Thursday, January 31, 2008

Just like the pros

Yesterday, I went into Philadelphia for the read-through of the next episode of "Paper Cuts," the online TV series that I do with the University of the Arts. There is a new push this year to have the read-throughs be a scheduled event, as our exec producer pointed out, "just like they do on Will & Grace or Friends." It gave us all a chance to say hello, laugh at the jokes, and then talk a little bit about what's coming up in the next few shows. It was a nice thing to sit around the table and read the script, even if I did only have one scene in it. Since I was away on tour last year, my plotline as Jack is moving away from the rest of the characters for a few episodes, so these readings are bound to be the only times I get to see the rest of my castmates. It was fun being a part of the group again, and it is very exciting to know that I'm going to be back in the show. I had thought for a time that I was going to be written out of the show, but I'm very excited that I'll get to play in the rest of the episodes this season. I have no idea what my career will be like in the next production year, but I'm glad I can finish this first one. Then all I have to do is wait to record the commentary tracks on the DVD.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Those magic moments

It was a complete success. Our rehearsal today where we combined music and blocking went very smoothly, if such a thing can be believed, and we think we'll be running the show just under two hours with an intermission. In that rehearsal, I had one of those magic moments singing my big song. As readers of the blog and personal friends are well aware, I have been struggling with this music to some extent. The role is a great one for a tenor, but I'm a tried and true baritone. So the high notes are on the extreme end of my range, and it has been dedicated work for me to get up to them. So how amazing was it for me today that the notes just seemed to come out correctly, without me worrying or even focusing on them. I always love really performing the songs in musical theatre, not just singing them, and when we brought those two elements together today, the music made so much sense. There was no stress, there was no strain, there was no problem as I played the scene. It was a pretty cool experience, one of ease and effort toward which I want to direct the rest of my craft and career. It was also that little boost of confidence that I needed to head into the next few weeks on the show. Now I have no doubts as to what I can do, so I just have to make sure that I do it every time.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Taking it to the next level

Tomorrow afternoon, we have a long Saturday rehearsal for The Spitfire Grill in which we are taking the show to the proverbial next level. For the first time, we are bringing the music and the staging together. We've spent the last few weeks working on each element of the show separately, and tomorrow is the chance we get to put it all together. These rehearsals are always a little shaky in the beginning, since music that we knew standing around the piano is always a bit more confusing when we're trying to walk and sing at the same time. But it's the step that we need to take. Last night was a very brief rehearsal, in which we just ran through the second act for blocking purposes. We wanted to see if there were any major traffic jams when it came to moving around the stage; since there weren't any, we went home early. Since so much of this show is based on the music, as any well-written musical must be, we've reached that point in the process where we need to bring everything together.

Tim has already mentioned that next week we will start exploring characters and relationships and things like that, but that in the meantime we must focus on the blocking and the physical staging of the show. That was certainly good news for me, since so much of what appeals to me as an actor is the exploration of those character ideas. Tim has had to bite his tongue about things like "character" and "motivation," since he wasn't going to focus on them last night. And so as a result, we go into tomorrow's rehearsal generally secure on our blocking but still unexplored in terms of real acting. These types of rehearsals are always a little tedious but important. I hope it goes well.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Nailing it

The title just about says it all. I had another film audition this morning for Kathy Wickline Casting in Philadelphia, and this one went really well. In addition to a prepared monologue, they gave us a commercial to read as well. After I sat and waited for only about half an hour, I went in and had a casting session with Kathy Wickline herself. We talked for a bit, and then I did my pieces for her. She had nice things to say about my resume, my craft, and my attitude in general. She recommended a voice class for me, since she said she observed a little "regionalism" in my rhythm of speech. They have a class starting soon, but since it conflicts with performances of "Spitfire," I already told them that I'm interested in taking the next session of it. Kathy also recommended a few agents, so I can get represented, and, as she said "get see by all of us in the city." She said that she's going to keep me in mind for projects, and that she definitely thinks she can use me. She and her casting assistant were both impressed with my list of theatre credits, and Kathy said it was clear I had spent a long time working on my "craft." So all in all, it was a great audition experience, and I hope I can get some work out of it. I also got the chance to drop by my favorite used bookstore in Philly, and now I'm all excited to head back to Spitfire rehearsals. Good day...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Way ho, ice and snow

Thursday night was our last Spitfire rehearsal for the week, since the Cedar Crest forensics team has a competition this weekend out in West Chester. I drove up to rehearsal through a beautiful snowstorm, although it was pretty slow going. But rehearsal was worth it. We spent some time on the scene that leads into my duet with Percy, and we made Tim produce a little "hmm" as we found some fun stuff to play with in the scene. We'll be coming back to it, as we do to all things, but we left it in a pretty cool place. We worked on it just long enough to find things we can explore in the future, and then Tim let us out early. But that didn't stop us from hanging out in the theatre for another half hour, listening to two cast members tell stories about their recent trip to Egypt. And by the time I got back on the road, the pretty snow had turned into unforgiving rain, and the drive home was pretty bleak. Since I have the weekend off, I'm going to spend time with my script and make sure that all my prep work is done for Act Two. There are many times in which I won't really worry about doing too much work in advance, but when rehearsal is only for three hours a night, I like to go in more prepared.

