Tides Change

I just lost my first role.

Disclaimer: This isn’t meant to be a bitch session. It’s meant to acknowledge the loss of the role, explain the situation (albeit from only my side – but this isn’t “Brian’s Blog AND the other guy’s Blog”), and to capture the lessons for me, and for anyone who’s reading.

The “animated” short film, Drexel, is actually a puppet production, a la Avenue Q. No animation at all as far as I can tell. I went in, auditioned fairly cold – I had read the script a few times but hadn’t made any distinct choices on how to voice the character, I just played the character’s choices in my own voice – and got the part. Then after the first table read, during which I had actually made some choices (probably should’ve just made one and stuck with it rather than contrasting a few different ones but who knows), I asked for the director/producer’s feedback. That’s important – had I not asked for the feedback, I’m sure he wouldn’t have even bothered telling me that he liked my audition read better than he liked the full table read.

So I asked him to give me some character cues & some existing characters that he had in mind, and then asked if he’d read lines with me to make sure I was getting where he wanted me to go. The rest of the dozen or so cast members had already left, apparently fully satisfying whatever expectations the director had of them – again, he offered no constructive feedback unless asked for it. We read lines for about half an hour, with him trying to direct (after the third re-direction, he said “I don’t have much experience directing actors”) me back in to the same voice he thought he’d heard at the audition. Eventually, we got to what I thought was a happy place, and he wished me a bon voyage for our trip to Hawaii. I left thinking I knew what he wanted and that I had gotten the voice 99% of the way there.

Less than 18 hours later, I got an email from him as we landed in Hawaii, saying he needed to go back on his word and offer the Drexel role to another actor.

After three days of ruminating on it, here are my conclusions.

1) It’s for the best.  This role would’ve sucked up major sections of my next 7 weekends, and it would’ve been grueling puppet work (which the director didn’t seem to have done before either) under hot lights with multiple takes of every shot. His aggressive schedule had us shooting 12 scenes, one at a time, over several weeks – but I would’ve been in every single one of them. And let’s not forget the complexity that comes from the fact that he’s shooting 12 different scenes in a 21-minute short – ambitious even with the best cast & a really experienced director. None of the shoots included more than 4 characters at a time though, which also meant limited opportunities for the fun that comes from a full production. So while it would’ve been GREAT to have a lead role in any production on my resume, this one probably would’ve been a REALLY challenging one to get done.

2) Not all people are meant to direct.  Not for nothing, I don’t think the director of this thing is going to get what he’s expecting to get out of this production. He didn’t have the guts to proactively ask for exactly what he wanted – he waited for me to ask if I was giving him what he wanted, as an example. Then he didn’t have the ability to get me to exactly where he wanted – if he hired me without feeling confident I could do it, shame on him; if he fired me because he couldn’t give me the direction I needed to do it, also shame on him. If you’re putting your own time & money into a production, and asking available actors to donate their time to be in it, you’re setting yourself up for failure if you can’t figure out how to get what you need out of your cast. I’ve had limited experience, for sure, but I’ve never seen someone in charge of a production that didn’t know how to ask for what they needed from their cast & crew. Begs the question of whether or not they actually KNOW what they want, which is their main purpose as a director.

3) Voice work is tough.  I was honestly surprised to have been offered the role in the first place, given my serious absence of distinct choices. Then I made some distinct choices after being given the role, and those choices were not liked. Then, I tried to take direction to make the right choices, and either wasn’t getting the right inputs or wasn’t delivering the right outputs. My facial expressions and goofy look didn’t add anything to the character; only my voice mattered, and I didn’t have any confidence in that (and any confidence I inspired in it with others was short-lived, apparently).

4) I prefer to be fired in person or at least on the phone, and not during the first 10 minutes of my island vacation.  Sorry, but sending me an email (albeit a nice & apologetic one) that I get on my phone, firing me after Day 1 on the job without even an offer for another chance at it, is not the pinnacle of professionalism.  Don’t think it’d happen in any other industry, either.  Nor does it offer me any chance to get constructive feedback on how not to screw up next time. Plus, I know a guy (J. Snyder) who I think would actually be a great Drexel & who has a ton of voice experience – but now I don’t even get the chance to give a referral. Sure, I could send an email back to him with that referral, but that’s not something most folks do – voluntarily communicate with the party that just ended the working relationship & offer additional help, even in referral form. (Plus Snyder’s in L.A. these days & is gainfully employed – probably wouldn’t have worked out logistically – but that’s beside the point.) I just think this guy took the conflict-avoider’s path, and it seems like an amateur act.

