Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Partial Credit

It's been nearly a month, and I'm doing pretty well in New York City. Sort of.

I'm acting. Sort of. And living in Manhattan. Sort of. I'm gainfully employed. Sort of. I might even be on the way to a book deal. Sort of.

I think we may see a pattern here.

Filming today was an experience. It was a student gig. Everybody looked, talked, and acted like students. Because they are students. It's been two years since I graduated, and it feels very strange to be a) among students, and b) not feel like I'm one of them. While the two guys holding boom mics were making fun of each other and the cameraman focused on me was getting tips from a professor, we could clearly hear the lines of the exact scene we were doing being delivered in the studio next door by a different set of actors, directed by a someone in the same class as our director.

"Why is that door open? Should somebody close that door?" Said one of the other camera students "I don't know if we need to tell somebody if there is a reason, because we can clearly hear the other actors in the--" he was cut off by one of the boom mic students putting down his boom, walking over and closing the door himself. "...oh." he said.

As for me, acting on camera was weird, but fun. It took a couple takes to settle into it. I'm used to projecting everything for an audience, performing. I had to be told to turn it all down a bit. The Camera and Microphone are much more sensitive and aware than a live audience. So I turned it down.

By the second of four planned takes. I recognized what I was doing. It had a name I liked to call it when I saw it in B movies. It was called Bad Acting.

So I made a subtle change, slowly bringing back the energy and intensity, but focusing it on detail and being rather than performing, if that makes sense. It was like drawing a straight line on a chalkboard instead of carving it into stone. I don't know how it came out, but it sure felt better, and my directing student seemed pleased.

Now for living in Manhattan. I'm subletting a one-bedroom in East Harlem. Regular rent is $1075, which thanks to a generous offer from a friend, I'm paying for a month and a half worth of living there. I might be paying a bit more in electric bills since I just today switched to an electricity provider that uses 100% renewable resources (mostly wind power in NY state)*, but it ends Oct 15th. Because it ends October 15th, I haven't really bothered to furnish the place.

The result is a very spare and slightly overheated one bedroom apartment consisting of a bookcase or three, a desk for my laptop, a card table and chairs, and a leaky twin size air mattress. Just today I picked up a slatted frame for the bed that had been tossed outside my apartment onto some trash bags. Before that, my mattress had been on the floor. Since the mattress has to be re-inflated every few hours, I'll find out soon whether the slats are actually more comfortable to sleep on than the floor.

Once the sublease ends, I have a few options: stay and become the official tenant for a year, try to negotiate a month-to-month lease, sign a lease elsewhere, or sublet/look for temporary housing elsewhere.

I do like being in Manhattan, on principle. But the neighborhood... well, this may be the city that doesn't sleep, but around here everything except for a fried chicken joint and a corner store seems to shut down at 8pm because of safety concerns. It's more safe than you'd guess from that. As a 6 foot tall guy who knows where he's going, I don't feel threatened, but there is a certain amount of bullet proof glass around. So far the only things that make me want to stay are volunteer opportunities (which I'm sure I can find elsewhere in town) and the fact that there's a Costco/Target/Best Buy shopping center about five blocks away. Honestly, I don't feel like saying I chose the New York  neighborhood I live in because of how easily I can get to Target.

So I'm looking for a new place. But looking for a new place means knowing how much you can afford. And right now, that's a little complicated.

Like I said, I've got a day job. Two, actually. Sort of. I've been hired as a private tutor, and the pay rate is phenomenal. I've also got a job as a mover. The pay is... less phenomenal. But it does come with tips, lets me see parts of the city I wouldn't ordinarily see, and might have the perk of free furniture from things people want to get rid of.

But I don't get paid for either job if I don't work. And I don't work if nobody calls in asking my bosses for movers or tutors. So far, in my time here, I've had one day of work moving. I have had zilch tutoring.

So, in theory, I could be living comfortably off in a nice place of my own in Williamsburg, or maybe even a small place in the village. But in practice... I have no realistic idea of what I can afford to rent, because I can't predict what my income is going to be.

So. Sort of acting, sort of living in Manhattan, sort of employed.

Oh yeah. Book deal in progress. Sort of.

