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.