5.) Tides change. Maybe he thought he knew what he wanted, maybe he didn’t and still doesn’t. Maybe there’s a reason my next 7 weekends just cleared up. There’s probably a reason for not even being offered the chance to try again – I’m definitely a humble actor who willingly seeks out feedback & tries to improve, but that doesn’t seem to matter this time. In any event, I’m not letting this stop the momentum I’ve got going. It’s embarrassing to publicize getting a lead role and then be fired from it, sure. Sometimes the tides just change. But they always change for a reason.

PS – being in Maui, 8 steps from the beach, has definitely helped soften the blow to my blooming actor ego. And so, of course, has my wonderful wife. Now that I’ve written this, I think it’s time for a snorkel. (That may be the only time in my life I get to end a blog entry that way.)

Apple Apostle – Applostle, If You’re Nasty

R got me an iPhone last week for our second anniversary.

Holy crap.

I should have listened to Dan during all those podcast debates; this thing, on which I am writing this WordPress blog, is F-ING awesome. Seriously. It’s even smart enough to correct for my sausage fingers, which was always my main argument for sticking to Blackberry devices.

Dan was right. Now that I have one, I see how superior it is to any other phone in the world. Not that Blackberry and Android-based phones are horrible… It’s just that this thing is near-perfect.

Why near-perfect? Battery life & lack of a caps lock option come to mind. And I accidentally hit the backspace key way too often because of its proximity to the m key – did so twice just trying to type proximity. I think they should have kept it well away from ALL of the Wheel of Fortune letters (r s t l n e and n’s neighbor m). And what the hell is up with no Spell Check? And no custom dictionary!?! That tastes like Communism.

Small grapes though. In almost all ways, I frikkin’ love this thing for all the myriad reasons you could love a “phone”. And so far I don’t honestly have any gripes with AT&T’s service (aside from the exorbitant cost). Hasn’t dropped any of my calls, and in the places where I want it, the 3G is available. (To save battery, I turn this off a lot, which I wish didn’t take 4 gestures from the home screen to do-simple shortcut code in the next update to the OS would be welcome.)

So now I walk around with access to pretty much every piece of digital media I own, the ability to create content with various apps like WordPress, and can get to new material/media – all in a sleek & consistent format. Blackberry’s formats look simply gross by comparison, mainly due to their more universal/open approach, which is both virtuous & unambitious. There are lots of reasons to stay open & unlocked, but developers are still making far more iPhone apps than are showing up in Blackberry’s app world. In reality, the sex appeal of iPhone apps simply outweighs the ability to code in whatever open languages RIM enables.

It’s official. I’m an Apple apostle. An Applostle, if you’re nasty.

What the Hell Do I Do Now?

It’s been a few months, and I know you’re all aware as to why I’ve been too busy to blog.  A) Work, and B) I’ve been Acting instead of just writing about Acting.  Well, explanation a) is now sliding back into normalcy, leaving me with pockets of time & energy which I can now use for writing (or at least thinking about writing).  And explanation b)… I can’t honestly think of a better excuse than “Actually Acting” for being too busy to write an acting blog.

Now that “A Hot Day In Ephesus” is officially over, though, it’s time to capture the experience & thoughts here, for my own posterity & perhaps for your own enjoyment/encouragement/inspiration/mocking.  (Yes, it’s okay to mock me – you still read it.)

Before diving into the details, the ultimate result:   This experience in Bay Area community theatre has answered the questions “Do you love this as much as you think you do?” (YUP) and “Are you even remotely decent at it?” (Signs point to Yes); but it has unfortunately forced me to consider new questions, like “Do you really have the time to do this?” and “If you love this & aren’t horrible at it, why are you still chasing a paycheck in corporate tomfoolery?”

