Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Better'n Nothing, I Guess

Can't believe I haven't updated this in three weeks. It's actually been a busy time on a number of levels. First, Cherokee & I are in the process of moving. Second, my money job (for the first time ever) is in retail and I've gotten to experience firsthand the Christmas Rush. Third, I've been getting on-camera work. Sort of.

The gigs I've been getting are all jobs as background extras on commercial shoots. Three of them in about two weeks. I am, of course, the first to say that Chicago actors need to do any work that comes along (in order to qualify for health benefits, if nothing else), and I've mentioned earlier in this blog that actors in this market need to disabuse themselves of any notion that they are only fit for principal roles, but these gigs were particularly eye-opening.

The fact is that I've been in the minority in holding the opinions I just repeated above — most Chicago actors HAVE been accustomed to turning down extras/background work. Well, not any longer. Over the last three jobs, I saw long-established actors with tri-coastal careers, Second City mainstage actors, one casting director, and assorted other improvisers, voiceover talent, etc. working with me in the background. I swear, there was more talent employed as "atmosphere" on these shoots than the folks in the foreground.

The reason, of course, is the decline of the broadcast dollar. Less broadcast advertising means fewer spots being shot, meaning less work to go around. I'm hoping this trend ends up like the "technology bubble" of the 90s and that, sooner or later, advertisers realize that all the hype about product placements and Internet advertising just doesn't grab the same attention as their old reliable broadcast spots, but I'm not holding my breath.

And on that note, I'll invite everyone to take a hot bath, shake off these 2005 blues, and look forward to the hope of better things in 2006. Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Not a PSA

First, thanks to MagicKat for her comment on my last post. She's a Real Actor living in the Big Apple and writes a good blog (see the link in the right-hand navibar). I say "real actor" with tongue firmly planted in cheek, because the stereotype many ad agencies almost willfully enforce is that you cast in L.A. for beautiful people, go to Chicago for comedy, and go to New York for "real actors." No disrespect to my NYC brothers and sisters, of course, least of all MagicKat; it's just that all three locales have more than enough professional talent to cast nearly any 30-second opus, so advertisers should think more locally.

So glad to have an on-camera audition yesterday that was up my alley, so to speak. My "alley" happens to be one where I feel I can stand out because the casting specs allow — if not call for — a certain amount of creative latitude on my part. Combine that with a casting director who actually lets you play a little (instead of fixating on the "director" part of their title because, you know, actors are stupid and won't give their client a good performance unless they're forced to) and you've got a rewarding experience. Seriously — actually landing a gig is gravy, but if I didn't actually enjoy a good portion of my auditions I'd have to question whether it was all worth it.

It's rare that things in the non-acting world eclipse my Dream (life as a professional actor being the dream I pursue), but I've got a lot of non-acting stress happening at the moment. My last living grandparent died last week at the age of 99, Cherokee and I are in the middle of trying to buy a house, and an entrepreneurial retail venture I run is giving me massive headaches (it being the holiday season). Actually, I normally wouldn't even consider that last bit to be a major stressor since I actually derive enjoyment from running it, but MagicKat's experience with holiday shoppers (again, see her link to the right) reminded me that, "Hey, yeah! Holiday shoppers ARE the dark side of humanity incarnate!"

Speaking of which, I've gotta go deal with them now. Heaven forbid they not get instant gratification...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


My thanks to Anonymous for the tip in their comment to my last post. Always good to have resources so we can do as much work as possible on our own careers. Kind of reminds me of something Cherokee says:

Y'know how every actor hears at some point the phrase, "Remember, your agent works for YOU, not the other way around"? I'm sure whoever said that originally meant to empower actors to take charge of their careers, but often what happens is exactly the opposite — actors cop an attitude with their agent and forget that there's a greater demand among actors for agents than agents looking for actors to rep. So the agent gets "unenthused" about the actor and s/he ends up going from agency to agency wondering why they can't get work. Kind of like a bitchy society matron complaining that "you can't find good help these days," all the while she's demanding not so much "help" as "demeaning servility" from her domestic employees.

Well, Cherokee's take on this is, "If I pay my employee 10% to find work for me, that means that 90% of the work is up to me." Sure, that may sound cute, but it helps with the attitude adjustment.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Picking Up a Bit

When it's slow, every little audition, gig, or other blip on your Actor Radar becomes a Big Deal, so I guess the fact that I've had three such Big Deals this week says more about how slow it's been than anything else. Still, worth noting in my diary here are:

1). I went to an orientation session for the Equity EMC program. I've actually already got 20 hours or so toward the requisite 25 for joining (for members of sister unions), but I remember how much I resented not having gotten an orientation when I joined my first 4A union 15 years ago, so I thought I should show up or else have only myself to blame for the next 15. Half the presentation was on "why unions are good" which, given my background, was like preaching to the choir, but the other half was new and informative. AEA is definitely different from SAG and AFTRA, and that's mostly a good thing.

2). I had an audition for a spokesperson type of thing for a national brand that really resonated with me on a number of levels. First, it was the sort of character that I used to get called in for quite a bit 'back in the day'. Not so much in the last five years. Second, it was one of those old-fashioned spokesperson searches that you just hardly see at all these days, complete with specs from the Breakdown Service and lavish talk about the "quintessential qualities" that will make this character stand out above all others (and which are of very little use to the actor when preparing for the audition). Lastly, fortunately or unfortunately, it reminded me of the time when I actually was a spokesperson for a national brand — lots of complex emotions over the experience, but a lasting impression of just how ephemeral recognition, fame, notoriety, etc. are (and why they're a ticket to a Bad Place mentally if they becomes one's goals rather than the work itself).


3). Yesterday I had perhaps the quickest voiceover job I've ever had. I couldn't have been there more than 5 minutes. It took longer to fill out the paperwork after than to do the read. It was one of those spots where they cut together a dozen people saying the same speech, so they really only needed each voice to "not suck" for at least 3 seconds.

Being who I am, these events led (of course) to a certain amount of introspection, the result of which was my realizing something that I wish I'd adopted as a credo long ago:

"Keep sucking until you don't."

Seriously, it's a great formula for success, and it's more concise than all that blather I used to hear about being persistent, continuing to train and educate yourself, getting as much experience as possible, etc. No — just don't be afraid to suck, because (in all likelihood) you will. Then, rinse and repeat, making adjustments along the way of course, until things click and you're not so sucky.

Now if I could only convince those casting directors who saw me suck once-upon-a-time to forget their first impressions...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Surprised to find it's been close to three weeks since my last post. I have to say it's been extremely slow. Auditioned for a couple of plays — I sucked at one, thought I had a decent shot at the other, but in the end didn't get either. Had a voiceover job on Monday for a packaged food, but that's been about it as far as jobs go.

I can't help remembering the argument that was raised during the Commercial Strike of 2000 to the effect that actors are overpaid. I can honestly say that I would have to quit commercial gigs entirely if I made any less than I do now. Sure, getting $200 for recording in a booth for an hour probably sounds excessive to some, but if folks are going to go by "hours worked" they should also include the 30+ auditions it took to land that gig, each of which costs me at least 2-1/2 hours of time (travel, waiting, recording, etc.)

And while I know some of the advertising suits don't think the time invested on auditions counts, the fact is that it's a prerequisite to having a viable talent pool to draw on. They want us to be investing all that time, whether they know it or not. I mean, if the only actors they could cast in their commercials were those that happened to be available for their audition because they had nothing better to do — those who, for instance, weren't taking off time from their temp job (and losing that income in the process) — their commercials would all suck. So fair's fair: if you want professional actors, don't dismiss the rather extreme amounts of uncompensated time they invest pursuing professional work.

Anyway, this just crosses my mind more at times like these, when it seems I'm auditioning endlessly with few rewards...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Up and Down

I've always said that one of the primary characteristics about Life as a Professional Actor is that "the highs are really really high, but the lows are really REALLY low". I'm kind of having both right now, along with a general milieu of dissatisfaction. (I usually try to have my milieu on the side as a sauce, but sometimes it just comes with the salad, know what I mean?)

