Monday, December 9, 2013

How To Be Remembered On and Off Stage

I was sitting at Second City today and couldn't help but to eavesdrop on this group of young guys talking about their upcoming show today (It wasn't too hard to catch the conversation - they were speaking pretty fawkin' loudly).  One was pretty miffed about the way he got cast in the show (number of lines, type of roles he got, stage time, etc.) and wouldn't let it go.  His friend was doing his best to console him but in my opinion almost making the situation worse.  I spent 10 minutes fighting myself on making a comment on their conversation because I didn't want to come off as a know-it-all or as unsympathetic.  Finally, I mustered up the courage to put his situation in perspective.

I walked over to them and said softly, "Guys..."

Their faces froze like they just got in trouble.  Great.  Now I REALLY feel like a old man.

I said, "I couldn't help but overhear your situation and wondered if you would like to get some perspective from an 'old man' in this game."  Surprisingly, the perked up and invited me to have a seat.  I grabbed a seat and immediately went into a lecturing posture.  Cot damn I feel old.

"Dude, I've been in this game for close to 11 years and I have been put into your situation countless times," I assured him. "I know how you feel because I have felt that way many times before.  You're an actor.  You've been put in bit parts before. "  I stopped and looked at him closely.  "How old are you?"

"22," he responded.

I had to catch myself from scoffing at him when he responded.  22?!  C'mon.  It only reaffirmed what I was about to say to him.

"Alright, 22.  You're young, " I said.  "This won't be the last show you're ever going to do, right?  You're gonna keep doing shows and being involved with other people and at some point, you're going to forget that this ever happened.  You won't give two shits about it.  You'll look back when you're on the main stage in three years thinking 'Why was I trippin' over that?  Fuck those guys."  They both laughed out loud.  That was comforting. I wasn't sure if I was being condescending in my approach or not.   I felt like Edward James Olmos - "I'm getting through to deez keedz!"

"The thing to remember, " I continued, "is that people are not going to remember much of anything from this show.  They're not going to remember the dialog.  they are necessarily going to remember each member of the cast.  The thing they are going to remember is how supportive you were in delivering those parts in the best way possible.  Your friend here is right.  You could not have much of anything as far as lines are but you can get the biggest laugh in a scene by delivering that one line in such a way that the audience feels it.  You can rock an entire scene by just committing your heart and soul to that bit part.  People won't remember the tons of dialogue by those other cats, but instead they'll say 'Hey - remember that one guy who came out did that one funny line or thing?  I hope he does that again' and they'll continue to look for you as the show goes on.

Let me tell you a story from my own experience.  I was in a Level 3 show where we did a set of improv.  At the very end of the show, we did a set of musical improv - singprov.  So, I'm in this scene with this guy and the suggestion was 'gingerbread' man.  So, I come out looking like gingerbread man.  I started singing and then my castmate decided to rip my arm off.  I then continue singing as he rips off my other arm.  He then proceeds to rip off my head.  As he did that, I started falling to the floor and right as that happened, the lights went out.  The crowd loved it.  After the show, I never got so many compliments - about how well I fell to the floor at that moment.  Nevermind the 20 minutes of good improv I just did.  My entire acting ability was encapsulated in that 1 second fall I took.  My point is, you can't decide what an audience is going to remember or think about you.  You have to rock every moment you're on stage and hope that some of it sticks when they leave. 

You don't want to be that guy that is always asking for lines and parts.  Don't get me wrong.  You do have the right to question the casting but take it up with your director.  If after your director has made a decision you still get cast in the manner you were before, accept it.  Rock the parts you were given.  The thing people will remember always is how professional you were in accepting your role for a given production.   Take it with grace.  Support your team even if they necessarily reciprocate it at the same level you feel is warranted, because you after that production is done, you'll move onto bigger and better things. 

Now you can decide whether or not to be like me about the situation.  I sometimes tend to be vindictive about these situations and rock those parts to get back at those guys 'Fine. Don't cast me in the parts I feel I deserve?  Well, I'll show you all!'  Or, you can be much more mature about it and take it with grace and realize that this will pass.  I recommend the latter.  You'll be fine.  You look like you know what you want to do.  I know you'll rawk this shit.  Ignore them fools and do the best you can with what you got.  Just know, you're not the only one this type of stuff happens to."

After that diatribe, he let out a big sigh and asked me my name.  I gave it to him and while extending his hand for a handshake said, "Thanks Nelson. I really needed to hear that, man.  I feel a lot better knowing that and gave me a lot to think about."  I shook his hand and felt so good about helping him.

His group finally gathered to go into a classroom so I just iterated some of the key phrases above for him to take with him.  He had a huge smile on his face as he headed off downstairs to the dungeon of institutionalized learning.

Now, this type of sharing I can do all day.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Searching For Fullfilness Within

I had dinner tonight with a friend of mine who I admire and respect.  He's on my shortlist of people I wish I could perform as well as when on stage.  For everything going so well for the both of us, we both have our own respective follies and insecurities to contend with.  I feel we're sort of kindred spirits in that vein.

The thing that I realized I look for is outside validation instead of going within to get it.  It stems from issues I have with never really getting what I wanted from my father.  I wanted to always be loved and accepted as I was by him, but never felt I really got that from him.  so, a lot of my initial motivations are to get to the point people will love me and accept me.  For example, I went through a long week of "creative withdrawl" after my run with Specter of Treason finished.  I took two days off from myself to recover and then on the third day, I felt the familiar twinge of being creative beckon.  Then by the following weekend, I was fighting myself from trying to get into another production.  The motivation behind getting into another production was not because I felt creative unsatisfied but rather because I knew I was doing it to get people's attention and adoration.  So, I basically called myself out a number of times on social media to sort of shame myself into doing the opposite (not the best way to do so but it worked).

