Acting with my Whole Body

Last weekend I finished up my brief run of a holiday show, which was both exhausting and a lot of fun. It was at a history museum, with an historical story-line.  Audiences seemed to have a good time with its broad and quirky comedy, and there were plenty of opportunities for me to improv and ad-lib things, interacting with audience members.

Part of the setup of the show was that I’m a museum employee, not an actor and am sort of recruited in to playing some parts so I have to carry the script around (this huge binder weighing several pounds) and learn things quickly. Some people continue to think it’s true that I work there as opposed to being a hired actor. I’m not sure how.

One woman actually said to me after the show, “You should consider taking up acting!”
Ok, perhaps I will.

The play was under an hour but we would do three shows a night, each an hour apart. I spent most of the performance running up and down stairs, changing costumes, and grabbing props. Then after leading the audience out, and running around resetting props and costumes I would have maybe five minutes to sit, get a drink of water and then start all over, looking fresh and happy and hopefully free-of-sweat, for the next group.

I’d get home tired and sore.

I’m avoiding the “I’m getting too old for this….” remark.

This week I started rehearsals for my next play, and one night we spent the evening sitting on gym mats on the floor because there were no chairs available. I’ve never been much of floor sitter, but nowadays….boy was my back stiff when I crawled my way up. Then at last night’s rehearsal I was finding myself doing things like climbing over, through and twisting around metal hand railings up on a raised level, sliding down the short wall to the floor beneath (completely my idea, by the way) and then I found myself sore this morning.

I may not be getting too old, but boy am I out of shape. I’ll take credit though for throwing everything I’ve got in to my work. Ouch.


Working out Imaginative Muscles

How much fun am I having at rehearsals for my current holiday mini-project?

Enough so that on more than one occasion I’ve arrived to rehearsal exhausted, or in a bad mood, feeling like anything but being playful and energetic, not looking forward to all the smiling, laughing and running from floor to floor (I’ll explain) or ad-libbing with fellow actors or with the (pretending they’re there) audience members.

Yet some how I end up leaving rehearsal feeling like I’m heading home after happy hour, a little more relaxed and less stressed, even if perhaps a bit sweaty. I shouldn’t be surprised at this considering it’s written by Joseph Scrimshaw, a very funny and successful writer, performer and producer (as well as probably a few other things like animal trainer and contortionist) and I’ve been enjoying his work for years.

One of the many old, and previously used, "sets".

You see, this isn’t your ordinary show. For one thing it doesn’t take place in a theater, or even a bar or coffee shop. It takes place in an historic flour mill – an enormous, cavernous, dusty old place which has burned and exploded on more than one occasion, and which hasn’t been a mill for over 40 years. What’s more: the audience sits in an immense elevator moving from floor to floor, while the show (and most of the actors, and primarily me, playing numerous parts) travel by stairs or other elevators up and down, hoping to be ready by the time the narrator has successfully navigated the car-load of people to the next scene’s destination and the massive set of doors open like a gaping mouth to form a proscenium.

It goes something like this:

Floor 1 (character 1,) elevator to 4 (character 2,) stairs to 3 (character 2,) stairs to 2 (character 3,) elevator to 7 (character 4,) elevator to 2 (character 5,) elevator to 5 (character 5,) then a mad dash up back stairs to floor 8 (characters 2 and 5, (and which, by the way, is more than your typical three story trip) ) and finally a slow and calming elevator descent back to 1 (character 1) while chatting with the audience. 

The final step is to lead that audience out the exit with smiles and waves, and do it quickly because the next performance begins in mere minutes.

After a run through tonight I found my mind flowing and firing on all cylinders. I did this show last year, but had forgotten how much it helped me discover and exercise my imaginative muscles. And I’d forgotten how much fun it is to do.

Happy Holidays, indeed.

An Eventually Christmas: Holidays at the Mills performs December 2 – 11 at Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.

It’s 1989. Do you know where your art is?

