Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I was not wrong

So that was awful. Simply dreadful. Me, the producer, the director, and the stage manager in a 6 by 10 room, all of us watching me flail around trying to find distinct physicality for 6 different characters. One of the problems is a disconnect from my body that manifests itself in a particular stiffness. That's one. The other problem is far more destructive.

Director: OK, let's try it again. I really want to see the difference between this character and the last.

Me (clueless, feeling totally out of ideas, desperately ransacking my brain to think of how people actually move, since I've now apparently become a robot who is propelled around the room by glitchy algorithms that cause him to twitch like a deranged flamingo): Yeah, great. Let's give it a shot.

Voice in my head: You suck. The director is sorry she has to work with you. You have no connection to real people, and you are a bad human being.

(flailing attempt at characterization, all the time fighting to maintain emotional equilibrium)

Director: OK, can you try that again?

Me (panicking now): Sure. Absolutely. Let me just see. (pause to catch my breath internally, draw a complete blank on next gambit. Fuckit, wing it.)

(try again, only bigger, trying to ignore the rising black tide of anxiety)

Voice in my head: You totally suck.

Repeat ad infinitum.

Leaving the rehearsal (after two excruciating hours), I swore I would never act in another show ever again. Jesus. I was wishing I wasn't in this one. I had no business looking at a script, let alone getting on a stage.

As soon as I was done and was by myself for an hour or so, I felt better. Calmer. More like myself again, but still. What a mess. So, I've got homework. To find pictures of possible triggers for the characters, and to find essential "psychological gestures" for each of the 6 characters.

Oh, and to look at old people. All the old people I've ever known walked around like 50 year olds until they suddenly were confined to wheelchairs at the age of 95. I have no idea how old people walk, move, talk. It's like an entire demographic effectively stopped existing for me. Need to rectify that pretty quickly, considering I play an old coot who happens to be the last surviving extra from the movie The Quiet Man.

So, I've got a day to learn how to loosen up, shut up the voices in my head, learn how to walk like an 80 year old man, and get a passable Irish dialect.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

There is you, and then there is your body

The first rehearsal, the read through, is actually where I feel the most comfortable. I can make ridiculous choices, nobody cares, and nobody will really judge because they are too busy wondering what you think about them. Plus, there's no strain of "where do I stand, where do I move, what's my line again?" I feel like I can go with impulses and make choices and try things. It's when I get on my feet that I start to feel stiff and wooden, like I'm trying too hard.

Part of it might be that once I have found something, I like to stick with it, even to the point where the impulse is no longer authentic. I operate on instinct and have a regrettable tendency to get bored with myself. I get self-conscious later in the process, as opposed to becoming more confident. If I were to diagram it, my process might be:

1. Initial receiving of script: abject terror. Why did I decide to do this? All the time eaten up in a rehearsal process, and really I'm not that good an actor, I have no idea why I keep putting myself through this.
2. First reading: Oh, hey, you know, I'm pretty fucking good at this. I love reading. I'm making choices, getting laughs, trying things. Yeah, this is gonna work out awesome.
3. Rehearsal process: Oh, God, why did I say I would do this? I'm a fraud, obviously. The only reason I haven't been called out on it is that the director is trying to make the best of a bad situation. Jesus.
4. Memorization: why did I smoke so much pot in college? My brain is a fucking sieve! (unless it's Shakespeare, which is remarkably easy to memorize for me). Please God, don't let me go up like I did at that summer stock theater that one time. Jesus.

And if I'm lucky:
5. dress rehearsals: Oh, this isn't so bad. yeah. There might be some moments here and there that are working. OK, I get it, I get it.
And if I'm VERY lucky:
6. End of Run: Oh, man, I'm just really starting to nail it every time. Shit, can't we extend? They love us! C'mon, man! Just one more show.

We enter phase 3 tonight. Pray for me, bitches.

BTW, without indicating why, I would like to say I am also a little worried about the show coming to completion, given the recent economic downturn. Cash Rules Everything Around Me, dollar-dollar bill, y'all. Here's hoping this show gets off the ground.

Monday, October 6, 2008

New Show - Stones In His Pockets

The premise - 2 actors playing 13 characters, most of them Irish, 2 of them women. 2 acts. Not a small play. A few weeks of rehearsals and then a solid weeks worth of shows. While my girlfriend is preparing to leave for two months on her own acting odyssey.