I wrote a query letter (a letter to literary agents and publishers explaining your idea for a book you'd write) about a book about my travel. I shopped it around a bit asking for proofreading and tips on how to improve it, and through one channel or another, it came to the attention of someone at Harper Collins. She now wants to read my book proposal (a formal 15+ page document with the marketing details and sample chapters of said book). I doubt she'll get me a book deal herself, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. I'm hammering out the draft now, reading a book I pulled from the New York Public Library on how to write one of these things. It's taking a long time.

Maybe that's because I get distracted into doing things like blogging at 2:30am. When I really should be going to sleep on my air mattress and recovering from the cold I came down with last week.

I think I'll go do that now.

*New York State deregulated electricity providers about years ago, so you can choose your provider. Green Mountain Energy is one of those options, and if you're a New York City resident with a ConEdison electric bill, you can switch to these guys to use 100% renewable energy for about $5 more per month, depending on your electricity usage.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

First Audition

This week I had my first audition as an actor in New York City. It wasn't a big audition, just an unpaid student film project at NYU. They compensate you for your time with a DVD copy of your performance (useful for making a demo reel-- something you submit to professional film/TV jobs that want to see how you act on camera).

I don't have any real acting experience on camera. Aside from sword fighting with cucumbers as an extra on a Japanese movie in Pioneer Square and filming myself for an online reality show/documentary about studying abroad in India. Or the time some friends from high school got a shot of me and another guy in suits, standing still and staring at a wall two inches from our faces for about five seconds. Long story. My point is, if I want to act in movies or on TV (an open question), I'm going to need more on-camera credits. To get them, I needed to find auditions.

There are a lot of websites online that claim to help New York actors find auditions, so long as you pay them. Last Monday, I sent a few addresses off to established actors I know in town, to see which ones were legit and actually got them work.

In the meantime, I went to Craigslist.

Most of the "gigs" listed in Craigslist were things like "hiring women for foot fetish parties" or "Female Model Needed for Topless Beach Photo shoot $$$." But, after some searching, I found two that stood out. One was the student film, looking for two male actors who could play business executives aged 20-40. The other was a play staged by "The Unknown Artists" looking for a 20-something male, amusing, slightly geeky sidekick character. I sent off resumes and headshots to both, and had enthusiastic responses from both. The Unknown Artists gave me an early evening audition slot on Oct 5th, asking me to prepare a comic and a dramatic contemporary monologue, each less than two minutes. The NYU students asked me to come in the next day, Tuesday.

So, there I was, in a greenroom on NYU campus, trying to figure out my strategy for converting everything I know about stage craft to camera acting. I'd done a quick search online for tips and mostly found people screaming at each other on forums about whether stage was harder than film or way harder than film. Which was reassuring. My favorite bit was a quote someone claimed was from Al Pacino: "Acting on stage is like walking a high wire with no safety net. Acting for a camera is like walking a line drawn on the ground."

In walked the director. He greeted me, handed me two "sides" (snippits of a scene where I perform one character's part and another actor or line reader reads the other's), and gave me a few minutes. This is what's called a "cold reading." You perform something from a script that's been handed to you for the first time only a few minutes earlier. This kind of audition was my bread and butter, back in college.

After a few minutes, the director asked if I was ready, and I was led in into what was either a very small room or a large converted closet. Three other guys were sitting behind a folding table. They introduced themselves, smiled, shook my hand. I repeated all their names and promptly forgot them. I read the first side, took a little direction, re-read it differently, and then read the second one. I thought I'd done well. I knew it when they asked, in complete seriousness if I was a member of Actors Equity or the Screen Actors Guild, though neither was listed on my resume. They thanked me and said they'd be in touch within a day or two.

Two days later, Thursday, I was sat outside the Roasting Plant Coffee company with my friend Emily, another actor from the University of Chicago. She gave me a thorough breakdown of how be a professional actor in New York City. Headshot tips, where to find auditions, what books to read on monologue choices, classes and fake classes you should take (fake classes will probably come up in a later post), tips on finding an agent, possible shortcuts into the Actors Equity Association if you want it, the works. Then she sent me an email with all the details of what she'd just told me, the addresses of the best drama bookshops in town, and the places I'd most likely need to know for coming to auditions.

She had to run off to meet a friend, so I glanced at my email. There was a new message from the NYU guys. I got the part. Rehearsal starts Sunday. Filming with be next Wednesday, and then again on Oct 15th.

