Both Sides of the Desk

It has been educational running the auditions for Rabbit Island. I will always identify as an actor first. Even if I was stricken with ALS and couldn’t talk or move, I’d still see myself as an actor. Most of my closest friends are actors. I’ve had some of my most important and profoundly human experiences working or just being around actors. But being exposed to more of them, I can see why people aren’t so crazy about them. And why people had weird reactions to me when I’ve admitted to being an actor.

Usually, I either work as a solo performer or with people I know from previous projects. Aimee and I thought it would be prudent to post a notice for this play in a few places thinking we might hear from a hundred or so interested people. You can read the actual character breakdown in my last post. In a nutshell, we were looking for 5 actors to do a 60-minute play for 5 performances in the Frigid Festival. There would be about 70 hours of rehearsal and we are paying a $200 stipend for the rehearsals and run.

First, we sent emails to actors we know and think are good for this project. That was to maybe a dozen or so people. We only heard back from half. Why would you not even respond to a polite and complimentary email offering you a job, even if you aren’t interested or are too busy? Maybe the emails went to spam folders or they are dealing with something time consuming and difficult or maybe we aren’t on as good of terms with those actors as I thought. At every turn, I tried to think the better of why someone would flake or do something weird.

No matter, we pressed on. Aimee posted the breakdown on Actors First New York and Actors Access. From the former, we received 30 or so requests. From the latter, we had over 1600 submissions. Over 650 were for the female role who is in her late 20s to mid-30s. 400 plus were for the female who is mid-20s to early 30s. The two male roles only had 300 or so combined. The rest were for the any age/any type role. Even though some actresses submitted for 2 or even 3 roles, we still had over 1600.

How did we weed them down? Aimee took the first pass. She is the director so her say is weighted more than mine. After writing the play and trimming it down, my job is mostly to throw in my two cents now and then but to know when I’m getting too close to stepping over the line. I went through and pulled a few people but most of them were her picks. She looked at their work online. Photos, websites, reviews, videos, etc. People who did not present well online were not considered.

There were a couple submissions by people I know who are good but not right for this. It was good to see their faces pop up. Hopefully something else in the future will come together.

There were many, many people who were submitting just to submit. I will write about this now openly and honestly without too much fear of reprisal as my blog page views were barely above triple digits since the breakdown was posted. This says to me the actors were mostly reflex submitting and not doing any due diligence on the play or the people working on it. In all fairness, it is only a small downtown project. On the other hand, actors should be smarter and know what they are getting themselves involved in. Just put my name or Aimee’s name into a search engine and you’ll find all sorts of stuff about our work. Then ask yourself if you want to work with us. There are a lot of people out there who do good work but what they do isn’t a good fit for me.

It was not hard to skip over the crazy or those not serious about their craft out of the 1600. If a guy is pointing a gun into the lens of the camera for his profile pic, we will not call him or her in for an audition. If someone is using a picture in a bar, we will not call him or her in either. Mostly we had professional looking pictures and most actors had good to pretty great credits. These roles actually require actors with good training and serious comedic acting skills.

Most also did not have their email or cell numbers on their AA profile. This made it hard to reach to them. For a couple, it meant not being called in because it was too much trouble. If you have a website, have some way of reaching you on it. There isn’t much point of having a website if someone can’t reach you to offer you an audition from it.

A lot of people are putting notes with their submissions. Most were “I’m this kind of actor who has done this and this and this so I’d be great to play Karen.” This was well and good but usually didn’t put people over. I can read your training and credits and know what you can do. Much worse were the notes that read “Think of a blend of this actress and that actress.” I can’t begin to give two blended shits. Forge your own style and personality. Something about either of those gave me an uneasy feeling like this person would be kind of difficult. This kind of project will require the actors to roll up their sleeves and work. Those notes made me think they wouldn’t want to put in too much because there isn’t a guaranteed easy path to fame with this project. Everyone will be treated fairly and professionally and probably better than on most indie projects based on my personal experience but Wonka wrappers will not be handed out. Lots of respect and challenging work that should resonate with the audiences though.

The notes that did make me look closer at certain people were more geared towards the project. “This role sounds too much like me” or “this is intriguing” or “not sure what this is but it struck a chord with me.” Those notes tipped me that these are thoughtful people who might work more for the good of the project rather than making themselves look good. I write to give actors something to sink their teeth into as much as tell a good story. I think messages sent along these lines tipped me that this might be an actor who is responsive to good material and will do something with it by digging into it. These would not be people waiting for things to be told to them or grind the rehearsals to a stop so they can get over their fear enough to get into it.

If you date someone and then can’t bring yourself to speak to that person after a break-up, don’t submit yourself for a project they are working on. That is a crap-tastic way to try to make amends. Do that in real life first. I hope the economy improves soon so things like this don’t have to happen too often.

Getting the Karens down to the 6 we called in wasn’t easy. Other characters were easier. We had 25 to 30 we were going to see, which is more than plenty. Several did not show up on the day of the auditions due to illness, other conflicting jobs, or a rehearsal that was running long. It was also a really pretty day so it would be easy not to go to the audition. One person in the room admitted as much to me, saying she was thinking of not coming in but thought the sides were too good to pass up. I appreciated the candor slightly, mostly I was shocked she would say this. One guy couldn’t make it because of train malfunction and a rehearsal. He tried really hard it seemed from his emails and really was interested. We would keep him in mind for the future. The others were a little shady. To suddenly have a job in the winter on a Sunday morning in early October…shady. But I tried to think the best and dismissed it. I probably won’t call that actor for anything else though.

