Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Shirley Says, "Float"

Yesterday evening, Shirley MacLaine told me that when she first came to California, she was more interested in the fashions and the climate than in becoming a serious actress. I didn't buy it. Surely someone doesn't make that many films, win that many awards and reach that level of fame without relentless struggle. She explained "The Law of Inverse Effort" to me. If you're at sea and you thrash around in a panic, you drown. If you relax and float, you survive. Then, she caught me off guard by asking me about my goals. I shyly talked a little about how I felt about acting and how I denied it to myself for years and only pursued it recently because I'm "beyond humiliation." She congratulated me and said it takes some people a lot longer to reach that point. The truth is, I still get self-conscious, embarrassed, mortified even, but I don't let it stop me from doing what I want to do. After all, life has thrown much worse things at me, with far less of a payoff. So I'll stretch myself, take risks, sing a little song, do a little dance, even wear a funny wig, and just maybe I'll help somebody think about things a little differently or forget their troubles for a while. If nothing else, maybe they'll feel better about themselves because they aren't signing the song, dancing the dance, wearing the wig, and I guess that's OK too. Let them take from it what they will, what they can, what they need. I'm just floating with the currents and feeling fine.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Why Haven't You Called?

I had fun. I thought you did too. Did I do something wrong? Was it something I said? Were you only pretending to like me? Did you want to see how far I would go? Was it just some kind of game to you? I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound like that. It’s just, I think we could have had something really special. We still can, if you’ll pick up the phone and call. OK, maybe it’s too soon. Maybe you’ll call in a couple of days. But why not now? I mean, if you want me, why do we have to play around like that? Don’t you want me? What’s wrong with me? If you let me know, I’ll fix it. I know I came on sort of strong, but I just wanted it so badly. I’ll take it at your pace, be whatever you want me to be. Or did you decide to go with someone younger? Better-looking? How can you be so shallow? If you give me a chance, you’ll see how happy I can make you. I know I’ll never hear from you again. You forgot all about me as soon as that other one walked in the room. Don’t think I didn’t notice. So that’s your type? Whatever. You’re all the same. No, I didn’t mean it. Maybe you don’t realize how much I care. Maybe I should call you, just to say thanks and wish you the best. What am I thinking? That would probably creep you out and I’d lose whatever chance I have. Do I have a chance? Why don’t you call? I don’t need you anyway. I’ll find someone else who wants me. Someone who'll give me something deeper and more meaningful than cheap thrills and good times. You’ll see. Are you going to call or not? (Yeah, the audition is fun, but the next day sucks!)

Monday, November 28, 2005

I Like Auditions!

An audition is just a compressed, accelerated little performance--a chance to connect with an audience (albeit a small, critical one), and maybe make someone laugh or even move them a little. If that doesn't work, hopefully I've learned something, or at least had a chance to hone my skills. So I've auditioned thrice in the past eight days, even though my current play has a few weeks left to run. A stitch in time, idle hands, yadda yadda. Each time, I've felt that same rush of adrenaline that comes from actually doing a show. Kim beamed with joy and told me I was amazing. Kelly laughed out loud at all the right places and thanked me profusely. Neither one of them gave me a role. (Talk's cheap, Kim and Kelly! Actions speak louder than words! Don't make me hurl more cliches at you!) Tonight I auditioned for a part I wasn't even sure I wanted in a production that sounded a little sketchy, but once I got started I gave it 100 percent. By the end I was in love with the character and the project, and I think the director felt pretty good about me. I certainly projected, emoted and took possession of the stage, which I think is what was called for--no subtle introspection here. People who know me as the quiet guy who spends the whole party standing in a corner nursing a beer and holding a plate full of those little quiches would not have recognized me. So I was feeling pretty good until the director asked me to dance -- just a couple of steps, she said. But then she added more, and more, and more.... No one told me I'd be dancing. I never said I could dance. And in the end, I'm not sure you could call what I did dancing. But I took a risk and did something entirely new and different and unexpected and had fun, and that's kind of what this acting thing is about.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

