Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Safe Words

What is it to be an adult? Obviously this is a silly question, since if you've met any number of adults you know there are as many answers as there are grown-ups, but it's the sort of dilemma that founders many of my generation and social position who are held suspended between adolescence and adulthood by education and inclination. Right now there is a box of birthday presents from my mommy sitting on my bureau. I considered that it was the final test of adulthood to see whether or not I would be able to resist opening them until my actual birthday tomorrow. My friend offered the opposing view that the final test of adulthood was to be able to open your presents whenever you pleased. Ultimately, I think, I'll know I'm an adult when I don't have a box of presents from my mommy, but I'm in no hurry to grow up THAT much. Anyway, as a delayed-gratification aficionado of long standing - I haven't opened any of my Advent calendar chocolates yet in anticipation of a birthday gorging - I believe I will abstain.

When coming to adulthood in the biological sense, however - which is now at least a decade before people in my situation are expected to actually be adults - one of the most potent lessons is that words can hurt. In the numerous painful episodes which have constituted my relationships with women it has often seemed essential to put names to what was going on, to define 'where we were' precisely. I'm sure this is a common enough phenomenon. "We're not 'going out,' but we're 'seeing each other;'" the reluctance, or overwhelming desire, to nail oneself down with the label 'boyfriend.'

As an actor one of the most satisfying revelations, which I have had over and over, is the thrill of taking an ironic stab at a line, trying to play its 'opposite,' and learning again and again that the truth of the moment lies in its literal honesty. To make the decision that the character means precisely what he says - what a joy. And when that honesty can also so effectively 'get what you want from the other' - when it is not just sincerity for sincerity's sake, but genuinely railing at your partner's stubborn refusal to see YOU - that's good theatre.

So the point is, words are extremely effective. This point was driven home to me this morning, in the last day of my 23rd year, when two Secret Service agents rang my bell. They were following up on a post I had made two days ago on the message board of a Facebook group in which I... well... said I intended to kill the president. Rest assured I was making a point! The point, in retrospect, seems pretty stupid: that we don't really expect shit we say on the Internet to be taken seriously or go anywhere. I was responding to the case of this guy who had made assassination threats online and was now facing the possibility of 35 years in prison. Everyone on this message board, titled "Stay In Iraq Until The Job Is Done," seemed to be of the opinion that the guy should have seen his punishment coming; I was claiming that we don't, and therefor he had no reason to. So, I wrote what I did, which I'm frankly too nervous to reprint here, and it was hyperbolic and used the phrase 'rhetorically' twice and specifically claimed that I was saying what I was 'to make a point' once. I was pretty confident that even if it were brought to anyone's attention it would be immediately obvious that there was no reason to waste manpower on such a claim. Clearly I was mistaken, though wouldn't it be a better world if I hadn't been?

Anyway, they were very nice and understanding. They asked what I had meant by the post, what 'facebook' was, where I was from, my travel plans, whether I had any survival training (ropes courses do not count, evidently), whether I liked the Tar Heels, and generally tried to ascertain whether or not I was a genuine threat to national security.

Listen: obviously this was my fault, and in retrospect it seems obvious that something like that could get me in trouble. On the other hand, Jesus!

So, if the Secret Service has the resources to send two nice guys with similar haircuts and North Face jackets to the apartment of every dude who threatens the president (and his or her family and cabinet... sheesh that post is less funny now that I reread it) I can only conclude that they might keep an eye on me for a while. So, I've probably tripled the readership of this blog.

Yaaaay, happy birthday to me!

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Neighborhood and Ennui

Edgewater, the little chunk of town I call home, was best described by my roommate JT as "a nice mix of gay, straight, and Ethiopian;" apparently the enormous neoclassical high school down the street boasts speakers of 45 different languages from 65 countries. The cacophony as they stream past the window at 8 and 3:30 every day doesn't betray this rich cultural heritage, and might be best, if euphemistically, described as "urban-sounding." Urban means black.
One of the little chuckles of my life in Chicago, given how specifically selected it was to avoid New York and Los Angeles, is that I live three blocks from the intersection of Broadway and Hollywood, an intersection that almost every Chicagoan I've met here would describe as "way too fucking far north to go to." As a result, if I want to spend time with my friends, I have to either throw a party or meet them somewhere convenient for them. It's been a distressing realization that my sparkling repartee, while it was enough to get dudes across campus, fails to motivate across a Chicago winter.

