Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Letter: A Bit of Heaven in '11

I love those newsletters that people sometimes send with their Christmas cards each year, but most folks make fun of them, at least in my experience.  So, I don't ever send one (the fact that my Christmas cards always feature a picture of myself is cause for enough ridicule).  But perhaps I can duck all that ridicule by, instead, writing a newsy New Year's Note.

2011 was one of my better years in recent memory, though it began with absolutely nothing positive on the horizon.  On January 1st, I had no jobs lined up, and no prospects. 

All that changed at the end of the month, when somebody dropped out of the Olney Theatre's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, after one rehearsal.  I was working the front desk at our annual local Equity auditions when the casting director, the lovely and talented Brad Watkins, grabbed me by the arm and said, "Get your Equity ass to my theatre at 2:00, you're hired."  I started rehearsal that very day, and had a blast playing dual roles.  Wearing a skanky beard which completely covered my face, I played Joseph's father, Jacob, and in another sequence, I enjoyed a little song-and-dance as Potiphar, a rich Egyptian.

By the time we finished the run, nobody in Joe's Coat  even remembered that I was a replacement.  I was surrounded by some of the strongest singer/dancer/actors in the DC area;  the cast was littered with Helen Hayes winners and nominees, all of them playing one of my sons or one of my wives. 
I really loved the concept of this production (the show itself is not one of my favorites), but more, I was grateful to get the opportunity to work with this big group of talent.

That same audition during which I so unexpectedly snagged the gig at Olney Theatre, I was approached by the artistic director of Wayside Theatre, the lovely and talented Warner Crocker.  "Do you know the play The Nerd?" he asked.  I did not, but he urged me to read it, with an eye to playing a role in his upcoming production.

Several weeks later, I was spending the day as an extra on a big-budget film which was blowing through town (I don't know the name of it, but it's the one with Julianne Moore playing Sarah Palin). 

During the long stretches of boredom, I bumped into an acquaintance, the lovely and talented Bill Diggle.  "What are you working on?" I asked, knowing that he was always working on something.  "The Nerd," he answered.  "Really?" I responded, "I'm getting ready to do it!"  "I know," he said dryly, "I'm directing you in it."  Turns out that Warner was ducking out of directing the play in order to take care of some administrative duties.

No harm was done.  The Nerd turned out to be one of my all-time favorite theatrical experiences.  Warner knew what he was doing when he cast me as the wise-cracking neighbor with a secret agenda; it was the best part I've had in quite a while. 

The experience was capped by the visit of my whole family, who gathered from North Carolina, Georgia, and New York, to celebrate my father's birthday, and to see the show.  A year earlier, the family had gifted me with a very special Christmas present: a donor's brick on the wall of Wayside Theatre. 

Between Joe's Coat and The Nerd, the little independent movie I shot in 2010 was released.  And by "released," I mean it was self-distributed by the producers.  I understand that they had been submitting the film to various festivals around the world, and no one had nibbled.  A Modest Suggestion  can now be purchased here, and streamed here, as a one-week rental on Amazon.  I bought about 8 copies, and gave them as Christmas presents.  Who wouldn't want a Christmas present which starred me?

My unemployment had run out by the time I snagged another unexpected gig in September.  Once again, someone from Olney Theatre had dropped out of a show, though this time, it was a couple of weeks before rehearsal began.  The lovely and talented Brad Watkins put an emergency note on Facebook, asking for suggestions of replacements

The role, Carter in Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution, was a very small one, so small that I wondered if Olney was looking for a non-union actor to play it.  Nevertheless, I dropped Brad an email suggesting myself for the role.  A week later, I was auditioning for the director, and a day or so after that, I was offered the gig.

I'll never make fun of Facebook again.

So, for the second time this year, I landed a job because somebody else quit.  Who cares? I had a lovely time with the show, though the timing of the gig caused some challenges with my personal life.  In the midst of rehearsals, I was notified that I was being awarded a subsidized apartment in Manhattan Plaza, an artists' complex right off Times Square in New York. 

It was a flukey lark that I landed on the waiting list for such a place, back in July of 2003.  It took 8 years, but my name finally rose to the top, and on Halloween, I spent my first night in Apt #29G at ManPlaza. 

It still seems like I'm camping when I'm there, as there is no furniture to speak of, and a blowup mattress serves as my sleeping arrangements.  But the opportunity is too good to pass up, so for the foreseeable future, I will be Bi-Urban, splitting my time between NY and DC as duty dictates.

The year ended with my annual trips to Los Angeles and to North Carolina, so I put Real Life on hold for a bit of Holiday Cheer.  Only now is it sinking in, that I should be dipping my toe into the New York lifestyle, whatever that means.  And I'm ending the year right where I started, with no work on the horizon, but this time, I'm not so worried.  (Yet.)  A lot of people would consider 2011 pretty lousy, and I won't argue, but for me, it was a pretty good year.  I can only hope for more of the same.