped my phone. I’m … trying to catch my breath. I’ve been running. I threw a pot out a side window of the shed; that thing, whatever it is, went lurching off in the direction of the impact and I bolted from the shed but it’s dark. In the movies, there’s always ambient light in the forest. There’s no fucking ambient anything. Except darkness. I’m completely turned around.

[Sound: in the distance, Ma-MA! Ma-MAAaaaaa … !]

Okay, there’s there’s maybe a sliver of a moon tonight. Marginally helpful. I see a building ahead, I’m heading for it. I don’t have enough battery to keep this going for long.

I was talking about the pyramid. I found it on a map of the park, it seemed like an easy walk. I drove my car to the lot closest to that spot, parked, and took the right fork; according to the map, I thought it would take me to the pyramid.

[Sound: footsteps on gravel, the night breeze.]

Wait … the thing has been quiet a while. I think it’s quiet when it travels. So fucking dark. I can’t risk the flashlight on my phone.

[Sound: Ma-MAAAAAaaaaa!, far away.]

I’m not sure it’s Dolly Lurker. But it fucking sounds like Dolly Lurker. At least … I mean, after I ran away. Not at first. At first it just giggled.

I saw its face.

All white.

Like the mask.

Wait, there’s a gate here, near this building. Chain link … locked. Fuck. Okay. Okay. Up the hill to my left, trees. Probably poison oak, too, so … down the hill. Next to this building, there’s a trail. Right against the side of the building. Okay. I need to rest, I’m sitting down with my back to this wall. Nothing can sneak up on me here.

[Sound: Edward panting, but in the distance, jingles]

Oh shit.

[Sound: jingles, louder.]

It’s the other one.

[Sound: high-pitched giggling]

Time to go.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Six — Shepherd Canyon, Part II

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 21, 2017 at 11:52 am

(Do you have nipples, but no idea what’s going on in this story? Start here.)

Day Six, Shepherd Canyon: Sunday, 23 July 2017 — Part II

Returning to Fire Station No. 24 twenty-three years later, it hasn’t changed at all. It looks like a life-sized model of a child’s vintage-style firehouse, from the future. Hasbro, circa 2086.

I wasn’t quite sure how to get into the parking lot, so I drove up Shepherd Canyon a ways, safe and sane behind the wheel. Unlike my jaunt down this road all those years ago.

When I turned around to head back toward the fire station, I took a look at that now notorious embankment.

I remember the sense, back in 1994, that if I braked it would result in destruction. I saw back then that the embankment got steeper ahead; it would launch the car up, either to the left across the road or into the trees above, then back down onto its roof. Time was running out.

I don’t know where I got the presence of mind; I was only 21 at the time — but I took my foot from the accelerator and — locking my arms — firmly eased the car to the left, down onto the road. The firetruck charged past us on our left, sudden and deafening. I braked, gently, for the curve ahead. Everything was fine.

It was as I drove past that very spot today that I remembered saying to Scott, “Hey, have you ever seen the old storybook firehouse?”

I was braking to turn into the parking lot of Fire Station No. 24 when it struck me:

If storms do blow we build a pyre
Inside our vintage firehouse

I was so shocked at the revelation that I sat there like an idiot, my left-turn signal blinking, until some asstongue in a Lexus honked at me. I turned off my blinker and headed for one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen in my life:

The Old Montclair Firehouse.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Four — Part II

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 12, 2017 at 2:33 pm

(If you don’t like spoilers, start here.)

Day Four: Friday, 21 July 2017 – Part II

“There you are!”

I jumped the jump of the guilty explorer. Judy was right outside the door to the basement stairs.

When the hell did she get there?

“What are you doing in here?” Judy stepped in and stood next to me, looking down at the basement door.

“Did you hear that?” I said.

“Hear what?” she said.

“That sound, like a broken baby doll crying,” I said.

“A broken babydoll? Reminiscing about our ex girlfriends, are we, Edward?”

“Ha! No, I mean a doll, like a doll that looks like a baby. The kind that go, ma-ma, and cry and stuff.”

Judy was silent a second. Then she said, “You heard that from down there?”

“Yep,” I said.

“That’s not good, Ed. I think you should stay away from this door. You might be tempted to go down there. That’s dangerous.”

