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...