“Thank you for missing me.” (Jamie)

Alan Rickman has died and we’ve lost a great actor.

The first time I saw him was as Jamie, the recently deceased cello player, alongside Juliet Stevenson in the 1991 film Truly, Madly, Deeply. It’s a romantic, fanciful film, which is not my regular go-to kind of thing. It might’ve been then, it’s not now. I have a vague recollection of someone telling me that I “have to see it” because it’s “so good.” This kind of thing was said often in those days.

This was shortly after I’d finished up college and my acting training, so I was surrounded by actors, theatre and film buffs, etc. We were the kids who watched movies only to analyze the scripts and each acting choice. We’d see a movie because of a well-respected, serious actor carrying it, like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. We’d pull plotlines apart, and when we saw things we didn’t agree with we’d decide if the actor, director, writer or possibly editor were to blame, which for a movie like the controversial Last Temptation of Christ, meant long, complicated conversations. We went to see Dead Poets Society not only because of its sweeping coming of age story but also because Robin Williams, known mostly for comedy, was doing a serious movie. “How does that work?” we wondered. We saw things like Unbearable Lightness of Being because of the layered story and subtle, detailed acting. (Our acting teacher said we should go. She said it was some of the finest acting we’d see that year, and that it was “the best sex [she’d] ever had.” But I digress…)

Whether or not I was initially thrilled to see this film or why I went is a moot point, because I recall getting hooked on the story early on and then being completely enthralled by the performances. Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson were incredible together. Their connection was so raw, so natural and true, I was astonished. I felt that the characters were so complete, and his (and her) work was so finely detailed, that together they nearly defined passion itself and that somehow I understood, from watching that movie, just what it was like to love someone.

Maybe I was young, naive, hopeful and looking for love myself. Maybe Anthony Minghella nailed it with his first major directing job, and that’s what I was supposed to receive. Either way, Rickman’s performance left a mark on me. He was immediately elevated in my mind to one of those great actors whose work I admire, and that performance ranks up there among memorable moments on screen and on stage I’ve had the pleasure to witness. Every time I saw him in anything else I always remembered, and often remarked, that the first time I saw him was in Truly, Madly, Deeply. If the person to whom I was expounding Rickman’s accomplishment wasn’t familiar with the movie, I felt  sorry for them. More often than not, it seemed, they hadn’t seen it or heard of it.

An article online this morning included clips of some of his best work, and thankfully they did include this movie. I knew I shouldn’t have watched it, especially first thing in the morning when I’m most vulnerable. Fortunately, only my dogs witnessed the running tears. Such a great scene.

While some mourn the passing of Severus Snape, I mourn the loss of an amazing talent. We were fortunate to have him.

Truly.

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.

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.”

Fame and Hot Lunch

Late last night we caught a showing of the classic movie Fame on some cable station. I’m a sucker for this movie because it all feels too real. I can’t recall exactly when I first saw this movie, but it couldn’t have been too much longer after it had come out – maybe I saw it at some second or third run movie house. It came out in 1980, the year I turned 13. I was only beginning to dabble in performing arts, but because the soundtrack to this film became so popular and so well known, by the time I was on stage and eventually studying theatre I couldn’t help but feel invigorated and inspired by the songs, themes and storylines. Virtually all of the 1980s were my high school and college years, so any coming of age movie from that decade has a place in my heart, I guess.

The kids in this movie hardly look like kids, of course, and  in the beginning section of the movie when they’re auditioning for the performing arts high school I was taken back to my auditioning for college acting programs  (something I look back at and wonder how I managed to do it the way I did – it was awful, I think.) But these kids are so naive and wide eyed and hungry, you can’t help but root for them.

Their first day of their freshman year they’re told things like “acting is the hardest profession in the world”.

My first day of freshman year at college, at the beginning of our first acting class, my teacher said, “you’re going in to a profession that doesn’t need you, doesn’t want and from which you’ll never make a living. You’ll likely do more acting in the next four years than you’ll do professionally the rest of your life. So if you’re not sure you want to do this, you should leave now.” Of course, no one moved. (There were a little over a dozen students in that class; two of us graduated.)

Montgomery says to Ralph: “All anyone ever promised you was seven classes a day and a hot lunch. The rest is up to you.

Right there, that’s truth. I was thinking what happened to these kids (in the movie)? Where did they end up? Might be an interesting sequel to find out, but  besides the fact that most sequels are disappointing, the destruction of dreams might be too depressing a topic.

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.

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!

How do you learn all those lines?

You know that age-old, silly question, “How do you learn all those lines?” After the way my day went, I realize it’s not a dumb question.

Today I spent 10 hours on a set, acting in a short a film. Or rather, part of it. We shoot for a couple more days. Acting in a film is a bit different than acting on stage, so I was conscious of not being too big, not projecting at a ridiculous level because I was miked, or because I knew the crew had to hear me. But what’s even more different is the creation of the character and the actual performance. Obviously with theatre, an actor spends weeks developing the relationships, refining the beats, and learning the lines. When I do a play it’s much more difficult for me to learn lines by rote. Rehearsals help me ingrain them in to the character and the movement. It’s a bit more organic, in a way.

In film you get more takes, but the stuff we shot today is done. I’ll never have to go back and do it again. And, sadly, I’ll never have the opportunity to do it again. Do it, perhaps, better. More fully. It’s in the hands of the editor.

And, as for the lines….well, we had a table read and discussion a few days ago, which was when I met my fell0w actor. That few hours the other night, and the quick blocking and few run thrus before shooting it several times, wasn’t a time to “learn” lines. I had to know them coming in. And, I did.

As long as I had no distractions…such as the dozen crew members, the lighting screens, the traffic going by or over head, the gaggles of school children heading to the park, and the way the other actor says a line that sparks a different thought. Or even, props. It seems that today there were a couple lines that stumbled me up. I could say them correctly 5 times in a row, and then change the wording, and then correctly a few times, and then change the wording. We shot the scene from at least five different angles. I said the same line (in rehearsal or filming) probably 35 times. 25 times correctly. Hopefully more when the camera was rolling than not.

By the end of the day I promised the director that for tomorrow’s shoot I’d be more consistent in my lines. He (thankfully) just laughed.

I think I’ll go look at my script.