Sunday, March 30, 2008

Student Dance Works at Cedar Crest

Last night I went back up to Cedar Crest to see their evening of student dance works. Pieces choreographed and designed by the students were the schedule of the evening, and I got to see a lot of my friends from Spitfire and Big Love. The evening was eight different dance pieces, some of them good and some of them absolutely amazing. There was one performance that clearly took an idea from out production of Big Love, and it featured all the girls dancing with long pieces of white scarves. But really, the part that impressed me the most was watching these girls do what they are really trained to do. Seeing dancers work on musical theatre is one thing, but seeing them "dance" and do what they are trained to do is something else entirely. I was very impressed with what the girls could do last night.

Friday, March 28, 2008

filming "Across the Border" (a long overdue entry)

Several weeks ago, I went into Philly on a Sunday afternoon to shoot a scene for "Across the Border." I previously discussed meeting with the director to discuss the script prior to the filming (see entry On Directors), and I wrote an entry about the experience but did not have the opportunity to post it. This, then, is that entry from weeks ago:

Spending the day working on "Across the Border" was a fantastic experience. It has been a long, long time since I had the chance to spend an entire day working on a film. We started around 1pm, wrapped around 10pm, and it was a great day. I knew Jenn and Jere slightly from my work on Paper Cuts, and I didn't know my scene partner Nikiya at all. Needless to say, as soon as Nikiya and I said hello to each other, we started filming the "morning after" scene, when we wake up in bed together. There is no better way to get to know a woman than to be semi-naked in bed with her ten minutes after you meet. We also had the cat jumping into bed, cuddling between our legs because we looked so comfortable. We actually did a complete take of the scene without moving the cat from between us. As always, that's something to mention on the DVD commentary tracks.

We working steadily through the script, and it was a lot of fun to only be an actor on the project. Nikiya and I had plenty of chances to go over our scripts and talk through the lines as Jenn and Jere spent the time on the setups and the lighting changes. Unlike recent projects, there has been no time limit on the shoot, which eliminates the need to feel so "rushed." We took a few coffee breaks during the shoot, ordered pizza, worked to some great music, and had a really good experience.

This is a picture of me as Juno and Nikiya as Kate in Jenn Wexler's "Across the Border." I had a great time working with Nikiya. She was always professional as an actress, and she had a great sense of timing and humor. We were dedicated to making the movie look as good as it could, and we had a great time doing it. Everything was always professional with her, and it was lots of fun as well. It's rare and refreshing to see both those qualities come together. Jenn and Jere were the same as well, treating the entire production with a relaxed but professional attitude. Extra care was taken to make sure things were perfect, and even the acting moments were given the time and attention that they required. And Jere was the one responsible for most of the excellent musical choices throughout the day.

More than anything, the day just reaffirmed my chosen profession. At my current level, the pay for this industry is crap, and it's really a challenge to find any job that would pay a living wage. In addition, not being on the West Coast (i.e. in Los Angeles) limits the projects that I could do, even on a bigger scale. Simply put, JJ Abrams is not going to look in East Norriton, Pennsylvania when he's looking for his Captain Kirk. I know I can do this job. I have the talent, I can handle the long days, and nothing else gets me as fired up or excited as this does. I need to start being more aggressive with my career, and take more risks to get those things that I really want from my life.

Paper Cuts - Ep. 6

Yesterday began with another early morning train ride into Philly to film most of my scenes for the new episode of "Paper Cuts." This shooting day was a little harder and a little more frustrating than shoots have been in the past. I was challenged right off the bat by a "re-write" that was discussed at the read-through two weeks ago, one that I was never given. So I had to learn a song that I was supposed to sing in a matter of seconds, since our schedule was running a little behind. And then after rushing through the first scene, it was a long wait until the next set-up was complete so we could move on. And then the next few scenes were done with a rush on them, and it became a very technical morning for me, moving from mark to mark and saying my lines. Next Tuesday I finish my scenes for Episode 6, and then the next script is the season finale. We're not sure if the show is going to continue next year, and I'm told the season finale will wrap up some plotlines and yet also leave the door open for someone to revive the show at a later date. It's been a good run, no matter what happens, and the experience has been very rewarding. It's been the most on-camera work that I've done lately, and I have really enjoyed watching the character develop over time. One more episode of fun, and then it's off to other things.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Feels good to be in the saddle again

After spending several days filming over the last week, and knowing I have two solid mornings on Paper Cuts coming up as well, I sat down in a Borders Books and Music store to start writing a short film that we want to enter into an upcoming competition. It's been a long time since I formatted the script page, but the first few pages came very quickly as I worked on my coffee-flavored beverage. I'm meeting with Rob again tomorrow afternoon to go over the idea itself, and hopefully we can crank out a script next week for our story. The contest deadline is in early May, so we should be writing this soon, so we have time to find a cast, set a schedule, and then edit the movie together. I think it's a pretty good idea, so I'm excited to keep this script moving forward.