On the upside, I've had a couple of voiceover jobs in the last couple of weeks. One was a demo that turned into two demos during the session — it went okay, but I'm not sure I caught on early enough that the client wanted two rather different attacks on the different scripts (and maybe they didn't know themselves either until they got deeper into the session). The other was a job for a bank in a major metropolitan area, but the bank is only in that one city (meaning little-to-no residuals). Still, it was a fun job calling for an extremely character-y read, so I'm not complaining.

On the downside, NOTHING has been happening in the on-camera department, so of course at times like this I'm inclined to wonder what I'm doing wrong. I'm pretty sure the truth of the matter is just that nothing really is happening — commercials are not being made, because advertisers are putting more of their spend into non-broadcast advertising (e.g., Internet, product placements, etc.).

Still, I have an on-camera audition later today that's kind of ticking me off. I don't know what it is about this particular casting director, but I always feel like they put me at a disadvantage before I even walk in the door. I'm usually scheduled late in the casting session, which usually puts me at the end of the tape/DVD the client receives, and the fact of the matter is that a certain percentage of auditions are just never seen at all because the client is overwhelmed after seeing the first 20-30 auditions. Secondly, I don't know whether this betrays an underlying contempt for actors or what, but I almost always feel as though the person running the session feels as though the talent is incapable of coming up with ideas on their own, so they try to "direct" the talent in a rather constrictive manner that stifles creativity (surely that must result in cookie-cutter auditions on the final tape, making THEM look bad, so why do they do it?) And lastly, I think they just don't know what my "type" is, so I fairly often end up being called in for something that's a stretch at best.

All of this has resulted in my having NEVER booked anything through this particular casting director's office in the 10 years or so I've been at this. Which, I'm sure only enforces their opinion of me as a non-starter. But, of course, hope springs eternal, so I never turn down an audition from them unless I have a product conflict or some other good reason. (Note to casting director: "Hello?! I have product conflicts! Doesn't that tell you something?!")

There... I got that off my chest. Time to put that back in my Shoebox of Bitterness and concentrate on just being brilliant in my audition.

Or, failing brilliance, "good enough" to land the job.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Just discovered that StoryActor has been hurt in a serious car accident. It's times like this that writing about one's career seems so pointless, or at the very least secondary.

Matter of fact, I think that sums up pretty well the primary cause of attrition in the ranks of professional actors — folks discover there are more important things in life. Or, at least, Life's events can be more important than whatever motivated you to be in the Biz in the first place. Those whose sole goal, for instance, is to be "famous" (whatever that may mean to them) often find it hard to reconcile their pursuit of that goal in the face of starting a family. I mean, really — what actor can argue that the World needs their talent more than their daughter needs her responsible, caring, and financially supportive father?

Sigh... best of luck to Story. I hope they recover well and quickly.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Kinda Slow

Several voiceover auditions over the past week, but nothing to show for it as yet. I know I was requested for one of them, and the copy was right up my alley, so hope springs eternal...

Going up on the elevator to one of these auditions, I talked to one of my fellow clients (i.e., another actor repped by the same agency). This person is one of those people I would firmly place in the pantheon of "Extremely Well-Established Chicago Actors" — a former member of the Saturday Night Live cast from back in the day, ex-Second City Mainstage, movie credits, and ongoing accounts as The Voice of [insert well-known national products]. Anyway, they said it had been extremely slow for them, all things considered, so I guess it's not just me.

Received a script from a buddy yesterday, wanting me to be in a show he's directing. The guy doesn't do anything bad, and he's sort of a name in his own right (just got nominated for a Jeff award for the umpteenth time, as a matter of fact) so of course I'm considering it. The show's only going to have a very short run — more of a showcase than anything else. Normally, I'd take a pass on it but, given how slow it is in other arenas, I'm thinking of riding the horse the direction it's going.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Ran into an ex-castmate from a show I did in 2003 at an on-camera audition on Friday. She was preparing to go out to L.A. for pilot season for her second year running after stashing away as much cash as possible this summer in Chicago. We talked for a bit over coffee, during which I surprised myself by admitting that the idea of returning to L.A. sometime in the mid-future was beginning to buzz around in the back of my brain.

Funny thing that. I have SO many reasons not to go back to the West Coast, but the fact of the matter is that the minimums needed for both the union health plans and the pension plans keeps rising each year, and I'm in the uncomfortable position of not yet having enough steady gigs to qualify for both on an ongoing basis. Last year, I barely squeaked by to qualify for health coverage and, for the first time in 6 years, I fell short — by just $400 in earnings — from earning a pension credit. Given that I can expect commercial job opportunities to decrease in Chicago becasue of an increasingly fractured advertising spend (the number of national spots cast out of Chicago has dropped dramatically in the last year), not to mention my age, I can't help but wonder if it's not a smart idea to look to the SAG Theatrical contract to complete my 10-years worth of vesting. Which, of course, means returning to L.A.

Just thinking about it at the moment.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


The show had a fine closing out-of-state, and now the production is in a limbo of sorts. I know the writer/director has already started work on his second opus, so this may be as far as this particular train runs. Still, the producers have been left with a turnkey production that could be mounted nearly anywhere on short notice, so there may be some life in it yet. Not holding my breath, though. Whatever else may happen, at least I was paid fairly well, and I ended up with an additional 3 hours toward my Equity candidacy.

I had another voiceover gig on Monday, two radio spots for an extremely limited run in one of the tiniest markets in the country. (Not complaining, just mentioning it as a preface to what follows.) It was a patch session, meaning I was in a booth here in Chicago while everyone else — the client, director, agency people, and primary engineer — was in a studio hundreds of miles away. Doing patches almost involves a different skill set, because it's easy for things to get confused if you don't keep your communication concise and limited. And heaven forbid the engineer opens his mike while you're talking, because you end up hearing yourself echoing in a room on the other side of the country about a half-second behind yourself. Much worse than using an ear prompter, and it invariably causes you to stammer like a fool. So you end up being like Joe Friday, giving the facts, just the facts, and only when spoken to.

Anyway, on this occasion the director drops a heavy hint to me that he'd like me to do this session "off card", meaning without a union contract, which — giving him the benefit of the doubt — either shows him to be a novice or else indicates that he was under some sort of ridiculous pressure from the agency or the advertiser to keep the costs down. I say "ridiculous" because union scale for what I was doing was only about $200, and probably with no usage to follow, which is waaaay less than they were already spending just for an hour of dual studio time. If I were to think along more sinister lines, I would suspect that what they actually wanted to do was run the hell out of the spots ad infinitum, or wanted to deliberately fill a stable of off-card actors (for various reasons, none of them good for the membership of SAG or AFTRA).

Unfortunately, this second, sinister suspicion was underscored after my session when the sound engineer made a comment to me regarding the amount of work he could get me if I went FiCore. For those who don't know, "Financial Core" is a sort of classification that a person working in non-Right-to-Work states can claim. There's a loooong history to FC, which I may go into later, but the gist of the thing is that people who claim FC status are technically not a member of the union, but are paying dues to the union anyway. Why would someone do this? So they could work both sides of the fence, doing both union AND non-union jobs. There are strong feelings on both sides of the FC issue and, depending who you talk to, it's either touted as a nifty loophole for actors or The End of Unionism As We Know It. I've got my own opinion, but here, to me, is what it all boils down to, regardless of who you're listening to:

If you work FiCore on a commercial job, you are potentially giving yourself a product conflict for life.