My friend is gong through the same thing in his life as well but his need for love and acceptance differ from mine in motivation and result.  The similarities in our situations was so strong that I gave him my "worldly" answer for dealing with his problems:
  • Find Your Passion(s)
    As I've gotten older, I've really started analyzing what it is I want to do with my life and what I wish to spend my limited energy on.  I realized that only those things that I am passionate about are worth pursuing head on.  How do you know you're passionate about something? You're willing to kill, maim, and destroy anything in your path to obtain your goal ;-)  That's how much the desire must burn to achieve the  desired outcome.  Do this first and as soon as possible.  It will frame the next  item.
  • Pursue Your Passion Incrementally
    A great day consists of a series of great moments.  Don't get caught up in planning the path of the outcome necessarily ("the how") but rater focus on the goal ("the what").  Break your pursuit of a given goal into smaller goals and focus on each on o f those goals from the onset.  Don't worry about how you're going to achieve each goal but rather the journey to get there.  This is incredibly hard to do even for me.  I get caught up in the drama of the pursuit of happiness a lot.  I'm working on going back to not planning a darn thing and allowing things to "just happen" again.  I was a lot happier and cherished each moment much more.
After our chat tonight, I know we both feel a tiny bit better about our futures.  Gotta keep working on these concepts and reinforcing them until they're second nature.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Believing What You're Told - Now & Then

As part of the cast of the Specter of Treason - An Oswald Trial performance, I've been asked to talk about the show on 89.5 FM this Friday.  To add to the honor of just speaking about this show, I inevitably will get asked about the John F. Kennedy (JFK) assassination itself and how it relates to this show.  So, I've begun doing research on the JFK assassination and along the way came to an interesting observation.

The JFK assassination, which happened 50 years ago, has been controversial since that horrible day November 22nd, 1963.  I was born in 1976 and didn't get interested in studying the JFK assassination until 1991.  Until '91, I believed it was Lee Harvey Oswald (LHO) who acted alone in committing this crime as that's what all of my textbooks at the time read.  After seeing Oliver Stone's film JFK, I began to question the validity of what I had been taught.  I ended reading a ton of books at the time that explored different aspects of the crime - the botched autopsy, mafia connections, Cuban reprisal from the Bay of Pigs debacle, CIA's interest in Vietnam and Cuba, the FBIs involvement in in ballistic testing of the Warren Commission's "magic bullet theory", etc.  It was fascinating web of theories that stimulated my mind into trying to figure out all by myself as a high school sophomore :)  I was much more apprehensive to believe to government whenever they told me anything as the "truth".

Fast forward to 2001. 9/11 happened.  After seeing those two buildings falls, I truly believe what I was told from that day - two planes full of jet fuel were hijacked by terrorists and slammed into the tallest WTC buildings which in turned caused them to collapse.  Everything that contradicts this explanation in my opinion only strengthen what I believe I saw happen that terrible day.  Here's an example of one of the mos popular "truther" documentaries on 9/11:

I am not naive enough to believe everything the Government tells me but at the same time, when it comes to proving something contradictory, there has to be some more proof of the alternate theory presented .  For some reason, for the JFK assassination does that for me.  There's enough evidence there for me to say "What I was told was not the truth."  However, for 9/11, there isn't.  Why?  Could it be because I experienced 9/11 myself and have not had the distance away from what happened to consider evidence outside my recollections?  Am I just holding onto what I was told because it's more convenient for me to believe such a simple explanation vs. more sinister complicated plots?  Am I too tied to my experience vs. the facts?  I don't know.

As I learn more about the JFK assassination, I will continue reviewing my own attachment to my own biases.

Friday, August 2, 2013

An American Weiner Roast

Watching Anthony Weiner (AW) continuing to be sucked down (no pun intended) the blackhole of double entendre drenched comedy got me thinking.  Why is this such a big deal?  I'll tell you.

If you're ever a player in the public arena, you must play by our American social rules.

Image Is Everything
You're probably wondering how my assertion above has anything to do with a politician showing his frankfurter on the Internet and getting caught twice.  I believe that we as Americans LOVE to build an image up for people in the public eye and want to retain ownership over that image ad infinitum.  We make them out to be good people, bad parents, cheaters, humanitarians, drug addicts, or entrepreneurs.  We spend a lot of time on this image and it's a collective art and skill.  As long as they keep playing along with whatever society tells them to do, act, say, or think, everyone's happy.

After being caught the first time, homeboy decided to take a leave of absence from Congress (then eventually resigned) and attend counseling for his problem.  He accepted the image of "Something is wrong with you. We're telling you to go away for a while and work on this problem.  Once you've 'repented' enough (or we've forgetten about you), come back and we'll see what we can do."  At that point, he became a broken man with immoral thoughts and mild psychological problems to us and he was banished to Neverland only to return once he grew up.

Deviancy Both Online and Off-Line

When AW decided to run for New York's mayor roughly only 2 years after his fall from grace, he caught the public off-guard.  Did he come back too early?  Did he truly change in the time he went away?  Was he a "better man"?  Would he fit the unspoken, undefined, arbitrary metric we'd set for him?  We were poised to find out.

He had raised a lot of money to run for mayor and had actually ran once in 2005 (but dropped out) so he had some legitimacy in showing NYC he wanted the job even before his scandal broke.  Poll after poll showed that many people felt he shouldn't even run considering what had happened to him in Congress.  Apparently two years wasn't enough time for us to forget.  However, he was able to become a real contender by acknowledging his faults in a very direct manner and sharing some real ideas for changing things in NYC [Editor's note: I don't live in NYC so I don't know if his ideas are good or bad.  I just know he's coming up with actual plans and describing their implementations versus giving us a lot of rhetoric and nebulous ideas regarding change.].  American's love a comeback story.  He was giving it to us by defying the odds and winning people, and by doing so, playing to our social rules.

Then he decided to change the cot damn story - without consulting with us!

Weinergate Teil Zwei
AW recently admitted to continuing his sexting ways publicly after more Weiner pictures surfaced for up to a year after he left Congress. He gave the comedy world a second "gift that kept on giving" by adding the new dimension of his online alter ego of "Carlos Danger".  He stepped up his efforts to be smacked down mightily by the general public and succeeded.  The adage of "Fool me once, shame you. Fool me twice, shame on me" comes into play ESPECIALLY after he was doing so well to win us back.  Everyone's asking him to again step down from his ambitions and go away.  There's no way he's going to survive this damage to his reputation and campaign.

Or will he...?

AW has refused to drop out of the mayoral race with a defiance that is magical.

Get Your Game Up!

For all intents and purposes, AW knows how he messed up twice and that there's a good chance this campaign was an overall personal and political disaster; however, he presses on in the mere hopes that people will realize sexting ability doesn't directly equate to legislating ability inversely (but if in contrast it equated proportionally, COT DAMN that would be awesome!).  He's not taking his eyes off his prize of a position of power no matter who or what tries to thwart him even if it's himself.

