Major great news – I have been offered my first on-camera speaking role in a feature film. Why the caveats? Well, I had a role many years ago in this forgotten little movie made during my days as a development executive. During some reshoots I was pressed into service to play an employee at a bus depot, silently loading bags into a bus cargo hold. “This is great,” I thought, “this is guaranteed to end up in the movie, because if they don’t see how this bag got from point A to point B, the movie will make no sense!”
My scene got cut. But that’s just one of many, many stories about that movie.
Last year I had a role in an independent feature I’ve mentioned here before – Bread and Butter, but it was a voice-only role, and for all I know still might end up cut or replaced. So when it comes to features, I’m not technically totally new to this, but it sure feels like a major first, in that I’ll have a real role with long dialogue scenes and a character name and stuff.
The movie is called “The Story of Ben”, and it’s a romantic comedy to be written/directed by a gentleman named Kevin Resnick. I call him a gentleman because he specifically warned me that my big shooting day might be Mother’s Day and he wanted to make sure I was okay with that. I told him my guess was that my mother would be supportive.
My role is Greenley, the main character’s best friend/co-worker who is perpetually stoned and has terrible advice about women. It won’t be a massive studio-level production, it is an MFA thesis film produced through the New York Film Academy, so very low-budget and distribution isn’t likely – although you have to imagine they will be motivated to get it out there on the festival circuit. Kevin and his producer Rebecca Norris took a short to Cannes last year.
Honestly, I wont even be paid beyond gas money and the meals on-set. And unpaid work is a longtime hobbyhorse of mine, but one of the things most likely to make me okay with it is to have the opportunity be a real professional stepping stone, the chance to do something I haven’t done before. This very easily qualifies.
The film shoots in May and my guess is that they’ll spend most of the rest of 2014 finishing and tweaking. So who knows when it will emerge, or how it will look when it does. But this is major – updating my resume across all the different platforms I use can be tedious, but I’ll be glad to do it this time.
This past weekend, Much Ado About Nothing opened in strong style – our first preview performance on Thursday was one of the tightest, best received “first” performances I’ve ever been a part of. And the official opening on Saturday was the most fun I’ve had in the two months since I came aboard. The crowd was boisterous and occasionally downright raunchy – in one scene where two of the soldiers appear in vintage 1930’s swimwear, one patron begged them not to leave the stage. It was about a step away from turning into Magic Mike out there.
Which is, honestly, a great audience to have for a Shakespeare comedy. It’s a good idea there’s a bar in the building.
Sunday was consumed with recovering from Saturday night’s post-opening champagne gala, as well as the Oscars. So yesterday was kind of my first day with my life belonging to myself again, with no theatre commitments until Friday. Nonetheless, Shakespeare found its way in.
I started the day with an e-mail from the Texas Shakespeare Festival. The artistic director reached out to inform me that, while they would not be offering me a contract, they had held me over in consideration until the final day of casting, and that it was ultimately a question of ensemble needs and not merit. He expressed hope that I would submit an audition for next season.
Now, who knows if that final day stuff is literally true (I’m confident that this e-mail was cut-and-pasted for a few actors, which is not a criticism at all), but my thoughts are: 1) They didn’t have to send anything, and most companies wouldn’t. 2) Since they held in-person auditions in Chicago, New York, and Memphis, as well as locally in Texas, that I made an impression in such a crowd with a YouTube video is a tremendous compliment. 3) There wouldn’t be any rational motivation to send me such a message if I weren’t good enough (or potentially good enough) on the merits. Actors who aren’t worth their time just take up slots.
That’s a wonderful boost, because while Texas Shakespeare is not Equity, they do offer salary, housing, meals, and travel assistance, which, despite the stipends I’ve occasionally received, would make me feel like an honest-to-Mergatroid Professional Shakespearean Actor. So I think I will audition again next year, just like I will with the other out-of-state festivals I queried.
And before I had a chance to wonder about my open calendar for the summer, I got officially offered a place in Shakespeare Orange County again, which I accepted. This will make my third consecutive summer with the company, and I’ll be playing Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as an ensemble role in George M. Cohan’s The Tavern (a non-Shakespeare taking a slot in the company’s newly-expanded season).