OK, I'm a little nervous. Put this together with the fact that we had some issues with the casting initially, and you have a rocky beginning to the process. We initially had someone else all set to play opposite me, but he had to drop out, so we had to do a few days of casting, and it was tough finding anybody who was up to snuff. Luckily we found the guy we did, as I think he will bring up the level of funny from my semi-ha-ha to rollicking rofl levels.

We do our first read-through tonight. I've been listening to dialect instruction CD's and Irish podcasts, hoping to absorb the accent. Scottish is dead easy, and English I've been doing since I was a little boy, but Irish is tough to do without sounding like an Irish Spring Commercial reject, or a refugee from a Lucky Charms factory.

I took this job specifically because I knew that it would challenge me, and so it has, already. I just want to make something beautiful and funny and fun.

I'll be writing impressions (hopefully more cogent than the above) of the rehearsal process as often as I can. Talk to you soon.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What I learned from blogging (almost) every day.

I thought I'd write a longer post to talk about what I've learned from writing (semi-) regularly on my other blog: Four Every Day. It's been an interesting experiment, and there are are a few interesting lessons that have come up.

1. Blogs are not comics

This may seem obvious, but a blog diary, no matter the constraints you put on it, will never be the written equivalent of a webcomic diary. I started Four Every Day as a response to the awesome comic American Elf by James Kochalka. I loved the simplicity of it, the everyday-ness of it (in the sense of it being both daily and ordinary). The form of a slightly surreal diary thing, constrained into simplicity and a relative minimum of verbiage, really appealed to me. But, you know what, I really can't draw. Just not my strong suit. This has always bothered me, but I decided to really just constrain myself in other ways, and see what came out. Unfortunately, even though the four sentences thing is pretty interesting, as an exercise, it's just not as cool as comics. Comics have specificity. Writing can have it, but comics have it almost by definition. It's inherent. If you draw something from your life, it will have to be concrete. It will have space and weight and location and, unless you are drawing, say, concentric jagged lines or something to represent anger or whatever, it will be a drawing of something, and it will be somewhere (even if it is only in a blank space on the page). Comics are real pictures even if they aren't of real things. And that makes them cool.

So, the point is: I need to get out of my head.

This leads to my second point:

2. Specificity!!

I noticed that the best posts (oh, you think I don't read them obsessively. Yes I do!) are posts that take place someplace: the subway, my house, a particular street. The posts I've enjoyed the most have a specificity of place and action - somebody speaks, somebody does something. It's so easy to get all abstract and up in my head, and this form really brings out the disconnect between reality and my brain.

Good comics are almost of necessity specific. Good writing should be, too. I am discovering that I still need a lot of work there.

Point: try to write as if everything weren't happening in a vacuum. Names, places, weather, light, heat, sounds, smells - make it happen in four sentence.

3. (Almost) Nobody Cares That You Have a Blog

Blogs and webcomics differ in this aspect as well: There are very few people who will actively read your blog when you write about your mundane little life. This may be because I'm still learning the craft of writing, or it maybe that I don't "promote" as much, but truth to tell, I'm not sure that it matters. I read numerous webcomics - one's that I've found through other blogs, other webcomics that have links on webcomics that I like. Some of these guys sell advertisements, some sell t-shirts. Almost nobody does it full time, but most of these guys talk about going to the conventions or doing a signing, selling merchandise, and I think that's great. Most of them are supremely talented.

You can't really do the same on a personal diary blog. You have to be willing to talk about issues in which your readers are interested, and almost no one cares about you. Or me, for that matter. I'm sure there are people who aren't my friends who's blogs I read, but I couldn't name any off of the top of my head, and the reverse is true - I'm pretty sure that only a few random friends read my blogs. That's OK.

Some people might make money from blogging, but as far as I can tell, I'm not one of them. As much as it pains me to admit, I have an enormous ego, and there was a part of me (ruthlessly supressed but still present) that wanted folk to be beating a path to my door. Maybe I expected hundreds of views, and a summons from the Great Blog Gods to take my place at the table of bounty and book deals. "Come," they would say, "good and faithful blogger. We have prepared a place for you, and no one will ever question your l33t blogging skillz again." Yeah, I'm a tool. I mean, not that I really expected it, but I sorta did, a little.

