Hunger Pangs

This post should’ve been up here days ago. Perhaps weeks.

After a long stretch of essentially back-to-back projects, followed immediately by some major personal life changes and experiences (read as: excitement) it is suddenly the end of the summer. Early Fall.

This is the time of year that makes us all remember school, right? The new and exciting next thing. Changes. Adventures. For me it’s always been a time to wonder what’s on the horizon, and what am I doing? What am I doing artistically, is usually the case. Well, mostly. But yes. That’s the question.

The answer is: nothing yet.danger_sign

I have ideas floating around in my head of projects to create. But…..

The world is not always conducive. Cooperative. There are other things at play, as well.

I don’t think of commercial work as an artistic outlet, but I enjoy the times when my schedule for a day is filled only with the words: “be an actor.” After a while (too long?) of not having  such auditions I had two in three days, with an actual artistic outlet TV show audition in the middle.

Then nothing.

The world is on a different biorhythm.

Being an Actor is Weird

Earlier this Fall I had a few auditions for a film. Theatre auditions can vary greatly in how they’re handled by the producer or director, but film auditions are a really mixed bag. Small rooms, large rooms, cameras or none, one-on-one interviews with the director or with a table full of writers, producers, P.A.s, someone’s grandfather, and a dog. I’d say these recent auditions fell somewhere in the middle—there were enough people there to show me they were serious about making this thing and they were all normal and polite enough to tell me I’d not regret working with them if they hired me.

I didn’t get the part.

That’s not why things can be weird. In fact, there was really nothing weird about this thing except that I was never told I didn’t get it. Generally speaking after a second or third audition an actor is typically notified (that is, at least when they’re representing themselves and not by an agent) and the last thing I was told was “You’ll be hearing from us by the weekend.”

That was over eight weeks ago.

The other day I came across something online that told me the name of the actor who got the part. He’s perfect for it, a much better a casting choice than I would’ve been (yes, I can manage some objectivity) and he’s a great actor. I can’t feel bad—they got the right guy. I’ve worked with him before and consider him a friend, so I had to send him a congratulatory and sarcastic note along the lines of “thanks for taking my part from me.”

Obviously it’s not the first part I haven’t got, wasn’t the last, and I don’t really fret about losing a role. That would be really self-destructive. It’s just the nature of the work. And that’s kind of the weird thing. Auditions are this ridiculous way of getting a job. You stand up in front of people to be judged, and frankly liked, and you have to have the right skills, the right talent, the right look. You could be too short, too young, too old, or even not look enough like someone else. Or too much. And even then, there’s this weird elusive thing about chemistry with another actor, usually a stranger.

As my friend said in his response DUDE! I’m sorry about taking your part. Isn’t acting weird? We do our thing and a bunch of other people get to decide if we work, where we work, when we work and what we work on.

He’s right. But of course, if that were the only thing it would be just like everything else. I mean, if I were a chemist and wanted to work for 3M it’s not like I could just show up one day and say, “Hey, I can do this. Where can I set up in the lab?” I’d still have to apply, interview and be chosen. But if we apply the rules of hiring actors to the process of hiring a chemist then the chemist also has to be the right gender, the right age, the right “type”, look like he could wear the right lab coat, and it would make a difference as to whether or not he showed up to the interview with a pocket protector.

Do chemists use pocket protectors? Probably. But I digress.

A couple days ago I had an audition for a commercial. I didn’t even have to speak, it was just walk and give the right attitude. There are no lines. You’d think just about anyone could do it. For that job I have a callback on Monday. Yes, there are callback auditions for that non-speaking ,5-seconds of film, job, because of the thirty guys they’ve seen they couldn’t just pick one.

My friend was right. Being an actor is weird. This isn’t news to me, but sometimes things happen that really bring it home.

I’m going to practice my attitude now.

Raining, Pouring

A month ago I had virtually nothing on my artistic schedule for this Fall, and very few opportunities on the books down the road.