What I think people find most offensive about this situation is that AW basically has shown twice that  he has no real "game" to speak of.  By "game", I'm saying that AW should've never been caught in the first place let alone twice.  What subconsciously offends us is that he got caught twice and so easily.  It was relatively known that John F. Kennedy was a womanizer but yet he's still considered one of the best Presidents ever.  Why?  Because he had game both personally and with the press to keep his extra-marital activities on the hush.  In today's media landscape, it's almost impossible to have the relationship with the press in order to keep things quiet.  When AW outed himself so easily the first time, we lost respect for him.  He was just starting to get it back with us until *bam* he showed that he STILL had no game!

The pressing debate is not whether or not sexually-motivated activity would make him unfit to legislate but rather does his inability to keep his behavior under wraps enough to not shatter the images we make for him moving forward?  Does he have enough game to live up to a "clean" image while satisfying his needs?  If so, Americans can respect that, thus, would be willing to suspend their disbelief and go along with the determining if he's good enough to be mayor.  But if he can't, there's no reason for him to continue.

I'd like to see AW win this and defy everything.  If he wins, I'll send him a picture of myself:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Goin' Blue - Part I

This week I got to experience something that very few ever get the chance to experience - I auditioned for the famous Blue Man Group! It was a life changing event in many ways for me and I want to share the story because I think we can all walk away with a few things from the trial.

Tuesday Afternoon Blues
I was casually perusing my Facebook timeline as I normally do to see what everybody was up to (and secretly plan the next GREAT thing I was going to do to rise above the noise and raise my "like" count on my posts:)). I joined several Facebook groups dealing with casting for various opportunities such as film, TV, stage, and other formats. Initially I was going to promote all of my existing endeavors on these groups but quickly realized that most of them were not receptive to shameless plugging (at least I hadn't been around long enough for others to tolerate it). I ended up just following the posts and every once in a while something cool would pop up of interest.

Someone casually posted up the open audition notice for the Blue Man Group and that definitely caught my eye. I looked at the date and realized, "Man, that's tomorrow. Damn, probably can't get away to go do that. Well, I'll just pay it forward and maybe one of my peeps will go for it." I shared the post with the comment "I'm tempted to do this just to see what the process if like." The true intent of the post was to communicate, "Ha ha...this would be a cool thing to do some day in my life...not right now...maybe one of you should do it." Apparently, hardly anyone read it that way. Within 30 minutes I had 15 different replies saying something to the effect of "DOOOOOOOOO EEEEEEEEEEET!!" and cheering me on. I was floored by the response. I just had to ask myself, "Should I go do it? Do all of these people REALLY think I can? What if it goes well? " So, after some thought (lasting roughly 2 minutes), I decided to gingerly left a voicemail asking my loving Wifey if I could escape from the family to go pursue this audition. As I waited for her answer, the likes and comments kept growing on my post (I guess I got that "like" count to go up like I had originally wanted :)) I was REALLY hoping my Wifey would be done for it. She her response via text was, "Blue Man Group? Go for it!"


What Can Blue Do For You?
The open casting time was from 10:30 AM - 3:30 PM the next day so I took my time. I finished up a bunch of work in the morning and wasn't able to escape until noon When I arrived at 1:30 PM, I expected to see a huge line outside the door full of highly qualified drummers, actors, dancers, and wanna-be's psyching themselves up for the audition and talking about all the ultra-important projects they were doing/working on ad naseum to pump up their egos. That totally wasn't the case.

When I showed, up there were roughly 10 people sitting around the lobby of the Briar Street Theatre waiting and a small, unimposing woman checking people in. She smiled, asked if I was auditioning, and handed my some paperwork to fill out. I went to a corner to fill it out and in the corner of the sheet it read "57". That caught me off guard. You mean to tell me that I would be the 57 person so far auditioning for this?! I really expected it to be like 250th at the point I showed up. However, I reminded myself of the very strict requirements auditionees were to adhere to:

  • Must be between 5' 10" and 6' 1" in height
  • Must have an athletic build
  • Must be willing to relocate
  • Must have excellent drumming skills

After a little bit more thought, I was like, "Yep, that knocks out a ton of people from even trying out." Everyone of those requirements fit me to a tee . So, being 57th was pretty good.

The wait in the lobby before I got called up felt like an eternity but was probably 45-50 minutes long. I struck up conversations with people waiting in the lobby to not only give myself something to do but also size myself up to the rest of the competition. I decided to get to know them versus trying to draw out a resume just to see if there would be a ton of arrogance to wade through as I had envisioned earlier. Luckily, most people were really nice and down to earth. There was no one I spoke to who gave me the "I MUST MAKE BLUE MAN GROUP. IT'S MY LIFE'S DREAM. I WILL STAB YOU IN THE THROAT IF YOU GET A SPOT AND I DON'T" vibe. There was a guy who kinda went down the path of giving me his resume but it seemed like it was a part of his personality versus him intentionally trying to psyche me out.

While waiting, I ran into a fellow actor who had the day before encouraged me to audition. It was great to see him because it gave me a little bit of solace to know that one of my colleagues was here to cheer me on and that he respected me enough to want to work with me in this arena. He informed me that there were three rounds to the day's audition process:

Round 1 - an interview
Round 2 - an acting evaluation
Round 3 - a drumming evaluation

He was already past the first two rounds and ready to do round 3. He seemed so calm and collected when speaking to him that my reaction was, "Dude, this guy has got it in the bag. He's not nervous at all!" He was in all kinds of productions around town for which I never thought I could be a part of due to personal commitments or lack of skill. It totally respect him not only on stage but off as well. To see him so centered and focused it made me feel like "Nelson, you've got a TON of work to do today." My attitude the entire time was more whimsical than anything. Don't read "whimsical" as "I don't care" but more of "Yes, this is important to me but I am not going to slit my wrists if I get cut (no pun intended)." He returned to his holding area as did I and I awaited to be called up.

Round 1 - The Interview
My name got called and I was happy to finally get on my way with the process. The auditor took my information and led me into the theatre space where there were two comfy chairs. The chairs were straight out of 1960s Bond film. They looked very expensive and inviting to sit in. My first thought was, "It's so nice to be in a theatre that actually has money." We sat down and I prepared myself for a lengthy interview.

