Thursday, December 13, 2012

Teaching Shakespeare in Public Schools


This morning, at 8:05 am, I was in New Dorp High School in Staten Island. I was there to teach Shakespeare.

To be honest, I was mostly watching.  This was the first workshop I’d ever done in a school for The Shakespeare Forum. I am resident artist, and with me were the Forum’s Associate Director of Education Programs and the Executive Director. They outrank me. So I sat, watched, and handed out scripts, while they did most of the real teaching.

You ever want to see a tough crowd? Try a captive audience of seventeen-year-olds at 8am. Never before have I seen a group of people so scared of theater warm-ups.

But Sybille and Claire are pros, so I got to just watch them work, and they did some brilliant stuff. First of all, they chatted with the students before class began, in order to learn more about them, make them feel comfortable, and to make a mental note of who had good, audible speaking voices to read parts later.

Then they broke up “To be or not to be, that is the question” into syllables, lined ten kids up, and had them each read one to break down Iambic pentameter. It was just the perfect task to hand them, enough to get them on their feet and participating, but short and diffuse enough that the chance (and fear) of embarrassing themselves in front of the class was minimal (though one kid pulled it off by not listening and assuming we were counting instead of reading, which turned the first reading into: “To” “be” “or” “not” “to” “six”).

I think my favorite moment though came from when we were doing a speech of Lysander’s, where he talking over Hermia while she sleeps:

She sees not Hermia. Hermia, sleep thou there,
And never mayst thou come Lysander near!
For as surfeit of the sweetet things
The deepest loathing to the stomach brings…

We asked the kids what they noticed about how it sounded. The third student we asked pointed out that it had a lot of “sss” sounds in it.

“So,” Sybille said, “Hermia’s there, asleep in the forest. There’s al this “sss”ing going on. What does that make you think of?”

“Snakes.” Offered a kid on the side.

“Very good! Guess what, the next line after Lysander leaves, the very next thing that happens is that Hermia wakes up and says she had a horrible dream about snakes.”

Immediately came a quiet voice in the back,

“…whoa.”

Priceless. It’s great when you can pick out that one thing that really hits people and makes them realize just how good this writer really was.

But there’s another part to this story that goes outside of the classroom, or even anything Sybille, Claire, or I were doing as part of the Shakespeare Forum. I was talking to the teacher (a Forum regular herself) after the class, and she told me something about the student we playing Hermia: she’d lost her home to flooding from Hurricane Sandy.

Much of Staten Island is still very much a recovery zone. FEMA is operating tents and trailers just outside the school parking lot. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan was visiting the school the same day we were, assessing what recovering community schools need most right now. Occupy Sandy is still operating, A couple subway stations and lines are still closed, and some people are still without power, heat, or in some extreme cases, homes.

It’s harder to remember when it’s not in front of you, but these people still need our help. The hurricane feels like it was long time ago, but recovery is still happening today, and without media coverage (unlikely-- there's little "news" to what's happening) a lot of people are going to forget about it. Even though I live in the same city, I hear more about the debates in Washington DC over funding recovery than I do about the my neighbors who need the help. That doesn't make sense to me, but I'm not sure how to change it.

One of the other students asked us about why Shakespeare seems to intertwine comedy and tragedy in his plays, one right after the other. I don't know if I was satisfied with our answer exactly, but I learn by example, and I guess if this blog post is any indication I'm still using it today. Life's like that. Not everything has a neat ending.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Next Show

EDIT: (11/26/12) Dates have changed since last posting and are now accurate below

I will be performing at the Manhattan Repertory Theater with DICE Theater company. December 7 and 9 (won't be part of the Dec 5th show due to work conflict).  More details below.



Reserve tickets by emailing mrtreserve@gmail.com.

It will be intense, and not all stories will be resolved. But we got a standing ovation last time we did it, so something about it works.

See you there!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My First Day With Occupy Sandy

Kendra and I went to check out one of the two major headquarters of the Occupy Sandy hurricane relief effort. Anyone reading who's ever been part of Scav Hunt at the University of Chicago would instantly feel at home. Same form of no-budget organized chaos, only this time instead of trying make an x-wing out of Paris Metro tickets, contacting a medal of honor recipient, or cobbling together a nuclear reactor, we're trying to help people who've been hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy and it's aftershock nor'easter.

This is Occupy, so yes, it's ostensibly political. There's an orientation every half hour where they make the point that our job is not charity, it's something they call "mutual aid." In other words, the mission is not to parachute in, drop blankets and food randomly, and leave. It's to come in and see what's already on the ground and how we can best help, even if it's just listening to people, and often it's following orders of people who live in the communities and know much better what's going on than any of us. Also just as important, the help is for you, too. All volunteers need to take care of themselves and each other.

Granted, the manner of the presentation will turn some people off in being overly generalized. Even those who like the sound of an anit-racist, anti-classist, etc. movement would be a bit irked by the attitude with which the platform is presented to new recruits in this orientation, but their hearts are clearly in the right place, the orientation only takes about ten minutes and is then done, and more importantly these people are organized and they know what they are doing.

How organized? Slate thinks they just might be outdoing the Red Cross. If Kendra and my experience were any example, as soon as we came in with donations (which we had seen calls for on their site), unannounced, at a time nobody had asked for people, we were effortlessly funneled first to a table where we could drop stuff off, then to a coat check, then to an orientation which started in less than ten minutes, to a second canvassers orientation, then to join a group that was ready to go with a van, fully supplied, to Coney Island. As they gave us flashlights, ways to contact the system to tell HQ what was needed where, we were informed that social workers would be on hand to talk to us afterwards about our experiences if we needed someone to debrief with, and we were encouraged to grab something to eat from the kitchens if we were hungry (though they were so quick that we didn't have time, so we just snacked from the cooler our driver had been provisioned with instead in the van).

Key to the system in place is a knowledge of community organization from the activist founders of the original occupy wall street movement, and clear setup that conveys as much information as possible with as little human resources wasted as possible. Unlike most other volunteer organizations, they accept everyone who comes and wants to help, no questions. You very well could end up just picking up trash around the neighborhood, but you will be doing something. The sheer numbers ensure that something is getting done, and the leaderless lateral system of communications ensures that if someone screws up, the mistake is channeled back to HQ, learned from, and adapted to future teams and efforts so that it (probably) won't be made again.

As someone who is applying to graduate schools to learn about international development, I feel I just might learn more from these guys on how to run an effective development organization than I'd learn almost anywhere else.

The New York Times ran a great article on how it looks in there: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/11/nyregion/where-fema-fell-short-occupy-sandy-was-there.html?pagewanted=all

In short, while I always sympathised with the Occupy Wall Street movement, I used to not feel they were all that effective because of lack of goals. Suddenly, they have a goal, they have relevance, and oh man, are they effective.

Check em out: http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Life with Sandy Frankenstorm

Eight days ago I got stuck for a few minutes on the Charles river at sunset. The "T," as the subway is known in Boston, had to stop on its way from Harvard to the station where I'd be meeting a cousin for the first time in years. Apparently there was a sick passenger ahead. Not so great for the sick passenger, pretty nice for me as I watched the view.

