Archive for June, 2009

Acting Career Depends On Air Conditioner

I haven’t done theater in a while and I totally forgot about the horrors of opening night.

It started two days ago when I realized it was close. We were still looking at our scripts and calling “LINE!”   I was still grasping for when to enter and what line to say when I did enter.

I started having trouble sleeping. First, I had the super install the air conditioners. Then I had him come back the next day and switch them because I felt the den one was quieter then the bedroom one. Then I couldn’t sleep because I thought that one was too noisy. By the next morning I was in a state of nervous apoplexy and felt like my life depended on getting a new air conditioner immediately. If I didn’t get one I would get no sleep, totally screw up onstage, get a bad review and morbidly embarrass the nice guy who recommended me for the role.

This is a nervous transference thing that happens sometimes. My husband does the same thing. He once had a presentation the next day and became fixated that the medicine cabinet was going to fall off the wall. “We have to take everything out of the medicine cabinet!” He yelled. “It’s going to fall off the wall! I better remove the door off its hinges!” I knew what was really off its hinges, but I went along with it. After the presentation, the medicine cabinet was OK. So was my husband.

In my crazed state I got a friend from around the corner to go to J and R with me to buy one and a neighbor down the hall to help me put it in. I got the neighborhood involved. I couldn’t ask the super again because he already thought I was completely nuts. “Cranky come on!” he said when he had to switch them.

So after the air conditioner fixation there was nothing else to obsess about.

Then my acting teacher called me. “I understand you open tomorrow. How’s it going?” he said. This is a man who teaches at a university, teaches private classes and just lost his wife and is about to go to Europe (“Blow the country” is how he put it) to scatter his wife’s ashes in the Seine. And he remembered to call me the day before I open in a little show on 45th Street. I am crying as I write this. Cranky may be cranky, but she is also extremely sentimental.

He talked to me about my character and how rehearsals have been going. “THEY’VE DONE NO SCENE WORK AT ALL!” I said, “All we’ve done is run the play from beginning to end.”

“Ah,” he said, “these people don’t know what they are doing. You have huge resources to draw on. You’re intelligent. You can work it out.” He calmed me down.

I love him. I love my Mr. Inscrutable. Someday, I will be directed by someone like him. I hope I hope. Then my life will be complete.

At the end of the conversation, I told him how he has been in my thoughts since he lost his wife and I started blubbering. The minute he heard the hint of a sniffle the got the hell off the phone. “Ah, I gotta go,” he said. No blubbering for Mr. Inscrutable. Oh no.

I Think I’m Feeling Very Chinatown

There’s been an Asian theme running through my week.
First, I thought I had found a great new way to get to rehearsal. I looked on a map and it looked like a subway that was unknown to me called Chrystie Street was closer.
So, next time I go to rehearsal I get off there. Now, Cranky cannot tell north or south for at least three minutes after getting off any subway. This train left me off at an intersection I had never seen in my life. I felt like the train had entered a vortex and gone through the center of the earth and come out in China. Like when I was a kid and I thought you could dig your way to China on the beach.
The sidewalks were packed with a lot of Chinese people in a hurry and one slow moving confused looking Caucasian. There were mounds of fish piled on wooden stands. Scary carcasses in the windows. And crowds and crowds of people. Not the tourist land Chinatown of knick-knacks and restaurants. Nope.
I wasn’t sure which way to walk. “All the buildings look alike.” I thought. So I picked a direction and started walking. When I had a feeling I was going in the wrong direction, I asked a man on the sidewalk, “Excuse me, which way is Little Italy?” And then I immediately felt horrible. Is if OK to ask a Chinese man in Chinatown the way to Little Italy? Are they in competition? Was he thinking, “What’s wrong? Chinese food not good enough for you?” Of course I thought of all this AFTER I had opened my mouth. So he pointed in the direction I was already going, thus adding five more blocks of going in the wrong direction until I finally wised up. Thanks Mr. Man On The Sidewalk. You got me back. So, I arrived at rehearsal huffing and puffing and fifteen minutes late.
Then, yesterday, I had tea with an actress friend and she told me that she’d been asked to do a reading of a screenplay and the director wants her to read the role of an Asian woman. Huh? She is as WASPY as they get. “Why?” I asked. “The director said he couldn’t find an Asian actress,” she said. “In all of New York City?” I asked. “Well, he’s won awards for his filmmaking.” She said he had won an award called THE GOLDEN BALLS or something in Cannes.

