Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Like Wallace Shawn, Only Naked

Not to drag you to my pity party, but I've been feeling like quite the loser of late. I've always thought that to call yourself an actor you need to be doing, oh let's say at least two of the following; actually rehearsing/performing a show, going to auditions, sending out pictures and resumes, networking, taking a class, exercising, warming up vocally, going to plays, reading plays, hell, reading a monologue, just to name a few. I've been doing exactly none of these. For weeks now. Okay I have seen two plays in the last two weeks, but yeah, I'm as unimpressed by that as you. There's no solution other than, well, getting off my ass and doing something, and I know that. I'm not doing it, but I know it. So then an incident occurred on Tuesday. In some ways it made me feel like even more of a loser, but in others it felt strangely encouraging.
Most of you know I model for art classes, studios, and artists as my bread labor. On Tuesday I was going to a new place for the first time. An artist named Tara had gotten my name from the Columbia listings, and asked me to model for her single student. She mentioned he was a theatre director, but hey, who isn't, this is New York, so I didn't think anything of it. Of course Tara knows nothing about me other than the fact that I model.
So I arrive, meet Tara, then her student. Both of them are quite pleasant, we work for a while, the student mentions a role he played in a very prominent film by a prominant New York director. Immediately my insecurities rise to the surface; I have a pretty good guess who he is now, but unlike most of the English speaking world, I haven't seen this movie, I'm really pretty much film-illiterate, and I get embarrassed about that. Later he asks me what kind of theatre I do, and after I answer I ask him if he mainly does film or theatre. "Both, really," he replies, which doesn't help my investigation at all. Later he hears that I lived in Seattle and mentions he helped found the Seattle Rep. Okay, now I'm 99% sure he's who I think he is, but dammit I don't know enough about the Seattle Rep to be sure even still. Why don't I know the history of the Seattle Rep? Why haven't I seen his movie? Why haven't I seen more movies? And while we on the topic, why haven't I read more plays? I still have reams of classics to catch up on, I've barely read any O'Neill, Williams, Miller, or Stoppard, I don't even know all the Irish plays I should, and oh yeah, why don't I have at least one good Irish dialect, I look as Irish as Paddy's Pig, people are always calling me in to read for Irish plays and I routinely suck, I really need to take a dialect class, and maybe a stage combat class for those Shakespeare auditions, oh yeah, I still haven't read all of SHAKESPEARE, what the hell is THAT about, sure, it's not like every one of his plays is brilliant, but I should at least have read them, oh, and people keep asking if I do voice-overs, I really ought to look into that, get a tape together, what's the matter with me...
So this is all brewing in my brain as I model for him (and we all remember I'm naked, right?) for the three hour session. It's all very pleasant, he's charming and appreciative, she's charming and appreciative, I'm doing good work, having a fine time. It isn't until I leave the studio that I get Tara alone so I can finally say "That was Andre Gregory, wasn't it."
"Yes, I'm sorry I didn't tell you, I didn't mean to obfuscate the information."
Fuckity fuck fuck fuckerson.
"He must think I'm a moron," I reply, thinking to myself, "theatre or film?" Jesus Christ on a bicycle!
"Don't worry, I'll tell him I didn't tell you."
Okay, maybe I don't need to feel too ridiculous. Maybe he appreciated me not fawning on him, or getting stiff and weird. We really did have a lot of fun stuff to talk about, shamanism, drawing, trying new things, it was a nice afternoon. He had originally tried to bail out of the class that day because he was feeling insecure about drawing a person, he told Tara he had a sore throat and she had wisely called him on it, so he was more nervous about this encounter than I was, at least at first. He said it had been a real pleasure to meet me, it's all good. So why do I still feel moronic? My Dinner with Andre had a profound effect on me when I saw it, though since that was about twenty years ago, I couldn't tell you many of the specific reasons. I was in college, had just decided to make theatre a central part of my life, then I saw this movie where theatre was treated like a serious and spiritual pursuit, just like I needed. He also directed the beautiful Uncle Vanya on 42nd St, which among its many pleasures is also where I first fell in love with Julianne Moore. Other than that however, I don't have a clue what else he's done, which of course now goes on the list of reasons why I suck at my career. Oh, if you're wondering, the movie he did was The Last Temptation of Christ, with Scorsese. He played John the Baptist. But you knew that, didn't you. Of course you did.
I'm scheduled to go back to model for them again in a week, so I've got a little time to do some homework, not to make things weird, mind you, but just so I'm not talking to one of the giants of independent film and experimental theatre like he's some shmoe.