In the past few weeks that has all changed:

      • I’m currently producing and directing short-story adaptations for a late-night show for Balance Theatre Project to perform in less than one month from now. I have a killer cast and a jigsaw of a rehearsal schedule that may also kill (me).
      • We had our first read-thru of the production, when we gathered in the attic playroom of a historic mansion
      • I got cast in and have already shot a mini-short film (is that a category?)
      • I had a fun audition for a new (to me) company and new (to me) director, where the talent and creds are high, and have snagged a call back for it to be done sometime in the next week or so
      • I had an audition for a feature-length film (a paid feature length indie film = a rarity) and have a callback in the next week or so
      • I was invited to audition for another show for another (new to me) company with a really cool script, and which also happens in the next week or so

Over a century ago, small children put on little plays in this space

Those bottom 3 items will likely all conflict and I may have to make some choices of my own. That is if the rain keeps falling.

A Not So Bad Audition

The other day I auditioned for some independent film, at an old warehouse or factory building in northeast. Northeast Minneapolis, that is. Or also known as Nordeast. After living here for 20+ years I’ve finally started to find my way around that part of the city, and I don’t get lost up there nearly as much as I once did. I’m not directionally challenged in most of the world, except for a small area of Minneapolis on the other side of the river.

It was sort of an audition. More like an audition/interview. There was no camera recording me, even though this was a film audition, and strangely, think I was the most calm and confident person in the tiny studio. The writer/director seemed nervous and not sure how to go about any of this. The other person (whose position wasn’t made clear to me) was more confident, and tried to act like she knew what she was doing, even though she clearly questioned herself.

Not unlike a set of red lips along a highway

All this was fine with me—I don’t mind when others are nervous. In fact, I often wish everyone else were nervous most of the time and not me.

What would life be like then? Perhaps discomforting.

But I digress. I didn’t end up getting it.

So what does all this have to do with this picture?

Nothing really.

Except that on this beautiful afternoon when I went on this audition and as I was walking back to my car I noticed how prominent the General Mills building was on the skyline in that part of the city. In some weird way it made me think of the Magikist sign off the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago, which is sadly no longer there. (The sign, I mean, not the expressway. Or Chicago.) And it didn’t remind of that because a set of big lips are like tall white mills but because it seems so brazen, so distinct against the back drop. You drive past it every day, see it all the time, and don’t really acknowledge its presence.

I stopped a moment at my car as I tossed my stuff in to the back seat and I thought, “Well, I don’t think I’m what they’re looking for, but it’s a lovely day and it wasn’t a bad audition and I’ve met some new people, so life’s not so bad. And hey—that’s kind of a cool view!”

So I took a picture.

General Mills. “Life’s not so bad.”

A Short One-Man Show

My most recent post here was about a big audition where I didn’t know what I was doing. Well, twenty-some years later [aka just last week] I had another one where it may have seemed I didn’t know what I was doing. Only because it was a bit risky, and completely untested, and it was one of the most fascinating, challenging and interesting auditions I may have ever had.

I’m a huge fan of Sandbox Theatre and have mentioned them here before—they do original works that are company created, and typically in a very avant garde or expressionistic manner. When I first spotted their audition notice I was immediately excited at the opportunity (though I didn’t know any of these details.) I’ve loved their work in the past and think it would be terrific to get involved with them in some way, so I quickly signed up.

When I was able to snag a time slot and got the details I shouldn’t have been surprised. For the general audition for their Fall show they provided a few lines of text and asked people to create a one- to three-minute piece inspired by and using that bit of script. That’s it. There were no rules although there was encouragement to make it physical and to include anything that shows off your skills (duh. it’s an audition) so that could mean, singing, dancing, juggling balls of fire, whatever.

I thought this was the craziest thing to ask of someone at an audition (!) but then quickly realized that, of course, it made perfect sense for this company and the way they work, and I was pumped and inspired to put something together. I’ve written stuff before, I’ve adapted materials before, I’ve done original pieces as an actor and director, and I knew I could handle this challenge!

And then my mind went blank.

