Monday, May 30, 2011

Home Sweet Oven

So. Summer is here. That's a good thing, I like summer. Summer means trips like the one the missus and I took to the Jersey shore (the real one) this weekend. But now that I'm home, I'm learning that it also brings a slightly different set of problems than winter did.

My apartment is very well insulated. This was helpful when I had no central heating. But this also means the only ventilation comes from the exhaust fan above my stove and the one in the bathroom. Incidentally, whatever I cook in here leaves an aroma floating around or a good day or two. I've cracked the windows for a bit more air, and my insulating curtains help, but otherwise my four 6' tall, east-facing windows heat the place up about 10 degrees hotter than the outside temperature each morning.

By the way, did you know that, in New York City, tonight's predicted low is 10 degrees hotter than the high was last week?

So I've come up with a few ways to combat this, but they're going to take money and time:

1) Window Air Conditioning Units- Thanks to a good Craigslist app for my phone, and some lucky reflexes, I managed to score a small one of these for free for my bedroom: an Energy Star rated 6,000 BTU units. Bit of a struggle hauling it home solo from Brooklyn, but I made it. It's in the window, but hasn't yet been sealed up. I'll also need a 10,000 BTU unit for the main living space of the apartment. Unfortunately, while my little space heaters cost me $30, new, a new A/C unit of that caliber will be well over $200. I'm trawling Craigslist, but the results have been frustrating thus far. I'm also a bit nervous about what this will do to my electric bill.

2) Window Film- Word in the internet is that this stuff helps big windows tremendously from making this place a sun-powered oven in the morning. Word also is that installing the stuff properly is 2-man, multiple hour pain the kisser, especially if you happen to read the instructions wrong. It'll cost $25 a package, and it looks like one package will do two of the four windows. So $50 and whatever it costs to convince some friend of mine that what they really want to be doing in their spare time is help me put sticky plastic on my windows for an afternoon.

3) Ceiling Fans- I got to chatting with my downstairs neighbor, Sean, about A/C units. I told him my situation and he said "As a southerner, I can tell you that ceiling fans are the solution." His apartment has almost the same layout as mine, and he installed three $50 ceiling fans from home depot himself, saying the make a huge difference both in summer and winter. A little cruising on revealed $30 ones available only online. My worry here is that my ceilings are 8'. Supposedly, according to research, that's just the right height for such things, but I'm 6' tall, and I like being able to stretch my arms without getting injured. There are "hugger" options that stay close to the ceiling, such the one I've linked to, but I've also heard people say they don't do as good a job. Finally, while people say installing them is a breeze (sorry), and I do have both the tools and access to the circuit breaker to make that happen, removing my ceiling lights and rewiring a new piece of equipment in their place makes me nervous. If I got the courage and did it, I'll be putting in three $30 sets.

So, I'm looking at an investment of $140-350, depending mostly on how and what kind of air conditioner I can get, plus roughly a day of installation time spread out across each item. I would enjoy the time spent, if I felt like I had it, but as summer comes and all tutoring business goes away, the money is a bit more worrying.

Which is why I need to get a moving on teaching myself to be a web designer/ getting my voiceover demo recorded/ applying for other day jobs with flexible hours. Just as soon as I'm done editing and memorizing my 20 minute one-man show that goes up in less than two weeks. Joy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Show Dates Announced!

We (finally) have performance dates and times for my show! I will be in Alphabet City, "Avenue B." And You can see me perform at The Metropolitan Playhouse (220 East Fourth Street) at 7:30 pm on the following dates:

Sunday June 12,
Tuesday June 14,
Friday June 17,
Sunday June 19, 
Thursday June 23,
and Saturday June 25.

And you can buy your tickets here. Look for "AC B"

Which night are you coming?

Transcribing Is Forever

Avoid this job. Just a piece of advice from me to you. Avoid it if at all possible.

I used to think I was pretty fast at typing. Not amazing or anything, and I still tend to look at my hands instead of the screen, if nothing else to reduce eye strain. But I can still hash out a good 60 words per minute or so. I can do a bit faster, but then it gets riddled with typos. Anyone who has ever instant messaged me knows this well.

But then this last week, I've had to transcribe some interviews for my show. Once again, I'm going to be taking on the persona of a real person who lives in the east side for 20 minutes. My director wants us telling the stories of our subject on stage using their words. Their exact words.

Now, at my voiceover studio, they have this neat little thing on their website called a words-to-time calculator. You can adjust the reading speed, but it tends to assume three to four words per second in a normal speaking speed. For the mathematically challenged and/or lazy, that means 180-240 words per minute.