I've been somewhat reassured by the fact that of the handful of people I've told about this incident, only one of them had heard of him before. I think it was an age thing, since the only other guy who didn't need me to explain who he is, was also over thirty. Once I said My Dinner with Andre though, everyone got it.
So yes, I've been feeling pretty lame, but the animist in me is also thinking "it's an omen! I'm on the right track! The universe, in the person of Andre Gregory, is telling me to stay true to my calling! Huzzah!" No, I don't really know what that means either, but hey, encouragement is encouragement. I'll take what I can get. I suppose it's always nice when someone who previously was just a symbol in one's personal mythology suddenly becomes a breathing, living, friendly, normal person.
Now I'm off to google him.

Later: if you want to know more about Andre Gregory read the interview at this link. http://www.tcg.org/am_theatre/at_articles/AT_volume_22/March05/at_web0305_gregory.html I just read this and not only did it remind me of a few of the reasons I've valued this man, it reminded me of things I've needing to remember for at least three (if not ten) years. This may not be the kind of theatre you want to create (and lord knows there's no money in it) but I'm feeling incredibly inspired and rejuvenated right now. I will refrain from kissing Andre Gregory when I see him next. Especially when I'm naked. That might be awkward.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I Feel a Blog Coming On...

So this is the kind of random venting I had planned not to indulge in here too much, fearing that once I started I might not be able to stop, but for reasons that will become clear later, I decided to take the risk this time.
Pratt has been on Spring Break all this week, and since it has become my main source of income of late, the result was I too was on "break" like it or not. Oh let’s be honest, I liked it just fine. I can entertain myself for months at a time, boredom is rarely a problem, lack of income is the problem. The odd thing about my life in NYC at this point though is how easy it is for me to go days without having real contact with another person. My roommate has been gone a lot, and when he’s here, he’s usually with his girlfriend or on the phone with her, so my one expected bit of human interaction isn’t very interactive.
I had made sure to go out each day this week to do something in the larger world, just so I didn’t spend the entire week in my jammies, but even so, I’d say I was pretty isolated. Sitting next to a stranger on the subway, or at an adjoining table in a café isn’t really contact.
So I decided tonight that I would go out to eat at a nice restaurant, one of my favorites, Café Loup, in Chelsea. I never mind eating alone, and thought it would get me at least around other people in a slightly more relaxed, social environment. I went early enough in the evening (it being a Saturday) that a one count table wouldn’t be hard to squeeze in, or annoy anyone. The staff was as kind as always, though I have to admit my waiter was more than a little flaky, but he got the job done. My complaint doesn’t lie there. Soon after I sat down, the hostess seated two men at the table directly to my right. This is New York, so all the tables are just a bit closer together than my small town sensibilities would prefer, but I’ve come to accept this without too much trouble in my twenty odd years of living in cities. This did mean however that I was more privy to this couple's behavior than I would have liked. One of them immediately asked the hostess if they could have a different table, and she said that she needed the three count for three people. I thought she answered briskly, but politely, but the man questioning her (after she left) let it be known to his companion that he didn’t care for... the situation, her attitude, not getting his way, I’m not sure. I was trying not to listen, because I could tell I had already taken a dislike to him, but something had his knickers in a twist, he had suffered quite the outrage apparently. Then when the waiter came, they asked if they could have the table on my left, which was in the corner (less exposed, I guess), the waiter checked and found it out was already reserved, so no. He then took the initiative to see if he could put them in a different corner table, but when he went to check, the man doing all the asking (whinging, sniveling, getting on my wick) let his companion know this was not acceptable either, and they might as well just stay where the hell they were. Goody for me. The waiter came back, told them he could seat them there if they liked, and they declined, reasonably politely to be fair, thanking him for taking the trouble, but it was clear that at least one of them felt the evening was now shot. After that they didn’t really do much else to piss me off, though snitty guy did ask for a glass of Chardonnay with ‘rocks on the side’, which wouldn’t have bothered me if he hadn’t already pissed me off, but seriously, what the hell is that? Get the damn wine with ice or not, you pretentious twit. I should admit that these guys came across as very effete, stuffy, snotty individuals, the kind I used to think gave homosexuals (me) a bad name until I realized what a stupid thing that was to say or think about a person. Assholes cut across all demographics.
But yes, some internalized homophobia of mine was momentarily triggered by them, then I just accepted that they were condescending complainers who I could be annoyed by without it being an affront to homos everywhere. I’ve been particularly impatient of late with this kind of patronizing arrogance, people behaving like their every want or (stupid, affected, supercilious) need was not being sufficiently catered to, but I was pretty sure I now had it under control.
