Is studying acting important anymore?

Hilary Howard wrote a piece in the New York Times about the shrinking number of acting studios in NYC. They have been impacted by an outrageous real estate market, the changing focus of actors wanting to make it big instead of learning the craft of acting, and the surge of university departments.

The long and short is that the studios that seem to be surviving the best are ones affiliated with universities where tuition can be over $50,000 per year. The studios that haven’t folded are facing huge rents. Some are letting go large chunks of their spaces.

The real estate in New York has already devastated many smaller theater spaces. You can see a list of them on the League of Independent Theater’s Lost Spaces page. I am furious that Google is going to force out Atlantic’s Acting Studio from its building by charging commercial rent.

Really, Google, are you hurting that badly for money?

I hope the mayor and the city council will look into this. New York isn’t New York without great theater. Theater isn’t great without actors with serious training and chops. This training needs to be accessible to people across the spectrum and not just the wealthy or the ones willing to take on three decades worth of debt.

Theater used to be the entertainment for the working class. Now it’s by the rich and for the richer. That’s a real shame.

European vacation

Aimee and I went on a belated honeymoon. Paris to several cities in Belgium to Amsterdam and back to Paris. We took a ton of pictures. Here’s one I took of us in Amsterdam. I was over-confident about the weather when packing and had to get the hat, scarf, and jacket over there at a place called C&A. I overpacked other clothes.

amsterdam selfie

TOSOS and Street Theater

Tonight is the final performance for this run of Doric Wilson’s “Street Theater” presented by The Other Side of Silence at the Eagle. 12 performances in 15 nights. We are over-sold. It’s been an incredible whirlwind experience jumping on board with this project. The life and history of the play written by someone who was at the Stonewall all 3 days of the riot was palpable. I have rarely been part of a play that was such an event. Some plays have a special meaning for people but this was something extra.

It was incredibly kind of Kathleen Warnock to suggest I audition for the part and so great that the director Mark Finley and producer Barry Childs could see me play the undercover vice cop. From the moment I got the script, I knew this was going to be an experience that required me to push past my fear and to bring it.

10 of the 14 actors returned to roles they had played previously. From my first rehearsal, I could see the difference. No one was searching for how to play their parts or trying to understand what the play was saying. The roles were already in their bodies. Russell Jordan took me under his wings early on and helped me find my way with this. He warned me that many people know this show and frequently with mouth your lines along with you. Mark could feed you your lines without looking at the script during rehearsals. Chris Weikel, who did a tremendous job with making subtle choices with the costumes, also stepped in during a rehearsal and knew most of the lines and blocking.

street theatre cast

The 2017 cast of Street Theater

Michael Lynch has been playing Boom Boom since the first production of this play in the early 80s. Watching him with Chris Anderson as Ceil has been a nightly master class in timing and ease. They are so funny together. The delight I feel is like watching the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man. They are indelible characters. I also get to watch Jeremy Lawrence and Tim Abrams do a scene each night that is hilarious to watch but really tragic when you think about it. Doric put so many shifts in it, it’s like watching a repertory play season in 7 minutes.

Jasmyn May Abuarab, Christopher Borg, Josh Kenney, Desmond Dutcher, T. Thompson, Ben Strothmann, Patrick Porter, Gabe Morales, and Sarah Smithson are all wonderful people on and off stage. A cast of 14 and no egos in sight!! I wish the run was longer so I could get to know them all better. If you get the chance to work with TOSOS or anyone involved in this production, do it. They are all so nice and very, very talented.

tim abrams cupcakes

Tim Abrams made cupcakes. This cast did the most baking I’ve ever experienced for any show I’ve done. 

Our playing space is about 3 feet wide and 30 feet long with audience on both sides. This keep you on your toes. The final scene requires we all be onstage. I quickly grew to enjoy playing in this space. It’s alive and it keeps you fresh. You can’t phone a single moment in or the audience would know. The staff at the Eagle were just great to us. Really helpful and supportive. You can tell a show works when the techies laugh and react at a show. A show rocks when the bouncers and bartenders are enraptured.

A couple people mentioned that I had become jacked since “Martin Denton, Martin Denton.” I was a little worried about this since I read the play and knew I needed to be the tough guy so I hit the gym a bunch and did push ups on my off days. Truth be told everyone working at the Eagle is more ripped than me by a mile but there are all so nice to me. I guess I did pretty well with the show because a couple of the bartenders would buy my drinks after the show. One person said I broke her heart a little because she didn’t like seeing me be the bad guy. It was great fun playing a bad guy. I haven’t really played one since 2003. Not sure what that says. Aimee came to the show 4 times. She said it was a little hard for her to see me be mean at the end of the play.