SOC’s final show of the season is Romeo & Juliet, and as it stands it appears I won’t be in that show. It’s only a small pity, because no one dies in Midsummer and I had some small hope of continuing my annual tradition of being murdered in an SOC production.
But it does open up a spot in September for me to pursue a production at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio – of Twelfth Night. Always have wanted that one on my resume…
Aaaaaand, there’s my face on a poster:
I’ve always said that Benedick was the first role I ever got to play where I had the best lines and got to kiss the girl. I know that I don’t have leading man looks, but my take on Benedick has always been that he doesn’t need them. Claudio has to be young and beautiful the first time you see him, but Benedick’s charms, I think, work better when they emerge as his character evolves. The industry term would that he’s a “character lead”, which indicates that there’s substance and a journey, but is also a nice way of labeling a main character that less-attractive people can play.
My face has appeared in marketing materials before, albeit selling a slightly-different aspect:
That I take as a compliment, because it’s about selling something a little weird and a little dark, which I can do and I enjoy. But the above poster blatantly says “Don’t you want to pay money to see these two people be charming and romantic?” There I’m still not 100% sure I agree on the wisdom. But I think that’s probably just my own self-confidence issues.
Yesterday I did a brief interview with the Long Beach Press Telegram as part of an overall promotional article for the show. That’s a new experience for me, and it made real for me, kind of for the first time, the fact that when you start working at institutions like the Long Beach Playhouse, there is a certain responsibility involved in playing a leading role that goes beyond what you do on the stage.
Sure, one interview and a poster is nothing compared with a months-long worldwide press junket for a Hollywood star. But it is something new to me and my acting experience – and, I must confess, at least a little cool.
Auditions on Monday night for another production of Much Ado About Nothing. Just to re-state for the record – I have appeared in three separate productions of this play, in four different roles. And I was invited to reprise the role of Benedick in a fourth production, but was unavailable.
This production is on the Mainstage at the Long Beach Playhouse, which is a big, beautiful venue in the round. I performed Dracula in their upstairs studio and loved my experience with their whole organization. And it’s been over a year since my last Much Ado, so I think I would be refreshed for it. Also in the plus column – they want to set it in Hollywood during the 20’s/30’s era, which means I would probably get to wear smashingly-handsome wardrobe and drink out of martini glasses.
I really feel like I’m better with a play in my life. But there are downsides. As I learned from doing the play in Glendale, you sacrifice a lot of L.A. acting opportunities to do a play, and since I am trying to build my profile there, that’s a major sacrifice.
And there’s also this sense that I am, without getting into personal detail, worn the hell out by my recent life. Now, it could be that a play is just the thing to get me out of that, or it could be that I just won’t be bringing my best in my condition. Either way it does mean no vacation for Nick until April at least.
It’s not as if I’m going to be deprived of Shakespeare in 2014, I’m doing my best to assure that. I do feel, though, that this play has become important in my life in some way that goes beyond its inherent greatness and its status as Shakespeare. I feel like it’s become part of my codex for understanding life and myself – tricky to explain, I might write a pamphlet about it someday.
And to this day I have never played Don Pedro, which is the part I set out wanting to play.
Pluses and Minuses.
Yesterday was exciting – or rather, much more exciting than you would predict eight hours of waiting to be. The Utah Shakespeare Festival, one of the most prestigious and successful Shakespeare festivals in America, was holding two days of auditions in L.A., and I decided to show up. The first day was focused on gauging musical talent (one of the non-Shakespeare shows they will stage in 2014 is Into the Woods), while yesterday’s focus was dramatic ability. I have performed in musicals before, but it has been a long time and I know they’re not where my best abilities reside.
Utah Shakespeare won’t draw its entire company from L.A. With organizations like these, the majority of the cast is often veterans from the previous year re-upping – it’s a paid gig performing Shakespeare full-time, pretty much a dream job. And for the remaing slots, they will hold auditions in several major cities. Last year, they fielded a company of 67 actors; which makes a sensible benchmark for how many they are likely to need next year. Over the course of 5-ish months they will present a season of eight plays and three staged readings of new works. Four of the plays will be Shakespeare – Comedy of Errors, Measure for Measure, Henry IV Part I, and Twelfth Night.
I have yet to perform in any of those plays. Add to it the healthy salary (relative to what actors are used to) and you’ve got a pretty irresistible opportunity. But not a simple one to pursue.