"Product conflicts" are why you don't see The Guy From The Pepsi Commercial also doing a Coca-Cola commercial. When you do an on-camera spot, the advertiser wants you to be exclusive to their product — they don't want consumers to see you pitching for their competitors and identifying you with the wrong product. In return for this exclusivity, advertisers pay actors a holding fee every 13 weeks (up to 21 months) until the spot stops running and/or they decide to release the actors (some savvy advertisers will stop running their spots, but hold the actors for an additional cycle to ensure there's a lag before the actors audition for competing products). In case you doubt that this happens very often, I can only tell you that my own experience is that exactly the opposite is true — success breeds success, and casting directors will audition actors from their own mental "pool" of those who have been cast before. It has, in fact, been a serious problem at various times for both me and some of my friends because being in a really memorable commercial will prevent you from being cast even in non-competing product categories since, for instance, no staid financial services company is going to want The Goofy Guy From The Budweiser Commercial in their own spot, no matter how calm and serious he's able to be.

Unfortunately, the problem with doing non-union spots is that the employer is not obligated to put any limit on how long they will run their spots. Typically, they pay a one-time buyout fee (often larger than union scale for the day), but then own the right to air that spot in perpetuity. And the problem with that is that — IF the actor subsequently does a spot for a competitor, and the two spots air around the same time — the competitor can legally sue the actor for having ruined their commercial, and force the actor to pay for a re-shoot (with a different actor, of course), the cost of which is EASILY in the six figures. So, if you do a non-union Subway commercial today, you've effectively eliminated yourself from doing any other fast food commercial ever, for the rest of your life.

This, to me, is the single biggest reason actors should not go FiCore. Whatever else may be said in favor of it (and, believe it or not, I can think of circumstances where it is indeed warranted and even know one actor whose decision to go FiCore I respect), the one incontrovertible fact that proponents of it cannot brush aside is that actors are legally liable for six-figure reshoot fees if they ever work for a competing advertiser.

Of course, those familiar with the subject will point out to me that there is no exclusivity for AFTRA radio spots — actors can, and do, work for competitors without fear of legal reprisals. And, after all, this is how the entire subject came up Monday: it was ostensibly with regard to radio spots. The point, however (at least to me), is that it's a line — cross it and you've got a reputation as an off-card and/or FiCore actor. Most likely it also closes a door behind you, since the unions take a dim view of it. If you work off-card, they can (and most likely will) bring you up on disciplinary charges for violating Rule One. Try to dodge the disciplinary hearings by going FiCore, and you've effectively withdrawn from the union, and they have no obligation to take you back.

And, in an industry that relies so heavily on reputation (what is "fame" after all?), why in heaven's name would I want to go down a path that, to many, casts a pall on my reputation, even if it's technically legal?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

During 2...

Writing this from a hotel room on the road. First time I've had WiFi access in one of these rooms, and I have to say it's pretty nice typing this in bed, in a state of near undress, without being tethered to a wall. Guess I'm easily amused.

Extra job happened with no upgrade, but it was fun anyway. Drove 6 hours to get here today and did a show, and that was fun too. No complaints...

Monday, August 22, 2005


Back in Chicago after our first weekend out of state. We slayed 'em, and had full houses to boot.

Theoretically, I'm spending a day tomorrow as an extra on the set of a beer commercial; I've already turned down a voiceover audition because it conflicts, so I hope it happens. I remember auditioning for a principal role in this spot, and I'm actually glad to be picking up extra work on it for a couple of reasons. First, it's one of those "see how popular we are?" commercials that features a couple dozen slice-of-life glimpses of Americans at play, and often they cast the bulk of those spots using extras and then just upgrade them on the set. Even if that's not the case though, I personally think no Chicago actor should ever be too proud to accept extra work, especially with the minimums for health insurance and pension credits getting higher every year. It would be different if there were a true celebrity machine here (i.e., where you actually have to worry about taking work that represents a step backward for fear that it will hurt your "quote"), but there isn't, so we need to be true citizens of the City That Works.

Story asked about my representation in a comment on my previous post. For what it's worth, I'm represented exclusively by two agencies — one for on-camera work and one for voiceover. That may seem a little odd to actors in L.A. or N.Y., where agencies represent actors by contract (e.g., Commercial, Theatrical, etc.) rather than the type of work done under each contract (e.g., voiceover, on-camera, etc.), but it's par for the course in Chicago. More could be said here about SAG's inability to renew the expired Franchise Agency Agreemet, but I'll spare you.

For Chicago actors, I cannot recommend at this particular point in time that they go exclusive with any particular agency, except under certain limited circumstances. Unless an actor is extremely well established (and I wouldn't even necessarily put myself in that category), there is too much work to be had by being multi-listed to make exclusivity with any particular agency worthwhile. The reason, of course, is that each agency has — to varying degrees — a certain amount of work coming through their doors that does not go through casting directors. Much of it is print work, industrials, trade shows, low-budget films and other lower-profile work but, hey, it's WORK, and any type of work is hard to come by for most people these days.

So why am I exclusive? My particular situation pre-dates the Commercial Strike of 2000, and it works well enough for me that I don't wish to change my very specific arrangement, but I do recognize it as being outside the norm and, therefore, I don't recommend it to hardly anyone else.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Before the Storm

Went to a funeral tonight for one of my agents. Very sad, but uplifting in an odd way. Can't delve into it too much; I'm still processing through it...

This is probably one of the last calm days I'll have for a while. Two auditions tomorrow, one voiceover and one on-camera, followed by a rehearsal for the stage show which departs Wednesday for a two-week stint out of state. Nice to feel busy again, but in the lull I've really valued the time I've spent with Cherokee, so I'm already missing her.

Kind of sweetly blue at the moment...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Back on the Boards

After a week off, I'm going back into rehearsals today for the same show I closed in July. Reason is that the show, as expected, is touring out-of-state for at least a couple of weeks, and the producers took this opportunity to change the script a little, and change the cast a lot.

I remember Michael J. Fox and Justine Bateman giving an interview once, near the end of their long-running sitcom "Family Ties". (That was the name, wasn't it? The one where Meredith Baxter played their mother?) Anyway, the interviewer was asking the inevitable questions about whether they knew at the beginning that their sitcom was going to be a hit, and how they initially adjusted to their new status as celebrities, and Fox and Bateman answered by way of recounting a story. It seems there was originally a different girl cast in the part eventually taken by Tina Yothers. Everyone was excited during pre-production and rehearsals, and the kids had started bonding somewhat when, the Thursday before their first Friday taping, the original actor was yanked out and Tina Yothers stepped in.

And Michael & Justine just looked at each other, realizing the same thing could happen to them.

So no, neither Michael J. Fox nor Justine Bateman were giddy with delight, or happy to be celebs, or any of that. Instead, they took a pass on the sports cars, saved their money, and didn't really relax into their roles until after their first contract renegotiation.

All of which is my exceptionally roundabout way of saying that I suppose I should feel flattered that I'm just about the only member of the original cast to be continuing on with my show, but I feel instead that it only underscores my last rant about placing more value on being a good co-worker/friend than on your talent. The other members of my original cast didn't bow out voluntarily, but I don't think it was because they were bad in their roles — they were just, um... indiscreet with some of their opinions, and occasionally openly adversarial with the director, so the producers honored their contracts with them and then moved on without them.

I suppose I sound like a dinner guest in the Damocles household, but the fact is that one gets used to it. Every actor knows the transitory nature of our business, and you either have the stomach for it or you don't. Still, I've been on the other side of the equation before (including one colossal, spectacular incident which I'll probably purge my brain of soon in this venue), and I can't help but feel that some "damage" could be better controlled and more doors opened if actors would place less emphasis on marketing and landing a gig, and more emphasis on favorably impressing those involved with any gig they do happen to land.

Yeah, I'll have to fess up to my Spectacular Failure soon, lest anyone reading the above think I'm lecturing anyone other than myself.

Monday, August 08, 2005

My Hypocrisy

Been meaning to write this for a while, but it seems like there's always something more important to be done. I've noticed, when I feel this way about something over an extended period, it's either truly not important and I've got to take it off my To Do list, or else I've got some fear or dislike surrounding the matter. In this case, I think it's the latter, so I'll just jump in and write, and damn the torpedoes.