The woman looked over my resume intently while nodding consistently and said, "Oh yeah. You can do this. You're good."

That was my interview.

She then came with "Well, I guess I should ask you something right. Uhm, you're currently working right?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Ok, well, we're going to move you onto the next round. It might be a little while before we have enough people to take you in a group for the acting audition, " she said politely. I was lead into the holding area for round two and saw most of the people I chatted up a storm with from the lobby in there.

Do Ask, Won't Tell
I don't want to divulge too many "secrets" here as to what the entire audition was like so I will speak about what we had to do in generalities without giving away any of the BMG methods. Needless to say, even if I was to share this information, it wouldn't really help. The BMG requirements far exceed what I'd be able to explain with my limited exposure and vocabulary. Everyone's internalization of the audition is truly unique. You'll need to just experience it yourself. So, for the rest of the blog(s), I'll be giving high-level descriptions of what they asked us to show them.

Round 2 - The Acting Audition
They took a group of 11 of us to another office just up the block from the theatre. Our auditors were Blue Men (both men and women) and welcomed us in. We sat around and got an overview of what the rest of the audition process would be like (I'll go into it later).

Each of us then individually performed a set of two exercises. They basically forced us to demonstrate our ability to be able to tell story with just our eyes and minimal body movement. It honestly was one of the most uncomfortable activities I've ever had to do. Take a way an actors usual tools to communicate and then ask them to perform in front of completely strangers. It is nerve-racking!

Overcoming the Teen Wolf Syndrome
Not to sound too crass but I don't get nervous at many of my auditions. Sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes it's bad. I went into round 2 not nervous at all, but half way through the first exercise I had never been so nervous in my life! At that precise moment the Teen Wolf Syndrome kicked in.

If you haven't seen Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox (MJF) in the starring role, go do so! During 90% of the movie, MJF's character Scott goes through growing pains in his social life after discovering he's inherited werewolf-ism from his father's side of the family. Scott uses his new found powers to excel at all kinds of tasks such as playing killer basketball, acting in school plays, moonlighting with the hottest girl in school, and performing awesome acrobatics on top of moving vans. With all of this new found power, Scott eventually learns that he's got to us his powers at appropriate times and to focus on the people who really care about him. He decides to play the championship basketball game in human form and forgo the "guarantee" his werewolf form would give the school. It's an unpopular decision but Scott sticks to his decision which forces the other players to work at a team. They get to final seconds of the game and are basically tied when Scott gets fouled. He goes to the free throw line and gets two free throws to take. He needs to make one to win the title. He shoots the first free throw and misses. The crowd is in a frenzy and Scott lines himself up for the second shot. Now this is where the syndrome occurs. As Scott begins bouncing the ball, the entire world goes into slow motion...and Scott magically also goes deaf. All of the crowd noise dissipates and the only thing Scott can hear is the bouncing of the ball and his heart beat. That is EXACTLY what happened to me in the middle of my audition!

As I was telling the first story with my eyes, all of the noise in the room went away. All I could hear was my heartbeat and my thoughts. At that point I had made the realization, "HOLY SH*T! I'M FREAKING THE F*CK OUT! WHAT DO I DO? WHAT DO I DO?! OH MY GAWD! THIS IS AWFUL! " I can feel myself getting hot and starting to break a sweat. Because of the eye expressions and my nervousness, I went partially blind as my contact were drying out. The world went blurry on me. The whole experience was starting to crash in on me. The only thing I could do was think, "CALM DOWN. BREATHE! JUST BREATHE!" So I began breathing heavily and patiently and completed the piece as calmly as possible.

When I sat down to watch my peers go up, my mind was blown. This isn't a bragging point (or maybe it is....I don't know) but I hardly get nervous at auditions. It's not because I am the best actor or that I feel i've got the job on lock but rather I want to have fun at my auditions as much as possible. By having fun, the pressure is reduced. I still take my auditions very seriously but getting nervous doesn't really help anyone. The judges want you to do well in an audition and are really cheering for you. Why not join your own team by having fun? Having been so nervous in this audition at that point was incredibly foreign and alien. Just minutes before I was cracking jokes and chatting up a storm with my peers without a care in the world. At this point, I'm torn to pieces and incredibly insecure about what I just did for the judges. Apparently I wanted this thing more than I ever realized.

We finished our sets and the judges went back to confer with each other. It felt like we just made the first round after the golden-ticket phase of American Idol where they put all of the kids into different rooms and everyone waits with baited breath for the results. We sat there for probably 7 minutes but it felt like an hour. At that point, they came back and thanked everyone for their audition. Only three of us moved onto round 3. Fawk. That's hardcore! And I made the cut!

Round 3 - The Drumming Audition
We left the building and were told to return to the holding area in the theatre. After paying my parking meter, I walked into the theatre while one of my peers was performing with a Blue Man drum instructor on the Brair Street Theatre stage. Shortly I was called up to head up on stage.

The drum instructor asked me about my drumming experience and I told him that basically I had been involved in various bands, had been in marching bands, had drummed in musicals, and marched in a drum corps. I had to remind him that I wouldn't actually consider myself a drummer but have some basic skills.

They set up two practice pads where we could face each other and play. We started off playing straight eighth notes on the pad together and he asked that we make our drumming sound the same. Mind you the other drumming auditions I had eavesdropped on ran anywhere from 7-10 minutes so I was already prepared to have to pull unknown skills out of my arse as I figured they would run me through my paces for that amount of time. After roughly 7 seconds of drumming he began nodding and saying ,"Yeah...good...alright, you've got it." He stopped and then softly said, "Let's get into the more complex stuff." I was like "Wow. Ok!"

He then began doing various syncopated accents that he wanted me to follow. I picked those up really quickly. Once we got into a groove, he and I would mirror each other instinctively. It harkened back heavily to what I felt like doing during my drum corps days of "gacking" with the drum line during down time to learn their cadences and get a sense of what it was like to be in the line during a show. I could tell he really responded well to my actions and we ended up riffing off each other a little bit and getting into poly-rhythm work. I was especially proud of the moment when we both decided end the jam together with a unified rim-shot at the end just like most drum lines do. That to me was the sign I nailed that part of the audition.

