Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lower East Side Resident Wanted

Several years ago, a fairly famous friend of my father's was walking through (I think) the east village, saw something unusual, turned to his companion, and asked "...did the midget in the red dress really set his beard on fire?"

Well, this is now the area of town I've got about a week to research. I'm going to be portraying someone who lives and/or works in the Lower East side. I just need to find the someone. My technical borders are from 14th St to Canal St, and 4th Ave to the East River. I will be acting as this person for about twenty minutes, with a monologue of their story.

If you know (or are) someone who lives and/or works within those borders and has an engaging story to tell, let me know. I have a slight preference for men, just because I'll have an easier time portraying one for twenty minutes, but beyond that, I'm open to just about anyone. Once again, I need to find and pick this person by the end of next week, so the sooner I hear from you, the better. Thank you all!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Alphabet City VII

I was cruising audition breakdowns online a few weeks ago, and after flipping through some of the usual calls (off-off-Broadway theater listings, student films, and major motion pictures seeking acrobatic left-handed German midgets), I spotted something I'd never seen before:

"Casting six actors all ages and types interested in doing solo work. Alphabet City celebrates the people of the East Village and Lower East Side. After being cast you’ll spend two weeks searching for a subject in the neighborhood whose story you want to tell. You’ll interview that subject and using their words to create and perform a twenty-minute monologue. You’ll have a director but you must work well independently. Rehearsals and writing will be in May with performances running from June 6th-June 25th."

I was intrigued. I added it to the little cart of listings that I'd later submit my headshot and resume to upon checkout.

A couple days later, I got an audition invite from the theater. I put it down in Google Calendar. They wanted us to come in with a monologue and a true story (something I'd never been asked for in an audition before).

A few days later, I finished tutoring one of my students, checked my calendar and realized three things:

One: I'd mixed it up with another audition I only needed a monologue for-- the Alphabet City audition was that night and would start in half an hour.
Two: Not only had I not prepared a story, but I'd missed a critical instruction, it had to be the story of someone I knew, told from their perspective.
Three: The audition location was not twenty minutes away in Times Square as I'd assumed, but over forty minutes away on (surprise) the Lower East Side.

I did some fancy footwork figuring with Google maps to find the fastest route from the upper west side across Manhattan, and hopped a subway route I'd never ridden before in that part of town. Subway rides are excellent places to memorize lines. If they're not packed, they're also good just for thinking. Which is just what I needed. As we whizzed closer and closer to the audition (though not fast enough) I was spinning things through my head to figure out a good story I could tell.

Isn't it weird how hard it is to come up with something so general on the spot? Try it. Right now, think of a true story you could perform as the main character well enough to be cast in a show in New York. Any story, any person you know.

I shuffled through as much as I could. A kid's story would be great, I can do a good little kid impression, but I need a story with a beginning, middle and end, and a strong character. I don't remember any kids telling me something with all that. I thought about my grandpa's stories, his father (or uncle?) and the uranium deposits on his ranch, or grandpa himself coming to serenade his bored doctor's receptionist with his fiddle. But I couldn't pull out the details and wasn't sure I could imitate him well enough. Then there was my brother-in-law and the stories of his dad in Carmel, CA serving them a squirrel soup one night or the time he shot a hole in the ceiling with a shotgun because of some deer in the garden. But for this audition those were too much punchline and I couldn't remember enough substance.

Then I got it. I wasn't sure I could pull it off perfectly, but it occurred to me that though I knew my subject very well, my audience would not, so that instead of trying to be accurate, the main thing I had to do was put on a performance. I finalized my choice just as I exited the subway and started jogging to the theater.

I made it only a little later and there was nobody in the room when I got there. So I started filling out one of a stack of information seats and starting practicing the posture, a couple of gestures, things I could remember.

Soon I was in the room, had finished up my standard Richard Greenberg audition monologue and started into my story:

"My father went to the University of Chicago both for college and medical school. I'm going to tell a story he tells about how he was part of a medical discovery."

I hunched my posture ever so slightly, spread my hands with a slightly exaggerated tremor, and began to talk, slowly, deliberately, and making a point of sometimes emphasizing the last words of my sentences. I told how I (as in my father) had been sleeping in a laboratory as a test subject between performances of a show at the University Theater. At the time I was playing a character who was a drunk, and had a bottle filled with water I had taken swigs from on occasion.