She was told that she would be reading for the wife role and when she got to the rehearsal he switched her to the Asian woman. “Do you think I can do it?” she asked. “Can you wear pointy sunglasses?” I answered. “The days of Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi are way over.”

“What are you gonna get out of this?” I said. “You know I’m glad I’m talking about this,” she said, “When I was there a couple of times I felt like I should have left. But I’ve been convincing myself that it was OK.”

This is what we do ALL the time. Your gut says NO. But your actor self hates to turn down any opportunity no matter how disturbing or annoying it its. This is why actors need other actor friends to talk then down from these situations. Because when you feel that way, no good is gonna come out it. She is not gonna get cast as the Asian woman when he makes the film.
Maybe someone should start a hotline for actors. Actor’s Anonymous. It could be staffed by other actors. I could just imagine it. “THEY WANT ME TO BRING TEN CHANGES OF CLOTHES AND I HAVE TO SLEEP IN THE PARK AND PAY MY OWN CARFARE.” “Just say no,” says the person on the helpline.

Just Learn Your Lines And Keep Your Trap Shut

I was recently talking to an actress friend of mine. I was telling her about the project I’m working on and how bare bones it all is. “I don’t know Cranky. It all sounds a little festivally,” she said. We had made a pact not to do any more festivals. You know, festivals that are aggravating from beginning to end. The festivals where you bring in the entire set, costumes and props for each performance and carry them out at the end of the performance and then back again for the next one. Those festivals. The festivals where you cannot get necessary information out of the people running it. The festivals where you end up paying your own money for rehearsal space and then they keep every penny of the door.
“I know,” I responded to her, “”They treat you like a child. They treat you like a desperate child. I’m tired of being treated like a desperate child. I AM NOT A DESPERATE CHILD. I’M A DESPERATE ADULT.”

Hence, I am working with a group who is gonna tech the afternoon of the first performance. So our first full run through of the play is gonna be opening night. When I asked about it, the director said, “Well, if we do it the day before that would cost us an extra eighty dollars.” You’re kidding me, right? I came THIS close to passing around a hat to the cast. There are six of us, so it would cost us $13.35 each. And I could go up to him and say, “Here. Here’s your eighty dollas.” But I didn’t do it, because these kind of bright ideas don’t go over big with the powers that be. It’s hard, but I’ve figured out I really need to keep my mouth shut like a lot.

“Go with the flow. Go with the flow,” I tell myself when I see people doing stupid stupid things. I’m a cast member. Directors don’t like cast members who have too many ideas. Directors LIKE cast members who smile a lot and don’t say much. Saying things takes time.

Also good is learning all your lines in a timely manner. I have to be off book tomorrow. I have been procrastinating. Hence, my apartment has never been cleaner. And I’ve called every long lost friend I can think of. And I did every machine in the gym. And I finished a mailing list I started in October 2008. And it is now 3:42 pm and there is no busy work left to do, so I am sitting with the script. And now the sun just came out for the first time in like a month and I’m thinking about the park. I wonder if Denzel Washington ever has these problems?

I better get it together. Because as a desperate adult I should be thankful for this role. Especially considering my personal axiom that if you are an actress over 40 and your character is having sex, grab that role.

Cranky In Rehearsal

I’ve been rehearsing the play. I like the director. Especially since he lets me do what I want.