“Why?”

“Asbestos. We never go down there anymore. That door down there’s supposed to be closed,” she said. Her voice echoed back from the darkness below. “Baby dolls in the dark. That’s creepy. Whew. Anyway Ed, Allison has something for you to try on. Let’s get away from painful death,” and she tugged at my right shoulder, pulling me out into the light.

The theatre was alive with sounds and conversation.

Where was everybody two minutes ago?

I followed Judy across the stage to the ladies’ dressing room / costume shop. Allison was there with pants, shirt and boots for me to try. “These need to be worn up at the level of the navel,” she said.

“The naval navel,” I said. “Zing!”

I glanced at my phone and all jokes left my mind.

It was 5:17.

When I arrived, it was 4:30 (4:32, to be precise). My explorations of the theatre and its environs didn’t take more that fifteen minutes, but let’s say sixteen minutes in case I’m wrong. So that means it was 4:48 when I found those stairs to the basement, when I heard the broken, mechanized cry of the baby doll.

I lost time.

As far as I know, Judy spoke to me a couple seconds after I found the stairs. There’s no way I was standing there for roughly half an hour. I felt a daze settle over me as I began to gauge inner processes.

I was in a bad car accident in 2015. Whiplash plus head bang = multiple concussion points. It affected some things in my brain. I’ll keep the details to myself for now, but I can assure you: loss of time is entirely new. If anything, I’ve been more vigilant about time since the accident: I want to make sure I’m spending it in every best way after coming so close to breaking my hourglass.

“Edward? You okay? You look like you just remembered your funeral,” Allison was saying.

I laughed. “My coffin has cleared up, now all I’ve got is a runny nose.”

With a wave and a smile, I headed off to try on the pieces. They fit. I kept the boots on for rehearsal. I studied my lines, I had conversations, but all of it from a place of detached analysis.

As the evening progressed, I began to feel more normal. It was very simple: I spent more time exploring than I’d thought. It’s easy to lose track of time when engaged in mysteriousness. Nothing more than that.

As for the sound from the basement and the various sightings of Dolly Lurker, I have a clear explanation now: because I am the only one who has seen these things, I think these are random hallucinations, phantoms conjured by my brain as it’s healing. Add to that a bout of ghostly childhood trauma, and it’s quite possible that this is nothing more than a subconscious gas bubble rumbling up from the bog of my past. It will burst, it will stink, it will make me gag, but the air will clear.

I felt so relieved; I kept thinking, It’s a good thing I haven’t mentioned this to anyone.

We ran what we’d staged in Act I, continuing up to just past Younger Than Springtime.

I was getting ready to leave at the end of the night, putting my phone in my back right pocket, when I found it.

A card, high quality stock, slightly larger than a business card. A Celtic pattern embossed around the edges. A message in exquisite penmanship, from a fountain pen, in deepest indigo:

Montclair Historical Society.
Monday, 3 pm.
Come alone.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Four — Part I

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 11, 2017 at 12:54 pm

(If you care about continuity, start here.)

Day Four: Friday, 21 July 2017 – Part I

Everything looks different in daylight.

A thought occurred to me today as I drove in to Woodminster: If Dolly Lurker could be all of those places outside the theatre, couldn’t Dolly Lurker also get inside the theatre? I decided I should check the perimeter for potential points of entry.

I arrived at 4:30, two and a half hours before rehearsal, and parked in the same spot, all bright hot sunshine burning away any lingering alarm. Looking at the slope in front of my car, I was surprised anyone could get up it easily, especially if they were waggling a baby doll as they walked. It’s near vertical in some spots.

I got down there and looked for footprints, signs that the earth had been disturbed as someone struggled up the slope. There was nothing I could see. Perhaps if I’d mastered the Tracking merit badge, but – alas – I chose Theatre over Scouting in 1989, and I’m pretty pleased with the results so far. (I had a choice at the time: spend my time in tents with boys my age, or spend my time in the dark with girls my age. Then get applause for what I was doing in the light. Cue dopamine flood, ignite validation and … commence addiction.)