Utah Shakespeare is an Equity company, meaning they work with Union talent. I am not in any of the acting unions (just the Writers Guild, which is of no help here). This means that the auditions are heavily, HEAVILY tilted towards allowing Union members the best chance to secure the role. So how does one get in the Union in order to get these sweet advantages? Most often, it means convincing someone to offer you a Union contract instead of an actual Union member. Which means winning on a playing field heavily-tilted against you.
I don’t know if I’m good enough for Utah Shakespeare – that would be difficult to step outside of myself and gauge. I know I’ve received incredible encouragement and support from my peers, and that my track record when it comes to Shakespeare in particular has been pretty strong; not to mention I love doing it. I’ve made a serious study of American Shakespeare Festivals this year in preparation for this time (when seasons are announced and auditions start to post), and Utah won’t be the only one I chase. But it is the most lucrative and prestigious one for which I’ve managed to find a legitimate path of pursuit (I have submitted my headshot and resume to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the last two years, but that’s really like throwing a bottle into the ocean.) I don’t think Shakespeare is any longer something I just hope I get to do – I’m going to do it. It’s just a question of the venue, the play, and the circumstances.
So here’s how yesterday worked. I woke up at about 6:30am, showered, breakfasted, packed a survival bag for the day, and was out the door before 8. My survival bag had my laptop, phone charger, Kindle, my script for the play I’m still performing in Glendale (I knew it was likely I wouldn’t get to come home between the audition and last night’s performance), and a bag of raisins for snacking.
Equity auditions have an official time where sign-ins begin, and an official time where Auditions begin. However, unofficially, non-union actors know that the line to be on top of the sign-in sheet starts well before. For this one, auditions were to start at 10, sign-ins at 9. The first non-union actor was already waiting outside the door at 6am.
Equity Members don’t have to do this. They make their appointments for time slots in advance, and only need to show up by ten minutes before their slot. The day was divided into 20-minute blocks, with room for 6 actors in each block (we were to have 3 minutes of material prepared, preferably two contrasting monologues). IF not enough Equity actors booked slots in that block, or IF any of them didn’t show up in time for their slot, then the Audition Monitor would go to the list and fill the block with names. Priority was given to the EMCs – Equity Membership Candidates. They are enrolled in a program where they can accumulate points towards membership by working hours with participating theaters.
And if the block STILL isn’t filled by Equity members, and the entire list of EMCs is exhausted and no more show up, THEN the Audition Monitor goes to the Non-Equity list.
I had hoped to arrive before 8:30, but an accident on the freeway held me up. I arrived by 8:50. There were 12 EMCs already checked in, and I was #16 on the Non-Equity list.
I snagged the last open chair in the lobby (chivalry kind of doesn’t happen in these scenarios) and settled in to wait. Once in awhile I’d get up, do some stretches, some quiet diction exercises (always been fond of this one), just to keep myself loose. The way the day was organized, you weren’t going to be thrown in there on a moment’s notice, but you didn’t want to ever drift too far away from performance mode.
Different actors coped in different ways. There was nervous chatter, a little playful showing off. One older actor stood in the men’s restroom and boomed his voice off the walls. There was a lot of networking, a lot of stretching and contorting and rehearsing monologues to one’s self. You could be forgiven for confusing the scene with the common room of an asylum.
I read a book, kept friends updated on Facebook, and I got a significant chunk of a short story written. We’ve got the raw audio back from the Habitat recording session and I listened to some of that. By my standards, it was a productive day.
Around 11, the Monitor announced that, even if NO other Equity players made their slots before lunch, the furthest they could conceivably get on the Non-Equity list was three spots. And if the rest of us wanted to take the opportunity to leave and return after lunch, we wouldn’t lose our place on the list. This was very generous of the Monitor, and I was happy to take her up on it. I walked around Burbank, had lunch, spent some time writing at a coffee shop and catching up with a friend by phone.
I went back in promptly at 1:30. Just In Case. A lot of actor behavior is determined by Just In Case – so much of what we do is an absurd gamble that it is very easy to convince yourself that one more absurd gamble couldn’t hurt, and Might Just Help. Auditions were scheduled to end at 6pm, and sometimes the casting people will, by their good graces, voluntarily stay a little longer, but there’s no predicting this. Many people witll stay Just In Case.