I didn't realize it then, but this was going to be a theme for the next few days.

I hadn't really known anything about Hurricane Sandy, or Frankenstorm as people were calling it, until I was on my way back to New York Sunday morning. I figured it was going to be another Irene-- all bark and no bite. But the I found out that they were closing the subway that night at 7pm. So I started making arrangements from my bus back to Chinatown. By the time I had crossed from Massachusetts into Connecticut, I had preliminary arrangements with my students to arrange their sessions as conditions developed, and a plan with my girlfriend to camp out at her place in Park Slope for the storm. I made sure I could bring my bicycle, just in case.

After I got home, I rushed to unpack one bag to pack my big backpack (same one I use as my only bag on international travel), meet with a neighbor for a quick GRE study session, pick up a couple gallons of water, then ride my bike to the subway. I got into a position where I could hold the bag, the bike and myself upright for about an hour and rode it out to Brooklyn. Then I hauled everything to street level, got some cash from an ATM, and pedaled to Kendra's.

I'd be misleading you if I described the next few days in terms of a young couple huddled in a small space in a hurricane. Picture and guy with his girlfriend who don't see each other enough finally getting some quality time, stocked up with lots of good food, DVDs and a Netflix account. If it were still raining and we still didn't have to go to work. we might still be there now. All we saw out the window was some wind and rain. The lights flickered a few times. That was it. We starting joking to each other that it was the "best hurricane ever."

We stopped making those jokes on Tuesday. Not because of us; the internet had cut out, but we were still having a great time. It was when we started looking at the news headlines and pictures on my phone. Staten Island, Red Hook, the Lower East Side, flooded. A Rockaway town called Breezy Point in smoldering ruins. The lower third of Manhattan without power. All seven subway tunnels under the East River out of commission, at least one filled with water from track to ceiling.

We spent another couple days in Brooklyn, me waiting as each of my students canceled their appointments, one by one. They didn't have school. One was without power in Tribeca. Another was without power in New Jersey and with a tree fallen across their driveway.

So I stayed in Brooklyn through Halloween. Went to Barnes and Noble where I studied for the GRE, and Kendra edited one of her author's manuscripts. We stopped by a cell phone store to check something for her, and then and checked out the biggest fallen tree in the neighborhood (apparently some teen there stepped out of her house with a friend, looked at the small crowd of onlookers taking pictures, rolled her eyes and told her friend "It's been like this all day.")

Halloween night we picked our way among sugar-loaded, three-foot, creatures rocketing around the streets to eat homemade apple caramels and cake, and watch Hocus Pocus with a half dozen of gay male friends (the token straight couple has to be there somewhere, right?).

So it was Thursday that I finally decided to head home. Friday was my GRE, and I had a couple students in Manhattan who wanted to meet up. So I got my stuff, said goodbye to my girlfriend, and brought my bike and somewhat lightened bag to the newly running, fare-free subway line.

It got me as far as the Brooklyn side of Brooklyn Bridge. I had no idea what I was going to find on the other side. What was flooded? What had power? Would it be gridlocked, or empty of cars entirely? I biked towards the bridge's bike path and saw bikes coming over in the other direction. I hailed a group of them and asked what things were like on the other side. It became clear quickly that they were French tourists and didn't understand what I was asking. A good sign-- if tourists are biking around, it can't be that bad on the other side.

Sure enough, when I hit downtown Manhattan for the first time in a week, everything was dry, and the traffic was light. It was also a bit confused. No electricity anywhere, and therefore no traffic lights. Police in neon vests were directing traffic at almost every intersection.

It was like being on a fairground after it had closed. You're so used to seeing everything in operation that the absence of any people and open shops feels eerie. I could hear generators and cars around, but I've never seen Chinatown or SoHo that quiet. I rode up to Bleecker and Houston and the only traffic was a dude in the middle of the street dragging a shopping cart.

At Union Square I saw a line of about forty people near a small truck. On the back of the truck was a cardboard sign advertising a place to recharge your cell phone. I biked up Park avenue and started seeing military vehicles parked along the streets.

I took a picture at 39th st, the line where power was and was not working. In the foreground, traffic lights that weren't working. In the background, traffic lights that were, and traffic to go with them.

By 50th street, it was completely gridlocked. by 59th it was back to a normal day in New York.

My apartment had power and internet. Several things in my fridge had gone bad. Everything else was fine. I saw two of my students, one a little earlier than usual. He lives somewhere with what normally has a view of the whole island south of 50th st. But in the dark that night, it looked like the city stopped existing about twenty blocks away. Everything was black except the freedom tower construction in the distance.

After taking the GREs yesterday and recovering with some friends in a postage stamp sized Hells Kitchen apartment, over wine, food, conversation and a little live music, I've come back and started figuring out what to do next. I'm listening to a lot of local public radio, hearing stories about what happened, what's happening, and what will happen here. I've signed up to volunteer with relief efforts with the city and with the organization New York Cares. There's essentially a waiting list for opportunities, that many people want to help out.

I don't have an ending to the story. Maybe I'll have one for you soon. We're still recovering.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I've Got Wheels!

I bought a bike on Friday! This has been a very long time coming. I got it from a guy who calls himself The Bike Doctor. The good doctor (really named Carlos) met me at my street and sold me a Fuji S-12 ten speed with straight handlebars, freshly tuned with some new components for $175 (literally half what most comparable used bikes are selling for in New York City). It's light, it's fast, it's my size, and most importantly, it just works. A visit to Mikhael at Pedal Universe netted me a new helmet, Kryptonite U-lock with cable and bracket, LED lights, and a little bell for $95.

Biking in this town is an adventure. I've already leaned that my free NYC bike map, published by the city, can't be trusted. It shows dedicated bike lanes on the Triboro bridge, for example. You ever seen a dedicated bike lane that had signs saying you can't ride your bike on one section and then three flights of stairs on the following section that supposedly you could ride on? Google Maps' bike directions are also wildly optimistic about travel times. A supposed 25-minute ride took me well over an hour, and I'm a pretty fast rider. That said, it's good to get the exercise, and I'm looking forward to getting a better feel for how the city is put together off the subway grid.

Other adventures these last few days:

I did a staged reading of Othello, with 18 hours notice. I didn't know if I was going to be a non-speaking extra or Michael Cassio until I showed up. Ended up reading for a couple Senators and Gentlemen. Fun times. My girlfriend and another cast mate's parents made up our whole audience, and I ended up having to say my goodbyes with my girlfriend after intermission so we could make the rest of our plans. It didn't occur to me until afterwards that that was the closest I've come to being in a Shakespeare production since I was Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night, in third grade.

I've got a second round interview for a job with the Media Coalition tomorrow. Great organization, and small enough that I could really get my hands dirty with real, effective policy work on behalf of of the first amendment! And since I'd basically be the organization's communications wing, it's exactly the kind of work I think I'm suited for in the sector. I know I'm competing against people with graduate degrees, but I have an excellent reference from someone on the inside. Either way, I'm just pleased to have gotten as far as I have.

