FIRST REHEARSAL- A Girl With Sun In Her Eyes

•May 25, 2011 • Leave a Comment

We’re about to start my absolutely favorite part of the entire rehearsal process- at least as an actor- the first rehearsal/ table read.

There’s always been something vaguely romantic to me about that first rehearsal- strangers meeting around a table, mug of freshly sharpened pencils in the middle, maybe some chocolate (hint hint), fresh binders, still warm script paper.

No one really knows what to say to each other. There’s a bit of sizing each other up. There’s always a few actors there who know each other really well.

I was never one of those.

I was the actor who sat in my chair, exciting to get started but mortified that these amazing people I was surrounded by would find me out- that I would be exposed as the completely self-conscious and border-line neurotic actor I was.

And then something magical happens. The actors start in on the script. The energy in the room starts to crackle. And as they get deeper and deeper into the page count- everything else melts away. Fear, anxiety, it all goes out the window. Everyone starts to find their rhythm.

And everyone is thankful. For the opportunity to be in a room full of people where judgment has no place- where you are free to create this amazing, wonderful world together.

And now I get to see that world from the other side of the table. I get to sit back and watch an amazing cast of giving, talented, fearless actors help to create the world I wrote about. The characters I put down on these bound pages get to spring to life. Get to walk. Get to love. Get to breathe.

Four weeks of rehearsal and “A Girl With Sun In Her Eyes” officially opens. And I could not be more excited.

Stay tuned.

http://www.pineboxtheater.org

Advertisements

Back at it

•May 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Time gets the best of everyone. I can;t believe it has been almost a year since I’ve done this. c-razy.

A ton has happened since my last post-

I starred in a hit play about suicide that ran for what seemed like 47 months with a great group of people at The Gift Theatre called Suicide Inc.

I got some interest from some people in LA and went out to audition for a few pilots.

Then I got smacked. Hard.

I flew out to LA to meet with producers and agents about a screenplay I had written filled with hope and promise and a small inclination I had finally made it.

Then I got smacked. Hard.

Then I got a very cool job hosting a “new, hip, edgy” morning news program. the people were great, the work was awesome, the pay was amazing.

Then I got smacked. Hard.

Then there was the script I wrote that was a finalist for the ONeill Playwrights Center!
Smacked. Hard.

THen that script garnered interest from a Steppenwolf Ensemble member who wanted to direct it!

Smacked. Hard.

Then, Late last year, I went to see a show a good friend of mine was in and sat next to Matt Miller. Matt’s a casting director, director, actor, writer, all around cool guy who I have known for about five years, ever since I started walking into a room getting taped on camera talking about the benefits of KY jelly, or Frosted Flakes, or Budweiser.

And Matt goes to see everything. I mean everything. SHows, readings, plays, movies. If a homeless man is reading from the side of a cereal box under a bridge, and its vaguely theatrical, Matt’s seen it.

And Matt had seen two readings of two plays I had written that were both destined to be produced.

Before I was smacked Hard. Twice.

So Matt asked me what I had going on- and I told him about all the smacks.

Matt gave me a hug. Cause he’s a big guy who’s not afraid to hug another man and cause, let’s face it, I had had my ass kicked way too much this past year.

Then I told him about all the half-finished scripts I had on the back burner.

I told him about this one script I had started after a mentor and friend of mine (Rick Snyder, Steppenwolf Ensemble member) had told me I should write something “about cops”. Rick knew I was frustrated with all the smacks, and challenged to write something “more commercial” without selling my soul.

And then I had this idea based on an experience I had right out of high school:

I remember the day I headed out to the local grocery store to steal banana boxes to pack up my meager belongings- books and books of plays, a couple pairs of jeans, Bob Dylan records to head off to college

I was driving down a little side street in my dad’s beat up van. The sun was bouncing off the windshield and I was squinting, trying to see.