4. Everyday isn't easy

If you're the kind to do the math, you'll notice that I have done fewer blog posts than there have been days. To put it kindly, I have not written 4 every day. To be exact, I am 55 off of my goal. So I missed, since December 10th, 2007, almost 2 months. That is just piss-poor. Yes, I must learn to be more kind to myself, I must not allow my perfectionism to diminish my goals, etc. But come on! Come on! Two months? Come on! I didn't think it was that many so I went and counted. I maybe off slightly in my count, but as I read it, I missed:

2 days in December
2 days in January
14 days in February
19 days in March
13 days in April
7 days in May (so far)

(the disrepancy occurs because there were a couple of days I posted more than once per day). Still, I think I'll put off saying if the experiment is a success until I've posted everyday for, say, 90 days. That seems reasonable.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

As above, so below. As within, so without

Passing a bunch of men unloading stuff from a large moving van, I remembered reading a list somewhere that of the ten most stressful events in life, moving house was near the top-- right up there with death and divorce. For the first time it struck me how most every time you see people moving in or out of a place, you're witnessing a paradigm event in their lives. Beginnings and endings. Great happiness or anticipation ("We're moving to Rio!"), or at the other end of the scale failure and fear of a future they never anticipated but has now arrived. I'm thinking about all those people in the US who are losing their homes because of the mortgage crisis. When we see a moving van or hear someone is giving up their flat we usually shrug or ignore it. But the reality is in one way or the other, it is proof that lives are about to change profoundly. You've experienced it yourself whenever you've moved. Almost every van we see represents some kind of intense human drama.
- from Jonathan Carroll's blog

Whatever you've got going on in your life will become manifest in the world when you move. If your internal life is orderly and well tended, your move will express that. It's never easy, but it won't be as hard.

But if you've neglected your life, put things off, tried to kill your best impulses and avoided making hard decisions about what to keep and what to discard, it will be so much more difficult that you can imagine. Karma always comes back.

That's what I learned in March.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lovecraft in Brooklyn - by the Mountain Goats

Gonna be too hot to breathe today
But everybody is out here on the streets
Somebody has opened up the fire hydrant
Cold water rushing out in sheets

Some kid in a Marcus Allen jersey
Asks me for a cigarette
Companionship is where you find it
So I take what I can get

Hubcaps on the cars like fun house mirrors
Stick to the shadows when I can

Lovecraft in Brooklyn

Well the sun goes down
The armies of the voiceless
Several hundred-thousand strong
Come without their bandages
Their voices raised in song

When the street lights sputter out
They make this awful sizzling sound
I cast my gaze towards the pavement
Too many blood stains on the ground

Rhode Island drops into the ocean
No place to call home anymore

Lovecraft in Brooklyn

Head outside most everyday to try to keep the wolves away
Imagine nice things I might say, if company should come

Woke up afraid of my own shadow
Like, genuinely afraid
Headed for the pawnshop
To buy myself a switchblade
Someday something's coming
From way out beyond the stars
To kill us while we stand here
It will store our brains in mason jars
And then the girl behind the counter
She asks me how I feel today.

I feel like Lovecraft in Brooklyn.


(cf. The Horror at Red Hook and this.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Muscle'n Flo - by Menomena

Oh in the morning
I stumble
my way towards
the mirror and my makeup
it's light out
and I now
face just what I'm made of

There's so much more
left to do
Well I'm not young
But I'm not through

Oh in the evening
I stumble
my way towards another day
we struggle
it's dark out
it's time now
that I pick up my hustle

Make a call
make some cash
make your mark
make it last
tiny scores
tiny rooms
lofty goals
met too soon
too soon

Well here I stand
a broken man
If I could I would raise my hands
I come before you humbly
If I could I'd be on my knees

Come lay down your head upon my chest
feel my heart beat feel my unrest
If Jesus could only wash my feet
Then I'd get up strong and muscle on
Oh in the morning
I stumble
my way towards
the mirror and my makeup
it's light out
and I now
face just what I'm made of

There's so much more
left to do
Well I'm not young
But I'm not through

tiny scores
tiny rooms
lofty goals
met too soon

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Love, Love, Love - by the Mountain Goats

