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That’s the way…that’s the way…(THAT SONG RETURNS)

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about the one-hit wonder band Unit 4+2 and their hit song Concrete and Clay. It was one of the more popular posts I have written, and I always appreciate it when the Internet pays off one of the peculiar rabbits I chose to chase.

To my amazement, since I wrote that, yet more versions of the song have surfaced on YouTube, including a minimalist take by one of my all-time favorite bands, They Might Be Giants, during their early Dial-a-Song days.

Here’s a pair of Spanish ladies known as Baccara, taking their shot:

Fun fact: Baccara first found fame in the Eurovision Song Contest…representing Luxembourg.

Staying on the international scene, a clean cut vocal group from down in Australia called The Thin Men did a very buttoned-collar version for all the nice kids to dance to:

Tangentially, The Thin Men did a version of Mrs. Robinson that I find sort of obscenely catchy. It’s like the two sides of the 60’s cultural divide trying to have awkward makeup sex.

Sweden bought a ticket to this dance through their pop hitmakers The Lee Kings. The vocals have that trademark appealing Scandinavian slur.

The Bob Crewe Generation, an instrumental side project of Four Seasons songwriter/producer Crewe, produced this Herb Alpert-adjacent crack at the tune:

It was Crewe’s record label that released the soundalike Eddie Rambeau version of the song whose success prevented Unit 4+2’s original from realizing its full chart potential in America. Crewe was also the co-head of the best-named band of the 70’s, Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes.

Jerry Lewis’s son Gary led his group The Playboys in a contemporary stylistic cousin that sounds like it’s trying to woo Annette Funicello:

Uhhhh, Finland? I think?

I won’t say this song is idiot-proof – hell, Yesterday isn’t idiot-proof. But it sure is elastic. Here’s a version from a New York comedy club with an unusual arrangement – four vocalists and a coffee wrapper.

Bonus invasion by Tom Jones song.

And if you want to talk about weird convergences, here is a cover version by Björn Again, which is (follow me here), a tribute band from Australia* otherwise devoted to covering ABBA, the pop group from Sweden* which is to this day the most famous winners of the Eurovision Song Contest*. If you told that to the guy from A Beautiful Mind I think his brain would explode.

One hit wonders are a special source of joy to me because they seem like miracles – where a singer or band so preposterously overachieves in creating a moment of joy that a higher power could be at work (maybe the one responsible for magnets.)

These aren’t even all the versions I’ve found. It’s a mystery to me how a song can be at once catchy enough as to be this ubiquitous while remaining, to a certain degree, still ultimately obscure to the world at large. It’s as if it just floats on the edge of our pop consciousness, a perfect mirage of a thing that never resolved into true fame. It remains so striking to me as this little thread running through the tapestry of pop music, one that produces more surprises every time you tug at it. And clearly many people are compelled to tug.

Mic Check

Great article here about how audio theatre, technology, and the real world are beginning to interact in surprising and provocative new configurations. Earbud Theater gets a shout-out, which has some chests bursting around the Earbud Lair, and not for the usual mutant internal parasite reasons, but because of an old-fashioned little internal parasite called pride.

We finished recording a new podplay this week, called Scary Ride. This took two sessions and more recording hours than I think we’ve ever put into an episode. I’m proud of that, it’s a script I’m very excited about and I think the extra-keen focus on the performances is going to shine through in what we’re hoping is going to be a very thrilling and emotional piece.

I’m also excited about the team. My longtime friend and frequent creative teammate Christine Weatherup (appearing tonight on CSI: Cyber!), who was the Danna to my Interface in Habitat and also did splendid work as the relationship-cursed Brooke in The Sounds Below, stepped up into the director’s chair for this episode; and managed the sessions fantastically. With her guiding the performances and my friend Darren Lodwick managing the SFX, music, and mixing, that’s a lot more expertise applied to a story than just me trying to do it all alone.

Earbud_Scary_Ride_Recording

Christine taking actress Anna Anderson on the Scary Ride

One of the biggest conflicts in career strategy out here is between the idea that a diverse group of collaborators will collectively make your own work shine brighter, and the unpleasant reality that the more people you rely on, the more projects can get bogged down and lost. I’ve always likened producing a big project to holding onto an armful of snakes – they’re not TRYING to thwart you, but people in this town can just…wriggle away. Too much to do, too many possibilities that need tending.

You need to balance the size of your ambitions with the number of people you can reliably convince to crawl through glass with you to help achieve them. Keeping things small is good, but watch out for that line where you’re doing something you know you’re not good at just to avoid asking someone else.

