Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Up Ladders and Down Hills

If corporate America is a ladder to climb, I think acting is like a ski resort, minus the chair lifts.You do your best, climb or otherwise somehow get to the top of the mountain and into a show, then you do what you love and ski down. Then you're done and you have to figure a way back up the mountain again.

So I may have just had a great run with a fun show, but I'm back at the bottom of the mountain. It's odd because you've got this instinct that somehow because you've accomplished something, you should have climbed higher like those 9-5 folks on the corporate ladder over there. But you haven't. You're really right back where you've started. If you want to act again, you need to find another gig.

And the funny thing about it is, every single actor goes through this. From the recent graduate of Middle-Of-Nowhere community college with an associates in "general arts" on up to Mark Rylance and Natalie Portman. You do your job, then your job is over, and you have to find a new job. You may have just had a spectacular run down a triple black diamond with cameras from all over the world following you, or you might have just rolled sideways down the bunny slope. Either way, you're at the bottom of the mountain and if you want to ski again, you've got to find a way to the top of a slope.

It's sort of reassuring in an egalitarian sort of way. Sure the stars have some power through their name and can probably convince somebody with a snowmobile to tug them up, but another star will want that seat, and there are only so many snowmobiles going around. We're all just trying to get back up that mountain.

It's cool for me in particular because last September. I came to New York to see if I could be a professional actor. It's June, and the answer is yes. I just deposited my last check from my most recent show. I am a professional actor. Done.

But beyond that, this lifestyle makes your goal set more interesting. As someone climbing the ladder, your goal is pretty simple really: get to the top of the ladder. On a ski slope, it's a bit more nuanced. You get an idea for what kind of slope you want to ski down. There are all different kinds, and no direct way to get to any of them.

So I've reached my goal of acting professionally. But for "real actors," it's not a check box, it's a lifestyle. I don't know if I'd put myself in that category of actor quite yet, but I seem to still be submitting headshots and resumes, so...

When I first got to New York, I met with a professor of international relations. I talked to him about pursuing a masters degree in the subject, but told him I was here to act first, in the short term. He asked me how long I'd do that for. I told him that if it didn't work out, I could see myself getting sick of it after about a year and a half.

It's been nine months. I've hit my main goal. So I don't know if it "not working out" still applies, but we're halfway, and I'm not sick of it yet. I just need a new goal.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I'll have a regular post up later, I'm sure, but I thought I'd share this little something fro the New York City Gay Pride march first:

Congratulations to GLBT community on winning marriage equality in the state of New York. To the 44 states remaining, take it from me, a straight guy--- no, better, take it from a T-shirt I saw today: "Some dudes marry dudes. Get over it."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Missed Connections Monologues

Well this is a sad and mildly hilarious way to learn about New York and pick up new monologues at the same time.

I occasionally host couchsurfers at my apartment in East Harlem. On my couchsurfing profile, I have a standing offer to help any of my guests who happen to be actors with their audition monologues. Last week, a surfer took me up on the offer. We worked on his Malvolio a bit, plus two different contemporary monologues. Then we compared notes on where to get monologues from. Of course you can get them from plays, but you can also easily get them from books as well. Poems, magazines, whatever.

But then he suggested one to me I hadn't thought of: Craigslist. Specifically, the "missed connections" and "rants and raves" sections.

So I spent a little time looking a few over. A lot of the posts are unusable, but the missed connections... well, I'm going to share a few of my favorites from both sections with you. These are things that I can just about picture on stage.

I think if you did a little bit of editing (completely normal for audition monologues, even Shakespearean ones are usually cut) a good actor could use any of these for an audition. Especially the last one, which I'm personally going to use if I can ever get it down to just two minutes.

You did, in fact, take the A train to get to Harlem (the quickest way). You had curly blonde hair pulled back and yeah yeah yeah listen: I'm not saying I'm in love with you or anything. I'm just saying that looking at your face made my heart stop.

I've been in this city long enough that this doesn't happen to me anymore (thankfully). Pretty faces come and go. For the most part.

Just before your stop, you managed to collect everyone's attention. And then you took it all with you when you left.

Well, at least I'm still thinking about you. That explains why I'm here. Two hours later.