The 'acting lifestyle,' if there is such a thing, can be described as a process of hurry up and wait. The last week-plus has had mostly the latter. I'm heavily scheduled - probably overcommitted in fact - through December and January, but the last few days have been gaping chasms of free time to be filled with World of Warcraft and drinking too early. There's nothing wrong with that per se, and I've been trying to enjoy the experience in anticipation of the hard work to come, but whenever this happens it's a confrontation with my deepest dread: dying alone. No, just kidding.

I have a very real and identifiable inclination towards laziness. I'm also ambitious and inclined towards a profession which is totally unforgiving. My greatest fear is not that I will not succeed, as I frankly have very little control over that, but rather that, having failed, I will know deep down that I didn't really try. The hours that tick by drinking the wine my parents bought me for the holidays and trying to get my Paladin's mount could have been spent writing a one-man show, looking for auditions, or even getting a real job (for fuck's sake). I am always aware of that, and the potential of each moment is a constant reminder that if I don't start moving I'll never get there. It's scary.

But, honestly, things are going well. Navy Pier has invited me back for their Christmas 'event,' called Winter WonderFest; I will be playing Barry the Holiday Cop, handing out tickets for late shopping and insufficient expression of the spirit of the season. Sadly, as a corporate 'holiday' affair, they focus on the Santa and Snowman aspects of the season and neglect the Jesus. Not that I'm a huge fan of Jesus, mind you, but He does have the best carols. I have decided that Barry will be an incarnation of the necessary rigorous fastidiousness behind every successful Christmas party - the mother bustling and cleaning behind the scenes so that everyone else may take their ease - and an enormous Cubs fan. Essentially I will wander around the Fest for 10 - 12 hours a day throughout December and into the first week of January. That last week will, I'm sure, be hilariously anticlimactic.

Well friends, I'll close with a couple plugs. This Sunday has another triumphant return of The Richard Tatorship to Amphora. January will have me in a puppet show musical performance art piece with my friend Seth and a few other people I don't know. And most importantly, next Saturday, December 8, will be my birthday party, celebrating my 24th year. The real day is the 6th, and I lost my gloves, so. Hint.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Blike, or Big - the Bike Blog

Chicago is an ideal city for biking. Not only is the public transportation a constant frustration to be avoided, but it is famously and completely flat - the only time I even consider changing gears is immediately before and after a bridge - and there are enough streets with big, well-marked bike lanes that it is only occasionally that I feel the claustrophobic terror with which I imagine NYC bikers must live constantly. I tip my helmet to you, east coast brothers.
Because of the nature of biking, which requires constant vigilance but minimal attention, my mind wanders. When I'm on the lake shore bike path (only 7.5 miles from my street to Navy Pier with the wind off the water much more pleasant a month ago) I feel comfortable wearing headphones, but on the streets it's not to be advised. As a result, I find myself revisiting the same themes over and over again, dredging up old slights and failures and reconsidering them with the miserable leisure of time. Mostly these have to do with women, because there is something about girls that convinces me that they and I are significant.
On my friends' recommendation I got my bike from Working Bikes soon after arriving in the city. Their shop is open twice a week for around five hours. As an institution they are an outfit dedicated to fixing and shipping bikes to developing nations. To fund this initiative, they sell bikes cheap to Chicago hipsters. As soon as they open, the line outside crushes in and everyone makes a mad dash for any bike that they believe might fit them, drops off their drivers license or other form of insurance of eventual return, takes a quick spin, and returns either to purchase or reassure themselves that they'll have another chance later in the week. I got there absurdly early, as I had not yet mastered the bus system (it is impossible to master the bus system) and in exchange for half an hour of moving newly refurbished bikes into the store from their shop space down the street, I was given first pick. My sweet little brown thing has skinny tires, but not too skinny, and it cost $100. Like I like em.
The Richard Tatorship, the improv group I formed with my roommates and their college friends, performed again last night, along with an extremely attractive trio from Loyola. I thought the show was good, I think the other dudes in the 'ship were less enthused. Possibly this has something to do with the fact that I talked a whole lot right at the end of the show. The next time I'm on Bikey II I'll have plenty of opportunity to pick my own performance apart. Especially if I'm imagining how the pretty Loyola girls were watching me steamroll my groupmates. This is how an actor prepares.