So I'm batting 1.000 for acting auditions in New York City. Maybe I should quit now, while I'm ahead.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

International City

I exited the subway at Grand Central station and nearly steamrolled a 5-foot-tall lady selling Mexican flags. 'Of course,' I realized. 'Mexican Independence Day.' People like this woman were all over midtown chanting 'Bandera, bandera!' and waving flags for sale. Men, women and children were sporting green national soccer jerseys and waving flags.

Two blocks later, I'd walked into a Turkish street fair. Baklava, cured meats, and photos of Cappadocia, Istanbul, and Ephesus everywhere. Turkish music on the loudspeakers.

Five minutes after that, I was buying computer parts from a man in a yarmulke, in a long line of men wearing yarmulkes, comparing notes on the exchange rate between the US Dollar and the Israeli Shekel. After making my purchase, the attendant noticed the Seattle billing zip code.

"What brings you to New York?"

"I just moved here, actually."

"Really? Welcome to New York! This city will chew you up and spit you out again."

I grinned. We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

Those of you who already know me can skip this paragraph. I've traveled a bit in my relatively short lifetime. And by a bit, I mean around 70 countries, spread across all of the continents on the planet. Most of those came during a 19-month journey I took after I graduated from college. Except for a brief stay acting in my native Seattle, that was what I had been doing immediately before moving to New York.

I came to this city because, among other reasons, it seems like the most natural place for a world traveler to settle for a bit. Everyone from everywhere comes to New York if they can, and they always they bring a little of their home with them. So you can walk three blocks and cross a Mexican parade, a Turkish Street fair, and then emerge on the other end right onto Broadway. The one all the other "Broadway"s are named after. I can see echoes of the world everywhere in this town. It's like noticing an author hiding Easter Egg references to past books in a later story. A bonus for those who know the other parts.

But while I'm enjoying the throwbacks to everywhere else, I'm still having fun with the classic New York moments. Walking back from my free* yoga class, my first ever, I came up Broadway and saw that I was behind two very very drunk guys, straight out of a frat party. They staggered across a street against a red light. One was slightly ahead of the other, and a taxi coming up at speed honked at him.

The first guy kept going, but the second guy stepped in front of the cab, turned unsteadily to face it, and stopped. The taxi skidded to a halt about half a foot from his legs. The man looked the driver in the eye, then very slowly and deliberately bent over and kissed the hood. Then he walked away.

Maybe you can find that somewhere else, but I've only ever seen it here.
*and by free we mean $2 mat rental. Plus donation. (Plus, in my case, $2 extra because the route between the studio and my subway stop is intersected by The Strand bookstore's $1 book racks outside). Check it out: Yoga to the People. I wanted something cheap to correct my posture and make me more flexible. I think I just might become a regular.

This post cross-posted to Joel's Travel blog, JTrek.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.5.9

Saturday, September 18, 2010

And We're Back.

I flew out of LaGuardia last Friday to go to Philadelphia, then to Seattle, where I was witness to a chunk of the following chain of events:

Monday (Labor Day): my 72-year-old father is T-boned by a man running a red light. The man was arguing with father-in-law at the time, possibly on his cell phone. We're not sure. What we are sure of is that due to the crash my father has a compound fracture in a vertebrae, and has also broken seven ribs, his sternum, his scapula, and one of his toes.

Friday: my father, is diagnosed with serious pulmonary embolism, and nearly dies. I buy a plane ticket to Seattle.

Saturday: I meet my father in the ICU, where he is on an IV and a mask hooked up to pure oxygen.

Monday: My father is moved from the ICU to the acute care floor.

Wednesday: My father is discharged from the hospital altogether. We drive him home.

Thursday: My father asks to be driven to his office so that he can drop off the coffee he's supposed to drop off every week, and then to the Ford, Nissan, and Toyota dealerships so that he can test drive replacements for his totaled car. We make it to the office and the Ford dealership, where he test drives a hybrid.

Friday: I fly back to New York City. My father buys the Ford hybrid.

All I can say is that I hope I'm that tough when I get to be his age. Thank you very much to all those who called and sent emails, Facebook and text messages. Even if I wasn't able to reply to everyone, we all appreciate it very much.

In the meantime, I'm back, and I'll have more stories from my adventures in the Big Apple soon!

Friday, September 10, 2010

In Memory, To Home

Ground Zero. Exactly what you'd expect to find on any self-respecting New York based blog this time of year.