I had this script for a short film I intended to make a few years ago. It was designed to work with a crew of almost nobody and a budget of almost nothing. Perfect first short film to direct. The money was there, I believe the crew would have done their jobs – the project really fell down because of a weakness of mine. A silly and incomprehensible one to others; but to me a genuine problem.

Thankfully, I found someone whose strength is my weakness, and here I am now happy to declare that a short film is happening. I think we’ll be filming in about a month; and at that point (if the Gods provide enough breathing space for me to finally lock in the upgrade to this website I’ve been imagining,) you’ll see some news and jabber about that.

I should also have some news about the feature film roles I’ve shot over the past year – the first, Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine, is now raising funds for post-production and festival submissions, and I should be seeing it on a big screen at the end of this month. My face, on a screen at the Warner Brothers lot. That’s a thought I can’t quite turn over yet. The second, Reclaiming Friendship Park, has locked picture and has an actual by-Gum poster with my actual by-Gum face and name on it.

Friendship_Park_Poster

Nope, can’t process the reality of this either

It’s nice to know that work I’ve already done is percolating and will get out into the world without any further effort on my part, that filmmakers with the grit to make a microbudget feature are on the case. That a friend like Christine would step up and bring perspective to Scary Ride that’s going to make it better. That I have partners around me now that will make future works come to life with me. It feels on balance with that idea.

And it’s nice to be able to blog about it all.

Blog Dust

Fallen off on the blogging this year – I would say it’s because I’m busy but I think I’m basically always busy. What really happens, I suspect, is that in very intense periods I can find it difficult to reach a mental state where I can write a blog post. It has to do with the calibration of expectations for the act of “writing” and the purpose for which I’m doing it. I’m just now starting to emerge from basically a nine-month period where I had a mammoth load of writing to accomplish that was financially and professionally important; and the volume was so consistently high that any time I thought about blogging, it was difficult to disengage from the need for everything to have a shape and a theme and a tone and a finite journey; I would be exhausted before I even started.

It’s not wrong to just blog an announcement, or an idle thought, or anything, really. Outlets have diversified, though. I put my little thoughts on Twitter and Facebook; make announcements there and on the individual pages devoted to my various endeavors. Blogging has been incredibly valuable to me as a writer over the years; and I think it would be good, now that I am actively trying to recover some healthy balance after a period of forced unbalance, for me to do some – and to hell with whether it’s a well-made post or not.

So what’s the news? Well, in the “all-consuming new endeavors” file, I have deepened my commitment to Shakespeare-Summerfest Orange County, where at the end of last season I became part of the Artistic Committee, and have stepped into the role of Casting Director. Having never really organized an audition out here in the professional world, and suddenly having to bring hundreds of people around on a tight schedule to audition for three large-ensemble shows; to answer anxious queries, coordinate volunteer staff, get our company up on audition listing services, sending thousands of e-mails, scanning and organizing headshots, resumes, registrations, tracking the data of every actor we review…it’s been an intense education; practically a full-time job for the last two months, and likely to continue through the end of April.

As “Casting Director”, it’s not my job to decide who plays what. It’s more that I try and put the best, most diverse group with the most potential greatness in front of the directors, and give them the information they need so they can make their choices; and organize the whole shebang and run communications for it.

In any endeavor it’s eye-opening to see things from the other side, and having been to more than my share of auditions in the last few years, it’s great for dispelling the anxiety about the hundreds of things actors can convince themselves might make or break their chances. Acting is hell enough on the ego without those extra fears.

I don’t know if I’ll put these skills to use elsewhere – it was a job that needed doing here and I was able to step up and do it. I am glad for the experience though; purely from the perspective of trying to keep life interesting; and what I found within minutes of the audition day starting was that as long as you were on-time and your paperwork was in order, I didn’t really judge anyone on anything else.

Also under the “unusual jobs” heading – I have apparently become an “expert” for the purposes of talk radio. This is all to do with Seeing by Moonlight; we have a PR firm helping us promote the book, and one of their methods is to book me on radio programs to discuss items in the news on talk radio shows. It’s an interesting content sandwich – I come on, the host helps me plug the book, we break down the topic of the day (which is tagentially-related to something from the book), and then we close with a final plug.

Generally I’m brought on to discuss stories relating to World War II, the Nazis, and Hitler. I admit that I didn’t imagine when I got into this field that it would lead to me doing radio interviews about Hitler; but my co-author and I did do some research, and the Nazis, though long past their heyday, do have a habit of popping up in the news. Recently I’ve been doing interviews about the government of Bavaria’s decision to publish a new annotated edition of Mein Kampf. Naturally, people have pretty strong feelings about this.

