Monday, January 31, 2011

Last of the Auditions

I totally forgot about an audition I had in January...

In about the middle of the month, I went to the city to audition to be a storyteller for Historic Philadelphia. They are the group that hires the street performers, costumed characters, and polo-shirted storytellers to entertain visitors who come to Philadelphia over the summer. Some people dress in period wardrobe from the 1700s and play historical people - Betsy Ross, George Washington, random soldiers - and others sit themselves down at pre-approved and advertised benches around the city, telling stories from history and answering any questions that the people have about the city.

Friends of mine have done this storyteller gig in the past, so I went into the audition armed with a 3-minute story about a small historical detail that often gets overlooked. The story I told was one of my favorite pieces from a show I did called "Eureka: Inventors and Their Inventions" that featured a dozen tales of inventors throughout recent history. In fact, I used the same story when I was interviewing for a permanent position at a local non-profit organization. It's a good one. The directors and producers liked it, too, complimenting my choice as something that fit perfectly with their asthetic, even performing it exactly how they storytellers are trained to perform. "I'd have to do very little direction with you," I was told. So I left the room feeling happy about the work I had done.

But here's the crazy thing. The most interesting part of this whole audition, however, was going into it with the sure-fire knowledge that I didn't want the job. I hinted at this in the early part of the month, but I am no longer interested in being an actor. It's something that I always enjoyed, and something that I will most likely continue to do as a hobby, but I am no longer interested in trying to make my living at it.

I'm in the middle of a massive life-change, career-change, housing-change, everything-change that is leaving me an emotional wreck. But at the center of all of it is the absolute certainty that I'm steering my life in the direction I want to go. Sure, I look back now and then and wonder and lament. But that is my former life, and a new one awaits me. It scares me that I might not be able to have it right away, but I'm trying to have faith. So any good thoughts, prayers, good vibrations, etc. that you send me way will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

Breaking News - The New Superman

According to this story, which has appeared all over the Internet, Zach Snyder has found his new Superman - Henry Cavill.

This isn't an official picture, of course, since the casting was literally announced a few days ago. In fact, I just found it online. I think it looks like a good fan photo, but what Cavill will look like in the actual Superman uniform is, at this point, anyone's guess.

Well, I guess Zach Snyder and Christopher Nolan know. But other than them, no one.

Congrats to Mr. Cavill on a role I would kill my best friend for, and I hope they make a good movie around him. Just like when Brandon Routh was cast, I'm a little disappointed that it's not going to be me in blue tights. Last time it depressed me, and made me think long and hard about my career. This time, it just makes me want to get out of the business even more.

True Grit

Last weekend, I went to see "True Grit." After the film got passed over by the Golden Globes but showered by the Oscar nominations, I was curious. Plus, westerns tie into my love of cowboys, independence, and handguns, so how can I not enjoy them. I didn't really grow up watching any westerns when I was a kid, as that genre had more-than-faded-away by my TV watching prime. But when we first got basic cable, TNT was still showing cowboy movies along with the occasional made-for-TV western. And Saturday morning was a western-themed bonanza.

First up was, in fact, Bonanza. I never really cared too much for it. I know that another show was a part of it, too, possibly Rawhide or Gunsmoke. I never really watched any of these shows, except the occasional episode here or there, just to see Doctor McCoy on a horse. The two shows that I loved were the final pieces of the Saturday TV block: The Wild Wild West and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Lucky for me, they were on back-to-back.

But that's another blog post - this one is on "True Grit." I just wanted to give you some background on admiration for cowboys and westerns.

"True Grit" was very very good. I've never seen the version starring John Wayne, but I do know that it was the film for which he won his only Academy Award. Even though history regards it as an "honorary win" for his long career, and Wayne himself said that he had given better performances. He cited his performance in the movie "Stagecoach," which is one of my favorites. (Highly recommended.) I've posted a picture of Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, the character he played in the film. I also did not realize that "True Grit" was a novel, on which both films are based. I'm very interested now to see the John Wayne version to see how two very-different films interpret the same story with the same characters.