I headed inside, enjoying the welcome buzz of varied activity that floats in the soundscape of any active theatre. I dropped my stuff in my dressing room and headed out to take pictures of anything of interest. The back gate – where I’d first seen Dolly lurk her doll at me – was fully locked, as secure as it was two days ago. The front gate, next to the box office, was open at that time, but staff and crew were in the area, and everyone is vigilant about intruders. I headed down the path through the redwoods to the lowest parking lot, then down the steps beyond.

Four terraced fountain pools grace the back of the theatre, with lovely stone steps leading up from a fountain plaza far below. Above the fountains is the back breezeway of the theatre, which is how most of us get from Stage Left to Stage Right, and vice-versa, unless we’ve got to get there quickly and the upstage crossover is our only option. Additional steps lead to the theatre itself, ending at solid steel double doors that look like they haven’t been opened in decades, one set on each side of the fountains.

Just for shits and giggles, I tried each set of doors. Locked, possibly rusted shut. So unless Dolly Lurker has magical door-opening abilities, Dolly Lurker isn’t getting in that way.

Another set of steps leads up away from the main steps, toward the left side of the theatre. I followed these and found myself outside the men’s dressing room, beneath the terrace from which I’d seen the mask among the branches on Day One. Another door in that wall – where does it go? The basement? I’m craving a look at the original blueprints. And behind me as I faced that door, about 25 feet away: the location of the first sighting.

I headed toward it, very aware of the shade of the trees around me: my first two (potential) sightings of Dolly Lurker were during daylight, in heavy shade. Within seconds I saw that I’d made an error: there was no thicket. There was a chain link fence blocking access to a small square patch of ground, and several tree branches and trunks right around and behind it. So what I’d taken for a thicket was an illusion created by the branches through which I’d made the sighting, the light at the time of day, and perhaps the chain link fence itself. Which now makes me doubt everything I’ve seen.

Along with that doubt, new questions are presented: 1) What is this chain link fence protecting? 2) Looking back at the building, how did Dolly Lurker get the baby doll to the window – a stick? A ladder? It’s too far for me, even on tip-toe, and I’m six feet tall.

I was pondering this when I heard voices nearby. I glanced around, but they were muffled. Following my ears, I came to that single steel door in that wall. The voices were coming from behind it. This is what I heard:

A) … it’s too risky. Why would you want him to know about that?

B) What it is, is too late. If you didn’t want anyone to know, you never should have left a trail of breadcrumbs.

A) You’re as much to blame as I am – it was your bread.

B) You never said what it was for –

“Edward!?”

I jumped, certain I’d been caught eavesdropping. But the call was echoing from the amphitheatre itself. Maybe someone was looking for me on the stage? The conversation behind the door had stopped, so before whoever was in there could open it and maybe look outside for me, I headed back down to the steps and around to the stage door on the other side of the building.

Something felt odd when I reached the stage door. The theatre felt deserted. There was no hammering, no music, no conversation. I paused in the doorway, saying, “Hello?”

No response came, and I stepped inside. I had the distinct feeling I was being watched. The office was empty. Knocking on the door to the ladies’ dressing room / costume shop, I peeked inside. Allison was not there. The clang of a dropped tool echoed from the region of the shop followed by what I could swear was Judy saying what sounded like, “It should never have happened in the first place!” I headed in that direction.

Distance and architecture can change things. Acoustics are mysterious. When I got to the shop, it, too, was empty. I walked onto the stage and looked out at the house. Empty. I headed back into the stage left loading bay between the shop and the stage, listening.

A groan. From the men’s dressing room. Low, but getting louder. Goosebumps flared up the back of my legs to my neck – until I recognized the sound. Old, groaning water pipes. The men’s restroom, in the men’s dressing room. I looked inside – I might have even used the facilities, briefly. By the time I was washing my hands, I’d accepted the notion that everyone was on break at once. I decided to head to Peet’s.

Grabbing my keys, I headed through the stage left loading bay. Before I could set foot on the stage, I heard it.

Echoing, distant, “Ma-MA … Ma-MA …”

She’s inside. She killed everyone.

Fight-or-flight. I couldn’t move.

Silence.

Where the hell did it come from?

Curiosity overcame fear.

I looked in the shop. Still empty. Standing outside it, I surveyed my surroundings. To my right, the door to the men’s dressing room, the door to the Production Office. Around a corner beyond that, technical and prop storage closets. The door to the breezeway over there, too. Ahead of me, the door of the stage left loading bay. To my left, a dark and cluttered storage closet, the door standing open. Behind me, the shop.

