Saturday, August 11, 2007

I am a series regular Chapter 39

I finished shooting the pilot . It went great. I was relaxed and my scenes went great. The show was picked up for another 5 episodes and we were ready to start shooting when Screen Actors Guild went on strike.

So now I had to wait. So here I was in a unigue position of having no agent and a TV series. I didn’t worry because the other 5 episodes were guaranteed so big money was coming. I had some clout around the theater people as getting cast in a TV series for CBS that was to be shot in New York was probably the most desirable situation an actor could be in.

While waiting for the strike to end I was cast in a show at Ensemble Studio Theater by a up and coming director. She was young but very smart and aggressive. She went on to become one of the top film casting directors in the business.

The play was called “Gray Spades” about hipsters from the late 40’s. I had done this play before which the director had seen at the Actor’s Studio. She picked it because she was a rich girl from Canada and wanted to do something very edgy to impress people with her versatility.

The play was written about the streets of Newark.New Jersey in the late forties after ww11. The main characters were junkies and before rehearsals started I had to translate the dialogue for the director. She was a hustler and when the play opened for it’s short run the audience was filled with agents and casting directors. After the run I got a call from a major theatrical agent and now I had an agent. Finally the actor’s strike was over and I could begin shooting my TV series.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Doing the pilot. Chapter 38

I started on the pilot in 2 weeks and I was ready. The money was more than I ever had at one time my whole life. This was to be my first acting job in front of a film camera.

We shot my scenes on the streets of New York and I felt like a real movie star as spectators would watch and you could see the respect and awe in their faces as I walked near them going to the set. One time an actor that I knew came in to do extra work. This particular guy would tell me that I was a fool for working for no money when I was doing off-off. When he saw that I was not only a principle but a regular, he asked to be excused, he said he was sick and had to go home. The guy could not accept that someone he thought was inferior to him rise to the top while he was doing extra work which is the dregs of show business. I never saw this actor again.

Getting this job changed my life , mostly to the better but their were some negative consequences. Up to this time all my actor friends were struggling actors working as waiters or cab drivers. We would comfort each other in our misery of the struggle.

Now I went from a struggling actor to the fast track of the business and as anyone knows a TV series can lead to fame and fortune in a short period of time. Friends that I had got drunk with, friends that I performed plays with me in the outer reaches of off-off, shunned me and treated me with suspicion as if I had betrayed them. They assumed that I would change so they beat me to it by not saying hello to me when we met unless I acknowledged them first.

I should have been more understanding but I wanted them to be happy for me so I retaliated by walking away from a lot of old friends who I felt were not true friends as they were jealous. But in looking back I am sorry for the way I reacted to their insecurity. I know how painful it can be to give everything you have to make it as an actor and to see someone who you think you are better than, all actors think they are the best, have some success while you languish in shit jobs, laying awake at night worried that you will end up in poverty with no children, alone and broke. I know because I have felt that way.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Going for the Gold Chapter 37

After I received my second callback for this pilot for a prime time tv series I had to have someone to handle any negotiations that may arise. I was friendly with a assistant casting director that was going out with a friend of mine. She told me that her boss wanted to manage some actors on the side. I guess it wasn’t a conflict of interest but I asked, “What about me?”.

The nx day she got back to me and said this big CD would handle any negotiations if necessary. So now I had a manager and no agent. A couple of days later my new manager called me and said I had another callback for the pilot. It was the same material and when I went in there were about 20 people in the room for my audition.

I auditioned and I thought I had a good response. When I went out of the room I recognized some of the up and coming actors in New York. I felt pretty good about myself having gone that far with such a big potential job. A couple of days later the cd’s assistant called me in a state of amazement, I was going to the network for another callback. This meant that the producers wanted me but the network had to approve of me. She seemed astonished that I was going to the network, it was a big deal to her, to me I already had a morale victory coming this far and to me this was just another audition.

The day came for the network audition. I had to go over to the network for the audition. When I got there, in the waiting room there were several other actors reading for different parts in the pilot and probably reading for my part as the producers had to send over more a few choices for each part.

When it was my turn to go in I was taken to a theater with more people in the audience than a lot of off-off that I have done. I read and got some good laughs. The nx day the assistant cd called me in pure amazement. “You got the part, you got the part”. She said it over and over again like she had seen a ghost.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Reading for TV pilot. Chapter 36

So I made up my mind to call this big casting director that was in the process of casting a pilot for a tv series. I knew he had seen me in the play so I called and the assistant on the other end ask who I was and when I gave my name, to my surprise, the big cd got on the phone.

I said to him you must know who I am as you saw the play that I was in. He said he didn't remember but to come in for a interview.

I went on the appointment the next day and he said there was one character in the pilot that they had not cast yet but I was not right for it but why not come in for a reading. He gave me just the sides to the character and made an appointment for me to read for a couple of the producers the nx week.

The show, as I could see from the sides ,was a comedic cop show and my character was a pickpocket who works for the police. I went over these sides constantly for the nx couple of days and when the day came I was relaxed and prepared.

When I went in the room there were about 10 people there including the 2 main producers plus this tv director from LA. I read got a few laughs and left.

I thought I did well and a couple of days later I got a call back. They asked me before the callback if there was some agent or manager that could handle any negotiations that may arise. I said I would have to think about it as I still did not have much relationships with agents or mangers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The play runs and then ends? Chapter 35

The play ran for six months. All during that time I did 195 performances straight without missing one performance. I went on wether I was sick or with a hangover.

After a couple of months into the run it became like a revolving door with actors coming and going as different members of the original cast left to do other acting jobs and their parts filled by graduates of the famous CONSERVATORIES. It was amazing. I knew plenty of actors that would sell their souls to work at this theater but parts were given to upper middle class graduates of these CONSERVATORIES wether they had great talent or not.

I felt very fortunate to be working there and as a matter of fact I thought I had made it in the acting business which turned out to be a huge mistake.

