Monday, January 1, 2018

2017: Old Friends, New Adventures, and Scary Numbers

As soon as it was announced that Boys of a Certain Age would have an Off-Off-Broadway run, my best friend Judy (center) booked a flight from Milwaukee. She spent President's Day weekend with me, and our old undergrad buddy Patrick accompanied her to see my show. Afterward, we had a long evening of dinner and dish. Casual events such as these always turn out to be highlights for me.

It's fun, enlightening, and slightly scary to sit down and decipher the highlights of a year. After looking at my 2017, I have to recognize that my "bi-urban" experiment is showing surprising results. Six years ago, I landed a super apartment in New York, and began splitting my time between New York and DC. I still feel a bit more at home in DC, but none of the following highlights of my year occurred there.  In fact, all but one happened in New York. Somebody may be telling me something...
Boys of a Certain Age was that rare new
play which had humor and heart and very
smart writing. All four of us were gifted
with terrific material from which to craft
four unique characters. I wrote about this
experience here.
Soon after the year began, I started work on a project which would turn into one of the most satisfying with which I have ever been involved.  We began rehearsal for the official Off-Off-Broadway production of Boys of a Certain Age, which ran for three weeks in February.  Performing the play, and playing this role in particular, ended up being the highlight of my year, but perhaps it's good I didn't know it at the time.  Imagine knowing that the highest point of your entire year is in February, then having to face the next ten months sliding downhill.  
The role of Ira in Boys of a Certain Age was one of the best I've ever had.  He was a survivor of AIDS activism and was haunted by the friends he lost to the plague, but he never lost his compassion or, thankfully, his humor. Ira was everybody's favorite Jewish grandmother, if your grandmother 1) had a penis and 2) was a cross between Larry Kramer and Julia Sugarbaker.  He was great fun to play, and I consider the production to be one of the highlights of my career.
Brian Gligor played my nephew in Boys, and did me the biggest favor anyone did for me all year. He's a whiz with websites and such, and I have long struggled with setting up my own site.  All actors are supposed to have them, at least in New York, and I purchased the domain name years ago but never did anything with it.  After one of our rehearsals, Brian came over and, as I plied him with martinis, he set up my site.  We had a blast that night, carousing until 3 AM, and the result was a smashing success.  Thanks, Brian! Go here to see our handiwork:

Jack Young hired me several times when he
ran the Warehouse Theatre in South
Carolina. I hadn't seen him in years, though
I frequently work with actors he has trained.

While in rehearsal for Boys, one of my old comrades from years ago came to New York.  I was thrilled to be able to spend an hour or so with Jack, since I had not seen him in many years.  Jack was not the only old friend with whom I reconnected this year.  Over the summer, by coincidence, two friends from my undergraduate days in L.A. spent a weekend in Manhattan;  our lunch date reaffirmed what I have always suspected: the friends we make in college are likely to be for life.
It was such a treat to share a meal with Lisa and Barrie when they visited New York; I hadn't seen either one in at least 30 years. I met Lisa in high school and she later played my wife in George M. I met Barrie when she played one of the twins in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; she later directed me as Dr Einstein in Arsenic and Old Lace. All three of us shared many years together.
I met David when we played in
Big River together. For years,
he offered me his couch any
time I went to NY to audition.
One of the real blessings of 2017 was my rediscovery of my old friend David Beris.  I thought he had moved to Florida, and he is not on social media, so when I opened the NY branch of my life, I never even tried to track him down. I bumped into him at an audition last spring.  We've had lunch several times since then, but one of my resolutions is to see him more regularly. I have a lot of acquaintances now in New York, but very few real friends (I think it's true that the older you get, the harder it is to acquire friends).