Speaking of graduate degrees, today I more or less finalized the list of public policy schools I'm applying to:

  1. Columbia/SIPA
  2. Universty of Washington/Evans
  3. Harvard/Kennedy
  4. Johns Hopkins/SAIS
  5. George Washington University/Elliot
  6. Princeton/Woodrow Wilson
  7. American University/SIS
  8. Georgetown/SFS
I'm shooting very, very high, and probably competing against people with way more impressive professional credentials. But I've got a very strong academic background and nobody my age can touch me when it comes to international travel experience. Besides, I can't get in if I don't apply right? And anyway, who knows, if I end up with the Media Coalition job (or any other policy job) I just might decide working will be the better move instead of a Master's.

Wish me luck!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I'll be on TV this Saturday

Remember my story about filming a TV episode? Well I just got word that my episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories will appear Saturday, September 22, on the Biography Channel 9pm Pacific and Eastern time. Look for the story of Kevin Sorbo.

I'm what's called a "featured extra." It's a nonspeaking role, scary in a very goofy way, that's part of one of the flashbacks. I have not seen the episode and have NO IDEA how it will look. There's even a chance I won't be in it at all. If they don't show how the woman who is the ghost died, I won't be. But I think that's unlikely.

Enjoy!

----
image property of The Biography Channel, All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 10, 2012

You Are What You Read

I finished my first tutoring session of the year a few days ago and decided to take a stroll across central park to the east side subway. A couple blocks from the train, I found a branch of the New York Public Library. I hadn't been in this one before, so I decided to take a peek. I didn't need any books, I just thought I'd see what kind of things were lying around for future reference.

I really should know some things about myself by now. Like the fact that walking into a library is dangerous. You know the people who can't walk into a bookstore without spending money? Imagine sending them into a bookstore where everything is free.

This picture is of the pile I brought back with me, stuffed in with the two standardized test textbooks I was hauling already. I'm going to need some specialized shoulder exercises if I insist on "just seeing what's lying around" a library on a regular basis.

I grew up on a steady diet of fiction. Mostly what is known as the "Hero's Journey" to story pros. I wrote it up on Backstage as the following: "main character is at home, gets called out onto a quest, refuses, gets dragged out anyway, overcomes trials, conquers evil, saves world, comes home a better character." Sound familiar?

Well I'm still reading a couple good novels along those lines, but as you can see from my pile here, I've strayed into a big set of nonfiction books, mostly on Behavioral Economics, Social Business, and Story Construction. In other words, I've gotten really interested in what actually makes people tick, how you can do something that both makes money and makes a difference, and how stories operate. All of these are very much related.

That along with the TED talks I've recently been watching has gotten me thinking about what kind of things determine our thoughts and actions day-to-day. Because it's election season and an election year, one of the things that this really seems to impact is how people are going to vote. I used to think that Republicans and Democrats identified as such because the values they believe in. Now I'm starting to think that they identify as such because of the facts they believe in. They are much more likely to disagree on facts rather than what's important to them. But that's a huge topic that would be better addressed somewhere else. More important to me is how people generally learn facts and how those facts go on to shape their life.

Here's one of the basic, but interesting things I've learned: people remember stories far more readily than facts in isolation. Seems simple and intuitive enough. But it has special implications for someone like me who pays rent by teaching.

Storytelling at its core is a lot like joke-telling. you have your set up (banana peel on the floor, some jerk you don't like walking merrily towards it, his mind more occupied with how pleased he is about doing something you don't like) and then either your expected payoff (jerk steps on banana peel and bites it) or unexpected surprise and payoff (jerk hops peel, only to cross the path of a gorilla looking for more bananas who smacks the jerk in the face). We remember things with this construction. Especially if they're funny or have an emotional impact. The dry theory is interesting. The example teaches you something.

So if you want to shape the things you spend your life thinking about, talking about, and doing something about, try shaping the stories you take in. I feel like this is one of those things that's obvious to anyone thinking about it, but that few people actually follow that train of thought. You know the phrase "You are what you eat?" Maybe the more accurate one is "You are what you read."

So, what kind of stories are you going to seek out?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Where the @#3(% is Joel?

I realize I've been putting things out for a while now telling people what I've been up to just about everywhere online but on here. When I first started blogging my adventures, Twitter didn't exist, Facebook wasn't nearly such a public platform as it is now, and nobody paid attention to Livejournal anymore. I blogged because the alternative was mass email to people with already stuffed inboxes. Things have changed a bit. I'll get back to that theme in a minute.

But first I should explain myself for the month. As you know if you've been reading this for a while, I primarily pay my bills by working as a private tutor in New York City. Turns out, not surprisingly, that not too many kids want help with their homework in August. So I decided the sublet my place and take the month off.

I spent the first three weeks or so in Seattle and Eastern Washington visiting family and friends. I then spent a couple nights in Portland, OR, and am now writing from my couchsurfing host's apartment in the Mission district of San Francisco. I head to LA next week and (with any luck) will be back in NYC before labor day.

I didn't take a computer with me this time, and blogging with my phone and it's keyboard would produce sub-par entries. But I have plenty of material-- so much more happens every day when you're traveling! I haven't taken the time to write my adventures up yet, but if I do, you'll find them on my old travel blog.

In the meantime, I need to talk about what's going to happen to this blog. I've been thinking a lot about my future and mission lately, and I think this blog is going to start following things I've been doing a little more accurately, though likely not more frequently.

I came to New York to see how I'd do as an actor. In a couple weeks, it will have been two years. I'm not famous, and I'm not on Broadway, or even Off-Broadway. But I've paid to act both on stage (including essentially a one-man show) in NYC and on national television. I've gotten sold out crowds and a standing ovation, and I'll soon have an IMDB page to my name. I'm being invited to do voiceover work, and I've made a lot friends, especially in the New York Shakespeare realm.

More importantly, I'm starting to realize the difference between a passion and an interest. Acting is an interest of mine. I enjoy it greatly, and I think I'm pretty good at it. But it's not really my passion. It by itself is not what gets me up in the morning. I'd be lying if I said I knew exactly what did, but I'm starting to branch out in my quest to find out.

I majored in international studies and political science, and I'm going to start moving back to those fields and exploring what opportunities are available there. This means looking at graduate programs in public policy, volunteering in a few places, trying my hand at grant-writing, maybe even getting a part time job in a related field.

I am by no means quitting acting, but I don't think it's going to be my primary objective anymore. At least not for now. I'm still going to be an active member of the acting companies I am a member of, and you will still hear about any readings and performances I'm involved in here on this blog. But I think as my mission evolves, so will what I write about here.

I guess the only way to find out how is if you stay tuned and keep reading!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Let's Make a Ghost

I've been meaning to write this one up for weeks, but I've got a legitimate excuse for why I didn't this time: I had to wait until it was cleared with the legal department of a cable TV network.