Most nights after the show I was able to quickly get to the Hudson River Greenway to bike from Chelsea up to Harlem along the river. Some night the wind pushed hard against me. Extensions of the hurricanes, I’m sure. Made me think how there is a connection between all of us and sometimes you have to push your way through forces going against you. Sometimes you have to to do it for others who can’t.

Very few people or bikes were on that path at that hour. The gentle splashing of the river. The implausible beauty of New Jersey in silhouette. The boats docked around 79th. The whooshing of the cars on the West Side Highway. A moon hanging over Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. A peaceful end to a great night each night.

 

Broadway Radio interview

I was interviewed by the cool kids at Broadway Radio. Jessica Molaskey and I have both been recently hit by vehicles. Her accident was severe. Mine was not. We both work with our spouses. One of our spouses is nice to look at, hilarious, and talented. The other is John Pizzarelli. It was a real honor to be selected out of the blue for this. I start around minute 32. I’m glad Ms. Molaskey is getting back on stage. She is a great performer.

I forgot to mention that Aimee and I saw John Pizzarelli’s dad Bucky Pizzarelli at Jazz at Kitano for our first wedding anniversary back in October. He put on a great show with Ed Laub. Bucky talked to us a bit after the concert. He is amazing. 90 years old and still going after a stroke. I can only hope to be that solid when I’m his age. His playing was so great! Here’s a picture of us together…

first anniversary with Bucky pizzarelli

 

July 22 MDMD update

Last night’s show: 34 patrons. A solidly boisterous show, with plenty of VIPS in the audience. Tonight’s show: 8 pre-sales, according to the midnight Vendini sales report.

I can tell when there are a lot of actors in the audience. Because they all sit in the back of the house. Part of it is to get some perspective on the show and to see how the rest of the audience is reacting. In one way, it is making sure they are not made to work. In another, they are working. Seeing where things are functioning properly, where things are off by micro-seconds, and taking in what could be used later on.

I get it. I’m an actor. 7 out of 10 times, I’ll sit in the back. Also, there was a point when I would sit on the front row because I like seeing things close up. But because I would watch with an open face, I would invariably get called up to be involved in the audience participation bit. Usually those are set up to use non-performers because they are more likely to do things without questioning what is happening and the performer essentially walks them through what they are doing. Their gags or bits often depend on the person not being used to being on stage and therefore not knowing how to react to things.

Whenever I was the one called up, I would ruin their bits by not being a novice. Not on purpose. I’d try to not see where it was going before we got there but I’d always mess it up for them. I did a summer festival in Canada years ago and planned to cram in 10 shows in one day. This meant starting at 10 and going until 2am. I went wearing shorts because it was the summer and I wanted to be comfortable for this long haul. Mid-afternoon, I was called up by the solo show performer, who was a former producer for “Kids in the Hall.” He took me for a yokel because I was wearing shorts.

The bit was made around having the audience member learn how to be more successful in stressful situations at work. I ruined it by being able to respond with an answer that sounded scripted to every question he had. I was just playing along but I could tell I messed him up.

At the end he asked what I did and I replied, “Currently, I’m performing a show at this festival in this very theater.”

“OK. Thanks. (beat) I can’t believe you wore shorts here.”

I thought, “Dude, we’re doing shows in the converted balcony of an old movie theater where the ground level is a kids’ fun palace called Squiggles and Giggles.”

So I get not wanting to sit up front but having a back-heavy audience (in terms of where they sat, not the part of their bodies on which they sat) kind of made the energy of the audience list in a weird way and required a bit of an adjustment. This was the first night where the smaller stage right/house left section wasn’t loaded. Tip of the hat to the mighty James Comtois for holding that area down. I’m not sure preciously when we shifted the audience but it was pretty early on. Somewhere before we first talk about the ditto machine the Dentons used at their ceramics store, which as I think about it, is an important element in the evolution and growth of indie theater. Using that ditto machine precipitated their publishing plays or even making the website.

Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer for Iron Maiden, says part of job of the performer is to shrink the audience no matter what size. Now, they’ve played a show for up to 250,000 people in Brazil so our job is not that difficult. But you want to have the feeling you are talking to the people quite intimately at times. By the way, Iron Maiden is playing in Brooklyn tonight but I will be at my show. It’s all about the sacrifices, people.

One of the things I like about playing the Kraine is how it is not that hard to feel like the audience is very close and that 30 people can feel like a big crowd. People call it a black box because it is painted black but it really is a small proscenium stage and the angle of the audience seating means you can talk to a good chunk of the audience by looking straight out. Audiences form a single personality quickly there. Last night’s audience was well-behaved and playful. I could tell early on they were house broken and I wanted to take them home but we really don’t have a big enough apartment to start adopting audiences. And I can’t imagine having to get up in the middle of the night in winter to walk the audience.