Starting tablework

At our first rehearsal for "The Mercy Seat," we worked slowly and carefully through the first twenty pages of the script. We started by discussing the script, trying to figure out the "moment before." When it comes to dramatic scripts like this, it's always important for both actors to know what happened before the plan begins. The show opens with my character sitting on the couch in the apartment, and then my lover enters the room. So we spent time talking about what had happened just before, what we had spent the whole day and night before doing, and what happened just before she left the room. Little details like that are hardly ever things that are mentioned onstage, but they help the actors create a more real environment in which they perform.

After that discussion, we went through the text looking for beat changes and moments of importance. By going through it slowly, we could really take the time to pull the lines apart and try to figure out what is going on. A few days ago, I was a little scared that this role might be a little out of my reach. Looking at the moments slowly, it all breaks out and becomes much... simpler, for lack of a better word... and I realize that I can make the choices on a line-by-line basis. So the role as a whole seems much more managable to me now.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wonder if Spielberg started this way...

When I was in high school and college, I made some independent short films with friends. They went on to study film in college and make their own independent movies, and I've now included a link to their company on my blog. So you can check out their work at the link for Digital Reality Films. Last week, I went by their place after an audition to work with them on a few of their commercials for an online video contest. It was just like old times working with them. We shot three or four commercials for Heinz Ketchup, which are now posted on YouTube. One of the best ones can be seen at the following link:

Their company is well into post-production on their most recent project, the horror film "Preservation." They shot it last summer, and they were showing us the rough cut of the film before we started shooting. Through the course of the night, we also discussed some other projects that we wanted to produce, and I would like nothing more than to sink my teeth into some short films. I have all this free time, I might as well try to make something with it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

On directors

Recently, I filmed a short scene for a friend's senior project at UArts. And while a full entry about the day of filming has been written for a while and not published, it is because I first wanted to talk about the experience of an actor working with a director. Sometimes, the experience is one where the director and the actor piggyback off of each other and work in such harmony that they can complete ideas and thoughts from the other. These cases have been few and far between for me, notable exceptions being the times I've worked with Tim Brown at Cedar Crest College. Usually, the experience is an overall neutral one, in which both artists get along with each other reasonably well, but nothing dramatic comes of it. Other times, the relationship is rocky and fraught with danger. Good thing this next picture is only a "demonstration" of an actor giving in to his full on rage.

In meeting with the director to discuss her scene, it also brought to mind one of the principle duties of the actor that I'd like to reflect on. We went through the short four-page script several times, including a couple of times going line by line. She wanted to hear thoughts, approaches to the material, and basically "performances" of the lines so she could tell me which ones she liked the best. Like many other good directors I've worked with, she had an idea that she conveyed by expressing emotions and qualities that she wanted me to exhibit. Facing such instruction, I needed to make notes in my script that I could act in the scene. When she gave me an instruction to be more harsh with a line, I decided that the line would be delivered as the end to the conversation. When I gave her my reading, it was exactly what she was looking for. It is, ultimately, the actor's job to translate the ideas of the actor and the director into something that will register onstage or onscreen. They can't complain about the unclear direction or "unplayable" notes, since it is up to those actors to take what the director tells them and turn it into something they can do in the course of their performance.

And hopefully when actors can master this skill, they will prevent their directors from looking at them like this.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Mercy Seat

I received word yesterday that I was cast as Ben in "TMS" at Allens Lane Theatre in Germantown. The show is going up in late April-early May, and we started our rehearsal process last night with a read-through of the script. Now, there are only two characters in the entire show, so it's a veritable tour-de-force for an actor. In addition, the role is a challenging one for an actor, and after my experiences with "Big Love," I'm very excited to work on such a dynamic and brave script. We had our read-through last night, and it's going to be a very interesting process. The show itself is not as "simple" or as "clear" as other scripts I have read in the past, and that is something that really attracts me to the role. LaBute is always writing about "good people who do bad things," and it's the kind of challenge that I'm excited to meet head-on. You will hear more about it as the work continues, and I'm really thrilled that I'll get the chance to work on a script like this.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A little out of order - The Mercy Seat