I've felt like a hypocrite for a long while about keeping this blog, primarily because my mantra in acting is "It's not about you; even when you think it's about you, it probably isn't." If that's true, how do I reconcile the fact that I'm keeping a blog that's to a large degree all about me, me, me?

I guess the answer for me has to do with longevity, attrition, and having a career in this biz. One reason I think agents, producers, casting directors and the like surround themselves with layers of protection is that actors make lousy dogs. Bear with me on my tortured metaphor here:

It's not that actors aren't "likable" or "friendly" or even fun to have around. But how many people really want to have an actor as a friend? Better yet, how many actors truly know what it is to be a friend, or know how to treat people outside their circle of friends as if those people were themselves potential friends? In my experience, most people would rather have a dog for a friend than an actor, at least for the long haul. Why? Because most actors seem to be a great deal more needy than dogs. Sure, a dog needs to be fed and walked, but the other 90% of his/her interaction with you is defined largely by you. They want to know what YOU are doing, they want to know what YOU are feeling, they want to have fun with YOU and, hard as it is to believe, they actually put themselves second to whatever YOU want to do. And, if you think about it, those are some of the same hallmarks that people look for in choosing their own friends.

Now, I'm stopping way short of saying that friends need to be doormats, and the percentage of time spent with friends that should most appropriately be centered on them is probably closer to 50% on average, but hey, 50% is a LOT more than I see many actors give to the people around them.

I hate to sound like a shame-based, self-hating actor here (I really don't think that's the case, and I'm usually the first to defend actors as Real People and acting as a Real Profession), but my pet peeve about people listing their resumes out loud in the waiting room for an audition didn't come out of nowhere — it happened just last Wednesday, as a matter of fact. I wonder if D.G. (Wednesday's blatherer) has grown cynical yet about the popularly held belief that who you know in this biz potentially advances your career as much as your talent. I swear that at least half of the people complaining about the theatre community being a "closed clique", or about casting directors "forgetting" them don't realize that they themselves are making the experience of being around them unpleasant. I know, for myself, that I would never hire D.G. for a job — regardless of his talent — and I am occasionally in a position to do this now (which is itself neither a boast nor a threat, but rather an illustration that everyone an actor talks to in this biz — from the agency receptionist, to the P.A., to the fellow actor in the waiting room — may someday be in a position to either help or hurt their career).

Okay, I just went to the bathroom, thought about it a bit, and here's what I mean to say:

Just as most sane people realize that talking about raw sewage around the dinner table is inappropriate, the fact is that, in this business — ironic as it may seem to be — attempting to focus other people's attention on you as an actor, outside of certain rare instances, is also inappropriate. Do it a lot and I guarantee that Dr. Phil will one day be asking you "How's that working for ya?" Drawing appropriate focus to your character on stage or on camera: good. Responding to direct questions from an agent or casting director about your last job: okay. Listing your resume, bitching about craft services, dropping names, or saying anything particularly negative about anyone else in the biz: way, waaaay bad.

And, precisely because it IS so vitally, critically important to be a real human being to those you meet — someone who is fun to work with, who doesn't complain, who doesn't talk much about themselves, who seems, in fact, to be good "friend" material — that I think there ought to be a Safe Place where actors can blow off steam. For some people, that Safe Place might be at home with their family. Dad may fuss and fume over the dinner table about the idiots at work and his overbearing boss, but 10-to-1 when he's actually at work he's pleasant and respectful as much as possible. Is that hypocrisy? Maybe, some might say. Personally, though, I think it's more of a coping mechanism that allows Dad to be human without destroying his hopes for career advancement (which, of course, benefits those that depend on him as well).

So, long story short, go ahead and call me a hypocrite. I'm keeping a blog. I keep it because it is my Safe Place to fuss and fume about the idiots in my business. I keep it because I occasionally want to talk about work-related issues without worrying that I'm hurting the feelings of other actors around me or, conversely, that some Buyer of Talent will think I'm a horrible braggart. I keep it because I'm not worthy of being a dog, but very much want to be.

Monday, July 25, 2005

A Humbling Experience

Continuing with the theme of Humility (apparently), I was a guest on a show this past weekend on WGN Radio. It was one of those deals where the host helps promote a theatre show by having the actors do a short excerpt. The performance went fine, but what stuck with me was how VERY different live radio broadcasting is from, say, commercial radio voiceovers. I was frankly in awe of our director, who's done live radio before, because he was so... um... "immediate", I guess. He could verbally react — seemingly within a nanosecond — of any question put to him, and coherently as well (no "umm" or "ahh" spacefillers). Matter of fact, one of my fellow cast members was asked a question on air, and though they answered after maybe at most a second of thinking how to respond, both Host and Director went into a happy riff about how brain-dead theatre actors are in the morning.

Then there was the issue of my headphones. I figured they'd be dead until we went live, so I wasn't concerned that I couldn't hear anything beforehand, but when we did start our segment my cans were still dead and I felt helpless. I looked to the booth for the sound engineer since, in commercial voiceovers, the engineer is god-in-charge-of-all-equipment (and woe betide the actor who messes with anything), but the engineer had actually stepped out of the booth and was nowhere to be seen. I made a motion to our director indicating my plight and he — with not a little exasperation on his face — calmly walked over and twisted a knob that was basically right in front of me. That brought up everyone else's voice in my ears, but strangely not my own, so I just forged ahead and made guesstimates as to how far I had to be from the mike to keep from blowing it out on some of my louder lines (from talking later to those who heard the show, I apparently succeeded in this).

Between these experiences and numerous small other instances during that hour or so, I came away feeling like a bit of a moron, at least when it came to live radio. Which, since I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy, isn't all that bad — it's good to keep your talent and experience-to-date in perspective, and realize that you have much to learn from other performers and in other areas of live performance. Humbling experiences can be good teachers. In fact, I daresay the line between "humbling" and "humiliating" is just how well you're able to put your ego aside so you can draw good information from the whole thing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I'm big in Peoria, y'hear me? BIG!

Had a voiceover session today. Two radio spots for Well Known Travel-Related Company. I realized afterwards — and especially after filling out 9 pages of contract paperwork — that nearly everything I've done in the last year or so has aired out-of-state, with many of them airing (ironically) in the state where I grew up. An odd consequence of this has been that my parents hear and/or see me all the time, so they think I'm a HUGE success.

Can't say I'm disappointed or ungrateful for this perception, considering many actors spend nearly their whole career trying to curry favor, or least acceptance, from their parents. It's just a little bizarre considering the size of the checks I collect (i.e., small, at least compared to national work).

So, to complete the picture and put the finishing touches on my odd emotional state, I got an email note a couple of weeks ago from the curator of the county historical museum in my hometown. Seems they're putting together an exhibit of "Famous Entertainers From Our County", and they want to include me. Few are the times I've ever laughed and cried at the same time, but this was one of them. I'm so flattered, but I feel certain that I'd be a wholly inappropriate addition to the exhibit. (And I don't think that's false modesty — there are some fairly famous people from my neck of the woods.)

Whatever... I put a headshot and my demo DVD into an envelope, along with a letter saying basically what I just said above, and mailed it off. Posterity can sort it out.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Answering a few questions

I feel guilty about pontificating about earprompters in a comment I just left on StoryActor's blog, so I'm going to try keeping this post short.

In response to a request from the same fine actor, here's the short-and-sweet about name changes and how I got my start:

I actually started in Hollywood. Went to school out there, graduated, and tried to fight my way through the wannabes (refusing to acknowledge I was one myself, of course) just hoping that persistence and pluck would pay off. I could say a HUGE amount about it, but I won't right now. Bottom line: I didn't have my union card, so I was an Abomination Before God.