I also had one of those moments that really exemplified why I'm back up at Cedar Crest working with Tim Brown again. We were running a scene between Percy and me, and Tim kept having us do it over again. He was giving notes to Michelle for her to punch up the scene, try different things, and take it a little further than she was already doing. On every "take," I went to try something a little different with the scene. I like working with Tim, because he appreciates that style. I know that when I take a different approach to every moment, Tim will eventually tell me what he likes the most, and then we can work from there. Either that, or my various approaches to the scene will inspire us into something neither of us had considered. Not all directors work like that, and it's a style that matches my own artistic ideas very closely. Briefly stated, that's why I wanted to come back and work with him again. That, and it's just so much fun!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Giving my voice a workout, for sure

After that really long day of film auditioning, I drove up to Cedar Crest for another Spitfire music rehearsal. Now I don't know why, but my voice was really struggling tonight. Our other rehearsals didn't pose a problem to my vocal chords, but today was a little bit of a struggle for me to get the notes I needed. I bought some herbal "Throat Coat" tea while I was near the supermarket, and I'll keep myself stocked with that. But at this point, I know I can hit the notes. It's a matter of doing it properly and with enough support.

But I do have support within the cast. After finishing our scheduled rehearsal work, I stay after with Michelle, who plays my love interest Percy. We ran through our duet section over and over, and then since she loves my solo song so much, Dot and I moved on to sing that through a few times before calling it a night. Michelle was very supportive of the work I was doing on the song, as well as very appreciate of the way in which I was singing it. She even helped me with a couple of notes and a timing issue, and I thanked her for her enthusiasm as we were walking out of the theatre. We talked about doing the song once or twice every night, and Michelle volunteered to stand by the piano and listen. It's nice to have such support from cast-mates.

You take the good, you take the bad...

I will, however, begin with the bad. After returning to my car, I found a parking ticket on the windshield, since I stayed over two hours in a "two hour only" parking spot. It's not really a lot of money, about as much as a full tank of gas. But it's still money that I'd rather not pay the city of Philadelphia if I had the choice. But I don't have the choice... Oh well...

But that was only a minor problem at the end of a great day. I left the house early to get into town in time for my audition, and I ended up being about an hour too early. But it worked out, because as I was trying to find the place, I met Jasmine, another actor on her way to the open call. We killed some time together in the local Starbucks, and then we went to the audition. Sitting in the waiting room, I was very nervous about the audition. I was running over my monologue and choices much more than I do for a normal theatre audition, until I was called into the room. After they set up the camera and I slated my name, I did my piece. I was working hard to focus on making small choices for the camera, as well as geting the ideas to come alive in my eyes. As I was doing it, though, I felt forced and a little stiff. But luckily for me, the casting director gave me an adjustment to the monologue and asked me to do it again for him with that change in mind. Part of his note was to "have fun" with the opening bits, which really loosened up the focus as I did it the next time. I was more relaxed, it felt more natural, and I even discovered little mini-beats that I hadn't ever found before. He complimented me on my adjustment, and I walked out of the room feeling pretty damn good about the work I'd done.

Afterwards, Jasmine and I went to some bookstores in Old City and then spent a while talking in that local Starbucks again. We talked mostly about acting stuff, sharing websites and resources that we use to find potential jobs. After a coffee, we left with plenty of time to beat the rush hour out of the city, although the local Ikea no longer had the discount CD tower I was hoping to buy on the way home... I'm just about to sit down to dinner before I head north to rehearsal for "Grill," and I realize that I'm living a pretty cool life at the moment!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

No rest for the jobless

One of the most unique and trying elements about this career of mine is the constant search for work. My parents have finally come to understand it, but it's an element of the job that outsides marvel at. While my friends at Pella windows can plan out their job by the years, I plan out my job by the months. And most of these jobs don't provide any sort of benefits package to those who work for them. So as I'm rehearsing one show at night, I need to stay focused to spend the majority of my days finding more work for March. In my quest in the new year to become a screen actor, I have scheduled two open calls for the casting directors in Philadelphia this month. My first is at 11am tomorrow, and I've prepared for it just about as much as I can. I have a book that details technique for auditioning on screen, and I'm going to try to be as good a film actor as I can be. Working on "Paper Cuts" was a great opportunity to do a little film work, and I hope it's something that will pay off. New headshots and a polished monologue only add to my hesitant confidence, but I'm really looking forward to the chance to be seen. Even if the start is only day work here and there, or even if nothing comes out of this right away, these are the next steps that I want to take with my career as a whole. It's a hard job, but I'm taking an active approach to the work this year. This is the year I'm going to make something happen for myself.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

First music rehearsal with Dot

Since our fearless director Tim is running a marathon in Orlando, FL this weekend, we have three straight days of music rehearsals. This afternoon, we worked out way through most of the music for Act One. We started by listening to our entire CD while following along in our musical scores, just to make sure that everything matched. Then we started at the beginning and went through the first act. We focused on the bigger numbers while we had the whole ensemble present, and the leads all signed up for individual times to work out our music. I've got a lot of high notes, but there was only one so far that was really giving me major trouble. That's a good thing, though, since I'm now approaching the old level of confidence about the show again. I hit the note, I did it well, and everyone thought it sounded great. I'll get to tackle my big solo on Saturday, but I'll confess that I'm already more confident about it than I was just a day ago.