The further on it stretches into the afternoon, the more fatigued the directors will be, the more performers, through no fault of their own, will begin to blur together. That’s human nature – studies have shown that a criminal who catches a judge after lunch will get more leniency. Late in the afternoon you get the book thrown at you.
A bit after 3, I started to see actors from the Non-Equity list losing hope. They talked about other things they needed to get done that day, snuck looks at the list, tried to do the math, sounded each other out to see if maybe enough OTHER people were thinking about leaving that maybe they should actually stick around.
Me, I just stayed comfy in my chair. An actress who has also worked with Shakespeare Orange County recognized me and introduced herself. We hadn’t worked together, and when I saw her in Twelfth Night, she was in drag, so I felt okay about not having recognized her.
Around 4, EMCs were getting in pretty regularly, and then that Non-Equity actress who had shown up at 6am got her name called. It felt like a victory for all of us. In the next batch, two non-Equity names were called that hadn’t stayed. That scratched them from the list, and I started to think I might have a chance before 6pm if this pace kept up.
And then, at 4:50, exactly 8 hours after I had arrived, I was placed in the 5pm group.
Non-Equities like myself were instructed that due to time constraints, we would have only one minute to do one monologue, and it had to be Shakespeare. Eight hours of waiting in order to have one minute to show off what I can do. But I wouldn’t have even got that if I hadn’t done the hardest thing of all, which was dare to show up.
After drowning in adrenaline out in the hallway, I finally got in the room. The two artistic directors of Utah Shakespeare were there with my headshot and resume. Strip away all the details of an audition and this is what you nearly always end up with – a couple of people at a table, watching, waiting to be wowed.
I introduced myself and did my monologue. I had chosen a speech by Mowbray in Richard II. It has a great ramp-up in intensity for a minute-long piece, and is good for showing off facility with the language. I also gambled that it would be something the directors wouldn’t be sick of hearing yet – I had heard a few renditions of “If music be the food of love…” from the lobby.
Right before I finished, one of the directors held a pen over my resume and made a quick stroke mark, then slid it over to show his colleague. Who knows if that stroke mark was good or bad; but you can bet I’ll never forget it. I thanked them and walked out.
Honestly, I feel like I acquitted myself well. I had kept myself loose, and managed to use the surge of energy without panicking or losing focus. I haven’t performed that monologue often, but I think that was the best I’ve delivered it. And the last time I used it, I ended up in Shakespeare O.C., so that’s encouraging.
And that was it. As I was leaving, the Monitor was telling the 15-20 non-Equities remaining that the directors had agreed to see them all. Even though I personally didn’t need their graciousness, I was glad they gave it. After a full day behind that table, I wouldn’t blame them at all for wanting to get out of there.
I thanked the Monitor, gathered my things, and drove off to get dinner and perform a play. A whole day of build up to deliver a speech, and then hope.
Honestly, the odds are long and I know this. Over two days they would have seen 250-300 L.A. actors, most of them Equity professionals with more experience and/or training, and better audition circumstances, than I had. I can tell myself that, as a man in his 30’s who has a track record of playing either up or down in age as needed, I’m in a demographic sweet spot for a Shakespeare company, especially one doing a man-crowded history like Henry IV, Part I. A lot of men my age might not have the mobility in life to consider pulling up the stakes and spending 4-6 months in Utah. And among those auditioning it was about 60-40 in favor of women, which means that as long as my odds are, it’s not nearly as long as it would be for them.
But that’s small comfort, mathematically. My guess is that, at the absolute most, 6-10 contracts could be offered to this group. It’s a gargantuan assumption to think I might be good enough, and even if I am it might not matter, because who knows what they need?
Really, though, I see it as an accomplishment that I did this at all. For one minute, those two artistic directors were my audience, and I got to do Shakespeare. And any opportunity to do Shakespeare is pretty good.
Happy to announce that later this month, I’ll be recording an episode of Earbud Theater, a podcast dedicated to original audio dramas in the sci-fi genre. The episode, which I also wrote, is called Habitat, and is adapted from a screenplay of mine that I have no small future ambitions for, so it will be great to try it out in this format.
My talented and beloved friend Chirstine Weatherup will be starring with me – she plays a traveler on a deep space mission whose ship crashes on an alien planet; and I play…well, my role is harder to explain.