During the early part of the summer, I filmed my first web series.  Well, I guess it's not a series yet, but the idea is for it to become one.  A funny young gent named Max Talisman wrote a fictionalized autobiographical account of his life as a young gay man trying to make it as an actor, and he was able to produce a few scenes to be shown to various producers, in hope of gathering enough support to film the full series.  I played a gay man who has aged out of the dating pool, but still submits himself on dating sites (using a 30 year old pic).  The scene was great fun to film, I've seen the finished product and it's a hoot.  Though the role was written as a one off, I have been campaigning to have the character return, should the project go to series.  Every youngster in New York needs an older mentor, especially a comic one who also lives down the hall.
In July, I participated in a staged reading of The Tempest for Titan Theatre Company.  I dislike this play, largely because I have an ongoing problem with Shakespearean magic, but it was a fun experience, and set the stage for a more formal return to Titan in the fall.  
As the Mayor of London in Titan's Richard III.
I think there are 5 reasons to do a play; if none
of them are present, it's best to pass:
1) Money
2) It'll be good for your career
3) You'll learn something new
4) It's a bucket list role
5) You'll have a blast doing it
None of these applied to R3. I should never
have inflicted Titan Theatre with my lackluster
I was asked to join the cast of Richard III, playing two small roles.  In retrospect, I should have declined the invitation.  I had already done R3 twice, and I didn't really have much interest in playing either of the two roles.  When an actor works on AEA's Showcase Code, I really think it has to be for love, as it's not the money (there is none). I have always enjoyed working for Titan (in fact they offered me my NYC debut years ago), but it is not very easy for me to do so.  The company rehearses and performs in Queens, which is a schlep from my digs in midtown.  But moreover, I never challenged myself to bring sizzle to these characters, and I must admit that I was not a success in the show.  I wrote about my disappointment in myself regarding this project here.
As Brackenbury in Richard III. You remember the all-important role of Brackenbury, right? He's the guy who's always standing next to the person talking.
Before beginning R3, though, I fulfilled a big wish for my father.  The pater turned a whopping 90 years old in August;  as his birthday was just a few weeks before the Big Eclipse, Dad asked his kids to gather around him for that event.  
Dad's fascination with the skies led
him to join the military, but before he
could get through flight school,
WWII ended. His career at Lockheed
gave him an unusual talent: he can
look at an airplane flying over, and
name it.
Dad spent his life fascinated with flight (he spent a full and successful career at Lockheed), and his home in North Carolina was right in the path from which this once-in-a-lifetime eclipse could be best viewed. I didn't have much interest in the eclipse, but I have not spent a great deal of time with my father through the course of my life.  I was very happy to share this moment with Dad. We dragged camp chairs out to his front lawn and experienced the event together. Once in a lifetime indeed.

A big highlight of 2017 was being able to spend this special moment with my father. He had just turned 90. He was excited about this August eclipse, particularly once he found out that his home was in the Zone of Totality (I thought that sounded like someplace the Starship Enterprise wandered into unexpectedly). Later they started calling it the PATH of Totality (which I thought sounded like a self-help book).
Playwright Dan Fingerman accompanied me to the IT Awards
ceremony. It was a total surprise that our show received even
one nomination, as we were not produced by an established
company, we had a 3 week run and then were done. Such
plays don't usually get noticed by the IT awards.

In July, Boys of a Certain Age came back into my life, quite unexpectedly.  I was nominated for the New York Innovative Theatre Award as Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role.  These awards aren't exactly Tonys, but in a way, they kind of are.  
The IT Awards celebration brought another reunion. The guy
on the right is Jason Bowcut, who helped create these awards,
and with whom I spent a season at the Shakespeare Theatre Co
in DC (as you can see, many moons ago). It was great fun
catching up with him over drinks after the ceremony, I hadn't
seen Jason in at least 15 years.
The IT organization covers pretty much every professional performance in New York that is not either Broadway or Off-Broadway.  That's hundreds of productions, so I was thrilled to be one of only 6 men nominated for the award.  
I crashed this picture of Hudson Warehouse, whose production of Much Ado About Nothing received several nominations. It was fun to share the evening with this crowd, with whom I have worked repeatedly since arriving in New York.  None of us won that evening, but it was still a night to remember.
This hangs on the wall of my New York branch.  Yep, I'm THAT guy.
This award nomination led to the most significant thing to happen to me in 2017, at least professionally.  I snagged an agent. 
Ever since opening my NY branch, I've ducked the daunting challenge of finding representation (I never used an agent in DC).  But even with the knowledge that my career would not likely progress very far without one, I avoided looking for one.  I was told by more than one "well wisher" that, if you're over 30 and don't have an agent, you'll never get one.  But once this nomination came out, I took the opportunity to contact about 20 agents, and the one who responded actually signed me.

Inevitably, the addition of this important aspect of my career meant another important aspect had to be addressed: my headshots.  I find the task of getting and keeping appropriate headshots to be dismal, so I rarely do it.  Current headshots ranged from 6-10 years old (2-4 years is supposed to be the maximum age of your pictures).  With Agent Renee's input, I spent the final part of 2017 getting new shots.  The lovely and talented Clinton Brandhagen, who has taken my shots for years, spent all day with me and snapped over 1000 pics.  Cutting that number down was mind numbing, but after several torturous weeks, I settled on the pictures which I'm sure will attract all sorts of attention.
I'm hoping these shots will improve my chances of getting "into the room," as Renee says. Looking at the stats for 2017, I certainly could use some help, particularly in avoiding the dreaded Equity Principle Audition, otherwise known as the cattle call. I keep track of all the auditions I attend, the vast majority of which have been these general, union-mandated calls.  
In 2017, I broke my record in numbers: from my first audition of the year on January 4 (for Bucks County Playhouse, they were doing Clue! The Musical!) through my last audition on November 30 (a Shakespeare Festival in the Hudson Valley), I attended a whopping 101 auditions. In eleven months! I get woozy just thinking about that, then it gets even more depressing: those auditions yielded only 4 callbacks.  From those 105 auditions, I got one job.
So while the year was terrific for finding old friends and for some truly unique artistic endeavors, I'm ready to call 2017 dead and buried. Bring it on, 2018, but remember: I'm taking notes.