At a dinner party once I listened intently as a musician, a violinist of some standing around town, was talking about the life of a working player, a professional artist. She eventually came round to the subject of practice and in response to the question “do you practice every day?” she explained something that really stuck with me, “I practice every day. I have to because, if you miss one day of practice, you know it. If you miss two days of practice, your teacher knows it, and if you miss three days of practice, the audience knows it!”
Practice is a big part of the life of a professional artist. A good friend of mine who is a painter, always has a sketch pad and crayons with her. She finds time to draw every day. She says that she must in order to “maintain”. As a young actor I was taught to practice daily. As soon as I left the conservatory and began my career I let the daily practice thing go. Heck, I was working a lot and felt I didn’t need to practice. Was I right? Was I wrong? Who knows? That’s how it went.
Now I’m decades down the road and seeing my profession in a new way, as an artist and as a small business man. I am my small business and in order to have success, my one and only product must be in the best shape possible. So now I practice daily. When a job is pending I’m looking at the script. When an audition is coming up I’m working on the sides. When nothing is going on I’m learning a new monologue, or going back over an old one. I take exercise daily, keeping the body and mind sharp. If I’m to practice my profession at a high level, I have to have high standards.
To any young colleagues who might read this, take note. We are all talented, and some of us work harder than others. Those that work harder also work more. Talent will never replace hard work.
Man oh man I guess I’m living right. Last year I did a really sweet little job working on a music video with a major music star. This project was so “hush-hush” that I had to sign an NDA and refrain from talking about it. It was fun and the major music star turned out to be a very friendly and engaging guy. Couple weeks ago I got a call from a production company about a project that I knew nothing about but they seemed to know me and the person on the other end of the line was saying things like “…we want you to come back” . I referred them to my agent and manager and carried on with life. Now an offer has come through and next week I’ll do a couple of episodes of the first streaming series to be produced by Apple Inc. It’s called “Vital Signs” and it is a series that is growing out of that secret music video I did last year. Not only do I get a couple of episodes to further develop my character from the video, but I even get to do a couple of scenes with that big music star I mentioned. I have to say I am one blessed guy.
Gun. What an experience! Gun is a labor of love and passion brought into the world by a fellow names Sam Upton. Sam wrote the screenplay, and is directing and starring in this film about redemption and never giving up on oneself. Sam really impressed the hell out of me. To any one of those hats is very demanding, but all three? Amazing! I guess what struck me most about Sam is his level of enthusiasm about film making. The set of GUN was high energy and happy and fun. I will remember the experience for a long time to come.
The role I played in GUN was small but crucial. Trinidad Sanchez comes from Cuba and is one of those guys who occupies a place in the fight game, developing new boxers and breathing new life into the careers of boxer who have lost their way. While that sounds like an honorable endeavor, there is nothing good and pure about the way Trinidad goes about his business.
I did a lot of research on boxing, the business, the people, the culture. Sam suggested I check out the Wild Card Boxing Club. I did some googling and found it on Vine street not far from the Hollywood and Vine metro station. I also found out that this boxing club is owned and operated by Freddie Roach, the great boxing coach and trainer who has trained world class boxers, especially Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and the great champion, Manny Pacquiao. I decided to jump in the water and grabbed a metro train to Hollywood. I found Wild Card and was pleased and surprised to find Freddie Roach himself sitting at the reception desk of the club, running the day to day. I walked up to him, introduced myself and explained, “I’m an old man who wants to learn the fundamentals of boxing and appreciate the sport more”. In no time at all Freddie set me up with a trainer, a club membership and a pair of hand wraps. I came back the next day and began to learn.
Boxing is a grueling and fascinating sport. The pure physical demands are really, really daunting. I would suggest that anyone who wants to practice boxing first get into pretty good shape just to survive a training session. A boxing workout is broken into rounds. A three minute round is followed by 1 minute of rest. In a boxing gym there is a timer running at all times, it signals exercise and rest periods for the whole gym and most people will conduct their workout accordingly. For me a workout would begin on the treadmill for 20 mins or so just jogging and getting warmed up. During this jog I’m stretching my shoulders and shadow boxing. At the appointed time my trainer Paulie calls me over and wraps my hands. The hand wrap is crucial. Without a proper hand wrap a sprained or broken hand is almost a certainty.
