Wednesday, July 9, 2014

That's why.

When I was thirteen, I did my first play.

It was something by a woman named Mary Chase; a children's story called MRS. MCTHING.  The original cast was like a who's who of Broadway regulars.  It had everything; High Society, Gangsters, and Witches.

I recently re-read it.

Wow.  I didn't care for it.  But I played it like Gangbusters when I was thirteen.

My Father knew, upon walking me home from the school after a performance, that I was destined to waste his money at an institution of Higher Learning in order to become one of the working poor.

And I didn't disappoint.

There have been a lot of roads; a lot of roles, and stages, and actors both good and excellent.  I have told a thousand stories, and have held in my heart several thousand more.  I have loved and hated and sweated and starved and felt the agony of sprained ankles and broken digits and chipped teeth.

I've had my heart broken by women, and distance, and from being "not what we're looking for."

And I've flown with.....well, not eagles, but definitely hawks.  Small hawks.  Small, acrophobic hawks.

And the meat that I loved in my youth I find I cannot tolerate in my age.

I no longer have the drive, the zeal, to throw in and let loose.

My patience is thin; my memory for lines and blocking a little faded; my tolerance for other people's egotistical nonsense at an all time low; my patience for my own egotistical nonsense, my tolerance for my own impossible standards......well.  You get the idea.

I will never be Mozart.

I am fated to be Salieri.  Able to see the greatness in others, but never see it in myself.

Forever in the higher part of average.

But I have a few memories.

Brief moments of near greatness.

And I sleep well.

I will choose where I work, and what I work on and to whom I give my talent and allegiance. 

Yes, you know who you are.

And I'll be watching.

Impress me.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Going down the road of road going.

It was sometime in 1986, I think.

It would have to have been 1986, but early in 1986.  My attempt at sobriety fell by the wayside during this time, and I crawled up on the wagon again and fell mightily several times before it finally took hold, so it's a bit hazy......but it was definitely on the West Coast.....specifically, outside of Seattle, WA.  In 1986.

I was traveling with a group called the Repertory Theatre of America; four people in a van with three plays and enough scenery to fit onto a 16 foot square stage, and costumes and lighting and in a couple of cases, enough angst to light up the night.  And on that particular day, we were on our way for the second time between Spokane and Seattle, cursing the schedule that had us crossing the state of Washington TWICE in the last two days.

We had done some maintenance on the van early that day; the brakes were getting soft and we cleared the expense with the main office and had it done at a Firestone dealership near the hotel we were staying at in Spokane.  While we were waiting, I had an opportunity to walk about the grounds of the World's Fair that occurred in 1972, that my family and I attended.  It was kinda cool to see some of the stuff that so impressed a ten year old through the eyes of a twenty something......

And then, we got in the van and took off for Seattle.  Again.

We had a show close to the Sound, if I recall, and through a miscalculation, we were rushing to make up some time, and doing fairly well at that...until.

It was a freeway overpass, as I recall, and the driver (a fellow named Jeff) was making a lane change when the brakes locked up inexplicably for just a second, but enough to get us all at red-alert.

Jeff had enough time to say, "What the hell...." before it broke loose.

All I really remember of the moment was a wrenching sound of metal, the sound of a car horn, and the van lurching backward as if one of the wheels had fallen off.  And then the sound of grating metal and Jeff furiously tried to keep us from heading into the other lanes of traffic or driving us off the overpass.

It seemed to last forever, but we would up on the shoulder of the Interstate.  We did a quick inventory of the passengers and made sure nothing was broken.  Jeff stated he was going to go look for a phone (strange to think of such a thing, but it WAS 1986, and cell phones wouldn't be readily available for a decade) and I would do a quick once-round of the van.

In the midst of this chaos, two great bits of comedy:

I walked around the van, looking for damage, and things looked pretty good until I got to the drivers side rear tire; which was completely gone...along with a part of the axle.  The wound was leaking brake fluid, and the brake fluid was burning....right underneath that pesky gas tank.

I calmly walked about to the inside of the van and calmly looked at the two ladies who had shared so much travel time with me.  I smiled calmly and asked if they would please pass me the fire extinguisher.