The play finally came to an end but I had not secured an agent. I didn't care that much as now I was back on Unemployment and living the bum's life again. I thought for sure that the other big time theaters in town would bring me in as I had done so well , at least I thought, at the big prestigious theater. It's not that I was rejected by the agents but that I made no attempt to seek them out.

Now I was not content to go back to off-off but waited and waited for the big call that was surely to come. After a few months of nothing I got off my ass and started to check out what was going on out there. I discovered that the producers of a pilot for TV that was going to be shot right here in New York, saw the play I did at the big theater. Well, if they saw the play they saw me and I was good so therefore I Will contact them directly without an agent which was forbidden.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Run Continues. Chapter 34

The play continued on it's run and when it was reviewed by the major newspapers in town , it received good reviews with some of the cast receiving great reviews, while the major reviewer said of me that I "evoked laughter". I guess that's good for me, the other cast members received much more descriptive notices.

The big producer moved the play to a bigger theater and we all received new and more lucrative equity contracts.

Around this time I made some serious mistakes concerning my overall career. I still had no agent but I didn't care. I was making money as an actor and as far as I was concerned I had MADE It. I was in a hit off-Broadway equity show so instead of trying to parlay this into bigger and better things I reacted like a sailor in a whore house.

This probably turned off a few people at the time but I didn't care or know what I was doing. I was , and I am not saying this in any boastful way, but I was stealing the show. I had 3 scenes, the first scene in the play where my character is introduced which got a lot of laughs. Then I came out in the beginning of the second act and audiences laughed at my entrance like they were glad to see me. Finally I came out at the very end and closed the show.

What pissed me off at the time was most of the cast would get auditions for films and Tv and I would get nothing. The industry still was not sure about me and I probably helped that perception at the time.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Reading for a big film Chapter 33

One day soon after the play opened I received a call from a big film casting director. She called my answering service and left a message to call her.. I did and after several tries I got her on the phone.

She asked why my agent didn't submit me for this film she was doing. I told her I didn't have an agent and she said why not are you nuts or something how come no agent has ever signed you. I said I don't make rounds and people come to me I don't go to them. Anyway, she made an appointment for me to meet the star of the film.

The film was about tough guys from the Bronx so I was to be street. Now street was who I was. I dressed up for the part as the real tough guys that I knew from the hood never looked dirty burt actually were sharp dressers.

When I went in there were other actors waiting and all were dressed in torn jeans and leather jackets, each looking like a poor imitation of Marlon Brando. When it was my turn to go in, I mentioned that to the big star that even tough guys went dressed up for a job interview and that those guys outside were not true to the character. The big star seemed to like that and sure enough i got a callback to meet the director.

The Cd told me to be more street for the meeting. Now I had not seen a script and had no idea who the character they were considering me for. So I went in with the opposite of what they were looking . I played the tired street, the guy coming home from a long days work and just wanted to lay down. What I mean is, I played naive.

The audition was in a fancy apartment in the heart of mid-town . When I went in I remarked "What a beautiful Place" like I had never seen a fancy place before and the director talked to me like I was there to fix the plumbing. The actual character was a gangster and I didn't get the part. I played down who I was, let me tell you I could kick all these tough guy actors asses. I am a vet. I survived the navy but here I made the wrong choice. If I could have seen a script and known maybe i would have got the part. I can be many things, I have many sides but I have to know what side to show.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Best of Times. Chapter 32

After this initial performance the rest of the run ran smoothly. The audiences were picking up on the play's light humor and I was getting real good feed back, mainly from the audience which now was in the palm of my hand.

Here I was, a working class guy from Queens doing an Off-Broadway show in the most prestigious theaters in New York. I noticed some resentment from some of the people who worked backstage or in the offices. After-all these people have been kissing ass for years to get the opportunity I was getting without having to pay thousands upon thousands to go to CONSERVATORIES of theater.

During this initial period of rehearsals and workshop I mainly kept my mouth shut and went along. I should have used this time to call agents and try to move my career up but I didn't. I felt I had made it already and why should I start kissing ass now. The show was pulling in full houses every night but we were not reviewed because the play was still considered a workshop production.

The big producer, seeing he had a hit on his hands, moved the play to a bigger theater, we received a raise in pay and now would be getting much wider exposure with all the big shot reviewers from NY Times etc. coming in to review the show.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

First Performance.{ continued} Chapter 31

After the incident with the security guard I went back to the dressing room as angry as I had been since my navy days. Here I am, making my off Broadway debut in a comedy and the security guard almost throws me out of the theater.

Now this play was very light and if the audience didn't see the comedy, they would hate it. Anyway when I got back to the dressing room I wanted to go back and beat the shit out of the guard for ruining my debut. Luckily another actor was there and talked me out of it.

I had 2 other scenes in the play but I can't remember how they went but looking back, it was my "exciting sense of authenticity" as one critic called a past production of mine. After the show the other actors in the play and the director were very sympathetic to me and said it was a compliment, which it was.

Going home, after a couple of drinks in the bar across the street from the theater, I doubted myself. Was the lack of response from the audience from the security guard situation or that I was now in front of a sophisticated New York audience which didn't accept me.

I decided I would go with what I had and if they didn't like it, screw'em.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

First Performance Chapter 30

Rehearsals went pretty smooth and I was given liberty to find the charactor on my own. The style was fast paced , so any pauses or slowdown of delivery had to be completely justified.

Now as I said , I was playing a homeless guy in this comedy and when we had rehearsals and run throughs anyone watching my scenes would laugh and this gave me a lot of confidence in what I was doing. I knew if I did well here in this cathedral of theater, it would open up many doors for me in acting and life would be rosy after that.

The first performance came in this workshop production but the audience was full of people. I had the first scene in the play. This was my big moment. Even though it was still a workshop production, that was good enough for me.

I entered thru the audience while the lead character was on stage hailing a cab. I was to walk thru the audience, walk up on stage and ask for a quarter.

