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.