Then the couple arrived who had reserved the table to my left (the corner one coveted by snitty guy and friend). They were an older couple, a man and a woman, I’m pretty sure from out of town, and I think this was their first French restaurant. The woman went to the ladies first, and when the waiter came to see if the gentleman wanted a drink, he went into something of a panic, thinking he should order for his lady friend, but not sure what she wanted, he was pretty sure she would want a soda, but he wasn’t sure which kind... but yes, he’d like a glass of wine, oh, this one looks good, how about that? When his friend returned, he anxiously called the waiter back over, but at least was polite and kind when he arrived. She ordered ‘a diet soda’ which after quite a bit of discussion turned out to mean diet Coke.
Once it became time for them to order food, however, there was again a certain amount of anxiety and uncertainty. The lady didn’t know what Mesclun salad was, and the waiter’s explanation left her even more mystified, another salad on the menu had cold beets which she loathed (she said this several times after the waiter left with their order), so she and her companion each ordered a simple house salad, and fairly risk-free entrees. When the salads arrived, the waiter left the pepper grinder for them, a habit which Café Loup seems to have introduced recently, and which I heartily applaud; I’ve always found the whole ritual of someone applying pepper for me just a little weird; "would Monsieur care for some sugar in his coffee? Shall I butter Monsieur’s bread?" This momentarily stymied and disgruntled Ms. Out-of-Towner however, and she was even more stymied by using the damn thing. Christ on a crutch lady, it’s a wooden pepper grinder, how exotic is that? Then she buttered her bread to discover to her displeasure that the butter was unsalted. THEN SALT THE DAMN BUTTER FOR GOD’S SAKE.
This was when I started to face facts. Affected, complaining Chardonnay guzzlers on one side of me, awkward yet harmless rubes on the other side of me... they weren’t really the problem here, were they. My first thought was, Daddy needs to get out of TOWN, but the real answer is probably, Daddy needs to work. If we don’t count the art modeling (and believe me, I don’t) and some odd readings (and I do mean odd) it’s been eight months since I’ve really done any acting. This is part of the boom and bust cycle of the business, I’m not expecting sympathy (I swear), but wow, I hadn’t fully acknowledged what a misanthropic jerk it seemed to be making me. The thing that kept me from behaving completely inappropriately, telling Chardonnay snorter to put his ‘rocks’ where the monkey hid the nuts, say, or offering to find a CHIMP who could show Madam how to use the DAMN PEPPER GRINDER, the one thought that kept me from misbehaving was "I can write about this on my blog, I can write about this on my blog..."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Take Away my Celt Card

This was probably the weirdest St. Patrick's Day ever for me. To be honest I'm always a bit disappointed by them; each year I want something spectacular to happen, but since I don't really know what that means specifically, I'm not very effective at making it happen. This year I met up with my friends Megan and Geoff; we were going to see our mutual friend Jeff in a play, but wanted to get dinner first. So we wandered rather aimlessly in the West Village looking for someplace to eat, finally deciding on Mexican food. Making that decision didn't end the wandering however. Our first stop looked promising as it was almost completely empty, but the reason for this became clear when we reached for the front door, where a modest sign announced they were not yet cleared to serve alcohol. Moving on. We ended up at, I kid you not, Senor Swanky's. Which was decorated with shamrocks and such, and had loud frat boys in green jerseys, but it was still fast food Mexican. We were actually pleased with our food, but I was less than thrilled with a frozen mango margarita that cost as much as my burrito. Then we went to see Jeff play Hitler (and Charlie Chaplin too, sort of) in a British play about the Third Reich. It's actually a pretty interesting play, CP Taylor's Good, now playing at Manhattan Theatre Source. Go see it. But it was a weird choice for St. Paddy's Day. Then the four of us (Geoff, Jeff, Meggie and me) headed off into the West Village to find a bar. On St. Paddy's Day. At 11:30pm. In the West Village. Hoping to sit down and, get this, talk. We ended the evening at Dojo, where everyone else had beer, and I, admitting defeat decided to have coffee and the worst chocolate cake I've ever eaten. And if I didn't like it, you know it had to be bad. I'm not one of those chocolate snobs, I'll even enjoy Hersey's Kisses. But this cake blew.
So let's recap, shall we? On St. Patrick's Day, 2006, I started the evening with Mexican food and a margarita, watched an English play about WWII Germany, then ended the evening with coffee and disappointing cake at a vaguely pan-Asian restaurant. I have no one to blame but myself. That said, it wasn't a bad evening.