And now, if you've kept reading, I'll tell you what I thought of this modern version. I really liked it. The acting in it was top notch, including the Oscar-nominated 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, playing the leading role of the young girl out to avenge the murder of her father. She gave a deep and soulful, fully realized performance that made me wonder just how old she was. When I found out her actual age, I was stunned. Performances by child actors aren't usually that rich. As Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges was a bundle of fun. He didn't start the film as a particularly likeable character, but he slowly grew on me. I've included a picture of him as well. Take a look at them both, and notice the way that Hollywood's image of "drunk and troubled" has changed. I also found it interested that both actors wore their eye patch over a different eye. (Wayne said his was in tribute to John Huston.) I'm guessing that Bridges more accurately reflects the original novel. And I liked the performance Bridges gave, too, although I thought it occasionally lapsed a little too much into the "if I squint, sneer, drawl, or act like a lunatic, I'll be able to convince people that I'm acting" school of performing (for excellent examples, see Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr, and, lately, Christian Bale.) Bridges pulls off weight and gravitas behind his antics, and it makes his performance real in a way that I don't find with the others.

But I was really impressed by Matt Damon. I think he is one of the underrated actors working in movies today, and his performance was subtle and effective. He was almost unrecognizable in the first few trailers I saw for the movie, but he looks great in the film. After his character suffers a... mishap..., Damon actually convinced me that he had an almost-severed tongue. The vocal work was amazing and subtle, and it actually took me most of a scene to realize he was doing anything at all. It was impressive. The ensemble all worked together well, too, and it was a lot of fun to watch all these actors at the top of their craft.
Another aspect of the movie that deserves to be mentioned is one of the very first shots - a shot of the old west frontier town. The camera rises over the old-time train to show the main street of the town, and it took my breath away. Using CGI to create landscapes and buildings is nothing new, but I think that one of it's most important uses is to re-create these images from the past. Think about those beautiful cityscapes in the Peter Jackson "King Kong" showing a NYC that no longer exists. Imagine the period pieces that can be done now...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Back in the Studio

In the beginning of January, Radio Hound Productions stood up (good dog!) and started recording again. We had intended to work through some of the winter holidays, but personal schedules, touring productions, a short film production took over, and the audio shows suffered a little bit. The older shows were getting uploaded to the iTunes store one by one, but there was precious little new content out there for those hungry for more.

But that will soon change. Early January marked the first studio recording of the second season of Radio Hound's audio offerings. The episode will be the next one to broadcast - it's a special Valentine's Day show - and then the second season of radio shows will be up and running. We're planning on several miniseries, possibly a season of Boson Higgs adventures, and then the occasional Stray Dog to fill the weeks in between.

And so on a very cold and snowy day in January, I dragged out the recording bucket and spend the afternoon recording a radio show. It was nice to get into the swing of things again, but here's the kicker: my heart wasn't really in it anymore. I loved the idea of setting everything up and brining the people together. I even really liked directing the episodes, but when it came time to record the takes, my heart was a little lukewarm on the matter.

I think that Radio Hound was a creative outlet connected to my acting career for so long that it's going to be a little strange to be doing it without acting around it. Or it's just that we took so much time off that it's hard to get back in the saddle. Or even that I just lost some of my focus without my resident director in the saddle with me.

Whatever it was, I pushed it aside and rode on through, and the recording sounds great. I have some smaller recording to do for the project, and then the final edit needs to happen in time for it to be uploaded next weekend. And then, of course, the new episodes need to get written and recorded. I was ahead of the schedule for a while, and now I'm falling back into "on time" with the episodes. I really enjoy producing these projects, and I want them to continue.; it's just about finding the momentum again and getting back on the ball.

Wish me luck.

And, if you listen to the podcasts, drop an occasional note to me and let me know how you enjoy them. Or don't enjoy them. Feedback like that is one of the only ways that I can know what people think of all this hard work we're doing.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Award nomination

Congratulations to me!