"Very" rough blocking

So yesterday we finished blocking the show. Yup, you heard me. We put a skeleton into the entire show, and we got to know the joys and limitations of our set as well. With that very rough idea of the show in place, we now have a great chance to see where all the problems are going to be. We have a turntable on the stage that I imagine is going to get a little confusing, as to when it shows the outside of the Grill and when it shows in the inside. But it also gave all us actors the chance to bond and get to know each other, so that as we roll forward into the rest of rehearals we'll keep playing around and having fun. Our next rehearsal is for music, and I'm a little nervous about it. I knew this role was a stretch for my vocal cords, but I was approaching the CD with nothing but confidence. But at our readthrough, some of the actors were talking about how great the show is, and about how I have their favorite song in the show. And it's true, I do get to sing "The Forest for the Trees," which is the best song in the show. It's also the song that I'm now the most nervous about when it comes to vocal performance. Somewhere along the way, I "forgot" how to sing and project from my diaphragm, and that's going to be an important skill to learn again very quickly.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

First reading of "Spitfire Grill"

Was technically last night, so this blog is a little late, but whatever. It was really great to be heading north again up to Cedar Crest. I have been looking forward to this show for, quite literally, months, and I was completely overwhelmed by the idea that I would be starting it in only a matter of hours. I had to force myself not to listen to the CD on the entire drive, but I did go over my script before that reading. When I go into the first reads, I sometimes feel a little bit of pressure to "perform." Every book or director will say that it is just a first attempt, and there is nothing to prove, but I always like to come into the reads with at least one or two moments that I've given a little bit of thought to. I'll have those next few days on my feet to mutter the words as I bury my nose in the script, so that first reading is a chance to hear the moment play out for the first time.

Reading this one, I was struck right away by how funny the show is. It's that humor that often doesn't read too well on the page, but once you can hear several voices saying the words, the jokes pop to life. After the reading, we talked about the show for a little bit, discussing the history of the show and a little bit about the themes in the play. Then afterwards, I hung out with Tim in his office and we talked for a little over an hour, catching up on things that were going on. It really did feel like coming home after being away for a little, and I am thrilled beyond words to work on this show. Tim pointed out that this is technically an area premiere of the show, and as soon as I heard the score I knew I needed to be involved in this show. If it was being done, I wanted to be a part of it.

Our next six hours of rehearsal is an ambitious attempt to create a "very rough" staging for the entire show, from which point we'll go into focused musical rehearsals before pulling the scenes into sharper focus. That way, we'll have a framework in place right away from which we can work. Very exciting!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Another audition, and homework

I left the house earlier again this morning, on my way to an audition for the musical "Dear World" with Bristol Riverside Theatre. That theatre has called me in several times to audition for different projects here and there, so I wanted to make sure I could get seen for a musical when I had the chance. And, as always, I saw someone there this morning that I knew. The audition went very well, and then I had most of the day off to do my acting homework. I've been reading the script to Spitfire Grill over and over, literally carrying the book around with me wherever I go. I've been trying to learn my lines, as well as go over the script and get an idea of my character's history and personality. I used to never like coming in to the rehearsal process with a lot of work done, but when we only have a limited amount of time to put up a show, every little bit of homework counts.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Audition from this morning

Me and two of my buddies headed north this morning to audition for the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival at De Sales University. Since their auditions started at 9am and we wanted to make sure we would be seen, we were on the road around 7:30. There were no other actors there waiting for us when we arrived, so we all got seen back-to-back and then we were on the road again. Overall, I think I did really well. I started off with Duke Orsino from "Twelfth Night," and I think I handled the language pretty well. I hit all the stressed words and made the comparisons and thought changes very clear. The artistic director asked if I had anything else, so I did a little bit of Cassius from "Julius Caesar," to which I worked through the emotional depth of the speech. Ideally, I would want to do both in the same monologue and blow the auditors away, but I'll take what I can get for the moment.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

And back in the swing of things....

I'm getting up very early in the morning to go audition for the season at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, so I've got my work cut out for me learning and prepping a monologue from Twelfth Night tonight. And then I'm going to start Spitfire Grill next Tuesday, which is a week sooner than I thought we would start rehearsing. So I'm really excited, to say the least!

But as I sit here preparing my monologue for tomorrow, I think again about how much I hate auditioning. I mean, yes, it's a skill that everyone has to have to be an actor, but it's just no fun. Especially as I get older and I start getting into bigger and bigger talent pools. In school there were only 30 people auditioning, and 20 or so would be cast in the show. But now I'm in competition with hundreds of people for only a handful of roles. Plus, I'm thinking about taking a couple classes this year. Classes on acting, on auditioning, on working in film, and maybe some of them will help me be better prepared when it comes time for the big opportunities.