Eyes got really wide, but Devon silently reached up and handed me what I asked for.  And I used it for what it was good for.

And that's when the Washington State Police car rolled up.

I waved.

He gestured to me to approach, and I calmly did so.  He greeted me warmly.

"Got a flat tire, eh?"

My response was to point to the other side of the Interstate when the tire and the remains of the axle still connected to it was lying.

"No sir, the tire's over there and it looks fine to me."

I got my laugh for the State Trooper.  He admitted I had bigger fish to fry, gave me a sticker to put on the driver's side door in the event we had to abandon the vehicle, and drove away.

I honestly don't remember how we got the show that night, but we did.  We were incredibly late; we set up as the dinner progressed.  We put on some music and set up the stage like we were in a silent movie....lots of slapstick and far more trouble than it was worth, but those that watched seemed to appreciate the trouble and I explained in the pre-show that "A funny thing happened on the way here this evening...." and all was well.

From what I can remember.

I've had a lot of things happen to me, personally, just before shows were going on; injuries, fatalities, sprained ankles and wrenched knees, and all the emotional turmoil that makes life worth living.  But that particular event, and the events that directly followed (hint:  I was almost kicked out of Canada, I had an argument with a cab driver over American politics, I met and dated a waitress from Calgary and developed a hatred for February that has never diminished...) are the colors that bring the painting to life.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Won One.

As most of you know, in an effort to feed the creative part of my soul and to alleviate by depression at the sudden demise of my acting career (which is in the rear view, you know....and objects in the rear view mirror are NOT closer than they are), I do some stuff from time to time at the local community theatre, or the college, or the summer Shakespeare thing.

This year, I did a couple of things at the Dakota Stage here in the Capitol City of the Northern State.  In October, I did what should have been this fun little four-handed farce called WHO'S ON FIRST.  It was kind of like GROUNDHOG DAY with an unseen malevolent genie.  A read of the script provided me some laughs and I thought it would be fun.

And then I met the Director.

For the four dedicated actors on the stage, it was a nightmare of unbelievable proportions.  And we did our best and it turned out okay.  But it wasn't fun and it should have been.

The second thing I did was a production of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, which I directed.  And that, my friends, was glorious, with one exception.  But it was solid, and I managed to assist to bring some great performances out of good actors.  They surprised me every single performance night.

At the end of the season, they have an awards night, where they give away awards for the best performances and plays of the season.  They call them Brady awards, named after the last Artistic Director, who is a gem of a human being and a good director and a great audience.

It's a party.  And this year was the first year I attended, largely because I was nominated for three things and I won one last year for Best Actor and I was giving away the Best Actress award this year.

It's a party that apparently hates people who don't drink; when I asked for the non-alcoholic section, I had a choice of water or coffee.

F**k that.

It was an interesting evening.  Of course, as you well know, everybody is nominated for everything, and in the fashion of all community theatre awards, it's important to award not just the best, but the hardest working; and the awards can be less about what appears on the stage as a kind of even distribution of accolade, and I understand that.  So, I thought I'd sit back and relax and give out my award and enjoy the cumulative success.

I fully expected NOT to win the Best Actor award, because I won it last year and by GOD, the fellow who played Brick in my production of CAT was my odds-on favorite.  So, I was shocked and bemused when they called my name.

Now, make no mistake, I am proud of the work I do on the stage; I have some talent in it, and I enjoy the crap out of it and have always firmly believed that a bad day on the stage it better than a good day doing anything else.  But seriously.....I won for that nightmare production in October?  There are actors during that season that stretched and grew and did good work and they give the award to the guy who coulda done that work in their sleep?

Can you believe I didn't write an acceptance speech?

So, of course, the first sentence out of my mouth is, "Was the Awards Committee high?"

I thanked the actors and did not thank the director. 

I didn't win Best Director.  But the winner played Mae in my production of CAT, and it was her first appearance as an actor on the stage so I count it as a victory.  She had a tough script to direct and she did pretty well.