Of all of these, the only one I’ve never looked in is the storage closet to my left. It’s always been there, the door standing open, full of random, dusty stuff.

Turning on the flashlight on my phone, I headed in. A couple mannequins, a bunch of boxes with labels like, GARLANDS and BANNERS. I turned to my right.

A flight of dusty steps lead down to an open steel door, inky darkness beyond. And from that darkness, echoing,

“Ma-MA … Ma-MA …”

Woodminster: South Pacific

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Theatre, Writing on August 8, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Day One: Tuesday, 18 July 2017*

I wish I could tell you about Woodminster Amphitheatre. The way it actually is. The sparkling bay. The infinite specks of light after sundown. Redwood and Eucalyptus swaying gracefully toward the east, as if gesturing actors to springboard to New York. The mountainside upon which clouds are torn apart each night by our sets and lights, whirling around actors to embrace us in surprise ambiance, lovely beyond description. I wish I could tell you about the sweating tech rehearsals, the full moon shining over a full house, and the waiting. The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting.

But whenever I start to talk about Woodminster, people intervene. I try to tell somebody what the blistering afternoon heat is like, and the first thing I know I’m telling them about the first time I auditioned at Woodminster and Harriet Schlader took me back out onstage before I could leave, insisting that they sing me for a role that matched my type. “Would you sing him for the Pirate King, for the love of Pete?!”

Or somebody asks me, “What is playing a 2,000-seat amphitheatre really like?” And before I can describe the tidal wave of terror that fuels my every entrance, I’m rambling on about Rod Voltaire Edora, man of ten thousand talents, who willingly designs and sometimes – as in the case of Honey Bun in this production – applies specialized makeup for me. May his success ever increase.

I love working at Woodminster. It’s a temple to the arts in the middle of a redwood forest. It was built by the WPA. It has a bomb shelter underneath it that is sealed off because, I surmise, cleaning it out would be prohibitively expensive for the city of Oakland. All of these things conspire to make me love the place itself.

The people are generally splendid and specifically delightful; I believe this is because the powers that be recognize that hiring talented people who are also easy to work with leads to an overall positive experience for all involved. When the cast is having a good time together, the show works that much better.

We’re rehearsing South Pacific. I’m playing Luther Billis. My call today was 5:35, and the first order of business today was to learn my music with Daniel Thomas, who was also music director on my first two shows at Woodminster: The Producers (2015) and Shrek (2016). Daniel works fast, he’s efficient and succinct. I have a total of about ten sung lines in the show. And I’ve played this part before (The Willows Theatre, 2003). So it took all of five minutes to nail down and record my material. After that I was free to wander the theatre until rehearsal with the full cast.

I chatted for a while with Chris Vettel and Amanda Johnson (Emile De Becque and Nellie Forbush, respectively), until we were given an official hour’s break between 6:00 and 7:00. They headed off on individual errands, and I went up to the roof of the theatre.

There are picnic tables all over the top of Woodminster. You can reserve them for a picnic before the show. During rehearsal, they’re a great area to go run lines, work dance steps, or fart. There’s a whole unspoken theatrical etiquette around farting. As a gentleman, I prefer releasing flati away from the sensitive palates of my fellow thespians. Where better than a deserted theatrical rooftop?

Smuggling what felt like an angry octopus in my intestines, I made my way to the roof from the stage left stairs. An array of symmetrically-placed rat shit dotted a two-foot radius around trash cans near the top of the stairs (thanks so much for your attention, City of Oakland.) The rooftop picnic terrace above the men’s dressing room, being farthest from the stage door and any sparse chatter I could hear, became my immediate goal: a nice shady spot to study my lines. And fart.

From the distant corner of that terrace, you can lean over to look at the slope below: clad in dry, golden grass, it craves goats to crop it even as it tempts the gods of fire. Occasionally I see goats on these slopes, but not often enough, and never this far into the park. From this corner one could rappel the short distance to one of three or four exterior windows on the dressing room. Glancing around to make sure I wasn’t going to offend a napping soprano, I let fly the gaseous demon trapped in my bowels.