And Now We Wait
I was then finish for the day. I has no idea if I was going to get a callback. I went to my favorite restaurant Uncle Julio's Hacienda for a celebratory meal and then started heading back home. My mind was on auto-pilot the entire time as I needed time to decompress from the experience. As I'm on the road chatting up with one of my theatre members, I receive a text message. I think I got a callback for the next day. I basically ignored what my buddy was talking about for about 10 seconds while I carefully double checked what it said. Yep. I definitely got a callback! I then exclaimed into the phone, "Dude, I think I just got a Blue Man callback!" followed by a ton of apologies for completely ignoring him and the conversation.

Day 1 was a crazy experience. It only got crazier when I got home. I'll detail it in Part II.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

[REPOST] When You Need to Know Who's Who In What

Originally posted at
Civilians (non-producers) tend to like to give me their thoughts on what they think improv is all about: 
  • It's stand-up comedy. 
  • That Drew Carrie show thing, right? Whose Line? I watch it all of the time on TV. 
  • Where you make EVERYTHING up! 
Contrary to popular belief, there's a lot of structure around improv shows.  We spend an inordinate amount of time learning how to create different pre-determined forms and structures in which we improvise the content.  As part of these forms we have to also think about the production of the show itself.

To have a successful show, we need to be able to execute the forms in a show within the timeframes we're allotted.  We also need to consider who else is playing on the same bill as they could have a form similar to the one we wish to present.  We also need to consider what kind of crowd we're playing to.  Are we playing for a "bar" crowd?  Does the audience want more "refined" humor?  Factor in all of these items, the percentage of improv that's being executed in the overall production is actually in the minority compared to all of the preparation just to set up the conditions to improvise on stage.

Most of the time, I know the answer to most of the important details going into a show:
  • Who's producing the show?
  • What time is the official call for the teams?
  • What's the location of the show?
  • Who's on the bill?
  • What's the after-show activities?
  •  What promotion will be done by the host and what needs to be done by the participants?
When I don't know this information, I find performing a little bit nerve-racking.  i'm typically the point man going into shows so my actors come to me asking me all of these questions.  If I don't have a ready answer, they tend to get in their heads which in turn puts me in my head because I'm now worried if I'm going to get a good performance out of my actors and worried as well if I'm going to be out of my head enough to perform well.  ARGH!

I tell the civies about these thoughts and they come back with "Well, it's improv right?  Just improvise!"  Perhaps that's a valid point.  It should be about improvising but producing is much more about planning for the expected and unexpected.  In these scenarios, the more planning and communication performed, the better.

What are some of the details you need to know going into a performance to make you feel comfortable to give your best?  Share you ideas int he comments below or hit me up on Twitter at @nvgdesign.

P.S.  In a future blog, I'm going to explore how improvising can be an important tool to keep in the back pocket of aspiring producers.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

[REPOST] Everything Is A Networking Opportunity

Originally posted at
Ever heard that "it's a small world in theatre"?  It's true.  You can be in a major metropolitan city or small town and eventually, you will know just about everybody "in the scene".  It's important that you maximize every interaction you have with people so that you can take advantage of your relationships to make something happen when the time is right.  It'll make your personal journey to success a lot easier if you learn to do so.

When I first started acting, it was a side hobby that was just for fun.  While people in my Intro to Improv classes were talking about how they would be on the Second City Mainstage in less than a year, I made a pact with myself to continue acting as long as it was fun.  It made me relatively cavalier about how I interacted with my peers because I didn't really care about what I said or what I did; the consequences of my actions were irrelevant because I wasn't planning on doing it long-term.  However, things changed after year one. I decided that I really liked this and wanted to continue doing it. I then decided I needed to go onto the next level of classes to get more training.  This is where I found I was now a player in "the game".

The Game
The theatre scene requires two major skills - on-stage & off-stage.  The on-stage skills are the ones most people think about and work to hone. We take a million classes, workshops, and seminars to be the best actors we can be.  We try to incorporate everything we read, hear, and say into our work.  We work hard on keeping our bodies, voices, faces, and minds in shape so that they're available to us at a moment's notice.  These are all important and are the skills other people see 80% of the time.  But you also need the off-stage skills.  These include skills in business management, communication (written and verbal), psychology (understanding people, situations, and how to react to them), and general professionalism (being on time, learning your lines, responding to emails, contributing to the production's promotion, etc.)  These are the ones no one teaches nor emphasize as being just as important to your overall career as the "real acting" skills.

Another (in)famous saying in theatre (or entertainment in general) is, "It's not what you know.  It's who you know."  This cliche sums up the game quite succinctly.  Off-stage skills can be used to further your career.  Since you never know who may be casting what project, you have to assume that everybody you interact with will potentially be on the other side of the long audition table at some point.  This includes all of your directors, teachers, actors, stage crew (set builders, tech people, lighting people), box office concierges, producers, caterers, and even patrons you encounter along the way.  Everyone of these people can influence your next move!  Do your best to interact with EVERYBODY and make a good impression with each of them. You can't make everybody like you but you can at least try to have everyone know you, and once they know you, hopefully you made a good impression on them to keep you in mind for future opportunities.

I recently treated a workshop with a famous director as an audition for future work.  I paid $50 to spend three hours with this person which I wouldn't normally get access to.  I dressed up for the audition and brought all of my skills to the front for those three hours.  I made a great impression and now have a regular correspondence with her.  I've even helped make it possible to have a private session with this director to get even deeper into the line of work I've been dreaming of in June.  Guess what I'm going to do for that. Treat THAT time like an audition as well :) Yes, I may not get the job I'm looking for directly this way; however, I am keeping hope that I'll be remembered when someone is needed for one of their productions in the future.