Tomorrow is the first read-through of The Glass Menagerie with the Oak Park Players, and my chance to get used to taking the crappy train all the crappy time. Stay tuned.

A correction: my roommate Stephen clarified that he didn't JUST make out with my friend Liz.
Heh heh, elbow elbow.

Monday, November 12, 2007


It took me a while to choose a title, and honestly it's not perfect, because Deadwood is in South Dakota... but there's a feeling evoked. I'm sure you sympathize.

My parents were here over the last couple days. As always it was wonderful to see them. I'm the result of the union of two of the most energetic good-hearted people in the world - myself I can only attempt to explain by theorizing that their coupling was performed on a bed of lazy self-interest - so they were no sooner in my place than they were cooking and rearranging my house. Admittedly, it needed it, and it is a great deal easier to type with my laptop on this Target brand computer desk (and bookshelf set, $69.99), but to spend two solid days with your parents is an exhausting proposition, I don't care who you are.

The Richard Tatorship had their premier last night at Amphora Restaurant. In general, and particularly relative to how it could have gone, it went very well. We're a young troupe, and we've practiced about twice as often as we've performed, so I wasn't expecting miracles, but there were a couple. I think that we as a group will run more quickly than most into the eternal improv question: popular vs artistic; and the perennial improv conflicts: long- vs short-form,
but given the auspicious start I am inclined to give us the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, I'd hardly be likely to criticize the group publicly in a venue which also serves as publicity, would I?

Deadwood is my favorite television program ever. (sigh.) I'm sorry, The Simpsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Batman: The Animated Series, but your various outstanding episodes cannot compare to the nearly uniform flawlessness that is Shakespeare With Tons Of Cursing. Except for the main character! Honestly, in the third season I believe they have started to accept the fact that no one can like Bullock by writing him as a complete prick.

Tonight serves well to illustrate a moment in the life. Today I was called to see whether I could take down lights at the American Theatre Company, yesterday someone called to ask whether I could move The Snow Queen set into Victory Gardens. As a result, my leisurely evening and morning must be canceled, and this blog briefened.
It's not surprising that Firefox doesn't know the word briefened, but insisting on the spelling "theater?" Come on.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Second Post - Soon, I Will Need Titles

I've just returned from Amphora, a surprisingly classy Greek joint at 7545 N Clark Street - just near the Howard stop on the Red Line. (The Red Line was under consideration for blog title, incidentally, possibly with some modifier a la 'The Noisy Red Line' or 'The Smelly Red Line.' Consider that bullet safely dodged.) We are meant to perform improv comedies at this place on this coming Saturday at 10, through a hookup established by a new friend David. So far David and I have managed to avoid addressing the fact that I got a part and he didn't from the audition at which we met, but I know it will get awkward soon when I rub it right in his stupid face.

The place is, frankly, a bit too classy for us, but by tucking ourselves into the darkest corner closest to the bathrooms we hope to find the right 'levels.' It was largely deserted when we were there at 8 on a Sunday, but possibly the marketing campaign, or 'blitzkrieg' envisioned by David, will make the difference.

Who's playing? Myself, my roommates Stephen and John Tell, and three other dudes who went to school with them. They are all proud Aggies, and JT has spent the vast majority of his life in College Station, TX. I wanted to call the group The Yell Leaders after an insane tradition they have at A&M (, but evidently the loathing they have for the genuine article precluded even an ironic nod, and so we find ourselves happily named: The Richard Tatorship.
Give it a minute.

