Life on a Great Street

Spent a bit of time recently digging through files and found a lot of black and white photos from my days studying acting at UNC-Greensboro. Most of the pictures are black and white. I believe that is what was used to print in weekday editions of the Greensboro News & Record. Color was reserved for weekend papers.  I was there for a little over three years after transferring from the North Carolina School of the Arts. I’d also had experience working as a high school intern at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival and at the Monomoy Theatre in Cape Cod.  So I was eager to get time on stage and playing roles after spending so much time being near it. Looking back, UNC-G gave me a lot of that.  A true bounty of gifts on Tate Street…

At 20, I thought I was too grown up to the play the 14-year-old character Charlie in A.R. Gurney’s play. We mimed props most of the play but I did get to use actual mud at one point. This was one of many collaborations I had with the director Mary Rowland who helped me find my way in many roles that were outside my experience, including Julian in Lillian Hellman’s “Toys in the Attic.” Also, my grandfather who served during World War II let me pick his brain about what life was like at that time. He shared things I’d never heard from him.
Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was a bucket list role in my young life. I pierced my ear to have a dangling skull earring for this role. One that probably didn’t read to the audience. I loved running and jumping all around that stage. One of my best exits ever was leaping upstage center towards the distance. They cued the lights to go completely out when I hit my peak height so I appeared to vanish in the air. In actuality, I landed on a big safety mat and crawled off stage under the set. One night, the 10-year-old who played the Changeling Boy was goofing off on the mat at that moment. I hurt myself in three different places to avoid landing on him.
I got to play Father Toulon in “Red Noses” by Peter Barnes. It’s like Monty Python takes on the Black Plague. Did a reading of this play recently and realized that Alan Cook gave me the most interesting role in the play because Toulon confronts his own beliefs and changes. I didn’t have the life experience at the time to truly get that. Alan would say, “He’s almost a Maoist.” That was also lost on me, but I took that to mean to be more emphatic early in the play.
The UNC-G Drama Faculty. We recently lost Alan Cook, center right, and Marsha Paludan, bottom right. They were both big influences on me.
I was one of the three Protean characters in the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” This allowed me to use clown skills and focus on timing. This was the only show I did in the very big (1600 seats!) auditorium at the corner of Spring Garden and Tate Street. I didn’t fully appreciate the outrageous joy of this experience because I was so focused on making choices. The director was nervous because I didn’t find my characters until late in the process at this point. And I was playing a bunch of them. I think I needed to get a sense of what everyone else was doing and then figure out where and how to fill in certain spots throughout the show. I was helped in discovering my soldier character by having a helmet that would not sit straight up on my head so he was always off balance.
I’m second from the right in the back playing the role of the servant Scrub in George Farquhar’s 1707 comedy “The Beaux’ Strategem.” It was directed by Alan Cook. Years later, my graduate thesis role was Lt. Clark in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Our Country’s Good.” My character directed the prisoner characters in a production of “The Beaux’ Stratagem.” Alan directed me to go up the stairs built up from the orchestra pit loudly, “Like you’re scrubbing the floor with your feet when you enter.” My mom thought that was hammy and told me not to do that. I had to explain to her the concept honoring and following through with a note from the director.
The guest director for this production of “Geniuses” was its playwright. It was a take on the events of the filming of “Apocalypse Now.” A stressful and chaotic process. This was the first time I got really sick during the run of a show. My character had a couple lines in the first act that I delivered over a microphone from the lighting booth as though he was calling down from a helicopter. Then I didn’t enter until last 45 minutes of a three-hour play. This gave me a lot of time to warm up. Lots of stretches and Linklater exercises. This was one of the roles that required me to play high status and be big in size while working with my slight physical stature. It took me a lot to gin that up in those days. I broke one prop stick by hitting it too many times on the set’s couch during rehearsals. I looked like a keyboardist in a new wave band.
(Bonus color pic! I’m fourth from the right.) I was an actor who always had ideas. Some directors like that and other really don’t. The director of this version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” put me in charge of the show’s choreography to get me to zip it. (A great people managing technique.) I chose to do three cartwheels across the stage early in the show. One show, my wrist said, “no thanks” and I was an embarrassing mess going across. I had to turn around to lead with my other arm.

I got to do other parts in mainstage productions of “Medea,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.” I was also in student-lead black box productions of “Marat/Sade,”  “As Your Like It,” “A Doctor in Spite of Himself,” “Pyramus and Thisby,” “How Much Is Your Iron?,” “The Bald Soprano,” “Woyzeck,”  “Cowboy Mouth,” and Fred Chappell’s “Duet,” among others. 

I was on the Dean’s List my first semester but let my academics slide a bit as I got more involved with performing. I took 22 hours my final two semesters and summer classes to graduate on time. I received a nomination for the Irene Ryan competition for my role in “Toys in the Attic.” I went on to make the top 10 in the regional competition. 

