Monday, December 20, 2010

Electric Problem

I just got an electric bill for a little under $300 a few days ago.

Up to this point, I'd been paying about $60 a month. According to my bills, I'd used around 180 kilowatt-hours a month. This time, my bill says I've used 1,170 kWh in the last 34 days.

Let me give you a picture of my electricity use. I use an electric oven, refrigerator, and hot water heater. I have about five ceiling lights, the two I use most often are CFL bulbs. I have a laptop, printer, speaker, external hard drive and cell phone charger all plugged into a power strip, which I switch off when I'm not using any of the devices. I have two halogen reading lamps I use sparingly.

There was only one thing I thought could change my bill this much: electric heaters.

True, I had used electric heaters once or twice, about half an hour every couple of days. At first I assumed that must be the culprit. They're big power drainers.

But after running around to make sure they were all unplugged, I stopped to think for a second. According to these bills, they would be responsible for roughly 1,000 kilowatt hours. Now lets do some math and physics.

One kilowatt hour is equal to 1000 watts times one hour. For example, a 100 watt bulb switched on for ten hours.

My heaters are rated at 1,500 watts each. That means it takes one 40 minutes to burn through one kilowatt hour. To make the math easier, lets say I had them on for 40 minutes at a time instead of 20 or 30. In fact, lets say I had them on for that long every day for the last thirty days. That would put an additional 30 kWh on my bill.

My usage didn't increase by 30 kWh. It increased by 1,000 kWh.

I talked to my friends. One told me that the highest bill they ever had was in the middle of the summer when they had two air conditioners running roughly twenty hours a day every day. They used something around 350 kWh. Another set of friends has electric heaters on most hours of the day, plus two computers and countless electronic devices always on. Their last bill was for 300 kWh.

So I thought the reading must have been a mistake. Maybe I'd used 170 instead of 1,170. I called my apartment super and asked him to take a look. He just did.

Not only was the meter reading correct on my bill, but in the five days since it was taken, my apartment has apparently burned through almost 50 more kWh. I wasn't even home most of that time.

Something is seriously wrong here.

When he took the reading, we had switched off all the circuit breakers in my apartment. The meter wasn't moving. I'm leaving for Seattle tomorrow, and on my way out, I'm going to switch them all off again. He's going to take another reading tomorrow, then yet another when I get back on New Years Eve.

Either someone is stealing my electricity, or starting mid November there is now something very, very wrong with my wiring.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Santa Claus Army

I've been a in a few places where crowds of people have drunkenly started to sing their national anthem for no apparent reason. This weekend was the first time I'd seen it happen in my own country.

There was something strangely appropriate about it. It was inside of a packed bar in Greenwich Village, New York City. About 90% of the people inside were dressed as Santa Claus. Most of them were highly inebriated. The bar was about as big as the pizza shop pictured to the left, only with about 90+ more people inside. A random dozen decided this was the perfect moment to start singing The Star Spangled Banner. Most of the rest joined in.

It was a bunch of young Americans getting terrifically drunk off of cheap light beer in America's most trendy neighborhoods in its biggest city dressed as the non-religious image of the biggest holiday in American culture, and coincidentally the biggest corporate spending and consuming season. All in the spirit of goodwill towards all. With a slight hint of irony, because, after all, this is New York, and Williamsburg (aka Hipstertown, USA) is only four stops away on the L train. Does it get more American than that?

Well, yes, probably, but only because "American" is such a fluid term these days.

The cause of all this? Santacon 2010. As organizers describe it, "non-denominational, non-commercial, non-political and non-sensical Santa Claus convention that occurs once a year for absolutely no reason."

If you were anywhere in the West Village after about 2:30pm yesterday, you could not have tossed a candy cane without hitting someone in a Santa outfit. Sometimes they had beards. Sometimes they had dresses. I'm pretty sure I saw at least one with both. I even saw two Jewish Santas, one in a blue Santa outfit with a star of David pendant at least two feet across, the other in a completely normal Santa costume, except for instead of the normal hat, he was wearing a huge, red, hasidic-style shtreimel. Most Santas around town were drinking, and occasionally making out with Mrs. Claus, elves, reindeer, and other Santas. Also smoking. There's something really funny about watching a dude in a Santa outfit light up a cigarette.

While I accept that this sort of event happens in many other places aside from New York City, I don't know of any place else where, the very next day, on my way to work I would end up running into two city blocks shut down for a Shiite celebration of Ashura. The Santas were hilarious, but the Shiia gave me free pizza. Shoukran and Salaam Alekum, folks.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Good Morning

You know what's really comfortable? Sleeping under a white goose feather down comforter. A nice big one.

My brother sent me one as an early Christmas present. He read what I said here about my apartment building not having a central heating unit, and decided I could use something like that. I brought it home from the post office yesterday. A certain generous, highly intelligent, and attractive writer had given me her old futon the day before. I put away the leaky air mattress and the frame I saved from the trash heap, and set up my new bed.

I may be barely making my rent with my meager hours in my multiple day jobs, but that does mean I have a great deal of time on my hands. I'm pretty insistent on getting eight hours of sleep every night. I'm not behind. I thought I'd just get that again when I went to bed a little before midnight.

I woke up again well after 11am. That was a good night's sleep.

I rolled around and stretched, feeling like a happy, warm cat. Then I reached for my phone. I'd just been redesigning my sister's website and had found out very late last night that through a miscommunication, we'd cut off her new email. I wanted to see how urgent it was. I'd told her to call if it was, but with that comforter, I thought there was probably a good chance she'd called and I had slept right through it.

No missed calls. I flipped open my email. Tons of new messages. Naturally. Three got my attention right away, they were all from Actor's Access, my main platform for getting auditions. I submit a headshot and resume, and if the casting director likes me, they send me a message via something called "Cmail." The three messages' subject lines each read as follows:

3:03am- Cmail Notification
6:03am- Cmail Reminder
9:03am- Cmail- Final Reminder

I still can't believe how often showbiz expects you to check and respond to all messages. I followed the link from Email to Cmail and found an audition invitation. SAG short film agreement pending. They want me to read for the lead. Wow, fantastic. The catch? This lead character is a high school senior.

I vividly remember watching Back to the Future for the first time, and assuming the Michael J. Fox was playing the dad. When I realized he was supposed to be a high school kid, I was stunned, and almost offended. He looked thirty.

When I was sixteen, some friends of friends once mistook me for "somebody's dad or something." Now, I'm twenty-four. Dark hair and sensitive pale skin have given me a semi-permanent five-o-clock shadow. Leaving even my collar shirt button open often prompts other guys to joke pretend I'm challenging them to a chest hair competition. They usually lose. When I told the calculus student I tutor (an actual high school senior) today that these people want me to read for the part of a  seventeen year old, she nearly fell on the floor laughing.