Well. the play started and the lead was out yelling "Taxi Taxi". I walked in and just as I was about to step on the stage, an arm grabbed me that I didn't expect and I swung around angry. It was the security guard thinking I was a real homeless and tried to throw me out. I whispered loudly and angry that I was in the show. The guard not sure let me go but stood right there ready to jump on me if I was lying. This was witnessed by the whole audience and put a sense of danger in the scene. This would have been good in a drama having the audience's acute attention but this was a comedy. I said my first line and the security guard went away but no laughter from the audience at all for the whole scene. (continued)

Monday, June 25, 2007

First Rehearsal Chapter 29

The first day of rehearsal came and I was ready. With the pressure off my acting career, I was able to relax and get my self ready for this possible life changing event. I worked out every day and was back in boot camp navy shape.

The character I was playing was somewhat similar to Jerry from "Zoo Story" but not as deep. While Zoo Story had a lot of black humor, this play was a comedy and the guy I played although homeless and desperate did not have Jerry's depth. It was certainly a showy part.

The first day came and we rehearsed in a rehearsal space off the grounds. It was easy as we just got acquainted and and then went to lunch. On the way, the director said he wanted my character to really seem like he lived in the street. Now there are 2 kinds of homeless, the ones like Jerry, who on the surface seem normal and the others who almost show off the fact that they are homeless in the way they dress and I don't mean old cloths but a costume, like something out of Dickens.

Well, anyway when the director said that to me, just then this guy came by with a overcoat that was dragging on the ground, a walking stick that he did not seem to need and a British type military hat. That's what I'm going to become. A homeless guy making a statement.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Waiting to Begin. Chapter 28

So after I was approved by everyone , I had to wait 2 months for the play to go into rehearsal. A feeling of contentment came over me. Doing a play at this theater was what I was trying to do since I became an actor and that was to add some prestige to my career. This would do it.

The O 'Neil was great and it led to this job. But now I was to be put in front of the most sophisticated audience in New York. I would be reviewed by the NY Times, I would be on stage with not only good but connected actors. There were other plays being done at this facility with actors who were established not only on stage but film and TV.

For the first time since I went on this path I relaxed. I didn't pick up a copy of backstage. In fact I was offered to do a part in Pittsburgh, an equity show and I had to turn it down. When I told the CD what I was going to do , he said everybody wants to work their and I should take what is guaranteed now. he was right, there was no guarantee, someone could change their mind.

But I was going for the big bet. It was funny, when I told other actors I knew what was happening, they didn't seem too exited because after-all a lot of actors say they got this going or that, so until it actually happened it wasn't real.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Read for Big Producer. Chapter 27

The day came for the reading and the whole cast met at the theater. We were brought into the huge office of the BP.

My character opened the play. The character was a homeleess person who runs into a guy he went to school with and who was now very successful.

The reading went very well in the office and the director after the reading said it looked good but we wouldn't know his decision for a couple of days.

4 days later I received a call from the director saying that the BP wanted to try the play out as a workshop and that it was ok for me to do the part. He said I would receive a call from the casting director. Now I have been trying for a couple of years to get an audition or even an interview with this CD but to no avail.

When she called in a very cold voice and asked who my agent was. I said I didn't have one at the moment. The CD said I was being offered the part and do I accept. Of coarse I said yes and I do believe that she hoped I would say no. Rehearsals would begin in 1 month.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Always be Ready. Chapter 26

Back from the glory of the O'Neil to the front seat of a taxi cab. A movie that came out at that time was "Taxi Driver" starring Robert Deniro. The movie was haunting especially because I was back in the cab again. I saw the movie several times and would imitate DeNiro while driving. His performance in "Taxi Driver" was a insperation to me.

One day I received a call from a director that I had met up at the O'Neil. I did not work with him but he worked with one of the actors that I had worked with up there . He said that he was doing a reading for a major theater producer and he wanted me to fill in a part for a rehearsal. He said the actor doing the part could not make the rehearsal and would I mind just to read that part for the rehearsal.

Now as I still had no agent and wanted to do anything that got me close to the money , I said I would do it. The day of the rehearsal came and there were 10 people in the cast. All were on the fast track of acting. Signed with the best agents, graduates of Yale and Harvard and then there was me.

The part I was reading was very funny and when I read it with the lead actor, a yuppie to his genes, I got a lot of laughs. When the rehearsal was over, the writer of the play, who I just met, came over to me and asked how I liked the play. I told him, and it was the truth, that I really liked it. The director asked if I was available for the reading on the date for the big producer.

Well, I didn't have to look in my appointment book when I said yes. The other actor was not mentioned again and I was set to do the reading.

So this was some kind of sneaky audition in that if they didn't want me, there would be no hard feelings. What served me well was my growing experience working with new plays and my cold reading abilities. I do not mention names because I don't know the legalities but this was huge for me to be in the company of these high powered actors before the king of theater in New York.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

In review Chapter 25

So what have we learned so far? One of the most important tool that is needed to be a good actor is concentration. You have to be in the moment always. What do I mean by this? All the research that is done , all the rehearsal that you have done all must be thrown out the window when you are entering a scene.

For example: if the scene calls for you to have a big argument with your mate when you come home from work, well first of all the character has not read the play so therefore, the only action you would have when you come home is to maybe just relax and have a drink after a hard day at work, but your mate interrupts you with something that makes you angry.

Now you don't walk in angry, you don't know what they will say, so your first action is to do whatever you do after a hard day. This is playing moment to moment. Concentration is needed to block out any distractions like a close up of you with the camera in your face.

The second is listening, let the other actors help your performance. The better they are , the better you are. There are too many actors that are afraid of working with really strong actors because they think people will not notice them . If you are listening and playing your character's Motivations then a good actor can only help you get there and the audience will be wrapped up in the scene and the story and that is why you are there in the first place.

