Drooling on the Pillow

Saturday, March 20, 2004

I'm Not an Actor and I Don't Play One on TV 

This is probably more than anyone needs or wants to know about me, but I'm posting it anyway in response to an email asking how the acting was going. Some of my posts gave the impression that I was still in the business.

I go to work every morning to a job I hate. I have done for more than ten years. I was an actor once, for more than twenty years. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do and the only thing I ever found I was good at. Still, I like my life.

I showed in this post (currently it is the one archive week that won't pull up, but it's 2/11/04, below) how it was purely happenstance that got me into theatre school in the first place. The fact is it was several years before I began taking the idea of doing it for a living seriously. This is how that happened.

I was cast in a play by being directed by one of the members of the resident company of professional actors. It was Dark Lady of the Sonnets, a one-act by Shaw. It's a wonderful piece and I may be the only guy around who's done it twice -- at least I'll believe that until someone tells me different. It takes around a half our or so and the notion is that a young Shakespeare is trysting with the doubly eponymous Dark Lady and in the course of lurking around the palace at Whitehall waiting for her he encounters a Beefeater -- a sort of grave-digger/wise fool and then Queen Elizabeth herself. The joke (and Shaw understood the idea of theatrical jokes better than any Neil Simon) is that the other characters would let fly with a Shakespearian tag in conversation ("Frailty, thy name is woman", "All the perfumes of Araby . . .") and Will whips out a notebook and jots them down. Ho, ho.

Well, this night, the night I decided to become an actor, the show was going marvelously. Big laughs and my first experience of an audience completely at my mercy. The first time I ever worked an audience. Suddenly and I couldn't tell you the line, we did one of those little Shakespeare-cribbs-from-the-prole jokes and the audience began to laugh. I did a take. A dumb little take.

Well. They laughed for twenty or thirty seconds and then they applauded. Then they laughed some more and then they applauded again. And laughed again. It probably took ninety seconds before we went on with the play, but by that time I was absolutely hooked. I was a nineteen year old kid that nobody ever paid attention to before. No one ever could have possibly paid enough attention to satisfy me, but the point is I knew, as completely ignorant of craft or art or technique as I was, what was going on. That was a moment that people don't get in their lives, in their real lives. I became transparent. There was no space between me and the people watching me. They knew exactly who I was and what I was doing. My absurd confidence, my ferocious ambition, my facile charm was as plain and present to them as if it were theirs. I had disappeared and, for an audience its a thrilling experience. It's why they go to the theatre.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not trying to portray myself as a genius actor. Shakespeare of the Sonnets was a fluke and most actors have had similar moments. I struggled for years with to find my way back to that moment and the truth is, it was really only around the time I quit that I felt like I was really getting it.

I worked a lot, but made very little money. Lane worked less but made a lot more. When we decided to have a family I decided we needed at least one steady income. I wasn't headed for stardom anyway, but not performing has left a hole. I started this post by saying I like my life. The reason is Grace. There's no way we'd have Grace if I hadn't left the theatre. I'm all right with that.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Remember Them as Well 

More victims of 3/11, via Inside Europe: Iberian Notes.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Notes From the Underground 

I'm about halfway through the third volume of Joseph Frank's remarkable five volume biography of Dostoevsky. It is as much an intellectual history of the times he lived in and a vivid account of the ideological and literary to-ing and fro-ing of those turbulent years. His prose is a tad academic, but it is lucid and refined; it reflects his deep love of his subject without being the least partisan. The first volume is primarily about the 1840's (replace the Cossacks with the Chicago PD and you've got 1968) and the second with his imprisonment and exile in Siberia.

I bring this up because I like to pile on the French as much as the next guy and in this case the next guy is Feodor Mikhailovitch himself.

This is Dostoevsky on his first trip west and his initial impressions of Parisians:

"The Parisian loves to do business, but it seems that even in doing business and in skinning you alive in his shop like a chicken, he skins you not, as in the old days, for the sake of profit, but out of virtue, in the name of some sacred necessity."

Now, I don't think that greed is a particularly or characteristically French trait, but I do think that for the past year and a half the French have been making the case that dressing it up as moral grandeur is.


to 2Blowhards for linking to this post and sending a lot of new readers my way.

Remember Them 

Via Andrew Sullivan, Inside Europe: Iberian Notes has sketches of some of the victims of the Madrid mass murder.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Briar Patch Strike 

The SAG (Screen Actors Guild) strike of 2000 was one of the most disastrous labor actions in history. Not in terms of the economic impact to the nation, just as far as labor getting pantsed by management. The only one that comes close is the risible MLB Umpire's Strike in 1999.

The first question you've got to ask is why would a "union" whose membership historically suffers 90% unemployment even in good times decide to commit to a work stoppage? The vast majority of membership sustains itself on non-industry jobs. The elite don't need the money. This leaves a small slice - I would guess somewhere between 5 and 10% who make a good living, but aren't getting rich. Lane is in this strata, the one for whom labor issues are more than Joe Hill rhetoric and worker solidarity. She still is in that group, but the entire group's income has dropped probably better than 30% since the strike.

SAG was suckered into striking by management making noises about abandoning the system of residuals which is the way actors who actually work make a living. It seems pretty clear that the producers had no real intention of messing with residuals, but in the months of completely unproductive negotiations they were working out how to avoid using union actors at all. At the end of the strike the union had "saved" residuals and membership began collecting residuals on a much smaller piece of the advertising pie.

Most people, most consumers of TV and radio probably have not noticed much, if any, difference between the product of 1999 and 2004. But computer generated graphics, Canadian production, non-union production and celebrity spokes-person ads have all soared. Look at a half-hours worth of ads and see how many don't have any actors at all. You just see the car zooming around or the food sitting there looking good or shots of a dark city going past. They hire a voice-over guy and call it a wrap. The producers didn't target the actors because they represented a huge part of their budget. They took off on the actors because they were easy. Low hanging fruit. They wanted to cut costs and the easiest not-insignificant cost to cut was SAG. Wouldn't you?

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Meet Me in the Bonus Round 

Grace, recently a seven-year-old, is hooked on Wheel of Fortune. What's up with that? In our house, 7:30 on ABC is way more important than any Spongebob start time. She doesn't try to solve the puzzle. She's very acquisitive, which I like, but she doesn't try to keep track of the winnings. Must be the clapping.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

That Didn't Take Long 

In regards to this post on the effect of 3/11 upon the European electorate, the answer, via Tim Blair, is swift and depressing.
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