So, potentially, I might be following in some very famous footsteps. They just happen to be footsteps I once treated with disbelief and mild derision. Well, if they think I can act like a convincing high school senior next week, I'll be a high school senior again for them. Either way, I'll just have fun with this reading.

That's next week. Before that, tomorrow, I've got a callback with the Independent Actors Theater. After lunch with an old college friend, before a holiday party at Edge Studio, a birthday party for another college friend, and maybe a cast party for a hilarious stage adaptation of Tommy Wisseau's The Room. Life's still pretty good out here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Level Up

A couple months ago I came out here with a sublet, a bunch of college credits on my resume, a black and white photo taken by the father of a friend for my headshot (see the little one in the above?), and no job.

You are looking at my new acting headshot photo, to the left. I now have that, a professional acting credit on my resume from a New York theater in the middle of the Broadway theater district, a gig blogging for the most important entertainment industry publication in the city if not the country, four part time jobs that pay me and a fifth that compensates me in voiceover training, an agent that's interested in representing me, and my own one-bedroom apartment.

Cue giant nerdiness: I used to play a lot of video games where you would run around the first level doing tasks, fighting enemies etc until there'd be a little flash and you'd see the words "Level up!" and then a little summary about how all of your attributes have improved, and maybe you've developed some new skills, enabling you to progress further into the game. That's kinda what's happened here. I have levelled up from "Aspiring Actor" to "Beginning Professional Actor."

So. Next steps. My potential agent wants me to get some commercial credits or training on my resume, and will then feel comfortable sending me in for commercial auditions. I may stick with her-- the agency just moved here from Philly and is open about the fact that they'd be sending us back there for most of their auditions. Fine, except we have to foot the bill for travel expenses. I'm thinking I might be able to do better-- I haven't actually put any effort into finding an agent, these people just happened to get my resume from the showbiz expo thing I went to. So if I actually start marketing myself...

My one room apartment is actually the same sublet, only now it's in my name. It's actually grown on me a lot since I last wrote about it. With any luck I'll soon be sleeping on a full-size futon soon, instead of the air mattress plus frame found in the garbage pile. My jobs are all picking up so I think I'll soon be making more than I spend on rent and food, which is exciting. I've got a list tacked next to my desk of things to buy when I start making more than that. Probably half of it is furniture. Oh and I've got two little electric fan heaters from Target that heat the place up quickly and efficiently, plus my brother is giving me an early birthday present of a down comforter, so I'll be plenty warm at home this winter.

I'll complete my voiceover training and soon be able to submit myself with a professionally produced demo for jobs in that front. It's almost as competitive as general acting, but the pay is a lot better. So ideally someday I'll be able to support my "real" acting with my voice acting. In the meantime I'm tutoring a few students in calculus and physics, serving banquets, occasionally moving furniture, and soon, catering.

And as for acting, I just need to keep hitting up Actors Access, Backstage, and Mandy for breakdowns and auditions. And one of these days I'll saunter over to the equity cattle calls for kicks while I'm at it. I've got two different crews who told me before thanksgiving that they wanted me to audition in December, so I'm waiting to hear back from them. So a lot of waiting around, really. Submitting photos and waiting and hoping.

In the meantime, I'll just keep having fun in the city.

Monday, November 22, 2010

This is who it's for

This weekend was great reminder of one of my favorite things about being an actor. It's not quite on stage.

Almost four years ago, I was in a show called "Carthaginians" with University Theater. My character, Hark, spent a good amount of time downstage left, a foot or so from the front row seats. Our third performance, I crossed to the space and immediately recognized who was sitting in the two closest seats. I couldn't look at the faces, but I recognized the shoes. Sitting in front of me in the audience, near enough to reach out and touch, were one of my best friends in University Theater, and my girlfriend who had flown to Chicago from Seattle to see me. I teased them about being a distraction later, but I kind of loved it.

Just this last summer, at ReAct Theater in Seattle, my first professional gig, I was running late to one of my shows. I ran through the lobby about half an hour later than I should have been, and almost shot right past one of my mother's best friends from college. He was one of a huge gang of family friends there, and he told me that they had the entire third row. I didn't look directly, but I knew their laughs, and I could occasionally sneak in a glance. Just for kicks.

Then this last Saturday was the big night. I knew I had a couple people coming. But when I hit the stage, I immediately realized that the entire front row was filled with some of my best friends. From one of my college roommates, another two college friends, one of which I acted with twice and even traveled through a chunk of Europe with, to two of my best friends in New York in the CouchSurfing community, to one of my castmates from back on out reality show with NBC about studying abroad with his girlfriend.

Maybe someday, if I'm incredibly lucky, I'll be playing to big audiences in Broadway theaters or in a major motion picture. But even then, when I know that I've got friends and family in the audience, that will be more of a joy than the fame ever could be. Performing for the ones who really know me, and then getting to meet them after the show.

And this time, Saturday, I could look them right in the face.

You see, this wasn't quite like any show I'd ever done before. This had no respect for the fourth wall. This was laughing by audience interaction. It wasn't just sketch comedy, it was clowning. That meant that sometimes we picked people in the audience and picked on them until they and everyone around them laughed. It was... something outrageous.

What kind of outrageous? Well, aside from a lot of small roles in sketches, I had two major parts, both monologues, directed straight at the audience. Now, I don't get type cast much, luckily, but if I ever am wedged to a type, it's usually the brainy, slightly neurotic, lovable nerd. I've occasionally played tougher, more serious roles. An ex IRA terrorist/freedom fighter, for example. But I knew I was in for something different when, on the first day of rehearsal, I was one of the very few people immediately assigned a role and a script. The script began as follows:

"I've been a whore, gigolo, prostitute, whatever you want to call it for so long it seems to be the only thing I've ever been good at. My first client was one of my mother's friend's. I was 14. My mother was having a big dinner party, and Mrs McKenzie, the pastor's wife asked me to go down with her to the wine cellar. She said she needed some help from a strong, young man..."

That was the tame monologue. The other one starts out with me, surrounded by four dancing girls, declaring to the audience: "I love it when my girlfriend has an orgasm! Especially when I caused it!" You don't get away with saying that kind of anywhere but onstage. Especially when it evolves into playing yourself up as the famous superhero, Orgasm Man (flying from house to house, rescuing women from their mundane sex lives!).

