Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It isn't just one of your holiday games.....

What draws a person to a particular audition piece? 

This is one of those questions that Tom Robbins insists will eventually go a long way to solving the purpose of the moon; though, not AS important as "how do you make love last?"

Prior to my marriage, no relationship ever lasted as long as my relationship with audition pieces.

You take them; you read them; you cut them.  You curse and swear and paste and re-cut and look at the clock and wonder how much more you can gut it before it becomes less the material you like and more the material that lasts less than 60 seconds.

You attempt to strike a balance between giving the material the attention it craves, it DESERVES, and making sure that those that sit in the darkness watching don't dismiss you because you didn't plan for the time constraint.

Because there is nothing like missing the meat of the matter because some college sophomore staring at her BlackBerry's stopwatch application just yelled "TIME!" with just enough enthusiasm to make you believe that she actually enjoyed it.

So what DOES draw a person to a particular audition piece?

I like the humorous...and when in doubt, I go for the funny.  The truly memorable auditions I've watched were the ones that made me laugh.

One of my favorite guys, now a PhD and working at a college down in FL bonded himself to me forever by performing a monologue in St. Louis in 1994 that made me laugh out loud.  In my mind's eye I can still see him doing it.

Memorable works.  Funny works.

I'm okay with the "Dramatic"...(capital letter intended for effect) monologues; if possible, I like to throw in a short one with the slightly longer humorous contribution.  It shows range; but I'm also a believer that "Dying is easy....Comedy is hard."  And if you can get the laugh, you can get the tear.

There are exceptions to every rule, of course.....but generally speaking......if you can make 'em laugh, you can make 'em cry.

But never in ninety seconds, which is what you got.

So, no music this time was either the waiting list for singing or getting in on the non-singing audition.  And this has never been about the job.  It's been, since I first decided that perhaps I wanted to try this, ONE MORE TIME, just to see if I still have the heart, and the stuff, to do it.

This is about getting up and doing it.  So, I didn't want a waiting list. 

I wanted the light.

Comedy first for 45 seconds; then the other for about 40.

I just have to make sure to fight against my instincts to hold for the laugh. 

Because the clock is ticking.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


I had a moment of clarity.

I was having a conversation which turned into a difference of opinion which turned into a dispute.

And it was about the dumbest thing.  The DUMBEST thing.

And what happened between the beginning and the middle was that both participants fell into the pit of necessity; that it was of VITAL IMPORTANCE to win.  It wasn't important to be right; it was important to win.

And sometime between the middle and the end, it was like a fist unclenching in my soul. 

There is nothing on this green (or in my case, white permafrosted damned cold here in the north) earth that is THAT important.

I am going to try to be quiet.  Satisfied with my own "rightness" and not too much overly concerned with my "right" being THE "right."

Because I don't need any more fists in my soul.

I need a little more soul in my soul.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The last first time.

So, T-Minus 14 days until UPTA.

Resumes completed; photos old but still serviceable.  Reservations made.  Audition pieces prepared and under time.

Breathing normal.  Pressure....minimal.

And I'm reminded of the first cattlecall I ever attended.......

It was back in the early 80's....and in those tumultuous times, there were several regional cattlecall auditions; primarily, the SETC, the MWTA and the NETC.  That first year, that first time, the SETC was in Virginia; the MWTA in St. Louis; and the NETC in Boston.

And I was in Marquette, MI.  Hundreds and hundreds of miles away from any of these places.

The program up at Northern Michigan University was a good one, and it has only improved since then; and one of the great programs was the Auditions class.

Okay, the material was "old hat" by contemporary standards...Shertleff's book was only a few years old at that time and everything was new.  The faculty took a keen interest in our progress, and we were put through the paces.  The critique was brutal.  They would put you through a "real world" simulation, going as far as renting a hotel room and doing a mock call back audition. 

But the benefit of all that work was that they would pay all the audition fees; and, in some cases, provide transportation.