The reason I put “expert” in quotation marks is – although my co-author and I did enough research to write a thriller that intersected historical events to a standard we could sign our names to, I am not going to pretend to be a true historical scholar. I have a BA in Theatre Arts and Music.

The truth is, though, the format doesn’t really lend itself to drilling down that deep. You would be surprised how quickly a 10-minute block of radio conversation can go by; really you are just trying to get three or four bullet points across to the layman. I’m not praising or condemning the medium; it is what it is. We give people a few bites of the story, then move on to something else. My experience as a performer is probably as useful as any knowledge store writing the book gave me; because I have that internal clock I can wind to the interview and know when answers are running too long.

So I’ve been on radio stations in Anchorage, Colorado Springs, Redding, Wilkes-Barre, Birmingham, Buffalo, many other cities, some satellite radio shows, web shows. The hosts tend to be politically on the right, but that is just as likely a function of that side of the spectrum having a dominant footprint in the medium. The conversations have all been friendly and very focused; they are, after all, professionals at this. Some have had me around as a repeat guest – it is strange to be introduced as “Our resident Hitler expert”. Probably won’t make business cards of that.

I think this comes back to my essential ambivalence about fame. I can accept that the PR firm’s strategy to sell books is to raise my public profile, and Mr. Thomas has asked if I would be the public face of our writing partnership and I’ve agreed. Beyond the utilitarian aspect of it, though, I’d rather be in a show.

I have heard rumblings that Titan: Dawn the indie video game I provided voices for awhile back, may finally be seeing a public demo release. And the independent features I’ve shot over the last year are going to be screening one by one in the coming months before starting their journey out to festivals. We’ve put out three episodes of Earbud Theater already this year. I wrote/directed two of them, but the third – The Creaky Stairs – is, I think, a bona fide classic, one of the best episodes we’ve ever done. We have another episode about to launch and my next script is already drafted for them.

Through Casey Wolfe, the founder and head producer of Earbud, I’ve become involved in another endeavor, Brick Moon Fiction. It’s an imprint for publishing anthologies of new speculative fiction around specific themes, and I’ve already delivered three short stories to them. One, “Fourth Grade”, was published in their first released anthology – Visions on Visions: Stories from the World of Augmented Reality. Another, “4pants”, was released for free on-line as a look into the future of romance in honor of Valentine’s Day. The third, “The Lake of the Dead”, will be released in their second digital anthology. It’s very stimulating to have an outlet for these little pieces – the turnaround on them is often very quick, and because the themes are assigned to us, it’s always a pleasure to see how some of the other Brick Moon contributors attack the idea.

There’s much more, as always, but this entry has gone on long enough; and with no satisfying theme or fun button to end on. What in the world is wrong with me?

Beyond Luck

I remember in college, auditions were happening for As You Like It. I remember speaking with the director beforehand and asking if he might look at me specifically for the role of Orlando. It was a long shot – I was a physically-awkward introvert without a well-developed voice, and far from the best-looking guy in the department – and yet I thought there was a chance there was a romantic in me. He took my request seriously, saw my audition, and cast me – As Adam, the 80-year-old manservant.

It’s a funny history I have, that the more I pursue “straight” roles, the more eagerly directors encourage me towards the strange, the cartoonish, the character-y roles. I left callbacks for Dracula thinking that the best I’d done was to maybe be the third best Jonathan Harker in the room; then got cast as Renfield. Mid-2014 I submitted an audition video as “Doormat Boyfriend” for a zombie horror film, and off of that, got asked to re-audition in-person as “Infected Cannibal Paramedic”. Which, I must admit, I would have enjoyed much, much more.

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted for an independent feature film called Aventura, and was asked to record an audition video for the role of “Slick, Successful Hollywood Filmmaker”. I felt good about the video I submitted – I’ve been picking up common sense about that process all year. In response, I was asked to record and submit a new video, for the role of “Hippie Sheep Farmer”.

It’s a tremendous compliment, really, and yet it is strange to channel your efforts into believably seeming like one thing, only to have your audience decide you could be something miles away from that. I suppose it’s the character actor’s lot; and if that means I never have to get six-pack abs, I’ll accept it.

And as a result of all of that, I can proudly report I’ve been CAST as “Hippie Sheep Farmer” in Aventura. I’ll be filming in a couple of weeks – I am currently involved in beard conversations with the wardrobe department.