This is one of the weird things about blogging as an actor. Once you get to a certain point, there are things that it's really difficult to disclose online, and even those things that are okay to disclose, you usually have to wait a long time before you do.

I guess technically it's only been 13 days, but it feels like it's been much longer. Heck, when this happened, I was technically single and didn't know what I was going to do with myself in August. Now I just met my new girlfriend's mother, confirmed a subletter for my apartment for the next month, and booked with multiple couchsurfing hosts across the west coast. So I feel like it's been a while.

Thirteen days ago, I was on the set of my first TV show (ignoring the online show with NBC Universal, anyway). Ever since I did it, I've told lots of my friends and family about it, and I don't think I've yet managed to say what show it was and what I was doing while keeping a straight face. So consider this an early warning about what my very first IMDB credit is going to be (once the production team comes around to registering my page):

Appeared in "Celebrity Ghost Stories" (2012) as "The Murderer"

I was shipped up to a small town just north of New Jersey with about a half a dozen other people for a small "reenactment" of a legend that ends with somebody dying at my character's hands. It involved some very tense scenes in period costume, and a couple stunts with a dummy in a bridal gown. Interesting day's work. I had a great time with everyone involved, especially the director and the rest of the cast of 1930s wedding guests. To say more I think might get me in trouble.

So for the the full story, you're just going to have to watch the Biography Channel for the episode of Celebrity Ghost stories featuring Kevin Sorbo this fall. once I get an exact date, I'll let everyone know.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Recession Project

I'm turning 26 in three days.

I sometimes joke about signs of the times, especially the economy. Back when I was in high school, I would go to the bakery and the people working behind the counter would be about my age, sometimes a little older. Now, I'm in my twenties, I go to that bakery... and the people working the counter are about my age, sometimes a little older.

I meet and hang out with 35 and 40-year-olds who are doing basically the same thing they did when they were teenagers. Which is fine, only you can't lead an adult lifestyle on a teenager's wage. Everyone's broke. One of these friends came to me recently and admitted that he was about to get kicked out of his apartment. He said he was behind on his rent and was going to have to go to one of those quick loan places. I asked him how far behind he was. He said "not that much, just five months."

Multiple friends of mine are talking about their credit card debt and how they just can't pay it off. They're trying, but it keeps growing. I ask people what they're doing about health insurance, most of them say they don't have it.

I used to think these people had chosen this lifestyle for their art. But a lot of them haven't. A lot of them aren't artists of any kind. They just live this way because it's the only way they can.

I had drinks with a couple friends from college I hadn't seen in years. One of them used to be on the football team. All of his teammates were Economics majors, one of them now works in oil futures. Whatever that means. He makes US $4 million a year. He's two years older than I am.

Now I know a lot of people can and do argue that that guy is probably not as happy as my friends making less. But forget happiness-- how about the money that could have been used to make it so that if one of my uninsured friends suffers a medical condition, they can get the care they need to live? If oil future man was making, say, $400k (still a huge salary), how many of my uninsured friends could be employed with liveable wages and health benefits with the other $3.6 million?

So forget my tutoring rich kids about the Gilded Age this past spring for a moment, and look at something a little more visceral:

In 2006 I filmed my first episode of a show about my study abroad experiences in India. And there's a 45 second clip near the end where I talk about something I'd never experienced firsthand before. I'd just arrived in the country. And the thing that smacked me in the face was the divide between the "haves" and the "have nots." And I just remember feeling grateful to be going home to a place where the disparity in income wasn't nearly so high.

Well. There's a measure of the disparity in income between countries. It's called the Gini Coefficient. It's measured from 0.0 to 1.0. A gini coefficient of 0.0 means perfect equality, 1.0 means one person in the country has literally all of the income.

India has a Gini coefficient of .37. The United States has one of .41.

In other words, I went on a show with NBC Universal and openly lamented how unequal one country was, only to come home to country that is now even more unequal.

As I said, I'll be turning 26 soon. I have this feeling that I should be doing something more adult and responsible with my life now.

Right now meaning I'm paid on an hourly basis for a job that mostly works in the evenings and has no real opportunities for advancement. I live alone in a not-that-nice-but-livable neighborhood in an apartment furnished mostly with hand-me-downs and free pieces from Craigslist or the curb. I have no debt (thanks to parents who could both pay for my education and taught me to always pay my bills in full on the date they're due). I started a Roth IRA a few months back, and I'm searching for individual health insurance plans I can afford that will actually pay for hospital care (surprisingly not a given).

In other words by the standards of my childhood, I'm kind of a bum. But by the standards of today, I'm doing very well. Perversely, I feel there's something wrong with that.

And I have a good amount of free time and energy.

I've been watching a lot of TED talks about how people work, what's going wrong with our world, how people are working to fix it. Thanks to my travel, I wanted to work in international development or international relations. Saving the world. But I'm starting to realize that the world that I should work to save may be a lot closer to home.

I don't believe in a conspiracy that causes income inequality. One of my favorite shirts from the Occupy movement was a short young man wearing a T-shirt saying on the front "I'm part of the 1%" and on the back "Tax me. I'm good for it." I believe in a system that needs a little tweaking, and people who, if they can separate themselves from partisan politics for a bit, really want to help.

And the first place I'm thinking of starting is making it simpler to hire people. I've got some interesting ideas related to using this theory to implement some ideas from this book  and this other book to make people want to hire more, possibly in conjunction with this campaign as well as lobbying this group to take action among its members.

But first I need to talk to more small business owners. This could get interesting.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Toast

I'll admit it. I'm not entirely sober as I write this. So, since I've been drinking, I've just come home, and it's nearly two in the morning, I'm gonna do what you do when you're drunk and happy: I'm proposing a toast.

 To art, to the gods and animals we create and channel for an audience, and for the moments they catch their breath at our most human.

To friends, the false, the true, and those who meet us at a bar to laugh at our sorrows and everything else worth laughing about.

To this wonderful city, full of self-absorbed whiners awaiting recognition of their greatness, and the hilarious magical deeds they perform without even trying because they're here.

To nature and the fragile beauty we'll never own, conquer, or  control, no matter how hard we try or try not to.

To love and lovers, drinking each others eyes and lips and getting in the way of people who need to be somewhere else, occupying the bliss of another world that only holds them for that moment.

To the past, for the lessons it will never teach us because we're too busy to pay attention, and the ones that we learn anyway against all odds  thanks to the elders who deserve more respect than they get.

To the future, whatever the hell it turns out to be.

To cats that purr, dogs that wag their tails, and all creatures great and small that know how to smile in their own way, and have reason to do so.

To music, to capture the truth of moments I'll never be able to write in a blog post.

To smart people and their ideas, and their ability to share them.

To those who use those ideas and make the world better, both because of and in spite of their best efforts.

To death, for showing us how great life is by our fear of its absence.

To life.

To gratitude.

To you.

Thank you.