I got to do four shows this last weekend. Two of them had big audiences. One of them was the first show on Saturday, when I had the most parts and when all my friends came this time. Easily my favorite show of the run. There's nothing quite like having all so many of your friends from completely different parts of your life come up after the show to laugh and congratulate you. Even after, or maybe especially after, you've just spent a good chunk of their time telling them all about how you've been a whore.

Monday, November 15, 2010

So, How Did That First Show Go?

One week ago, I was in one of the performing casts of Something Outrageous at the 45th st theater, slated to perform Saturday at 7:30pm. By Tuesday, I was a member of two of the performing casts, Saturday at 7:30, and also at 9:30. On Friday I called my director-in-everything-but-title at 3pm and told him I'd finally gotten headshots for their press kits and sandwich boards, and asked if I could drop them off.

"Yeah. Great. Sure. Actually... can you perform tonight?"

I stopped in my tracks on the sidewalk.

"Um... I guess so. What time?"

"8:30 and 9:30. You'd need to be here at 5pm."


"Great. See you then."

I was now a member of four performing casts.

The show is made up of comedic scenes and monologues. No two casts do exactly the same set of scenes, but they all draw form the same pool. So I could come in and do the scenes I did for one show easily for the other shows. Not only that, but I saw and heard multiple other actors doing my scenes. Each doing them slightly differently.

The first show had a packed but quiet house. I wish I could tell you exactly what I said, but I know a few more of you are coming to see the show, so I'll save the surprise for later. I'll post a couple highlights after the run is over. I got a few people to laugh, silently, but if there's one thing that scares the living daylights out of a comedy cast, it's an audience that does not laugh out loud. Morale backstage was not good.

Next show, we had three people in the audience. All women. Several scenes call for messing (very gently) with men in the front row. So I and the other two men of the Sunday cast were planted alongside the audience members until we were called upon to do our scenes. The three women laughed and catcalled more than the entire previous audience combined. So while the ticket sales freaked out the people in charge of the theater, we as a cast had the time of our lives.

Then came Saturday. Five shows in one night. Five casts in one tiny little Off-Off Broadway theater, each running through a last minute cue-to-cue with the feeling of an army regiment doing drills in basic training. Fortunately nobody was asked to do pushups. I was in the first and last shows, so I was in that theater from 3pm, when I'd first been asked in to run my biggest monologue with the director until well after 11pm, when the last show ended.

It was a bit of a comedy blur. The people running the open bar were taking every opportunity they could to promote double-fisting among audience members. The audiences were thin, unfortunately. Funnily enough this happens when the theater doesn't do any publicity. But, with the exception of the penultimate show (I wasn't in that cast, so I'm not sure what happened), they all loved it. Except for one particular writer who later gave me an earful about the style and the audience participation bits, but I think everyone else had a pretty good time (and even she said the acting was great).

And if you come next week, so will you. Here's the rundown if you want to see me.

Friday is not the night to see me unless you absolutely can't come on Saturday. If we do the same thing as last week (no promises, it could very easily change) I am featured in one scene at 8:30 on Friday, and have two bit parts at 9:30.

Saturday is much better. I've got two major roles and five cameos at 7:30, and one major role with five cameos at 9:30. The 7:30 show starts promptly on time. Last week, the "9:30" show went on a little after 10pm. Keep in mind that there is an open bar included in the ticket price, and it opens at 7:15. So if you come for the 9:30 show on time, that means a good half hour or more of drinking, if you're into that sort of thing. Seems most of this city is.

So, to recap, if you are in New York and have not yet seen me onstage, come to Something Outrageous at the 45th St Theater, at 354 45th Street, Saturday the 20th at 7:30pm or 9:30pm (or, failing that, Friday the 19th at 8:30pm or 9:30pm). Tickets are $25 and include open bar. Bring a crowd of 10 or more and you get a discount on the tickets. Come, watch, laugh loudly.

See you there!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In New York? Come See My Show!

This is not the actual image for my show. this is just the first thing that comes up when you put "Outrageous" into Google image search. And therefore it quickly became the graphic for the Facebook event. Which is really all the publicity my show has had so far, and probably will have, beyond word of mouth.

The show is Something Outrageous and it's happening at the 45th Street Theater, 354 W 45th St, and it's opening this Saturday with performances at 7:30pm and 9:30pm.

If you've been paying attention, you'll notice that has some new information-- I'm now appearing not in one performance each night, but two. One of the guys in the 9:30 cast had to drop out because of an unspecified personal conflict. So I'm stepping in.

Both shows are $25, and include an open bar. Both shows are going to be hilarious. I'm slightly more heavily featured in the 7:30 one. That said, if you're coming mainly for the open bar, come for the 9:30 show. It will start at least 20 minutes late, and the bar will be open that whole night. The 7:30 will start promptly on time, and I'm not sure how much earlier the bar will be open, probably not much.

So, that's the vital info. But what is the show exactly? So glad that I pretended you asked! It's a sketch comedy show. Think Second City or Saturday Night Live. It's not improvised, but it's very similar in nature to improv. Most of the material is based on sex and dating, and the hilarity therein. If you bring the kids, they just won't get it. If you're offended by any of the following words: Orgasm, Breasts, Balls, Ass, or Corned Beef, then you probably shouldn't come either. Still reading? You'll love it.

See you there!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Home Sweet Freezer

This is about half of my apartment's main living space. I wrote before that I was looking for places to move to. But the place has really started to grow on me. The neighborhood isn't fantastic, but it's better than I'd originally given it credit for. And the subway is just a couple minutes away. It will feel much better once I have some actual furniture in there. It faces away from the street, so it's quiet, yet the windows are big enough to let in a lot of natural light in the main room and bedroom. And besides, it is a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan for $1075, a price you couldn't get a studio for in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. That's cheap.

Now over the last week I've started to understand why it's so cheap.

In my month-to-month lease was strange rider. One of the clauses was that the tenant would be responsible for the costs of heating the place. When I called and asked about it, the landlord told me it was because each tenant had control over the heating system in their apartment, and therefore paid depending on how much they used. They said it would come out of the electrical bill.

I was dumb. I was also desperate, because I had only ten days to either sign back on with this place or find a new one, and finding a new one would be next to impossible because of my income. In New York City, almost all landlords expect documentation of annual income equal to or exceeding 30 times the rent to prove you can afford the place. Since my income is all as an independent contractor instead of a wage earning employee, that's almost impossible. Plus it was still hot enough in the apartment that I was spending most of my time in it wandering around shirtless. So I signed the lease and rider.

What should have occurred to me is that, if I was responsible for paying for heat, and that that heat came in through the electrical bill, then the three baseboard space heaters in my apartment just might be the only sources of heat in the place. As in the ones that we're pretty sure are fire hazards if you put anything near them.