So I looked around for a market that would give me more-results-quicker and allow me to get my SAG card. Ended up moving to Chicago, and nearly every experience Story is having sounds intimately familiar to me. Have to admit that it took a little while before I was able to sort out the difference between myth and reality (during which time I worked some fairly ignominious gigs), but eventually I landed a regional commercial (my Taft-Hartley gig) then a national about 8 months later (for which I joined SAG). Problem is, I didn't want to give up the momentum I'd built up in Chicago by moving back to L.A. (an almost guaranteed result), so I stayed where I was "successful".

Regarding my name, while I was living out in L.A. (a good five years of my life), I discovered there was a very well-known scene designer in the movie industry with my name. Only the middle initial was different. He was also a member of SAG (long story about that...later). Then I found out he had inserted the middle initial in his name because he was originally a stage actor in NYC, and someone with his first and last name (meaning mine as well) was already a member of Equity. So I realized fairly early that I'd have to change my name before joining the unions because, of course, I wanted to join them all.

When the time came to finally join (I joined AFTRA first, actually), I had already met and married Cherokee, so I took one of her names for my own (checking first to make sure that none of the unions already had such a person). So imagine the expletives that issued forth from my lips when I found out that, in the time between my joining AFTRA and then SAG, some kid with my name had joined SAG! And by "kid" I mean exactly that — he was some child actor who had gotten a single role in a SAG-jurisdiction project. So I ended up having to insert my middle name into the mix until this kid's parents finally decided (last year, in fact) that Junior wasn't going to be a star, and it was too expensive to continue renewing his Vanity Card (that's what we call people who hold onto their union card because they somewhat bizarrely think it confers on them credentials as... I dunno... a celebrity, I guess; SAG's full of 'em).

By the way, that's one reason there are so many "3-name actors" out there. The singer Tom Jones was already a member of SAG, so the young upstart by the same name had to become Tommy Lee Jones, for instance.

Well, I broke my promise and ended up blabbing at great length. Sorry. I'm off to rehearsal now. We're doing a put-in for one of the understudies.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Welcome, I guess...

First, I just want to say "hi", "thank you", and "welcome" to anyone who has left me comments in the last few days. I may have mentioned this earlier, but I — perhaps stupidly — haven't expected to get any reaction from my inane ramblings. I started this as sort of a diary for the sake of my own sanity, mostly because it's difficult to deal with some of the duality I find myself living, so I rather find it hard to believe my private musings would be of any interest to others. I know this blog is publicly accessible, but hey... so is the guy standing at State and Madison shouting into a bullhorn at passersby — that doesn't mean I wouldn't rather listen to grass grow than listen to him.

Regardless, if for some reason anyone finds themselves actually reading these words and devoting more than one brain cell to their comprehension... uh... "Welcome," I guess.

The new development with my show is that the producers have decided to create a full cast of understudies, which is almost unheard of for a non-Equity show here in Chicago. Of course, in order to attract people to this difficult and thankless job, they're having to guarantee them some performances, most likely at some of the more lucrative out-of-town gigs. I really, really don't mind having an understudy ego-wise, but I dislike the idea of them cutting into my cash flow. Purely selfish, I know, but I'm having a hard enough time justifying my doing this show to Cherokee, some of my agents, friends who are stuck thinking all theatre has to be transformative, etc., and the paycheck has always been the best way to shut up any objections.

What I need right now is for five degrees of separation to disappear and move me straight into my next serendipitous out-of-the-blue opportunity...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


We're midway through an 8-week run, and things are going well from an appreciation standpoint — audiences are enjoying it, spreading the word, and we keep having to show up at the theatre to film promos, do interviews and whatnot.

The only bump in the road so far (and it's a big one) is that one of our cast keeps getting sick and missing performances. In the world of Chicago Theatre, understudies are few and usually found only in the largest, most prestigious venues (primarily because it's a crappy job and hardly worth doing even for union scale; more on that some other time). In this particular case, what's been happening is the producers have been sending a non-actor onstage with a script, and they've been reading the part during the show. The audience is notified beforehand and given the option to take a raincheck, but — surprisingly — most people have stayed for the performance anyway, and things have seemingly turned out well, all things considered.

Still, at this point, 25% of our scheduled performances have either been done without a full cast or — in the case of the first weekend — cancelled entirely. I am, of course, concerned about my sick fellow cast member, but past a certain point our performances stop being a heroic story about "the show must go on" and just become plain unprofessional and bad business. A case in point this last week was when one particular ticketholder, hearing that there was going to be a non-actor non-understudy reading the role, angrily demanded her money back and left because this particular performance WAS her raincheck — she'd come once before, been told there would be an emergency put-in, and had decided she'd rather come back later and see the whole (presumably healthy) cast. Well, it was 3 weeks later and the same sh** was still happening, so she left in a huff. It would be a lot easier to dismiss this as an isolated incident, or toss it off as more her problem than ours, if it weren't for the fact that this particular patron was an employee of HotTix, and in a position to recommend shows to all their patrons. (HotTix, for those who don't know, is Chicago's version of Broadway's TKTS — you can get last-minute tickets to a variety of shows, and they do a brisk business with tourists).

That incident alone probably cost the producers a substantial amount of money and, possibly, affected the long-term viability of the show (the producers wanting to turn it into a franchise of sorts).

All sorts of lessons to be learned here, not the least of which is that it's called Show "Business" for a reason (something actors today are told much more than they were when I started, but which they probably often don't truly understand). Another aspect is that it's a cautionary tale about how your actions have an impact on others. The producers are just as much to blame for not taking corrective action on this sooner, but — even if this is an entirely uncontrollable sickness that manifests itself without warning (fully deserving of my sympathy and understanding) — I'm still a little miffed that this actor didn't realize that they were, in a word, undependable (or at least potentially so), so that better back-up measures could be put in place. As it is, their sudden realizations that they can't go on (it's always sudden, happening moments before curtain or even between acts) create a situation that is unfair to the audience, unfair to the person who has to walk on in their place, unfair to the producers, and unfair to their fellow cast members.

And, unfortunately, it makes me think less of them as a person, rather than garnering my sympathy. I even find myself wondering about the authenticity of these attacks since, outwardly at least, they do not seem to be making an effort to follow their doctor's advice. Also, when an attack comes upon them, they make no effort to treat their supposed symptoms — they just decide it's over and throw in the towel.

So yeah, I'm concerned about this person, but I also think there comes a point when you have to cut through the backstage drama in order to ensure the onstage drama can continue.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Laughter and Tears

Well, my show's been open for a full three weeks now and it finally seems to be settling in somewhat. It's been something of a challenge because the playwright continues to think of it as a development piece, so changes and adjustments are still being made. The usual scenario in professional theatre calls for changes such as we're being asked to make to continue only through Previews and maybe into Opening Weekend, but then the show basically gets turned over to the actors (with the AD/SM then having the responsibility to keep the show up to snuff, but nothing beyond that). It's essentially like corking a bottle of wine — a show needs to age in the bottle, so to speak, to reach its full perfection.

Regardless, the Tribune reviewed it favorably, so audiences have been building. Although billed as a comedy, the fact of the matter is that it's not uproariously funny, just pleasantly amusing throughout — until the end. In the final scene, we sort of throw a sucker punch and it's darn near impossible for the audience to keep from breaking into tears. Happy tears, but tears nonetheless. (Maybe "sucker punch" isn't quite right. Actually, it's more like going to a movie about a cute dog. You know, in the back of your mind, that there's a good chance you're going to end up crying over that damn dog by the end, but you're willing to take that risk in exchange for laughing at his antics the other 99% of the time.)

So this past weekend we had a group of 30-40 teenage girls in the audience, and they all sat together House Right. Normally I don't allow my focus to stray out into the audience very much — whether you might consider it a blessing or a curse, the modus operandi that works best for me is to include their reactive energy into the performance but keep them firmly beyond the fourth wall for a show like this — but this night I couldn't help but be more than usually aware of them because they were not reacting in synch with the rest of the House. Lines that scored a hearty chuckle from the House-at-large merited only a scornful snicker from their group, while some of the more sophomoric humor was met with peals of laughter from that quarter but silence from the larger body.