I don't know if anyone out there follows such things as the Razzie Awards, which are annual awards that celebrate the absolute worst in movies over the past year. And I am now the (dubiously-) proud nominee in the category of "Worst Ensemble" for my involvement with the film The Last Airbender.

Now, to be completely fair, the movie has been nominated for almost every category there is: worst film, worst director, worst screenplay, worst eye-gouging use of 3D, worst sequel, prequel, ripoff, or remake. So my involvement in the film is not the only terrible part of it.

Nor is my involvement with the film extensive in any way. I stood where they told me to stand, fought where they told me to fight, ran where they told me to run, and then ate their breakfast burritos and cashed their checks. It was one of the most fun months of work that I have ever had, even leaving the paychecks aside. I loved being on the set, I loved working with friends, and I loved being a part of a movie.

My month's worth of work on Airbender also started me off on my quest to be an actor, inspiring me to leave my day job, audition for everything, take interesting work, and even start producing my own projects. And it was a great year or so after Airbender, when I was successfully pursuing that acting career. It has been an interesting journey.

I should write about the evolution of that journey. And I will, once I have an ending to the story. It's still a little up in the air.

Hamlet rehearsal

Last Monday, I headed back to Shakespeareland for the first of four rehearsals for my upcoming tour of Hamlet. Since we had last worked in November, one of the cast members had to drop out because of another offer. (He's part of the Walnut St. Theatre's touring program now.) So two extra rehearsals were added into our schedule to prepare the new actor for the tour.

I'll confess up front. I haven't looked at my lines in about two months, literally since the last time the cast was assembled. And I didn't even bother to look over them before rehearsal. Another actor said he reviewed them on the bus; I didn't even go that far. If they had wanted me to brush up, they should have paid me for it. At this stage in my career, why would I work for free? Besides, I knew this rehearsal would be about our new actor Reuben, and having him step in to learn a LOT of blocking, lines, musical moments, and costume changes.

And I was right. We worked his bits for the first half of the show, over and over again, and I think I did my opening King speech once. Then I spent a lot of time dressed as the Lego ghost of Hamlet's father, said a few lines here and there, banged the gong, and went home. Our fight director came in to work the final swordfight in the play, and I got to go home early. I always like being dismissed from rehearsal early. Makes me feel like I'm getting away with something.

All of my big scenes with the new actor are in the second half of the play, so I know that I'm going to get my share of the workout on our second rehearsal, now scheduled for Valentine's Day. So that's going to be my big day working the new-kid into the play. And then we have two additional rehearsals before hitting the road to tour schools in March.


I was pretty amazed at how the show just came right back to me. We worked on it so hard and so deeply for what amounted to almost two solid weeks, the lines came right back into my mouth and I even remembered my costume changes and cues. I don't say that the lines came back into my brain, but they certainly just came into my mouth. I was just saying them. It was a rehearsal after all. One little glace over them before our big rehearsals coming up, and I should be good to go.

Comic Book Panels Return!

Back some time ago, I worked as a model for a comic book, playing Lord Byron. I even wrote a blog post about it. Last time, we did a lot of the scenes from the first part of the story, and this second session was focused on all of the group scenes from the entire 5-part project. We were jumping along really quickly this time, changing costumes and sets at the drop of a hat, trying to get as many setups finished as possible. We eventually did get everything the artist needed, even if we were rushing toward the end to get done of an actor who had to make a train to another job. (Side note: Actors often string together a number of small, part-time, side jobs, just to make ends meet and have enough money coming in to pay the bills. That worked fine for me when I was a younger man, but I'm ready for something more permanent.)

In any case, I wasn't able to post any photos from the shoot last time around, but this time I made sure to bring my personal camera. And now I have some photos of me in character. Like this one:
In this scene, I'm writing a poem in my journal as I'm looking down out of a window to see a friend crossing the grounds. At least, that's what it will look like when it's all completed. So I'm told.