The SETC was the largest of the cattlecalls in those days, primarily for college students and those just out and about.  But they were (and I assume, still are) very careful about inviting people to audition that weren't technically within the boundaries of the Southeast.  In order to audition at the "big show", you first had to audition at an "out of region" venue first.

So, my first experience with a timed audition of prepared material in front of a group of strangers who were judging my worthiness was at Centre College in Danville, KY.

I don't recall how I came upon that first material; pretty sure I had help.  But I do recall that the material wasn't really my thing.  But, in my defense, I didn't know much of anything back then.  I do remember not being totally....comfortable with the material.

That comfort was multiplied by the fact that fifteen of us were packed into a van and we made our way in the dark of the night from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the Center of Kentucky, straight through.  800 hundred miles and 13 hours in a van.  With 14 other people.  Knowing full well that not ALL of us were going to be advancing past this particular audition.

So, I would like to say that it was a stellar performance.


I wasn't comfortable in my clothes; I wasn't comfortable with the material.  I was sleep deprived, and the little devils that lived in my head even then were whispering dire things.  I was watching actors from other schools and they seemed so much better prepared than I.  I saw really good; and I saw not-so-good.  And as the clock ticked.....I could feel my shoulders making their way up past my ears.

And then the magic moment came for me.

And I pushed through the monologue; and I lost the lyrics for the song and pushed through that, as well...knowing that as the lyrics disappeared, so did my chances for advancement.  And I shook my head and sat back down with a rueful smile.

Three long, angst-filled hours later, with a sad sandwich in my stomach and dire predictions in my head.....they posted the list.

Out of the fifteen of advanced.  Seven people trying to simultaneously celebrate and sympathize with those that did not move forward.  Seven people who were going to sit in a van for another 13 hours with eight others......not talking about it.

Me and seven six other people feeling blessed; myself wondering how I could have possibly moved on after such an AWFUL performance.

Still wondering.  With every movement forward; still wondering.

Went to Virginia; got a job out of it.  My first professional job.  Never looked back after that.

I began to choose my own material; I began to put it together the way I wanted to....and lo, these many years later, I have a file in my head that contains several "go-to" pieces for every occasion.

Two weeks to go.

Hope I have fun.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thank God for all I missed.....

Every so often, a song speaks to you.

And makes you dance.


Do what ya gotta.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Minnie the Mermaid.

Last night, I had a dream about a guy named Shane Henry.  He was my friend.

I met him in the summer of 1999, at the first read through of a play that I was going to be carrying at a theatre in Central California.

Three of us had come on to join an already established company of actors for a couple of summer plays.  The established members of the company included one I would eventually marry, one that would eventually win a Tony, and three that would go on to have continuing careers in LA and NYC.

But at that time, we were all younger.

We did the read through (I was still exhausted, but game) and there was some cursory blocking done, and by the mid afternoon, three of us were excused while the others prepared for their evening performances.  The show was formulaic in structure; a two act play, followed by a thirty minute vaudeville review.

The show was, I believe, THE RIVALS set on the Atlantic City Boardwalk near the turn of the last century.  It was good, for the most part, but alas, it flew over the heads of most of the audience.  But the vaudeville review.....well, that was the stuff of legends.

Enter Shane.  From below the stage.  Dressed in a 1920's swimsuit (shoulders to knees), a mask, a snorkel and swim fins.  All 6' 6" of him.

And he took the stage.  He took the stage better, and easier than anybody I had ever seen.  It was like he took it, picked it up, shook it out, laid it back down, and danced the crap out of it.

The song was MINNIE THE MERMAID.  He sang it in a kind of howl, but it was a howl of pure joy.  And then, he began the dance. 

Tap dancing.  In shoes that look like flippers.

It brought the house DOWN.

Anything that came before was forgotten; everything that came after was superfluous.  He grabbed that audience and made them love him.  Up to that time, in my career, I had rarely seen anybody do freakin' easily.

And I would dream for decades about doing it myself.  And never...quite....getting it.

He became my friend that night.  And I watched every single performance of that number for the next two weeks.

