Movin’ on (up?)

There’s always something to closing a show. Whether it’s wrapping a film, closing night, or the end of the tour, there’s a combination of feelings that leave you a little drained the next morning, regardless of the experience you had doing the work, or the beverages you imbibed at the party the night before.

For me, I usually find that for the first week or so, I miss the routine and the people that make live performing so unique. I miss my role. I find myself mumbling lines from the play to myself in the checkout line at the supermarket, or to my family members. Your fellow actors, the crew, the theatre’s staff are all an everyday part of your life in a way that approaches family. You’ve made friends onstage and off. You’ve lived with another person (your character) for every minute of every day of rehearsal, through performance. Whether you admit to it or not, you miss them.

After that, regardless of whether or not I have a gig to look forward to, I wonder if that might have just been my last play/film.  Rational or not, I always have the sinking feeling that my career might just be at an end with my last project. It’s a difficult business in which to persist. Those of you with ‘secure’ jobs, just try interviewing for a new job every couple weeks (or, often, more frequently), pile up a stack of rejections in hope that one interview will hit and you’ll be able to work for a couple months. Rinse and repeat. It transforms how you consider your future.

Then, there’s the fire and determination to get back in the saddle/on the boards/in front of the camera again. Ask nearly any working actor, and they’ll tell you to get out of the business unless it’s the ONLY thing you can do. An unquenchable thirst needs to exist to do the work of storytelling in theatre in order to make the sacrifices worth the time, the stress, the heartache, and the effort of making a life in the performing arts.

Here’s to the next project!

Jeeves? Fetch my Blog, will you?

Taproot Jeeves in Bloom BannerHappy New Year! Yes, yes, I know it’s been too long since I last posted, and for that, I’m truly sorry. For those of you seeking news about my theatrical exploits, wait no longer: here’s the dish:

I’m in a fully sold-out comedy on the boards of Taproot Theatre in the beautiful Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. I defy you to purchase tickets. Can’t be done. They’re all sold. Unless you want a standing room ticket (those with arthritic knees/hips need not apply.)

Adapted from the famous “Jeeves and Wooster” stories of British humorist P.G. Wodehouse, Margaret Raether’s “Jeeves in Bloom” follows the hapless Bertie Wooster and his ‘gentleman’s gentleman’ Jeeves (portrayed by, well, me) and their misadventures in the gardens of an English country manor.

Some reviews, for your perusal:

The Seattle Times: ‘Jeeves in Bloom’ a valentine to Wodehouse fans.

Seattle PI: Jeeves Definitely Blooms

Examiner.com: Taproot Lightens up Winter Gloom

Edgeseattle.com: Jeeves in Bloom

To have a show sell out is a real privilege, and I have truly enjoyed bringing our version of Sir Wodehouse and Mrs. Raether’s ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ to the Seattle community.

There are projects on the horizon. Stay tuned (or, maybe check back in a couple weeks) for more!

A Facebook find about Theatre

Arthur Penn, Director

Arthur Penn, Director

Finally, something actually worth reading. Facebook actually came through. Thanks, Mark Cabus, for posting this. Shared without further comment:

“I do not want to know another thing about what a nice guy or gal someone on the stage is: This is entirely irrelevant to me. Some sort of desperation has crept into our theatre–all of our arts, really, but we’re discussing theatre–where we feel a defensive wall is erected around the meretriciousness of our work by highlighting how hard someone has worked; how many hours they’ve put in at the soup kitchen; how many hours they spent researching the aphasic mind in order to replicate the actions of one; how many ribbons sweep across their breast in support of causes; how much they love their lives and how lucky they feel to be on Broadway!

There is very little art, but there is a great deal of boosterism. Fill the seats; buy a T-shirt; post something on the Internet; send out an e-mail blast.I’m in my eighties, and I think I should have left this earth never knowing what an e-mail blast was.

I saw a play recently that was festooned with understudies: Not the actual understudies, but the hired, primary actors, all of whom performed (if that is the word) precisely like a competent, frightened understudy who got a call at dinner and who raced down to take over a role. No depth; no sense of preparation. These were actors who had learned their lines and who had showed up. And that is all.

I spoke to the director afterwards. By all accounts a nice and talented and smart guy. I asked him why a particular part in this play–a Group Theatre classic–had been given to this certain actor. He’s a great guy, was the response. Prince of a fellow. Well, perhaps, but send him home to be a prince to his wife and children; he is a shattering mediocrity. But nice and easy counts far too much these days. Another director told me–proudly–that he had just completed his third play in which there wasn’t one difficult player; not one distraction; not one argument. Can I add that these were among the most boring plays of our time? They were like finely buffed episodes of Philco Playhouse: tidy, neat, pre-digested, and forgotten almost immediately, save for the rage I felt at another missed opportunity.