Monday, June 11, 2012

My Next Show: Dramatic Improv with DICE Theater

In just about two weeks I'm going to go onstage with a bunch of pretty, talented actors, and perform onstage. And I have no idea what any of us will be doing.

I've joined the ranks of DICE Theater. We do improv. Only we do it a little differently. Most improv groups' express goal is to make you laugh. Our goal is to make you feel like the characters you're seeing are real. Yes it can be funny sometimes, but more to the point, it's powerful.

I don't know what you'll see, but from what I've seen the rest of the company do, it's going to be good. I do know that we will also follow it up with a ten minute play inspired by a past improv session that has won a couple awards, and then host a reception.

So here is what I advise you do. Five simple steps:

Step 1: Buy a ticket for yourself and a friend (or several) or a date (....or several) here. ($10 for one)

Step 2: On Saturday, June 23rd, Come to the Drama Bookshop's black box theater at 250 40th St, before the 7:30pm showtime. Get a good seat.

Step 3: Enjoy our show.

Step 4: Clap a lot at the end. If you really really really liked it, you can stand up while clapping, too.

Step 5: Hang out with me and my friends afterwards at the reception.

You can do that, right? See you there!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Exit to Fire Island

Two nights ago I was sitting by a copper fire pit in a Long Island backyard, making s'mores, trying to look up the French word for 'Asbestos' to help an a guy from Adelaide explain something to a woman from Brittany. The something had to do with how the fire had been started by our host using a can of gasoline in such a way that prompted his one-toothed father in a sleeveless shirt to yell at him from the porch for a good couple minutes. Apparently even though asbestos being inhaled as particles is horribly dangerous for you, putting a sheet of it down on dry grass is a good idea for protecting against fire.

A group of eight couchsurfers, either living in or traveling through New York were camping in the yard so that we would be up and ready to spend the next day, Memorial Day, on Fire Island. It's a 50km long pencil shaving of a barrier island, and averaging about 300 m wide, just a bit east of where I got horrifically sunburned while on set for Men In Black III. We were headed for Atlantique Beach.

The ferry ride was half an hour on a cloudless day that left no doubt about summer's arrival. We sat in the upper deck, in the back, letting the wind do crazy things with our hair and the Aussie's beard (still substantial even after one of the slightly more inebriated locals had snipped off about five inches of it with kitchen scissors the evening before). We docked, paused for the restrooms and hilariously awkward debate with the Hong Kong native about guessing certain clothing sizes of women walking by. Then we walked the five minute walk from the bay side to the ocean side.

I've seen some beaches before, and this had some of the nicest white sand beaches I'd seen in some time. It would have been perfect had the water been warmer than ice. It was still pretty nice just hitting the sand and walking along the shore, pausing to grab a quart of Ben and Jerry's, sitting on a bench near the dock, passing it down a line and making fun of ducks.

In fact, really that was what made the trip: sharing stuff. Whether it was taking a walk with the Armenian interior designer to get coffee, a loaf of bread, and two dozen eggs to augment the bacon our host had out for breakfast, or three of us in a row at the chowder house near sunset, passing down our bowls of seafood bisque, Manhattan clam chowder, and New England clam chowder in a line so everyone could try some to wash down the raw clams and oysters we'd practically inhaled minutes before. The food was only part of it. It was the times and stories we shared to that made the trip. The only one things we all had in common was that we were all travelers registered on couchsurfing.org, we all had a decent grasp of English, and we were all there. And that was all we needed.

It's good to have weekends like these.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Inspiration

Taylor Mali, author of the Poem "What Teachers Make"
I found a two minute monologue that is perfect for me, less than half an hour ago. Ten minutes ago I memorized it. This never happens. Not to me, not to anyone. But it just did.

The monologue isn't even really a monologue. It's a poem, written by the guy pictured to the left, who, one hour ago, I'd never heard of. I was having an instant messenger conversation with a good friend of mine about my tutoring, and she asked me if I would consider being a teacher. I gave my standard answer of no and my explanation, but a second later out of curiosity, I Googled "What do teachers make."

If I had used the more appropriate question "How much do teachers make," I never would have found that poem.

Taylor Mali wrote the poem, anonymously at the time, about exactly what it is teachers make. He's since performed it for a huge variety of venues. I read it once, then again, then watched him do it twice. I loved the words, and there was no doubt his performance was passionate, but a little part of me started thinking "I'd actually read it a little bit more like this..."

I printed it out, made a few cuts, and read it twice. Then I put the paper down, and recited the whole thing, top to bottom, only checking the sheet twice. The second time I did it, I was off book. And it felt good.

This never happens to me. It took me three weeks to memorize a monologue half this long. I must have read it on the subway hundreds of times. But this new piece I have down cold, and it's so good that I want to go to auditions now just to deliver it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

New Company for Me, New Facilities for You

My school always builds the cool stuff after I leave.

This is the Logan Arts Center. The University of Chicago, my alma mater, has gotten the funds for and now built a state of the art theater, film, and visual art space.

I was in Chicago and on campus these last four days for completely unrelated reasons: friends, family, and the annual world's largest scavenger hunt according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Patricia Marx was in town to write it up for the New Yorker. So instead of explaining it myself (again), I'll probably repost whatever it is that she puts up once it's available. I will just say that balsa wood bridges built to bear human weight are really hard to make (and that people really stink after they fall into Botany Pond), and that getting a mixed drink from a piano that makes a different kind of cocktail depending on what song you play is kind of amazing. I digress.

I took a quick visit of Logan with my oldest niece, who might be applying to the school next year. The facilities are drool inducing. The set shop is massive, the two theaters we saw are gorgeous, and they have catwalk and fly systems. No more running around the outdoor parapet above the windows to get backstage in deep winter, or spotting for people on ladders to hang lights. And that's just the beginning.

It's great to see that the school is starting to really giving the arts some quality facilities to work with. I'm seriously jealous of anyone who is able to participate in University Theater in the future. If nothing else, it will make a degree from the school look that much cooler, once all these serious actors start coming from the program, having benefited from the new state of the art spaces and tech available to them. Who knows, maybe they'll even go ahead and start calling their TAPS major an actual Drama program!

In the meantime, I've just joined the DICE Theater Company, and will be doing some new things with dramatic improv. I'm going to be curious to see how things work out with them-- they're cool people with an interesting concept. More news on all that soon.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Full Life

Midnight on Broadway, near Koreatown, I took this picture. It must have been about 50 degrees or less, but I was carrying my winter jacket and I was still sweating in my two t-shirts. I'd been dancing a lot, and ended the night on a fleet footed swing dance with a ballerina who'd come back to swing for the first time since college (and, she assured me, that was long time ago). I had to fight my way past a lot of drunken NY Rangers fans to get there, but it was an easy walk to the subway home.

Before that I'd been teaching Chemistry, World History, Algebra, and Spanish. Before that I'd been plotting recorded skits in my apartment while I showed a neighbor and newly returned voiceover artist a little bit about how to leverage her demo for marketing. Then after the next day, today, I had my last Alexander Technique class for a while, found a good essay to send in to a development consulting firm who wanted to see more of my writing. Then, after buying my tickets for a trip to Chicago in May, I was busy chatting with friends on the other side of the Atlantic. That's right before I go see another neighbor, having a beer together while he gives me instructions on taking care of his cats while he's in New Orleans.

