Thursday, September 9, 2010

Random Early Morning Blogging.

Our youngest, Franny, is up very early this morning.  I think he has a tummy ache.  He's a nine month old Norfolk Terrier we rescued from a shelter in Bakersfield, CA, of all places.  So I got up around four this morning and let him out to do his 'bidness.'  Now I'm up and awake.  So I thought I'd just do a little random blog stuff.

I had the commercial audition for the Fox NFL thing yesterday.  At first I thought I might be in the wrong place.  There were about fifty 16 year old girls, all dressed to look sexy and alluring gathered about the casting office and a couple of old goats like myself.  They say one of the signs one is getting old is when it becomes impossible to tell how old other people are anymore.  That was certainly the case yesterday.  When I first got there I looked around at all the eye candy and thought to myself, "Hm.  They must be casting a porno thing here today, too."  Why Fox Sports would be casting a porno movie was beyond me.  But as I began to look a little closer, I realized how young the girls all were.  There were more Blackberries being handled in that room than a pie convention.  It was a texting nightmare come alive.

One astonishingly beautiful young girl with very little clothing was sitting beside me.  I asked her if she was here for the NFL on Fox gig.  She looked at me like I was a pederast.  She said, "Uh, no.  The other thing."  Ah. The Other Thing.

They called me in almost immediately and I did my thing for them.  Not a big thing.  Just a couple of lines with Troy Aikman (not him, of course, but a Troy Aikman stand-in) and that was it.  These little gigs are all about the numbers.  They see about 100 other guys that look exactly like me and then God knows how they decide.  Nonetheless, it pays exceptionally well, as most of these gigs do, and it would be fun to have a little mad money in my pocket.

Angie and I have discovered a place here in Burbank called "It's a Wrap."  It's a thrift store of sorts.  The highest end thrift store you can imagine.  Most of the soaps in town donate their stuff to this place when they're through with it.  Consequently, the clothes are really cool, for the most part.  And incredibly cheap, relatively speaking.  In fact, yesterday Angie found a stunning dress there that she desperately wanted.  A thousand dollar piece of clothing for about a hundred and fifty bucks.  The men's department is like that, too.  Amazing suits all along one wall for hugely discounted prices.

I'm reading a short, little 'how to' book right now called How To Start Your Own Theatre Company by the former managing director of Chicago's Congo Square Theatre, Reginald Nelson.  I don't know Reginald, oddly enough.  I know most of the prominent Chicago actors but my path never crossed his.  Although clearly we have a lot of mutual friends.

Anyway, the book holds no surprises for me although it's very well done.  What is most interesting about it are the last couple of chapters which outline the first two seasons of Congo Square and the ups and downs they experienced.  I vaguely recall the buzz of their inaugural show, The Piano Lesson (which I saw in previews in NYC years ago with Jim Barbour - in fact, the playwright, August Wilson, sat right behind us and took notes).

But one thing does stand out in this cut and dried, short account of Congo Square's origins and that is Reggie's repeated warnings about having an 'ego-driven' artistic director and managing director.  The pitfalls of having a management team out to make money off the artists' work in the company.  I understand and appreciate that part of the book.  I have seen this all too often.  Recently, in fact.

As I've recounted in this blog a number of times, my ultimate dream is to run my own small theatre company.  It takes a goodly amount of 'up front' money to do this, however.  And while I've had some good years as a playwright and actor, certainly not good enough to raise the capital needed to start a company.

Ideally, one could finance the first couple of seasons of a new company out of one's own pocket.  This, however, rarely works in the long run.  My artistic mentor, Michael Moriarty, did just that back in the late seventies with an American Shakespeare Company called Potter's Field.  It drained Michael financially and nearly ruined his career because he began accepting film work for the money simply to fund his fledgling company.  His intentions were noble but ultimately, it didn't work.

Noah Wiley, of ER fame, did the same thing here in LA.  The company is called The Blank Theatre Company and Wiley funded the first few seasons almost entirely out of pocket.  They're still going strong because I think Wiley must have distanced himself after a bit and let the company fail or survive on its own merits.

I once read an interview with David Schwimmer, a founding member of Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre, in which he says it would have been easy for him to personally fund the theatre in its early years from the money he was making on Friends.  He chose not to in the end, however, because he said the company needed the personal impetus to survive on its own.  To step in and save the company every time they got into financial trouble would have been a mistake, he said.  Personally, I've never been a fan of that company's work because their stuff is so obtuse.  I think Mary Zimmerman is mostly to blame for that.  It's simply incomprehensible sometimes.

Steppenwolf, of course, is the prototype of all serious theatre companies looking to make a mark in this country.  They started out with incredibly humble origins in the basement of a church in suburban Chicago and a decade later became the gold standard by which all other theatre companies in the country measured themselves.  Of course, it didn't hurt that they had some of the most talented and stirring actors in the world on their roster at the time:  John Malkovich, Terry Kinney, Gary Sinise, Joan Allen, Laurie Metcalf, John Mahoney, Jeff Perry, Kevin Anderson, Austin Pendleton and Frank Gilati to name just a few of the early ones.  I would have loved to have been there when they were all just starting out.

An old friend of mine asked yesterday on her Facebook page what one would do with an enormous amount of sudden cash.  People answered honestly and there were quite a few interesting objectives.  I answered flippantly, of course.  However, in reality, there would be no question about what I would do: start a theatre.

Well, Franny seems to have settled down a bit.  He's sleeping beside me now, tummy ache apparently gone.

Maybe I can still salvage a couple hours of sleep.

See you tomorrow.

1 comment:

Daniel Henning said...

Hello, Daniel Henning here, I am the Founding Artistic Director of The Blank Theatre. I wanted to gently make some corrections to your assumptions about us and our work. In 1991, during auditions for our third mainstage production, an 18-year-old unknown actor named Noah Wyle came in for me. I knew immediately that he was filled with talent, and cast him in the role. That is how Noah met The Blank. It was not until three years later (and Noah having done 18 different projects with The Blank in that time) that he got E.R. Until then, he was like most struggling actors, working as a waiter. He could not possibly have funded the first few seasons of The Blank, as indeed, we had been around for 4 years before he was cast on ER, and for 1 1/2 years before we met Noah. I founded and funded the beginning of The Blank. I had been attacked in NYC, and received a cash settlement for that, and used the money to found The Blank. No one helped me with that. The Blank has always survived on its own merits. Noah has, indeed, helped us fundraise over the years, and has certainly donated from his own pocket as well, but The Blank has been successful for twenty years by producing theatre of the highest artistic quality, and by pushing the envelope of what we put on the stage; often doing shows that no one else will touch in Los Angeles. Also, Noah has not distanced himself from The Blank in any way. He is currently Vice Chairman of our Board, and the Artistic Producer. The Blank has been Noah's artistic home for 19 years, long before he got "famous". I believe if you ask him, he would tell you that his work with The Blank and the training he received on our stage may have been one of the reasons he got ER. It certainly was not the other way around. I just wanted to clarify these issues for the record. I thank you for thinking about us and our work, and saying that we are "still going strong". That is a terrific thing to be said about any arts company in 2010, but particularly one that produces cutting-edge theatre in Hollywood of all places! ;-)