So... I hope that guy is dating your friend. Or dating some other gal, I don't know, I don't want to say "I hope he's SINGLE," that's just mean.

Which means I shouldn't say I hope you're single, either. So I won't.

But, you know, I have to say something. Even if it's just: have a great night. I hope I run into you again.
For the past few years, I've often stopped in the food stores on Brighton Beach Avenue to take out some of the hot and cold ready made salad bar foods. I just can't do that anymore. I wonder, what are people thinking about when they approach a salad bar and start to take their food. In one place in Brighton Beach yesterday, I saw an old man stick his fingers in the mashed potatoes to taste them, a older woman, touched the item labeled fish cutlets, what might that exactly be, and then a younger guy took food, put it in his container, then sealed it, then opened the container and dumped the food back in the salad bar. A little girl about ten years old, was sticking her finger in the trays set up with fruit cocktail.

A few blocks down, I went into the bakery -. This place smells great, but the way the food is arranged-- it's serve yourself, there are no wax paper to grab items, with, serving utensils provided are dirty looking the bakery goods that need to be kept cold are but here again, this is an open type unit where people just stick there fingers in and out of the goods. This gets the customers touching every piece of cake and cookie on display for purchase. I don't know how the Bd. of Health lets this take place.

But the best happened in the third store today. the one a door or two down from the bakery, here in this store, i stood back and watched all the pigs at the salad bar and finally, I saw a young Russian guy, look at everyone touching and playing with the food, and HE got disgusted. At his own disgusting pig people.
I've heard that looks matter quite a bit to men when they're choosing a woman to settle down with in a legitimate relationship. Apparently, serious men seek out women whom they feel they can "show off," as a symbol of their success.

So, why do all my exes end up with busted chicks? I'm not the best looking woman and I'd never claim to be. I also know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder... However, these women are blatantly less attractive than me, and I dare say most. They also tend to be less educated and are in a lower socio-economic bracket than I am.

I'm BETTER. I don't want to say that, but I am; comparatively speaking, that is. I feel like a bitch saying this. I'm not a bitch. If they were ending up with highly accomplished, beautiful women, I'd understand. But when I see them dating homely hoodrats, I truly fail to understand what gives!

Oh, and I'm great in bed. I do everything, OK.
If you are reading this, you know. Bikram Yoga Lower East Side, Tuesday night 6pm class. We were standing next to each other in the first row... started innocently enough, but eventually turned into the hottest fire burning hell of a class I've ever taken. Most of the people layed down but we persevered. You: late 20s, cute black rimmed glasses that you kept on for most of the class until they, presumably, fogged up beyond use. I'm the athletic red head in the green sports bra who said "DAMN" as soon as the last savasana started. You grabbed me after class as I was passing by, to exchange sympathetic "good job"'s and spoke about when we usually come to class.

I wish I would have asked for your name or gave you my card! Hopefully it's not too late.. let's meet up and talk about yoga, and not yoga.
I've never ever done this before, but now I am.

I feel like a complete loser but I had to do this (my roommates are making fun of me as I type this even though this was their suggestion.)

You had short blonde hair and you were so wonderful that I couldn't even keep eye contact while talking to you because I was so taken aback.

This is ridiculous.

Coffee, tea, "drinks," food, anything that is considered normal I would gladly take you to; though don't expect the conversation to be all that interesting because I probably won't be able to do anything except compliment you.

Why didn't I get your name or number? I blame it on you though, you made me a bumbling fool. (They're still making fun of me, when I came home I actually did the whole door closing behind me, lean back on it and sigh heavily "thing.")

Though I'm sure you will never see this thanks anyways, you were quite lovely in every sense of the word.

What insignia was on your headphones?
This was on Friday at the Met. I remember you from the elevator when we were going from the 1st floor to the 2nd floor. You were the guy wearing the red sweater... I held the door open for you and you smiled at me. I saw you again in the Cubism section. I was standing in front of The Actor painting by Picasso. You were looking at Matisse's "View of Collioure and the Sea". You were standing there for a while, sketching in a brown notebook. I was about to approach you, but froze up and ended up tripping and falling into the painting leaving a small tear.
I think you left before the security got there.
If you read about this in the news the next day, I'm the girl from the elevator.

