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.

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Where the Art is

I just happened upon a blog entry that was in response to an opinion piece published recently in the Huffington Post. I guess this article had made the rounds of the social networks last week, and I, despite my plethora of wasted hours in the TwitterFace* universe, somehow missed it.

(* I doubt I just made up this word, but I like it.)

It seems Mr. Kaiser is of the opinion that there isn’t enough good art being produced these days, and longs for the time when creators like Merce Cunningham and Tennessee Williams were filling our theaters, studios and halls. He feels the fine arts haven’t kept up, and that the development of new and innovative works is only found in the newer mediums, tv, film, etc. He goes on to conclude:

But the institutional nature of our arts ecology, a relatively recent phenomenon, means that groups of people are now more responsible for arts making than the individual. Boards, managers and producing consortia are overly-involved.

As Chavisory points out, Mr. Kaiser’s point goes astray, from artist to arts organizations being the reason for shortcoming.

Mr. Kaiser’s points are valid, or at least his facts seems accurate. It often does seem that many a board member or arts manager, or financial manager even, are at the center of deciding what gets produced or how. Sometimes an institution takes a risk, but only when it can be balanced by something else that can pay the bills. Look at the season of any 6-, 7- or 8-figure budgeted theatre company and if you see something new, daring or possibly “not for everyone” it likely has a counterpart or two that will more than make up for the lack of warm seats.

But really, I’m with Chavisory on this one. I know there’s new and creative and edgy and real art being performed. I can name half a dozen things off the top of my head that are appearing on stages in Minneapolis this week, or dozens this year. All with the inventiveness to be a potential Williams or an Ailey. But if you’re spending your days at the Kennedy Center and living amongst that ilk, if you’re looking to commercial theaters for your inspiration….well, you’re not going to see it often enough. Mr. Kaiser ought to consider going to the out-of-the-way, shoe-string budgeted productions where the work is more about the work, the results, the art, the story, the connection to an audience….rather than balancing the budget.

It’s no surprise Mr. Kaiser doesn’t know of the art that’s out there.

And if he did, perhaps he could help re-develop that commercially viable, yet artistically veined, performance world for which he longs, and help any of the brilliant playwrights, directors or choreographers reach a larger audience.

Mr. Kaiser may be his own solution.

My Editing Challenge

The video is shot and the voice over recorded. I spent several hours today going over the materials and started piecing things together. It’s not going to be easy.

Not surprisingly there are too many ideas, too many details that I want in there. I find it hard to edit myself.

This isn’t new. I think I’ve always worked this way. Years ago, even twenty-some years ago, when I put together my first original piece I had a hard time eliminating parts. My cohorts on that project had to push me to edit, to simmer things down to the essential and important elements.

What moves this forward? What doesn’t?

And then years after that, still several years ago today, I had a number of struggles with my fellow-creators when we were producing original adaptations. I struggled with cutting things down. I did it though (and once did it very painfully) but I did it.

I think I can squeeze this thing together and make it work. Knowing what I know now I wish I’d shot some other specific footage, or perhaps gone about the process differently.

Still, I can make it work. It’s all in the magic of editing.

10 Things about 2010

  1. I completed my full-length play, which lives in limbo waiting for its knight on a white horse of a production.
  2. I work-shopped and staged a challenging script with a committed and fun group of actors. Ari Hoptman is the funniest man I know and almost made me piss my pants in rehearsal. fyi – The script was a drama.

    self-portrait, silhouette on rocks, north shore, fall 2010

  3. I jumped in to the fray of commercial and industrial work (again) and met and worked with awesome people.
  4. I dipped my toe in the pond of Twin Cities independent film, and had some of the most fun acting experiences I’ve had in a long time while shooting a film. I look forward to seeing the results this coming Spring.
  5. I started reading more blogs, finding new ways to write, just for kicks and exercise.
  6. I exercised my creativity while helping design our remodel and construction project, and I now have a comfortable, cozy home. (Side note: in 2011 I need to find that right piece of art to hang over the new fireplace.)
  7. I witnessed a number of spectacular productions, including Unspeakable Things at Sandbox (extremely creative,) The Homecoming at Gremlin (extremely polished acting and directing,) two Minnesota Fringe Festival production: Standing Long Jump (a beautiful new script) and Missing (a beautiful real, one-person show,) and saw some astonishing work in the Tony Award winning August: Osage County.
  8. I took part again in one of the best theatre experiences possible, with Chicago Avenue Project.
  9. I enjoyed my photography hobby, taking over a thousand pictures throughout the year and shared a few here.
  10. I failed to expand my horizons, having only completed 1 of the 5 items I listed on that 2010 Resolutions…or What I’ve told myself back in January. The only thing I accomplished was #2 which didn’t even get me out of the house. Maybe I’ll blame it on having spent so much time, energy and money on making the new house this year. Yeah, that’s it.
Happy New Year!

Rhyme or Reason

Auditioning is the bane of an actor’s existence. Or so many actors will tell you. It can be a humbling experience, where an actor can find himself doing odd things (possibly over and over, in different ways) all in the goal of being liked enough (essentially) to be cast, aka hired for a job that will likely last either hours, days or possibly months, and in few other professions does one have to put themselves out there for such personal judgement and dismissal, and certainly for so little financial reward.

I fondly recall auditioning for Best Buy’s “Idea Box” (something they had for a while – a blue box for customers to write and deposit suggestions) and I was up for the part of the mascot. (I’m not kidding.) A blue, foam box that didn’t even speak. I didn’t get it.

I also didn’t get the part a few weeks ago when the director paid no attention at all to me at the callback for a commercial.

I didn’t get the part a few months back on a film I really wanted. Then later they came back to me, offering me the other part in the film, playing against the guy who got “my” part. I ended up liking it better that way. So that time I didn’t get cast and I did get cast.