Oh, the glory! How she spread her wings and with what guttural joy she warbled! Like a wet latex umbrella being forced from the deepest recesses of a pipe organ. Hail Mary, full of Bass. Thus relieved, I turned to sit and study my lines.

As I did so, I caught a glimpse of something through the branches of a nearby pine. In a thicket about twenty-five yards away, a face: white, expressionless, with empty eyes. A mask? Leaning out over the edge, I pulled my glasses on. Whatever it was, if anything, had gone. The branches where it might have been were wiggling. Against the wind.

I wanted to go explore that spot, but was accosted upon my return to the stage by the charming Amanda Johnson, whose kindness and talent I hold in very high regard. I confess that, until documenting today, I was thereafter distracted by the necessities of staging.

We blocked Act One, until the middle of Scene 3, ending right after There Is Nothing Like A Dame. Men were released from rehearsal at 9:33, women were kept to work vocals.

I can’t stop thinking about that mask.

………

*Note: This entry and the next few are a direct homage to James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, upon which the musical South Pacific is based. If you read that novel — and you should — you will see that I have based the first few entries of this series on his first few chapters.

This was originally something I had intended to continue throughout, but as certain other elements of the story took over, I elected to abandon Michener in favor of Hightower. I hope it brings an uptic in urgency, in spite of any detriment to quality.

With apologies to the ghost of James A. Michener,

— Edward Hightower

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.

The Sound of Music: Act II, Scenes 5 – 7

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2014 at 9:16 pm

There’s a no cell phone / no tablet / no computer rule in the rehearsal space.

I broke it last night.

The reason for the rule is that it distances the cast and crew from one another; people spend all of their time buried in their devices. It’s certainly true: the cast of Spelling Bee at Berkeley Playhouse were all so connected that we didn’t necessarily connect as much as we could have. Who’s to say if we needed more in-person connection? It was a great production, one I am proud to list on my resume. But there were times backstage when, owing to my unpopularity in certain quarters of the world (home), I had no messages to respond to (or, more accurately, nobody was responding to my messages). As a result, I would accidentally begin one-sided conversations with the gentlemen in the dressing room, not realizing that they were hooked into their phones and wouldn’t be responding. This is something of which I was just as guilty when I would have some form of communication to which I could respond.

So the rule at Sierra Rep is one I fully embrace. I love it. And when I broke the rule last night, I was instantly chastised.

Here’s what happened: when I arrived, a question of trivia was raised that I could not immediately verify or refute, so I went to check Google right away, forgetting that there is no T-Mobile reception in Columbia, CA. So there it was: my phone couldn’t connect to the internet. But while I had it out, I wanted to look at the rehearsal schedule. For The Sound of Music.

“Hey, Edward? Could you put your phone away? Thanks.”

This from Scott Viets, Artistic Director of SRT and director of The Sound of Music. Utterly polite and professional.

“Oh! Of course, I apologize,” quoth I, turning the phone off and putting it away.

Boy did I feel like an assnugget. Haven’t felt that way in a while, and I’ll be honest: it stuck with me for a little bit. So I had to ask myself: why are you so stung by this? You knew the rule, you forgot, Scott was totally nice about it. What’s so special about you that you shouldn’t be reminded of the rule when it happens?

I couldn’t find an answer of any use, so I chalked it up to residual asshole on my part: the asshole who forgot the rule was still smarting from having been caught forgetting the rule. Ridiculous. Time to focus on the work. So I took my lines outside and started working on them.

Well, I started to take my lines outside. But as only those with regional reception can check their phones, everyone else is free to chat. So somewhere between the top of the stairs backstage and the stage door at the bottom of the stairs, I was shanghai’d into about ten conversations. By the time I made it outside, I had to pee. Then I was called to stage my portion of Act II, Sc. 6.

Gotta say: Act II, Sc. 6 is delicious for me. That is all.

After that was staged, I went outside and recorded my lines and blocking into my phone verbally, writing down what I’d missed as we staged it. After that, I went in to look for something and Drew asked if I’d like to run lines. So we ran his lines for a while, until he was called to stage something.

Which is when I went downstairs to find that Gretl’s dad had heard me say something about backpacking and had brought a map of the Carson-Iceberg/Emigrant & Mokelumne Wilderness Areas to show me where the best trailheads are.