Last night you stole two of my cameras outside Angelica's Kitchen on 2nd Avenue and 12th street.

I figured you'd try to sell them here, unless thieves are photo enthusiasts. You might make an honest living taking photos of shit you stole, hell that might make a great Gallery Title, "The Shit I Stole: Reflections on Urban Living in The 21st Century". You might even get into Francesca Woodman-style self-portraits that you could take with my stolen cameras, make them real artistic, with a shallow depth of field, that's what you can afford (or I guess, can't afford because you are a damn thief) when you have a 50mm prime lens attached to the Canon A-1 (that's the black one that you stole) that opens up to a 1.4. Fuck yeah, I'm giving you photography lessons, so at least you can shoot right, I mean what the hell were you gonna do with two cameras that no one wants anyway-- don't try to sell it to some Midwestern tourists in Times Square, man, don't sell it in Times Square in general. It's a 35mm film camera, who the hell wants to pay for processing now that you can take a picture with your cell phone? Why didn't you steal my cell phone instead? The camera on it is a piece of shit, and you would be making much more money off that, and I hate my phone so you'd be doing me a favor.

In your grubby hands you have a Canon AE-1-- that's the silver one with a zoom lens on it. Also you can really impress some chicks with the blue-jeans denim strap that comes with it, because you will look like Peter Parker in the sense that you will resemble a nerdy high school photographer from the late 70s. You should really do yourself a favor and get some polyester pants. You will not impress anyone else, however, because it's just about the most basic student camera Canon's ever made.

Finally, there are some miscellaneous shit in there:

a Firewire 800 Cable - this will not be much of use to you

Camera Logs - like you'd even understand them

a half-read secondhand copy of Albert Camus' The Plague - Listen, you dick. I was 110 pages into that and until I buy another secondhand copy of that book I'll never find out what happened to Dr. Rieux and the rest of the people in Oran.I dunno, man, maybe you're in the middle of an existential crisis, that's why you're stealing shit, right? to assert your existence or whatever. well, you should read that book. you might get a kick out of it. just don't use it for kindling for your garbage-can fire under the 59th street bridge.  

Three rolls of shot film - This is what I'm pissed off about the most. I took some pictures over the weekend with those cameras and they're still loaded with film. I hope you didn't open them in daylight like an idiot, not knowing that the little cardboard square that said "Ektachrome 64" under the viewfinder meant that it's LOADED, you fuck. There are shot rolls of Portra 800, 50D, and 1600 in there (film speeds-- the higher the number, the more sensitive the film, you jackass) that are pretty important to me, and would have absolutely no use to you. If you could do me a favor and drop those off at Forum Photo on Waverly and Washington Square East-- ask for George (I will not ask him to punch you in the mouth), or just drop it off under the name "Jerk McAllister". You can even shoot the rest of the rolls in those cameras and I will pay for matte prints with a white border for you, so you can show your thief buddies all your photographic skills. I can already picture the great canted angles and center-framing you're cooking up while looking for someone to take those cameras off you so you can get your next heroin fix.

Of course, I'm perfectly aware that you might have just been a Good Samaritan and returned it to a police station or you're looking for clues around the the case to determine who it might belong to. If this is the case, then you can disregard all that mean shit and I hope you email me about getting it back. I'll even throw you a couple of bucks and buy you lunch. But I'm also perfectly aware that if this was the case it would be raining gumdrops from marshmallow clouds and we'd all be singing showtunes. So, more likely than not, you stole it, and now you're trying to sell it on craigslist.

So fuck you. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Opening Night

Have you ever impersonated someone? Have you ever impersonated someone in front of them? Have you ever impersonated someone for twenty minutes without pause alone on stage in front of them, their sister, their mother, their employer, plus your girlfriend, your friends, not to mention your father who has flown across the country just to see you, and all mixed with a random assortment of strangers who have paid money for the show?

I don't get stage fright. But I have to admit, my first stage performance in New York City under the Actors Equity Showcase rules, which was incidentally the closest I've come to a one-man show, made me a little jumpy on and off for the twenty-four hours leading up to the stage manager's call for places.