This is going to come off as braggy, but there’s a purpose of encouragement in it. This is the third feature I’ve got a role in during the last nine months, and I don’t have a Union card, an agent, a reel, or L.A.-style headshots. Which is not to say those aren’t really good things you should really want to have, but don’t let the lack of them psych you out of putting yourself out there.

I haven’t known any of the filmmakers in advance, either – these are all completely cold readings with strangers. Which is a great measure of pride. Now, these are super-indie gigs, meaning I’m going to end up with gas money and meals; but I’m learning that a few gigs like these go a VERY long way in assembling the toolbox I described above. An agent, for example, is much more likely to sign an actor who has a proven track record of going into the room and winning the part.

In the next month or two I should see the finished cuts of the two features I shot last year; after which I should get the footage and finally create my on on-camera reel. Here’s hoping that means more opportunities in 2015; and some paydays.

Islands Seeking Bridges

Bubbles - Cover Art by Kevin Necessary for Earbud Theater

Bubbles – Cover Art by Kevin Necessary for Earbud Theater

I have an acting resume on Actor’s Access, Backstage, IMDB, and IMDBPro. I get prominent mentions on Earbud Theater‘s website, Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes page. I am currently re-designing Shakespeare Orange County’s website, after which I’ll have a headshot and bio as part of the Artistic Committee. There’s a website for Seeing by Moonlight, and because of that I also have a GoodReads profile and an Amazon author page, and I check the Amazon sales page for the book almost daily to see if anybody has bought it.

I often check the website for Titan: Dawn, the video game I recorded voices for, to see if they’ve released a demo yet. I also check the websites, Facebook, and IMDB pages for the two features I shot this year – Cloudy with a Chance of Sunshine and Reclaiming Friendship Park – to see if there are any announcements or new images/footage.

And then there’s my own website, which attempts to tie it all together in one place and verify that yes, one person is doing all these different things.

Basically, I’m littered all over the web; little footprints of interesting activities; little chunks of entertainment. They don’t feel very connected, which certainly makes sense, given that they’re spread across so many different media and divided between writing and acting, to boot.

One of my ongoing struggles with the nature of what I do is my essential ambivalence about ever becoming famous. Basically, I see the downsides a lot more than I see the upsides. But if, as I have seen written in many places, this is the era of the personal brand, where there are no more artists, just “creative entrepreneurs”, then all the gravity pulls in the direction of growing my public profile specifically as a business strategy. If I am the only common element to all these endeavors, then I am the only one positioned to unify them; but only if my name means enough that people might follow it from Earbud to Goodreads, for example.

I’m about to try an experiment with that – my new Earbud episode is a dramatic reading of a short story from Stages of Sleep. I hoped the release dates would coincide, but the book has been delayed and delayed because of issues with the cover art, so know it’s going to lag behind by a couple of months. Still, it’s a conscious effort to say – hey, do you like this? Maybe you’ll like this OTHER thing I do over here. Not so coincidentally, it uses the free Earbud episodes as a promotional on-ramp to the book, which will cost money. I am my own recommendation algorithm. That’s kind of a barfy sentence to type, I have to admit.

Winding it up

Yesterday we closed a production of the musical version of Little Women in Laguna Hills. It was my first musical in 16 years, and you can chalk the end of my hiatus up to the fact that director Aurora Long is one of those people I just can’t say no to. I played Professor Bhaer – and my nervousness wasn’t exclusively about singing in public. A karaoke bar + a cocktail = Nick singing in public just about every time. There are different standards for doing musicals though, not just hitting notes or imitating a pop star, but using the vocal instrument as part of giving an emotional performance that tells a dramatic story. The audience can’t just go “oh, how pretty and accurate those notes were!”, they have to say “Oh my God, he’s in love!” My focus recently in the acting workshop I’ve been attending has been to make my work more personal, more invisible, more natural-seeming. To suddenly be applying all these tools to a big, bright, charming musical is a strange act of contortion.

Nonetheless, the feedback was lovely and the show was very well attended. Now I wouldn’t bet against my popping up in a musical again, although where and when is up in the air.