Anyway, we got down to the final moments of the show and, for whatever reason, this group intuited earlier than the rest of the audience where we were headed and just began sniffling en masse. It's a quiet-ish moment on stage, so I could tell that suddenly we actors were kind of sharing attention with the "Teenage Girl Chorus" as the rest of the audience began wondering why the heck the people in House Right were crying.

Oh, but wait... now The Girls have become self-conscious about their sniffling and have started to look at each other and laugh at how easily they've succumbed to mere emotion. Time to regain their composure and once again become Hipper Than Thou Chicks.

Which... (sniff)... would be a whole lot easier... (sniff)... if the action on stage that had made them cry in the first place weren't continuing to develop and, omigosh-here-we-go-again...

And so it continued — crying spate, laughing jag, outright weeping, group giggling — with hardly any need for us actors to do more than say our lines in order to inflict heavy casualties on their composure. In the end, we all came off stage and agreed, for lack of a better summation, that we had done our jobs and that they'd been a good audience.


I can't help feeling a little like a stand-up comedian who knows that even his crappiest material will fly if he's not the first act on stage — i.e., drunks are pushovers. Similarly, I have the oddest desire not to perform this show for groups of teenage girls anymore. That, of course, is entirely out of my hands, but I can't express how odd it is for this adult male — who admittedly suffered plenty at the hands of teenage girls when he himself was a nerdy/awkward/unpopular teenage boy and who has furtively sought to win the approval of young women ever since to salve his overt feelings of inadequacy — to suddenly find himself NOT wanting anything to do with this particular subset of the citizenry.

It's weird, yet somehow uplifting...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Been Awhile...

...since I updated this. The show I'm in has opened, although the producers chose to make Opening Week more of a set of previews than anything else. Press Night was this past Friday which, all things considered, was a good performance. Both of Saturday's performances went well, but I felt horribly off on Sunday — the first act in particular — which sucked because there were a couple of critics in the house, including the Tribune. That was also the performance that Cherokee saw, so I'm kicking myself.

Backstage drama to date: We had to cancel both Saturday performances the first week because one of the actors passed out backstage. They couldn't do it Sunday either, and we did the show with an understudy performing "on book". No idea what health problems led to this happening; the actor in question did all of last week's performances fine.

Then another actor — one I have to kiss onstage — came in with a head cold this past Saturday, so of course now I've got it. And wouldn't this turn out to be the week that not one, but TWO advertisers decided to audition for a new national spokesperson? "Buy Acme Brand, because (cough, hack, wheeze) it's better!"

I hate it when I give sub-par auditions, even if there's a good reason. I just couldn't turn it down, though... Murphy's Law of Auditions says that it's often when you're feeling your worst that you turn in your best work. Well, today Murphy can suck eggs.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Sorry for the Edge

Been re-reading some of my postings below and I'm struck by how crusty I sound sometimes. I don't want to give the impression that I dislike acting, actors, producers, or the business in general. What I find myself growing more and more impatient with these days, however, are some of the excesses and attitudes that prevent our business from receiving the respect it deserves.

Of course, I'm not kidding myself — there are people out there (many of them) who are just plain never going to respect actors, acting, or the performance arts in general as worthy of the sobriquet "real jobs". And, frankly, there's little we can do to convince those people otherwise. What we can do, however, is deserve their respect, whether they give it to us or not. That means, for instance, that we shouldn't bait them, demean them, or reinforce their stereotypes.

So if, sometimes, I get a little thorny over something, it's usually a reaction to sensing some form of disrespect, and I apologize if it comes off as anything else.

Not much happening over the last week commercially. We're now two weeks away from opening the show I'm in. I'm getting antsy because we're still receiving rewrites, and no one has committed any part of the second act to memory yet.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Things Proceed Apace...

Man, the guys in charge of the show I'm in really know how to market. All of it high-class, all of it ingenious, most of it high-profile as well. As near as I can tell, none of it seems "needy" — an affliction which affects many a Chicago storefront theatre. (Most pathetic are the ones who stand out on the street in Wrigleyville, cadging a moment to pitch their show. I've done it before elsewhere, so I understand the whole dynamic, but it's soooo self-defeating. The worst part is they seem to feel it almost makes their show a new and exciting form of guerilla theatre simply by how it's hawked.)

The show itself continues to develop well and, frustrating as it is to not be off-book yet, even given our overly long rehearsals, I think we're pretty much on schedule for the opening. One other cast member bugs me with how staccato they deliver their lines — it's like it's all consonants and no vowells — but no other major worries at this point.

Quite a few voiceover auditions last week, but none has resulted in a job yet. One on-camera audition for the World's Dullest Industrial.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

When It Rains...

I had a higher-profile theatre call me yesterday and "offer" me an audition. I put that word in quotes because it seemed apparent from the get-go that the caller expected anyone he called to fall over themselves for the opportunity to read for a part in any play they chose to produce. Normally, I just note this attitude and put any irritation at it aside because, frankly, it's not entirely unjustified — many, if not most actors would fall over themselves to audition for a show at a prestigious venue (e.g., Steppenwolf, Goodman, etc.).

Still, it annoys me that actors are sometimes their own worst enemies by wearing their desperation on their sleeves (to say nothing of the fact that they feel desperate to begin with), and it annoys me when producers/directors exploit this, thinking it's the status quo. Add to this the fact that the fella on the other end of the phone was calling from an Equity house but said the show was "non-Equity with pay", and I had the definite feeling that the guy was deliberately Name Dropping With The Intent To Exploit (sounds like something illegal, and sometimes I think it should be).

It's silly, and it's petty, but I basically just gave back as good as I got, telling him, "I'm sorry, but I'm replacing Famous Chicago Actor in (play title) which will be going up at Well-Known Chicago Theatre during the rehearsal and performance period you're mentioning." I think I took the guy by surprise, because there was a beat, then he broke out into a pretty hearty laughter. I felt laughed-with, as opposed to laughed-at, so I think we both realized we were playing a silly game. We both eased up on the attitude, then, and exchanged some pleasant chit-chat before hanging up.

Voiceover auditions yesterday for Multinational Car Company, Regional Restaurant Chain, and Nationwide Department Store. First two went well, but the last was a bear, despite it's being perhaps the most straightforward in delivery.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Back Home

All went about as well as could be expected on the shoot. You hope you gave the client what they wanted, and you keep hoping they'll specifically say so, but the fact of the matter is that nearly everyone has their mind on something other than your performance, including the director usually. (It took me several gigs before I caught onto that one actually.) Basically, if they don't seem to be getting frustrated at you, and they eventually say they got it and move on, I figure you've done your job. To expect anything more is just a fragile ego talking.

Saturday I had a first read-through for this play I've committed to. Always interesting to look back on early impressions and early promises and see what actually panned out, so — for the record — I like all my fellow cast members at first glance, and the writer/director doesn't seem to be prone, as near as I can tell, to the stereotypical pitfall of being a "writer/director", i.e., valuing his own script over the production of it.

As far as early promises go, tentative plans call for an 8-9 week production at an extremely reputable venue in Chicago, then 2 weeks at a stage complex in an outlying area, followed by 4 weeks out of state. We'll see how much of that pans out and, if it does, how much money will trickle down to the actors. Pardon me for being mercenary about that last part, but one of the best experiences I've ever had theatrically was this killer lead I had in a well-known show that ran for 6 weeks in Chicago several years ago and then toured Europe — at a final cost to Yours Truly of about $5,000. I'd be lying if I didn't say I loved the experience, but it figured heavily in my coming to realize that I could call myself an actor all I wanted, but I wouldn't be able to call myself "professional" unless I was actually able to make a living at it. Looking back on it now, I have to say that was a good thing to realize; my life (and my art) have been better for it since.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

And the Fun Keeps Happening

I'm writing this from a hotel room in Indianapolis. Why? Because I landed that commercial for the Regional Bank. Actually, I landed both it and the industrial I auditioned for the same day but, as they both shoot tomorrow (Thursday), I had to let one go. Nothing against industrials or the people who cast me -- it just came down to a choice between a half-day's session fee under AFTRA, or a full day under SAG (with travel, residuals, credit toward health benefits, etc.)