I thought I was learning the craft of acting pretty good. The part that I neglected was the social and networking. I thought that just being a good actor was enough. I didn't think a good actor as myself would have to kiss ass. I was wrong.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

After the O'Neil. Chapter 24

When I got back from Conn. I still had no agent but I was being offered really good roles Off-off. The most interesting role and play for me was "The Gentle People" by Irwin Shaw.

Now the character I played was written to be evil. Why I say this is because ,from my research, the writer wanted the audience to hate this character. It was written in the 30's and the character I played, Goff, was a metaphor for Hitler who was in power in Europe when the play was originally done.

I had played bad guys before but none with the intelligence and the audacity of this Goff. One of the things he does was to extort money from the father of a girl he was dating. To get into that mind I had to rationalize his actions. Goff felt if he did not dominate , he would be dominated. So his evil came out of fear. Again I kicked ass.

At the end of the play, these fishermen ,who I had been terrorizing , plan to kill me because ther was no other choice as the police were paid off by me. They took me out on their boat to take me to the other side of the river and when the time was right they hit me over the head and throw me out of the boat to drown.

When I was thrown over the audience would clap and cheer. If I could be so believable in comedy and drama, the big time in acting should be just around the corner.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rolling in the Aisles! Chapter23

The first play that I was assigned was a black comedy. I played a whacky working class guy who pushed his family around. The rest of the cast were name and semi named actors who worked up at the O'Neil for fun and to make more contacts. They were known within the industry and certainly didn't the few hundred dollars a week pay.

While most of the cast and crew were friendly ,some looked at me suspiciously, as if I stole someone's identity and shouldn't be there. But their suspicion turned to awe when after a very intense rehearsal period I stole the audience as I have done many times in obscure off off theaters.

After the 3 day run of this play I expected some kind of offer from someone. I received several flirtatious looks from many of the females at the center and a couple of male ones but no professional offer.

It was strange to me who grew up wanting to be a baseball player and would fantasize hitting balls over the fence during a professional teams tryout and being signed to play center field for the New York Yankees.

I hit the ball over the fence,metaphorically speaking, in this first play but no reaction from big shots at the O'Neil. In fact after one performance of the play when I had kicked ass and had the audience rolling in the aisles, The artistic director came backstage afterwards and congratulated every one in the cast except me. He actually walked past me without a glance and shook another actor's hand.

The other 2 plays I did went equally well and now I took full advantage of the fringe benefits.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Intense Rehearsals! Chapter 22

Up at the O'Neil they housed us in the dormitory at Conn. University. Here I was with some prominent playwrights that have had their works produced Off-Broadway plus some that ,like me, this was their big break. The grounds were beautiful with volley ball courts and plenty of land to hang out.

At the O' Neil ,as I said before. 16 new plays were done over a 4 week period. Each play had a very extensive rehearsal for 3 days then 3 performances with book in hand. This was a great idea on their part. It took away the obligation of memorizing the lines and also created the illusion of a work, if given a full production, would be much better.

In fact for a lot of these plays, the best rendition they received was at the O'Neil because even though it was only 3 days of rehearsal, it was very intense. You were required to carry the book even if you knew your lines so the audience, full of producers and agents, could use their imagination.

Now to get their as an actor in just 3 days meant that you had to make choices, usually your first instinct, and follow an objective. I was working with some really good actors but I was not intimidated at all because I had gone thru the mill the last few years and was confident that I would be equal to the task. I had really good parts over the 4 weeks that but socially I was like a kid in a candy store with no one around. What I mean is, in stead of networking and basically kissing ass, I succumbed to every temptation that came my way. There were many interns there that had not yet graduated from the conservatories and would flirt and offer themselves. Here my instincts of a sailor overcame my better sense. But still this lead to an even better job.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

First day on big acting job! Chapter 21

So I was hired to go up to Conn. for the Eugene Memorial Playwrights Conference . When I told the actors that hung out in Jimmy Ray's my good news they didn't believe me . You could tell from their reaction ,either no interest or a subtle jealous reaction. That was understandable as actors would bullshit about what they had going for them. Their skepticism didn't bother me as I was riding on cloud 9 and they would soon know the truth.

I was to stay at a dorm with the other actors. The pay was better than I would make in a month driving a cab. My first day I was to meet in Manhattan to take a chartered bus to Conn. This was my first real experience with class distinction in America. These were people who came from very upper middle class. Besides the name actors , there were what was considered up and coming actors on the New York scene. They went to fancy Acting CONSERVATORIES that charged 10's of thousands of dollars to attend. I must say my experience with this layer of humanity was very limited. I knew other actors that went to college for theater or film but mainly they came from the working class and were looking to better themselves. In the navy there were this type but they were officers and we didn't hang with them.

So I met where the bus was and this woman saw my pass and she thought I was part of the crew and asked me to help with the luggage. I helped because I didn't know that I was above that until one of the assistants discovered that I was one of the actors and pulled me off that duty. I finally got on the bus with all these rich people dressed in expensive and trendy casual clothes while I was wearing a semi- polyester shirt and levi jeans that were not worn out. I tried to keep a low profile on the bus but I felt I stood out as an alien.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Big Break! Chapter 20

I was sort of worn out after all the work that I did, producing and acting at the same time. It must have shown in my work some how as I struck out in every audition I had for almost a year after the show closed. I was going thru one of the worst times I had since I ventured into acting. My girlfriend and I ended our relationship and now I was alone again. My career was going nowhere and the future was not looking good. I was 33 years old and back driving the cab,

One Thursday when Backstage came out listing auditions for the next week, there was an open call for the Eugene Memorial Playwrights Conference In Conn. I usually didn't bother with these open calls because the only reason they had them was because Equity required that they have an open call every few years.

This was a very prestigious conference as they would do stage readings of 16 new plays and were covered by all the producers and agents from NY and La. Name actors would jump at the chance to work there. But I figured why not go and maybe have some fun as auditions were a good place to meet women.

When I went to sign up there were already about 500 actors before me and the chance of even getting in to see them were slim. While waiting I saw a actress that I had done some readings with who was rehearsing something for PBS. She was very well known in the Business and had even won an Obie for an Off-Broadway play.