Last night I went down to Allens Lane Theatre to audition for Neil la Bute's play "The Mercy Seat." I know the director from my time at Villanova, and it took us nearly a week to schedule a time that I could make it for an audition. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be too busy. Once Noelle and I caught up on old times, I started with my monologue and then moved on to readings from the script. I read with a couple different actresses for the role, and I think I did a great job. I took Noelle's adjustments well, and I think I brought the conflicting elements of the character to life. Ben is having an affair and lying to his family, but there also needs to be some sort of loveable and endearing quality to him in order for the audience to respond to the play. I should be learning about the role today, as I'm on my way to New York for another summer season audition. Keep your fingers crossed.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Meeting an agent

On Tuesday afternoon, I met with a professional agent out in Jenkintown, PA. I was recommended to her through one of the casting directors in Philadelphia, and the idea of meeting with an agent excited me. We sat in her office and talked for about forty-five minutes, with her praising my theatrical background and my initiative in finding theatre work. She told me about a few projects that she was already planning to submit me for, and then I left the office feeling great about my work and about my career. Sure, it's a small step. But most first steps are small. The challenge is to have the stamina and the determination to keep taking those steps down the road toward what you want. She said that one of the keys to a career as an actor is the determination to stick with it as I get older. And as I've been finding out in the last week, there is nothing else that I'd rather be doing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Taming of the Callback

On Monday night, after spending the day seeking a replacement for my Superman hat, I attended the callbacks for CCTC's "The Taming of the Shrew." I was called in for Lucentio and Tranio, two of the goofballs who set large portions of the show in motion. I had a lot of fun working on the callback scenes, and my buddy Dave Sweeney and I got to spend ten minutes on one scene, going back and forth between the roles. I read some scenes with potential Biancas, and it was fun to find different kinds of chemistry with the two girls I read with. We should know in the next week or so about the casting for it, and then I'll be able to decide how I'm going to spend my summer.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Auditioning weekend

After being robbed on the Chinatown bus (see previous entry), I had my own personal "What Not to Wear" day in Macy's in NYC. Course, I didn't have either the free money or the fashion advice, but I did have to replace a bunch of clothes that had gone missing. So I got shirts, sweaters, jeans, everything. So when I showed up to an audition on Friday for the national tour of "Frost/Nixon" I was wearing an entirely new outfit! The audition for the Equity tour consisted of readings from the script, and I did a pretty strong job for a role that I'm not right for. The men in the show are all in their thirties and older, so I went to the call more for the experience than anything else. And it was a good experience.

Saturday afternoon were callbacks for Bristol Valley Theatre, where I spent last summer working in upstate New York. They started with the musical, where I sang, dance, and read very well for the comedic trio team of rednecks. Then after a quick lunch and a trip to the Drama Book Shop, where they didn't have the play I wanted, it was back to the callbacks. Reading for "Rough Crossing" by Tom Stoppard, I had some great moments as a member of the Marx Brothers-esque comedy team. It is a funny and witty show, being directed by the same guy who directed me in "Lend Me a Tenor" last summer. So I'd really like to get that show.

And the day was rounded out by the callbacks for "The Mousetrap" by Agatha Christie. Now in a moment of fun, "The Mousetrap" was the first professional gig I had out of college. Starting my internship at Hedgerow Theatre, I played Giles Ralston, the husband of the young innkeeper Mollie, getting some pretty good reviews. This time, however, I was considered for the other men in the show, but I would really like to play the Detective of the piece, Trotter. It's a well-written role with a lot of subtext going on, and the challenge appeals to me. Not just the challenge of the role, but the challenge of going back to a show I've previously done and bringing something new to the role and creating what my imagination saw five years ago.

Friday, March 7, 2008

That's the OPPOSITE of what I wanted

Last night in Philadelphia, I gave a very strong audition for a student film project at UArts. Dan, the exec producer of Paper Cuts, emailed me with the casting call for the opportunity, and I am always one to go out for student projects to add to my experience of filmmaking. And since I had callbacks in NYC this weekend, I grabbed the 8pm chinatown bus to get to NYC. I threw my clothing bag in the bottom of the bus, and then found a seat. As I'm sitting in the bus, getting out my book and listening to my ipod, I was wondering if my bag was going to be okay down there. And, even though I've long ago learned to trust my instincts, I decided that it would be okay. It was just paranoia. But when I got to NYC, the bag was not in the bottom of the bus. So I think I was robbed. Lots of clothing was taken, not much else, but I was sad to lose my Superman baseball hat that travelled the country with me twice. So today I have to go buy some clothes so I have something to wear to my callback tomorrow. And it really, really sucks.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