It is now about forty degrees outside. When I wake up in the morning, my nose sometimes feels like it's an ice cube about to fall off my face. And it's only going to get colder. By at least another 20 degrees in January and February.

Since this unit was one my friend lived in before, I asked her how she managed. She said it was just by the baseboard heaters, and that it was still pretty cold. Not only that, but when she used the heaters only when she was at home, her electric bill in February went all the way up to $150.

NY housing law mandates central heating systems in all apartments unless a permit is granted to allow an electric heating system. That appears to be what I have. But I looked on the Department of Buildings website and found that my building doesn't seem to have any permits. It also has a dozen or so violations that have all been dismissed by inspectors, no details available online except for one in 1995: it has the note"NO BOILER, ELECTRIC HEAT ONLY."

I haven't called the landlords to ask about it yet because I'm not sure what to tell them or ask them. They've been really nice so far... Anyway I'm not sure there's much they or I can do-- installing a central heating system would be quite an undertaking, I assume. But I'm going to be investigating. I don't feel like freezing this winter.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Another Milestone in My Acting Career.

Question: What the best thing to yell if you want to get an actor's attention?

Answer: "Waiter!"

There's some truth to the stereotype. Not all actors are waiters, but it is a job with flexible hours that, if you are good at getting tips, can pay significantly more than an entry-level, 9-5 desk job. When your acting doesn't pay the bills (almost always for 99.9% of us), waiting tables is a good way to make enough cash to pay rent.

Some actors are very proud of the fact that they have never waited tables. As of tonight, I am no longer one of them.

A lot of actors/waiters will look down on me a bit for this because I'm not actually working as a waiter, bartender, or even busboy. Thanks to a friend (who's back in the states after working as a fashion model in Milan), I've landed a job a banquet server. Instead of tips, I get paid a flat rate. It still works out to be more than double what I got as a legal assistant back in Seattle. The hours are sporadic and limited, so it might not be quite enough to pay Manhattan rent, but it's a good start.

They asked me for a resume and a picture of myself. I gave both to my friend, Lauren. She told me a couple days later that they wanted to hire me. No interview. Just a call a day or two later asking me to come in at 6, wearing black pants, black shoes, and a black collared shirt, and to bring my passport.

I came in, filled out a form with my contact info, checked the box that said "male", and handed over my passport for a photocopy. Then I was told to go into the other room and find Geno. Geno didn't have anything for me, so I just milled around the lounge with all the other people in black.

For some odd reason, everybody in the room seemed to think the correct answer to "What is it exactly that we do?" was "Don't worry it's easy." I mean, I'm glad to know it's easy, but... what is it? It was a bit like being a toddler handed a bike with training wheels and told to go ride it in circles. Nobody bothers to tell you how, what part your supposed to sit on, which way you face, or what part you hold onto. They just assume it's obvious. So you just try a few things, see if anyone yells at you, and try not to look like an idiot in the process.

So what I ended up doing was mingling for about two hours with a tray full of drinks to offer a party of 300 venture capitalists. Then another hour collecting empty glasses, toothpicks, napkins, etc. Like they said, easy. And they fed us afterwards.

That was yesterday. Today was a little trickier. Today we actually waited tables at a sit-down banquet.

"What do I do?" I ask. "Don't worry, it's easy." They say.


I'll admit, the pressure was a little off, since I wasn't working for tips, and I was surrounded by other people working other tables who had my back. I had two tables, one with 10 people, another with 11. Only two choices of dish to serve: steak or salmon. To any experienced waiter, it would have been the easiest job in the world. I am not an experienced waiter.

Because of this, there was a lot of bumping of objects, a couple of times I nearly spilled drinks, at least one drink served to the wrong person, and probably slower service than anywhere else in the room. But the only ridiculously bad moment was when I found that someone had served one of my guests the salmon, after he had ordered steak. I was lucky-- he was in the bathroom and I was able to switch it out for a steak just as he got back to his seat. The only problem was that he had lost his steak knife.

Simple enough. I went to the kitchen. No steak knives. I asked about them, and they told me to go to the lounge where they were plating the food. The lounge told me to ask the manager. the manager told me to go to the kitchen, then ran off before I could answer. A second glance in the kitchen didn't yield anything the first hadn't. I checked the bar, the other corner where I'd spotted knifes at one point, the kitchen and serving area again, and asked two more managers. Nobody knew where the steak knives, and all were busy with other issues. I finally scanned the tables near mine, spotted someone who had finished his steak, asked to take his knife, washed it by hand in the kitchen, and brought it back out to my guest, just in time to see that he had managed to finish the thing with his butter knife. Glad I wasn't working that table for tips.

The other thing I'm not yet good at it carrying lots of breakable things containing liquids and leftover food. I was very careful, so no spills, but whenever I was bringing things to or away from a table, I had about half the things any of my colleagues were carrying at any given time, and I was moving about half their speed.

It'll all come with practice.

In the meantime, I just have to get a second set of all black clothing-- what I've been wearing the last couple nights is going to be half my costume for my show. Besides, I really shouldn't work in an environment where spills are so frequent wearing the dry-clean only pants of my black suit. But, neither my show nor my employer has a budget for getting us uniforms/costumes. So it's off to the thrift stores we go!


By the by, completely unrelated, but if you want to help me out with something that will take 30 seconds, I'm choosing a new headshot. I've got my five favorites on this Facebook album: Comment on the ones you like the most! If you have a little extra time and want to glance through the whole album, you can find it here: The password is "joelputnam". Thank you...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Big Ruly Mob

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held a rally in DC yesterday. They prepared for an attendance of 60,000. They got over 200,000. Have you ever thrown a party where you expected twelve people to come to your house and instead got more than forty? That's one packed living room.

The rally was due to start at noon. Around 10am, I left my friend's place in Vienna, Virginia, to get on to the second to last stop on the orange subway line to DC. I found a line of people for the subway ticket machine that stretched roughly fifty yards out the subway station entrance, doubled back around a corner and then went another sixty or so yards the other direction, going halfway across a highway overpass. I waited half an hour, moved about ten feet, called my host and asked if I could pay him to use his pass for the day. He drove over, and I bypassed the line.

Next came the subway. Luckily there had only been one stop ahead of us. The subway cars were only moderately full. When we got in, it started looking like a Seattle bus at rush hour. Two stops later it looked like a New York subway at rush hour. By the next stop, the only cities I'd been to that I could still compare it to were Bombay and Beijing. One woman behind me asked for help because her feet weren't touching the ground anymore. By the way, we were still in the suburbs at this point, and had at least six more stops to go before we'd reach walking distance of the rally.