I do owe a great deal of gratitude to all the directors and teachers with whom I worked at UNC-Greensboro: Betty Jean, John, Mary, Kay, Steve, Tom, Jim, Marsha, Alan, Jonathan, Imre, Mark, Bruce, Jean, Belinda, Ellen, the other Jonathan, Nicole, Wade, and Lori. You provided me with experiences that shaped me in many ways and prepared me for the life I grew into over the years. 

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

The cast includes: Kristin Cantwell, Ron Dizon, Chris Harcum, Helen Herbert, Cary Hite, Yeauxlanda Kay, and Mariko Iwasa.
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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.

RSVP here.

Life With Avner

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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.

“Mary, Mary”

mary maryWorking 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.

disinformation

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.

Six Characters in Search of an Award

I had an incredible time working on Mariah MacCarthy‘s “Honors Students” at the Wild Project in the East Village over the last couple of months. I had the good fortune to work on several roles for a script that was equal parts brutal and beautiful.

All the members of the team on this project were a dream. Mariah and the director Leta Tremblay refer to one another as art wives and it was nice to be adopted by them! The rest of the cast (Thanh Ta, Olivia Levine, and Arielle Goldman) brought it every night. The design and production teams made this a top-notch and cohesive indie theater production. Special shout out to our stage manager Michelle Navis and house manager Cassy Lynch who made the show a home away from home each night.

Can you please vote for “Honors Students” for The New York Innovative Theatre Foundation Awards? Everyone working on this deserves high scores! And, I hate to ask, but it would mean a lot to me if you voted for me as Best Featured Actor. In all my dog years in NYC, I have never been a finalist–let alone a winner of an IT Award–for my work as an actor, solo performer, or playwright. 

honors students characters

Moments from the six characters I played in “Honors Students.”

I got to play six very different kinds of roles: an absent father, an arrested development waiter, a woke(ish) professor, a Buddhist nurse, a tough scary guy (possibly mob related), and an older blind woman. Through much of it, I felt like I had one foot in clown and the other in Pinter. I very much appreciated how Leta and others let me explore choices that brought the roles to life physically. When I first got the script for the audition, I was inspired to write monologues for the two roles coming up with a backstory for both of them. The dialogue and the scenes I had always had me peeling layers to the end of the run. 

One kind soul texted me, “You have a range like a MFer!” And to paraphrase our mighty playwright Mariah MacCarthy, “If you have a show that calls for one guy to play a bunch of parts in your show, get Chris Harcum.” 

The deadline to vote for us for the IT Awards at http://nyitawards.com/vote/ballota.asp is this Sunday, Nov. 18. Thank you!!

Photo by Kent Meister

From a session last summer for Kent Meister‘s We Are Stories: Faces of New York Indie Theater. Kent calls this an outtake. I call it one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken. I really don’t enjoy having my picture taken. But he is an incredible photographer who truly makes you feel like you are doing something easy and special at the same time. I love seeing all the pictures from this series and am very honored to have been part of it.

You can check out more of Kent’s work at www.kentmeisterphotography.com.

We Are Stories project by Kent Meister

photo by Kent Meister

Standards July 2001

Came across this image for a solo show I made back in the summer of 2001 called “Standards.” This was my third solo piece. I created and rehearsed it in under six weeks. I was intending to do one kind of show but everything changed when I witnessed my grandmother die from cancer.

I asked my brother Ben to draw an image for it. I said I’d like a remote control fighting another remote control and there should be something American about it. I love the little details he made in it. See if you can spot Waldo and Spidey. I retitled this in 2003 to “Gotham Standards” and performed it in Canada and FringeNYC.

As weaponized divisiveness seems to be the regular room temperature setting for the country these days, this image seems even more relevant. Happy 4th of July, everyone!

standards.jpg

Shaking the Room

 

I’m having a great time rehearsing excerpts from Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night and Two Gentlemen of Verona for Boomerang Theater’s benefit on Monday night in the West Village. It’s called Shake the Room and goes up on Monday, July 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here. Audience members will call out the scenes from a list of titles like “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” or “Just Get a Room Already,” and can give the actors style prompts like western, film noir, superhero movie, etc.

Brian Gillespie is directing my cohort of scenes and I am performing with Francesca Calo, Andy Ingalls and Katherine McLeod. The evening is hosted by Brian Silliman. Below is a picture with about half of the actors involved.

Boomerang Shake the Room

Top Row, left to right: David Arthur Bachrach, Francesca Calo, Devon Caraway
Center Row: Dottie Davis, Philip Emeott, Jack Halpin, Chris Harcum
Bottom Row: Jerome Harmann-Hardeman, Andy Ingalls, Amanda Jones, Katherine McLeod

 

Shake the Room

Katharine McLeod and I brainstorming in a rehearsal for “Shake the Room.” Photo by Andy Ingalls.

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