Once wrapped I’ll do a couple of rounds of shadow boxing. Then the training gloves are put on and we begin 5 or 6 rounds of mitt work. The training gloves are 14 to 16 ounces and it can be a challenge just to keep your guard up for 3 minutes, let alone, throw punches, move lightly about the ring, and bob and weave. One of the first and most important lessons a boxer must learn is to breath. That may sound simple but in the unfamiliar, demanding and violent environs of the boxing ring, even something as simple as breathing must be learned. I found that, as I was throwing punches and defending myself I would hold my breath. In a very few seconds I was gasping for air and unsure of my footing. I would struggle to get through the round, and then barely catch my breath before the minute of rest would expire and I was back to “getting busy”, and I would hold my breath again. Paulie showed me how to exhale on the punch and create a physical rhythm that would govern my breathing, movement and timing of punches. In time I was able to get through the round with much less struggle. The workout would continue with a couple of rounds on the heavy bag, the speed bag, the crazy bag and then a lot of abdominal exercises. Strong abs are very important in boxing, not only to make it possible to take body punches but to make the upper body more mobile when slipping and dodging punches.
Before and after workouts and during my treadmill sessions I would just sit and soak up the atmosphere. Wildcard Boxing club is a small, stuffy, smelly collection of boxing equipment and boxing practitioners. Men and women of all sizes, shapes and social standing come to Wildcard boxing club and pursue the challenges of the “sweet science”. What I came to understand quite quickly is that Boxing is a martial art, like Karate or Judo or Tae Kwon Do. But is is also a physical practice like yoga. No one every masters yoga, they just practice at ever deeper levels. So it is with boxing. While there are boxers who have tremendous skill and speed are still students.
I was always impressed at how polite everyone is in the Wildcard Boxing Club. I mentioned this to one member, a man called Bo, (my name is Bodine but everbody call me “Bo”) a large, powerful and heavily scarred fighter who had been coming to Wildcard “forever”. He explained quite simply, “…well a course folks is polite up here. If you rude to people round here you could get yo ass kicked…”
Women and men train together at Wildcard, but there is not flirting or fraternizing. Everyone is there for one thing…boxing.
My the time I was finished with a month of training I have a sprained hand, sore muscles tight abs and a much deeper appreciation for this much misunderstood sport. Now that GUN has wrapped I’m seriously considering doing some more boxing training. My interest has been peaked. Stay tuned.
When I was a young actor sitting with the veterans, clutching my drink and listening to their stories I kept hearing a phrase get tossed around, “two planks and a passion”. That little phrase spoke to the fundamentals of Theatre. When you strip away the painted sets, the raked stage, the God Machine, the lush costumes, the makeup, the lighting, the stage craft you are left with two things, a stage and an actor with a story to tell.
The company of ANTIGONE at the Hollywood Fringe Festival is stripping away all the stagecraft, all the smoke and mirrors, and standing on a naked stage telling the story of a young woman’s moral courage. For an acting company to toss out all the accouterments of modern Theatre is a dangerous thing. It requires another sort of moral courage. This company is declaring to the LA Theatre scene that a good story and good actors to tell it, are all you need to provide a meaningful Theatre experience. The danger is simple, if we fail it is all on the actors and director. The glory is equally simple, if we succeed it is all on the actors and director.
The ANTIGONE company is taking ownership of the moment and giving it to the audience with open arms, eyes and hearts. Are you ready LA, to accept that moment, that gift, that story, that danger? Are you ready LA?
Living an actor’s life again and It’s familiar and strange all at once. Thursday night rehearsal in a makeshift Yoga studio behind a Silverlake residence. Going to emotional places that had never been explored in this version of ANTIGONE . (Be warned LA theatre goers. This Antigone will not be for the faint of heart) After rehearsal it was whiskey and shop talk at a local bar. I even managed to spend a few minutes flirting with a young, curly haired, woman from Chicago. Home by 1:30AM and falling asleep with my script in my hand was the most natural thing in the world. Up in the morning, to study lines, meditate, write in my journal, talk with my sister and look at the sides for my afternoon audition.
I got to stage 5 at Warners and felt calm, centered and prepared. This is my first audition since coming back to acting full time. No rushing from the office, wondering if my boss will be upset, no half-baked preparation, no split concentration. I was just an actor who had prepared and gave a good reading. The casting director Scott, has been good and respected colleague for 20 years. The other guys reading for the role of Father Diaz were long time pros whom I had greeted and countless auditions over the years. We embraced each other, teased and joked and wished one another well. I was home again.