Then it happened. A biker, no older than 8, flew out of nowhere right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and the van went up over an embankment into the opposite lane of traffic. By sheer luck, I missed the biker, missed the trees, and missed the oncoming car. The kid was gone and I was shaken to my core.

What would have happened if I hit that kid? How would my life had changed? Prison? where would I be now? Where would he be now? Would I have panicked and took off?

So what happens when your life, the life you know and love, is threatened by something- a mistake you make, a decision that goes the other way, a domino that falls the wrong direction?

What would you do to protect the life you have?

And so my story started with a family man out for a night with his friends at a strip club for a bachelor party. He goes outside and strikes up a conversation with a hooker (an undercover police officer). And that undercover police officer has now been missing for 6 hours.

And the first scene starts in the interrogation room. WIth two cops, former partners with a sordid history, interviewing this unassuming family man…

and we go from there.

and shit gets real. real fast.

And now here we are, a few months later. About to start rehearsals for “A Girl With Sun In Her Eyes”- written by me, directed by Matt Miller, produced by Pinebox Theatre, starring Vince Teninty, Audrey Francis, James Vincent Meredith (a Steppenwolf Ensemble member), Karen Aldridge, Sean Parris, and Lucy Sandy-

The play goes up June 30th. and suddenly, all those smacks are starting to hurt a little bit less.

these are good people. a phenomenal cast. and my first full length Chicago production.

So now seemed like as good a time as any to restart the old blog. Why not give an inside view to the rehearsal process? Why not invite people in to experience what this whole dance is like?

So that’s what I’m doing.

First meeting is this Saturday- stay tuned…. for real. I’m back. Smacks and all.

theatre actor, movie actor

•July 19, 2010 • 1 Comment

James Gammon died. Yep. Cancer. James Gammon. And most people don;t even know who he was. But to me, he was one of the most amazing actors I had seen. The work he did (mostly on stage, mostly in Sam Shepard plays) was just incredible.

I saw him do a play in San Francisco a long long time ago and was riveted. You want to talk about someone living in the moment, you want to talk about someone alive and feral and real? James Gammon.

I know he did some film work, and sort of was pegged into a few corners- the cowboy, the drunk. but man oh man, rent or netfilx “This So Called Disaster” or some of his tv work… and…wow.

wow.

and not many people know him
and yet the amount of people that know what Shia Lebeof had for breakfast is staggering. Staggering.

ANd James Gammon may make the “In memoriam” cut for the Oscars (he most certainly will for the Tony’s) but he’ll be somewhere in the middle…quickly, like a shot. And chances are, Brittany Murphy will get more of a tribute. And I’m not saying Brittany Murphy’s death wasn’t a tragedy, or that she wasn’t a good actor, but from a talent perspective- from someone that should be studied in film schools and revered for his professional life- it’s just no contest.

look him up. James Gammon. Most of his work is lost to us. Cause most of his work was in live theatre. On a stage. casting a spell on the audience before punching them in the gut.

But if there was ever an argument for trying to capture more of these kind of actors’ work on film, this is it. Dustin Hoffman’s turn in Death of a Salesman got the film treatment, other famous people had their theatre work captured for millions to see… isn’t it about time we start taking more of these amazing performances and preserving them? And I get the whole purpose of live theatre is that it is live and you have to be there to witness it but I have an old beat up vhs of Gary SInise and John Malkovich doing True West- it’s filmed as a play- I was 3 years old when they did it, so there’s no way I would have been in the audience…and that damn thing is the reason I’m an actor today.

And I don;t think I’m alone in saying that there is a market for this kind of thing. am i?

look-see and suicide

•July 15, 2010 • 2 Comments

So, the “look-see” is probably the worst possible phrase you can hear coming out of your agent’s mouth (other than, you know… fired…or dropped…or…kinda sucky”

See, normally, you get called info auditions and the night before (ideally) or an hour before (usually) you get sent a bunch of lines that you have to learn, along with costume suggestions, etc.