I guess we’ve reached a point in the run where people have heard what happens during the show. In the mid-point, we put in a water break for me. I’ve really needed it the last 2 nights. Wow has the air been dry. My larynx starts getting grouchy. “What are you doing to me, Harcum?” During the break, we gently interact with the audience. I mean as gently as you can get. I ask if anyone in the audience has ever been reviewed by nytheatre.com.Then I ask what the show was, where it was done, and what year. Then I asked who reviewed it. Somewhere in the middle of the run, people started saying, “Martin did.” So I’d reply, “Oh, you mean I did.” “Yes, you did.” And that always got a small laugh.

Last night, people responded, “You did.” Well, there goes that bit. But I’d prefer to play for a sophisticated audience because I’ve grown into what I’d like to consider a non-classist performance snob. My shows are easier when playing for people who have the ability and actually enjoy inferring the meaning of things that are implied. Have of my humor comes from that. Letting people piece things together. When they can’t or won’t, I feel like I’ve failed.

This part of the show isn’t totally a smoke break for me. I’m playing Martin Denton after all and Martin would know all of the shows mentioned, where they were done, and give some interesting tidbits about them. The trick is that I moved to NYC in 2002 and didn’t really get into the scene until a couple years later. So most of the examples that are brought up are outside my experience and I’m scrambling to come up with something without looking like that is what is happening. I’m also just trying to chug water but not too quickly or the big monologue that follows is just a battle to not belch. Those who will be coming to the last 2 shows now are armed with some insider knowledge and can watch out for all of that.

What I like about this section of the show is that it shows how many people have been touched by the work Martin did. It was considerable.

This work-study vacation called a show will come to a close tomorrow. I will only run the show 4 more times and then it will go away. 2 for me and 2 for the audience. Last night I ran lines to myself before the show in Lenwich in the West Village. Frederick Weller, or a very serious Frederick Weller-type, was working on lines on a note cards. He also had a wooden clock, probably 10” x 14”, that looked like it belonged on a dresser or a desk on the table in front of him. Whatever works for you, Mr. Weller or Weller-type. I started wearing a watch so I knew what time it is while riding a bike, without having to dig out my phone. But a full clock? I guess that’s why he’s more successful than me.

Then, like most shows, it will just become a memory. I started getting hungry for a transfer early on due to some of the reactions but the show would have to be morphed for a more general audience. Less love letter and more lampoon maybe. The nail in the coffin was the NYT review. It is a total honor to get reviewed by them. It means you mean something of some note because they cover a small wedge of the indie pie. But we got maybe one pull quote and the rest is unusable. It isn’t bad and I’m not complaining. Just assessing. In fact, many co-workers told me how great the show sounded from the review. But it didn’t drive people to the show or give the show legs and that’s just how the cookie crumbles. It was much nicer than my first NYT review from them 6 years ago and they are far from some very mean reviews I’ve read over the years. (Feel free to have a schadenfreude read about me now, if you are so inclined. But it’s a nice day and you probably have better things to do.) You can’t make shows based on how you think certain reviewers would review it. Then again, I’m not Scott Rudin so what do I know.

Steve Martin once said, “You never forget the bad reviews.” I try to learn from them to get better or to compartmentalize them so I can carry on. Like with actors who have been mean to or jealous of me I think, “We’ll see who is still doing this in 10 years.” No review is worse than a cast mate making fun of you or insulting you in a mean way behind your back to other cast mates. If you don’t accidentally overhear it, it often gets back to you because actors often verbalize things. Occupational hazard.

Part of why I started doing solo shows is getting away from that. The problem is that I just start complaining about myself.

Early on, I started feeling lots of pressure in different ways. People know Martin so how will I play him to their satisfaction. Martin will want the story told in an accurate way. People will want certain things touched on or ignored. Someone who was more part of this history could do a better job. Someone who is just better as a performer or playwright could do a better job.

Finally, I had to focus on doing this the best I could for myself. I’m still fighting for this last 5 to 10% in my own estimation.

</end overshare>

July 21 MDMD update

Last night’s show: 27 patrons. Tonight’s show: 7 pre-sales, according to the midnight Vendini report.

“Life is precious, so what will you do with your time?” This is a line I wrote and say each night as Martin. It’s always been funny/interesting to me how life takes on the themes or ideas of a show I am working on. As I was piecing this one together, the idea of what it is about crystallized after the first draft—“you’re here and then you’re not.”

When interviewed for this, I was consistently asked why I wanted to do this. It’s because that idea of “you’re here and then you’re not” is one that needs to be said. We need to be reminded of this and how we shouldn’t take people or things for granted. Not a fun answer that would drive people to the show so I said other things. Part of doing this was as penance for taking the work of the Dentons for granted.