In other words, my typing speed may be decent, but it's an average of 3-4 times slower than the average person speaks. I now have a whole new appreciation for stenographers.

I've chosen a subject for my show: a friend of a friend named Danny Cornyetz, one of the original Video Jockeys in New York, as well as a fairly famous music video editor in the 80s. He made and edited a little video at home for one of the first hip hop acts to go national, and it was so good that the record label made it the official music video for the song. I've interviewed him twice, each time going over an hour, while we talk about bringing break dancers to England and a professor at a lab trying to rope him into making Quaaludes. Stuff like that.

After this, I'm left with five pieces of interview to transcribe, each averaging out to be about 25 minutes long. So a little less than two and a half hours of material to transcribe.

Now if I'd figured out a way to perfectly stop and start the audio for when I can and can't transcribe, that would take me seven and a half to ten hours to transcribe. Because I'm, sadly, not endowed with telekinesis, I have to do all these little things of pausing, back up the tape, hoping I'm hitting the right second, and waiting for it if I'm too early or backing up further if I'm not early enough. Then there's listening a second time through to catch all the mistakes. So I don't know how long this took, but it was a lot more than ten hours.

The toughest part about this work is that it requires your full attention for every second. You can't have the news on in the background. You're sitting there in front of your computer, typing and listening as hard as you can. No breaks. Or at least, if you take a break, you're immediately conscious of how much time you're adding before you're done.

I used to think a good way for me to write stuff would be to record myself saying it onto tape, and then transcribing. I will no longer even consider that method unless someone is paying me.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Will Work For Money

Bad news, kids. I've been not-quite laid off from the voiceover studio I was working for. I'm still on the payroll, they just cut all my hours. So while I still work for them, I'm not actually doing any work for them. Handy, as I keep all my discounts for training, but not so good for the whole paying-rent-over-the-summer thing.

I did just this afternoon get paired with a new tutoring student, but assuming I even hear from her family, that's almost the sum total of my current income. And the tutoring will dry up in June. For some odd reason, not many kids want homework help over the summer.

While paying rent isn't exactly my idea of a good time, it seems a lot better than the available alternatives. So I need work.

In a perfect world I'd love to get work that I can do from home/on the road (like more blogging/social media?). I've got some vague plans to come to LA and then Seattle in July and August, respectively if I can get the funds and free time. So being able to work while in those places would be a big plus. Failing that I might do some more work as an extra. I might take a part time job with some non profit in town. I might decide to start an online business selling funny blue hats for short people. Who knows. But it's going to be at least a month before I can get any voiceover clients and I don't want to starve or wait tables if I can help it.

In short, I'm bright-eyed, bushy tailed, creative, and so used to thinking outside the box that I have trouble remembering where that darn box was in the first place. If you've got cash and want help, (or know someone else who does) talk to me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Man or Fish?

There was a pause while people in the basement shuffled about a bit, a couple sneaking out to use the bathroom between pieces, other latecomers sneaking in the back. Everyone sitting in the folding chairs looked around expectantly for the next performer.

I got up and walked to the front, starting to talk.

"All right." I said, turning around to face the 30 or 40 people in the audience, "I just memorized this about two hours ago. So we're going to have some fun." Laughs and cheers from the crowd.

"I'm going to need a little help. First of all, I would like a Caliban, please."

My friend Everett, something of an Iago specialist who's been picking up Caliban recently, stood up and came forward.

"Right, now can someone hand me my jacket?" Some laughter from the back. A few people already saw where I was going with this.

"Wait a minute," Tyler, our artistic director said, "Are you doing Trinculo? Are you going to jump on top of poor Everett here? Because when you call for volunteers and you're going to do something physical like that, you really ought to put out a disclaimer first."

"I won't jump on him!" I said. "At most I might snuggle a bit. Everett, if you want to sit down I won't be offended." Everett put up his hands, stifled a grin, and shook his head. He was in.

"You want someone on book?" My friend Jessica called from the back.

I thought for a minute.

"Nah, let's do this without the net. Make things interesting. What I will need though, are a couple people who can be loud. Anyone?"

Solomon and Adam immediately put up their hands. Of course.

"Excellent! Thank you. Now at some point, when I say 'thunderbolt'-- not 'thunder', but 'thunderbolt'-- I want you to make a loud noise."

There were some confused and mystified murmurs, but people were clearly engaged. I walked from the front space we used as our stage down the makeshift aisle between folding chairs, turned around, and began.

