Looking over my shoulder

I probably shouldn’t compare years. It doesn’t seem fair. Some years are better than others for their own reasons, and one year can have great successes for me while others seem to have been nothing but wasted opportunities.

Odd numbered years seem to be important to me, more than even. This, of course, makes no sense either logically or in fact.

Good years = 1985, 1989, 1992, and 2009. (No, that’s not a 17 year dry stretch.) Bad years = 1985, 1999, 2008. See? No sense. But it’s generally how I feel.

2012 was a fine year.

So before moving on to the (odd) 2013 future, I’m pondering just a few highlights of the art in and around my life for the past year:

  • One day out of the blue I was contacted by a local theatre looking for other theatres and/or performers to produce a late night show during the run of their own play. My schedule allowed for it, or so I figured, and I was suddenly producing, adapting and directing a play, to go up in mere weeks. Four classic tales, unrelated and yet thematic, with a talented (and hard working!) ensemble were worked staged and presented. We called it And Things in the Walls and it came together beautifully. It was exhausting.
  • In the midst of that chaos, I squeezed in the best theatre experience once can have: Pillsbury House Theatre’s Chicago Avenue Project. Take a group of young, eager, energetic neighborhood kids, help them write their own plays, and bring in directors and actors and produce it for their families, friends and neighbors to see. This is the third time I’ve directed for this program, and it warms the inside of my sometimes jaded heart. We should never lose the playful imagination we used so easily when we were 8 years old. I think those kids teach us more than we teach them.
  • It was great to spend time as a real hired actor on multiple occasions and projects this year, but one stood out. Last spring I shot an anti-bullying video where I played a guy getting more than picked on at his work place. The piece was used by a national anti-bullying project, about which CNN did a story that included the video. My Facebook feed lit up and I had a voice message asking if I realized I was on the home page of CNN. (I later learned portions of it were aired as part of their broadcast story too.) It was a powerful video that garnered many, many comments for months from everyone I knew. At first I was just glad to get a gig, shooting a little video for a day. But it’s nice when art (acting) and work (paid gig!) combine to make an impact. It’s on YouTube, but you can see it on their site here.
  • I’m always taking pictures.
    ocean

    Crashing waves in Puerto Vallarta

    In 2012 both my cameras were stolen, although thankfully one was returned. And when I upgraded my cell phone to to the latest and greatest, the camera was a serious downgrade. (Thank goodness for Instagram, huh?) Still, I took this picture, one of my favorites, in one of my favorite places.

  • As always, I saw a lot of theatre. Some good, some…not so good. The Fringe Festival is always a mixed bag, but this year’s crop gave me two great inspirations. Make that three if you count the stuff I really didn’t like and would never want to emulate. But it’s always great acting that makes me most excited, as I wrote about back in May in what was likely my favorite production I saw in 2012: Compleat Female Stage Beauty.
  • And when it comes to pop culture meets drama: I fell in love with Downton Abbey. Well written, impeccably performed, beautiful to look at and compelling story lines. I mean, come on! Maggie Smith alone...”What is a ‘week-end’? Indeed.

That’s what’s over my shoulder back there, where I also was able to line up two productions to fill what’s in front me, thus getting me through the winter and well into spring, working with companies and people new to my resume. Not bad, 2012!

So far it’s looking like a lucky ’13.

Working and Invisible

Should effort equal outcome? Sometimes I wonder about that. It’s not like I want anything easy, and really anything worth anything shouldn’t be easy. The harder we work, the more we value something. And if that’s the case, then October was a gold mine.

Ghostly shadows from “And Things in the Walls”

It all started with a mad dash to produce and direct a show. I went from having almost nothing on my plate to possibly too much, although truthfully when “the day-job is getting in the way” I am usually rather happy with the state of affairs at that moment. I gathered a talented cast, found a space, arranged for costumes, set pieces, rehearsed and ran from sun up to sun down and then some.

If you’ve read my creed or know me or have worked with me it would come as no surprise that I would never want to put out bad or weak or lackluster work. (Perhaps this blog aside.) I’d cancel a production (if possible) before showing crap. I guess plan B would be what a friend told me today—direct under a pseudonym.

“Me? No, that wasn’t me! I was out of town during that show. Never even heard of it. Was it really that bad?…..”

This, however, did not occur in October.

Despite the haphazard puzzle of rehearsals, working around five actors with busy schedules (not to mention my own conflicts,) hoping actors would memorize (much less embody) the dense and long material, somehow it all came together, and in the end was more than satisfying.