The “look-see” is exactly what it sounds like. No lines. No wardrobe suggestions, sometimes, no discernible part. The casting director just wants you to talk into a room so they can take a picture of you. Yep. That’s it. And this process can take anywhere from 5 minutes to two hours of waiting waiting waiting. All to go in. Stand on an x. Look at the camera, and plead with your eyes to “hire me”.

The look see. Yep. Imagine going in for a job interview- sitting in the lobby, and having the boss come out, look you over and say “thanks for coming in”

Yet gigs behind look sees can pay in the thousands of dollars. and so we line up. and we do it. over and over again.

I kinda wonder if it would be inappropriate to just tell the casting agency they already have 4,032 digital pictures of me taken last month, and if they used one of those, it would save us both an hour out of my day.

But I don’t. Because that would take a back bone.

And yet for every horrible experience we have to go through, I have to remember afew things
1) I’m not digging ditches. Or down in the mines scraping coal. I’m acting and need to stop being such a fucking baby

2) There are moments, like doing this show I’m doing now, Suicide, Inc. at the Gift Theatre, where the cast and crew come together and create something magical. And we sell out the entire run of the show. And people leave the theatre in tears and come up to us after the show and thank us and you leave feeling supremely lucky to be alive and human and able to create a magical bit of art that touches lives- no matter how long you get to do it, no matter how short your time may be. You get to go on a stage and create magic four times a week. And god damn if that doesnt make things worth it, I dont know what does.

The funny thing is, this show, Suicide Inc is, as you can guess from the title, a pretty dark play. And in the course of 85 minutes I have to go into some pretty dark places of my soul and desperation. It is probably without a doubt one of the most tasking roles I’ve had to play. And no matter how much I tell myself at the end of the show that what just happened was not real. That my brother hadn’t killed himself, that my life wasnt falling apart, that I wasn;t prepared to end it all myself, no matter how much I know when I shake people’s hands at the end of the show that it wasnt real, my body doesn’t know that. It still aches. It hurts. I’m shaking. I veer between ready to laugh and ready to weep for hours afterwards. I get home and want to hug my kids. and eat a pint of ice cream. and ribs.

This show tears me apart every night I do it. I get home Sunday after the matinee, and I fall into a deep sleep by 8 pm. every week.

ANd yet… and yet… I’m on stage with a cast of people that are right there with me.. acting and reacting. Its a different show every night. I think every actor has that experience of a scene partner who doesnt change. Ever. I could do the scene with a nut hanging out and they will do the same delivery every single night.

Not one of these actors does that. Its acting and reacting. Every night. Its thrilling. Absolutely thrilling and horribly frightening at the same time. As hard as this may be to understand, since we are all, after all pretending, it is the experiences where people are being truly and wholly honest that creates that magic. And I get that. Every night.

and then I eat ice cream. And wonder how in the hell I’ll be able to do it another night, and then thank god I get to do it another night, and another, and another. It is, for lack of a better term, a true gift.

puxatawney rollins

•July 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’m sure I’ve misspelled the above town and will hear from pack of outraged pennsylvanians at any moment, but calm down. If you want to go after anyway, try the quarterback rapist guy whose name I also can not spell.

I can’t believe it’s been over a year. And things have happened. Boy have they. I mean…whooooo boy. where do I start?

Finn’s one. Willa’s three. Amanda and I are doing great. I’ve had major interests in both plays and screenplays I have written, am currently acting in a hit show with the Gift Theatre company and awaiting the outcome of auditions for Transformers 3, Cheaters, and a slew of other projects.

I discovered great new music (Mumford and Sons in particular), still have unhealthy fixations on meat, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and possible some other m words,

and most of all, I really miss being able to keep a journal, and going back and reading where I was and what I was up to. So I’m going to be better about updating, Effective now-ish.