But we did get there, right on time, at noon. And we got to see what might have been my favorite part of the rally: the signs. If anyone had ever watched a rally of some sort and thought of a funny thing to put on a sign, this was their first opportunity to actually do it. This includes signs saying things like "Ideas I disagree with may still be constitutional," "My arms are tired," "I don't know what this sign says but daddy said there would be ice cream," "FYI, Hitler's been dead since 1945" "My ideas are too complicated to fit on a si," and perhaps my favorite and the most simple of all: "Meh."

The crowd was somewhat large and dense in the way the the pope is somewhat religious. There were speakers and Diamondvision screens set up, roughly enough to deal with the 60,000 they had predicted in their permit. I didn't know that yet, but I did know they they clearly didn't have enough. I spent half and hour squeezing my way forward, hoping to get a view of the stage, while The Roots and John Legend performed as openers. By the time the guys from Mythbusters came on, I had almost reached the front, but was way off to the sides, and I couldn't hear or see a thing. So I joined the oozing throng going the other direction, backwards, in time to hear a huge chant at the back: "Lou-DER! Lou-DER! Lou-DER!" A somewhat self-defeating chant because, by it's very nature, it had to stop completely every few seconds to see if it had had any effect.

So I changed tactics and instead of going for a good view, I tried my hardest to get in front of some speakers. I succeeded just in time for Jon Stewart to start talking (he asked everybody to leave the place cleaner than we found it, possibly, if there were any landscapers in attendance, with a few extra topiaries that had not been there before). I could see one screen in front of me, 3/4 of which was obscured by tree branches, another screen to my left at an angle which made viewing anything on it impractical, and the stage in the distance if I annoyed the small family behind me and stood up on my toes. Two people to my immediate left, who had each come separately and did not know each other, turned out to be from Seattle.

The rally stayed safe, a bit aimless for the most part, but mildly amusing. Just not quite as biting as the show of either person. There were a lot of unexpected musical guests which were fun to see, like Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osbourne. At the same time. Seriously, they were trying to play over each other, were interrupted several times, and then left in feigned disgust. Honestly, it's funnier to write about than it was to watch.

Then came a series of funny awards for sanity and fear mongering including an award for fear awarded to Facebook, though Mark Zuckerberg himself was not there to accept it because, as Colbert put it, he values his privacy a lot more than he values yours.

Then a debate: Stewart (accompanied by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, R2D2, and a hotel TV remote) vs Colbert (accompanied by a gigantic paper-mache Colbert torso and waving arms, video montages from major news networks, and a mysterious voiceover dude named "Chuck"). Somehow the debate ended with John Oliver showing up in a Peter Pan outfit. Don't ask me, I don't understand either.

The final ten minutes of the rally left the actual rally part, when Jon asked for a little sincerity. My friend Ryan later summed up the next few minutes as "a set of cliches." But I thought there was more to it than that. It was a good speech (transcript available on several news websites, including the bottom of this one) The main point was that people may disagree with each other politically, but we still get stuff done every day. Best take-away quote, in my opinion? "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing."

The crowd milled around and the then slowly dispersed. It takes a long time for a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people to do that.

Stewart at one point very early on in the rally said that the only thing that really mattered about the rally, really, was what people said about it afterwards. After having read a few of the news reports online, I have one piece of advice for the folks who didn't get to see it up close: find reports written by people who were obviously there. The hour-by-hour summaries and live blogs and "my day at the rally" articles I've seen appear to be much more accurate than the regular news reports. The New York Times report in particular reads like it was written by someone who had not been there at all, and had possibly written it about a day before the rally actually happened, filling in a few choice blanks after the fact. You can do better than that.

So, was it a good time? Yes, it certainly was. And, in my opinion, that was the real point. And now I'm off to a slightly different kind of good time: the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade.

Friday, October 29, 2010


I know this is supposed to be a blog about New York City and acting. But I'm gonna take some liberties since I know that the vast majority of people reading this are personal friends of mine. So you won't mind a slight change of subject, will you? I'm pretty sure all the people reading this will enjoy what I'm going to write for the next entry or two.

I'm not in New York City right now. Right now, I'm writing this on my netbook on a bus to Washington DC. I'm going to to the rally being held by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert tomorrow.

If I don't have something from this worth writing an entry about in a couple days, I will be sorely disappointed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Eastern State of Mind

When I was in places as diverse as Syria, New Zealand, and South Korea, people would always ask me where I was from. I'd say Seattle. There was a standard list of responses I would get from people all over. It usually included at least one of the following: Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing, Grey's Anatomy, Frasier, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. They'd have a pretty good idea of where the place was. Once, when I preemptively started explaining where Seattle was, the Kiwi woman I was talking to told me (somewhat indignantly) that New Zealand schools taught their students all about where different American cities were.

Strangely, that doesn't seem to have happened around here in New York City.

When I was out getting a haircut a couple weeks ago, my stylist asked me where I usually went to get my haircut. I told him I'd just moved here. He asked where from. I said Seattle.

"Is that near Atlanta?" He asked.

To be fair, he was born in Uzbekistan. But he'd moved the USA as a small child and had been in New York for sixteen years.

The banker I sat down with a couple days at a Chase branch later did not appear to have any such excuse. He swiped my debit card to pull up my account information, and we made small talk. He asked if the address I had on file was the one I wanted to keep. I said yes, as I wasn't yet sure that my current New York address would be my permanent, long-term one. So he looked again at the address ending in "Seattle, WA."

"So," he said, making more small talk. "What brings you here from Wisconsin?"

Out on the west coast, we tend to think of the two coasts with pretty much equal weight. We've got San Francisco, they have Boston. We have Portland, they have Baltimore. We have Los Angeles, they have New York City. The plane rides between them are long and expensive, but sometimes part of life if you're working in the kind of profession that requires travel.

But the sense I get out here is that anything "out west" is somewhere far, far away where little happens and nobody is really known. Except for LA, which people have heard of and regard with a certain amount of awe and suspicion.

And that's how I ended up in the one place in the world where people both speak some English and don't know where my hometown is.

Then again, in a city where the main part of town is an island and where the other people from other parts of town or the suburbs are referred to derisively as the "Bridge and Tunnel Folk," I don't suppose I should be that surprised. After all, it is the center of the universe, right? ...right?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Shaking the Floor

When my friend said he had two free tickets to go see Two Door Cinema Club, I jumped at the chance. The show was at Webster Hall, one of the big old venues in the Village. I'd spent half my summer listening to their album, and had no expectation of actually getting to see them perform live. The concert was fantastic. The floor was literally bouncing like a taut trampoline. If you ever stopped jumping or bobbing with the music, you could feel at least a couple inches of give, up and down with the beat, because the crowd was just that into it.