I didn't know Stephen or JT when I moved to Chicago (please note the seamlessness of this transition into flashback). My friend Liz knew Stephen from high school - evidently, though she didn't tell me this, they made out a little - and knew that we were both moving to Chicago at the same time with similar intentions at least with regard to comedy. So, while sleeping in her little apartment and upsetting her boyfriend with shirtless living room crunches, I looked for and found a place in Edgewater. When they arrived, the dust of the meth-addled Texas plains still scripted into a WASH ME notice on their rental truck, I held the door for them and shook their hands. And so it began.

Our landlords, Michael and Terry, we call our downstairs gaybors, because we intend to make up jokes professionally and that's how we roll. They own an extremely successful candy store in the Loop downtown (teachable moment: The Loop is the business and financial district of Chicago, so called because of the circuit made by the L lines around the area) and in truth they are the greatest guys ever. Today, we were rehearsing and deeply engaged in a scene involving a trio of Minnesotans loudly marveling over the World's Biggest Dickhole when Terry pops his head in to bring us cake. Well, what a sweet guy. Of course, there has never been a reported incidence of a scene involving the World's Biggest Dickhole without a bubbler and sack of weed on the coffee table, and ours was no exception, but like the classy dude he is, Terry played it cool, handed off the cake, committed to making an appearance at our cocktail party Friday, and made his exit. The landlords are boss.

My folks get into town Thursday. My mom wants my cocktail party to be jumping. Stay tuned for that. Also, probably, my thoughts on season three of Deadwood.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The First Post

I'm at a point in my life where self-reflection must come to the forefront. Up until now the reflection of others on me, on my skills, and on my general composition, has been a legitimately significant factor; this is what schools are for. Sort of.
And it is certainly true that I crave the praise of others! My chosen field is almost exclusively populated with individuals who couldn't get enough of applause - that is, the time when everyone is expected to praise the performer while listening to others praise him (or her, though that is less likely). Every part of the acting profession, from the headshot to the audition to the removal of makeup is predicated on someone saying 'you were good; in fact, you were specifically better than these other jerks.' Well, not the removal of makeup. That's really more incidental. I was overextending my point and I apologize.
I am now engaged in an enterprise in which it is very easy to allow the criticism of others to be the be- and end-all of one's autoexamination. Yet, as I said, I am not in school any more. If I had wanted to work mostly with the responses of others, grad school was an option. What I am doing - in my life and in Chicago - must be greatly self-directed. And that's the 'why' of the blog. I hope it will give me opportunity to reflect on the course things are taking, and perhaps make the overarching direction more obvious. A normal person could do this in a journal; a woman could use a diary; I am an actor and even my special private thoughts must be public and positively received.

I want to be an actor. I came to Chicago for that purpose.
Q. Where before that?
A. I was raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and went to school in Providence RI.
Q. Oh yeah? Where in Providence?
A. Brown.
Q. Nice. Way to not make a big deal about that.
A. Yeah.
Q. Why Chicago?
A. In many ways I'm finding that Chicago can't be spoken about without reference to New York City, and that is somewhat the case here: NYC and LA are too expensive, I'm just making my start and don't anticipate needing to be near Broadway auditions until I have something on my resume, and improv. I love improv, and Chicago has the best. So they say.

The way this is gonna work is I'll update the blog regularly at first, then get tired of it and neglect it completely. Each update will include a little of what happened that day/since the last update, plus a little flashback over my time here thusfar, with the goal of catching you up and introducing to the wacky Land of Big Shoulders. For example:

I met a dude at an audition in Oak Park (you take the Blue Line to get to the Village Players of Oak Park) who is a bartender uptown. His boss wants to theatre up the place. Dude doesn't know about improv, but I do, so I tell him I could pull a group together asap and be there this weekend. Dude says sweet. We're set for Saturday, we need a group name, and I'm marveling how things just fall together sometimes. Plus I'm the gentleman caller in Glass Menagerie, so that's good too. And it reminds me of the goodness of my friend who let me crash at her place for two weeks when I got here, and also the lucky way in which I fell into a job building sets for Victory Gardens Theatre when I first got here.

Ok, the flashback felt a bit tacked on to the end, like a movie that if I were more clever I would reference. We'll learn as we go.

NEXT TIME: My zany roommates! and less misogyny.