Jun 202012

Image courtesy of upside of inertia via flickr

I often wonder what the actual threshold is for being able to claim that you are a “professional” in any given activity. The basic definition I have always used is whether or not you get paid for what you do. I have been paid to act in every production I have been in since 2001 (with one exception), so I am comfortable calling myself a professional actor. Is that enough, though? I mean, if you do ONE show in your entire life when you get a paycheck can you call yourself a professional? Is there a minimum number of shows you should do? Should you have to have an Equity card? Perhaps you can only say you are a professional if you actually make a living acting.

I was recently part of a production of Biloxi Blues that was criticized by Tampa Bay Times writer John Flemming as being “amateurish” because nobody in the cast was a member of Actors’ Equity. This caused a bit of a stir in the Tampa Bay area, because the fact is that around here most of the paid actors who appear on our stages are NOT members of the union. He, in a nutshell, called anyone out who didn’t have a card as being an amateur. Needless to say, that rankled.

I feel this way about my blogging on occasion as well. This blog has never generated any kind of revenue in the past. I have sold a few of my Cafe Press T-shirts, but those sales have come through direct links on my Twitter feed or through people stumbling across my shirts in the Cafe Press store. I got some work at WoWInsider as a result of being a part of the now-defunct ShrinkGeek blog, though, so I wonder if I can now say I’m a professional blogger? I’ve been paid to write for a blog that gets millions of page views every month, so does that count? Or do I have to actually be working full-time as a blogger to earn this achievement.

My former boss decided, after his position with our company was eliminated, that he was going to try earning his keep by playing poker. Does that make him a professional poker player, or does he only get that distinction if he shows up on ESPN in one of those big tournaments? Is it enough for him to make his living by playing through a web site like [redacted]?

Does the fact that I’m now getting offers to place paid advertisements on my blog make me a professional?

Or does it make me a sell out?

Does the fact that I wrote an entire post about the subject in order to include a paragraph that was relevant to the advertisement that was purchased add or detract to my sell out factor?

Do you see what I did there?

Yeah, I figured you did.

Maybe I’m less professional and more prostitute, but daddy has bills to pay and this blog ain’t paying for itself.

Edit – April 24, 2014

So I was asked to remove the link to the site in question due to my advertising no longer being needed. Funny, that. They only paid me for a year, but I completely forgot about this and they could have just let it ride forever rent-free. Ah well.

Jan 302011

Sometime around October of 2001 I got a phone call from my friend “ranney.” He was directing a musical with a young theater company in Tampa and he was having a hard time casting one of the characters. He had directed me in a musical adaptation of The Birds that he wrote while I was a student at the Polk Community College and he felt I was a good match for the part. I came in and auditioned for him, and a few days later I got the call offering me the role.

The show was Maxwell: A New Rock Musical By Joe Popp, and it was the first paid acting gig I ever got. It was also the beginning of my year relationship with The Jobsite Theater. I was very much an unknown factor in this production, and I had the extra baggage of being recently divorced with the need to occasionally bring my five year old son with me to rehearsal. “ranney” put his full support behind me, though, and he managed to convince the Powers That Be to give me a shot.

Ten years later and I’m still working with them.

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Aug 192010

You see that one? You see that utter and complete failure personified right there?

That represents my roll to keep this blog updated more often. Wow. Talk about critical failures. I haven’t updated in over two months. It’s certainly not that there hasn’t been stuff to write about, I just…I don’t know what. No inspiration? Lack of energy? Total eclipse of the heart?

Turn around, bright eyes.

Anyway, I thought I’d make some kind of lame effort to put content out here this morning as I’m up particularly early thanks to an overwhelming need to urinate and a gnawing hunger in my belly. Yes, you totally needed to know that.

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Jun 112010

As has become the tradition here on my little ol’ blog, I am posting up links to all three major reviews that have come in for Dead Man’s Cell Phone. For the most part, they are overwhelmingly positive. There are some quibbles about the script itself, but even with those caveats all three critics had tons of lovely things to say about our little production.

A fine production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone, an imaginative if flawed play by the ubiquitous Sarah Ruhl” – Mark E. Leib, Creative Loafing, June 9th, 2010

“‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ starts out strong, then fades out” – Marty Clear, The St. Petersburg Times, June 10th, 2010

“‘Cell Phone’ message is loud and clear” – Kathy L. Greenberg, The Tampa Tribune, June 10th, 2010

I’ve said it before, but I’ll emphasize here again. I don’t do what I do just to get a nice review, but I sure as hell don’t mind it when that happens. All three of these reviews are awesome, and two of them are especially complimentary to me personally. Mark says that it might be my best performance, and Marty refers to me as “always excellent.” I’ve heard similar comments from some of my peers who have seen the show.