The final night of the show, some of my friends filled the bottle with actual wine. I didn't want to look chicken, so I didn't say a thing. I drank it. I managed to make it through the entire show somehow or another, finished, stumbled home to the sleep lab, got all hooked up, passed out, and set the world's record for non-REM sleep. And that's how it was discovered that alcohol inhibits dreaming.

I (really me this time) was called back a few days later. I was asked to swap stories with an actress who had also been called back, and then present it, capturing her character as much as I could. Hands on hips, gesturing palms upward, elbows in, one foot crossed in front of other like a dancer, telling the story of how she ended up opening a package of two false breasts from her grandmother at work while her (male) boss was standing behind her. Good story. Funnily enough, to tell my story, she used a lot of the physicality I'd deliberately used to tell my dad's story. Who'd of thunk it.

A few days later, two nights ago to be exact, I got an email officially offering me a role in the show.

I'll be looking for my subject over the next week or two, constructing our story, and then rehearsing. The show opens June 6, and runs through the 25th. It will be at the Metropolitan Playhouse, and as soon as I know which days, what times, and how you can get tickets, you will find out right on this blog.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On "Rejection"

A few nights ago, one of my best friends in town surprised me with a sort of apology that I didn't expect. We were in a bar just off of Union Square. It was an event for couchsurfers, raising money for a friend of a friend who'd been the victim of a shark attack. Barry spotted me across the bar and came over that start asking me about an audition I'd had for a show called (I'm not making this up) "Old Jews Telling Jokes," then stopping himself mid-sentence.

"You know, I just feel bad asking you about all these auditions and having you say you didn't get into the show! I'm not sure if I should ask at all."

As I told him, asking about auditions is fine. I know people talk about being "rejected" as if they'd been dumped. But the thing about being an actor in a place like New York, LA, or London, is that there are so many excellent actors that not getting in a show is no insult. Really, it's about as much of a rejection as not winning a raffle. It's not that you failed. Your ticket just wasn't chosen this time, that's all.

It's true that if you're not a good actor, you are probably not going to get any parts, but auditions aren't going to tell you if you're a bad actor. That's the job of acting workshops, forums, and classes. Those are the places where you can get some feedback on your skill (or lack thereof).

The upshot of this being such a big theater town is that sure there are tons of actors, but there are also tons of auditions. This past week alone I had nine auditions and callbacks. Most of them I'm pretty proud of. I even had a couple auditors compliment me on an "excellent audition." Doesn't mean I'll get cast, but that's fine. I'll just keep entering the raffles, and maybe one of these days my ticket will get picked.

So next time you're wondering whether to ask me how an audition went, go ahead and ask.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Nailed it.

I got to work at the studio early. It was a half day for me-- lucky because I had an audition that afternoon, and I had to go to a tax prep office.

I filed my taxes in February. Please don't hate me. I used a free online tax program from H & R Block to do it. I figured out how much I had to pay in self-employment tax, sent it off, and rested easy. A couple weeks back, I got a letter from the IRS, saying I still owed them about $60 due to an error in my return. Not a savings-shattering amount, but enough to make me wonder how H&R Block's software had managed to make an error in my return. I called them, and they'd asked me to pay the $60, get a receipt from the IRS, and fax it with a copy of my return to a number in Omaha, with a 10 digit "resolution number" written on every page. I thought maybe I'd have better luck with a live human being.

So, after I got off work, I looked up the nearest H&R Block, went to their office, handed them the letter, and pulled up the return on their website. There was some confusion, they looked at my numbers, they said they hadn't messed up, so they called the IRS. We were on hold for a combined half an hour while the IRS figured out that they had in fact screwed up and I didn't owe them anything. I got out with about twenty minutes until my audition, feeling pretty good.

That is, until I realized that I was missing something: a headshot photo and resume, something any actor is supposed to have at every audition. I'd thought I'd have time between work and the audition to run home and print one out. I hadn't factored in the tax time.

I thought for a few minutes. I had my bag with an umbrella, the tax paperwork and letter, a copy of The Godfather (which I'm reading for the first time, never having seen the movies), and the USB cord to charge my phone. I was a few blocks from my office, and a few more from the audition.

I darted through the rain back to the office, said hi to my bemused coworkers, found a copy of my resume in my email, and printed it. I plugged my phone into the computer, found the email the printing company had sent me five months ago with my retouched headshots, and downloaded it onto my phone. Then I darted out of the office again.