Whenever I’d argue with my grandmother, she’d say, “You’ll miss me when I’m gone.” That never diffused the situation and usually made it worse. But she was right. I miss her.

I’m not engineered to put things out of my head. I’m not able to put on happiness when something is wrong. I don’t ignore things until they go away or something better happens. Doing that doesn’t make me stronger. I dig at it until it no longer has power over me. Doing this helps me put things in their place and heal more quickly. It’s not the most fun thing to be around. But when I’m done processing it, I no longer feel like it is driving me. It is less likely to cloud unrelated interactions I have. I’m not saying this is a better way to live. It’s the way I get through life. If I write a memoir it will be titled, “If I Was More Fun and Better Looking, We’d All Enjoy This More.”

A month ago, a first cousin once removed was diagnosed with lymphoma. A tumor grew around her esophagus and arteries. When the doctors informed with my cousin and her husband that their daughter was brain dead from lack of oxygen, her heart stopped. She was 8. I did not really know her. My dad said she was very bright, curious, and joyful. Full of wonder for things like butterflies that you’d take for granted. I don’t yet know what to do with this. It is senseless.

On Tuesday at 6pm, I left my Clark Kent job for the day, got on a Citibike outside the building, and was hit by a car in the intersection of 41st and 8th. I had the light and I was biking across to get to the bike lane that’s on the left side of those partitions in the middle of 8th Ave. He came out of nowhere. It was like the end of the last episode of “The Sopranos.” I just had this weird, “why am I on the ground” feeling. I think my time in stage combat or stunt classes kicked in. I had shot my left arm up and landed on my side.

My elbow was scraped as I posted yesterday. My left ankle is a little tight, but I’m not in pain. I was rattled but I was wearing my helmet. It was hot and noisy. A bunch people yelled, “Are you ok, buddy?” I did not think I needed medical attention. My glasses on my face did not break. I did not get his license or info. He asked me why I was biking across and all I could say was, “I thought I had the light.”

The bike and the car took the brunt of it. I phoned Citibike and made them aware of the situation. I have not received an incident report from them. I don’t know what kind of car that was but the front part of it seemed to be mostly plastic. There was an intricate spider web crack all over it. My guess is that he floored it to make it through the light because I did not see him coming. I did not hear his brakes. I got on the subway and went home. I pondered what sort of karma payment I had just made or if that was the down payment for something bigger.

The way I see it, my main purpose in life is to make Aimee happy. Staying healthy and alive are big parts of that. I was expecting her to be made at me. She wasn’t. That could have been my number. It wasn’t.

I took my helmet the next morning and was 50/50 about biking vs. taking the train to the office. I got to the station and had just missed one. I thought I would take the train since it was hot and then bike home. But I knew I’d obsess all day about this and feel scared. So instead, I got a bike and pedaled into work. Since most of my ride is in Central Park, it was a nice and peaceful ride. That allowed my terror to go away. I biked home at the end of the day. I went right through where I was hit the previous evening. I thought, “I made it through the worst part. The rest of the ride is just a ride.” And it was.

Last night, we got the news that Sidiki Fofana passed away. I posted about how we had just seen him a couple weeks before he was suddenly put on life support. How could someone so full of life suddenly be on the ropes? He was the best of what the world has to offer. He truly was. I will write more about him but it really hurts too much to say more than this right now.

Maybe I’m crazy but I sometimes talk to the city like it is a being with great powers. Like it’s a modern Greek god. Usually I do this near or in Central Park, which I think of as the heart of the city. I’ll say, “Ok, New York, stop pushing me around and give me something here.”

You can’t freeze time or hold on to things. Life is essentially unfair and you have to deal with it on those terms and make the best of it.

I’m a little on edge today. Gotta get my head in the game for tonight. Fridays have been the nights that require more work from us. Tonight’s show is for Sidiki. And my relative, and people pushed out of both the city and the theater by things out of their control. Otherwise, I couldn’t do it.

Some MDMD reviews and a podcast

It must be weird for the reviewers to review this show. I’m very glad they did.

Kristen Morale’s review for Broadway World

Jose Solis’s review for Talkin’ Broadway

Michael Sommers’s review for the Village Voice

In high school in High Point, NC, I would drive myself on Sundays to the news and smoke store downtown, where the owner was always puffing a cigar, to get copies of the Village Voice and the Sunday Times. For less than $5, I’d get to read about quirky, exciting, and interesting things a world away. I’d think to myself, “this is what the people on MTV experience off screen.” Not the famous people but the dancers in the video for David Bowie’s “Fashion” or the background people in Blondie’s “Rapture.” Getting such a sweet and truly kind review from the Voice is absolutely priceless to me.

I also got to talk with Robby Gonyo and the Go See a Show Podcast. That was a nice night across from the Kraine Theater with Robby, Aimee, and Lauren Arneson.