Playing The Game
Here are some things you can do yourself to distinguish yourself from others when working your off-stage skills:
  • Take advantage of your Facebook/Twitter friends.  If you have a chat feature, chat with the people on the list.  It can be a simple "hello".  There is a reason why you're connected with these folks so use the technology to keep your presence in their minds.
  • Attend other people's shows and make sure they know you were there.  Even if you leave early, at some point, let them know you got to see their show and what you thought of it.  Be honest (but cautious) about your feedback.  If you need help telling someone you didn't enjoy their show, hit me up on twitter (@nvgdesign) and I'll give you tips as to how to say something honest while staying positive.
  • Make it a point to connect to everyone in your classes in some manner (even if you don't necessarily like them).  Keep your ears open for things you can relate with your fellow classmates on (sports, fashion, TV, etc.)  I wish I had followed this in my early days of improv because many of those people have gone onto bigger and better things for which I sometimes wish I were a part of.
  • Promote shows/classes/workshops you believe in that you're not a part of.  Show that you can support others off-stage as well as on-stage.
  • Jump on opportunities to be involved in productions you want to be a part of.  I recently jumped into teaching some workshops by butting my way into a conversation some of my castmates were having with a producer a few weeks ago.  I made no apologies for it because I KNEW it was the right opportunity for my group. 
Brown-Nosing Vs. Schmoozing
I've run into a lot of people who know me merely for my schmoozing techniques.  They also say, "Oh, I didn't even know you're an actor!"  Yes, I'm a professional brown-noser; not in the traditional sense, which is usually the case.  To the contrary - brown-nosing is insincerity used to make personal gain. I only give out compliments to the opportunity gatekeepers that I believe in to parlay into building a relationship that can go two ways.  The person I am engaging gets a qualified person for the job they need to fill and I get to enjoy the opportunities presented to me.  There's no shame in doing so.  Everybody wins.

Go out into the world, my friends, and make your opportunities grow by leaps and bounds!  Let me know what techniques you have found useful in furthering your career off-stage in the comments below.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

How Do You Handle (Super-Temporary, Light-Weight) Fame?

Los Improviachis playing CIF 16 at Upstairs Gallery
Last night was the second night of the Chicago Improv Festival where Salsation had a show. Two nights previously I put together a quick showcase of Salsation productions (Word Up, Los Improviachis, and Salsation Improv) and this night was going to be Los Improviachi's major CIF showcase.  We had been working hard for the last two weeks playing shows, promoting our appearances, and putting in work to bring something new to the table.

We played on a triple bill for the evening and we were the only musical act.  I got a slot going second as it was a new venue and traffic/parking on a Friday night in Andersonville always sucks (I was in the car for 2.5 hours to get to the show on time) so I accommodated having both actors and audience showing up late to the gig.  We took a little bit more time warming up than usual but felt good going into our set.

Feeling good. Ready for action.  Then all hell breaks loose.

We have a fantastic show!  I have to admit that I thought it was going to be a weird show with the group kind of being in our heads while warming up.  But once we took the stage, we brought Los Improviachis to life on stage as usual.  As soon as I uttered, "You can continue clapping for us.  I don't mind."  They responded by keeping the applause going.  At that point, I knew we owned that audience and would have a great show.

After we played, we hung out for a few minutes backstage and packed up.  We exited down the harrowing steps from the third floor of the building onto the street level and hung out in front of the venue a tiny bit.  Frankie struck up a conversation with a dog owner passing by so we decided to chill out where we were.  Just as we got ready to leave, the audience from our show begins their exodus from the venue.

Things got weird at this point.

One of the ladies we played to in the audience came down first and struck up a conversation.  She told me how she read a recent article about the show and came just to see it.  She went on about how much she enjoyed the show and had a lot of fun.  Then I ran into people who came to see the show as a result of catching our triple-feature showcase previously.  That was totally unexpected.  They also told me how much they enjoyed the show and how great it was.  As the rest of the audience kept exiting, I was getting lots of "Hey, good job" shout-outs and hand shakes from complete strangers.

As a performer, I live for these kinds of moments.  I dream of getting on stage and people giving me standing ovations afterwards, beautiful young women throwing themselves at me, and three course feasts being held in my honor.  The reality is I usually do a show, nobody I know of shows up to the show, and I get in my car and head home with the personal opinion I did a good job.  To get even a taste of accolades was surreal.  I didn't really know what the hell to do with myself or how to respond.  I found myself feeling out-of-sorts and awkward.  The only thing I could say that I felt was gracious and humble was "Thank you" over and over again.

Over all it was cool and lifted my spirits (and ego).  This little dream project of mine is living up to the potential I know it has.  I'll continue pushing it to greatness (and learning to keep myself in check while we get our props).

Friday, March 8, 2013

STOP SNOWTCHIN'! Part III: The Conclusion

In my previous blog, I debated whether or not the use of a snow blower was a sign of hypocrisy regarding Chicagoans' latest attitudes and reactions to infrequent snow storms hitting the area. Well, the verdict is in:

"It depends..."

Here's the criteria to determine if you're being a punk-az regarding snow removal:

  • Your physical ability to remove snow
    If you're able-bodied, in relatively good health and are above the age of 10, you should be down for removing snow.  If you're pregnant, elderly, disabled, or a young child, you can forgo removing your own snow.
  • The amount of snow needing to remove
    This one is tricky as this is so relative to your environment.  I am going to say that if there is enough snow to keep an average car from traversing a path to a street, you probably should look at the snow blower.  If you're in an all-day blizzard and don't have the means to shovel during the storm, then a snow blower to dig yourself out of your home is probably a good idea.
  • The frequency in which snow needs to be removed
    The kind of goes in hand with the gauge above.  I had to manually remove snow twice during the recent storm and once after.  I'll go with a "4 or more times" rule - if you have to remove snow more than 3 times manually to keep your path clear, a snow blower is a good idea to use.
  • Environmental factors influencing snow removal urgency
    This one hits me close to home.  When my wife was pregnant with our second child, she was due any second.  Of course, the hospital was at least an hour away in good weather and we got a huge snow storm.  I had to keep the driveway clear to get her there during the snow storm.  At the time I didn't have a snow blower so I had no choice to but head out during the storm and remove the snow.  I have a 3 car garage-wide drive way.  I kept a path open for two cards to ge tin and out.  It also took me 5 different times every two hours to keep it clear.  I REALLY wish I had a snow blower that day.  Luckily, my father-in-law brought his over and helped clear out a space for a third car then next day.

    So, if you're going to be  in a relative life-or-death situation (I include child birth in that category), you should probably think of using a snow blower.
I ended up not using a snow blower to clear my driveway out  as it was all that deep and the temperature outside had risen enough to begin turning everything into slush. 

