Zoomlander’s four final shows start on Monday at 8:30pm Eastern. Register here: https://tinyurl.com/zoomlander. It’s the culmination of a year’s worth of sketch and improvisation content creation.
Pedro & Chris
One nice thing that came out of the pandemic for me was getting to work with people in other parts of the country and around the world on the web. In November, Pedro Abrantes and I started doing long-form duo improv show via StreamYard to YouTube. I met Pedro, who is based in Toronto, in improv classes last year that were taught by Lisa Merchant and Ian Keeling. The show is called Pedro & Chris. We perform a new show each Monday.
We do about 25 or so minutes of improv and then chat for another 10 minutes. We’ve done several shows so far. Each one is a little different. We might play the same characters the whole time or switch characters. Sometimes it’s funny. Other times, it is not. Like life. Our plan is to invite guests in the spring after we have a number of shows under our belt.
Max Clark asked me to do his short film “Box Cutter.” It’s on 16mm and shot in black and white. It also has no dialogue. (All my 90s indie film dreams come true!) Max and I met to develop the piece out near the Brooklyn Army Terminal. The story went through several iterations before it became what you see here. The ending changed in the editing room. To me, it is a dark poem to working people living in late capitalism.
We shot this at a storage facility near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Max is the one with the glasses looking at the viewfinder in the picture below. I spent most of the day kneeling and sitting on my feet. I also gashed the top of my head walking out of the storage unit as my eyes had not quite adjusted to the light. It’s not art if you don’t suffer at least a little. This was another very efficient shoot. We got through everything in one day because a big storm with gale-force winds was forecast for the next day. After the flooding back in July this year, we did not want to take any chances.
Back in March, I was asked by the writer and director Yohana Desta to play a role in her touching and funny short film “Last Rites.” She rented a very nice brownstone up by Strivers’ Row for the shoot. There was a Covid officer during the shoot. I spent most of my time in bed while wearing a pajama top and shorts to stay cool. The crew was very kind, full of humor, and efficient. Ronald Emile was also generous and supportive as a scene partner. What you always hope to experience.
It was a little surreal to die over and over again during this time. It was also strange to stop takes of our shoot because the TV series “FBI” was shooting an action sequence in the street below the windows behind me. They say dying is easy but comedy is hard. I guess this was somewhere in between.
Back on the Bandwagon
Thinking about going back out again as the city reopens, I’ve been reminiscing about how the last movie I saw in a theater before the pandemic was a screening of “Bandwagon” at the Roxy Cinema in Tribeca. It’s a great screening room. They show 35mm prints and the seating is comfy without being a stadium. It feels human in scale and they don’t show a bunch of commercials before the movie. Their snack bar is excellent too. I wanted to see this movie because during my post-college North Carolina days, I auditioned to play the bass player character. I didn’t get it and didn’t hear about the movie for a long time. (It screened at Sundance but I don’t know what happened after that.)
It was written and directed by John Schultz who was a drummer for the Connells. It was based loosely on his experiences and it starred Kevin Corrigan as the guitar player. He’s one of those “Hey, it’s that guy!” actors that makes anything better. I truly enjoyed the heart and humor of this movie. I loved that it was shot in and around Raleigh. It’s a time capsule of a culture and an era that sticks to my bones.
During the post-screening talk, most of the cast came up to share stories. All of the actors were there, except the actor who played the bass player. He passed away in 2014.
It sounded like it was a good experience for all of them shooting a movie in NC during a mild fall with nice foliage. (I remember that fall. It was pleasant.) I wanted to say I auditioned for it but didn’t want to be that guy. It was a nice night of reminiscences for them.
As we headed to the subway, Aimee said, “I could see you playing any of the parts, except the bass player.”
The morning after Stanley Tucci’s Negroni
Aimee and I had a bit of quarantine fun making this parody of Stanley Tucci’s Negroni video.
My shirt isn’t tight enough to do Mr. Tucci justice but you have to make due with what you have nowadays. This was the second take. Aimee told me to focus on dominating throughout the whole thing. The coffee kind of stole the scene in the middle of it and let me know who the real star was.
The coffee used in this is actually Cafe Bustelo, which is a fine coffee. Our usual quarantine coffee has been the Brooklyn Java from the Fairway at 132nd and 12th. In other (more normal?) times, we get coffee from Porto Rico Importing Co. I hope they have been doing alright. One of my regular spots in midtown, Empire Coffee, closed for good after 112 years. We’ve been drinking two rounds of our French press each day. So we’ve been saving a lot of money on our coffee habit.
So far, I’ve done two play readings, an 80-minute improvised solo show, and an improv class over Zoom or Google Hangouts. It’s a good way to develop material and, so far, easier to draw a crowd then some in-person events. You can’t beat the commute or the comfort for the viewers.
Zelda & Scott
I’m going to be one of the actors who takes turns at random to play one or both of the characters in this great play. Aimee has been hard at work on this so we can have a lot of fun. Please come see it, if you can.
Bethie Fowler’s “Zelda & Scott”
The Bridge Theater, 244 West 54th Street, 11th floor, NYC
Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. 2 to 3:30 p.m.
Directed by: Aimee Todoroff
Tickets are free but donations are gladly accepted.
The Jazz Age literary celebrities Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald come to life in a fast-paced and unexpected portrait as they meet, marry, and travel the world together. In this exploration, a diverse group of six actors will be prepared to embody either Zelda or F. Scott at various times, opposite a scene partner also chosen at random. This lively experiment will examine power, control and what we think we know about the original celebrity couple.