The shoot is actually scheduled for Thursday night, starting at 8:00pm and running into the wee hours. The client's put me up in a downtown hotel with free high-speed Internet access (yay!) and a suggestion that I sleep away as much of tomorrow as possible. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first out-of-town overnighter I've had since I was in "The Big Show" (more on that later) and, while this is something of a come-down, I have to say that I was not only missing it but I actually think I like this set-up better -- i.e., a business-oriented hotel versus something 4-star, driving my own car (even if it's a rental) versus being chauffeured in a limo, free Internet versus a swimming pool, etc.

And, of course, I'm looking forward to working tomorrow night.

Monday, April 25, 2005

New Show

So it turns out that the last-minute audition for that paying theatre gig came through for me. I got the call over the weekend, and our first read-through is this coming weekend. It's kind of odd — I'm in that stage of "what have I committed to?" that follows casting and precedes actual rehearsals.

Apparently only 2 people were seen for my role, which is a pretty major character. I arrived early at the audition and, since the director did too, he saw me before my appointed time. I felt like it went pretty well — I maybe talked too much, but the writer/director somehow had the mistaken impression that I was primarily an improv actor, and I felt like I needed to set the record straight. Then I go to leave, and who should walk in the door but a very well-known Chicago actor. By "well-known" I mean someone who has name recognition within Chicago from appearances at Steppenwolf, Second City, Goodman, one-man shows, and/or multiple Jeff awards. (This, in fact, perfectly describes the actor who vacated the role we were auditioning for.) So I figured I was sunk.

Well, for all I know, I was. The part may have been offered to this other guy first, but he turned it down. Regardless, the role is mine now, so I guess my evenings are taken now through July.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Funny How Things Work Sometimes

So I get a call from my agent yesterday, telling me I have a callback for the Regional Bank commercial and, simultaneously, placing me on "first refusal." Basically, the client is saying they tentatively want to book me before they even see the callback. I think that's the first time this has ever happened to me, and I'd be flattered if I wasn't actually pretty sure that all it really means is that the client is covering their bases -- there are probably multiple people under "first refusal" with me.

Regardless, I go into the callback today and get the lay of the land. Callbacks are usually an opportunity for the client to narrow down their casting choices, and for the director to see if they can work with the talent. Only the director was there and, all things considered, it went fairly well, but the thing that stuck out to me was the director asking me to comb my hair because, with my bad dye job, he and the client both thought it looked like it could be a toupee.

Kind of ironic that a mistake on my part that would normally limit my employability is possibly working to my favor in this case.

Then, immediately following that callback, I had an audition in the same office for an industrial. I read twice, the second read being better, but the shoot dates conflict with the shoot dates for the commercial spot. Normally, I'd think I was sitting pretty, thinking I'd probably be shooting SOMEthing soon, but Murphy's Law says that what'll probably happen is that neither gig will cast me. We'll see...

I also got a call today from a playwright/director who is looking to cast a replacement for a cast-member friend who isn't available to do a summer run of this guy's play. So I've got a cold reading audition for a paying theatre gig tomorrow.

Monday, April 18, 2005

See Spot Run

I found out today and over the weekend from friends and family who are living in a particular state that one of my regional spots is running again. My agent told me back in January that the client wanted to resurrect this particular spot (after having let it lapse for 8 months or so) but I had no confirmation it was running until now. Kind of a funny spot, too, so I'm happy.

But, of course, exposure is a double-edged sword.

For those who don't know, acting in commercials is one of the few jobs where the better you do, the less you're wanted. Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but look at it this way: If you were the manufacturer of, say, a popular soft drink, would you want the actor who played Mr. Whipple as your pitchman? (Provided, of course, you remember who Mr. Whipple was.) That's why, except for the Celebrity Spokesperson genre, most advertisers want "complete unknowns" for their spots. That's also why, for all the fun-verging-on-abuse that's poked at "high-priced actors" for supposedly reaping huge windfalls from commercial residuals, the system is actually based on fairness. Speaking as one who has, a few times, received national exposure in a commercial and then suffered through months of being unemployable (including one stretch of more than a year), I can verify that the "huge windfall" barely seems like adequate compensation for one who values work above fame (and let's face it -- being Mr. Whipple barely qualifies as "notoriety" let alone "fame").

So anyway, as I was saying, my spot is running again and I hope I'm not screwed. My character in this particular commercial is humorous, but ever so slightly creepy, and I can just imagine Bad Things happening if other advertisers take note.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

"Real" Person

Had an on-camera audition yesterday for Regional Bank commercial. Went pretty well, although I can't help but wonder why it is so many directors harp on wanting "real people". I think what they're usually indicating by saying that is they don't want anyone overacting and, basically, they want the characters to be believable. Unfortunately, what often happens is the client gets it into their head that they can only get a "real" feel by casting non-actors.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that some people really can just walk in off the street and work 8 hours on the set of a commercial shoot, doing take after take, covered from all angles and distances, and come off believably. But, honestly, most people can't. I'd even say it's a large majority. I don't mean to put actors in a position that's more exalted than they/we deserve -- really, I don't -- but credit needs to be given where it's due. Actors earn their keep by taking someone else's words, or idea for a character, and executing them believably.

Anyway, I hope this Regional Bank got enough "real" people, so they'll stop asking for that. Perhaps next time they can specify "subtle" if they want something underplayed -- that's language we can work with better.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Bad Hair Week

Voiceover audition today at a CD's (casting director's) office. I was the youngest guy in the waiting room, but still felt old. Partly it was because the spot was for a Drug That Treats An Embarrassing Condition That Generally Doesn't Afflict The Young And Fit, but it was partly also that I knew everyone in the room by name and knew how much grayer they'd gotten in the 8 or 9 years that I've been at this. (sigh...)

The feeling of premature age was no doubt accented by the fact that I tried to even out my salt-and-pepper earlier this week but left the color in too damn long and ended up looking like someone 10 years older who wants people to think he's 20 years younger. Today I shampooed with Dawn dishwashing detergent, just to lighten up the color as much as possible. (Great lather, by the way, but it leaves you with the itchiest scalp you've ever had.)

Aside from today's audition (which I'm sure was a wash), I've had stabs this week at Ice Cream Store Chain, Eastern Amusement Park, and at least one other I'm forgetting. Felt good about these, which were held in my agents' office, but half the fun was really just hanging around friends who (today excepted) are at the top of their game and, perhaps because of this, are just generally fun to be around. We have at least two SNL alums, a host of Second City alums, and a buttload of folks who, like me, went through the Chicago improv scene as performers in their own right. It's like, really difficult to go into that office and not find yourself laughing at some point.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Jewtopia Morning After

Beats the hell outta me why I thought it was at the Apollo on Lincoln. I got there 20 minutes in advance, but there was no sign on the marquee or anywhere indicating the show I wanted was there. The look on the face of the girl in the box office was priceless, though, when I asked her, "Where is Jewtopia?" I could tell she was trying to work out whether I was an anti-Semite for a moment (at which point I realized how my question sounded), and then -- without taking her eyes off me -- she evenly said, "I don't know. Guys? (to her fellow box office personnel) Where is Jewtopia?"

"Is it a show?"

"Yes, it's in previews," I replied.

"Where's it playing?"

I paused a moment, waiting for them to realize they'd come full circle to the original question, but they didn't get it, so I said, "I thought it was at the Apollo."

"It's not."

"Okay, back to my original question, do you know where it is playing, or," I added helpfully, "is there a way you can find out?"

So this fella opens up a pamphlet, skims it for a moment, then tells me it's at the Mercury Theatre. Fortunately, the Mercury isn't too terribly far away, so I go tearing out of there and race on over.