I’m also back on the iWaves with a new Earbud Theater episode, This Monstrous Life, a festive and strange exploration of the holiday season from the perspective of the horrible creatures that despise it:


Art by Tuccicursive

I play Cthulhu, Jr., a would-be world-conquering nightmare being from another dimension who is plagued by Daddy issues. It’s definitely the oddest and, I have to admit, one of the funniest pieces of acting I’ve ever had the privilege to do. This was the biggest production in Earbud’s history, with the largest cast and crew of any of our plays, and the end credits have a celebratory theme that rings especially strongly with me. 2014 was a breakthrough year for Earbud, and it saw me go from a contributing writer to part of the producing brain trust, just in time for this to happen:


BOOM

I’m immensely proud to have been a part of our three eligible shows for 2013-2014; and we’re going to be back even stronger next year. (Although – SHHHHH! – I actually think the best Anthology Audio Drama podcast out there is Jonathan Mitchell’s The Truth. Check it out, because it is RIVETING.)

This just about closes out my year in acting for 2014 – I’ve recorded a role for another Earbud piece that will drop in late January. It’s been another wild year that saw any number of firsts – not just my first musical post-college, but my first two roles in feature films, both of which should be making the festival rounds in 2015. Then there’s my first paying V.O. promo/announcer gig. Really hoping there’s more to come after that.

I hope I never lose that thrilling jab of stage fright that comes from doing any show. This year involved any number of challenges that were extra scary. My biggest hope is that they open doors to opportunities for me to frighten myself even more in 2015.

Make a noise

One of the unspoken commandments of Earbud Theater is that we should try to do something with every episode that we’ve never done before. I’m cutting together a new piece now, called Bubbles, and while it’s going to be far more brief and quiet than my past work for them, more of a morsel than a meal, I think it has the potential to be a very rich and memorable morsel. The reasons why I’ll wait to explain – for now, we’ve penciled in mid-December for release.

We’ve passed a year now since I first sauntered into the Earbud lair to record Habitat. It took many months to bring that one to life, during which Earbud seemed dormant to the outside world; but ever since it’s been a sustained explosion of work and growth.

Between my episode, called Bubbles and another Casey Wolfe script (This Monstrous Life) that we’ve already recorded which should debut before Christmas (I perform in that one again), we will have produced seven pieces in 2014 – the most productive year in the history of Earbud. I think we’ve raised the bar in quality terms, as well; and with the way the group is growing, I think this is only going to continue on both fronts. We’ll probably save the specifics for an official blog/announcement from Earbud, but 2015 is looking like an even bigger thrill than 2014.

Kathooloo
Teaser – A little reminder one of our actors wrote in the margins about how to pronounce a very special word

The audience growth has been remarkable, as well. Listening statistics show that our iTunes debut made us bigger than we had ever been almost immediately; and we’re starting to see little footprints of independent fan activity out there on Twitter and Tumblr. Someone even did a Pinterest thing involving us; and I’m not ashamed to admit I have no idea how the flock Pinterest works, but hooray!

The Castle of Horror podcast recorded a very friendly interview with Casey, in which Habitat gets warmly name-checked. And Escape! (The End of Humanity Song) was broadcast on a British Internet radio programme called Tales From Beyond a Darkened Sky, which features vintage and modern audio dramas, usually in the horror vein.

Finally, the Audio Verse Awards moved from their nominee/contenders phase to their official finalists, and we have eight nominations in six categories (Follow that link and VOTE!) There are a couple of things to be incredibly proud of, there, including our overall nomination as Best Anthology/Variety Production of the Year, and the Best Self-Contained Long-Form Production of the Year nomination for Escape!, competing as an original work against revival productions of classics like Sorry, Wrong Number and War of the Worlds. Maybe the greatest honor is that, of the five finalist for Best Actress in a Self-Contained Production, three of them are Earbud players. I do love writing good roles for actresses, and this is a hell of an acknowledgement that we’re doing something right in that regard.

Earbud has offered a crazily-specific nexus for a lot of my different skills and loves, and I’ve developed adjacent skills as needed along the way. It’s also leading to introductions to a pile of groovy people, and possibly even some paying work (fingers crossed on that.) We recently created a database of all the voice talent that has worked for us along the way, and I was startled to discover that I now have roles in five Earbud pieces (Habitat, Bea Little, The Sounds Below, This Monstrous Life, and a January piece of mine that’s partially-recorded.) This ties me with the fantastic Matthew Henerson (also returning in Casey’s December piece) for most Earbud performing credits. This is really more of a crazy accident, since I only played in Sounds Below because the actor I cast couldn’t make the recording date, and I recorded my role for January just to test out a recording site without needing to haul in another actor. I came to Earbud primarily as a writing outlet, but the fact that it’s seriously fattening my V.O. reel is a very welcome fringe.