Is this my best work? I honestly don’t know. I can tell you that it’s some of my most honest. I can tell you that the things that have been praised about the show are things that the cast and crew consciously worked on and that they were not “happy accidents.” I can tell you that the audiences that have seen the show so far have seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves and that we’ve been getting lots of positive feedback on Facebook and Twitter.

Another show that I got high praise on, personally, was Playing with Fire : After Frankenstein. Unfortunately, in the realm of ticket sales, not a lot of people came to see that show (despite great feedback and positive reviews). I hope that doesn’t turn out to be the case again.

Please, if you can possibly spare the time, give us an opportunity to entertain you for an evening. I promise you that you won’t regret it. If money is an issue please contact me directly. We have several means to get discounted tickets available and can possibly work something out to help you get into a seat.

If this sounds a little early for me to be all desperate and pleading…It’s only because I’m proud of the work and I want to share it with you. I have had people tell me that they “wished they could have” seen one of the shows so many times it makes my head spin. Don’t be that person!

Dec 202009

I have no desire to see the movie Avatar.

I realize that, in some ways, I have just committed some kind of sin that shall get me ostracized from geek subculture, but the statement is true. I’m just not interested. I fully admit that the film looks to be a special effects bonanza. James Cameron has never failed to deliver in that particular regard, and some of the films from his body of work are all-time, and often quoted, favorites of mine (especially Terminator and Aliens). Cameron also directed another film that I saw in the theater called Titanic. In fact, I saw it in the theater three times. That little blockbuster of a film broke all kinds of records and got a whole bunch of Academy Award nominations.

I can’t watch it today.

I mean, I could…but I can think of a lot of things I’d rather do with my time. Things like, I dunno…cleaning my ears. Checking my cat for worms. I think you get my point.

The reason I feel that way about the film is because I feel like Titanic was, ultimately, a rip-off. Cameron made sweet, sweet love to our eyeballs for a few hours and did so in a mind blowing fashion but the next morning he was gone and he left a note on the bathroom window saying that we might want to call our doctor and get checked for STD’s. Titanic had the potential to be a movie that would stand the test of time, and the fact that he created a bogus story to tell on top of the tragedy that was the Titanic is, in some ways, a bit insulting to those who died that day if you really think about it. It’s pretty much a statement that, of all of their stories, none of them were good enough to get people to come to the theater and watch a movie. Not really a valid statement when he had Kathy Bates playing “the unsinkable” Molly Brown.

Now I know a lot of you might look at the fact that I saw Titanic in the theaters three times and say “Well, you obviously enjoyed yourself when you went to see it.” You’d be 100% correct. I did. I cannot argue that fact, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I thought it was an awesome film at the time.

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Nov 232009

Editor’s Note – As part of my work with The Artist’s Way I am occasionally required to complete certain assignments that are intended to help me discover the things that have me “blocked” as an artist.  Unlike the daily exercise of completing 3 pages of long hand in a journal these stories do not, necessarily, have to be private.  As such I figured that since I was writing this anyway I’d go ahead and put some actual content in this journal for a change instead of letting it fester here unused.  Please understand, though, that what I am writing is not necessarily going to be a rational take on my experiences or any kind of plea for help.  On the contrary, these entries are actually part of a conscious effort to improve myself and my self-worth.

I have been asked to describe one of the “monsters” from my past that has held me back as an artist.  I really had to think hard about this because, frankly, I’ve had more support than not in my quest to be an artist. After thinking about it for a while I did manage to come up with my three, and here are the details on one of them…

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Aug 202009

Ok.  Yes.  I suck at updating.  I’ve gotten used to doing all my updates in 140 characters or less over the course of my day and have spent all of my verbose writing energy over at ShrinkGeek.  You caught me.  I’m a horrible person and it’s perfectly justifiable that the number of people who visit my site every day has dropped to about 6.

I fail at internet celebrity.  Seriously.

I could say that my life has been exceedingly busy lately and I wouldn’t be lying, but I’ve used that excuse before and promised that I would change.  I mean it this time, though, baby.  Come back to me.  It’s going to be different.  I love you more than I love that silly old Twitter business.  She means nothing to me.  All I give her is a bunch of cheap, quick hits.  You?  You get all the depth and breadth of my soul.  My innermost feelings.  The very essence of what it is to be ME.

Just ignore all those workout posts.  I was going through a phase.

Umm…Did I just anthropomorphize my blog?

Is that even a word?

So anyway.  Updates.  Right.