There is a lot of talk in the streets these days. I see copies of the Koran read on the subway. I hear people say in thick accents "That's the grave of 3,000 people, I don't care about their rights." I see others rail against ignorance and the fact that there's already a mosque just four blocks away that's been there for years. Still others who "just feel uncomfortable about it." It's "tactless."

There's a big banner on the fire department near my place, basically on the other end of Manhattan. It says "WE WILL NEVER FORGET."

I wasn't sure what I was going to do to remember September 11th the first time I spent it in New York.

I still don't. And I won't for at least another year.

I'm going to be spending the first part of the day in the one other place that seems appropriate, aside from the Pentagon or that dusty field in Pennsylvania. I'm going to be on board a cross-country flight.

My father suffered a setback-- a pulmonary embolism and is back in the ICU. The clot has been treated and as done all the damage it will do. But it scared our family more than anything I think I've ever seen. I'm coming home to Seattle.

Thank you to all those who have called, sent emails, texts, and Facebook messages. Even if I don't reply to everyone, your support is very much appreciated.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Double-Takes and a Nasty Shock

Shifting in my suit, I looked at the painting. Then the title. Then the painting again. Then I tried the title one more time:

"Eurydice One: The Illusory Fall of The Bicycle Into The Sub-Atomic Parallel Worlds of Primary Color and Point of View- Part Three: The Abstract Narrative in Geome and Linead"

I tried the painting one more time. Nope. Too much genius for my puny mind. Especially after a free glass of good champagne on an empty stomach.

So I looked around at the rest of the event instead. It was a gallery opening of Adi Da Samraj's Orpheus and Linead, the first solo show of his in the city, featuring works never before released to the public. It was packed. People in varying shades of colors-on-black chatting to each other with plastic glasses in hand. Very few people seemed to be actually looking at the art, it was almost as crowded immediately outside the gallery as it was inside. I got the feeling that Samaraj's work wasn't necessarily the main thing on display.

I'd been to the neighborhood before, something I hadn't realized until arriving. It's called Chelsea. Family friends took me the last time I visited. It's a quiet, up-and-coming area on the west side full of art galleries. The galleries specialize in the kind of art that makes me feel about the same as I would reading a novel in Czech. I'm sure somebody out there thinks it's absolutely brilliant, and maybe if someone who spoke the language explained it to me, I would, too. Maybe.

Walking back from the gallery to the subway, I noticed a flyer taped to the side of a light pole. It explained, at length, that Columbia Pictures would be shooting scenes for an upcoming Hollywood movie, explaining the plot, the scene they'd be shooting, the famous actors involved, and finally that to this end, the street would be closed on this date for such and such time. It ended thanking the reader for their understanding and cooperation. Next to the thanks, in blue pen, was a reply from one such understanding and cooperative reader in all capital letters (censored here): "F--- YOU!". Do you heart NY? I sure do.

Seriously, this town has floored me over this last week. I've run into far more old friends than I expected to, and made more friends than I think I've made in a one-week period before. I've met people working at major publishing houses, a prominent professor of political science of NYU, several sketch comedy writers, my old producer from NBC, and a professional storyteller (an excellent candidate for Coolest Job Ever). I've been introduced to secret bars, and free outdoor opera screenings at Lincoln center, and one really awful B movie (let's see if anyone can place it by quote: "You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!").

And I keep running into things that make me do double-takes. Nothing quite as big as, say Calvin Trillin's favorite observation of life in Manhattan: "Did the midget in the red dress really just set his beard on fire?" But still, enough. Yesterday it was a posted sign in Chinatown offering a substantial cash reward for "an unmarked box of paper" last seen inside Excellent Chinese Bakery on Canal Street. I smell a spy novel brewing.

I'm making fantastic personal connections left and right. I arrived last Thursday. Shortly after being invited to parties for the next three consecutive nights, I decided I'd start hunting for jobs starting on Tuesday. Then, just by being social, I got a job offer on Monday. By Wednesday, I had another one for a substantially higher wage and better hours. Though it doesn't come with free furniture the way the first did. I might still be able to get a free bed from the first guy anyway.

But while everything else here is going a lot better and more quickly than planned, there was... well, just a couple hours before I was about to be surprised with my first job offer, I got a call. It was from my sister. She said my father had been in a car accident.