"Here's neither bush no shrub to bear off any weather at all! And another storm brewing! I hear it sing i' the wind, yond black cloud, yond HUGE one..."

I tramped down the aisle moaning about how I was probably going to be drenched if not drowned or struck by lightning in a few minutes until I turned and spotted Everett lying under my jacket. Then I got to say a few lines I've wanted to say in front of people since around my senior year of High School.

"???... what have we here? Man.... or fish? Dead or alive... a Fish! It smells like a fish. A very ancient and fishlike smell." And so on and so forth until I finally started to put it together. "This is no fish, but an islander that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt!"

CRASH. At least ten other people joined Adam and Solomon in noise making efforts.

"Alas! The storm is come again! My best way is to crawl beneath his gaberdine. There is no other shelter hearabouts... eugh. Misery acquiants men with strange bedfellows..."

Applause. Thank you, thank you very much.

Tyler, up front put on a big smile, looked at the ground in front of me and said "Wow, thank you for bringing that in."

Uh oh. I think that's what he says when he thinks it needs some serious work. The Tyler scale usually ranges from "That was awesome!" down to "Yeeeeah... Thanks for sharing." I was one polite step above that end.

"Two hours, huh?" He asked.

"Well, I've looked at it before," I admitted, "and I've wanted to do it for a while. But yeah this was the first time I actually sat down and tried to commit it to memory. Plus I cut out a large chunk in the middle. That helped."

"Great! Great. So, what did you bring this in for?"

"Well, my mom is in town," I gestured to my mother sitting in the back row, who smiled and waved. Everyone returned the greeting with enthusiasm. "So I wanted to do something, but I realized the first thing that came to mind was a monologue that involved talking about 'mothers smiling to see their infants quartered at the, erm, hands of war...'" I trailed off, letting the laughs start and then subside a bit, "so I thought I'd do something different. And this piece is so much fun. Really what made me do it was the phrase 'Man or Fish'."

Not having anything more of substance to say I naturally babbled for a another half minute before shutting up to get my feedback. As usual, Tyler talked about getting out of my head a bit more, and then started showing some really great and useful things about clowning that would really help-- mostly about making every single thing that happens the most important thing ever.  Erin, one of the resident artists, quietly from the back said she liked my focus on Caliban and wanted that same focus on the storm cloud in the beginning. There were some tips on breath control and line delivery, Vincent came back to hit me with his usual "I was watching Joel trying to be funny" comment, which was earned.

I did it twice more, Tyler stopping me a couple times, before finally promising to let me do it all the way through without interruption (though I could see him biting his fist on the sidelines to keep from calling out something).

One of the things he said at the end though surprised me.

"I think you've been through too many rehearsals or processes where people have tried to break you down with their direction. Because it seems like you're scared of criticism. Like every time someone tries to say something you kinda have to steel yourself for it like 'oh boy, here it comes.'"

It was a surprise because I've never really had any directors like that. Pretty much every director I've ever had had been very nice. Almost too polite in some circumstances. Some had been somewhat abrupt, but none were openly hostile.

I guess it was more the idea that while a lot of people had a lot of ideas about what should change, while what felt like half the audience came up to me during the break to say how much they'd liked it, nobody had really said anything about what specifically they wanted me to keep. Or maybe it's just because I don't have a drama degree or any sort of paper qualification that certifies me to really be at the level I feel like I am. So I'm just constantly looking for reinforcement. Just someone to say "you know what, kid? You can act."

We took a break for ten minutes and socialized. Tyler congratulated me again and said that while it was a lot of fun, the piece as it was written didn't lend itself to auditions. Just in case I was wondering. I thanked him again and started making the rounds. My mom, visiting from Seattle (and seeing me do something by Shakespeare for the first time since I was eight), was enjoying the whole thing thoroughly. Then our usual housekeeping announcements, people sharing what shows they would be in, when and where, the call for donations for the event, and then we came back.

We saw a hysterically good Benedick from Much Ado about Nothing ("The world must be peopled!") before his girlfriend came up to do Cassius from Julius Caesar. Then finally a moving heartthrob performance of the opening to Henry V before we wrapped for the night.

Normally it's then off to drinks at the bar, but my mom had a cold, and I needed to be at work the next day at 9am.

"It's really neat seeing the insides of these things, how the acting world really operates." She told me as she came home. "This is the real deal."

It's funny how that doesn't often occur to me, but yeah, she's absolutely right.