All great work comes to us through various forms of friction. I like this friction; I thrive on it. I keep hearing that Kim Stanley was difficult. Yes, she was: in the best sense of the word. She questioned everything; nailed everything down; got answers; motivated everyone to work at her demonically high standard. Everyone improved, as did the project on which she was working, whether it was a scene in class, a TV project, a film, or a play. Is that difficult? Bring more of them on.

Is Dustin Hoffman difficult? You bet. He wants it right; he wants everything right, and that means you and that means me. I find it exhilarating, but in our current culture, they would prefer someone who arrived on time, shared pictures of the family, hugged everyone and reminded them of how blessed he is to be in a play, and who does whatever the director asks of him.

Is Warren Beatty difficult? Only if you’re mediocre or lazy. If you work hard and well, he’s got your back, your front, and your future well in hand. He gets things right–for everybody.

No friction. No interest. No play. No film. It’s very depressing.

I don’t want to know about your process. I want to see the results of it. I’ll gladly help an actor replicate and preserve and share whatever results from all the work that has been done on a part, but I don’t want to hear about it. I’ve worked with actors who read a play a couple of times and fully understood their characters and gave hundreds of brilliant performances. I don’t know how they reached that high level of acting, and I don’t care. My job is to provide a safe environment, to hold you to the high standards that have been set by the playwright, the other actors, and by me. I hold it all together, but I don’t need to know that your second-act scene is so true because you drew upon the death of your beloved aunt or the time your father burned your favorite doll.

Now the process is public, and actors want acclimation for the work they’ve put into the work that doesn’t work. Is this insane? Read the newspapers, and there is an actor talking about his intentions with a part. I’ve pulled strands of O’Neill into this character, and I’m looking at certain paintings and photographs to gain a certain texture. And then you go to the theatre and see the performance of a frightened understudy. But a great gal or guy. Sweet. Loves the theatre.

Every year or so, I tell myself I’m going to stop going to see plays. It’s just too depressing. But I remember how much I love what theatre can be and what theatre was, and I go back, an old addict, an old whore who wants to get the spark going again.

I don’t think we can get the spark going again because the people working in the theatre today never saw the spark, so they can’t get it going or keep it going if it walked right up to them and asked for a seat.

It’s a job, a career step, a rehabilitation for a failed TV star or aging film star. I got a call from one of these actresses, seeking coaching. I need my cred back, she said.

This is not what the theatre is supposed to be, but it is what the theatre now is.

I don’t want to just shit on the theatre: It’s bad everywhere, because it’s all business, real-estate space with actors. It’s no longer something vital. I used to think that the theatre was like a good newspaper: It provided a service; people wanted and needed it; revenue was provided by advertisers who bought space if the paper delivered, but profit was not the motive–the motive was the dissemination of truth and news and humor. Who goes to the theatre at all now? I think those in the theatre go because it’s an occupational requirement: They want to keep an eye on what the other guys are going, and they want to rubberneck backstage with those who might use them in the future. But who are the audiences? They want relief not enlightenment. They want ease. This is fatal.

I talk to Sidney Lumet. I talk to Mike Nichols. I ask them if I’m the crazy old man who hates everything. You might be, they say, but you’re not wrong. They have the same feelings, but they work them out or work around them in different ways.

The primary challenges of the theatre should not always be getting people to give a shit about it. The primary challenge should be to produce plays that reach out to people and change their lives. Theatre is not an event, like a hayride or a junior prom–it’s an artistic, emotional experience in which people who have privately worked out their stories share them with a group of people who are, without their knowledge, their friends, their peers, their equals, their partners on a remarkable ride.” ~~ director ARTHUR PENN

An unlikely lesson from “Music and Lyrics”

Music and Lyrics- 2007

Music and Lyrics- 2007

As artists, we sometimes find ourselves taking projects just to keep working. The performing arts can oftentimes be a ‘what have you done for me lately’ industry, where your most recent effort on  stage or screen becomes the entirety of how you’re viewed. To keep yourself in the eye of people who could/should be hiring you in the future, and to prevent the formation of artistic ‘rust’, you continue to work.
I know, as an actor that work itself is hard enough to come by, and completing roughly 3 full productions a year, plus or minus film work and voice-over gigs, is a pretty good pace. However, I’m not always doing the work I have a desire to do; the work that inspires and compels me to do it.

Which brings me to “Music and Lyrics,” the 2007 romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. I really was taken with this film, because I love music, lyrics, romantic comedies, Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. It’s a story about honesty, artistic excellence, and integrity. Oh yeah, and two really neat characters fall in love. Formulaic? Yes, however there’s some great stuff in the formula, and it’s executed so well that I find myself drawn nearer to the characters, themes, and plot, rather than distanced from them.

In it, Hugh Grant’s character, an aging 1980’s pop star coming to terms with his nostalgic fame and lowered expectations says, referring to his accomplishments in light of his greatest musical influences (Smoky Robinson, Bob Dylan): “They write DINNER. I write dessert.”