So, I'm not a hypocrite on this one folks! I braved the March 2013 Snowmaggedon!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

STOP SNOWTCHIN'! Part II: The Aftermath

In my previous blog, I ranted about how Chicagoans have become soft over the issue of snow.  Right after posting that piece of work, the snow finally hit my part of Chicagoland.  Now, I own a heavy duty snowblower that I bought off of my neighbor who bought it off the previous owner of my house (yeah, weird).  I haven't fired the thing up since I bought it.  Not even last night; I shoveled more to prove a point (and get some actual exercise in) vs. playing with one of the few power toys I have in the garage.

While my neighors were out with their machines, there I was with my lonely shovel and pure determination to clear out my driveway and sidewalk!  I've always wondered if my neighbors took pity on me.

"Oh, look at the Mexican out there with his little shovel.  Bless his heart," I'd imagine. "He so far from home and probably can't afford to get himself a snowblower after buying that big house."

OK.  I don't actually think my neighbors think I'm Mexican (maybe Floridian) and I haven't met one that is outright racist, but the pity factor has got to be there.  I'm probably projecting my fears of not fitting in onto them. 

I shoveled the drive and sidewalks twice and now have to clear it again after the winds knocked stuff off the roof on to the ground.   The conundrum I have is:

"Do I continue to shovel  to prove my point that I am no b*tch when it comes to snow or do I use my sleeping monster snowblower because I have sufficiently shoveled over the last 24 hours?"

I'm going to let the depth of what is on the ground determine my path.  If I do use it, am I being a hypocrite?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I'm a Texan boy.  Not born but raised in south central Texas.  I got used to the idea that the weather would be one of two things - hot and/or sunny.  Yeah, the temperature would drop a bit and we would get sleet every once in a while but we had basically two season to contend with and I lived that way most of my life.

One of the things I looked forward to when I visited Chicago was the fact that I knew there were seasons here.  I saw leaves turning beautiful colors on trees in September.  I felt the cool breeze mix in with the muggy, hot air in August.  I felt the heat waves in the summer. And, of course, I felt and expected the bitter bite of the infamous Chicago winter.

The first year I moved here, I was in my 1 bedroom apartment right off the lake.  I remember watching the news where they predicted roughly 24" of snow would fall.  I had no idea what that looked like or what havoc that would wreak.  I hunkered down by going shopping for food and drinks and cranked the radiator in my place to maximum and waited for everything to shut down.  I could work from home that day if needed and would be comfortable.

When I woke up the next day, there was a lot of snow, but when I looked out at the street, there were cars on the road!  People were walking around as if nothing happened!  I couldn't believe it.  The city was functioning!  Plow trucks were cruising up and down Lakeshore Drive, the maintenance crew were putting salt down on the sidewalks, and people were digging their cars out and moving them.  I was in shock.  If this had happened in Texas, a whole lot of people would've died due to believing wholeheartedly that one can drive a huge pick-up truck at regular speed in snow and maintain control.  Those that were smart enough to stay in, would've been holed up for days.  Nope - not Chicago.  This city KNEW how to handle snow.

Or so I thought...

We've been having mild winters here over the last few years.  One or two major snowfalls but nothing more than maybe a quarter of an inch at times.  It's enough to be inconvenient but nothing to cry wolf about.

Or so I thought...

Last night the weather forecasters were predicting around 11" of snow to fall.  Schools cancelled, mothers double-wrapped their children in layers of clothing, sleds were polished to provide the best rides, carrots and coal reappeared for future snowmen, and people expected the worst to happen.  I had colleagues calling me up asking whether or not they brave the horrible driving conditions in the morning or just stay home.

All of this got me thinking.  We all live in Chicago, right?  Snow does fall here year after year, right?  the city, surrounding suburbs, state, and independent contractors have ways of removing snow, salting streets, and opening up passages, right?  Then why THE FAWK are people acting like the world is going to end because of some snow?!!!!  GROW A PAIR ladies and gentlemen!  Yes, it may snow.  Tough.  Deal with it.  Yes it sucks.  If you're able-bodied (which almost all of my peers are), get a cot damn shovel out and start moving the shite!  If you don't like the snow, MOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVEEEEE!  The best part was that NO REAL SNOW FELL IN MOST OF CHICAGOLAND!!!  All of this hoopla was created over nothing.

The level of bitching about snow has become so bad I wonder if my initial feeling about Chicago being a working man's city was incorrect.   As I saw on a recent internet post, complaining about snow while living in Chicago is like going to a strip club and complaining that you saw a breast.

To my fellow Chicagoland brother and sisters - the city turned 186 years old yesterday.  It's seen the best of times and the worst of times.  Help me change this undercurrent of dissatisfaction with our great city.  We are Chicagoans - start acting like it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I went down to Texas a number of times last year to help get my Dad situated with proper health care.  As a part of the clean-up of his home, I found the cap (called a kufi) for my Dad's dashiki outfit from my his illustrious "black empowerment" phase (that's another episode in my one-man show that'll be expanded on later this year).  I decided to bring it home as part of the "booty" I put aside during the cleaning process.  I just happened to run across it when I was looking for my black hat to wear to rehearsal.  I took it with me and sported it once I parked my car in Chicago.

I was in Old Town for a rehearsal and decided to test out the head gear.  The temperatures were low enough that having something to keep my dome warm is a good thing.  Since Old Town is right by the lake, it features even colder and more brutal winds that just suck the moisture out of your skin during  the winter.  I had to keep the moisture in, son!

I started walking down the street and noticed people looking at me "oddly".  Granted, I know my Malcolm X-ish good looks normally get people to look at me strangely; however, I was getting more "thoughtful" stares from people - as if people were a little disturbed by the look.

Cool!  I be scarin' the white people in Old Town!

I then noticed when sharing the sidewalk people would give me a little bit more room to make my way. YES!  I've got a persona going.  I underestimated just how powerful the kufi was.  Here I am figuring out whether or not I would be able to rock one of these on stage and little did I know that this piece by itself can move people! At this point, I felt empowered to strut as I walked down the street and purposely engage people in direct eye contact to see their reactions.  I got a lot of nervous smiles.

Once I got into the building, I took off my magical intimidation cap and became just a mere mortal again. I went to rehearsal and shared my experience with my colleagues.  We got a pretty big giggle out of it and saw the comedic gold behind the encounter.