In a nutshell, my friend was great in the role, but the show itself is a niche production. It's one of those shows like Shear Madness, Tony and Tina's Wedding, or Vampire Lesbians of Sodom that will probably run forever because it serves a specific audience that self-perpetuates to a certain extent, but it's not what I would call "great theatre". Truthfully, the moments I laughed at most were character-driven moments the actors had brought to the table, but rarely did I find myself laughing at anything in the script.

But then, what do I know? I'm just a goy.

04/08/05 Auditions

Voiceover auditions today for Ice Cream Company, as well as Cell Phone Company. Both went well, two takes each.

Thursday, April 07, 2005


Spent all morning at the DMV, dealing with Bureaucrats From Hell, so I'm looking forward to kicking back tonight at a preview for "Jewtopia" at the Apollo Theatre on Lincoln. A good friend and sometime business partner is in the show, and it's his first full-fledged Equity gig, so I'm happy for him. Expecting to go out for a beer afterward and talk about his experiences rehearsing in NYC, putting it up here in Chicago, followed by some catch-up regarding our nascent theatre company.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Making Lemonade

So I show up at the studio for Major Restaurant Chain, and pretty quickly things go sideways. I was actually early, so I spent 45 minutes or so just going over the script incessantly so I'd have it down cold. At 8:30am the director wants to see me so I can walk the set and get acquainted with what I'll be doing. Funny thing is, he keeps referencing lines in the script that aren't there, a la "here's your spatula for when you talk about flipping burgers". Burgers? What burgers? I don't mention burgers at all.

You guessed it -- they'd changed the script. Like, radically. Somehow the changes didn't get communicated to me, so here I am having memorized a script that basically didn't exist anymore. Fortunately, I'd heeded the note from my agent to "bring your Ear, just in case", because now I really needed it.

The Ear, for those who don't know, is shorthand for "ear prompter". In its most basic form, there's a wireless receiver that plays into an earpiece. You see broadcasters wear 'em all the time. That clear plastic tube that coils up the back of their neck and goes to one of their (real) ears? That's so a director or prompter in the booth can talk to them, telling them to go to commercial or bailing them out if things go wong. For the type of job I was doing today, the wireless receiver is replaced by a tape recorder which plays back to an antenna fashioned into a loop, which is then worn over one shoulder under my clothes. The broadcaster's earpiece is replaced by a wireless hearing aid, which is tuned to the frequency at which the antenna is broadcasting. And what's being broadcast into my ear? A tape of myself, reading the script. It's kind of bizarre, actually, and most actors require a certain amount of training in order to perform well using this device. Why? Because it's difficult for most people to listen to something in one ear and then repeat it verbatim out loud, just 1 or 2 seconds behind the tape, without looking glassy eyed... or like they're concentrating hard... or like they know what they're actually saying.

So I go downstairs, virtually undress completely so I can put the antenna on, then look for a quiet place where there aren't people talking on cell phones (an irritating habit a lot of actors have while they're waiting to be used) so I can spew the new script onto my recorder. Back upstairs, and we did 3 or 4 takes until we realized that the pacing of the script, as I'd recorded it, wasn't going to work. Back downstairs, re-record it, then upstairs again, this time with my pause switch (it's a little on/off switch that snakes down one sleeve or out of one pocket that allows me to halt the playback for a moment if needed). As it turns out, it was needed, and it was kind of tricky flipping the switch at the right moments without the camera seeing.

Still, by Take 8 we'd actually shot something that could be used (and 2 of the previous takes had been bad for lighting & camera reasons), so I was beginning to feel like maybe I shouldn't punish myself for not having practiced my Ear technique for nearly a year. Of course, as soon as I thought that, the next take sucked, but Take 10 was "da bomb", and both crew and client were laughing at the playback and clapping afterwards. Mission accomplished and, surprisingly, on schedule (they'd allotted until Noon to shoot my section, and that was precisely the time we finished).

Home now and, as usual after one of these high-concentration gigs, I'm exhausted. Off to bed for a nap...

Monday, March 28, 2005

Home Again

Spent the weekend Down South with Cherokee's folks, eating the best-tasting Heart Stupid food on the planet. Looooong drive home (10 hours) which started at 3:30am so I could make a 2:10pm voiceover audition which, honestly, at this moment, I can't remember what it was for.

I have to wake up bright and early tomorrow because I have an industrial for a Major Food Chain. For those who don't know, an "industrial" is any performance intended to be seen and heard only by a select group, and not via conventional broadcasting channels. The classic example is a training tape shown to new employees within a company, but it also covers that DVD that came with your new car showing you all its features, as well as the recorded voice on the telephone telling you to "input your personal identification number using the buttons on your phone" (which, incidentally, is the sort of job that earns Cherokee most of her acting income each year).

Anyway, this industrial tomorrow doesn't pay great, compared to a commercial or film job, and it's in the "wrong" union (more on that later), but at least it's something. Got to get to bed PDQ, though, after going over my script for the umpteenth time (lucky I had it in hand almost two weeks ago -- a luxury in this biz). Hope it goes well tomorrow...

Thursday, March 24, 2005


OK, I don't know why I was so cagey with that "creative field" reference in my first post. I'm actually a professional actor. Actually, I do know why I was being cagey -- it's one of those things you tell people and they pretty consistently form an immediate opinion of you. Flakey. Egocentric. Exhibitionist.

Not that that's not an incorrect characterization sometimes. To be fair, I do know my share of flakey egocentric exhibitionists. They're not all in the Acting Biz, but I guess most of them are (though, let's face it, that's mostly who I hang around, so it's not like I'm exposed to a sociological cross-section of the population).

Regardless, while I might have been into the whole Actor Persona at one time, I personally think I've mellowed with age to the extent now that I'm seriously looking at it as a career. Know why? Two words: Health Benefits. You only need to experience one health problem that is magically paid for (well 80%) by your union's health fund to realize that your performances are no longer about maybe someday making you famous, but rather about working to meet the minimum income requirements each year to ensure that your health benefits and pension vesting continue.

I guess turning that corner (from "wannabe famous" to "arts professional") was sobering, but I have to say I'm fantastically more comfortable in my own skin now. And I guess I'm perhaps more prone now to taking offense when people start behaving dismissively towards me and/or other artists, which is why I didn't mention it straight off.

Sorry for the initial deception.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

First Post

Unabashed newbie here, so cut me some slack, alright? I've been viewing blogs for years now, but never felt the desire myself to post until recently, and then mostly because I grew fed up with much of the anonymous sniping that passes for intelligent discourse on the Internet.

For what it's worth, though...

I'm male, I work in a "creative" field, and I live in the Chicago area. I'm a social liberal but a fiscal conservative, which used to be called "Rockefeller Republican" but seems now to be called "Clinton Democrat", "Independent", or "UnAmerican", depending who you talk to. I have a graduate degree, but I don't use it to teach, despite the prodding of family members. I currently have a menagerie of house pets, though nothing particularly exotic. My dog wags his tail when I come home, and that's enough for me.

Something I guess you should know about me is that I see the world in shades of gray rather than simple black & white. I say that now because some people find it perplexing (even infuriating) when I weigh in on issues and they can't tell whose "side" I'm on. I'm not always "in the middle", but at the same time I'm astounded that so few people even recognize that there is a middle ground, especially when it comes to the volatile issues of politics, religion and sexuality.

I also mention it because I think that slapping a label on someone, while admittedly convenient, ultimately does them a disservice. I mean, I guess you could call me straight, a Christian, and a Democrat, but the fact of the matter is that I've never found a denomination that really served me well, I only consider myself 95% straight (allowing for the possibility, however remote, that I could actually be in a sexual situation with another male and not be turned off) and, well, you already know about my politics.

I guess that's all I have to say for starters. Flame away, if you like, but know that I tend to only respond to comments that appear to have more than 60 seconds worth of thought invested in them.