Life With Avner
Spent two weeks in June at the Celebration Barn in South Paris, Maine studying performance and clown techniques with Avner Eisenberg, known around the world as Avner the Eccentric. That’s him in the middle of the picture! He’s known for playing the title role in the action comedy romance The Jewel of the Nile and for his wordless, solo comedy show Exceptions to Gravity.
Avner is a truly gifted performer and an incredibly giving teacher. We had sessions during the morning, afternoon and evening Tuesday through Friday, with a session on Saturday morning, that incorporated his Eccentric Principles. Performers who read them will get them intellectually. But they are very often difficult to keep going.
We spent hours working on simply entering the space and creating and maintaining rapport with the audience through eye contact and an inhalation of breath. This is what he calls having rapport with the audience. So easy when you see it done correctly. Very difficult to do with consistency.
It’s the difference of when a real musician sits down to play an instrument. You know the moment they start that they know what they are doing and you relax around them. You are probably not aware that is what’s happening.
The kind of performance he was teaching was perhaps the most pure I’ve experienced. There was nothing to hide behind. No script or character. Frequently no words or even mime. Just being present with the people in the audience.
He gave me some bits of wisdom I hope to continue to put to use. When people were having a tough time, he would tell us that it didn’t matter what we were doing there. What was important was how we would use it in the years to come.
–Don’t step out of your comfort zone. That’s a bad idea. Make your comfort zone bigger. The sweet spot is your being saying, “I’m comfortable with you watching me.”
–Honest is what we look for, not funny. Many times the audience and the performer have the same thought in their head, which is, “I hope this doesn’t suck.” Humans crave rapport. The performer’s job is to create and maintain rapport.
–Every time you breathe, you move the rapport ten yards down the road. When you stop breathing, the audience doesn’t know what is happening.
–Clever is a way of telling your partner (or the audience) that you’re smarter than they are.
–Laughter in an interruption, not a goal. People laugh for completion.
–How do we know your body knows you have completed your task or solved your problem? When you let out an exhalation. Be sensitive to when you’re not breathing.
–Every movement tells a story.
–You do the work on stage. The audience feels it in their hearts and minds.
–Be interested, not interesting. Honestly try to solve a problem. In life we seize up when we face a problem and try to make it go away. The clown encounters a problem and thinks, “Interesting. I know what I’ll do.” “Interesting” is the platform on which the clown lives.
–It’s very simple to be complicated. It’s complicated to be simple. The clown does extraordinary things in simple way and simple things in extraordinary ways.
–The question before going on stage is “Am I going to like them?” And the answer, of course, is, “Yes!”
–There’s no failure, only feedback.
We were also treated to a performance of “Exceptions to Gravity” at the end of our first week. He is still amazing. He still falls to the ground, balances a ladder on his chin, does slight of hand tricks, and a number of gags that still feel fresh. It is rare for me to have “that’s what I want to be when I grow up” thoughts but I had them a number of times in his workshop and during his show.
Working on this production has been an absolute delight. It’s a comedy from 1961 that looks at what happens when misunderstandings go unaddressed in marriages and close relationships. The characters and dialogue are cracklin’ good and whip smart.
The costume designer Ben Philipp works on the TV show “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” so we got to get some great period costumes from their incredible stock at Steiner Studios by the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The role I’m playing is a fun challenge. It’s like an 80/20 mix of Noel Coward and Harold Pinter. It’s funny but does take some twists. The people I know who are familiar with the play say it is one of their favorites.
I play a book publisher caught between his ex-wife and his fiancée. Sort of an early Jack Lemmon kind of role. I get to say things like, “Well, let’s say it’s not prose. Actually, it’s not even punctuated. I get the feeling you waited until you were out of breath and then threw in a semicolon.”
The cast is really great. Shay Gines did a top-notch job of casting this. is perfect for the roles they are playing and are tearing it up. When you can throw something out and someone gives it back to you on stage, that’s the closest thing to nirvana I know.
I do want to come clean about how when I first read this, I didn’t think it said anything about the topsy-turvy world in which we now live. But the more we dig into it, I can see how it’s about people navigating a lot of unexpected changes in a society on the brink of big transformations. Shay said that there were only 4.4 divorces out of every 1,000 people at that time. So to see the title character be so strong and self-reliant must have been an eye opener. In many ways, the script is ahead of its time.
Retro Productions’s Jean Kerr’s comedy “Mary, Mary” running May 3 to 18 at the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street, between Lafayette and Bowery. Nearest subways: 6 to Bleecker, N/R to 8th Street, or B/D/F to Broadway Lafayette.
Directed by Shay Gines. Featuring Heather Cunningham, Desmond Dutcher, Chris Harcum, Meghan Jones, and Rob Neill. It runs about two hours with an intermissions. Tickets, which are already selling briskly, are $22 and $25. Buy tickets here.
Disinformation (a short film)
Got to see a cut of the short film “Disinformation” this weekend. It was written and directed by Timothy Judd. I play an intelligence agent who gets in hot water for revealing classified information. Marissa Carpio, pictured below, is the agent who comes to set me straight in it.
We shot this on a chilly Friday in November in an underpass in the northern part of Riverside Park. It was threatening to rain that day so this helped keep the equipment dry.
We only spent a few hours at the location but my face got a chill. My suit in the picture is great for warmer weather. Marissa had the good sense to wear thermals under her outfit.
I haven’t done a chilly shoot like this since 2012. I forgot how the cold can go through your shoes. On this other shoot, it started before sunrise and went way after sunset. I was having trouble making plosive sounds that day because my lips gave up as icicles formed on my mouth.
Marissa and I had a good time cracking each other up between takes at rehearsal and while waiting between takes. I won’t give away the ending because this might go to film festivals. But it doesn’t work out so well for one of us.