The Experience

As we wrapped each show (and even some of our dress rehearsals), I’d come off the stage, and I’d have a new memory of making someone laugh.  Of making an audience laugh.  Of being part of a great cast of people & taking part in a great script & score to give the audience a few hours of entertainment, creating something at which they could laugh.  If I was lucky, I’d even have the awesome occasional experience of being onstage & in character, but somehow still able to hear & appreciate that laughter at the precise moment we earned it.  Whether it was the after-show memories of those laughs or the in-the-moment recognition of them, they both served as the only reward I needed for putting in all the hours & hard efforts that we put in.

And yes, it was a LOT of hours & more effort than I ever would’ve guessed.  Most of the last 10 weeks have seen me scurrying up to Mill Valley for 2-4 hours of rehearsal three times a week and a fourth occasion on most Saturday mornings.  I wrote raps, I learned dances, I memorized lyrics, I warbled through melodies, I got light-headed from the breathing warm-ups, I got rained on in the redwoods, I sweated through my boxers during a particularly grueling rehearsal in the middle of the rare Bay Area heatwave, and I put mileage on my kneecaps & thumbs from the pratfalls & stage-slaps.  We never did ANY of that in my acting classes. :)  In acting classes, it’s no more than 3-4 hours a week, lots of variety, minimal physical effort, and it’s always a new session – you never really know what’s going to come of each class.  When you’re in rehearsals & up on stage for production, that’s what you go through.

I had no idea.  Doing the SAME chorus or the SAME dance routine 37 times in a row forwards (and sometimes backwards) was HARD WORK.  But let it be said officially and for the record:  as repetitious and grueling as some of those rehearsals were, NONE of it was as soul-sucking as a spreadsheet that never goes anywhere.

There was also a completely different mindset.  I’m almost as Type A as you can get and still call yourself “spontaneous”:  I find value in organization, planning, efficient networks of communication, etc.  The AHDiE crew basically said, and I quote, “Nah, that’s no fun.  Let’s figure it out as we go!”  We were literally writing & re-writing, scoring & re-scoring, metering out & re-metering for the first five of the 10 weeks of rehearsal.  (It didn’t stop after the 5th week, but it became secondary work – week 6 we actually got to blocking and, you know, acting.)  To a Type A guy that was there without a lot of musical numbers or dances, that initially felt like a hell of a lot of wasted trips to Mill Valley & a lot of frustrating re-work for no reason.  It felt as useful as work.

I slowly started to realize, though, the key quality of “figuring it out as we go” in musical theatre.

It was FUN.  Makes it hard to call it work when it’s that much fun.  What’s a good word for “fun work that ultimately rewards & satisfies completely?’  Hmm… the word “sex” is taken.  As is “streudel.”  Perhaps the word is “effort”.  Yes, that’ll do nicely.  It’s a lot of EFFORT to have a successful show that people enjoy as members of the audience.

But that’s what we did.  We put in the time and effort, figuring it out as we went, and it paid off in spades.  When an audience can enjoy it that much & have nothing but positive things to say afterward, the Type A part of you gets bound & gagged & stuffed in a cabinet by the performer part of you.

The Question

So now my quandary:  this is exactly what I’ve been looking for – work that’s creative, fun, rewarding & so enjoyable that it doesn’t feel like work.  I’ve found what I love to do.  That’s even scary to write down, let alone acknowledge it, embrace it, and ask for permission to do it.  What the hell do I do now?

The Problem

Unfortunately, I can’t pay the electric bill on smiles, laughs & a warm sense of accomplishment.  (Note:  I’ve been working on a LaughLamp, which is basically a flashlight powered by the kinetic energy you expend when you laugh – but every time I try to use it I fall off the couch.)  I’ve gone so far as to start figuring out what parts of our household budget are critical vs. nice-to-have vs. “we only spend this because we can”.  I say I’ve started this; it’s REALLY hard to do, especially because the lines are blurry, and my definitions of those categories differ from R’s.  Allow me two examples to illustrate.  First a clear one.

Critical:  food & water.