When I told her I was waiting for an interview for the Conference she said she had worked there many times and would recommend me for a audition. Well I went home without an interview that day and forgot about it. A couple of days later I received a call from the casting Director to come in for a audition.

I went in on the day of the audition and was seeing the material for the first time as they wouldn't give out any material before hand. It was a nice part and when I read, the director laughed so hard I thought he was having a heart attack. It went great, The nx day I received another call to read another play with another director, again it went great, 4 more times like this and the CD called me and asked if I had an agent. I said my agent died which was a lie and he said I was cast in all 4 plays that I read for and would be going to Conn. for 4 weeks with an equity contract. My actor friends at the bar were astounded as this was a choice job and I would be with name actors.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Improvisation Chapter 19

We wrote the dialogue for the play with improvisation and a tape recorder. The best way to do this is to know your objective in the scene. We set up the structure of the scene, what we wanted in the scene to accomplish and what each individual character wants in the scene even if the character was not conscious of it.

By doing it over and over and editing as we went along we were able to write some really dynamic dialogue. As we both had opposite objectives it created the conflict that made it a pretty good piece of theater to the few that came for the run of the show.

Because we had no money for publicity and we were only able to charge $2.50, which were equity rules and I was a member now, I didn't get back the money I laid out. But it was a very creative experience and would benefit me some day.

By the way, the director took full credit for the writing which at the time I didn't oppose because he was a tremendous help in getting the show up. But he was able to sell the script a few years later and he eventually received 6 figures for the script and my girl friend and I received nothing for it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Producing a Play! Chapter 18

So where am I? Yes so we had a theater, my girlfriend and I but no play. My friend ,who was going to direct us and whose other original play I had done, said he had an idea of another play he was looking to was based on his relationship with his ex- girlfriend.

The idea for the play was about a working class guy going with a Harvard graduate. Well, my relationship with my present girlfriend and actress, that was doing the play with me ,was similar to his. Now remember, we were scheduled to open in 4 weeks. So the 3 of us sat around for a couple of days and plotted it out. When I say a couple of days , I don't mean average working days , I mean about 36 of the 48 were working on the structure of the play.

It was just 2 characters so that was an advantage at this point. Then we would improve each one of the scenes over and over with a tape recorder until it not only made sense but was dramatic and humorous. After 10 days of doing this, we had what we thought was a fairly good play as long as the acting held up. But if you thought that was the hard part , you would be wrong.

Now we had to get some kind of a set together. We were able to get a little help but every day after rehearsal we would hammer and saw building the set. My partner worked on getting the flyers together and the publicity. My director from Zoo Story came in to stage manage. I had never worked so hard in my life. That includes my time in the Navy when I would goof off every chance I had but now I was in command so to speak and success and failure depended on me.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Bum's Life! Chapter 17

Now I had Shakespeare under my belt, on unemployment insurance, so now I can experience the life of unemployed actor in New York. I didn't have to drive a cab anymore although that job gave me an insight that I didn't have before I drove. People mostly don't look at a cab driver as a human being but as part of the cab, especially in Manhattan. Their true nature comes out when they ride a cab because they will never see you again and even if they do, you are nothing more than a cab driver to them and cannot do anything for them.

The unemployment was just enough to pay bills like the rent, phone and electric. That’s all I had to pay and the rent was very cheap here in Astoria, Queens with rent control. For food I would make the rounds with my girlfriend in Manhattan to all the happy hours and fill up on the free food they would put out.

Well again no casting people saw my "Bottom" but it did enhance my belief that if I could just get a shot, I would go all the way. If I could light up an audience even with Shakespeare, then I was as good as any of these million dollar actors.

I was living in Queens with an actress that went to college for theater and was a great help in-pushing my career forward. In fact, we planned to produce a play off-off Broadway. At first we picked a couple of established one acts but after I had laid down borrowed money on the rental of a small off-off theater, the rights to the plays were pulled from us because the writer had a film coming out , so what to do? Write our own and put it up in 4 weeks?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Role of Bottom Chapter 16

I was cast in the role of Bottom in Shakespeare's "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream". Now the role of Bottom was a weaver , which was a working class guy back then. So when Bottom was speaking as himself I made no attempts to cover my New York accent as it seemed to fit the character and as the other actors used their own American accents so why not me.

I studied the play constantly, to know the meaning of everything I was saying and had a good mental image of what I was talking about. There is a great scene in the play when Bottom is acting for the Duke. Now since I as the character was acting I decided to act like I thought I was the best actor in the world and played the play within a play as if I was Richard Burton. Back then , Richard Burton was one of England's most popular actors. He spoke in a deep and what I thought was a pompous voice.

So I study Burton in some of his roles and I must say, I was able to imitate his voice quite well. So when I came out to do the play within a play, uptil this time the audience was accustomed to my Ny accent , my character did Richard Burton, to quote one of the critics, " a wave of hysteria swept thru the audience".

Monday, June 4, 2007

Getting paid to Act! Chapter 15

While I was doing Zoo story, there was this woman that came in to work the lights. Well to show you how stuff happens in this business , she became a casting assistant for a equity theater in New Jersey . They were going to do a production of "Fortune In men's Eyes" and she recommended me for one of the major parts.

I went to the audition and kicked ass. There were other actors auditioning for the same part who had a much better resume then I had but the part was right up my alley , like a medium fast ball over the plate that I hit out of the park .To think that I didn't have to drive a cab for awhile made me deliriously happy and maybe a unemployment claim after the show gave me a peace of mind, knowing that I didn't have to worry about paying rent for awhile.

The show was a big hit. Critics said of me, " an actor of bursting energy and an exciting sense of authenticity". Going into "Jimmy Ray's", the actor's bar that I had been hanging out in, I felt a new confidence among these more experienced actors , who by the way none showed up for "Zoo Story ". But now I was not considered a cab driver that wanted to be an actor. To the pro actors, I had arrived.