Across the street was a Duane Reade drug store. I slipped inside, looked around and found a digital photo printing kiosk. I got my USB cord and plugged it in in the place of a USB thumb drive, hoping it would work. The machine would only print 4x6 prints. It would have to do. It took a long time to sort through every single photo on my phone, but after five minutes of tapping and loading, I got it printed. Though it looked awful. Once again, it would do.

After paying, I tried to get around the checkout line to the exit. Somehow, while smiling and saying 'excuse me', I gave some short, balding man the idea that I was trying to get to know him a little better, instead of trying to scoot around him and out the door. So he followed me trying his best to strike up a conversation. Either a very poorly dressed gay man looking for a date or a very eager tourist looking for conversation. I got out of that as politely as I could, getting on my phone in the process so that he only followed me for about half a block, before I went inside a cafe to talk somewhere warm and dry.

I was returning a call from my tutoring boss, updating her on the status of one of my students. I hung up, checked the address of the audition on Google maps, and spotted the entrance. Back into the rain, where I spotted, with seven minutes to go, a Staples Copy and Print Center two doors down from the audition.

I jumped inside, asked if I could get 8x10 prints, (the industry standard for headshots). He said they had 8.5x 11. I asked if they had glossy stock. They said yes. I got on a computer that charged by the minute, found the email again, printed the photo full size, paid, stapled it to the back of my resume, trimmed it down to 8x10, and ran into the building with auditions.

I had the address, but not the floor number, and the web page with the number wasn't loading onto my phone. I got off with several others at floor fourteen, wandered a bit till it loaded. I was two floors off. I went up the stairs, followed papers signs to the holding room and was in with about thirty seconds to spare.

They called me in to audition. I nailed it. They loved it. I got the callback email that evening.

I feel like I earned that one.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Outsider in the AEA

Ladies, and gentlemen, the headquarters of professional stage acting in the United States: the New York City office of the Actor's Equity Association.

When you invite someone into your house for the first time, you kind of get a glimpse yourself of what the place must look like to an outsider. You look at everything there in a new light, imagining what the person next to you is seeing and thinking about what they see. Same thing happens when you show someone a bit of your lifestyle for the first time.

My oldest niece, Emily, came to visit me this week. Because it was on only a few days notice, she ended up there on the day of an Equity Principal Audition-- an open call for actors from an Equity theater.

It was also the first time I've ever done and audition in AEA HQ, just off of Times Square. It's full of florescent lighting in a hallway of chairs with a fabric pattern that must been considered subtle and neutral in 1993. To be fair, I was in the line in the hallway for the non-members, but even progressing to the union waiting room just upgraded the patterns to circa 1998 and added windows.

A couple of the decorations were pretty nice though: big color wall photos of the Broadway theaters, and, in a glass case near the restrooms, one of the most elaborate costumes I've ever seen. It was a period dress, full of frills and layered with accessories.

I'd warned Emily of the procedure: I'd sign my name on the non-members list, sit down, and hope for an opening. This really could take all day. Equity members in good standing can choose whatever time slot is available. The rest of us wait and hope. The audition monitors (the people who keep track of who's going in to read, when) come out to update us on occasion, which tells us if we can leave and come back at some specific time. Otherwise, we just have to sit tight-- if they call your name and you're not there to answer, it doesn't matter how many hours you'd spent there, you're going back to the end of the line.

This is of course assuming that the auditors are willing to see non-members at all. They aren't obligated to do so.

As it is an open call, you are one of literally hundreds of actors applying for a handful of open jobs. And as a reminder, these are actors who are good enough to have set aside any "normal" job or acting opportunity elsewhere, and have come to read for Broadway. In other words, it doesn't matter who you are, they're probably just as good as you.

So it's really playing a lottery, only it costs time instead of money to enter. Also, while if you can audition well, it's no guarantee of work, if you audition poorly, it will more or less guarantee failure.

The time spent on all this seems normal when you're talking with other actors. It's part of the job. But when viewed by an outsider, as I sort of imagined Emily doing, it seemed a little excessive. I'd told her it would be us sitting around for hours, possibly all day, and that maybe she might enjoy something else. She insisted she wanted to see it, and brought a book.

I heard her later describe it a bit like how one might describe a group of young, attractive, huddled war refugees waiting an hoping for food and water. The poor, huddled masses, waiting for a chance to perform. Really tells you how much fun the job must be if we go through all that for an interview.