My father flew into town to see the opening night of my show. We were walking through the 51st and Lexington subway to an escalator down to the E line when he told me that he'd always loved the moment right before you go onstage. It's certainly a moment you remember. Weirdly, I usually have an easier time remembering that than any moment on stage. He agreed with me on that one.

There are two other actors in the show, and they're doing the some thing. A twenty minute solo impersonation of a real figure that they find interesting, maybe even inspiring. Before the house opens, they have to go to the other side of a stage and stay there.

So when I was pacing back and forth alone in the dressing room, I had no idea what kind of reaction I'd get from all these people. I wanted  the audience to be entertained. I didn't want them to go away scratching their heads about why they paid as much as they had for their tickets, or thinking "yeah I mean, it was okay, I guess." I wanted them to understand that if I didn't sound or look exactly like Danny, it was because I was just trying to make a good piece and that you know I had so little time actually with Danny to observe and learn how he talked and moved. And I really really didn't want to mess up any of the facts.

I guess I wanted a lot.

I go through a little routine before acting. It's like the special little dribble on the line every basketball player does before taking a free throw. It doesn't matter what it is, so long as its yours. For me, it gets mixed up a lot as I go with different breathing exercises and stretches, but at some point before I ever go on stage for any performance or audition, I almost always do a quick recitation a few of you already know by heart: "To sit in solemn silence on a dull dark dock, in pestilential prison with a life-long lock, awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock, from a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block." Possibly a bit grim, but it runs through just about every consonant sound I can think of.

And then I go onstage. I do remember bits of my show. Actually I remember a lot of what it was like. Hearing the laughter, even in the parts that really shouldn't get laughs. Thinking I was making my character too comical, and dialing down the funny, dialing up the cool. Catching the huge smile from who must be Danny's real sister. Not quite daring to look at Danny himself. Telling the story. But it all kind of becomes a blur until...

The theater director stuck his head in the dressing room right after the show to ask me to come out for pictures with Danny. And that was when his sister came to me and gave me the best compliment I can hope to receive for the entire run of this show:

"You nailed him. You had him exactly!"

I guess I got what I wanted, and a little more besides. Speaking of which, I had a little surprise waiting for me when I walked into the dressing room for the first time of the night.

At no point in the rehearsal process did anyone mention money. I didn't ask. I assumed the show was unpaid, just like my last two off-off-broadway gigs. Sometimes on the first night of shows, the director leaves a little note for each of the actors, thanking them for their work. So, when I went in the dressing room to get changed, I wasn't that surprised when I found an envelope with my name on it.

"I forget the protocol" I said to the others "are we supposed to wait to read these until after the show is over?"

"What?" They said. "That's your check."

Turns out I'm actually getting paid to act in New York. Nine months after my arrival, in my third show. Not, you know, a lot, but in my mind it's the principle that counts.

image courtesy of The Metropolitan Playhouse (facebook)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

R.I.P. Ben Putnam, 1999-2011

One of my two cats died last night.

When I was thirteen, my mom took me to an animal shelter not far from our house. We found a pair of seven-month old kittens curled up together. One was orange, one grey, otherwise identical markings. We were told that they were litter mates, and were due to be moved the next day.

We tracked them to their next location before the store could open. The orange cat sat in the back while the grey one ran to the bars to say hello to anyone who walked by. A lot of people just wanted the grey cat. I wanted both. We got both.

When they opened the cage, the orange cat, scared, backed into the furthest corner he could find before the handler could scoop him out.

We brought them home and kept them in the kitchen for the first day, teaching them where the litter box and food would be. We opened up the house to them, room by room. The orange cat wouldn't let anyone near him.

I found a stick and started dragging it on the carpet in the dining room. That got his attention. He stared at it. Then crouched, and then finally pounced. I wiggled it around a bit, hesitated, then tried to pet him. He didn't acknowledge it yet, but he didn't shy away either. It was a start.

My father was out of town, and got home very late at night, heading straight for bed. The grey cat, naturally very curious, hopped up onto the bed with him to say hello. Then she ran back downstairs, mowed a bit with her orange brother, and brought him back up with her to make introductions.