Two big thoughts today from the kids-
1) I went shopping for a new swimsuit for Willa, and really want to be able to find something that doesnt make her look like Jon Benet Ramsey, or Jon Bon Jovi. Or any Jon for that matter. Really? She’s 3. She needs a cheetah print bikini like I need a third nipple

2) Finn just humped one of Willa’s dolls, and then spit in its face. Not sure which Fraternity he’ll be rushing, but stay tuned.

more later. seriously. promise

punch it and condoms

•May 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

had an audition today for what is commonly called an “industrial” but what we in the “biz” call a soul crushing experiment in destroying any desire one might have to pursue a living in the arts.

Industrials are internal videos for companies-  such as the training videos employees are forced to watch before working at Mcdonalds, so they know not to have sex in the freezer or stick their hand in the french fry grease-  oh, you thought those people in the video were actual employees… no sir, I say thee no.  These are trained and professional actors, many of whom have attended top dramatic arts institutions and played various Shakespearean roles in theatres of varying degrees of size.  After all, do you think a normal person could stand at a register and take an order? Or slide a big mac down the chute?  No. Trained actors. That’s right.

Which is the problem with this whole gig.  Artsy actors, to make it interesting, decide to develop a subplot.  For instance, that kid that just spilled his soda on the floor?  While I teach you proper mopping techniques (including using the folding yellow sign that says “wet floor”) I’m deep in my own head, thinking about the time when my character, Tod the McDonals’s employee with one “d” slipped in a puddle of water in front of the pool and cracked his/my head open and suddenly became painfully aware of the inevitability of his/mine own death.

Deep. Shit.

This was an audition for a new vitamin developed with plant based something or others.  As soon as I walk into the room, the “client” stands up to meet me.

“Hi Josh. Do you know who Billy Mays is?”

“Yeah, I think he was on Charles in Charge”

“Ummm no”

“oh right, that’s Willie Ames.  Silly me”

“Billy Mays is the spokesperson for Oxy-Clean.”

“For what now?

“Oxy-clean.  He’s the man with the beard and the denim shirt”

“huh. I mean… huh?”

“He’s a great salesman.  One of the best. We want you to punch it like Billy mays does.”

“ok.”

So I start reading the script, all about how other multi vitamins suck and this multi vitamin makes your urine smell like lavendar and gives you the stamina of an under-utililized horse

“No, no….  can you give me more enthusiasm?  I want you to punch it. Can you punch it?”

Well, I can punch you, how would that be?

the things is, no matter how good of an actor I am, there is only so much enthusiasm you can possibly muster for multi-vitamins. and I just wasn’t feeling it.

Auditioning for these type of things makes you want to jump out a goddamn window.

This was followed by a trip to the drug store to pick up 187.3 things needed at home but since there are no targets or walmarts nearby, you are forced to go to CVS.  This particular CVS has a crazy person working the counter, and crazy in a fun “McMurphy” kind of way, not in an OJ kind of way.

She’s this African American woman with AMAZING reserves of energy… who may just have tourettes or something.

No matter what you are buying, she has this running commentary as she scans each item

(Imagine a very hyper full of energy voice) Oh, what do you got there? Yes sir yes sir, ok, chocolate milk, hmm mmm that’s good that’s nice milk does a body good you know so does chocolate.. what else? Tylenol, extra strength, yeah, no regular strength for you little red and yellow caps make the pain go away pain pain go away come again another day, or don’t uh-huh yeah, uh-huh.. what else? oh… altoids… make your breath smell good for a little kiss kiss smoochy smooch…

and it goes on and on.  Then you pay her and she names off each President from the bill
” Ok, you gave me Mr Jackson and Mr Lincoln.  I owe you 3 Mr Washington’s and a nickel (I assume she doesn’t know who is on the nickel)”

So there I am, in the check out line, and to just give full disclosure here, I was buying condoms.  yes. condoms.  and there she was. I saw her. Our eyes met.  There were three other cashiers, but I was frozen.  I was fourth in line and trying depsrately to do the math–  if he goes there and she goes there, will I get the crazy lady? And what will she say about the condoms.