I am truly astonished when I look back on what’s happened just in the five months since Habitat debuted. Not least among the astonishments is the fact that I’m already cutting my fourth Earbud piece in this small a window of time – honestly it will be a relief when some of the other writers we’re engaging get their scripts into the studio so it isn’t always this tag team of Casey and myself. Also astonishing is the idea that there’s still a lot of opportunity to make this thing even that much bigger and cooler. At our last recording session, there were probably triple the people in the room of any previous date; looking around and seeing something like that is an unbeatable feeling. It’s very close to that feeling of writing – that where once there was nothing, something is now there.

My favorite thing about wrestling right now

A couple of years ago, the WWE signed a famous Mexican luchador who wrestled under the name Mistico. It was a high-profile recruitment, and part of the process of WWE’s developmental system becoming a more public and acknowledged aspect of the product. NXT – the show devoted to wrestlers who are being groomed for the main roster (or who fell off the main roster but still have enough potential not to have been fired), is actually one of the best shows WWE produces, because most of the hour is devoted to in-ring action, and the storylines and comedy moments are kept to a minimum.

Mistico was re-packaged as a luchador in a different mask who went by Sin Cara – part of Vince McMahon’s honestly savvy addiction to “owning” the persona he puts his spotlight on for merchandising purposes. Sin Cara got a splashy debut and a major roster push, only to run smack into a suspension for violating the Substance Abuse Policy, and rumors that he was having trouble adapting to the American style. His character, though, had sufficient momentum that, rather than simply write him out of the show, the WWE acted in the grand lucha tradition by just putting his mask on a different wrestler; another luchador in their developmental system. Those who noticed that, from week to week, Sin Cara might be inexplicably taller, fatter, and have tattoos which appeared or disappeared, were savvy enough students of the game to know that their job was to ignore the discrepancy.

However, perhaps to juice the Spanish-speaking audience, the WWE actually kept both Sin Caras briefly, having the seeming original (actually the fake) turn heel, only to be confronted by the actual original, calling out the impostor who had replaced him and challenging him. Since both characters wore mouth-covering masks, they had to put this whole storyline over in pantomime, which definitely gave it a passion play element.

At last, the “good” Sin Cara (“Sin Cara Azul”, in the original blue mask), and the revealed evil doppelganger “Sin Cara Negro”, faced off in a “Loser Gets Unmasked” match. Sin Cara Negro lost, unmasked, and continued wrestling as an uncomfortably-generic barrio gangbanger character called Hunico.

However, the “real” Sin Cara couldn’t seem to stay out of backstage trouble, and eventually WWE cashed out their investment and sent “Mistico” back to Mexico. However, they didn’t end their investment in Sin Cara – the evil replacement stepped back into the blue mask, was, without any in-story acknowledgement, essentially absorbed into the “good” version of the character, and Hunico simply vanished into the netherspace of abandoned gimmicks. Sin Cara carried on, providing an object lesson that in the chimerical world of wrestler and persona, sometimes persona is stronger than any single wrestler.

This is not a trick WWE has pulled off many times. Masks are nearly always required (See Express, Orient;) but that doesn’t mean they haven’t repeatedly given it the college try. Sometimes the impostors are acknowledged, such as the storyline which led to the main event match now dubbed by fans “Undertaker vs. Underfaker”. Other times the very attempts to bluff these switcharoos past the audience become too-clear illustrations of the limits of McMahon’s power, as when two main event talents, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, decamped for competitor WCW and McMahon attempted to just recast their characters, Diesel and Razor Ramon, respectively, with other wrestlers who were, to be polite, unconvincing duplicates.


Real Razor Ramon


Something…else…

Fake Diesel fared slightly better, he was pulled from the impostor play and went on to a Hall of Fame-worthy career as Kane.

All of this history is, I think, subdermally resonant in the rise of one of the hottest acts in WWE right now, Damien Mizdow.

Damien Sandow re-debuted in WWE (after a brief run as “Idol Stevens”) a couple of years ago, working a very old-school gimmick of an intellectually-superior heel, but doing it with fierce commitment and relish. He would walk down the aisle to the Hallelujah Chorus, and mastered little details like holding the microphone from underneath as if it were a brandy snifter. Apparently he placed a respect-your-elders call to retired wrestler “The Genius” Lanny Poffo to let him know he was going to be reviving some of his old tricks.

Sandow was a big hit and seemed to be marching towards a high place on the card. He won the coveted Money in the Bank briefcase – the last time there were two such briefcases in circulation before the two World Titles in WWE were unified. This seemed to promise at least a brief visit to the main event.

