Friday, September 28, 2012

Little Victories....

It seems that I fall into patterns as I write these things....I am either nostalgic, telling stories of my life based upon some beginning, or ending in the present that suggests the story from the past.  Or, I am incensed by some sociopolitical nonsense.  Or, I just get tired of apologizing for being the smart guy.

I admit to getting a little depressed at the idea that our societal norms peaked in high school.

I'm still being tormented for being the smart guy.

But I'm not talking about that today.

Today, it's about the little victories.

My old friend Ben Benedict will, on an almost annual schedule, remind me of a piece of advice I gave a cast of actors after a particularly difficult rehearsal.....I stated that rehearsals are a lot like a round of golf.

If you play golf, no further explanation is necessary...for those that don't....

Golf is a frustrating sport.  And I've had terrible rounds where the I'll hook it this way, or slice it that way, or just flat-out shank the thing every which way but the hole.  I'll four putt an easy one, and double bogey on a hole so short the only thing missing is the damned windmill.  You haven't lived until you've hit a nine iron straight up.  But I have, in fact, found every single tree, rock and natural impediment on a course that there is to find.

But there is going to be one five iron shot, say, that feels so right, moves where you want it, looks great comin' off the club, and lands, miraculously, three feet from the pin.

And you think to yourself, "if I could put three shots like that together, I could par a hole...." and pretty soon, you can convince yourself on the basis of that one shot, that you have the untapped potential to play at Augusta.

It's the one shot that brings you back next week to try the damned game again.

Rehearsals are like that, as well.  The accent isn't hitting right; the lines are spinning all over your brain; the blocking has disappeared completely, and nobody is feeding you the right cues.  But you'll hit one line, just right....and that's what brings you back the next day.  Or, even, what brings you back after a five minute break.

Little victories.

I know the lines; I just need to put them in the right order.

I have found evidence that I've actually directed a few things; some videotape (ancient), some reviews (kind), oodles of prompt books and programs...and a resume that actually lists the things I've done.

I filled out a form that may get me into the UPTA for the first time in ten years.

And while I'm not setting the world on fire.....

That last shot looked good.

Three feet from the pin.

And I'll be back tomorrow to see if I can find Augusta on a map.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I've come from the land of the Rat Pack with a message of Hope. I hope to get back there soon.

Vegas is a kind of medicine for a flagging soul.  But be warned, 'tis a dangerous narcotic.  It is fine in small amounts for whatever ails you, but too much and you become an addict.

I do gamble, but for small stakes and for fun, not for profit.  I like seeing shows and walking about the various shops.  I buy strange souvenirs, and watch the people.

The best people come out just after the sun rises.  And they're not in the casinos.  They are out on the street.

Two guys, several blocks apart, talking to nobody and dancing down the street.  I considered introducing them to each other, so at the very least, it would look like they were having a conversation....with dancing.

Two women, trying desperately to flag a cab on the street; not realizing that it's illegal in Las Vegas for cab drivers to do street fares.  Flagging and cursing; flagging and cursing.

Joggers.  I admire their tenacity to run in even the early morning heat, but I most admire the funny clothes they wear.

People staggering into the early bars.  People staggering out of the same early bars.  The ones staggering out look the happier.

People walking around with these huge, foot-long glasses of various alcoholic drinks.  Those are the people I want to find in the morning, and follow them around doing a marching band cymbal solo.  Just for fun.

Oh, my GOD the food.

If you're ever at Bally's....try the Steakhouse there.  It's old school, and I will dream of that lovely cut of beef for a looooong time.  Or, the Chicken and Bacon Club sandwich on Sourdough bread at the cafe in Paris.  Ooh.  La. La.

Now, I'm back to reality.


But if occasional trips to the City of Sin is the only vice I have remaining.....PLAY ON.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Powder Milk Biscuits....has your family tried them?

The best laid plans of a tired man on his day off were magically pushed away thanks to a movie on the television.


Robert Altman's last film; starring Garrison Keillor and four (COUNT 'EM, FOUR!) Oscar winners.  And Lindsay Lohan.

I thought the movie charming, with a series of backstage subplots revolving around the on-air performances.  Lots of lovely folk and gospel music.  And the stylings of the All Star Shoe Band.

So, I spent two hours watching the movie when I could have been doing just about anything else that would have been productive.  But sometimes you have to screw your productivity to the sticking place, ya know?

And it took me back to October of 2009, Halloween, to be exact, when Mr. Keillor brought his show to the Capitol City of the Northern State.

He had been here before the previous summer, doing a cut down version of the show....the summer show was long on music and short on everything else.  I'm not complaining, I like folk and gospel music, but I also like Guy Noir and the comedy bits in between.

The show on Halloween was great fun; there were hundreds of people dressed in costumes, all smiles and good cheer.  The lights went down, the music started and the "ON AIR" sign lit.  And for two hours, I had not one single care in this world.

I can't describe all the events that took place that evening; if you'd like, you can go onto the website and pop in October of 2009.  In fact, at one moment, you can hear me laughing.  I'm only ten rows from the stage.