Dinner. A satisfying meal that sustains one through the night. Simple or complex, it is artistic food he’s getting at. While I’ve grown through each project, developed as a performer and refined my craft with each opportunity to work and perform, I find myself really yearning for those fulfilling roles. The ones that stick to the audiences’ ribs. The roles people take home with them. I’ve had a taste of this in the last year and a half. I’ve had the great fortune to bring Dietrich Bonhoeffer and C.S. Lewis to the stage. I’ve also left my mark as Aguecheek in ‘Twelfth Night’ and formed part of a tremendous ensemble in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. I stand behind all my work, but I find myself hungry again.

As another year draws to a close, I find myself making lists (it’s a compulsion of mine) and thinking about the year to come. A colleague recently asked me what roles I WANT. Not what roles I could be interested in, but what I desire to do; roles with words that compel me to speak them. What roles do I want?

I want dinner.

Antony and Cleopatra

Yes, we’re coming to the part where I only really post about projects as they’re about to go into performance. I can find two reasons for this:

1) I’m busy working.

and 2) I’m busy enough that projects are coming one-after-another.

Of course, that should keep me blogging and posting: what with all the new experiences I’m having, new insights gained, old ideas rejected, etc.

But it doesn’t, which brings me to the topic of this post.  I’m currently rehearsing “Antony and Cleopatra” with Seattle Shakespeare Company. In it, Antony, living in the lap of Egyptian luxury declares “These strong Egyptian fetters I must break, or lose myself in dotage.”

Dotage: idleness, laziness, thoughtfulness. A static condition. Work gets in the way of this condition and propels one past idleness, through action, toward something else, whatever it may be. My focus when in rehearsal or on a shoot is on the work, the project, the process.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to make the time to post about the work, the process, the projects that I’ve been involved in recently to give my uncountable online readership some digital love.

“Freud’s Last Session” is dead! Long Live “Twelfth Night!”

It was a fantastic ride. From rehearsal, through performance, and the extended run I can positively say it was a pleasure to work with the cast and crew of this show, and an additional pleasure to return to Taproot Theatre.

For those who didn’t catch it, you can read some local reviews in my previous post about the extension, and for those who did, I’m glad you could come see our work. I’m very proud of us all.

Thankfully, I won’t have to go too long without posting about another show, as I’m already beginning my preparation to play Sir Andrew Aguecheek in this summer’s Wooden O production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”.

Intrigued? Click the hypertext link above to see Wooden O’s homepage, find out about the company, and view our performance schedule. See you in the park!

“Freud’s Last Session” Extends it’s Run!

Hello out there! It’s Opening Weekend for Major League Baseball (Let’s Go, Mariners!), it’s Good Friday on the Liturgical Calendar (Let’s Go, Church!). Hope of all kinds springs eternal, and I have news!

I’m very pleased to report that due to high ticket demand, “Freud’s Last Session” at Taproot Theatre will be extending it’s run of performances through April 28!

Freud's Last Session Exteded

If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a great play, and has had a terrific reception by Seattle audiences. I’m playing CS Lewis and it has been an absolute pleasure to bring this story and this character to life on the stage.

Here are a few reviews:

“Opening Nights: Freud’s Last Session” – Seattle Weekly

“Freud’s Last Session” – Arts Stage – Seattle Rage

“A Psychoanalysis of Theology” – Heed The Hedonist

“Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis Walk Into a Bar” – Unlikely Places

For tickets and information about the show, you can visit the Taproot Theatre website by clicking the ‘poster’ above!

I’ll see you after the show.

“Freud’s Last Session” at Taproot Theatre

“Air raid sirens sound overhead, CS Lewis is a young and rising academic star and Sigmund Freud has invited him for tea.  What could possibly come next?”

You should come see this one. It’s an exciting two-hander and I’m playing CS Lewis opposite Nolan Palmer as Sigmund Freud.  This play has been running off-Broadway for the better part of two years, consistently extending its performances, and has captured the hearts of New York theatre goers.

This production is the play’s regional premiere, and I’m thrilled to be part of local audiences’ first experience of this play. It’s my hope that it will inspire, confront, and provoke you as the characters wrestle with some of the greatest questions of their lives. This is my second production with Taproot Theatre Company, and I’m thrilled to be returning to their unique theatrical space.

If all of the above didn’t convince you, let me add this: it’s short. 1 Act, with a running time just north of an hour.

Here’s the info:

What: Freud’s Last Session

Where: Taproot Theatre Company, Seattle, WA

When: (Previews: March 21, 22) Performances: March 23 through April 21

Web Page: http://taproottheatre.org/freuds-last-session/

I hope you can make it to this show. Tickets are ALREADY selling quickly. You should purchase tickets in advance to avoid standing room only ‘seating’. Discount tickets are available and details are on the Taproot Theatre web page.

See you after the show!