Again, because the show was way out in New Jersey, no casting people showed up. But I was offered another role at this theater, Bottom in a" Mid-Summer Nights Dream" . Now I was to do Shakespeare, a new kind of experience. Would what I had learned so far and the method I was developing for myself in acting work with Shakespeare?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Zoo Story {The Aftermath} Chapter14

I used 2 different techniques in getting to Jerry. I used the Strasberg method, affected memory and the Meisner technique of using imagination. They work very well together. Now I felt like an actor for real. I had done a part that stretched my acting muscles to the extreme, with a director that demanded that he see Jerry and not me, and I had done more than well.

Doing Zoo Story had no immediate affect on my career as no agents or casting directors showed up as far as I know. Some off-off actors and writers did come and I started to get calls from writers that wanted to do readings and backer's auditions for their plays to raise money to produce them. This satisfied my hunger momentarily but I was anxious to get back on stage to get that full experience that I received from Zoo Story.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Zoo Story (continued) chapter 13

When it was time to open, I told everyone in the world about it. By this time I was totally consumed by this play and was ready to put it all on the line. I sent flyers to every agent in town and called the ones that said " L:et me know if your in something".

Opening night came and we had a full house, about 50 seats, with a few standing. The lights went up on Peter already on stage reading his book in the park. I entered thru the back of the audience. I stood there at the top of the theater just staring at Peter. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some people turn and look at me standing there. They must have wondered was I part of the show or was I some nut that wondered in from the street.

When I finally walked on stage, I could feel the tension in the audience. I could feel the creative juices in-me flowing. I was momentarily enjoying the feeling of having the audience's acute attention. I had to grab all the powers of my concentration and put the audience out of my mind. I had to grab onto Jerry, who was at the lowest point in his life while I was personally going thru the best moment of my life.

I concentrated on my overall objective which was to commit suicide. This triggered the minor objective of having a stranger kill me. And if I was going to get him to kill me I first had to gain his confidence.

My first line got a laugh. A release of tension laugh. Then it happened, the audience hung on every word I said and laughed 3/4ths the way thru until the play takes a dark turn.

At the end of the play when we went out to take our bows, the audience was silent at first then erupted in-loud applause and cheering. I looked out at the audience and there was many a wet eye. Granted there were some in the audience that knew me personally but most of them did not come to praise Caesar but to bury him. There were many friends who thought acting was a phase I was going thru, But now they knew. I saw it in the way they reacted when we went out afterwards I was like I had become someone else they didn't know. (continued)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Zoo Story (continued) chapter 12

I gained more and more insights about Jerry.I went thru every line in the play. Jerry has some very descriptive dialogue and I worked until I had a very good visual image of everything I was describing as the character. Terms that I heard at HB Studio made more and more sense to me. In acting class we would theorize about moment to moment acting but now I was experiencing it for real and for the first time. The actor playing Peter would react slightly differently every time and that would change proportionately what I was doing. I had set mental images to everything I was describing to Peter. For instance, there is one point where Jerry talks about this woman who lives in his flop house that he has never seen but hears her crying all the time, whenever he passes her door. For this I used a combination of fantasy and reality. I took my mother and put her behind that door crying all the time. I pictured my mother, down and out living in a flop hose which wasn't true. One of the main subjects that Jerry talks about is the landlady's dog. Here I had to make up an image from total fantasy as I couldn't think of a animal in my own life that was at all like the dog in "The story of Jerry and the dog". Here I was using the Strasberg technique of affected memory, using real objects in your own life to get to the reality and the Meisner technique of using fantasy. Combined, they worked very well together. (continued)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Zoo Story (continued) chapter 11

Well anyway, I went up to this guy , sitting and smoking a cigarette. I was a few feet from him when he looked up at me as if to say, what the hell do you want?". I was embarrassed so just walked away. I was still determined to feel what it was like to speak to a total stranger, when I saw another man, reading a newspaper. I was near him and I mumbled been to the zoo?. The man looked at me and continued to read his newspaper..

I walked out of the park thinking my experiment had failed when I got a revelation. What if it was just as hard for Jerry to do this? What if he was trying all day to engage someone and was unsuccessful until he came upon Peter.

That night at rehearsal, I tried what I had discovered in the park. Up until this time I would enter all full of energy as I wanted to entertain Peter. This time I walked fast into the scene , saw Peter and just kept walking off stage, on the other side. I entered again and just looked around. Peter glanced at me and just kept reading his book. We played this back and forth for awhile until it seemed that these two characters had a rapport before even the first line was said. "I been to the zoo".(continued)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Zoo Story" Chapter 10

I received a call from the theater company that I performed "The Glass Menagerie". They had a director that wanted to do Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story". So I picked up the play and I loved it. The play was such a great mixture of humor and tragedy.
The part was tremendous, Jerry, a sort of down and out character with great monologues. It was to be directed by this guy named Mark, whose family had been connected with theater in one way or another. He was basically the electric and light person for the theater but very knowledgeable.

The actor playing Peter, the other character in the play, had worked with me before in a truly terrible original play. We started reading thru the play at the beginning of rehearsal and right off the bat Mark said I was superficial, that I wasn't reaching deep inside of myself to achieve the character. He said I must examine myself to feel the pain, to feel the alienation from society.

I studied the play trying to understand Jerry. A lonely man , homeless, brilliant and suicidal. At the end of the play, Jerry thrusts himself on a knife being held by Peter. If he wanted to kill himself, why does he approach a total stranger and agitate him to a point that the man holds a knife to him?

The beginning of the play was very delicate in that it had to be believable that a man like Peter, a college professor, would stay and listen to Jerry about his dismal and lonely life. One interpretation that I toyed with was that Jerry was insane but that didn't seem logical because if Peter sensed that this homeless man talking to him was crazy, he would just get up and walk away. The insanity would come out later after jerry totally mesmerized Peter with his stories about his life.