I wish he would return to the area.  I wish I had the time to travel to Minneapolis to see the show in its element.  More to the point, I wish I could hunker down at the cabin and just listen to it on the radio as the day turns to night, with the fragrance of cedar trees and wood smoke in the air.

As lullabies go....nothing better on the skin of the world.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tedium does not mean boredom.

Blocking rehearsals are tedious.

But you have to do the steps, in the order they come; or your dance is going to be all f**ked up.

The memorization process always seems to be divided up into three phases:

Phase One:  The book is in your hand, and you're ocularly tied to it.
Phase Two:  The book is out of your hands, but you're still seeing it in your minds eye.
Phase Three:  You have completely integrated the action to the word and the word to the action.

Blocking rehearsals have always helped to me focus the line; and in some cases, created an interpretation I had not thought of before.

Case in point:  Way back in 199-, when I was a lad of plenty four, I was in a blocking rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet, which was being directed by some recently retired soap star.  Her rehearsal schedule was....shall we say....optimistic.  And she scheduled 30 minutes for the balcony scene.

One hour later, we were still at it; I couldn't find the hook.  There just seemed to be something so trite about it; so.....manufactured.  So....."done before."  You know what I mean?

And after an hour, I did what any red blooded American actor would do; I screamed in frustration and threw my script into the tenth row of the house.  I made it rain Shakespeare up in there.

And as the pages all went where they may, the thought occurred to me that would serve to get the damned thing blocked sixteen minutes later.

It wasn't the blocking that wasn't working.  Okay, YES IT WAS, because the director was trying to paint a picture without giving the actor the proper given circumstances. 

It was the PACE.  As the script landed in the tenth row of the house, the calcification that had been affecting my brain broke away and I remembered that Romeo is in the garden of his enemy, and if he gets caught, he is going to DIE.  So, he wouldn't be swooning, he would be attempting to close the deal.

And then, with small modifications, the blocking was re-worked and all was well.  And while I earned some respect that day, and learned a lesson myself about the necessity of thinking while working, the lovely director never stopped calling me "Jackass" for the rest of the run.

But she said it with affection.  I think.

Tonight, it was blocking a scene where I literally talk for three and a half pages.  And my friend Dan the Director had some preliminary ideas, and we played around for a little while, and then it all became clear, and I went to town.  And by the end, I'm racing around the stage, and dancing, and almost singing (and that may come later), which makes the end of the scene that much more poignant.

Tedium can sometimes provide insight, which invites creativity, which inspires action.

And for those moments, for those hours, I am alive.

I wish I could be alive alllll the time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Life Parable.

I'm not one to use sick days.

I think I have something like 400 hours of sick time accumulated; but I think I can count on one hand how many times I've called in to ANY job with a sickness.

Of course, in most of the theatres I worked at, there was no such thing as "sick days."  You were allowed to be sick on your own time.  But other than that, you got your ass on the stage and were as brilliant as you could be.

And the theatres I worked in that DID have understudies...well, more than once the understudy would come to me and beg me, BEG ME to never get sick.

Remind me to tell you about the time I worked in an outdoor drama for six weeks without being able to feel my legs; or doing two performances as Scrooge with a high fever and unable to speak above a whisper without coughing up my lungs; or the famous food poisoning incident of 1985.

Yeah.  I'm a tough guy.

Until yesterday.

I had a headache that turned into a migraine that turned into what can only be called a concussion. It radiated from behind my eyes, down the back of my neck and into my arms.  I tried to stay the course, but wound up bailing after 8 hours.

Went home, scared the wife that wasn't expecting my home at that hour, went to bed, and did not awaken until five o'clock in the afternoon.

With a headache.

But a bearable one this time.

Let that be a lesson to me.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lighting the candle to forgive the darkness.

In 1963, Medgar Evers was murdered; shot to death in his driveway with his wife and children waiting for him in his house.

In 1998, Matthew Shepard was murdered; he was tortured and beaten and left to die alone in a cold Wyoming night.

In 2009, Dr. George Tiller was murdered; shot to death in the foyer of his church as he handed out pamphlets to the congregation.

In January, a thirteen year old girl was beaten unconscious by seven other students and left for dead on a school bus.

Some were hated for the color of their skin; some for the legal acts that some considered sinful; some for their orientation; and some simply because they said or did something that was considered wrong.

I suppose you know, and so do I, that it is an endless cycle.  A cycle of misunderstanding; of close-mindedness; of blind allegiance to doctrine; of hate.

Hate cannot be conquered by hate.  Thinking persons know this to be true.

There is no inoculation against it.  The cure must come from the infected, and not directly from the environment.

I am not a fool.  Most of you know that; some of you would like to believe it; and my Father, of course, suggests that only a fool claims not to be one.

And as a thinking man, I will admit to some hatred on occasion; and I'll also admit to some shame as it passes through.

But I have never hated somebody simply because they disagreed with me.

And I started writing this a few minutes ago, and as I was.....Gabby Giffords crossed the stage on my television.

And it comes home to me that if she can forgive, so can I.

And strive to be worthy of forgiveness, myself.

Cuz I'm an ornery bastard sometimes.