I think part of the reason I always have high hopes for the day is because when I was a kid growing up in Indiana, there was a local retired college professor spinster lady named Undine Dunn who would always leave a little present for me on our front p0rch on the day. She left presents for lots of kids in our college community on their birthdays. I'm not entirely sure how wide-spread her net was, but I believe pretty much any child under the age of twelve with any connection to the college was remembered on his or her day. But as far as I know I was the only one who also got a gift on his Saint's Day. Did I mention that Undine and my family were/are also Quaker? Not really big on the Saints, you see. But St. Patrick's Day has always had a special place in the hearts of Irish folks regardless of religion (do you hear me you Ancient Order of Hibernian FUCKS? It's not just for Catholics), and Undine and I definitely shared a bond on this issue.
Undine was a very quiet, gentle soul, quite shy with adults, a life-long spinster, back in the day when that was what we called them, but very comfortable with children and animals. She put cat food out every day for all the 'strays' in the neighborhood, which of course meant there were some mighty fat housecats living nearby, as well as some pretty happy possums and at least one skunk. She always had mints and dog biscuits in her bag, and would hand out the former to any child she met, and the latter to any dog. She was one of the few adults outside the family circle with whom I and my siblings used the plain language (the second person singular pronouns thee, thy, and thine), in accordance with older Quaker tradition. (My family still uses it amongst ourselves.) As I and my siblings got older, she became more shy with us, shown by her changing to the formal second person singular, but we three refused the switch, and firmly addressed her as 'thee' until the day she died.
I think about Undine every St. Patrick's Day. I can't remember a single one of the gifts she left me, they were undoubtedly quite modest (I'm sure books played a significant part) but I was always pleased and excited to go out first thing in the morning (she must have left them no later than 6am) to see what she had given me. Looking back, I marvel that she did something that might have been construed as favoritism, given her great sensitivity to the feelings of children, but I don't remember either my older sister or (more significantly) my younger brother resenting the fact that I got an extra present each year. Perhaps the situation was aided by the fact that my father (also quite proud of his Irishness) would give everyone a present on the day, as he does still on Valentine's Day, Easter, and any other holiday he might think of. Now that I think of it, did Undine also leave easter baskets for each of us every year? I think she might have. Maybe something on Valentine's Day too? I'll have to check with my family. Nonetheless, St. Patrick's Day was my special occasion. She may have set a standard that adult celebrations have failed to match, but she gave me some very fond memories.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Clarification Part I

I've seen one thread of the preceding entry a bit more clearly, and want to share that now. If a film is made that effectively tells a story about women or people of color, that process simultaneously gives work to members of those respective groups. Over time, the pool of successful actresses and performers of color grows in direct relation to the number of films dealing with their experiences. That process does not happen for queers (do I have to keep writing glbt or are you with me?). There may be a growing number of films dealing with queer experiences, but almost always they are portrayed by straight actors. I would argue there is even a strong preference for casting straight actors, either because of homophobia among the powers that be, or because of the perceived homophobia of the target audience. So while the number of images may be increasing, the number of actors benefitting from the increased visibility isn't growing at all, at least not through that method. "Will & Grace" did not lead to a single actor coming out during it's entire run (unless Sean B. Hayes finally broke his policy of refusing to answer the question, and somehow I missed it). I am glad for the rise in the number of queer characters in film and TV, but if we want an increase of openly queer actors, the push for that is going to come in some other way.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Gay in Hollywood

I’ve been struggling for days now to write about Hollywood’s preference for casting straight actors to play gay roles. For the record, I do NOT believe that all gay roles must be played by gay actors. The craft of acting is built on the understanding that we can empathize with the people other than ourselves. It’s why we do it, it’s why we watch it. Finding the universal in the particular, personal, even the eccentric may be the root of all good art. Certainly the experience of being an outsider is one that most individuals can find a way to relate to. I am firmly in the ‘let ‘em play gay’ camp.
There is something about this that still sticks in my craw, however. Not only are sexual minorities the only marginalized group who are routinely portrayed on film by non-members, in fact a strong attitude still prevails that it is preferable for non-members play us. The reasons why tend to be pretty vague; it’s more of an acting challenge according to some, gay films are risky ventures to begin with, so it’s necessary to involve big name performers to pull in audiences, are just two of the arguments I’ve heard. And in return for this, we are expected not to squawk, but be grateful that our stories are being told at all.
Let’s think about this; if a white man was cast as Ray Charles, if men were cast as Thelma or Louise, because "they were the right actors for the roles" many people would be up in arms, me included. I accept that the glbt experience is not necessarily analogous to that of race or gender, but I’m still not sure why not. Do we HAVE to be portrayed by straight people? Then if we throw in the argument frequently voiced by producers that openly queer performers won’t be accepted as straight characters (at least in romantic roles) it becomes evident that if a gay performer wants to be work in Hollywood, he or she better stay closeted.