That summer we got ample opportunity to play off of each other; he as the straight man to my comic in one of the shows that summer, and he was the hero to my villain in the other.  We crossed swords figuratively in one of the shows, and literally in the other.  And they both wound up the same; he allowed me to leave in one, and forced me to leave in the other.  One of those times in your career when no matter where you are in the long run, you can't wait to get back to work.

He directed the second vaudeville review, and gave me a solo; I was singing a love song, comparing my girl to a Limburger sandwich....he had me sitting at a table with a sandwich.  I asked for a photo of a girl, and he saw the merit in it.  What he didn't expect was that at the end of the number, I would sigh and the photo would fall off the table.

He got me to sing, and I got my laugh.

The summer wrapped quickly.  And after we'd packed out the summer shows, and placed the autumn how onto the stage, we shook hands, did a manly embrace, and off he went.

And I have not seem him from that day to this.

I hope he is well.

And if, perchance he should come upon these words......

Thanks for everything, Shane.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Call is Louder as the Distance Grows.

Several months ago, I cybernetically plunked down a couple of tens of dollars and put in an application for the UPTA.

For the layman, that stands for Unified Professional Theatre Auditions.  At least it used to; I haven't been there in a decade, but I remember distinctly the running joke about people continuing to call it the United blah blah.....which caused the Director of the audition, a fellow named Detroit, no end of irritation.

As I said, it's been ten years since I made the application; I was there when you applied by mail, with a SASE, and you waited to see what was what.  Back in the stone age, donchaknow.

But it was, traditionally, a great weekend.  Two minutes of stress, followed by an evening of interviews, and a few hours here and there to eat and schmooze and such with old friends spread over long distances, gathered together for one weekend.

For those of you unused to the idea, this "cattlecall" audition consists of many companies under one roof, watching many actors do their stuff in two minute increments.  That's right, folks; you have two minutes to show what you got.  There's nothing like it in the world.

I have missed it.

The last time I made that trek was 2003; I was living in CA, doing some work out there, freshly married, but feeling artistically, I flew out to Memphis, to see what was what.

I never failed at that particular audition; I always found some kind of work to do; which was good because at that time, I was literally one move ahead of the creditors and the repossessors and all the people that required my time and money.  The purchase of my next meal (and my next mortgage payment, etc) depended upon the success of the audition.

So.  Not so fun.

Now, I'm reasonably free of those encumbrances; so the joy of actually auditioning should come back to me like an old friend.

Cuz I'm going back to Memphis in February.

Now, make no mistake; I'm ten years older and looking every inch of it.  I've been out of the professional ranks for at least that long, and even though I've dabbled in the ensuing years, the pressure of the profession (short rehearsal periods and heavy competition) have been absent.  So, my daily swing goes from excited optimism to paralyzing fear of humiliation.

I don't want to be one of those guys.  The guys who can't or won't admit that they're past it.

But I gotta know.  I need it to give me a punch up the conk.

So, I'm going for pride and the rest is gravy.  Perhaps I'll see old friends.  Perhaps I'll have some regional food and walk through the Civil Right Museum.  Perhaps I'll just walk along the Mississippi River and think of younger days.

But I'm throwing the bones.

Friday, January 11, 2013

And that's all I got to say....about that.

It would seem to me if people want to stand on their second amendment rights to "bear arms" then by all means, let us allow it, as our Forefathers suggested.

The Constitution says nothing about the right to bear ammunition.

And this isn't a new idea; I don't HAVE new ideas.

But if the guns are easy to get, assure that the ammunition ISN'T. 

Of course, it's not THAT hard to make your own ammunition; you need the tools, and you need the black powder.  The tools aren't hard to come by.

But I can damn well bet you that more red flags would be waved at somebody going into the store to buy several pounds of explosive gunpowder than there are from somebody going into the story to buy a gun.

Homeland Security doesn't give a crap if you buy a gun.

The DO care, very much, if you buy five pounds of black powder.

Unless we really want to stand by the spirit of the Second Amendment; which, as I recall from my History lessons, was written after a rag-tag army of militiamen beat the crap out of the British...back when you needed a gun to FEED your family, as well as protect them.  Back when the gun was the most important tool in the house.