For two weeks I couldn’t get started, I couldn’t find inspiration from the bit of text they sent. I don’t sing well enough to call myself a singer, and I’m no acrobat and I can juggle three tennis balls well enough to say I can juggle but don’t make me move or throw in a fourth or light them on fire or the act is done. What can I do? What can I do to stand out and be interesting?!

I thought for a bit that I wasn’t going to be able to do this.

Then I realized that even though I don’t do those other things, what I can do and have done, is tell a story. And I have the skills to shape a story and craft one from new and other-used materials. Great! And I quit thinking about trying to be interesting.

So….what’s the story?

I couldn’t find the story…until one day, one line of the piece caught my eye:

“I…opened the window and started throwing out those things most important in life”

I realized I once knew a man who had done just that. He had thrown away everything, walked away from his life and his family and his loved ones with hardly a blink, and only years later realized what he had done. I sat down and started writing. I just needed to get words down on paper and trust that the flow of thoughts would come, things would take shape and I knew that no matter what I wrote I’d probably change it in a later draft anyway. I knew the story I wanted to tell, it was just a case of finding how to tell it.

Over the course of about a week I wrote about ten or twelve drafts of this scene, each one clarifying the story a bit more. The more I worked it, the clearer it became to me and the more I could see this piece not only being a viable audition piece for this company, but also a part of something larger. Perhaps it could be the starting point for a project I’ve been trying to find a way to write for a few years now. Perhaps.

Then came the sudden realization that I actually had to perform this and I had no idea whether it was crap or brilliant. I suspected it lay somewhere in between, but who knows? I was the only who had read it, wrote it or thought about it at all. Finally, with little time left I ran it passed a friend to give it the smell test.

It smelled fresh.

Still, the moment of the audition itself was nerve wracking. To do an original piece, that I wrote myself, that had never really, fully been done out loud and full out before, and had been given no outside direction (other than a few performance tips during the smell testing) made me feel, to say the least, a bit unsure of myself.

There I was again. Standing in an empty rehearsal hall, feeling naked and vulnerable, in front of a row of strangers (although considerably younger this time) behind tables covered in notes and papers and I tried to think back to that big audition I wrote about last week, and I tried to think of my previous accomplishments that made me feel confident I could create an original piece, and I tried to imagine the bigger stakes audition my nephew was having a thousand miles away at the same time and how I wouldn’t want for him to question his confidence, and I took a deep breath and I forgot all of it and just owned my original, never-before-seen, work-in-progress, short one-man show.

I simply began the story.

And it kind of rocked.

What an exhilarating, and memorable, audition.

An Audition to Remember

This weekend one of my nephews will be auditioning for Julliard’s dance program. The kid just might be talented and skilled, enough to get accepted. Whether or not he wants to go there or elsewhere (and whether or not my brother can afford it for him) are beside the point. I’m proud of him for taking a leap (no dance pun intended) into going after what he wants. I’m not surprised really. He’s been dancing since he was a little kid, and he’s been fortunate to have supportive parents, quality teachers and lots of access to classes and troupes.

It’s made me think of my own foray into performing arts education, over twen……many years ago. I was not so fortunate with pre-college training or experience, and I hadn’t been acting since I was a four years old, and I had little guidance from my high school teachers (or elsewhere) as to how to go about it all. I just tried.

I recall with a shiver an audition I did for a big acting program. I remember my grandfather taking me to it. I don’t think he quite got what I was trying to do, but he was glad I was going to college. I was so nervous in the car, but I couldn’t tell him that. He had to find a way to fill several hours that afternoon, while I spent time in rehearsal halls and hallways that smelled of hard and serious work. He dropped me off, said good luck and he’d be back in three hours to pick me up. I looked around the street, on that sunny Spring day in that gorgeous city neighborhood and imagined myself living there for the next several years, maybe longer, learning how to be an actor and building my career.

I wandered in to the century old building, found my way to the check-in table and signed in. I sat there nervously, waiting. I saw the other kids around me, and wondered at how poised they seemed. We did various acting exercises and interactive games, and I marveled at how clever they all were. I was doing my best to appear confident and to fit in. But really, I had no idea what I was doing.