Nice-to-have: a fully-stocked wine rack (albeit with BevMo $0.05 wine) in the dining area.

Because we can: $150 dinners at places like Bobo’s or Frascati every two or three months, sometimes more.

Now the muddier example.

Critical:  clothing & shoes.

Nice-to-have: shoes that are both comfortable AND stylish AND go with several dozen different “looks.”

Because we can: 4 different pairs of “casual” shoes (me) and 37 different pairs of stubby flats in various shades of black (R).

Okay, so maybe that’s clearer than I thought, but these are still things that would get debated in any discussion about giving up corporate life & corporate pay.  A lot or most of the things on the ‘because we can’ and the ‘nice-to-have’ lists would get no funding.  And all my seed money for ideas like LaughLamp completely dry up.

Once again, the word is balance.  I have to continue to balance some sort of well-paid “career” with the “side-gig” of acting.  In order for one to increase in share of mind/time/energy, the other will have to decrease.  (Either that or my life turns out to be a video game & I can just eat a glowing flower and start spitting fireballs.  Superpowers are cool.  And trippy.)

But I don’t wanna!  That’s what I sound like when I talk about it with R.  I DON’T want to spend the current amount or more of my time & energy in a soul-sucking cubicle with an environment where people use the words “bottom-line” and “workforce efficiency” to describe potential reasons to do away with people’s jobs or the entire company’s fringe benefits (like free samples of our products).  You might say that’s just business, and I would tend to agree.  But it’s NOT just business when the people throwing around those words use company money to ferry themselves between Colorado and California, then hotel themselves in the Bay Area, EVERY WEEK for several years because they have chosen not to relocate.   These are also the same people that TALK about doing things instead of ACTUALLY doing them, that hem & haw about making decisions then finally make a decision that you tell them probably won’t work but then they ask you to push that decision through the process anyway and then they see the outcome and then they pull a complete 180 on that decision and ask you to back it out of the process.

You should say that’s just bullshit, and you would be correct.  You should say that sounds like a completely unencouraging environment where nothing gets done and that would engender very little motivation to stay let alone get deeper in the muck of it.  Saying that makes you Jesus, who’s almost never wrong.  (Still think he should’ve shared that whole “water into wine” bit.  Superpowers, people!)

The problem is that the skills I use there are valuable to them, and they keep asking me to do more.  I don’t wanna.  I’m tired of being a puppet for people who’ve got one foot out the door and the other foot up their own ass because they haven’t got the sense to know it belongs on the ground.  Granted, I don’t work directly for any of these people, but their minions have an incredibly high amount of influence on me & the guys I DO work for.

So what the hell do I do now?

Step #1A:  Find a different paycheck to chase.  That’s in the works, and should give me more autonomy, which I will use NOT to firmly plant my own foot in my ass, but to actually use what I know and make a difference that doesn’t involve a subtraction sign.

Step #1B:  Get an agent.  Less in the works than #1A, but definitely started.  This runs parallel to #1A, actually, in that if the goal of getting an agent (making dollar bills at commercials, voice-over, extras work, or hell even an actual starring role in a large production) materializes, the different paycheck to chase doesn’t even matter and I will dance an Irish jig right the hell out of my cubicle.  I may even introduce a hammer to the inkjet printer on my way out.  (Would feel good to be a gangsta.  Even an Irish one.)

Normally, this is where I would list Step #2, but honestly, if I had more than just the next step planned out, it would mean I’ve become one of those a-holes that spends too much time planning and not enough time doing.  That’s one thing that working on AHDiE taught me – plan all you want, but until you start doing it, you have NO idea what’s going to happen, so you may as well just start doing it & enjoy the act of doing it, then adjust as needed.  It’s a hell of a lot more fun that way, and you don’t waste all that time planning only to have waste laid to those efforts.

I’m off to make things happen.  I’ll figure out one or both of the above, and worry about everything else along the way.  That’s what the hell I do now.

Oh – before I go… a big Thank You to all of you who supported me & got me on the stage.  An even bigger Thank You to those who actually got to see the show.  I couldn’t have done it without all the “you can do it”s and “just make the time for it dummy”s and “look how happy you are”s.  Clap hands!