Back home for some grocery shopping, postcard mailing and more time with the script. My mind is back in Thebes, dealing with a headstrong princess who is born to die. My phone announces that an email has arrived and ignore it until I’ve finished the beat I’m working on. I pick up my phone. The email is from my new agent. I’m pinned for the role of Father Diaz. Not a booking yet. But a great start to my career renaissance.
Off to rehearsal now. So much to do.
You can get tickets for Antigone here. Don’t wait! We expect to sell out.
Rehearsal. Working in the Theatre is about rehearsal, and study and more rehearsal. Eventually there comes an opening night and a run of performances. For me, each performance has been a rehearsal of sorts. Each performance is different and each day leading up to an evening performance is a small journey within the larger journey.
Antigone rehearsal today was dense and challenging and revelatory. The company began to wade into the shallow end of the story, and to get to know the temperature, the density, the depth of the story. In short order we were diving deep, exploring fearlessly. Such is the badassery of the Antigone company. There was no hesitation, no trepidation, no timidity. We know we are in dark, dangerous territory, and our collective instinct is to plunge in ever deeper. It is positively exhilarating to rehearse with a company of players who respect the material but refuse to fear it.
I feel as young and energetic as the young actor I was in 1980’s New York City shouting Shakespeare at the top of my lungs. The 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival will be a haven for new and bold writing and for bold and courageous acting of classic work. And that is exactly as it should be.
Tickets for Antigone at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, can be purchased online at: http://hff15.org/2158
Working on this production of Antigone has already been challenging and satisfying and the company has yet to all gather in the same room at the same time. Despite that we have all communicate virtually via FaceBook and other channels. This is just a tiny hint of the possibilities of Theatre in the Internet Age. Recently I had a very good 1:1 Rehearsal with the actress who plays Antigone in our production. We talked about scheduling future rehearsals and she mentioned that, in the event our schedules don’t allow getting together we can always rehearse over FaceTime. This idea struck me at something really interesting and rife with possibilities.
Actors for the theatre in America today are living in an age of enhanced communication, and practicing an art form that dates back 2500 years. During my last brush with the corporate world I was often heard to say that “Because we’ve always done it this way” is not a reason to continue doing something. That often proved true in business and I think it is just as true in art, and perhaps even more so.
If we can FaceTime 1:1 rehearsals between actors, we ought to be able to use that technology for the table reads, round table sessions, style meetings, 1:1 rehearsals with Directors, and on and on? For that matter. Why not take it to the limit? Why not do all the rehearsals and all the meetings in a virtual space and have the company of actors gather for the first time on opening night? I would love to do this experiment and if there are any other actors out there who are game, hit me up. Let’s find new ways to do Theatre.
“Mind your own part!” was something we heard over and over again as young actors at the National Shakespeare Conservatory, in NYC. Our master teacher was a big believer in the actor as a self sufficient artist operating in a collaborative medium. We were taught to create our character, decide our motivations and execute our part of the story from a purely subjective stance. This philosophy created actors who were equipped to rehearse and perform through all manner of adversity, changes of plan, changes of cast, venue, script, artistic direction, budget, costume and on and on and on. In other words. The training I received in 1982 prepared me beautifully for LA Theatre in 2015.
During a recent lunch with Bari Hochwald, artistic director of The Global Theatre Project, I went on a riff about how I would like to direct a show without directing it. I would like to cast the show, send out the scripts and advise the actors to show up at the venue for opening night with their lines down pat and ready to work. It would be the full on, actor’s nightmare. I may yet get to do that, but for now, I’ll have to be satisfied with the the head spinning and heart pounding guerilla theatre badassery that we are practicing as we prepare to rock the LA Theatre scene. The Antigone cast will rock the Hollywood Fringe Fest as of collective of individual, disruptive, insurgent and fearless talents. When we all come together in the days before opening, we will all know the mission and how to complete it.