And so, luck of the draw, I get her.  And she starts

“Oh toothpaste. With scope, 2 in 1 that’s good that’s nice. gatorade. TIger Brand! We love Tiger! TigerWoods! What does Tiger flavor taste like?”

and then we get to the box of Condoms. And she looks at them

And she looks at me.

And she scans them.

and I await the comment about my penis.

but nothing.

She just puts them in the bag.

Just plops them right in there.

and then, because she can’t help herself, she says

“good to have those, uh-huh”

and I wanted to kiss her.

but I didnt.

and I knew there was no way possible an actor could ever be any better of a CVS employee than this woman was. No one could replace her. No training video would be complete without her.

and I just took my three lincolns and a washington and walked out the door, into the night, with my box of condoms and my chocolate milk

behind the curtain

•May 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

it has been awhile, but a newborn will do that to you-  in fact, I often find that lack of sleep helps my auditions.. so, here’s hoping 🙂

Amanda and I went to the Big Shoulders Festival at ATC recently.  a play I wrote was being produced as part of the fest.  As we sat in the audience, waiting for the lights to come up, it made me a wee bit nostalgic.  Not for being on stage, but for the first few times I saw professional theater after college. It always seemed so foreign and magical and alive to me.

I moved to Chicago right out of school, from the tiny tiny town of Buckhannon, Wv.  I packed up my Saturn with as much crap as I could possibly fit and drove.  I had never seen 6 lane highways, or driven on 8 and 10 lane highways.  It was truly a crazy adventure for me.

And one of the first things I did when I landed in Chicago was go out one night to see “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by Mamet. I don’t know why I picked the show.   I want to say because it had “Chicago” in the title, but I’m pretty sure it was because it had the word “sex”.

This small small small company was doing the show in the beer garden of a local bar, right under the El tracks.  The actors had to keep pausing in the middle of a scene to let the train go by.  It was truly barebones and I absolutely loved it.  I was fascinated with the process of it all.  Geting money together, getting a venue, doing the marketing, rehearsing.  It all seemed so foreign from what I did in college- you know, audition, get cast, sleep with co-star, sleep, learn lines eventually, show up when I was supposed to.

This was a whole different level.  People had to be extremely motivated. They had to work their asses off and spend nights after work rehearsing.  They had to beg newspapers to review them.

Soon after this, I saved up my money and bought a ticket to see Sideman at Steppenwolf.  To me, being in college and seeing a grainy videotape of John Malkovich and Gary Sinise doing this show was all I needed to know that acting was going to be it for me.  So this was a watershed moment of sorts.

I walked into the theater and it was just enormous.  canaverous. huge. and somehow, slightly antiseptic.  In a way, I think I preferred the setting at the beer garden. But then I saw the actors get on stage and create this world.  Holy balls was it amazing.  Rick Snyder had the lead and I remember thinking about how much I could learn by just watching this guy do his thing.  HE was this character. He was living in each moment.  Scenes where he would sit in the background, you could always tell he was right there, creating, being.  wowee.  It was amazing.

I left the theater absolutely invigorated. But I left thinking there was no possible way I could ever do anything like this for a living.  It still seemed so foreign, so beyond my comprehension.  I was used to creating theatre with friends in a very safe setting.  I could not imagine auditioning for strangers.  Putting it all out there, hoping to get cast.

Soon after that, my company moved me to Boston and I walked about 6 miles one night on a really nice summer evening to the BCA to see a version of Henry V re-done as Tarantino would have done it.

It was in the black box space, a space where really tall actors had to bend down or risk racking their skulls on the lighting instruments.  and again, fascinated.  How did they create ths world?  After the show, I stuck around and, as  one of the actors was leaving, I told him “Great show”

“Thanks!” he said, really enthusiastically.  Which got me to the place I could then say, “So, I’m an actor.  Just moved here from chicago”

He looked at me really hard. Exhaled smoke, and said “Why?”