Perhaps this is the single biggest difference we have from women and people of color, the closet. Most of us have had to go through a period of self-discovery and identification, then we have to decide if we want to ‘pass’ in the dominant culture. Since we have the option not to rock the boat, or disturb the status quo, there ends up being great pressures both external and internal (yes, our own discomfort can’t be ignored) to stay under the radar.
Yes, I know it’s tricky to talk about Hollywood as if it’s a monolithic entity, with some secret cabal setting casting policy, but we do have some gauges for noting trends. When looking at the situation for actresses and performers of color, we count the roles available for them to begin with, then we examine how well their stories are told. We also look at awards; it is seen (quite rightly, I believe) as noteworthy that we’ve only just had a black actress win a best actress Oscar. These measurements, when applied to the glbt situation reveal similar findings. "The Year of the Queer" notwithstanding, glbt characters are still pretty rare in film, and still primarily presented as jokes and stereotypes. To date there has been exactly one openly gay actor nominated for an Academy Award, and he didn’t win.
I only see one solution at this point, and it’s the one modeled by women and people of color before us; we need to forget about Hollywood, and make our own movies, tell our own stories. Yes, we’ve been doing that, and it’s started to pay off for some people, mostly directors at this point (John Waters, Rose Troche, Gus Van Zant to name a few). The handful of openly gay actors in Hollywood mostly work in (cable) TV, as character actors (often on hiatus from Broadway), or they’re British. God bless ‘em, they’re still making a difference, but I don’t think they’re going to be able to do much more than they have. No, we’re going to have to work on our own, outside the Hollywood system. History has shown us that if good work finds its audience, Hollywood will be gladly step in to take a piece of the action. It may be tapped into the ongoing debates of our culture, but the fact remains it is a business first and foremost, with huge amounts of money at stake. It isn’t interested in taking any risks, or doing us any favors. We’ve got to stop expecting it to. Individuals may have noble agendas, I for one don’t question Ang Lee’s sincerity or support one bit for example, but we’re not doing ourselves any favors if we wait around for acceptance. I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on these matters.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Worst. Fortune Cookie. Ever.

Wow, I haven't written for a while. It hasn't been for lack of things to say, god knows, but time at home has been limited. I wish I could say that was due to fabulous acting work, but mostly I've been modeling a lot, helped a friend move, did a staged reading, and watched the Oscars. Will refrain from speaking to the latter topic for now, maybe forever. I've got something in the works that isn't quite done yet, so in the meantime, here are some random thoughts.
I had lunch yesterday at my new favorite cheap Chelsea eatery, Sammy's Noodle Shop. While the food was great, I have to say that city-wide (maybe nation-wide), fortune cookies are pretty uniformly disappointing, however. Too often they're not even fortunes, they're advice or just observation cookies. Yesterday mine said "Handsome is as handsome does." I don't have the slightest idea what I'm supposed to do with that information. I've only had the most general of understandings of that phrase to begin with. I've interpreted it to mean "don't be taken in by a pretty face." Sound enough advice I suppose, but how is it a fortune? And how am I supposed to utilize it in my life at present? Is my interpretation of this phrase accurate in the first place? Handsome is as handsome does, what the hell does that really SAY anyway? I think the people in charge of fortunes aren't really trying anymore.

My second bit of randomness is a follow-up on "Do I know you from Somewhere?" The fact is, people constantly tell me I bear an uncanny resemblance to someone from their previous lives. A disturbing number of these people tend to have died young. I haven't found out the causes of death in most cases (one guy died of AIDS) so I haven't been able to ascertain if there is a pattern I might want to watch for. The first time this happened was probably also the most striking. I was living in Seattle at the time, and early on a Sunday morning was walking downtown to a rehearsal. I was passing through a fairly industrial part that circles the downtown area, hardly anyone else on the street, when I noticed a guy walking towards me on the opposite side. He called across to me, "Hey, do you have the time?" I looked at my watch, and gave him his answer. "You look exactly like my younger brother, " he said. "Really?" I replied. "Yeah, but the thing is, he died three years ago." I made general sounds of condolence, and we both kept going in our respective ways. Later it occurred to me to wonder if he had actually cared what time it was; I wonder if he asked me a question just so he could talk to me, hear my voice, know for certain that I was NOT his dead brother, walking towards him on a deserted street on a quiet Sunday morning.