When I was growing up, my father had a nasty habit of breaking bones, usually via bicycle accident. It'd happen every year and a half or so. He often marks the passage of time by remembering if we did something after he broke his leg but before he broke his wrist, etc. The most spectacular was when he was biking 300 miles from Seattle to my grandparent's place and took a little unscheduled flight over a guard rail. Seven ribs and his scapula broken that time. It wasn't many years after that that my mother finally forced him to give up biking and take up rowing.

So when my sister told me that our 72-year-old father had been T-boned by a guy who'd run a red light and was in the ICU with six broken ribs and a broken sternum, my first thought was "oh great, not again."

I didn't find out about the broken vertebrae and toe until later. No spinal damage. But a day later, a small part of his lung had collapsed, apparently from his not moving around enough during recovery, which weirdly, I'm told, is sort of a good sign. They keep saying they'll discharge him tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow they will.

It messes with your head, having so many good things happening here while your dad is in the hospital with a quarter of his ribcage broken.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Prologue: I Hit the Ground Stumbling

I arrived the way I've arrived to a lot of places: with my 55-liter backpack, on a bus, looking out the window for clues.

What I saw was bumper-to-bumper traffic, most of it made up of New Jersey license plates. If they'd started on foot from where we were about twenty minutes (or roughly five feet) from the Lincoln Tunnel, I'm pretty sure my twin seven-month old nieces would have beaten us to Penn Station. And last I heard only one of them knows how to crawl, let alone walk.

We did make it, eventually, while watching pedestrians pass us by, dodging droplets from the air conditioners hanging out of the concrete walls and windows. I pulled my backpack out of the pile of bags tossed on the ground, wincing as the side with my external hard drive hit the sidewalk. I'd packed it to take that kind of abuse, but it didn't make me feel much better. I also had a small roller bag, designed for airplane aisles. Not much for most people, but to me, it was if I was walking along with an elephant-sized steamer trunk.

Half an hour later, I was at Union Square, eating the first food I'd had in about ten hours- A subway sandwich that I think gets me the most calories for my dollar. I had my back (and pack) up against a tree, out of habit, and my suitcase just to my right. I prefer to see anyone approaching my stuff.

In the crowd, I noticed a girl. Let's just say she was the kind of girl who a guy my age would notice. And she was looking at me as she walked by. She walked close, to my left side about four feet away, then turned and asked.

"Sorry, do you know where the PATH train is?"

I'd heard of it. But it was my first day in New York City. I told her so, then pulled out my phone, offering to find out. She got flustered, muttered to herself about where the intersection was. I pointed out that we were already standing on that intersection. She mumbled some more, briskly thanked me, and called out "Welcome to New York!"

It was her manner and abrupt departure that sent a signal I knew well. I walked a few steps, then casually checked my pockets and all the outside pockets of my suitcase. Everything present and accounted for. I hadn't even noticed that she'd waited until she was on my left to talk to me, forcing me to turn my back on my suitcase. I must be getting rusty.

So that's how my first welcome to my new hometown came from someone I'm fairly certain was a con artist.

I had an apartment arranged in East Harlem-- one of my oldest friends was moving out of it and into her boyfriend's place, a month and a half before the lease was up. So I got a new home. A mutual, somewhat stressed-out friend was drafted last minute to hand me the keys. I had those, and soon after bought a month-long unlimited ride Metro Card for the subway. After that, I walked past the salsa music, 99 cent stores and flags of El Barrio, and into my new building. I didn't spend much time-- I was soon headed for a goodbye party for a Cuban friend I'd met in Shanghai.

I'm now 24 years old. I have no real responsibilities to speak of. No car. No house or other down payment on anything. No loans left to repay. No girlfriend. No kids or anyone else dependent on me. No commitments to the future aside from a promise to my family to be home in Seattle for the holidays.

What I do have is a month and a half (and option to extend) in a one-bedroom apartment in uptown Manhattan furnished with little more than a card table, a slightly leaky air mattress, and a couple bookshelves.

I haven't lived in one city for a full year since I was seventeen years old. If you believe what you read in magazines, every cell in my body has been replaced since then. I don't sit still well. Never have.

I'm here because legend has it that New York City is a good place for the young, and a great one for actors. A hard place, but a great place. And I don't feel like spending the rest of my life in a suburban home with the 2.3 kids and black lab, driving home from my 9-5 job wondering "what if..." Besides, a little challenge keeps me interested.

I figure either I'll be a success, or I'll be an interesting failure. Either way, it's an adventure and a story, and at the end of the day, those are what I'm really here for.