He then walked off. I dont know if he was asking me why in the world I would move from chicago to boston, or why in the world I would want to ever be an actor. Either way, I wasn’t really sure what my answer would be. To either question.

I happened to, one day, luck of the draw, see an audition announcement for a theatre company located near where I was living- Essayons Theatre.  I debated with myself for days about whether to apply.  I had a few headshots that had been taken on a two day trip to la, but no real resume. No real experience.  I remember showing up at the space and thinking I may have to leave, immediately.  I wasn’t sure I belonged there. I wasn;t sure what to expect.

I took the elevator down to this dark hallway, and saw a little sign made with construction paper that said “Actors, sign in here”

Ok, this was it. If I signed my name, I really had to be an actor I guess.  I’m not really good with lying.  I couldn;t sign it and not be an actor. I had to go through with it.

THere was one other guy waiting downstairs with me, and I asked him if he had heard of this theater company before. “Oh yeah” he said.

“Great. cool.  I just moved here from Chicago”

He looked at me hard.  “why?”

ANd then the director came out, shook my hand and said “Hey, thanks for coming, I really appreciate it”

Future directors take note.  He was glad I was there. He appreciated me coming. I knew there was no pay, long nights, little glory ahead, and so did he. But he came out into the hall, shook my hand, and said “Let’s go in and read”

And so I did. And I think I gave one of the worst auditions of my life.  This was not auditioning for my girlfriend in a play directed by her for a role I knew I could do in a sleep.  This was standing in a small room in front of two strangers reading a brand new play and trying like mad to create some semblance of truth.

And I got it.  Somehow, he saw beyond my nervousness and gave me a shot, and over the next 6 weeks, I finally had the curtain of “Professional theatre” pulled back for me to see.

there was no wizard.  there was no mystery.  There was only a group of people working their asses off for no pay, staying up until after midnight, working and re-working scenes, and trying to create something meaningful on stage.

I did a bunch of shows with Essayons, and feel like I grew tremendously as an actor if for no other reason, than that  I felt safe with them.  I felt like I could play, I could risk, I could fall on my face. Companies like Essayons and devanaughn (another theater were I felt like I did some of my best work) do what few companies manage to do successfully- lead by example, work like mad, inspire performers to explore and play, and make you grateful for pulling 12 hour nights for no pay.

And now, here I am, three years into doing this thing full time, actually making a living as an actor, sitting in a dark theatre at ATC, waiting to see another show I wrote being produced, and I can still be enraptured by it all.

Don;t get me wrong, every other day I question if I really want to keep doing this.  I question if I really want to go audition for another tv show where the director won’t even look up from his iphone.  I question how many deodorant and ky commercials I can really audition for.  I question standing on the stage in mostly empty theaters pouring my heart on to a stage while reviewers are too busy going to New York and reviewing shows there to actually give young theaters a decent amount of press, and I question if any of it actually really and truly matters, in the grand scheme of things.

And then I have a summer like two years ago, when I spent 10 weeks at the school at Steppenwolf and was transformed, or when I actually get to be directed by Rick Snyder, the performer I sat in the dark and admired 8 years ago on the Steppenwolf Stage. When I actually get to work with him, and get to know him,   or when I do shows that matter, and parts that inspire, and stand there every night as the lights start to dim and want them to come back up, only for a few more hours, so I can keep going-

or when I write a script and people read it and want to o it, want to bring it to life, and I get so see a different side of Oz, a different angle of the wizard.

almost 10 years after I graduated college, I feel like I’ve learned so much more about the business of acting, yes.  But more importantly, about the art of acting, about the group that you work with, the community you create, and, ultimately, the artistic home you make for yourself.  And whenever I get discouraged or go in for an audition where I am told to stand there and “look pretty” and I want to scream and throw things and jump out a window and tell ad guys in charge of deciding whether I get to put on deodorant and feed my family, I know I’m only one night at the theater away from erasing all those doubts again, feeling inspired again, feeling home.