The first line of the play was Jerry to Peter" I been to the zoo". It felt forced and artificial to me. Mark said he didn't believe me. He didn't believe I was in a open park. He didn't believe I was Jerry. I explored my own life. The time I felt nothing was going right. The time I felt completely alone. To help myself with this opening , I decided to try it for real. I went to the park and looked for someone sitting down by themselves so I could walk up to them and tell them " I been to the zoo". I walked around the park and spotted some guy. (continued)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Going for an agent! Chapter 9

After doing "The Glass Menagerie", I thought it would be a good time to find an agent. I knew other actors had them, that I didn't think were as good as me. They would audition for commercials and get them sometimes. So I started making the rounds of agents in NY. I would go to their offices and they mostly had a bin to put unsolicited pics and resumes and they would call if interested.

Wow, wouldn't it be great to get a professional acting job anywhere doing anything. To make money as an actor was like playing ball for money, I would do it for nothing but if I could get paid doing it, that would be heaven.

I soon discovered that the few off-off Broadway shows that I did made absolutely no impression on the agents. I would hear about some film job that was casting and would go to an agents office that had least been civil to me, most were snotty and it seemed that they didn't really like actors. If I didn't love acting for it's own sake I would have quit. After a few months of total rejection, I decided that I would be like electricity and go where there is the least resistance.

So I committed myself to the long run and never after that did I ever lower myself but would wait until they came to me.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Glass Menagerie Chapter 8

I was really into the acting scene now , auditioning around town for non-union plays that paid no money but were providing me with the experience that I needed. I was also hanging out at night at a actor's bar in the theater district where I was learning the business end of acting from actors that had been around for years. 80% hardly ever had a paying acting job and when a working actor would come around everyone paid them the utmost respect.

About this time I received a call from a small basement theater in the east Village that was rehearsing "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams . They needed a replacement for an actor that quit the show. I jumped at the chance to do a famous Tennessee Williams play.

Once in rehearsal I soon realized that the few scenes that I had done in class and supporting parts in small plays were nothing to doing Tom Wingfield in "The Glass Menagerie". Not only was this the biggest part I had ever done but the character actually comes out to the audience to deliver 5 monologues. My inexperience and lack of technique came to bare in rehearsal. I would do ok in the scenes with the other characters but the monologues sounded, or so the director kept telling , like I was reciting lines. Plus I had to do a southern accent which came to me easier than I thought it would, maybe because the time I spent in the Navy helped me with it, as I was around sailors from all over the country and especially the south.

I tried everything I was taught at HB studios. I made substitutions, I played actions, I imagined myself as Tom Wingfield all the time , in the cab, at the bar. When the play opened I was still going on basic instinct, some performances were good and the audience really appreciated it, and some were ok and the audience would quietely leave the theater after the show.

Occasionally something would happen on stage and I would go into a zone and the performance was great. I would be totally free and have the audience in the palm of my hand. Other times I would be aware of myself on stage instead of living thru the character. I did ok with the monologues but never realized their full potential. I might add the director was no help except to tell me when I stunk.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Fine tuning the instrument! Chapter 7

A little spoiled after my first audition success, I started to run into resistance from other shows that I auditioned. The main negative comment that I received was that I had a too thick NY accent. As I couldn't afford a speech teacher ,I started reading the newspaper out loud making sure I pronounced every word clearly. i also read Shakespeare so I wouldn't seem too ignorant when hanging with other actors as most were college educated. While a trace of a NY accent stayed with me my whole career, my diction was greatly improved. It is my belief that when you grow up on the streets of NY, the accent is ingrained in your genes. I found out later in my career that I could cover the NY accent by doing another accent. I did Italian, English and Spanish. It was the plain general American that I found the hardest to do. Why, I don't know.

More and more I was living the actor's life. I had quit my regular job and worked part time as a cab driver. In those days I had a very cheap rent in Queens and could live on very little money. I would eat at Happy hours and didn't have a car. I was disengaging from most of my friends that I had in Queens because they couldn't understand what I was doing. I couldn't understand it either . The chances of me being able to make a living as an actor were slim, I was a bit shorter than normal, pushing 30 yrs. old and had no money. But I didn't want any negativity and felt more comfortable with other broke actors than people who thought I had a death wish. But I thought I had something inside of me that was worthwhile and I was having fun.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Off and Running! Chapter 6

Now that I had a taste of acting, I wanted more. I actually had one legitimate credit on my resume. I switched my acting classes from the first school to HB Studio, which was a more respectable and professional acting school with professional actors teaching. This was a real commitment on my part because for some reason the VA wouldn't reimburse my tuition at HB, so it came out of my own pocket. At HB, I was introduced to the method. Here they talked about playing an action, inner objects, who am I, what do I want and where am I. A lot of it didn't make much difference at the time but I did as many scenes as I could handle.

One particular scene from Edward Albee's "Everything in the Garden" comes to mind. In the scene my character finds money all over his house and finds out his wife is a prostitute. Well, coming from my background, I saw this scene as a great tragedy. When my scene partner and I were doing the scene in front of the class for the first time, they were laughing hysterically and it was really throwing me. What are they laughing at? I just found out my wife is a hooker. It made me go into a rage during the scene which was wrong for the character. And the laughter stopped which is what I wanted but wrong for the scene. Albee writes dramatic scenes with a strong underlying black humor which I did,'t realize at the time. It further reinforced in me that humor comes out of honesty. I didn't see it as funny because from my background, if you found out your wife was a hooker was no laughing matter.