We've moved past that, for the most part.

But I think it may be a good idea to go back to the halcyon days of FLINTLOCKS.

Three shots in a minute flintlocks.

Unrifled barrel-inaccurate at long distances-hard to load-hard to fire flintlocks.

Even crazy people would have to learn to use a ramrod.

And when they're using it, there's in ample opportunity to sneak up behind them and whack them with a tomahawk.

Which is another choice weapon of the 18th Century.

I don't want to punish the law abiding because of the sins of the crazy.  But I would like the law abiding to stand up and state what they suggest be done to keep the crazy from smearing the law abiding.  Surely they have an opinion, other than "It's in the Constitution."

Cuz Prohibition was in the Constitution, too.  And that was a truly ASININE idea.

See how I brought that around?

We think that prohibition of something will solve the problem, but it never really does.

Give 'em the guns.

Keep the ammunition.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Last year at this time, I made a brief list of things I wanted to do for the coming year.

In my own words:

"I would like to travel to several theatres of my past. I'm looking at a ten day trip that will take me to Clinton, IA, Evansville IN, Lexington, KY and Chillicothe, OH."
-I did this in July of 2012, just after my 50th birthday.  I changed plans a bit, and went through Michigan to visit my Father for a day or so before the trek; and then I wound up seeing a performance of TECUMSEH! in Chillicothe, OH; a production of JOSEPH at the Amphitheatre outside of Evansville, IN; and visited a bookstore and a bar I was fond of, as well as a walk down memory lane in Harrodsburg and Lexington, KY.  I also had a coney at Lipuma's in Rochester, MI, bought books at KING'S in Detroit, visited Chester, IL and the Popeye Museum, and the City Museum in St. Louis, MO.  I did not get to Clinton, IA; but I don't think they missed me much.

If I can't do that, I would like to go to Stratford, Ontario for a few days of Shakespeare.
-This is on my list for 2013.

I would like to do a play or two this year; there is one at the community theatre that sounds intriguing, but I would like to finish one of my own.
-I did NOT finish one of my own, but I started two of them.  I did two plays this year; DANCING AT LUGHNASA for the local college, and INSPECTING CAROL for the community theatre.  It led me to places I had not been in awhile; and in one case, reminded me of how I can be such a horse's ass.  Seeking remedy for the latter malady is on the list for 2013.

There is a new restaurant in OK that has promised me a sandwich. It's enough to fly a reunion of old friends, and finally meet some people I've been conversing with for many years.
-The restaurant, alas, is gone; and the reunion didn't get off the ground.  In the words of John Lennon, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."  But I would really like to have a sandwich with some folks from OK.

Two words: Spring Training. I would like to see the Tigers play in Florida this year. I will settle for the Orioles.
-Went south as usual and watched the Tigers kick the crap out of the Rays in Port Charlotte, FL in March.  Rather than buy a Rays jersey, I went with the minor league club, the Stone Crabs.  And yes, even though the Tigers got crushed in the World Series...they got into the World Series.  And that's ALWAYS exciting for the city of my birth.

Vegas at Thanksgiving.
-Not actually Thanksgiving....but the Northern State clan invaded Bally's in Vegas for a huge Birthday blowout....gambling was done; relationships were tested; and the best prime rib in the known world was consumed.

Christmas with the family in Michigan. I have a hankering for my Sister's shortbread.
-Didn't get there this year, but the usual festivities took place at Casa Historiclemo.  A ton of food was cooked and consumed, presents were delightfully given and gratefully accepted.  The nieces and nephews are growing up.....and Yoda now stands watch over my computer.  Talked to the family in Michigan on Christmas Day, and all are well.  Still miss the shortbread, though.
My friend Elizabeth suggests that the problem with my writing is that I don't do it.  That I need to sit down, every day, and do, that's the goal for this year.

And produce a play.  I already have a name for the company.  I shall call it  The MT Space.

Thank you, Peter Brook.

And to you who read, my thanks.  All good things, in abundance, for as long as you can take it!