After a month and a coin toss, the orange kitten was named Ben. His grey sister was named Ashley. She grew out lithe, curious and social. He grew cautious, coy, and fat. He wouldn't let many people pet him. I was one of the only people he'd approach. Even I had to sort of chase him down a bit, until I finally touched his head, at which point he would suddenly remember "oh yeah, I kinda enjoy this," and rub his face and body hard against my hand.

Sometimes he'd get my attention and then lead me to a dining room chair, his favorite place to be pet. He would hop up onto the seat, and then rub against the back of the chair, back and forth, purring loudly enough to be heard across the street. When I wasn't in my room, my big desk chair was his throne. He shed so much that I had to put a towel down on the chair for all the fur. He had big paws, and the longest tail of just about any domestic cat I've met. He wouldn't snuggle the way Ashley would, instead hopping on my bed in the early hours of the morning to pace around me in circles, purring loud enough to wake me up, sometimes pouncing on my toes if I accidentally wiggled them under the covers.

They grew up snuggling together, grooming each other, occasionally getting into pouncing matches and territory fights. They went through a phase when they found a garbage sack of ski socks where they would drag them into the basement to make a nest. If they heard a can open, they were there instantly, and while they showed a surprising disdain for a lot of food (chicken for example), they inhaled canned tuna.

I remember so many moments growing up with Ben. How I accidentally got him to do a backflip as a kitten. How his claws would get so long that he'd get stuck in the carpet until one of us would free him. My late efforts to turn him into a lap cat, despite all his protests. They just keep coming to me when I'm supposed to be thinking about something else.

As Ben got older, he slowly opened up to strangers. First he waited until he could actually see the strangers before running and hiding. Then he waited until they tried to touch him. Then he just shied away if they tried to touch him. Then eventually, he let people he didn't know say hello. By the time I came home from my post-college travels, he was downright social.

I saw him of course when I came home for the holidays last year. I think they might have gotten a couple little catnip toys for Christmas. I left the day before New Years, making sure I said goodbye to both of them. They looked great, and were both very much themselves.

About three days ago I called home and found out that Ben had congestive heart failure. He'd lost at least four pounds. His backbone was clearly visible, and he was moving very slowly, wheezing at times. The worst though was when he stopped eating. That was about a week ago. Not even tuna did it anymore. Then he stopped drinking water.

Then he got to the point where he needed shots every six hours. After consulting with home visiting vets, my parents made the decision to put him to sleep.

Ashley was apparently more confused than anything else. She'd come up and nudge Ben. Poking at him a little.

They gave him a sedative, then the final injection. He passed away peacefully in his sleep. Afterwards, my parents went to my desk chair, the one he loved to curl up in, took the towel from it, and lay him inside its folds.

That was last night. Around midnight my time, my mom called to ask what she termed "an odd question." She wanted to know if she could dig out a couple of my old stuffed animals and rub some catnip on them for Ashley to play with. She said it seemed to be a good distraction, because otherwise Ashley was wandering around the house looking "distracted" and occasionally yowling.

I think I kind of know how she feels. She didn't know this was coming either. Just because we never knew how to explain it, she never really got a chance to say goodbye.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Extra, Crispy

This is a bus filled with extras for the movie Men in Black III, probably the largest and most expensive major motion picture currently in production. Most of us got up around four am and are trying to sleep.

I'd gotten the call from the casting agency the afternoon before. I'd signed up because a reader of my blog with Backstage tipped me off that with background/extra and stand-in work, you could make $350 a day. So when the agency called me asking if I was available early in the morning, I said, absolutely. Sure I had rehearsal until 10pm, but I could always take a nap after.

Well,the rehearsal was pushed back an hour, so I got out at 11. I got back around midnight. I ate, went to be at 12:30, fell asleep an hour later, and then my alarm woke me at 4:15. I stumbled around, showered, put on the wardrobe the casting call listed (light colored button down, white undershirt, belt, non-blue pants, brown/black lace up shoes, black socks), grabbed my passport to fill out payment forms with, a pen, a few business cards, my phone, my subway card, and keys, and left after a pb&j sandwich breakfast.