In My Head/In the Dark

"My, isn't the sewing coming along nicely?" (Why are they sewing an overcoat? They were never sewing an overcoat during rehearsals. Does the audience see that it's an overcoat? Does it matter? Whoops, I'm worrying about the audience; that's bad. Now I'm judging myself for worrying about the audience; that's worse. Get back in the moment, now! Back!) "Such nimble fingers." (Why did the lights just go out? Is this some kind of comment on my performance, like getting the hook? Maybe they decided to trim the scene and forgot to tell me? Why would they do that? Should I wait for them to go back on? What if they don't go back on?) "I've just been to the place where Tim will rest. I wish you all could have seen it." (I wish we could see something. Or at least be seen.) "We'll visit every Sunday." (Oh, great, here come the lights just in time for my unconvincing emotional breakdown.) "My little child!" (Is that... a cell phone? Yes, yes, it's a cell phone. In 1843!) I left the stage feeling like a complete fraud but, amazingly, another member of the cast congratulated me afterward for not missing a beat and audience members said (before I had a chance to prompt them!) they scene moved them to tears. I'm pretty sure Dickens deserved the credit for that, but since I was there and he wasn't, I took a share of it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Being Bob

Last night at 8 p.m. I stood on a dark stage, wondering if it was too late to slip away unnoticed. Surely someone else would remember my lines well enough to cover for my absence. All I knew was that the stage doors had magically sucked every bit of dialogue out of my head. But before I knew it, the lights went up, and the last note of the requiem (how appropriate) faded. I put on my derby, faced the audience and started talking. Words came out of my mouth as if they were my own, not some text I was struggling to remember. I don't know if I'll ever get used to that sensation or fully understand the phenomenon, but I'm sure glad for it. Once the play started rolling there was no more time to be nervous as I bounced around from Narrator to Cratchit to Schoolmaster to Fezziwig to Miner to Topper to Businessman and back again. (The rest of the cast plays multiple roles too, so as much activity as there is onstage there's even more off, with continual lightning-fast costume changes.) Topper is the most fun role for me, as he's all about having a good time. As Fezziwig I was nearly swallowed whole by the wig from hell, but I survived. But Bob Cratchit is the most challenging and the most rewarding part for me by far. Although the dialogue isn't extensive, he's called upon to show a wide range of emotions and create meaningful connections with several other characters. To be honest, it's not the role I wanted or expected. I had my eye on a couple larger-than-life characters who deliver important messages in grand, flowery language, not a simple, down-to-earth clerk, husband and father. Now of course I can't imagine not being Cratchit. I could write more, but it's time to get ready for tonight's show.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Passing Shadow

The Anaheim 2005 cast of Tales From the Shadow Zone has taken its final bows, and I've put away the bow tie and Ben Nye stage blood. It was definitely time to move on. Doing a Halloween show on Nov. 5 was pushing it, even if we did beat The Simpsons by 24 hours. But ending the show was bittersweet. As much as I look forward to new challenges and opportunities, I'll miss getting together with the rest of the cast next weekend—another little family formed and dissolved in a matter of weeks. But our paths may cross again soon. When I showed up at the theater last night, I met a guy from Pan who was there to work on another show, in which he'd just got the lead. Also last night, I learned that in Hollywood even the homeless have notes. A street person came in from the cold (he must have been comped) and stayed to critique some of the actors, but not me. Either he was pleased with my performance or thought it unworthy of comment. IMHO, The Woods Beast didn't sizzle quite like last week, but The Girlz reached new heights of... something.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Take that, Martians!

Last night was a real hoot! As an actor I generally have to respect the fourth wall, which means I don't get to watch the audience reactions, other than peripherally. As a narrator, however, it was appropriate for me to tell the story directly to them, and to watch them, keenly and closely. It was fun to see them hang on my every word (OK, they were really H.G. Wells' words, but they were mine for an hour or so.) I think it really helped create a connection. But it was also nerve-wracking sitting up there the whole time, never retreating backstage or even upstage, and having to convey mood and emotion without making any huge gestures, running around, or knocking things or people about (which I'm sure is exactly what Stanislawski had in mind). And I couldn't get away with the mental trick of pretending the audience didn't exist. Fortunately I was far from alone up there, sharing the stage with five fine actors, one of whom is going to play Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and was also responsible for the bulk of last night's sound effects, in addition to a star turn as a survivalist.