Got back in town on Sunday from the (now) annual excursion to Indianapolis to attend GenCon with Alex.  We has an absolute blast.  The highlight of the con was our participation in the NASCRAG tournament, and I’m proud to say that our team managed to snag both the best name category (“We Have 3 Virgin Men”) and Third Place overall.  Not only that, but Trish took home the prize for MVP in her portrayal of Sexy Kobold Left…or was it Sexy Kobold Right?  It was really hard to tell.  For those of you who are too lazy to click the link, NASCRAG is an annual role-playing tournament at GenCon in which rules take a back seat to having fun.  The focus isn’t on who knows the game mechanics but more on who plays their character the best and puzzle solving.  We had so much fun we’ve already determined that NASCRAG is a definite for next year already and our team is already starting to form.  We also managed to snag a few spots in a Second Edition Paranoia game loosely based on the Star Trek universe called Paranoia Trek (a GenCon tradition, apparently).  I managed to win a prize for role-playing in that one for my stunningly accurate portrayal of Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway.  I’m not entirely sure if I should be proud of that one.  We continued the silliness in a rousing game of Luchador : Way of the Mask, and Alex enjoyed that one so much he actually purchased a copy for himself and wants to run it at some point.  Finally we got to try out the latest edition of Call of Cthulhu in a scenario known as “Beatings :  The Musical” (which was, apparently, the censored title….the original title was “Buggery Hoedown on the Gaza Strip.”).  That was a very entertaining mix of the silliness we’d been participating in all weekend with some good old fashioned Cthulhu chills.  Yes, we died at the end of the adventure.  But, hey!  We did NOT go insane AND we managed to prevent the world from being destroyed for another 100 years or so.  Go team!

Negatives of the con?  I attempted to pick up a copy of Call of Cthulhu along with a few GURPS supplements from Atlas Games and had the very embarrassing experience of discovering the Chase had decided to cancel the credit card that I took along for goodie purchases the night before (after I had used it to pay for dinner).  This is not the first time the Chase has screwed me over, but it was the worst and will be the last.  I have one card left with them that has a zero balance, and as soon as I’m able to make sure I have another “emergency” card on hand to take its place I’m canceling that one.  We also had a lovely experience with Alex’s blood sugar on Sunday morning due to the fact that he ran out of one of his types of insulin and didn’t tell me about it because he thought I’d be mad or something.  He had high levels of keytones in his blood and was vomiting before we got on the plane to come home.  I was able to get his blood sugar down to a reasonable level with what we had on hand and we made it home without incident, but it was a real pisser of a way to end the vacation.  It was also another reminder that he is not completely mature enough yet to handle his blood sugar related issues without being monitored closely.  I know he hates that, but until he proves we don’t need to anymore it is how things have to be.  There was also a snafu with the hotel bill that caused my bank account to be overdrafted, but that managed to get fixed and I’m being sent a coupon for a suite upgrade for next year.

Overall, though, it was a fantastic time and as usual I have come home with a renewed desire to get together with the family and friends to do some more table top gaming.  I have also walked away from the weekend finally able to see a picture that has been forming in my head ever since I made a concerted effort to actually read the Fourth Edition Dungeon Masters Guide from cover-to-cover.

One of the things they pointed out in that book is that a good Game Master never says “No.”  On the surface that seems like a truly disastrous statement to make, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that it was a completely true statement.  The fact of the matter is that in many ways a role-playing game is just an improvisational theater game.  You have a set of rules, you have an established character, and you have one person setting up the scenarios you will encounter who has an outcome in mind.  The fun comes in the getting there, and as part of that the players are just as important to telling the story as the game master.  Accepting that an RPG is a form of improv theater it makes sense that the “never say No” rule of improv carries over to table top gaming.  This is not to say that you let your players get away with completely running over your story, but it’s imperative that you let them actually take part in shaping it.  The best game masters I’ve ever played with did this, and I saw many fine examples of it this previous weekend as well.

I am inspired to do the same.

On another acting note we’re still in the midst of casting the 2010-2011 Jobsite Season with all the angst and anxiety that goes along with it.  I have at least one more show to audition for on August 31st and I’m still waiting to hear about another one.  I have already landed a few roles and gotten very close on a few others (including one that, unfortunately, I REALLY wanted…and not just because I could use the extra paycheck).  I am thinking that, next year, I need to at least go to the Tampa Area Unified Auditions at the Gorilla Theater.  Jobsite has been my theatrical home for the last 7 years and as far as I’m concerned they will have my eternal loyalty but I wonder sometimes if I’m doing myself a disservice by not at least seeing if anyone else would like to use me.

I was, however, reminded of something yesterday by a fellow actor and parent.  Every role that I miss out on is one more opportunity to spend time with my son before he’s grown up and out of my house.  I have plenty of time in my life to act after he is gone, but I will never get these years back.  The role I was gunning for hard this year would have prevented me from going to GenCon with Alex in 2010, and while I was prepared to make that particular sacrifice I think in the long run the time Alex and I spend together will be a much better investment.