I checked in with a couple people with clipboards waiting for the shuttle to pick us up at 36th and 3rd ave. They didn't want my name, they just wanted my registration number, 189. I got in line. We waited. The bus was late, but it came. We got on, and I tried to remember how to sleep on a bus.

We'd been told we were going to a state park. As a Pacific Northwest native, when I hear "state park," I think forest. Not so much. Robert Moses State Park is something between a small island and a massive sandbar off the coast of Long Island. No tree cover. This became a problem, but not until much later.

So we were herded in, handed some papers to sign, including the first indication I had of what we were actually getting paid for this gig as non-union actors: $85 for ten hours of work.

Yes, I was a bit disappointed, but I was there, and I'd get to see what the film set would look like. So I was shuffled through a line in a huge tent, and then sent outside to wardrobe. After getting about halfway through the line there, I was told I was actually in the line for hair and makeup and sent around to the other end of the tent. I went through that line again (women on the left, men on the right), handed over my voucher, gave my number, and then had my measurements taken, glancing over at the uncomfortable looks on the women while they had to publicly answer questions about their measurements. I was handed a jacket, tried it on. The sleeves were halfway up my wrists to my elbows. They took the jacket and asked we to wait to the side.

Ten minutes later, I was in green army pants, a pressed white short sleeved shirt, purple 60s tie, and black shoes. I put my stuff in a hanger back labeled with my name. One of the costumers came over, looked at me critically and declared that I looked great. So I was sent on my merry way.

Back to hair and makeup. Someone combing through the line pulled me out for a futile attempt at another shave. Thick black beard stubble on white skin never really goes away without methods nobody should use on their face. I went back to the end of the line and was sat down to have my hair gelled.

The surprise was when the person mumbled something about my back, pulled out a pair of clippers, and started cutting my hair! Just the nape of my neck, but up past the hairline there. Then the sideburns went, and she cleaned it up around the ears. It actually looked pretty good, but it was a little unexpected. Then came the gel and the severe side part, blown out by hair dryer.

By the time I got back to the big holding tent where we'd done our registration, it was lunch time. Good buffet lunch. Then we were given name tags-- mine was press badge for the Apollo 11 launch, which was what we were supposed to be filming.

We were put on a bus and rolled out to a set of bleachers, with a bunch of 60s style video cameras in front of it, and one modern camera on a huge mobile crane device. I got behind the cameras ion the noontime sunlight, and started chatting with my fellow extras.

We talked politics, we talked about travel in Japan. A couple of them were older, experienced SAG and AFTRA union members, and they told us all about some of the politics within there. They gave us tips on navigating set, pointed out where the nearest snack tables, and noted with hawks' eyes everything that would get them extra pay under their union contracts (shortened lunch period, being asked to smoke, held past eight hours, etc.)

...and that was what we did until 4:30pm. By then I'd noticed that my left forearm was a bit burned, and that everyone around me was starting to look pretty red. Since I'd thought I was going to spending a day in the woods, I didn't have any sunscreen.

There's a word for that kind of choice... what was it again... oh, yeah. "Stupid."

We had to go through wardrobe again, get our stuff, and the wait in the most bizarrely shaped nautilus sort of line I've ever seen form to check out. Then wait for the buses back to the city. In the sun.

I'd left home after three hours of sleep a little before 5am. I got back home at 8:30pm, now realizing just how incredibly sunburned I was, and about ready to collapse. I ate, crashed, got up to let my girlfriend in, who gave me the sunscreen and aloe I'd asked her to grab on her way to my place, and then collapsed again in a stinging stupor. I got up about a dozen times, each time washing a coating of aloe off, put a fresh one on, drink a liter of water. Twice I took a couple aspirin. Three times I realized I had either a tonsil or something similar inside the left side of my neck swollen and screaming at me, so I had to keep getting ice packs from the fridge. By 8am I was trying to figure out if I needed to go the emergency room or just the regular wing of the hospital.

Then I miraculously fell asleep for three more hours, and when I woke up, I was still burnt, but my neck was just fine. No doctors visit needed for me. I had enough to time to look over my script again, eat breakfast, take a very careful shower, slather myself in sunscreen.

I'm not doing that again until I get a union card and actually earn the $350+ instead of $85. It wasn't worth it.