King Saul fell on his sword when it all went wrong
And Joseph's brothers sold him down the river for a song
Sonny Liston rubbed some Tiger Balm into his glove
Some things you do for money
And some you do for love, love, love

Raskalnikov felt sick but he couldn't say why
When he saw his face reflected in his victim's twinkling eye
Some things you do for money
And some you do for fun
But the things you do for love are gonna come back to you one by one

Love love is gonna lead you by the hand
into a white and soundless place
Now we see things as in a mirror darkly
Then we shall see each other face to face

Somewhere in Seattle, young Kurt Cobain
Snuck out to the greenhouse put a bullet in his brain
snakes in the grass beneath our feet, rain in the clouds above
some moments last forever, but some flare up with love, love, love

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I will f-ing get through Ulysses this time

I mean it. Damnnit.

The only time I've been able to get further than 90 pages into this book was in college once when going up on acid. I managed to read a good hundred pages, but I just found I couldn't maintain interest after the sparkle faded from the universe.

Well, I found an awesome service, which I will recommend to my fellow cubemates. Please to follow the link to the Daily Lit Website. There you will find a great number of books, most of them free, which they will be kind enough to send to you in daily installments to your email account or blog-reader. I found Ulysses (320 some segments! - I'll finish it around the end of the year, I guess) and also Don Quixote. I am a bit leery of reading public domain translations, but what the hell, right? This is a prime example of "chunking" a large task into smaller tasks and doing each of those as you go.

I guess I'm adding "Ulysses" to my list of things to do in 2008. Wish they had "Finnegan's Wake", though.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Actors are important?

Great post over here at Isaac Butler's blog about the importance of actors and how training may have a place outside academia.

And it's not just great for his agreeing with me about the primacy of actors and audiences to the playmaking process.

It's part of a series of posts on his blog that I'm still digesting, and I'll probably have something to say about it later. That is all.

Friday, January 4, 2008

addendum - goals for 2008

I've also decided I will participate in National Novel Writing Month. Cuz I'm crazy. That'll be in November. If you happen to see me that month, please ask, in a high pitched, rising intonation, "Yeah? How's that book coming? Hmmm? Got an outline written? Hmmm? Maybe a main character? Coupla themes, hmmmm?" That'll be awesome.

So, who wants to do this with me?

Obama won in Iowa

It is interesting to note that second place John Edwards recieved 30% of the votes for a total of 716. To put that in perspective, second place Republican Mitt "I get my own planet when I die" Romney recieved 23,682. Anybody who thinks Obama's (or any even relatively progressive candidate) got it locked should rethink that.


It is a testament to my father's love of this country that no President in his lifetime has been worthy of governing it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

goals for 2008

I almost titled this post "well, kids, what have we learned?" but..., ugh.

So, looking forward. Stuff to do.

- I am moving the fuck out of Kew Gardens. Yes. I. Am.
- I really want to do a comic book/graphic novel/comic strip. I have awesome, ridiculous scripts filled chock-a-block with obscure, esoteric references, excessive verbiage, and ludicrous plotlines. Artists! Call me! Seriously!
- regardless if the pathetic plea of the previous bullet point gets a response, I will write another comic script.
- I will work with some new people in the theatre (not that I don't love my previous collaborators, but I want new blood!). Steps have been taken and results already achieved: watch this space for details.
- I will be more social. I fell off the world last year, mostly out of a sense of guilt. I like to think I've flagellated myself enough for one decade. So that's enough of that. I want to be amongst friends! I like people and I want them to know it!
- I will continue writing the hell out of my new blog/project Four Every Day. I don't know what it means, but it feels significant. So I'ma gonna do it some more.

That's all. Are those resolutions? whatever. I'm also gonna look at things with "soft eyes" (stole that from The Wire). I'm choosing to use it to mean looking at things without trying to figure them out quite so much, without trying to see only what I want to see.

In some ways I lost a lot of ground last year, but I feel like I was really destroying the village to save it. I want to build things on a firm foundation, not just what I think I should be. I hurt a lot of people last year, too, and I hope to have learned from that to be honest in the first place, and not just when I've run out of options.

The theme last year was "I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me". I guess life is what happens after you think it's all over. I hope you have a wonderful year, full of love and happiness, and I really wish you well. God (in whatever flavor you happen to favor) bless.