I was also able to take a picture that provides a very good idea of what we were up to all day:

In this photo, David and Karina are posing in the positions for the comic book panel while Celeste takes the photo for visual reference. Later, David (the artist as well as an actor) will use that photo to create the painted panel for the finished comic book. He'll change lighting, background, color as he needs to, but he will retain a lot of the performance
elements from us, the models. It's a really interesting way to work. And as you can see, it's also lot of fun. I had a blast posing for the panels again, and David and I got along really well. I'm hoping that he'll have more projects in the future that he'll need models for, because I would love to go back and work with him again. We worked well together, and we both had a good sense of humor about things. In fact, my last scene of the day was a love scene. But instead of shooting both me and the lady together, David took photos of us separately. It was strange to get direction in that scene - "Okay, now, you've just grabbed her and flipped her over" or "She's whispering very naughty things into your ear." I felt a little funny now and then, playing a love scene by myself like I'm working with a green-screen and a computer-generated partner to be added in later. But David said liked the pictures, so I have confidence that everything is going to work out for the best. And I'm excited to see that scene.

Oh, and I've seen some of the finished pages from the comic itself. I cannot post them online, but they look amazing. Be sure that once I get the okay from David, though, that those images will find their way online. And I'll be here talking about them, too.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

When you hear R2-D2 beep like this, you'll know it's time to turn the page...

Last Tuesday, I went into a small studio in Conshohocken for my first recording session as the narrator of an audio book. And yes, it was as awesome as it sounds. Even though I've been producing a podcast for the last year, I've never been hired to be an audio book reader before. I had applied to this company over a year ago and been put into their vocal files. But about a month ago, I got a call from the producer who said that he had a job for me. The author of a non-fiction book had heard my sample, and mine was the voice she wanted to read her book about resolving workplace disputes with your manager.

I went into the sound-proof recording booth, and Dave G (the producer) gave me a quick and dirty course on how to perform as the narrator of an audio book. And it was a pretty cool tutorial. I though that it would be all about being clear and direct with your voice. But he had me work on things like rounding out the sound of my voice, as well as really varying up its pitch to convey the meaning behind all the text. It was also strange to be reading a book out loud that had never gotten a chance to read before. Sometimes I stumbled over a word, a phrase, or a particular sentence construction. When that happened, I always laughed a little to myself and made a "bleh" sort of noise, and then we just went back to take a second stab at the line. Only two or three moments really gave me trouble, but I nailed them all eventually.

I worked on the book for a total of three hours, and I was surprised at how hard it was. My mouth was working pretty hard to get all the articulation that I needed to speak clearly. Also, I was talking for nearly three straight hours. The next time I record a book, I know to prepare my voice a little bit more, and be ready for that marathon talking session. I thought it was going to be a rather simple affair, much more like recording the episodes of my radio series. But it was a much more focused sort of work, especially since I was the only person in the sound booth. I hope I get to go back and do another one.

Living Literature '11

This past week, I was up in NYC to see a performance of an original musical based upon the poetry of Langston Hughes. I knew the composer because I worked on a previous project with him, and this latest show is a part of the Living Literature Festival that the Metropolitan Playhouse sponsors every year around this time. Two years ago I directed a musical based on a short story by Herman Melville, and last year I made my NYC debut in another original show. But this year I was only an audience member, attending the opening night performance this past Monday.

It was really great to see old friends and old collaborators. I knew the director, stage manager, and both co-producers of the show, one of whom was the writer/composer, and it was great to see them all in NYC again. I didn't know any of the actors in the show, and realized it was strange to be supporting friends who had worked strictly in a supportive/creative way on a show. I wasn't going to see anyone I knew onstage; I was going to support the work my friends had done behind-the-scenes.

The show itself was a lot of fun. It wasn't a narrative story, just a series of songs, but most of them were well arranged, and the director staged some very clever transitions from one song into the next. The ensemble was full of strong individuals, although their chorale sections weren't as strong as their solos. One of the stand-out songs was based on this poem by Langston Hughes, about a black G.I. The melody was great, the performer really found the truth of the song, and it was one of the best songs from the show.