When I got the script, I realized my character was horribly, grossly overwritten. A bad cliché rich woman from a drawing room comedy circa 1932. “OY VEY” I said to myself, “I’m a better writer than the writer of the play I am acting in. I took a chance and decided to be honest.

After the table read, the director told us that if there were any lines that bothered us that needed changing we could discuss it at the next meeting. So we have the next meeting, and nobody else had any changes. And I was like, “Well, let’s go to page 14.” That’s the page my character enters on. And I worked my through the rest of the play. Cutting, burning, slashing extraneous words and lines.

For example, my character is supposed to say, “Oh, you are just too funny,” and I changed it to, “Funny.” Which is actually much funnier in the circumstances my character is in.

The director got it. I love him now.

Fighting stilted dialogue is a losing acting battle.

The director also said to ignore the micro-managing annoying cloying stage directions that are there before and after every piece of dialogue. All I have to see is something like, “she says sarcastically,” to make me lose respect for the writer. I’ll say it however the hell I want. That’s why you hired me.

I’m also getting to know the group I am rehearsing with. I’m a guest artist, and it’s a company and every company has its own culture.

This is a new one. Rehearsal by committee. People have opinions about other people’s characters and what they should be doing. Especially one guy who I have dubbed the “REHEARSAL NAZI.” He takes over. The director says two words and Nazi jumps up and says, “Wait. I should go here, He should go there. She should sit there.” And everybody does it.

The blocking first method (if you can call it a method)is not ideal, but it happens a lot. Organically figuring out where your character wants to go and why is THE ONLY thing that makes sense. Otherwise you get that mannequinesque feeling that you have to work really hard to shake.

You have to work backwards and fill in why you are doing what you are doing after you are already doing it.

I’ve learned the hard way that even though they have given you a stack of postcards and a beautiful email invite for the show, do not send even one of those suckers out until you fell solid in the role. Which may sometimes be never.

There is nothing worse than knowing that people you know are in the audience and that you are moving around the stage nonsensically in a way that shows you are doing what you are doing because the director told you to do it.

But I am staying calm. Aren’t you proud of me? I get to wear a fabulous outfit. I keep reminding myself about that and that and it makes me happy.

And by some miracle, I am quite often able to pull a performance out of my ass even after only counter-intuitive rehearsals. I just lie on the couch and daydream through each scene. It works.

Yesterday in rehearsal, I overheard the rehearsal Nazi tell another actor; “No, you don’t understand. You might think this scene is about you. But actually every scene in this play is about me.” AND HE WASN’T JOKING.

And I found out last night that our first time working in the theater is opening night. Never done that before and if I didn’t have a SENSE OF HUMOR, I’d be scared.

Then the director goes, “Listen people. I want you to take care of yourselves. If one of you gets sick everyone is gonna get it.” Then the stage manager says. “I know, but I’m under so much stress, I feel like I’m a little under the weather already.” And the director says, “WELL, THAT’S OK, YOU DON’T HAVE TO KISS ANYBODY.” How sweet. Since her sickness won’t disrupt the production she can go ahead and GET AS SICK AS SHE WANTS. She can die really as far as the director is concerned, because the curtain WILL STILL GO UP without her. This is how single-minded directors and producers get about projects. I know, I’ve been there when I produced. I’ve had to ask myself if I was putting on a show AND losing my humanity.

I told the director that he was being very Coppola. As in “Apocalypse Now” when Martin Sheen’s heart trouble threatened to hold up production. “He might die,” someone said. “He’s not dead until I say he is dead,” said Coppola. The director just gave me a weird look.

The Fucked Festival

It all started when I tried to make a phone call on my husband’s IPod. “What are you doing? he said. “Huh?” I said, “trying to make a call.” “That’s my IPod!” he said, as I tapped the screen with my forefinger. “Oh. Really?” I said. Oh oh.
I thought I was keeping it together really well. I was like, “Wow I am under duress and I am handling it very well.” Then these kind of things started happening and I realized I wasn’t handling it well at all.