We finished up rehearsal and I decided to sport it again to continue my guilty pleasure.  As we're walking out, I spot this other gentleman sporting a kufi!  He spotted me and for a moment he smiled, looked up as he was going to say something to me, and then backed off once he spotted more people coming.  It was as if he was about to say, "YES! THERE ARE MORE LIKE ME!"  I gave hima nod and said, "What up my brotha" and headed out of the training center.  The others were right behind me and kept their mouths shut until after we were in the lobby.  We then all started giggling and gossiping about just how cool that exchange was.  We couldn't have written it!  It looked like he was signing up his daughter that day for classes. Someone said, "I bet you he was like, 'It's cool.  You can go ahead and take classes here, sweetie.'" after seeing me walk through.

I don't plan on making this kufi a staple of my wardrobe but cot damn is it effective.  Can't wait to tell the story behind this powerful garment!


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

All I Want From The Pumpkins... 2013...2013...2013?!

The Pumpkins recently tweeted:

Well, well!  Thanks for asking!  Here's the list:
  • Get back to TGBK and resume releasing music for free.  I'm not gonna whine about how Billy said it'd be 100% free but yet Oceania, which is considered part of the TGBK canon, had to be purchased.  It's not the first time he's "mispoken" with regards to a highly publicized project. I'd like some new music with the band as-is but release a few tracks for free.

    I know this request will most likely not be granted as-is as I also understand the implications that have arisen as a result of releasing music like this in the past.  The public still hasn't adjusted to this concept and they're quick to judge and close their minds to all future music based on a sampling of songs.  I also am aware that putting out an album for the band was important to allow them to "focus up" and make it a force to reckoned with.  Why mess that up with going back to releasing "singles"?

    As a compromise, how about releasing an EP for TGBK for free as a precursor to the actual record which will be for sale?
  • More epic guitar solos.  Yeah, I know, been there, done that.  I don't get sick of them.
  • I'd like to see some songs "co-written by" the other members.  Easier said than done however I will hold out hope.  This is Billy's band - got it.  However, I believe that he's relieved as well that he doesn't have to "do everything" in the guitar department anymore on recordings.  In order to distance and evolve from the past incarnations of SP, why not open up the formal songwriting to the other members.  Perhaps a "filter" system could be put in place where everyone rights and Billy executive produces them so that they retain a homogeneous SP sound.  It's already being done in a small way by allowing everyone to play their own parts on the record but why stop there?
  • Have the next formal effort (EP or LP) produced by Butch Vig.  I understand I just ranted about distancing from the past but cot damn Butch is on fire with producing some sonically awesome records (Wasting Light by Foo Fighters & Not Your Kind of People by Garbage).  Another producer I adore is Rick Rubin as well :)

    Again, having an outside producer may help the band continue it's journey in making the most current line-up just as relevant as the previous ones in the public mind (I personally like this line-up and hope to see it stay together for a long time).  Perhaps I'm being naive but if I saw the band working with either one of these guys I would think, "Hey, they're calling the shots ultimately and they want their vision to be even expanded on further."

    If it's too much/too scary for the band to commit to this idea, perhaps try a few TGBK singles with different producers to see how it goes :)
  • I want the band to be happy.  Just follow efforts that make you happy.  I can wrestle with the material irrespective of form however I want the band members to like what they're doing and enjoy the creation process.  It'll be reflected in the music.
Let me know if the band wants/needs anymore feedback :)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Year In Review: 2012

I've seen a lot of Facebook posts from my peers highlighting what they did for the entire year of 2012.  It made me stop to reflect on my own accomplishments last year as well.  There should be enough Facebook posts, Tweets, and blog entries to go into depth on anyone of these so I'm going do a headline news version.

  • Got onto a Genesis League team and helped naming it Any Given Hyundai.  It was a good experience in meeting new people and practicing my improv skills in a semi-pro setting.
  • Took the Madskillz II class and learned some excellent games and technique when improvising scenic hip-hop.
  • Performed in the Improv Minions as well where I learned just how uncomfortable people are with dealing with race on stage they're not familiar with.
  • Started up and performed with Los Improviachis.  This was a labor of love and I am glad that it's left my brain and materialized this year.  I've been also adding improv team coaching/directing along with musical directing to my palette of marketable skills.

  • Formed and produced the Salsation Improv team.  I got to coach this team as well (and most recently house manage!  Gotta love venue mishaps)
  • Co-produced and co-direct Salsation's latest sketch comedy show Daylabor Dreamin' and am personally taking it to Sketchfest this month.
  • Had another successful fundraiser
  • Got us into a couple of comedy festivals - Chicago Women's Funny Festival, Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, and the North Carolina Comedy and Arts Festival (we're not going to the last one unfortunately but at least we got in!)

  • Helped get Word Up on its feet and even performed as a poet for the first time ever. 
  • Wrote, starred in, and produced my first HD video of the year "Only On Sunday".
  • Got published 4 times in the IBM Expert System Integrators Blog  with blogs pertaining to the PureSystem family of servers and software.
  • Got a few videos published as well from the IBM PureSystems Residency.

  • Worked on a ton of new projects and got a ton of experience on new systems and software technologies.
  • Kept my family fed, clothed, sheltered, and happy.  MORE OF THAT! 
  • Got my Dad the much needed help he needed in his old age.  It zapped my credit cards dry but at least he's in the place he needs to be in in order to get help.
  • Helped my wife launch her Jill V Photography Studio.
  • Got a new dog Rex (still getting used to him.  Argh!  Puppies!)
  • Got my condo rented for 2 years.  MUCH NEEDED!
  • Came to realize that many people are not on my level when it comes to personal ambition, drive, and professionalism.  I had an epiphany that I needed to stop wasting my time on people who are not on the same page as I am with regards to doing things to make themselves happy.  I must've thought I could change them in some way, shape, or form.  All it did was aggravate me.  I spent the last 4-6 months seeking and working with the people I see are invested in not only themselves but also in me by wanting to (not feeling obligated to) work with me.  I've been a lot happier in general with my work as a result.

    Anecdotally, I've heard second-hand from different people who got used to me working so hard on their behalf's in the past actually complaining about my new found attitude.  They felt excluded from activities they claimed they wanted to be a part of.  What they neglected to see in their logic that their own actions were the reasons why they didn't participate by either not answering the call to join me or ignoring any invitations to be a part of something.  However, somehow miraculously it was my fault.  Go figure.
2012 was amazing.  We didn't experience a Mexican Rapture, made a lot of personal gains, and have another year to surpass it!  Can't wait to continue growing and being happy.