This little news story, about which I say it’s ” little” because I feel I’ve seen little about it in most press, is disturbing to me. I caught this item yesterday at MPR. Search Google News for Smithsonian and Wojnarowicz if  you need to catch up.

Basically two congressmen, Boehner and Cantor, raised a ruckus and stirred up others, and the Smithsonian removed a controversial video from an exhibit. In fact, it seems, Boehner wants the entire “Hide/Seek” exhibit removed.

It’s all too reminiscent of the late 80s and early 90s, when figures like Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe and Karen Finley (along with her other three of the NEA 4) were raising hackles by conservative (read: narrow minded) politicians, calling for censorship and control.

David Wojnarowicz was raising his own hackles back then too with his own controversial works. Sadly he died from complications of AIDS in 1992, and isn’t here to defend himself. Floating around the internet, remind myself about him and his work, I learned he was only 37 when he died.

37 years old. That’s so young.

Wojnarowicz's Untitled (Buffalo)

Wojnarowicz's Untitled (Buffalo)

I remember seeing a large exhibit of his work at Illinois State a few years before his death. He spent several days, perhaps a week, on campus as a guest artist for students in the art department. I found his works exhilarating, challenging, daring, bold, scary…and many of them just plain brilliant. That exhibition has stuck with me for the past twenty years. I realized a number of things in that gallery, primarily that there are no boundaries to art as long as there’s a soul or a message or a story and a point of view. And Wojnarowicz’s work was full of layers, full of all those things.


I also remember meeting him and chatting briefly, really only long enough to tell him how amazing some of the pieces were. For as brash and out-there as his works were, he was a bit shy or perhaps reclusive. Granted, he’d probably been being inundated by students for hours when I ran in to him in the small lounge commonly known as vendoland (called so due to the numerous and myriad foods and drinks available by machines) and so he probably just wanted to be left alone. He was polite, but a bit reserved. He seemed to genuinely appreciate my blathering commentary.

The experience of art is subjective, and as an expression of our world (or one’s world) it should be thought-provoking, educational or even disturbing. Perhaps it’s only enjoyable and pleasant. In any case, a response.

But censorship has no place here. And it is not a small issue when a congressman of Boehner’s position, or frankly any politician, strong arms our cultural institutions in to pulling works of art. Whether it’s the national portrait gallery or the public arts in Bemidji, no where should the men and women who are elected to uphold our constitution forget our first amendment rights.

Thankfully numerous galleries around the country have apparently picked up the baton and are now showing it, including  CB1 in Los Angeles and the New Museum in New York.

I wonder if  the Walker will make a statement and join them here in the middle coast.

2010 Resolutions…or What I’ve told myself

Generally I haven’t been one to make resolutions for the past several years. I used to. I’d tell myself I was going to do any number of things, generally things of such ilk as maintaining better health, finding a better job or landing a gig at a certain place.

Resolutions don’t work for me. Eventually I quit smoking but it had nothing to do with the new year, and I know enough to realize that while timing may be important in landing a job, it too isn’t dependent on the turning of the calendar.

That said, I’ve realized I have silently made some resolutions, and might as well come out with them. In no particular order:

  1. See more movies at the theater. I saw two movies in the past month at the theater. That’s twice as many as I think I saw the previous year. I should catch up with the rest of the world.
  2. Get a Netflix account. This idea keeps coming up and I just never sign up, and while I know I wouldn’t use it constantly, I’d use it a lot. I could see all those movies I don’t see at the theater and know what people are talking about.
  3. Go to the art museums in my hometown. Minneapolis Institute of Art is a great museum, and I should take advantage of strolling through its galleries.
  4. See live music. I used to, occasionally, when I was….younger. But still, there’s a vibrant music scene in Minneapolis that I haven’t been catching.
  5. Take a class. I’ve been itching to take an audition or acting class. I think it would be refreshing, and give me a good jumpstart to finding new audition material, too.

I’m stopping there….otherwise this may become a list of where I fell short in 2010 by not meeting my resolutions.