The cast of Antigone is made up of talented, committed and deeply engaged artists who are carving out as much time as they can for this timeless, challenging and captivating project. When we can’t all rehearse together we are, for freakin sure, going to be working on our stuff at home, in the car, during lunch hour and when we would rather be sleeping. To work on a Fringe Fest play in LA, you have got to bring your “A” game and a set of cojones like brass doorknobs. You must shout a resounding ‘YES” to whatever challenges are presented you and swing for the fences at every curve thrown. My blood is rushing as I write this because I know that audiences will be short of breath and long on excitement as we attack the Theatre Asylum Lab stage with Antigone during the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Tonight is the first read through of Antigone. I’m excited, engaged and full of anticipation. The first read through of a new Theatre Project is a tradition, a necessity, a revelation, a ritual and a harbinger. It is the moment where everyone comes together for the first time and takes the first step in the process of making a play. In larger theatre companies it is a bit of an event. At the New York Shakespeare Festival, when I was there, the event was marked with bagels and coffee, and everyone from every creative department would attend. At small companies and pick up productions, the first read through happens sometimes at people’s homes or in small rehearsal spaces. It’s not a rehearsal but rather it is a declaration of the existence of a collective.
The director will open with a few remarks. The Stage Manager will say a few words about housekeeping matters. Sometimes the producers will speak. Stage Management will sometimes arrange the seating around the reading table in order to afford the best view of the proceeding for the artistic team and the lead actors. Among the actors this is the first chance to see and hear each other. It is also a time for renewing old acquaintances and sizing each other up. Yes, I said it. It is during the first read through that the actors begin to make judgements about each other.
“Gee, he’s taller than I thought”
“Is she REALLY going to do it like THAT?”
“I saw her in that other thing, Damn she is good?”
This is the moment when we all start to find out the truth about each other, about the play, about how the process will go forward. Tonight I’ll be joining with a pick up company of young people who, according to the producer, mostly trained in the SF Bay Area. I was raised in the Bay Area and have only worked there once. I’m eager and anxious and curious and maybe just a tiny bit nervous. It has been a long, long time since I have walked into a rehearsal room as purely an actor. I’ve been doing the “actor-slash” dance for longer than I care to admit. As I am likely to be the oldest in the company there will be certain expectations of me. Some of them I will have to live up to, others I will have to overcome. That process begins at the first read-thru.
Since returning to the practice of acting full time, I’m finding that information I’ve picked up on my journey is all starting to come together in new ways, and that I’m a more disciplined and serious actor than I was when I decided to become a serious, disciplined actor. What tipped me off? Daily Practice.
My master teacher Philip Meister had a clear idea about actor training and he put it this way,
“The training of an actor is no different from the the training of a musician or a dancer. Like the musician the actor is learning to play an instrument. Like the dancer, that instrument is the body”
I heard those words and understood the idea behind them but I still missed the importance of Philip’s idea and never really adopted the serious work ethic that it described. As a young actor starting out I was blessed and cursed with the ability to learn lines quickly. I was able to learn entire roles in a day and was always the first to put the book down in the rehearsal hall. The blessing? I never had to work hard on my script. The curse? I never had to work hard on my script. Because of that, I probably missed the boat on deeper choices, alternate readings, and a more powerful understanding of character, plot, and the arc of a story.
Now, 30 years later, I have to work a lot harder to learn lines. A LOT harder. Learning the role of Creon in Antigone demands daily study for several hours. I’m getting my mind around it but I know that if I miss a day of study I’ll not only slow progress, but I’ll actually lose ground. When I realized this I remembered something a classical musician friend said to me,
“If you miss one day of practice, you’ll know it. If you miss two days of practice, your teacher will know it. If you miss three days of practice, the audience will know it.”
…and bells rang, lights flashed and I had an ah-ha moment. Philip Meister wasn’t just talking about training. His quote goes to the way a professional artist works. Serious professional musicians practice every day. Professional dancers take class every day. Actors have to practice their profession in just the same way. In order to do the the kind of work I want to do at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, I will have to work on the script every day from now until the day of the last performance. I’m already seeing the difference. The deeper story that we are telling is starting to solidify, and how the ancient greek story of Antigone relates to the world today is coming clear, and I we haven’t had the first rehearsal yet.
The moral of this story? I’m older, and if not wiser I am certainly starting to wise up.
FYI the Antigone performance schedule is as follows:
Friday June 12 2015, 10:30 PM
Tuesday June 16 2015, 10:00 PM
Saturday June 20 2015, 1:00 PM
Thursday June 25 2015, 8:30 PM
Friday June 26 2015, 5:30 PM
Tickets are $12 and can be purchased online here