Tuesday, August 10, 2010
So yesterday I had my first official "audition" in about twelve years. That is to say, an audition where I actually sat in a room with a bunch of other people, waited for my name to be called, and then walked in and sang 16 bars. After so many years of telling my students how to do it, I'd sort of forgotten the angst involved.
I was thinking the day before the audition what to sing...they were asking for fifties "rock or musical theatre." It was Happy Days, The Musical and I am up for Howard Cunningham. I'm sure, Gentle Reader, you remember that show. So I thought, "I really don't think rock would appropriate since I doubt that character sings it in the show, so I'll get some fifties musical theatre stuff and show that." I took in "I've Got Your Under My Skin" by Cole Porter. The next decision, of course, was how to sing it. I didn't think going in and belting it or doing the Sinatra swing thing was appropriate, either. Ange and I went to the local Burbank Public Library, one of my favorite places in the world, and picked up a DVD of "Musical Theatre Lost Gems." While not a fan of that sort of thing, I watched it hoping to find some inspiration. And I did. There was a clip of Mickey Rooney in Sugar Babies singing a quiet and heartfelt old number from the fifties. That's it, I thought. That's how to do it. And so that's what I took them yesterday, a quiet and introspective 16 bars of "I've Got You Under My Skin." Not maudlin, not ballad-esque, just rather underplayed and thoughtful. No idea if it worked...I'll know if I'm called back today, most likely.
I was struck again, all these years later, by the nerves and anticipation in an audition situation. The other actors there (well, all except my buddy Brad Blaisdell, who was at the audition, too...nothing ever seems to make Brad nervous) were all pacing and mouthing the words to their songs and subtly practicing hand gestures. I'd sort of forgotten the sheer NEED emanating from actors in that type of setting. The lyrics from a song in Chorus Line kept coming to mind..."God, I hope I get it...I hope I GET it..."
I was telling my friend, Jimmy Barbour, a while back that if I could make a living out here simply writing, I would. I guess I've turned a corner in my life, quite unexpectedly, regarding acting for a living. I don't need it anymore. I don't obsess on it. I don't demand it in my life. If it happens, fine. If it doesn't, fine. That is not to say I don't enjoy it, I most definitely do. But it is no longer all-consuming. In my twenties I would not have thought that mindset possible.
I was thinking about this yesterday and trying to put my finger on what happened to make me feel this way. Two things, I think. One is having lived a rather reckless life for a long, long time, picking up debris and detritus of a life lived consumed by nihilism, and then later becoming a drug and alcohol counselor for inner-city, minority adults in Chicago, I saw first-hand what was really important and what was not. There's a great line in John Adams, the HBO mini-series I'm watching now on discs from Netflix, that goes sort of like this - Adams says at one point, "I study war and politics so that my son might study engineering and bridge-building so that HIS son might study arts and music." As I got older and began to realize I wasn't really the center of the universe and that bad things happened to everyone, myself included; that there was no entitlement in life just because of education or inherent intelligence or money or prestige, that, yes, life was hard, and that singing or acting in front of a group of people was fleeting glory at its most childish...well, my opinions about what was noble and what was not noble began to change. Heroes aren't the astronauts walking on the moon, real heroes are the guys that get up every morning at five, for years on end, and drag themselves to a job they hate, just to put food on a table, a roof over heads, a shirt on a back. Real heroes are unsung and unappreciated. Real heroes are the guys that, figuratively speaking, study war and politics so that their grandsons might study Bach and Shakespeare.
The other, not quite so lofty, reason is that acting is an interpretive art form. The best one can hope for is re-creation of someone else's labors. The genesis does not lie in creating for the sake of creating. This is why writing, these days anyway, holds more joy and satisfaction for me than does acting.
Nonetheless, I'm good at it. All false modesty aside, I'm pretty good at being an actor. And yes, I do enjoy it. But with age, I've gotten it in perspective and, more importantly, I understand that it is, for me anyway, a means to an end: to make a living for my family. To pay the rent or the mortgage. To feed my wife and family. Brando once said he realized in his forties what a childish profession acting was and that sometimes he was simply embarrassed to do it. But, he said, he couldn't stop because they paid him too much money to do it. I completely understand that now that I'm older. It seemed a callous statement when I was younger, now it no longer does.
In any event, I've got another audition coming up soon, then a break from show-biz for awhile as Angie and I head to dear, old Missouri to celebrate our engagement with a party. That, at least, makes some sense to me.
The sun is coming up. The temperature today is supposed to be a balmy 70 here in the City of Angels. Angie and I had a wonderful moment of sincerity last night, quite unexpectedly, in the kitchen. Moments that are few and far between with any couple. A moment of satisfaction as we, briefly, understood the meaning of commitment. And to top things off, we took a tour of our dream house last night. An incredible place next to Griffith Park that has everything, absolutely everything, we want in a lifetime home. I was reminded of the scene in Miracle on 34th Street when the little girl stops the car in front of the house she has had in her dreams, runs inside, and sees Santa Clause's cane in the corner. This is the house we were meant to live it, Angie and I. Now we just need a million dollars. I'll see if I can't round that up today. I've got a little time in the afternoon. I'll see what I can do.
See you tomorrow.