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.