You act your little heart out and sometimes you’re hardly noticed. Sometimes you’re noticed and you still don’t get the job.

In most things, there is no rhyme or reason to casting.

Earlier this week I went to a callback for a play, and it was a very different experience. I guess first off, it’s a play and not a commercial. Sure, there’s that. (Of course, I was once called back for a play and wasn’t really noticed because they meant to call someone else. Perhaps I’ll tell that another time. I digress.) This time, not only was it a lot fun, and not only did I just play around a bit and try to have fun with it, but I didn’t feel like I had to lay myself bare to be loved or noticed.

First off when I arrived I noticed there were more than a few faces I’d have expected to see there, and this was a good thing. The lobby was overflowing with talent, and (strangely, or not) most of that talent I hadn’t actually worked with before. And a few of them I couldn’t wait to work with. This puts me in a good mood, as I feel I’m in good company.

Next, when I get a chance to go in and read a scene, there were three auditors and only a slight tinge of nervousness on my part, which lasted the briefest of moments. I’ve known those three faces for anywhere from about fifteen to twenty…some years. I’ve acted with all three. I’ve directed all three. I’ve produced alongside two of them with three different companies on many projects, and I’ve been directed by one of them on numerous productions.

If that tinge of nervousness didn’t immediately disappear I’d have a real problem.

So why was it there at all?

It was an audition. It was a test.

test (n): an event or situation that reveals the strength or quality of someone or something by putting them under strain

Failure is always a possibility.

Yes, that sounds negative, but I know enough to like to be real about it.

I’m looking forward to working with all that talent.

You wanted to call me back, right? or Thank you, Next.

This morning I was at a callback for a commercial. I was happy to have the callback because a) I could use the money and b) it was with a casting director who the last time I saw her I had a completely awful audition. (It was apparently so awful I didn’t even write about it. I just looked. Perhaps I was too embarrassed.)

So A – well, who couldn’t use some extra cash? I don’t audition for commercials for the art, that’s for sure.

And B – that bad audition was so bad I had to email the casting director the next morning to basically apologize. She thankfully responded and said “everyone has a bad day.”  I think I had two that day. So getting called back…and I think doing a good job, has made up some points. Plus, my agent likes me getting callbacks.

The unique thing about this audition though was the director, or who I assume to be the director. Rarely does the client (as represented by several people, in this case five or six) get introduced or named. This guy gave direction, so I’m saying he’s the director for the commercial. My part had no lines; it was all reaction, even though it was really the focus of the piece. The other actor was like a bag of wind, given a monologue and encouraged to ad lib and keep talking. The director gave him a lot of…a LOT of direction between each of the five or six takes. And by a lot I mean…practically line readings. Super annoying. Talk about your bag of hot air. He knew exactly what he wanted and why he didn’t cast himself in the part, I can’t fathom. I felt bad for the other actor, who was doing everything the guy asked.

And really to top the whole thing off: I swear he didn’t look at me once. And never gave me any kind of direction.

And I’m the one pretending to be picked up by a giant hand, carried across the room and dropped to the floor! Even as we were excused, and me and the other actor gave a sort of “Thank you. Have a good day…” etc., not a glance.

Well, thanks for calling me back.

As I headed back to the ol’ day job I was thinking….”Would I really want to spend a whole day on a set with this guy?”

Turns out I don’t think that’ll be a problem.

Bad news: I didn’t this gig. Oh, well. Good news: I don’t have deal with that dude. And, I redeemed myself for the casting director.

Slate it

The other day I had a commercial audition. It came a bit out of the blue. I had just reconnected with a local agent a few days before, and we chatted on the phone catching up. She’s a funny and very sweet woman who knows all the ins and outs of local commercial/film/industrial biz. As it were. Locally the “biz” here has dried up to a small pittance of what it used to be. I learned that I’ve moved into a different age bracket (I had no choice here, it happens naturally) and there are significantly fewer of “me” than there were a while back.

I haven’t been doing camera auditions for a while, so I felt a bit off my game. They’ve always been much more intimidating to me than a theatre audition for some reason —probably because I feel more in control when I’m on stage than when in front of a camera. Like the camera’s doing the work, not me. And in some ways that’s true. Plus I know it picks up the tiny things about nerves and thoughts and tensions so much more easily than a person sitting 20 feet away in the house. I can’t hide my nerves from a camera. I can’t hide my thoughts.

So I was a little anxious walking in to the casting office. The lobby was full of people, both adults and kids, and there was hardly a place to even sit. But then a great thing happened. The guy behind the desk remembered me the moment I walked in, and started telling me how he keeps seeing my face on this local theatre website. And then the assistant turns around from the copy machine when she heard the first guy saying who had just walked in the door, and she’s someone I’ve known for a long time, and she starts telling me (and the room) how she was just talking about me with so and so and blah blah blah….Suddenly my anxiety is gone. I’m having fun.

I was introduced to my new “family” and we were soon escorted in to the audition studio. The director is someone I’ve auditioned for many times in the past. She did a sort of double take, being surprised to see me, and said “Where the heck have you been?”

A few minutes of taped audition time later, all calm, comfortable and still energetic and interesting, and it was over. I think it went well.

Whether or not I’m right for it…who can say? I’m not too concerned. But I left feeling energized and elated. Walking in the door and being greeted that way was a huge relief.

And the fun capper:

Leaving the building, walking into the sunny downtown afternoon, I crossed paths with the actress who had just played my wife for two minutes. She stops me and asks, “What was that we just auditioned for?!” Turns out she looked at her calendar after the audition and realized she was supposed to have been there the next day, and now she didn’t know what to do.

I found this hilarious, but tried not to let on. I suggested she call her agent.

Boy. And here I thought I was off my game?