Not sure yet when it will be posted but I think we’ll be aiming for December. I’m a big fan of Earbud’s mission, so I can’t wait to get into the studio and play.
So here’s a short film I shot a couple of weeks ago at the Pasadena Arts Center College of Design. I’ve never had to handle a scene like this on-camera before; it’s really helping me grow and learn. Couple of notes:
-It was shot in classroom on campus, written/directed by Zak Marx under the supervision of Prof. Richard Pearce (who directed the feature films “Leap of Faith” and “A Family Thing”, among others).
-We only had 40 minutes to shoot it all! We were on three cameras, performed the entire scene once in masters, and then the cameras started shifting for close-ups. My stage background (and a couple of good rehearsals) really helped keeping all that text (and where I was in the scene) at the ready under such intense time pressure!
-My scene partner, P.J. King, is the narrator of the TV show “Bar Rescue”.
There are a couple of technical things I’m noticing – a continuity goof with my arm position, my dialogue volume, this weird phantom hair by my head that keeps catching the light; but given the circumstances and resources I’m really impressed by the polish of what Zak produced; and very proud of my work, especially near the end of the scene. I should give a shout-out to my Shakespeare O.C. colleague John Walcutt, who let me visit his camera acting class and gave me a little trick that was of great use here.
Now, I think if I can get one more on-camera piece to go with this and my bit in “Squaresville”, I can finally cut together an acting reel:
Notes for my self: I feel like my full body wasn’t engaged in the character in the first half – I was probably up in my head, looking for my bearings. Once I get up from the table, have that close-up moment, and come back, I feel like my work gets much stronger. Vocal projection is an issue – part of it is that we were all on boom instead of body mics, so since “Mr. G” is the more talkative and dynamic, he probably got more of the mic love. But I could still engage my voice more, especially since the conceit of the scene is that we’re in a bar, where there would be some ambient sound.
There were some bits where I was really looking around the room to see if he had henchmen coming for me – I’m glad the director didn’t use those bits in retrospect because it looks much stronger that he depicted me as fixated on the whole Ozzy Griffin story. Just like on-stage, sometimes you have to subsume your own desire to constantly be DOING what your character might do to whomever has the ball in the scene at that moment.
I don’t love all my work here but I don’t entirely hate it. In fact, I think it’s a huge step up from the test I shot earlier this year for a short film that never happened. There I was super fidgety and blinky and weird; here, I think, I’m finally getting closer to human.
Good news on the acting front, I’ll be playing the role of “John” in the short film John Jack Friend being filmed next week. It’s a student film, produced through the Pasadena Art Center College of Design, which is fairly prestigious as film schools go.
Obviously this is not the height of fame and glamour, and I will not be paid. But when it comes to the on-camera aspect of my acting career, it’s the right thing for me right now. To explain why requires unpacking the common trajectory of actors in L.A., as well as my own position on the path.
I’ve built up a respectable stage resume. The Shakespeare credits are especially worth a lot to casting directors, and I’m starting to mix L.A. venues in with my Orange County experience.
But the primary currency of actors looking for on-camera work is the reel. Now, the famous catch-22 for actors is that it’s tough to get in the union without being hired for union work, and it’s really, REALLY tough to get hired for union work without being in the union. I haven’t crossed that particular bridge yet so I won’t claim to have advice about it, but the acting reel presents an early, more simplified version of that same paradox: it’s tough to get even called into audition on-camera without a reel, but it’s really, REALLY tought to build a legitimate reel (shorthand for a brief collection of on-camera performance clips designed to highlight your abilities and range as well as how you look in front of the lens) without getting a few of those auditions and landing the roles.
So there’s a kind of apprenticeship period where you are going to have to pursue stuff that’s on the lower rungs because that’s what your credentials give you a reasonable chance to land. I have a :30 clip from my last Squaresville appearance but I’ve yet to post in on-line. And I have this ridiculous thing:
That’s a fake commercial for a Dungeons & Dragons-themed energy drink that my friend produced for his podcast. We worked on a play together and he remembered the crazy voice I used for it and reached out for this. That’s how you get a lot of opportunities early on. I can use it as a sample to submit for voice-over work, and, once the video game I worked on is released, that will provide yet more voice samples.