Jan 122009

I haven’t made a post here in almost a month, and all I have is the really lame excuse of “I was busy with the holidays and rehearsing for a show.”  I’m still really busy, actually.  I just started a new semester of classes at Saint Petersburg College (I’m taking the classes necessary to get into their B.S. Technology Management program).

That being said, my creativity is kind of at an all time low – which really sucks because I’m working on a super-secret new project with some friends that is going to require quite a bit of creativity from me in very short order.

The preceding two paragraphs were a lame setup for the cheesy premise of the post that follows.  I’m going to take some of my tweets from the last month and expand on them.

So lame.

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Jul 032008

I am an ensemble member of the Jobsite Theater, and have been since the program came into existence in 2005.  What this means, in a nutshell, is that I do not have to attend the annual general auditions that they hold for the public.  They are aware of what I am capable of doing and when it comes time to cast the shows for an upcoming season they do not need to see a monologue from me to determine whether or not I have any talent.  I do, however, have to go to the call backs for specific shows if a director feels that I might fit for a role.

If you’ve never been through an audition process I can honestly say you aren’t missing much.  In all the experiences I’ve had in my life, I can honestly say that the emotional roller coaster that happens during the casting process is right up there as being one of the most grueling.  You may perhaps think I’m exaggerating, but consider the following – If you’re working with a company that you’ve worked with in the past chances are that you know most of the competition.  In my case, this means I end up reading against a bunch of men who I think are insanely talented AND who I happen to like quite a bit.  You want to talk about conflicted emotions?  You may want a part really badly,  but chances are that your peers want that same part.  In order for you to get it you have to beat out those folks.  They have to “fail” where you succeed.  You stand there, smiling and chatting like friends should but inside you’re wondering if this is the person who the director is going to choose over you.  It’s gut wrenching.

Along the same vein, you usually know and (again) consider the director to be a friend.  Do you have any idea how hard it is NOT to take it personally when you’re “rejected” for a part by someone you consider to be a friend?  You can sit there and rationalize and say that you just weren’t what they were looking for all you want, but in the end it still feels like a kick to the gut.

It’s even worse when someone at the audition is considered a favorite by the local media.  An actor who has won a “Best of the Bay” award or who is frequently cited as being someone to catch in the area before they move on to “bigger and better” things.  When you see someone like this at an audition and they are reading for a part that you want the temptation to just pack it in is insanely powerful.

So, ok.  You make it through that night.  As soon as you get in the car to head home you start trying to figure out who got a part.  Sometimes it’s pretty obvious, to be honest.  Generally speaking you can bank that if one actor reads for the same part multiple times and hardly anyone else reads it said actor has the part.  This is by no means a hard and fast rule, of course, but I’ve seen it play out this way more often than not.  If you have any doubt, though, you start watching your email or checking your phone constantly waiting for some kind of word as to how you fared in the process.  Depending on the director or size of the cast this process can take weeks.  The longer you wait the more time you spend convincing yourself that you didn’t get the part and the more you dread the email you know is coming.  The “Thank you so much for you’re time.  You’re wonderfully talented but we have our cast” email.  There have been a few occasions when I’ve convinced myself so thoroughly that I was getting one of those emails that I’ve been literally shocked to get one in which I was offered a part.

If you do get that rejection notice, though, it begins yet another period of emotional trauma.  If you’re anything like me it does, anyway.  You flagellate yourself with self-depreciating comments like “I’m not talented enough,” “I’m too fat,” “I’m too ugly,”  and other teenage level emotional suicide bombs.  You being to wonder if you’re really all that good or if, in the shows you’ve been cast in, you’re just the only person they could get.  This usually lasts all the way until you actually see the production, at which point you generally have to admit that the person who was cast was really the person who was right for the job.

Which, in the end, is the only truth there is in this.  As an actor, you are not perfect for every role.  You may think you are (…may?  who the hell am I kidding?  Actors are some seriously egotistical bastards…generally speaking it’s why we act in the first place), and you may even be right, but you’re never going to get every part you go out for.  It’s a hard, depressing reality to face but there it is.  It sucks, and every year we put ourselves through it.  Not because we’re gluttons for punishment, but because it’s something we’re driven to do.

And because, frankly, we’re a little bit crazy.

Wouldn’t you have to be to go through something like this?

Jun 202006

Getting something like this in your mail box :

We were making references all day and incorporating it into our jobs.zayna

From things like that, to people seeing me and saying “Oh Boy,” and everything in between – It’s knowing that you left a memorable impression on your audience that makes this whole art thing worthwhile.

(and on a health note – feeling somewhat better, and logged in to work…not 100% by a long shot, but not doubled over either)