However, his briefcase and, seemingly, his main event momentum, ended up being sacrificed to other concerns, namely working John Cena back into the main event following an injury, and management’s seeming ongoing lack of faith in Daniel Bryan to carry the show as top champion. Sandow lost valiantly and impressively, but lose he did, and seemed to tumble down the card after, losing briefer and briefer matches to lesser and lesser talents.

And yet, he still seemed to have believers, and his microphone skills, and residual affection from fans. On a night when Hugh Jackman was guest-hosting the flagship show Monday Night RAW to promote his new X-Men movie, Sandow won an on-line poll at WWE’s website titled “Who Should Hugh Jackman punch on RAW?” This was real, and a reference to Jackman’s previous guest-hosting stint, when he punched primo heel Dolph Ziggler and gave him a legit hairline jaw fracture. That Sandow won the poll was, in its own sadistic way, a sign of affection from the audience.

The confrontation involved Sandow coming to the ring dressed in a cheap costume, pretending to be X-Men villain Magneto, and then trying to use his “powers of magnetism” on Hugh Jackman. It’s one of those bits whose stupidity is only matched by the way Sandow’s commitment to it dares you to look beyond said stupidity.

Sandow later wrestled Dolph Ziggler in the Magneto costume, which was a sign that management noticed how Sandow had managed to pop the audience.

He started appearing, and wrestling, in other costumes as historical figures, local sports heroes from whatever town the show was in that night, fictional characters, even WWE boss Vince McMahon. He wrestled as Davy Crockett in Tennessee, as Abe Lincoln in Illinois. When there was a lumberjack match – a gimmick match in which wrestlers from the locker room surround the ring on the floor and beat up any wrestler ejected from the ring, Sandow was the only one – perhaps in gimmick history – to dress as an actual lumberjack.

And so what at first seemed like a cruel prank being played repeatedly on a once-rising talent became something more weirdly compelling. He seemed trapped in some larger compulsion – he HAD to dress up. No one had ever pushed the notion of a wrestling character set adrift from their gimmick into such existential territory before; he was a dedicated, very technically-skilled performer acting as an empty frame to be filled by whatever cheap trick the night called for.

And in one of those uncanny moments of serendipity that wrestling storytelling is able to accommodate, it turned into something amazing. One night, wrestler The Miz – whose recent gimmick as a vain Hollywood bigshot-in-his-own-eyes has fit almost uncomfortably well, suffered a concussion in a match. And by that Monday’s RAW, he had been announced for a match but not yet cleared to compete. So instead, he came out and announced that tonight, instead of wrestling himself, he would allow the job to be taken by his Hollywood “stunt double” – Damien Mizdow.

I was in attendance at that RAW, my first as an adult, and I count myself lucky even if the rest of the show was lackluster. Damien Sandow came out to The Miz’s entrance music, wearing a replica of his outfit, mimicking all his signature poses and gestures. In the match, he used The Miz’s moves – effectively. Again, “Mizdow”‘s skill and commitment to a stupid bit made it uncommonly fun to watch.

Soon “Mizdow” was accompanying Miz to ringside at all his matches. And then, the friendly-doppelganger relationship evolved, with “Mizdow” mirroring all of the Miz’s moves from the floor. When Miz threw a punch, Mizdow punched air. When Miz got thrown, Mizdow threw himself to the ground to the laughter of the crowd. When Miz was being interviewed, Mizdow stood behind his shoulder, silently mouthing the words nearly in unison.

WWE rarely does comedy well on-purpose (see Bunny Suit – man currently wrestling in) but this didn’t feel like something planned. It was just a crazy accident that a creative performer ran with; and Mizdow soon had momentum of his own. Again, his seemingly helpless in-character compulsion to act as perpetual shadow and second fiddle to a more prominent character ironically pushed him to the forefront. The duo began wrestling as a tag team, and the crowd immediately started chants of “We Want Mizdow”, essentially turning one half of a heel tag team face by audience fiat.

This was the major narrative fulcrum of the tag team championship match at this Sunday’s pay-per-view Survivor Series, which featured multiple teased tags to Mizdow, until finally he got in at the very end and scored the winning pin instead of Miz; foreshadowing what will surely be a future breakup that cements Mizdow’s face status and sets off a fun midcard rivalry. It’s Sandow/Mizdow’s first championship reign in WWE, and while it’s not the World Heavyweight Championship his fans might have hoped for, it’s a sign of the uncanny way some talents can claw their way back from seemingly any indignity (see Bryan, Daniel – therapy skits featuring.)