I really enjoy going to see new theatre. I don't always enjoy the shows I see, just see my last entry for proof of that, but I like going to see it. I've seen enough productions of "Romeo and Juliet" to last me for a lifetime, so I have to support people who are trying new things and writing new shows. Whether or not the new show strikes my fancy or not is an entirely different thing, as I often find most "new" theatre to be quite boring, indulgent, or masturbatory. But every once in a while, there is a nice and enjoyable show in the mix, like the one I saw this week. Kudos to you, Danny. Kudos!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Play readings

On Monday night, I attended the free reading of a new play in Philly, hosted by the Wilma Theatre. The Wilma's staff are considering several plays for their upcoming season, and they are having a series of free readings to test the plays in front of audiences, and see how people respond. They also asked members of the "press" not to review the plays in any way, since they are works-in-progress, but let's just mention that they play is about Superman. Well, to be fair, it's about Jerry Siegel, one of the two boys who created Superman in the 1930s. And, well, I went to see if, because why would I turn down a free ticket to see a play about Superman?

To be honest, the play was... okay. Just okay. The dramatic structure set the show up as a conversation between father (Siegel) and son (Superman himself), and there was a lot going on there. Unfortunately, the play just recycled conventional ideas about the creation of Superman, and it really didn't have anything new or noteworthy to say. There were also "imagination sequences" in which Siegel was thinking of the Jews in Nazi concentration camps whom Superman was powerless to save. I know, that seems like strange sentence, and the play really wanted to make all these connections work. But they never quite did. Maybe it was because I wasn't seeing the full mounting of the show (the script kept talking about the comic book panels coming to life, and it was heavy on projected images), but the play never quite achieved its lofty aims.

It was funny, well-written, and entertaining, but it wanted to be so much more. And ultimately, it was about a guy in spandex tights and a cape. I'm all about finding deeper meaning in comic books, and using the medium of words and pictures to capture something meaningful and important about humanity... but you can never forget that it still just a story about a guy in a cape.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Happy New Year!

Looking back at the list of posts that I wrote in 2010, I see that it was a light year for me. Not in terms of work, life, and etc, but just in terms of posts. I remember this year being a busy one, but I couldn't have told you much that I had done beyond a few shows. I actually just went back and read my own blog to remind myself how I had spent my working part of 2010, and there were definitely some plays, auditions, and projects that I had forgotten about completely, and I couldn't have told you much about them at all.

Except for Radio Hound. In addition to all the released episodes of the podcast, as well as a short film completed and another in development, two feature-length scripts that we're trying to get off the ground, and plans for the new year, Radio Hound has been the most exciting thing I've done in the last year. And, perhaps more importantly, I've started identifying myself as a producer and not as an actor. I originally started RHP as an outlet on the side for the projects that I wanted to do, but now RHP has turned into the main focus of my entertainment career. I like planning the upcoming season of programing, I like organizing everyone's schedules, and I like being in the background working on the radio show.

This realization has been building in my mind for the last three months or so, and I'm now working on a shift in my career. I spent the last 18 months or so since I left Pella Windows pursuing a career as an actor, and I did find a good amount of success. Some commercials, some film projects, a bunch of plays, and a whole lot of auditions. But that lasting success I was looking for has eluded me, and I'm looking for something with a little more stability as I enter my early 30s. And so while 2010 was the year of acting, 2011 might be the year of producing.

I'm also working on a slight format change to this blog. Instead of posting now and then when things happen to me in my career, I'm going to try to get something a little more scheduled going on. A friend asked if I was going to stop updating the blog because I'm not pursuing the same career anymore. But this blog will continue as I keep writing freelance articles and reviews, as as I keep producing for Radio Hound. But there are also other exciting things going on in 2011, and I will post about all of that as well.

Happy New Year!