Up to this point I had no acting technique and going on basic instinct.. i felt I was good some of the time but when I floundered, I had the tendency to push. I had a lot of energy in my acting but had a tendency to overuse it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My first Performance! Chapter 5

Now here I am backstage, waiting to go on stage in front of an audience for the first time in my life. The irony of being in a play before I had ever seen a live performance of a play crossed my mind. There was a musician playing the intro to the play on a piano and at that moment I felt proud. There were friends of mine in the audience that knew me all my life and were not to shy to let me know that they thought this acting thing was just a whim and eventually I would come back to the real world. But the guy playing the piano was great and it instilled in me some confidence.
Well, I was able to get thru it without any major screw ups. The one thing I came away from it was not to push for laughs from the audience. I had some funny lines and would punch them out, pleading for laughs from the audience.. I got them but they were polite laughs, not the spontaneous bursts that a good actor gets..I would rather get no response than laughs from an audience that has mercy on me. In looking back, the best I did was the very first audition where I wasn't trying to be funny but truthful to the character. That honesty and simplicity was what made it funny in the first place. After that first time it was no longer spontaneous. I was playing for results instead of just portraying the character..But for my first time in front of a real audience I did ok. Still didn't sing though but basically mouthed the songs that were song with the whole cast.
I was totally hooked on acting, I had overcome my first experience with stage fright and by the last performance, I was having fun on stage.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rehearsals! Chapter 4

The director rehearsed us at someone's apartment for 4 days and we were going on for the last 3 performances. I had thought I did ok for the rehearsals and I was certainly prepared. I read the scenes that I was in over and over again every time I had some spare time. The final day of rehearsal was at the theater. I waited backstage for the director to get to my scenes to rehearse. When it was my turn and I walked on the stage my knees became weak as suddenly the reality hit me that I was going to perform on stage to a audience that paid money to see the show. Who did I think I was? I don't belong here. And the impulse came to me to just walk out , take the subway back to Queens and forget about acting..I had to call on every once of courage I had to see this thru.
The next day I was going on and I spent the whole day just going over my lines, over and over. My biggest fear was that I would forget my lines and look like a complete fool in front of the audience.

Monday, May 14, 2007

My first audition! Chapter 3

So I Picked out a couple of auditions from from Backstage. I got all dressed up in my Saturday night clothes and went into the city for my first audition. I had pictures made from a referral from one of the models that went to my acting school. The first one I went for was for a replacement in a show that was already running. One of the actors got a job . The play was a comedy, actually it was a collection of skits by a well known cartoonist. The skit I auditioned for was a wise guy trying to pick up a girl in a bar. Since That's something that I had been doing most of my life I certainly could relate. When I read for the director , he laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. This was no polite laugh but a laugh from some one totally surprised by what he saw. I went home thankful that I did well. In a couple of days I got a callback. When I told some of my classmates at the acting school, their reaction was sort of mixed and I did detect some jealousy.

When I went to the callback I recognized some of the people from the open audition. I said hello to them and heard them talk to each other about their agents and the auditions they had for commercials. At that moment I realized that I was in another world. To be talking to people that were actually pursuing an acting career. I was accepted in the conversation because after-all here I was at a callback.

When it was my turn to audition, I went into a room with about 6 people there and I read the same scene I read for the first audition. This time nobody fell out of their chair. As I was walking out ,one of the people, that were in the room, came out and asked me if I could sing. I lied and said yes. He asked me to sing something for him and I said I couldn't remember any songs. The producer said sing Happy Birthday. I have never in my life had any confidence in my singing. Maybe it was because I was rejected for the choir when I was very young. I didn't want to show my fear so I belted out a few lines of Happy Birthday and the producer said thank you very much and walked away. That evening I got a call that I was cast. Maybe they couldn't get anyone else, after all this was a show that already had been reviewed and was going to close in 2 weeks . BUT I GOT THE PART.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

My first acting class! Chapter 2

Well, I signed up and paid the tuition. Even though I would be reimbursed by the Va I felt I had done a stupid thing. After all I was pushing 30 yrs; old and I should be thinking about my future instead of wasting my VA grant in such a irresponsible venture. The first class came around and I was not sure if I would go. At this time I was living in Queens and was enjoying a pretty good social life. I hasseled about the pain in the ass about traveling into downtown Manhattan where the school was. But I thought, the money was already paid, so what the heck, I'll check it out.I went a little early and when I got there I saw some people in the front who were also starting that day. Let me tell you, what gave me the incentive to go inside were the beautiful women that wre going to be in my first class with me. Now I had always been a night owl ever since my navy days and I would go to clubs to meet women and have a good time. The class of women going into this class were always out of my league. And they were friendly because we had something in common.
I stayed with this school for several months and had the time of my life. As no one had that much experience I didn't feel inadequate, on the contrary , I discovered that I liked it on stage and looked forward to bringing in prepared scenes for the teacher. One day an instructer mentioned to a couple of us in the corner bar where we would go after class that we should audition for theater around town. I said how do you do that, and he said , make up a resume of plays that you have done scenes from and put down you have done the play in some obscure theater., then pick up a copy of Backstage, a trade newspaper, and go on all the non-union productions that had a part that you might be right for. No union because, non union couldn't get in to audition. New York in those days had lots of small non-union theaters, so why Not?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Acting as a career, are you crazy? Ch 1

Acting as a Career, are you crazy?

Becoming an actor was the last thing I saw myself doing when I was growing up. I came from a working class background on the lower east side of Manhattan.,NY. This was not the Manhattan of now ,overrun by yuppies and wanna be's from all over the world. No, this was the city of the 50's, overcrowded slums and as it was the beginning of the baby boom, tons and tons of children . In those days, if you wanted to play outside with the other kids , you had to be good with your hands, that means if you couldn't or wouldn't fight, you had to stay inside your crapped apartment and help your mother with the housework or you would get your butt kicked by some other kid wanting your lunch money or your belt or whatever. if I had any dreams at the time it was to be a professional ballplayer and besides fighting, I played sports anywhere I could.
After many years and a tour in the US Navy and a divorce, I was at work in a job I hated and one of my coworkers suggested that I should try acting as I was always able to make people laugh. At the moment I thought he was crazy as I had absolutely no background in the arts and I sure didn't know anybody. He said go to school under the GI Bill, which would pay for any tuition, so what do I have to lose. I looked in the yellow pages under acting schools that were VA approved and there was one. So I called and made an appointment. And this move on a whim changed my life.