You can't always get what you want

So I got the email today thanking me for my time, complimenting my preparation, and praising my insight to the role in “The Woolgatherer.” However, they were unable to call everyone back, and my headshot and resume will be kept in their file for future projects. And while I’m disappointed that I won’t get the job, I can take a lot of consolation in the fact that I gave a great audition. There was really nothing about the audition that I could have done better. Going into the audition last night, I knew that I was an unusual choice for this role. It had nothing to do with range, but rather everything to do with type. My experiences with “Big Love” have really led me to believe that I can play any part, given enough courage to take big performance risks. So while I’m disappointed not to be given the chance to play the role, but I’m happy that I gave as strong an audition as I could have.


Last night was my audition for Cliff in "The Woolgatherer." The role is that of a blue-collar truck driver, so as I was reading the script, I thought that I was a very strange selection for that "type." Nevertheless, I prepared my monologue from the show that they wanted to see, and I dressed in a sweater and work pants. Because of the working class aspect of the character, I figured that khakis and a collared shirt would be a poor choice. Now, they often tell you in theatre audition books that you shouldn't dress "in costume" for an audition, but I've always felt that you should dress to "suggest" the character. Hence the work boots to complete the outfit.

I ran into some friends at the audition, which is always a pleasent thing for me. And it turns out that the woman running the company was a Villanova student, and she had seen me in some of the musicals there when she was a prospective student. So it's always nice to meet a fan. I did the monologue for her and the director, and I did a pretty good job. It was harder to find moments in the monologue than it was in the scene for "Taming of the Shrew," but I was very aware of being in the moment and giving each change in thought the appropriate breathing time. I tried to make sure the moments were living on the stage. The director gave me an adjustment to make the speech a little "darker," and when I had finished, he complimented my performance. They had invited one of my friends to the callback when she left the audition room, and they said they would be contacting the rest of us sometime later in the night, or early the next morning. I don't know if I'm the right choice for this kind of role, but I do know that I've now nailed two auditions in a row.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tame that Shrew!

Tonight was my audition for Lucentio in "The Taming of the Shrew" with Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company. They had sent out a monologue and a scene for me to prepare, and I've been looking over them. The scene was very funny between Lucentio and Tranio, and I had lots of great ideas for actions, moments, transitions, etc. The monologue, however, was another story. It was denser and harder to figure out. I had a few ideas on how to make it at least reasonably brilliant, but I knew it was a long shot.

Standing outside the audition room getting ready and warming up, I decided to play a little mental mind games with the director. So instead of holding the monologue on the top of the stack of pages, I flipped over to the scene. So I entered the room, greeted all my friends, and I saw the director take a look at my pages and then ask for the scene. (Go me!) So I had the chance to read the scene, and I had them rolling from the humor that I managed to find and bring to the reading. Then they thanked me, and I got to come home in time for TNT's mini-marathon of "Law & Order." But ultimately, I got to read the scene I felt good with, proving Louis Pasteur's maxim that "chance favors the prepared mind."

The audition itself was great; it was certainly in that top 2 percent I mentioned before. I felt very present, I felt very "in the moment," and I felt very connected to the scene and the text. I need to make sure I carry this momentum into the rest of the auditions I have this week.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

When I grow up...

Standing alone on the coast of Wisconsin seems an appropriate moment to write this blog.
One of the standard questions that reporters pose to movie stars is the ever-popular, "If you weren't an actor, what would you do?" Answers that I've heard range from the ordinary (English teacher, James van der Beek), sarcastic (pumping gas, Sam Rockwell), and the strangely honest (I don't know, Paul Rudd.) But I think it's certainly a crisis of faith that every actor goes through. So I've been thinking about it. Now of course the first few answers will be "director, writer, musician, critic" but since those are also in the entertainment industry, I'll move on to other answers.

I think I would make a pretty good high school or college English teacher. Not only do I really enjoy the literature, but the best teachers are the ones who are eager to pass that love along to their students. If I had it to do again, I would have gotten my college degree with a teaching certificate as well as an English degree. I think I would also enjoy working in the field of publishing. Whether it is proofreading and editing manuscripts or magazines, or being that scout who is always trying to find the "next big thing," I would respond well to both the corporate atmosphere as well as the creative subjects. Or if I somehow fell into the profession, I bet I could be a fantastic owner of a used book store. It would combine my love of books, my love of working on my own, and my love of working regular hours.

But let's face it, no matter what other jobs I might find, there is no other job that I would rather have than actor. Long days, low pay, and a rush that I don't get from anything else in the world.