The following night on RAW, Miz came out wielding both tag team championship belts. Mizdow, perfectly, carried two belts of his own – merchandise replicas. Again, he’s great with the details, and right now, in a WWE where multiple main eventers are rehabbing from injury, the World Champion Brock Lesnar is too expensive to have on TV for the next couple of months, and no one can figure out what era label or tone or giveaway will lure people to subscribe to the damn network already, it’s good to know that, at least for the moment, there’s a marvelous little bit of can’t-miss bizarro being perpetuated every week by one man whose strange star-making quality is simply that he’s trying to be the best stunt double he can be.

The shot I’ve been preparing for my entire life

Yesterday, a very high-quality camera was filming a close-up of my chest hair. Movie-making is weird.

The movie I shot this summer, Reclaiming Friendship Park, is in post-production. And as they were editing it together, they realized the transition into the scene where you first meet my character was really awkward. There is a grammar and rhythm to shot selection in film that, whether you realize it or not, becomes sort of second nature; and if you subvert that by omission rather than design, you really can trip up your viewers in a way that they won’t be able to articulate.

The scene starts when I arrive home to my apartment, and the main character surprises me and introduces himself, trying to make friends. Right now, the first shot is my point-of-view pulling into the driveway, seeing him. Then it cuts to my surprised reaction as I panic and try to get away from him.

That reaction is the first time my face is shown in the movie; so it’s just a little bit bumpy because the audience takes a second to think “who is that?” and then their focus is out of the scene and it takes energy to get them back. The solution, they decided, was to get a couple of shots of my character driving home, so the audience could “meet” me, as it were, before my encounter with the main character disrupts my world.

So, they asked me if I would come back to San Pedro for about an hour or so to get a few shots to build into a “driving” sequence. It was just me, the director, the DP, and a borrowed pickup truck. Of course, it was a stick-shift, which I have almost no experience driving; so we spent a lot of time lurching and stalling along side streets in order to get a few seconds of smooth motion. One aspect of Meisner technique in acting is to focus on an action so that the conscious mind doesn’t get in the way of natural humanity in performance. I don’t think “trying to remember my character while also trying not to destroy a kind stranger’s truck” was what Meisner imagined. The unused footage is going to be hilarious.

Dale 2
Dale doesn’t want to know his neighbors

They sent me a still from the scene a week in advance, so I could track down the wardrobe I used and get my hair re-cut. The barber looked at the picture and said “You look weird like that.” I told her it was part of the character, but I think it still made her professionally uncomfortable to make me look odd on purpose.

My character has some funny ideas about masculinity, which motivated the chest hair shot.

The DP had the previous cut of the scene on his iPhone – because we live in the future – so I got to see myself in a feature film for the first time. And actually, hard as it is to step outside myself, and hard as it is to discern character comedy on an iPhone, I think it played really well. That’s exciting. I asked them if they could send me whatever they’ve got of Dale ASAP. I’m on the verge of finally having an on-camera acting reel; and for anyone looking to cast an oddball, I’m going to have good credentials.

Finish lines

I’m back on the novel this week. With my partner/patron’s permission, I took two weeks off from the schedule to zoom out and focus on blocking out the ending so it didn’t become too awkwardly-sprawling. Given how much of the story was discovered on the fly, the fact that the building blocks of a potentially-satisfying ending exist at all are kind of a marvel to me, but organizing the final shots so they all fire in the most effective order is work I didn’t want to skip for the sake of a daily quota.

Anyway, we’re back on the case now – just passed 72,000 words at this sitting and the first draft will probably land around 84,000. 3-4 weeks should get us there, and so the finish line is in sight on one of the biggest and certainly the most challenging project of my writing life.

Right now it would feel good to finish anything. The last thing I actually completed a first draft of was The Sounds Below back in July, almost four months ago. I’m used to more of those little boosts that come from finishing something. I’ve worked on many things in that time, and started quite a few new things, but I’m getting damned ancy. As I mentioned, a thing which I thought was a short story is now at least a novelette and may actually be a full-ass book; so that’s not getting done this year. I knocked out a lot of a one-act play last week as I was crashing those Equity auditions, it seemed an appropriate choice. I think 3-4 days’ focused work could actually bring that one to fruition.

I’m in-process on the next Earbud piece, and have actually recorded part of it without even having finished the script, so I’m definitely on the hook for that one; and I’m exploring some (ahem) less reputable ways to monetize my abilities, which you may or may not ever actually learn about, Jimmy.

It’ll be a hell of thing when this book’s done.