Every once in a while, it will really just hit me where I am and what I'm doing. Usually this would be when I was traveling somewhere. But this time, in the middle of an excellent encore, it really hit me full force: there I was, a young twenty-something starving artist in New York City, seeing an up and coming rock band in concert, a few hours after rehearsing my own show for the first time. I don't know who or what is responsible, but whoever it is, thank you!

I got the tickets right after taking the stage myself for the first time in town, the night before. But that's a slightly different story. It starts as follows:

We got out of the subway stop at Penn Station and started our way around Madison Square Garden. Three bottled up text messages frantically jangled my cell phone as soon as I was enough above ground to get a signal. I read them, and started to pick up the pace.

My Chilean guest behind me kept pausing to take pictures. I couldn't really blame him, but we were going to be late, and four of my friends (two of which I'll probably be living with sometime soon) were waiting for us.

We were headed for Magnet Theater. Home of the Magnet Mixer. I didn't honestly know what exactly this was or what it meant. But Barry had told me two things that had me hooked: first, it was improv, and second, I could get on stage and do it with them. I hadn't done any improv onstage since high school. That's too long.

We found the place, hooked up with where I should be, and I went back to sign myself up on the list. The guy in charge asked me what my background was.

"I'm a professional actor, I took two years of improv classes in high school, and I'm currently in a sketch comedy show at the 45th st Theater."

He clearly got the idea, and made a little note next to my name. He warned me that, since I'd come in well after the 11:00 call, I probably wouldn't make it on set. I said I understood, and we took our seats.

The show runs as follows: two MCs have a list of names. They call down two or three people on the list, who then come on stage. The lights turn down low, and a 10-second clip of music plays. The lights come back up, and the people onstage improvise a scene based on the music. The lights cut them off at the appropriate moment, and then the MCs call out two or three more names. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We saw some hilarious stuff. I don't even know how to describe it properly. I didn't expect them to call me up, because I was late. So when they did, I was a little surprised. They played an old time jazz number, so I immediately think film noir, grab two chairs and make like a private eye with my feet on the desk. Then my scene partner opened with the line "That was the best senior prom ever!" What's an improviser to do but to simply act like a Chicago gangster from the 50s who's just come back from his senior prom with his buddy? I put my arm across his shoulders and tell him confidently that yeah, the band did it right, and the night was something, and that when that dame smacked him one, I thought she meant it in a nice way. And we were off to the races.

After the scene was over, we bowed, shook hands with the MCs, who then yelled "wait a minute!" Half the audience echoed this. One MC mimed a microphone, and handed it to me. I took it, tapped it, and looked nervous.

"Joel? Tell us, is this your first time performing at the Magnet Mixer?"


That would be when the dance party erupted. the DJ blasted, of all things, Barbie Girl, by Aqua (I'm ashamed that I even know the artist's name), and everybody got up and danced. It was only half a minute long, but still.

I made my way back to my seat, and my Chilean buddy held up his iPhone. "I recorded the whole thing!" he told me, in Spanish.

After the show, the MCs and regulars introduced themselves, asked me if I was coming to more of these (yes I hope to), and invited me to come with them to a bar down the street. That's when Barry told me about the tickets to Two Door Cinema Club.

I'd say life's pretty good right now.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blog Alert: Backstage Unscripted

I've just begun to write for Backstage on their blog by actors, Backstage Unscripted. My first post is right here. I'll be posting there about once a week, and it'll be different material form what you find here on Constant Audition (because it says so in my contract ;p). Enjoy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Announcing My Stage Debut in New York City

I've been cast Something Outrageous.

I mean that literally. With intentional capital letters. The sketch comedy show called "Something Outrageous" goes up November 20th at the 45th st Theater. First rehearsal is next Thursday, where I'll get my script, and we'll divvy up the parts. Rehearsals are in the middle of the day, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

I'd like to note at this point that my cell phone has developed the odd habit of playing music, unprompted. A week ago, while I was in the middle of listening of an NPR report on the latest in Israel and Palestine, a song from American Idiot by Green Day started playing (right in the middle of the song when they say something about not believing everything you hear).

This time, just now, when I was looking up whether or not the 45th st Theater falls within the contractual borders of Broadway (it does, but doesn't qualify as Broadway in terms of size), Death Cab For Cutie's "Different Names for the Same Thing" came on. I don't know who or what is making this happen, but whoever it is has a very subtle sense of humor.

Oh and by the way, I was also called back for the part of Scrooge for A Christmas Carol. Supposedly callback auditions are tomorrow, but while they've phoned me to say they'd email me the details, I haven't gotten the email yet.

Finally, as long as I'm announcing good news, here's another item I've mentioned to a few people but not yet on Constant Audition. I've been invited to blog for Backstage. They have a special blog called Backstage: Unscripted for working actors. I'll be posting different things there than you'd find here (it says so in my contract) but I'll give links back and forth, so it'll be easy to follow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Some Wednesday

What a day. Rolled out of bed at 8:30. Didn't get back home until 3am. First a meeting to register with a temp agency. Then a meeting with a potential fourth roommate and their four-bedroom in Lefferts Garden. Then meeting with my original potential roommate to be drug around by the nose by a realtor who just didn't have what he'd claimed to have in his ads. Then an audition. Cancelled another apartment viewing. Then home for the first bite to eat since the bagel at 9am. Then out for yet another apartment viewing, this time with both my likely future roommates. Break for a burger at the Shake Shack. Then to Penn Station to pick up a French couchsurfer and get her to my place. Then finally change into formal clothes and go downtown for a job as an extra in a music video.

I'd gotten the call for the music video the night before, while I was with some friends at a pub trivia night in Williamsburg. A simple, non-union gig. three or four hours, starting 9pm, $50. I figured why not. I got an email the next day with the details. The artist was someone I'd never heard of (not surprising, given that it was only a $50 job), and the theme was "red carpet event," and we were supposed to dress accordingly.

I came down in a black suit, with sunglasses hanging from my pocket. At night. Karma decided that sunglasses at night was too pretentious, and would later make sure that they got stepped on before the shoot was over.

But before that, I called the background wrangler and told her I was running late, due to having to pick someone up from the train station. The shoot had been delayed one hour already anyway, so when I got there at 10:30, I hadn't actually missed much. In fact, all I'd missed was half an hour of my thirty-odd fellow extras standing on a ninth floor balcony sipping soda and munching trail mix.

We watched the artist singing. Well, lip-syncing, anyway. The music was a good, catchy R&B number. I pulled out my phone and decided to look this person up.