CAT did win the covered Best Production Award.  And I thanked everybody but one, and played the sound cue I was forced to change because one of my ACTORS threatened to report the production to ASCAP.  It got a good laugh.  And I thanked everybody in the cast and backstage and was thankful for the work they did and the enthusiasm they brought.

And then I went home and put the two awards on my shelf.

They're doing the Scots Tragedy this year.  I would have liked to audition; but they regularly use the actor who tried to scotch my work by forcing me to change a vital sound cue at the end, and I won't work with him or even mention his name.  But I am not so narcissistic as to make a director choose between two actors in such a way, so I stand aside.

But I coulda played the crap out of it.

So, life moves on if there was something to stop it.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Last Plane, Last Leg.

Welcome to MSP.

Arrived an hour late, so my layover is only four hours, rather than five.

The flight from ATL got caught in what can only be described as a Severe Thunderstorm.  On the runway.  Awaiting takeoff.  They shut down the engines, and opened both the liquor cabinet and the in-flight entertainment.  So, I had a Coke and a smile and re-watched the first episode of the third season of Sherlock.

And the plane got blown about a bit.

And the takeoff reallly sucked.

So here I am.  Awaiting the final leg to Minot and the hundred mile drive home.

My niece got married today in Colorado.  Congratulations to Erin and Alan.  Long days and pleasant nights!  Your wandering Crazy Uncle John sends his love....

The aiport at ATL is Arkham Asylum with Starbucks and Coca-Cola products.


You may not know this, but the flight from Savannah to Atlanta is about as long as it takes to get to cruising altitude.

The planes they use for such puddle-jumps are, in a funny word, dinky.

And crushingly full.

Of infants, toddlers and slightly older smaller people.

I really wanted to see if they could cry and scream the word "NO" in some kind of harmony.  It would've been fun to try.

No, it really wouldn't have been fun to try.

And the standard caveat applies; I never had to deal with the smaller version of children on a regular basis, and I am completely mystified by the ability to do so.

So, since I was feeling a bit cheap because of my slightly negative feelings, I decided to balance the scales a bit.

I helped a young Mother out by carrying her carry-on as she wrestled with her infant child.

A very large infant child from a very small woman.  The physics (what limited physics I remember) boggled my mind (which should come as no surprise).  It was akin to actually putting ten pounds of mud in a five pound bag.  And then releasing it through a spigot.  All at once.

Bless all Mothers.

She was grateful for the help, by the way.

I then went and had lunch, and not only offered half my table to a Grandmother (seating was at a premium) but also bused the table for her.

She was grateful. 

But not grateful enough to actually leave a tip.

Are you listening, Karma?

Okay, three hours here, and then on to MSP.  And then five hours there, and on to Minot, ND.  And then a hundred mile drive back to BIS.

If you ain't here, you're no place worse so count yourself lucky.

Greetings from the airport in Savannah, GA.

I wish I could explain where I was, and what I was doing, and who I met and how long it took.

I can say it's exceptionally humid here; they have gnats that can chew through plate armor; I'm sure the scenery is great, but the compound wasn't; and the food was fit for your enemies.

And now I'm in the airport.

I've been here since 6 AM.

My flight leaves at 11 AM.

There will be a layover in Atlanta and Minneapolis.

Totaling 8 hours.

Total flying time: 4 hours.

There are toddlers crying; or perhaps auditioning for the Met.

Three teenagers sitting next to each other, each talking on a phone.  One just asked permission to hang up and hang out with her friends.

I'm not sure permission was given.  She's still talking.

And now she just threatened to kill somebody; I hope it isn't me.

Although if it gets me out of this airport....

Monday, May 26, 2014


Sixty three years ago on Thursday next, my Uncle of legend but not of memory Private First Class John Lawrence Dawber gave the last full measure of devotion to his country as a member of the United States Marine Corps in service during the Korean War.
He was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
He was my Mother's eldest brother.
He was my uncle, and I was named for him, as was my younger brother Lawrence.
Words cannot express the depth of my gratitude to those that followed him into service.
An old Marine once told me of a phrase once scrawled upon the wall of a bunker outside Khe Sahn, in the Republic of Viet Nam.
"To those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know."
I grieve at the idea.
And rejoice.
And, a special note to my Uncle John: If you could give Mom a hug for me, I would certainly appreciate it.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Just checking in.....