Still, nice resume aside, that doesn’t give me a lot; which means I aim low. Strategically low, but low. Non-union shorts and commercials, student films, promo trailer voice-overs, that sort of thing. Even at this level there is a lot of competition, since this is where you’re essentially up against all the “raw material” (aka the full pool of aspiring-but-not-established talent).
That makes this student film good for me, because it will provide reel footage. Not just that, I’ll be working in front of 15 student directors from one of the best film programs in the world; which can’t be a bad thing if they take a shine to my work. At some point we might talk about the realities of that big, vague word “networking”, but this is part of it.
Then there’s the mathematical truth that these short projects require short commitment. This film I’ll do will probably be shot in just a couple of hours in the middle of the day (after which I’ll be headed to Glendale for a tech rehearsal – the life of an actor!) Which means that if you can start landing them, you can knock out a lot of them in a short period.
So hopefully in the next couple of months, I can land a few more of these sorts of projets and reach critical mass for producing a good reel. At that point, I can get ahead of the unreeled masses in line for some more ambitious fare. It will increase the number of projects I get called in to audition for, and so on, and so on.
It’s a slog, and a huge financial drain. No way to dress that reality up nicely. But I think people can often find it a huge, cloudy mystery what steps you take to get from Newcomer With Ambition to SANDRA BULLOCK. But this is what it takes – to see the path, see where you are, and aim clearly for that next step.
Two happy announcements – first, I’ve been offered membership in the Orange County Playwrights Alliance and have gladly accepted. OCPA supports the development of new work from O.C.-affiliated playwrights through readings, workshops, and productions. To celebrate, I finished a 10-minute play I had been stuck on for, like, a year. Can’t wait to get started with the group…
Although I will miss my first meeting because of my OTHER announcement: I’ve been cast in a production of Marcia Kash & Douglas E. Hughes’s A Party to Murder at the legendary Glendale Centre Theatre. I’ll be playing Charles Prince, a successful English mystery novelist obsessed with Agatha Christie, who invites five friends to a remote island cottage for a fun little game…
The geography buffs among you will note that the Glendale Centre Theatre is in Glendale, which is not in Orange County. Yes, I am once again dividing my time between O.C. and L.A., with the emphasis on L.A. for the time being but with one foot still across the county line. This involves some luggage and a lot of driving, which I am used to, and it involves accepting that I’ve spent far too much of my life in Orange County to pretend that it’s not a presence in my life and work. Goodness knows I would proudly and happily spend every summer I have left on-stage with Shakespeare Orange County.
Writing and acting. L.A. and O.C. I don’t seem happy without two poles to run between.
Until Thursday night, my only performance on stage in 2013 was for a 24 Hour Theatre showcase in the upstairs studio at the Long Beach Playhouse. That makes it over eight months since my last performance of Much Ado About Nothing at Zombie Joe’s Underground. Eight months shouldn’t seem like much since I effectively took over a decade away from any real pursuit of acting after college. But the volume of work brought on by the last couple of years has drastically and, maybe permanently, overwritten my expectations. Now it’s conspicuous if I don’t have a play coming up.
And nothing against those studio and storefront spaces from my last couple of shows, but walking onto a amphitheater stage with a couple hundred people in the crowd is an entirely other level of energy. It is nuclear. As soon as I entered for my first scene, I felt like someone had put the shock paddles to my chest. But that’s a good thing; it’s me back doing something that makes life a lot more thrilling and fun.
It’s still startling even after having done this a few times, that for weeks my mental image of the play was defined by all of us in T-shirts and jeans over in the rehearsal studio at Chapman University, with stage areas taped on the carpet, just trying to create the world and mood with only what we give each other as actors. The first time I saw one of the publicity photos taken on Wednesday night, with costumes, makeup, lights, fog, and all, it totally transformed the experience. “This,” I suddenly thought, “is going to be AWESOME.”
Doing a tragedy, especially one as brutal and unrelenting as Maccers is, can make it difficult sometimes to know if you’ve got the audience’s attention. They’re sure not going to laugh very often (though we managed a couple). This time, though, it didn’t feel like a problem. As soon as our Weird Sisters started their howling, the crowd was ready for the ride. Some guy in the crowd showed up wearing a kilt – just because.