Turns out Chrisette Michele is a Grammy-award winning singer, signed by Def Jam Records. Shows what I know. Listening to conversations around us, it became pretty obvious that the white extras had no idea who she was, and that the black extras knew all about her.

I'd read a quote earlier that day from Alfred Hitchcock. It went something like "I never said actors were cows. I just said you should treat them like cows!" Hitchcock would have been proud. We were herded from location to location for three hours, without actually doing anything for the camera. Most of the time we were outside, and the lady extras in their red-carpet dresses were clearly freezing. I met some really interesting actors and got some great tips, but none of us were too happy by the time we were finally called upon to do something en masse for the camera around 1:30am. Still, we did it. So if you see Chrisette Michele's new music video sometime in the next couple of months, when it gets to the paparazzi scene, look for a guy on the left with a black suit and red shirt.

In the meantime, the auditions keep going, and they keep surprising me. I submit headshots and resumes for several things every day, and sometimes get invited in to an audition as a result. The two latest were from a theater with a nice flash website who were putting on a Christmas Carol, and something that listed almost no information except for the title "Something Outrageous" and a call for 20-something actors who will do something comedic in a bar. I figured the former would be a formal, reputable theater gig, and the latter a sketchy internet video.

I had it completely wrong. I showed up for the Christmas Carol audition, and found it was in a church basement in Brooklyn, near the expressway. Most people auditioning looked like they were fresh out of high school. I'd signed up for Fred, the Nephew, figuring it was the only age-appropriate part I could audition for. But by the time I got up there and heard the massive stutter on a fellow auditioning actor, I ended up reading for Scrooge as well.

I told the name of the theater company to some friends after, and they cringed. It was a community theater they'd seen a performance of before, and hadn't liked. Rumor has it they cast according to favorites, who they know, rather than what they see in the actors. Possibly this isn't that different from the big leagues?

I next went to the "Something Outrageous" audition. It was in a theater just off of Broadway, with a professional setup, and a producer currently working in LA. The guy running the auditions turned out to be the son of one of the original founders of Second City (a.k.a. the Compass Players at the time), and almost certainly had run into my father at some point in college. The show would rehearse in the daytime, three days a week, has two confirmed Saturday performances, and will likely extend.

At both auditions, women actors outnumbered men at least ten to one. Such is the industry, apparently.

I'll hear back from both within the next couple days. But now, I'm off to show my couchsurfer around town. More to come later...

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Walk in the Park.

If there's one thing I miss in New York City, it's nature. But that was before I discovered two things: The Ramble and The North Woods.

I started my day in a conference room of the Hilton, in Midtown Manhattan. I dropped off a few resumes, met a few people, wowed onlookers at a voiceover academy booth, and entered in a couple free raffles for a free set of headshots and other assorted goodies. After picking up an inside tip on a work-exchange deal with one particular class, I headed out into the street, a couple hours earlier than I'd expected to finish.

There was a big street fair with food from all over the world. Tacos, Kebabs, and more. I spotted a sign for Colombian arepas, but, they were five dollars. To anyone who's been to Colombia, that's a bit like charging five dollars for a bagel with cream cheese. I passed. I turned uptown and started walking, towards Central Park.

I was at 55th street. Central park runs from 59th st at the downtown end to 110th at the uptown end. I'd never walked the full length of the park before. I had a few hours free. So I decided to go for it.

At first, it was the central park I'd seen, up to this point. Clipped grass, trees placed strategically, tourists and street performers walking concrete paths, and the occasional statue. But once I got a little ways past the boathouse, I passed a sign warning of rabies and animal bites, and I was in the woods. That was The Ramble.

It's not a hiking trail in the Pacific Northwest, but it was the closest I'd seen in months. According to signs I passed, it's some of the best bird watching space in the country. If the quiet older couples with camera lenses the length of my forearm were anything to go by, it lives up to its reputation. It's a woodland space of dirt, animals, birds, and plants that naturally grow there, instead of being planted by blueprint. Feeling my feet walk on uneven rocks and roots made me feel much more at home than the smooth concrete paths ever did.

The North Woods were the same way. There's a hidden entrance near the northern baseball fields. A dip into the landscape takes you into a small tunnel, echoing with burbling water. On the other side is a small forest with a wood-chip and rock path next to a stream. And the leaves are just now starting to change color.

Two hours after I'd first entered the park from midtown Manhattan, I was out again in Harlem. I needed to swing by my place before heading to a housewarming party in New Jersey. The same party where I would later get a phone call telling me I'd won the raffle for those headshots.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Smoked that Audition

This photo has absolutely nothing to do with what I want to write about tonight. But it is hilariously New York, and deserves to be shared.

Moving right along, you might remember my first jaunt online looking for auditions. I went to craigslist. One of the gigs was the film project I was part of (and still will be part of when my director gets around to emailing us with call times to the next shoot). The other, I described thusly: 'a play staged by "The Unknown Artists" looking for a 20-something male, amusing, slightly geeky sidekick character.'

Well, I wasn't totally sure what to expect. I read the description of the character, named Adam Elsis III, which didn't ring any bells. It was a funny sidekick who is chasing after the woman of his dreams and his favorite holiday, and then something about a random year in the middle ages. Then it got confusing. despite the fact that the year only has three digits, Adam apparently enjoys video games and can draw a movie parallel to any situation.

Well, I figured it would make more sense later. So I prepped a couple of monologues, double-checked the address of the studio, printed out my resume and headshot, and caught the subway to my first professional stage audition in New York City.

I felt confident. 'Funny, geeky sidekick' is almost exactly what I played in my last show in Seattle, and I had a good monologue straight out of that. I'd picked up a great dramatic monologue to pair it with out of a play nobody seemed to know. I felt good.

I got from Times Square to Pearl Studios on 8th Avenue in plenty of time. I checked in on the fourth floor, met the stage manager, handed off the resume and headshot, and collected a sheet with a few questions to fill out. At the very top was the title of the play: 420.

It wasn't until then that it clicked. 420 wasn't the random year in the middle ages. 420 was the holiday Adam was chasing after. I was auditioning for the part of funny sidekick stoner.

Any of you who know me personally probably know that, while a huge chunk of my friends partake, and I actually favor the legalization of marijuana, I've never smoked anything in my life, and never intend to. Not cigarettes, not weed, not even hookah. It's a personal thing, going back to a family I saw get ripped apart by drugs. I treat it the way most vegetarians do when it comes to friends who eat meat. I don't make a thing out of it, and I have no real problem with other people's preferences. I just happen to have my own on the matter.

And there I was, about to audition for a play called 420.

Well, I thought, I'm not there to play me onstage. I'm there to play a character. And I think, weirdly, this is one I can play.