Here we were doing a show about…well, mostly madness, I’d say. In one portion of the show, an adaptation of “The Yellow Wallpaper”, we watch as a charming, smart woman slowly loses her marbles. I loved how the audience laughed, and then laughed a little less, and then watched in silence, fascinated by both the story and the actress’s delicate and detailed performance.

Nothing’s more satisfying as a director than sitting in the back of the theater and watching the audience watch the play.

Afterwards, one person told me, “You have a really good cast.”

“I know.”, I said.

“No. I mean your direction was good, but…..you have a really good cast.”

Didn’t see all my direction? All my adaptation? That’s ok. I wanted you to listen to and experience the stories, well told. If I’m invisible as the director then that’s fine by me.

A lot of work went in to perhaps too few performances, but that’s the nature of the form, and all that work was worth it.

Excited, and Perhaps Anxious.

I shouldn’t be writing this. I should be doing other things but I can’t really focus right now because I have a show opening tonight. Typically when I’m acting in a show I take that day off from the day-job as part of a recovery from tech/dress/preview kind of thing, but also because I know my mind can’t focus on anything else for too long.

This time I’m not acting, but I am producer and director so it’s almost all I’ve breathed for the past month or so. Now it’s virtually out of my hands. I have to trust that the actors and board op will do what I know they can and plan to do. I can only sit back.

It’s been a crazy busy month. (Technically I opened and closed a whole other show I directed earlier this week–another experience that deserves some bit of write up here.) Twice in the past couple weeks I’ve had conversations with people (who don’t work in theatre) about theatre and what I am or have been working on, etc. etc. Both times the person made comments regarding how excited and fulfilling for me it sounded, made some remark such as they “could see something in [my] eyes when I talked about this stuff.”

I love the work I do, feel lucky to get to do it, and find it satisfying.

Between the projects and the day-job, I’ve probably been working about 70 hours/week for the past several weeks. I should be exhausted. (And truly, I think I am.) But I’m energized. Elated. Ready for things. My mind is engaged and I’m thinking on my feet, making decisions and choices more easily and with more certainty.

Side story example: At the day-job yesterday I discovered I was expected to present some materials during a staff-wide meeting, and the meeting had already started and my presentation was in less than five minutes.Yes, I panicked. And then I quickly gathered the info I needed, made quick decisions about what to say and how to say it…and then presented. I don’t think I said more than one “uh” in the whole thing — which I say all the time anyway. And I’m certain no one who wasn’t already in the know about my last minute prep could tell anything was amiss.

But still, today is different. It’s the day people are going to pay money to see the work we’ve done. I’m not nervous, just excited. Perhaps anxious. It’s hard to let go, to stop thinking about the show and how to improve it and what’s working and not working and what if this or that or I wonder…….

My mind’s on overdrive, but I might sleep well tonight.

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.

Suddenly, A Show

Monday morning I had an email inviting me to mount a late-night show for a couple nights in late October, with a ghost-story like theme to coincide with another production.

It’s not like I usually have a play in my back pocket, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice, but in this case – I sort of did. Years ago I had co-created a show with the the person who approached me about this, and he suggested that the ghostly tales of our 4 Stories production would be a good fit. I had to decide quickly.

1998, 4 Stories by Upstart Theatre. Photo by P. Losacker.

That same day some one else, in a completely different context, quoted a saying about being more disappointed by the things you didn’t do rather by those you did. Hmmm….

I stopped by the theater, looked at the space, considered and said, “OK. Count us in!”

Several days and numerous emails and phone calls later, and with a bit of re-curating, I’ve got a cast in place to create a slightly altered version of that 1998 production.

A week ago I had nothing….well, almost nothing….in this time-slot of my year. Now, I’m playing producer/director and scrambling. It was all a bit sudden, but some fates have to be working for me because I quickly secured some amazing talent to be on board.

Out of nowhere, suddenly I’ve got a show to put together.

When you least expect it….

I’ve been struggling with getting traction on a new project. Little inspiration. Little energy available for it. I generally feed off of creative inspiration. It gives me a drive. So lately things have felt disappointing and a bit depressive.

This morning as I opened my eyes, the sun was shining and my dog was snuggled up next to me, and suddenly an image came to me of how this project might look on stage (it seems it’s always visual first) and then how a story might be told.

I may have finally found some traction and  the structure for this new project.