A few days later I picked up my cell phone and listened for a dial tone before I dialed. Oh oh. This is the kind of stuff that happens to me when I’m stressed.

I got up this morning and told my husband I wouldn’t be home for dinner tonight because I had a rehearsal. Then I emailed another director to ask if I could bring a guest to tomorrow night’s screening of a film I was in. Then I got a call from a friend and she consoled me when I told her how I had spaced and had missed an audition last Thursday afternoon. Then I emailed my scene partner to tell him we could work tonight if we went up early because my rehearsal was at 8pm. AND THEN I got an email from the film director saying, “The screening is NEXT WEEK.”

I ran to my Filofax and realized I had it flipped open to the wrong page and had made all these plans based on NEXT WEEK’S schedule. So I had to call my husband, email the director, email my scene partner and change everything and find the sides for the audition I DIDN’T MISS. This is not good.

I have an ex-boyfriend from high school, Bob, who is basically a shut in. He was the coolest guy in three towns, gorgeous and in a band, had a car and killer blue eyes. Funny, how a lot of the cool guys are losers or go to jail after peaking in high school. Bob stays up all night watching TV, gets up at 2pm, takes his psychotropic medication and starts watching TV again. Once when we were talking he said, “You know Crank, I know all about what is going on. I know all the news and everything. But they never tell you what DAY it is.” I immediately sent him a couple of World Wildlife calendars with a note saying:

Dear Bob,
Not knowing what day it is NOT ATTRACTIVE.

Now Bob and I are in the same boat! And I had to fix it. So I looked at my life and identified the stressors. A sick relative that I take the loser bus on a horrible trip to depressed upstate to visit. Can’t change that. Rehearsing a show. Don’t wanna change that. The specter of co-producing a piece that I wrote with a summer festival in NYC. Ah-hah! Must change that.
I realized that my mind has been going in circles ever since I got accepted into this apparently disorganized festival. If you hear the word festival, run. I was notified in April that my play had been accepted and would get the performance dates by May 6th. I needed the dates to figure out the timing of casting and rehearsals. The festival runs for a month, and if my dates were far enough from the dates of the play that I’m IN, then I was gonna perform the piece myself. But if the dates were close to the play I’m IN, then I would cast another actress. It’s a 20-minute one-woman piece. Also, just in general, it would be kinda nice to know what I can and cannot do for the rest of the summer. And a 20-minute monologue needs some serious rehearsal time.

So May 6th comes and goes and no dates. So does May 7th. 8th, 9th, 10th, 11, 12th. 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th. 17th. 18th, 19th, and 20th. I send the festival four equally spaced emails explaining that I cannot proceed until I know the performance dates. Do I get an answer? NO. NO. NO.

All this time my mind is stuck going in circles. “Should I start working on it? Should I talk to the actresses I know and love? Should I start working on it? Should I have an audition? I wonder if that blond actress I like is doing anything now? Is someone gonna wanna learn a 20-minute piece for three or four performances?” I feel like the festival is now torturing me. On purpose. How long does it take to make up a schedule? Does the festival care about the playwrights? Or does it just wanna collect the door? Is this usury? Do I hate them now? AH, YEAH. So I run to my computer and write this email:

Hi All,
I’m sorry to report that I have accepted a role in a production that runs until mid-July. I have been waiting to hear the performance dates for my piece since May 6th – the original date given to me that we would be receiving our performance dates. I’m terribly sorry, but I have to withdraw from the festival, as I can no longer keep my life on hold waiting to figure out my schedule for the near future.

I know you must have your reasons, but it seems inconsiderate to me and a sign of a lack of organization. It does not give me a good feeling about the festival to be continually put off about what I will be doing with my life for the summer. I do need to be able to make plans and say yea or nay to job offers.

Ahhhhhhh. And the minute I send it, I can think again.