When it finally came time to perform the two, short monologues we were to have prepared I was very nervous but I gave it my all. I couldn’t possibly reveal now what ridiculously poor choices I had made in those pieces, but I’m grateful I didn’t know that at the time. I had them memorized. I knew what I was saying, even perhaps why, and I knew all the right words to emphasize! (Yikes.) I’m grateful too that the long row of auditors—about five or six, older men and women, with serious looks on their faces, and notes and resumes and papers strewn about on the tables in front of them, with just me in a big empty rehearsal space standing alone, feeling vulnerable and on the edge —I’m grateful they politely listened, and thanked me for my time.

“It didn’t go too bad,” I recall thinking as I walked out, mostly relieved that it was over.

I had decided what I wanted to do a year or two before. I loved the theatre, and enjoyed acting and I wanted to learn everything there was about it. My drive and energy and gumption were all there. The only thing I didn’t have was what I didn’t know was missing —a clue about how any of it really works, or how to audition.

Years later I’d find myself grateful again for those auditors who didn’t accept me in to that program. They had a good and respected school, but I ended up in one of the best programs in the country, learned many valuable things, and developed the skills and basis of who I am today as a theatre artist. I’m proud to have graduated from Illinois State University’s School of Theatre. (I had a high school teacher who inadvertently pointed me in the right direction.) One of the many things I’ve learned is you never stop learning, not when you work in the arts. Each project, each year, is another challenge which shapes us and defines us further.

So this weekend I’m sending out good vibes and positive thoughts to New York, where Joey’s going to do what he does best and give it his all. And no matter how they respond or how the other kids seem or how serious the faces of the auditors or where he ends up for the next four years, I’m confident that years from now he’s going to look back at this weekend and smile from the memory of his gumption.

Seeing Red Flags

Two of the audition notices to which I’ve responded in the past month have made me pause, surprised at the response because, in both cases, the interactions seemed rather unprofessional or at minimum inconsiderate. I don’t get why this happens, and I wonder if people realize what kind of impression they’re making. Or maybe I’m just being a pill, but these things are red flags to me.

First there was the request I submitted, along with my picture and resume, for an audition slot to a general audition. The notice that had been posted was clear on the time, requirements and contact info. I followed protocol. It took over a week for them to respond to my message. I had started to think that perhaps they hadn’t received it, or perhaps they reviewed the resumes before assigning auditions so that they’re only seeing people who could fit the season or are worth seeing for some reason. This would be odd, and unusual. I thought it was a possibility. But really…a week? I would figure if you post an audition notice, particularly for this kind of audition, you should expect to get inquiries quick and often. I contacted them the day after the notice was put out. It made me wonder how disorganized they might be, and how much of a mess the audition is going to be.

Then there are the people who don’t read messages.

I responded the other day to an ad for a shoe-string budget short film. There wasn’t much info about the piece in the audition notice. Because I’m going to start rehearsals for a play soon I was wondering if it was even practical for me to submit myself for this. So, I sent an email asking for an idea of what the storyline was and what kind of schedule and timeline the project might take. The email bounced back. I double-checked the ad and actually guessed at what I thought was a typo in the address, and forwarded my message to what I figured was correct, asking “Is there a typo in your ad?” They failed to read my question and replied simply saying that there was a typo and asked if I could send my resume.

I replied with my resume, and I restated my questions.

I got a single statement response, sent from someone’s iPhone: “Do you have a demo reel I can look at?”

So, let me get this straight: You put out an ad that doesn’t provide relevant information and has a critical typo? Then you fail to actually read the straight-forward two questions I posed to you about the project? Twice?

Why do I want work with you?

Turns out my schedule won’t allow it anyway.

So to sum up, a couple key things, in my opinion, to how to get along:

  • Be professional
  • Be responsive
  • Be considerate

Because really, if you seem like an unorganized mess, then you probably are. If you are an unorganized mess, you’re probably not paying attention to the details of what you’re doing. And if you’re not paying attention to the details of what you’re doing, it’s probably lousy. And then, I simply don’t want to be involved.

Yep. I’m a pill sometimes.