The people we called in were very prepared, though the people we didn’t know personally were slightly more prepared overall. The greater majority of the people we saw are people with whom we would want to work. Really at this point it’s about getting the right mix of people because it’s an ensemble piece. It was really tough but I decided not to play the role I wrote for myself. That’s how serious we are about this.

Don’t Try This at Home

The other night I was on the roster of performers for Until Midnight. I was kindly requested to appear by Bricken Sparacino and Samantha Jones in this night of music, comedy, variety, burlesque, and theatre at the Zipper Factory Theater. Because of my publication submission deadline for Plays and Playwrights, I decided to do one of my untried pieces in which I emulate Karl Rove speaking to a room of conservative scholars.

That was all well and good but I was tied to my desk until 9:35 pm. And I could feel the allergy/illness/bodyache/fever/sore throat that’s going around overtake me. I arrived at the theater 10 minutes before I had to hit the stage and was told by Bricken I would be following the woman blowing up balloons. Then Mistress B walked by me. As you can see she cuts an unforgettable figure. That red thing at her nipple area is what was used to inflate the phallic balloons to techno music that said, “I’m making a penis” over and over again to a pulsing industrial beat. By the sound of things offstage where in futility I was running my lines, she seemed to have the crowd right where she wanted them.

To top it off, I found out there was someone on stage with a bell to ring when you hit 5 minutes. This was to keep the pieces brisk and not go over time. I had no idea how long my monologue would be. I figured it couldn’t have been over 5 minutes.

Being next to last, I could feel the audience fatigue coming off in waves. So I went out there and, true to form, got none of the reactions I expected. It would be a lot easier if audiences just did what I expected them to do.

I had recently read an article about comedy in Rolling Stone magazine. A few different people talked about how comedy is changing. People are looking for things other than punchlines. I think this piece went that way. Maybe it’s the reception of things that’s changing and I’m stuck in another place. Couch potatoes being replaced by laptop faces. I gave the last bit straight to Martin Denton. Sorry Martin. I felt I was slipping off the mountain and grabbed onto you to keep from falling to my death. Also, I thought Rochelle would, deservedly so, yell back at me if I did it to her.

Or I might be a little neurotic. I don’t feel I get to know how to play a piece until I’ve done it 10 or 12 times in front of an audience. In a “just shows to go ya” several people told how much I frightened them, including the bartender who grew up not far from Liberty University, where the monologue was set. I thought it was funny. Maybe my sense of humor is weird.

Until Midnight also has a post performance fun component. That night we went to the bar Stitch. As a performer, I got to have my hand stamped for $2 off drink specials. Everyone else looked like they were part of a LES Mardi Gras with balloon vulvas on their heads. I looked like a banker. Bad time to look like a banker. Someone had to vouch I was a performer.

Btw, Maryanne Ventrice did a bang up job on the photos of the event. Also, I talked to Mistress B later out of costume. What a sweet lady.

Triple 8s

Friday was the official kick-off of 2 Olympics. The one the world is watching is in Beijing. The one the indie theater world partakes is mostly below 14th St the next couple of weeks. The good, the bad, the famewhore-ish. Some of it is made with good intentions. Others for reasons that can only lead to a psychiatrist’s couch. While I’ve read a couple of pieces about whether content or transmission is truly king, I believe it’s what’s used in both.

FringeNYC with its 201 shows can bring a strong man to his knees. It’s everything it takes to put up a normal show times 20 with less time, resources, and manpower.

One guy who seemed to have it in proper perspective is from teatro oscuro, from the Bronx (represent Bx!). They’re putting on La Vigilia. What he said during his time at the Fringe kick-off was right from the heart and had lots of wisdom. He said success from these festivals can be hit or miss. It’s the creative kick you get from putting up the show and meeting all the people from the other companies that makes an ambrosia that brings you back again.

That’s the kind of people whose work should be valued. That’s the person who will take time to remember you as well. Time+persistence+good citizenship+bringing yourself back to the work = audience+a body of work. It isn’t so much whether you make or break it with THIS show. It’s what happens over the course of 5 years, maybe longer.

The guy presiding over the Fringe Kick Off at FringeCentral was the one and only, Mr. Martin Denton. He runs many Indie Theater ventures with the awe-inspiring Rochelle Denton. I didn’t really understand the term advocacy until I met them. They engender Indie Theater advocacy with each action they take.

I first saw Martin in 2003 when I did my first solo show at FringeNYC called Gotham Standards. He was doing the Fringe Kick Off at a church near Washington Square. I was still kind of new to town and didn’t understand how things worked, what nytheatre was, or who this guy was yelling enthusiastically about what great things you’d see at the Fringe.

That year the place was running over with people dying to be the next show to leap from the Fringe to Broadway or beyond. People walked by me with a turned-up nose when I offered my postcards. Tangent: I know they’re a necessary evil but I don’t like postcards. They aren’t very green and people trash them fast. I’m going to avoid using them and come up with other ways of marketing. Also, there’s nothing worse than to put your soul into something only to have someone brush off your postcard like you’re shilling cell phone discounts.

But back to Martin. I don’t know if the genuine thread and spark of NYC theatre festivals would go as they have without Rochelle and him putting the word out and covering so many things. I really don’t. We have a better world because of them.

Also, 8/8/08 is supposedly lucky, especially to the Chinese. It was Martin’s birthday that day and he made it a point to be down there firing up the pilot light so we can all have some heat. I was there at the Kick Off but stayed out of the way. I like to disappear when I’m just a spectator. Then I had to run to work. I didn’t realize it was the man’s birthday.

If you see him hopping from one show to another, wish him a Happy Birthday. Maybe give him a nice baked good to keep him going as he writes reviews for a dozen or so shows and copy edits and posts reviews for the other 188.