Let's see.

Been a while since I wrote.  It's not that I haven't anything to report; but though the spirit be willin' the flesh be weak.

The show I directed here, at the Dakota Stage, closed last Sunday.  It was a good show, I think.  But I remain biased.  The houses were half to three-quarter, but fully engaged, and there were two standing ovations that seemed to be more than the usual, "if I stand up now I'll be more able to grab my coat" kind of thing.  The actors were outstanding; they brought the A game every single night.

And I'd like to believe we all grew a bit.

I know that it was nice to shake off the rust and see if I could actually do it again; bring out a performance in a person I hardly knew.

It was fun.

There was one hitch.

A complaint was lodged about my use of a piece of music at the end of the play; apparently, the complainant was worried that there was a copyright infringement and threatened to report the production and the theatre to ASCAP.  So, of course, the theatre requested a change in music after the opening night performance.

I suggested another piece of music that would work reasonably well, but NOT as well as the original piece.  The management strongly urged me to find something in the public domain.

Three text messages later, I had permission from the artist.

The management was very impressed.

(THANK YOU, Cathy and Joe!  Better friends are not found!)

Remind me to tell you sometime about the cowardly bastard in my own cast that did that to me.  And with whom I'll never work again.

Ah, community theatre; sometimes staging the drama just isn't enough drama.

Shortly before the show started it's second weekend, I began a new chapter in my career.  I was chosen to become a new Training Instructor up here in the Northern State.  Yup.  No more early mornings and phone calls and information that I never wanted to know in the first place.

I get to teach.

However, I need to learn all the stuff I gave up when I went up to be an analyst.  All the hands-on stuff.  So, for the last week, and for the next couple of weeks, I'm back in a uniform, remembering old stuff and learning new stuff; and the really amusing thing is that most of people training me are people I trained.

So far, it's been fun.

Saw a production of Marat/Sade at one of the local colleges last evening.  A tough play, with more levels than you can find in the tool aisle at Lowe's.  Good audience, well engaged.  A bold choice in material, and a brave attempt in the staging.

Finished the taxes.

Need a cup of coffee.

Sentences getting shorter.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ingredients Mixing Together to Surprise the Chef.

You move them around like pieces on a chessboard.

It's really no time to talk about the why's and such; it's simply time to put the actors on their feet and see if you can see everything you need to see from every angle. 

The rest, they say, are details.

So, it takes eighteen or so hours to block a three act classic play.  Eighteen hours of arranging slight alterations in the schedule to accommodate real lives; eighteen hours of slightly tardy; eighteen hours to include the audition of children to play in and out of each of the three acts.

Two hours (accumulative) of silently cursing when a picture in your head doesn't fit into the reality of the situation. 

Half an hour to bemoan the sleep deprivation.

Fifteen minutes out of eighteen hours thinking that there are a few moments that physically work.


You get this....moment.

Working through what you've blueprinted; listening and watching.

Actors with books in hand; some of them thinking three or four moves ahead; some thinking about the mistakes they made last night; some thinking that they could really use a cheeseburger and a beer.  One freely admitting that they have not a single clue.

And you guide.  You cajole.  You encourage.  You charge and retreat and share your experience both personal and professional in order to bring them all together under the same umbrella of situation.  You laugh and you shout and you listen and you admit that some things haven't occurred to you, but are more than willing to accept interpretation....because interpretation indicates thought and THOUGHT is the pinnacle.

And you call it "Collaborative Genius."

And when you run up the aisle of the house to stand and observe a pivotal moment, and you see the build beginning and the you feel the rise in energy and tempo and volume and that which was flat on the page is fully fleshed out, even with a book in hand.....

And you just can't seem to stop doing an interpretive dance dedicated to joy.

(I think it's become a kind of contest to see who can get me to do the dance.)

And finally, the spontaneous outburst:

"Oh my God, I love this play."

But that's not quite true.

I like what this is becoming.  And I'm happy to have contributed a bit.