He also told me where to get the map (Forest Service Office / Ranger Station), and where to find the Forest Service Office / Ranger Station (Greenley Road, Sonora).

Thus has my quest attained direction.

He even told me where there’s an awesome little cache in the woods, near a pond near a lake. That’s all I’m saying for now.

Something else splendid happened last night when I was sitting downstairs in the green room, but in order to tell you about it, I need to give a little backstory:

At the first read-through, I was sort of sitting across from Gretl. I made a joke about crocodiles. She just looked at me. Drew said to her, “You know what, I’m gonna give you a piece of advice: just don’t listen to anything he says. He’s very silly, and just about everything that comes out of his mouth is ridiculous.”

Now, that’s funny. And it might be true. But I’ve had someone tell a child actor that before, and the result was atrocious: when I played Guido in Nine, an actress said roughly the same thing to the kid playing Young Guido. So when he wouldn’t make eye contact with me AT ALL during the emotional climax / revelation of the show, I was trapped: this kid’s eyes were everywhere; floor, ceiling, wall, shoes, audience. I was trying to connect with a tiny Mad-Eye Moody, it wasn’t working, so I went to the director and asked him to talk to the kid. He said he would.

Next performance, nothing.

So before the performance after that I went to the kid and said, “Hey — did Ken talk to you?”

“About what?”

“Eye contact.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, you know how in the last scene I’m singing to you about how I need to go off on my own?”

“Yeah …”

“You know what would really help me, would be if you would just look me in the eyes when I sing that.”

“What? Why?”

“Because you’re staring all over the place and you’re supposed to be my younger self, and since I’m talking to you it would really help me, as an actor, if you would just look me in the eyes — nowhere but my eyes — when I’m singing to you. Can you do that?”

“I guess so …”

“It would help a lot.”

He kind of sidled away and I crossed my fingers, but at that night’s performance he was tracking international moth competitions. I went to the director and asked if he could talk to the kid again. Turns out he’d forgotten.

Still nothing in the performance after that, so I went back to the actress who’d originally told the little shit not to listen to me. I explained the situation, and she called him over and said, “Okay, you know what? When I said that about not listening to him, I meant if he was being silly. But when he’s asking you about acting stuff, it’s important.”

Right about then, the director walked in, with his checklist. At the bottom of the list I saw, as he came over to the kid, was the kid’s name. He took him aside and reinforced everything we’d been saying, and for that performance (the final performance), the little shit looked me in the eyes. I got what I needed (emotional connection), the waterworks started, it was incredibly moving. It was the best performance, by far, of the run.

Would have been nice if he’d talked to the kid, oh, I don’t know … weeks ago.

Back to the first readthrough for SOM: Drew told Gretl to ignore me, and I said, “Wait a minute, though: if I say the building’s on fire, or watch out for that open trap door, I’m not kidding.”

“Umm, no, in those cases you should pay attention,” he said.

But it was too late. At the second rehearsal, Gretl told Marta, “Don’t listen to anything he says, Uncle Max says he’s silly.

But last night, Gretl’s dad told me she’d made a three-mile hike with him, easy. So after we staged Sc. 6 and we were all leaving the stage, I said to her, “Hey, Ruby. I hear you hiked three miles recently. That’s awesome.”

She stopped, turning, about to step off the stage onto the single-step cube that we’re using as a convenient (if unsafe) stair. “What?” she said.

“I hear you went on a three-mile hike. That’s awesome. Well done,” I said.

She just looked at me, silent, then stepped down and went to her seat. I wrote it off.

Later, however, when I was in the green room talking with her dad and the kids were on break, she walked by and whacked me on the shoulder: a single pat, almost a smack, but it was a silent greeting, a hello, an acknowledgement. It said, you’re people, I get you, I trust you, hi. No eye contact, not a word spoken. Just a whack on the shoulder as she passed, looking for her snack.

The simplest and most meaningful gesture I’ve ever experienced in my life. Probably nothing to her.

In these times it was a powerful, unexpected, reassuring moment. I’m still trying to work out why.

All I know is, I’m delighted that I wasn’t buried in my phone, cut off from the world around me. The asshole who was upset at being reminded of a rule would never have noticed that gesture.

Good rule, Scott. Thank you.