They called me in. I gave my monologue. It felt.... okay. Not terrific. They asked me to wait outside. A few minutes later, I was handed a "side" (set of lines to read with a scene partner). In this case, I would read for Adam, while someone else would read for another character named Ryan. These were a couple of Adam's real lines:

"Well, we gotta get her drunk. Not 'there's vomit in my hair' drunk b****, just "I love nine because three times three is nine and I love three times three" drunk b****!"

"I was dreaming that is was 4/20 and that we had gotten apartment 420, and that it was 4:20pm and that that bag of peanuts cost $4.20 and that we were having a small gathering of 4 to 20 people and that we toked up and watched half baked, then toked up again and Watched super Troopers."

I don't care if I'm a straight edge in real life. This was going to be fun. Besides, this is a cold reading. Monologues are a challenge, but I eat cold readings for breakfast.

They called me back in, and I read with the guy already cast as Ryan. By the end, I got him to break character and burst out laughing, even though I'm sure he'd read and heard my lines at least half a dozen times that night alone. At that moment, I didn't care whether I got cast or not. That audition was a definite victory.

So, in my email inbox the next morning, I read this from the company:

Hey Joel. I wanted to say that you gave a really wonderful audition tonight. We have, however, decided to go in a different direction. BUT... I keep a very special file of actors that stood out and call them again for upcoming Unknown Artists projects all the time. I definitely see us working together in the future ;)
Thanks again. Great audition!

Like I said. Victory. Besides... for all I say about how much fun it would be to play a total stoner, I don't know how well I'd actually fit in with a show called 420.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Actor's Convention

"Mr. R----- has been in the business for years." The assistant next to the table told me. He was in his forties, dressed like he was trying to be in his twenties. The man next to him, clearly the higher-status gentleman of the stage and screen, in his sixties or so, stood in his fitted jacket and fixed silver hair, his attention on something else.

"His classes are the best," the assistant continued "but they're limited. We only have a few slots and we send them out by invitation only. I sent my daughter to him for-"

The assistant was cut off by Mr. R----- himself looking up from the last people he'd been talking to (without much enthusiasm) and lighting on me. I introduced myself. He asked me about myself. I stayed professional as I could. Relaxed, honest. Mr. R----- perked up visibly.

"Do you have a resume and headshot with you?"

I hesitated.

"Yes, I'm looking around for a more professional headshot, though."

"Well, well let's see it."

I handed it over.

"That's not bad, this is a good picture." They nodded seriously at the headshot, flipping it over to see my resume." Mr R----- leaned over and gestured me his way, pointing to his flyer.

"You have a good resume here. I'm very interested in you. I have this class that I'm offering, by invitation. It fills up fairly quickly..." And he went on to explain that, like many other such "classes" in his town, three casting directors would be there. And they would be looking for new talent. He had one class in November and one in December. He wanted to know if I was interested. He jotted down a quick note about December on my resume, and made sure I got the class description and his card. He nodded confidently.

"I've got a good feeling about you."

I thanked him, and walked past the table, squeezing through the crowd. Mr. R----- watched me and waved as I left, then he turned back to some of his notes, while his assistant handled the other actors that were lining up in front of their table.

Sometimes, I think my life would be happier or more interesting if I were just a little more gullible.

I pulled out another copy of my headshot and resume. The resume, aside from one small theater in Seattle, and a web exclusive show with NBC was almost all student plays. It's a beginning actor's resume. The headshot is a black and white job I got for free with a family friend. Until this Mr. R-----, every single person in New York who had seen it told me that I needed to get a color headshot instead.

One of the funny things about people is that we all know we're special. You especially. No I don't mean just anyone, I know who is reading this right now, and you're special. Seriously. Don't think I'd just write this to anybody. I know exactly who reads this, and I have good feeling about you. You're different.

...aren't you? Well, I'd like to think I am. and anyone who tells me that sure makes me want to trust them. And pay them hundreds of dollars to take a class from them.


I made my way around the end of the row, squeezing between the other headshot-toting actors on the floor of Backstage's Actorfest 2010 convention. The table I had just left was one among four rows of tables of acting coaches, studios, unions, websites, photographers, and agencies represented that day, all vying for actors' business. I took a u-turn and headed for a name I recognized: Actors Connection.

Actors Connection is one of a handful of recognized groups that specializes in the "classes" I'd just described. They technically do teach you things, but most people signing up for them don't sign up just to be taught. You see, in the United States of America, it is illegal to charge money for a job interview of any kind. This includes auditions. So, some people figured out that if you call something a "class" instead of an "interview" or "audition," you can get away with charging. So they get some interested casting directors and agents into a room, and charge actors a small fee to take a "class" with them that just happens to end in an audition in front of them. Some actors are above taking such "classes." Other actors happen to like getting cast.

I walked up to the table and started talking to one of the women there. She was short, several months pregnant, and didn't waste anybody's time.

"Let's see your headshot and resume."

I pulled mine out.

"Okay, first of all, you need a color headshot. You can't come take our classes with this." She flipped the black-and-white print over, "Don't put your address on your resume. It's dangerous. Can I write on this?" I agreed, and she quickly made three changes, calling what I had written "cute" but not what should be there. Then she went on to describe her class catalog.

While another actor asked her a bit more about details, I got the attention of a tall, male colleague of hers. I asked about Mr. R-----. He had never heard of him. I started describing what he had told me. He quickly adopted a forced, blank expression, and I could almost hear the inner mantra in his head of 'thou shalt not speak ill of anyone else presenting at Actorfest,'

But when I repeated the words 'I have a good feeling about you,' he winced and murmured "I'd turn and run as fast as I could." He backtracked a bit, looking over Mr. R-----'s flyer, but still concluded. "I've never heard of this guy. I don't mean he isn't for real but.... buyer beware. That's all I'm saying."

"That's what I needed to hear." I said, "Thanks."

I dropped my resume off in a few casting directors' drop boxes, and went back to mingling and picking up business cards and brochures.

Then, because this is New York, I ended up several hours later and ten blocks north, watching a crowd of 4,000 strangers calmly wrap each other in toilet paper and start dancing to music that only they could hear.

And then I was at an afterparty swapping zodiac and graffiti stories with a Brazilian dancer and a New York independent filmmaker. And then I was on the upper west side at a party in the nicest apartment I've yet seen in the city, hosted by a friend I had run into for the first time in almost three years hours previously. Followed the next morning by meeting the man responsible for my being an actor at all for brunch.

The problem with blogging in this town is that you get enough material to fill a book before you've spent two consecutive nights in your own bed.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Saturday

I was going to this.

Then I found out about this.

Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day.

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!