And I'm soooo looking forward to see it taken away from me to take on its life.

You're NOT going to want to miss this.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Leaky Boat, But Still Seaworthy

It's kind of like working in a leaky boat.

You plug one leak, and up pops another leak.

You start out kinda feeling cocky and smart, admiring the creativity and panache of the repairs.

And after that, you stop thinking about it, and just become a plug making machine.

So, to catch you up......

I did two nights of auditions, on Feb 2 and 3.  As  you can probably guess, I was way light on men on the 2nd, due to the ass whoopin' that a Seahawk put down on a Bronco.

As Facebook said, "Not since the OJ Simpson chase has America been so disappointed in a slow white Bronco."

But here's one of those truly gratifying moments; I could've cast it with the people that showed up.

And then it was like standing room only on the 3rd.

And that night, I had a cast; a good cast for what I want to do with it.  A combination of people I've worked with, people I've seen work, and complete strangers.

The things I wish to make known to them.  The play is iconic, of course.  But the performances don't have to follow in footsteps, no matter how LARGE they are.  I wasn't looking for Newman, or Taylor, or Ives.  I was looking for people that epitomize the lack of communication, the outright and subtle lies we tell each other and ourselves, and the idea that on this night of celebration and announcement and beginnings and does go on.

And, if not in real life, but in the drama......realization of truth leads to better days.

So.  One hole plugged.

Then, a young one decides that the role just isn't what he's looking for.  Yes, you know what I mean.

So, now I'm looking to fill.  And I can't just fill the hole with the first available actor; this may be a small role within the scheme of things, but truly, everything in this damned play is a theme, or an image or had to be specific.

Took me two days, but I found what I needed.

Another hole filled.

And then, on Friday, I was informed that the job I applied for MONTHS mine.

It's a good job in the same organization; but the hours are human and it plays into my strengths as an educator and a person who is comfortable in front of large groups of people.

Schedule changes and the need to be out of town at inconvenient times.

Another hole.  Not quite filled yet.

Another interview today; another possibility.  One that I am invested in in the theory of it, but detached in the practice.  It's kind of like sitting outside an audition space with 25 other actors and looking around, seeing you're the oldest guy in the room and you realize that the feeling in your stomach that you automatically label as "nerves" can actually be turned into "laser-focus" with a well-placed and heartfelt, "F*** THIS!"

Nothing frees you up like a good, old fashioned, "F*** THIS!"

So, I may not get the job; but I will certainly make sure everybody brings their A game; and I get an allotted period of time to speak my truth.

Another hole.

So, here I am, sitting at my computer, watching a commercial for Red Lobster wondering why they call the place Red Lobster when all they seem to advertise is Shrimp (which, to my mind, is bait); and then I realize that calling the place Red Shrimp isn't going to bring folks out, and I've been awake for far longer than any man my age should be.

I wonder if there's any cake......

Monday, January 20, 2014

On or around February 3, I become reasonably whole again.

In two weeks' time, I begin work on a new project.

Well, it's an OLD project, but I've never done it before, so that makes it new.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF.  By Tennessee Williams.

There's an underlay of excitement in the air; I've done a few plays for the organization called Dakota Stage, but this is my first directing job with them.  And it's been a long time since I blew the whistle, if you know what I mean.

Eight years, I think.

It's gonna be nice to stretch the legs.  I hope it works.

I have some benefits, of course; I know so few people around here, and I've worked with some and like them, but I don't have enough actual knowledge of the talent pool to know what's a GOOD thing and what's NOT.  I don't have enough knowledge to pre-cast, and wouldn't want to, even if I did have the knowledge.

For a month now, the voices of the characters have been echoing in my head; lovely voices, moments of clarity and pace and agonizing pathos.

As Coquelin taught:  You close your eyes and picture the character; the way he walks and the way he talks and the way he sits and eats and fights and loves.  You give that image in your mind's eye the full measure of imagination and make him as real as you can.  And then, you open your eyes and become him as much as possible.

I will have actors in like two weeks; and I will have a stage.  And I will have a story to tell.

So cool.