And then I sat down to write this before I go join more new friends for a near midnight show at the Tribeca Film Festival. I love getting free tickets to stuff.

Then the next day, tomorrow, I will attend the wedding of one of my oldest friends.

The day after that... oh, who knows.

Every day of my life for the last few weeks has been like this, and if I could be happier right now, it remains to be seen how.

Gotta run...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Where's the Floor?

What's with the picture, you might ask. Well, the round thing next to the door is something we're required by law to have in apartments here in New York City. It's a carbon monoxide alarm. But what it is really isn't that important. What is important is that the round hole in the top is just about 67.5" off the floor. Right at my eye level.

This is something of a surprise. Not that that particular object is there, but that that height is at my eye level. I'd never measured it before, nor had I any idea what the number was supposed to be like. But I did know that if I stood the way I normally stand, it would look like it's a good two or three inches above my eye level.

As a child, I was predicted to be 6'2". I was tall for my age. My brief stint with a piano teacher left few lasting impressions, but one of them was her looking at me in surprise after a lesson one day and saying "You're tall. You don't walk tall. You should walk tall."

I didn't know how to do that. I only ever hit 6', but it used to be people outside of my family didn't believe me when I told them I was that tall. My mother's side of the family averages to be about 5'6" on a good day, so to talk to any of them requires some bending. My father's side of the family tells legends of how relatives who'd never known each other recognized each other by the way they slouched. Standing up straight was an idea I'd heard about and knew I should aspire to, similar to being popular. I saw other people do it, and had a vague idea of how to try, but never had the sense I was doing it properly.

Enter Alexander Technique. WordIQ.com defines Alexander Technique as "an educational discipline practiced to prevent the physical decline caused by habituated mannerisms. Learning it can lead the way to improved sensory discrimination, a greater awareness of both body and mind and their interconnection, along with ease of movement." This encompasses a huge variety of things. But for me, more than anything else, this meant actually learning how to stand up straight.

After dating the daughter of two Alexander Technique experts while I was in college, lugging an internal frame backpack around the world for a year and a half, moving to NYC, and then procrastinating even more for no good reason, I finally used my connections in the Seattle-based Performance School for a referral, then signing up for lessons with Belinda Mello at AT Motion.

I'm now working on my second set of classes. They're fun! There's a lot of stuff that seems very basic when you read it, but that when you actively think about it, changes how you move and use your body. My favorite is probably what I used to title this post: "Where's the floor?" The point being that the floor is holding you up. It's rigid enough to support your whole body. So you don't actually have to create any "false floor" in your body to hold anything else up. You're meant to move anyway, so just trust the floor.

I've got a lot to learn still, but I'm feeling a lot of dramatic improvement already in how I stand, sit, and walk. I've made a few adjustments to my home. The three chairs I use the most have rather thick cushions on them now so that my knees are no longer higher than my pelvis when I sit down (fun with long legs). I've mentally marked a couple of key points in the place that are actually at eye level when I stand up straight as a reminder. When I'm not near them, I keep having to remind myself that I'm not looking up at them, I'm looking level at them (as long as I'm really standing up).

The most gratifying part is having tricks that let me have good posture without being stiff. All the other things people kept saying to me while I was growing up often sounded nice, but didn't make much sense. "Push your shoulders back," "pretend you're hanging from a string in the ceiling," or more frequently and most frustratingly, "Stop slouching!" Now I know how to do all those things without doing any of them.

The big change is now how I'm perceived by the rest of the world. I did a monologue at my usual Shakespeare workshop and had one person say it was the most "leading man"-like thing she'd ever seen me do. Strangers trying to get my attention on the street have started yelling out "Hey, you, big guy!" I even had a one speaker at a panel yesterday tell me afterwards that he kept looking at me and directing his talk to me for some reason he couldn't put his finger on. I suspect it was because I was sitting taller than anyone else in the room (including several people who, if measured standing straight up, are a bit taller than I am).

I've got three more classes in this set, not just in standing up tall, but specifically in moving with less tension, and then applying those concepts to my acting. Looking forward to learning more!
---

If you want to give this a shot yourself, I do recommend it. From working with them firsthand, I can especially recommend coaches Catherine Kettrick and David Mills in Seattle, as well as my coach here in New York City, Belinda Mello. If you aren't in the area, or their schedules don't line up with yours, they can always give you a referral.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Batsu? Hajime!

Awesome week. Two new students, three new companies interested in possibly hiring me for voiceover, a couple workshops with Shakespeare stuff, parties, couchsurfers, and none of it stopping any time until next week or so.

But I think it all began with what you see to the left: Batsu. This is an underground Japanese game-show style improv competition. The name, Batsu, roughly translates to "punishment." Which is exactly what the contestants suffer when they screw up.

The show is a lot like Who's Line Is It Anyway. There are a variety of improv games and impressions, plus at least one old fashioned drinking game that seems an awful lot like an adult version of musical chairs (just with sake instead of chairs). And those who lose suffer Batsu. Look carefully at the photo. See the guys on the right? the things on their faces that you can't quite make out are clothespins. They were not placed there of their own volition.

The least strenuous of the punishments were the ones the volunteer audience members suffered who went up and competed with the promise of a free beer and a ticket to another show. After they signed a waiver, that is. I did so, and ended up eating five wasabi rolls (California rolls, each with about an inch of wasabi layered on top). Yes it burned, but hey, I can always use the endorphins. Plus the free food, booze, and ticket to another show.

The punishments suffered by the other contestants, however ranged from funny to cringe-worthy to "oh-dear-lord-don't-DO-that-to-him." the funniest and simplest one was when a dude came out in a chicken suit, did a little dance, "laid" two real eggs, and smashed them on the victims heads. The second worst was the either the paintball shots to the chest from across the room, or the shock collar. The worst was when there was a tie breaker for the championship: they brought out a stun gun, and told the final two contestants to do their best Barney impression, winner determined by audience applause. That was not nice.

So if you like your improv with a streak of sadism, Batsu happens in a St Marks Place basement every Monday. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Nil Significat Nisi Oscillat

I'd forgotten how hot it gets inside these social dancing places.

I'd just come back from being a pallbearer at my great-uncle's funeral. This doesn't seem like the appropriate place to pay him tribute, but I will say briefly that he was a WWII fighter pilot and a great, adventurous man. Henry A. Lee will be missed. I think the best way to pay tribute to man with a full life is to keep living to the fullest after he's gone.

So, to that end, I bit the bullet and headed out to a dance studio near Penn Station. I've got a wedding to go to in a month, and the reception is going to be entirely swing dancing. I had a half hour lesson in the Charleston once, years ago, and various female friends over the years have tried showing me the basic step at parties. But I'd never taken a real lesson before.

Enter Yehoodi's "Frim Fram Jam." $8 entry, $4 extra if you want in on a group lesson beforehand. And it was a good group. We learned the basic triple-step/triple-step/rock-step, a 6 count circle, a tuck turn, two reverse turns (I think) and one random butt shaker after a backwards stop. Like most white guys, I'm not so good or enthusiastic when it comes to that last one, but the others I think I got.

And then the lesson ended and the dancers who didn't need it hit the floor. Before, I'd had this image of myself at the wedding sweeping unsuspecting partners off their feet. Then I saw real men (and a woman lead or two) actually doing just that, and I realized I'm probably not going to pull that off in a month. But I can least learn enough to hold my own.

Next time, I'm at the very least bringing my own water bottle, and possibly a towel. With the crowd like the one you see above, in a room with little to no ventilation, dancing like crazy people, it gets very, very warm. After just two hours, I was so drenched in sweat that I had to leave-- I was too embarrassed to ask anyone to dance with me until I'd taken a shower. I wanted to get to a couchsurfing meetup anyway.

At that meetup, by the way, I learned about an improv event unlike any other I've heard of. I'll be checking it out next Monday, after the table read for my next short film. Details about both of those things coming up soon!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dancing to Music Only We Can Hear

videoThe title of this post is not a metaphor. It's how I spent roughly six hours of my night last night. Normally I try to upload a picture with my blog post. But a picture really doesn't capture this one. So for the first time on any of my blogs, you get video. 
After a tip from one of my best friends in the city, leading to this website, I headed out north of Prospect Park in Brooklyn in a set of quiet and dark streets. I buzzed a unit in a spray-painted building and was let into a massive loft that looked like a scene out of Rent.

Inside were about thirty people (the number about doubled in half an hour) lining up, hanging out, and signing paperwork for special sets of headphones. They were wireless, connected to two channels, only identified by the lights on the front, either green or blue.

I sat down on a couch and talked to a minor YouTube celebrity I'd never heard of before, and at one point looked around and asked him how he'd classify the crowd.

He paused and said "I think if we decided we weren't going to do this and said we're going to play Dungeons and Dragons instead, we'd get a lot of people who'd be cool with that."

Nerd, then. I saw it. But honestly the first label that came to mind for the crowd we'd gathered was "Cyber-Hippies." We saw a little body paint, a rainbow of hair colors, battery powered Christmas lights wrapped around legs, a hooded ankle-length faux fur jacket, and I don't even remember what else. One very proud girl and her boyfriend were showing off her recently pierced nipples to pretty much anyone who they could bring the topic up with. Whatever the mainstream was, it was staying out of the room.

After a minute, a signal went around, and we all put on our headphones and switched to the blue channel. Over a nice beat (broadcasting from a portable transmitter on the person of a tall mustached man in a blue jumpsuit) one of the leaders spoke into a cordless mic to explain how the night was going to work. He showed us how to use the headsets, switch between green and blue channels (which would each have a different track of dance music playing). And then he told us our destination.

And that was how about seventy people, most of whom looked like they'd just stepped off a bus from Burning Man (how half the crowd knew each other), got onto a Queens-bound A train to Far Rockaway Beach, dancing like nutcases to music only we could hear.

I think the video explains what happens next pretty nicely. The most fun was watching people at first who were completely mystified by what was going on. Then one of us would lend them a pair of headphones for a couple minutes, and this huge smile would spread across their face and they'd start rocking out.

Two or three hours between subways out to the skinny spit on the water called Rockaway, an hour or so in a startled but pleased dive bar, two or three hours back into Brooklyn. Dancing all the way.

I think I was in bed by 5:30am. I think. Just in time to ring in St. Patrick's day in New York.

Sleep might become a problem.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Foodie Expo

This, my friends, made my cooking dinner a frustrating experience. My lunch today was a very, very hard act to follow.

I managed to score a pass into one of the biggest food service conventions in the world. About half of it was booths of deserted displays of cookware, restaurant furniture, and servingware, staffed by alternately bored and angry vendors.

The vendors were bored and angry because everyone else was ignoring them and going straight to the other half of the booths: The food vendors.

"Why?" you might ask. Well it's pretty simple. Take vendors who have good enough products to feature at one of the biggest food service conventions in the world and whisper two words into their ear: 'free samples.'

I munched on about a dozen different kinds of gourmet cheese, fresh calamari and clams with sauces I'd never imagined before, ginger ale made with fresh ginger and infused with things ranging from passion fruit to jasmine tea, and Angus beef sliders. But the top prize in my mind goes to what you see in the picture above. Not on the display, look at the small black plate in the hand of the man taking a picture with his iPhone. That, ladies and gentlemen, is lobster ravioli with a saffron cream sauce. The fresh lobster chunks inside were nearly size of my thumb.

...what the heck are you supposed to cook yourself after eating that?

A tasty end to a satisfying weekend. My mouth and stomach have finally forgiven me for making the mistake on Saturday of trying to cure my second ever hangover with the closest thing to chicken noodle soup I could find in the corner store: Hormel brand canned turkey stew. If I had seen the recipe on the back for "Teriyaki Turkey Chow Mein" before I had bought it, it would still be on their shelf instead all but three spoonfuls ending in my garbage can.

Clearly this city is too rough on me. I work about 10-15 hours a week to pay for a 1 bedroom apartment next to a public transit system that lets me go to parties miles away, introduces me to friends who like sending me audition notices, and then feeds me two days later with, let me repeat this, lobster ravioli with saffron cream sauce. Just the sacrifices we make, I guess.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Getting Active Again

This, once again, is the school of social work across the street from my apartment. But it's got a small new addition you can see on the sidewalk in front: bike racks. Good ones.

I don't remember when I first noticed them. It was some night coming home this week. Probably either Tuesday, right after a successful play reading and hanging out with friends at Rodeo Bar with live music for Mardi Gras, Wednesday, helping one kid with his monologue from Romeo and Juliet, another with turning fractions into decimals and back, and a third with vector math in physics, or Friday, after an art gallery opening deep in the "post industrial" Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, coming in time to meet my newest couchsurfer after his flight from Dallas. It wasn't Thursday because after some really good chocolate with one friend and a hands on guitar rig lesson from another, I ended up in a bar with hard cider having a loud four-way argument about the virtues and pitfalls of playing hard to get that lasted late enough that I ended up crashing on my buddy's couch. I had to be in the same neighborhood at 10:30 the next morning for an Alexander Technique lesson anyway.

The point is, if I got a bike (and a couple good locks), I'd now have a convenient place to park it that wouldn't involve carrying the thing upstairs.

When I first told people here that I wanted to get a bike, the general response was "nice knowing you." But biking here has improved since then. There are more bike lanes and in a few months the city will actually start a full-on bike share program. Nobody here wears helmets, so I'll stand out a bit since I refuse to ride without one (except the one time in Laos where I was riding a couple days to teach an English class - I really didn't have an option).

I've been hosting a lot of couchsurfers recently, and I've had one recently ask me about playing basketball. I haven't changed my profile in so long, it still says I play that here. I haven't touched a basketball in a very, very long time. Frankly, living in Harlem, I don't think I'd last long playing against some of the middle-school kids I see out on the courts here.

But if I could find another place where I wouldn't get laughed off the court, I'm thinking I could get a ball, a pair of shoes for the job, and see how much I remember. That and a bike.

It's funny, a few weeks ago, I was concentrating mostly on what I could spend money on to enhance my home. Rugs, a new laptop, something to let me watch other things on my TV. Now I'm starting to think it might be time to spend money on things that will get me to be a little more active instead.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Here's what I've been getting ready for in the last few weeks:

State of Play Productions presents a reading of 
North to Maine: A Journey on the Appalachian Trail 


Tuesday, Feb 21st 2012 @ 7:30pm Shetler Studios – Shetler 1 – 244 W 54th Str (btwn Broadway & 8th Ave)


I'm in it. My part is a good, fun part. As long as you RSVP with me or the company in advance, it will be a free event, and there will be wine served.


See you there!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Midnight Stroll

I don't know why I did it.

The plan involved something vague about being out in a city that had just won a championship that night. The plan hadn't been to walk from Astor Place to the deserted streets by city hall alone as some clock tower tolled out midnight.  I guess I'll remember this as the night the Giants won the Superbowl and I walked alone across the Brooklyn Bridge.

It was beautiful walk. I think I saw six people on the bridge the entire time I was on it. According to the big clock on the watchtower building, I stopped in the middle for the view at 12:17am. It also said it was 32 degrees out, F. It felt warmer.

There's a place a little on the Brooklyn side, where the walkway has corrugated aluminum siding. It sort of blocks out some of the ambient light. And if you sit down, and look up, you can sort of see stars. There aren't many places you can do that in this town.

I saw things tonight. I saw a giant glass door of a club, shattered into a million pieces, while some guy stood with his friends outside saying something about how this is what happens if you mess with "the Tree." I saw a car drive on the Brooklyn Bridge with a plastic bumper dragging on the ground by the corner. It's funny while you see it driving. It's less funny later when you walk by the car pulled over and a family standing around the car looking hopeless.

It felt good walking along the bridge. For once, I really felt like I was doing something. I miss that feeling.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Something's Rotten in My Audition

Now that I'm back in town from the tropics, for the first time in a long time, I've got the time to spend working on auditions. In fact, in a little over a week, I'll have my first one in months. The Shakespeare Forum is putting up their first ever production: Hamlet.

Is it a sign of my generation that I want to put a hashtag on everything? Because ending that last paragraph with #ambitiousmuch? would be just about perfect.

Hamlet and Ophelia have been cast. But that leaves a couple roles I'd want wide open for the taking. I watched David Tennant's Hamlet (see above) to get a grasp of characters and to try to jog my memory of what monologues work best for two targets: Horatio, and Laertes. I think I've got a better shot at Horatio, given what I know about my competition, and anyway the character actually appeals to me a bit more. Though it's a close call.

Speaking of competition, I know I have a lot of it. The good thing is that I'm friends with the director and precast leads. Unfortunately so is almost everyone else who's auditioning. This is going to be an odd social experience for everyone involved.

In the meantime I'll be taking care of the Appalachian Trail thing, a sizzle reel another friend just asked me to submit to, and running out the door to save a student's chemistry grade.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Next Show: North To Maine

I haven't been to an audition in a good long while. I've been going out of town too frequently-- first to Chicago, then twice to Seattle, and this weekend I'll be off to Tobago. It's hard to plan a rehearsal schedule around that kind of availability.

So it came as something of a surprise to me when I got an email offering me a big role in a play being workshopped by State of Play Productions. It's called North to Maine, and it's about the adventures and the people on the Appalachian trail. Especially the "thru-hikers," the ones who take on all 2000+ miles of the hike in one shot.

Aside from growing up surrounded by the outdoors and going hiking every month or so, I like the setting because the culture of the hike reminds me a lot of the culture of international backpackers, something I have a good amount of experience with.

We'll start the workshop process when I get back. There will not be a main stage production of it just yet, but there will be something with an audience, so if you want to be a part of it, stay tuned.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How to End a Day

I don't often get to come here. In fact I've only been in once before. Kind of strange since it's two doors down from my apartment.

The place is Creole. It's a restaurant that often feature live jazz acts during the week. There are two reasons I haven't been in much. One, they shut down before midnight whenever there's live music, meaning I'm usually home too late to enjoy it. Two, they almost always charge a cover.

But I'd come home from my friend's poetry theater show about the subway, black identity, and street culture a little before 11:30. My girlfriend was still uptown hanging out with some friends from her old work, and my friend and current couchsurfer would be out for another 45 minutes, likely getting into some kind of trouble. He was the one who actually showed me around town when I moved here, a couple days before he flew off to Cambridge to start on his PhD in biological anthropology.

What appeared to be a busboy tried to charge me a $5 cover fee before I asked how much longer they'd be playing for. When the guitarist pulled someone up for what he said was "one last song," the guy let me in for free. I got a beer from the bar, tipped the New York City unofficial regulation $1 for the $5 drink, and sat down to listen. That "last song" of course segwayed into another "last song" when they pulled another friend and musician from the audience. I kept sipping the beer.

This is pretty much exactly how I wanted the day to end, even if I didn't know it until I sat down.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Inebriated Holiday

I'm not including a picture of this one. You don't particularly want to see it.

I'd just left the low-key New Years party of a producer in Hell's Kitchen and was getting the subway to meet my girlfriend in the Lower East Side. It was about 2am, and the massive warehouse party she'd been bartending had let her go a little early. Their running out of both several kinds of liquor and even cups helped make that happen.

I have been many places for many celebrations. I don't know if I've ever seen so many drunk  people in one place. I don't mean happy drunk, I mean seriously impaired.

I reached Delancey street after passing three puddles of vomit and found a girl in what looked like a bikini and bunny ears working on number four. Number five came from a dude in the bar where I met Dana and our friends. Fifteen minutes later, he noticed my girlfriend, apparently liked what he saw, and started lurching in our direction. We moved. Quickly. He sat down and swayed at a table for a bit. We left the bar.

On the way out to some kind of food for Dana and our friend Ava (who happened to be celebrating her birthday that night), we saw about a block full of people cussing out a trio of dudes with sideways baseball hats blasting an air horn and dancing to it. A block earlier I'd spotted a taxi driving down the street with the door open and a lady sticking her head out of the open door and vomiting from inside the moving vehicle. A block before that we had passed a young woman crouched on a bicycle that was laying on its side. The young woman was crying and as I passed said to nobody in particular "I need some attention!"

Long before all this I had been chatting at my party about t-shirts. I (heart) NY ripoffs came up. Someone told me that he'd seen one with, instead of the heart, a picture of Eric Cartman from South Park pinching his nose and grimacing. I think that might have been inspired by a night like tonight.

So, Happy New Year, New York! I hope all of those crazies made it home safe.