Today I had myself a callback for a truly despicable character.  That is to say, despicable in terms of his behavior in the story (and, sadly,

in history

).  Yes, folks, I can now count on TWO hands the number of times I have been considered for the role of a murderous fiend.  It's just not an archetype many seem quick to apply to me, which is a shame, because I think I'm pretty durn good at it.  And I know I enjoy it, when I can do it right.  But I understand, Rest Of The Casting World -- I am not huge, nor oddly shaped or scarred, I have a relatively bright natural speaking voice and when you meet me, I definitely give off a more Horatio vibe than, say, a Richard III.  This may change as I age.  My nose may grow ever crookederer, my face more deeply lined, and coming soon to a theatre near you:


I won't write too much about the project itself, as: ew, tacky, and also: don't have the job (yet?).  It's a short film about a famous atheist activist, and I came to it through working on

Laid Plans

 last month (in an utterly round-about fashion).  The audition was an on-camera read with the lead actress, and today they asked me to be off-book for the one big scene that will ultimately by interspersed into the rest of the narrative.  I got to work with the actress again, and take some adjustment from the director as well, and all-in-all I walked out feeling good.  I can't be sure I summoned the menace that they were looking for, but it was fun and the people very easy to work with.  Sometimes that's the best you can ask for.

As a result of my preparation, I have for the past twenty-four hours been contemplating villainy.  Not villainous acts (though I did eat a lot of chocolate yesterday...) but the motivations and mindset of a villain.  The conventional wisdom states that an actor must never play a character as someone who knows he or she is "bad," because everyone is the hero of their own story, and judgments are dangerous trade for an actor.  I understand this advice, but wonder if it always applies.  David Waters, for example, seemed to understand whilst kidnapping, murdering and dismembering O'Hair that what he was doing wasn't strictly moral.  It was a means to an end, but also one with seeming emotional complications.  I don't know.  Maybe he didn't even think about it too much.  The point is, this acting advice doesn't help anyone find the villainous (or, in the judgment-free zone: alternate morality) mind-space.

I also heard

an interesting interview

with a criminal profiler recently on Fresh Air that had me thinking about the emotional dynamic of some murders.  One of the behaviors he mentions is that murderers who kill for emotional reasons actually tend to feel elated after the deed, as though they had accomplished something intensely satisfying.  Now, I have to imagine that such emotions then become increasingly complex, generally speaking, but  it's fascinating to me that someone would feel that kind of emotion even as their hands are still red.  Maybe one does feel utterly justified in the moment of killing.  He goes on to say that one way to ensnare criminals in interrogation is by making them relive the sense of anger that drove them to kill.  Suppose that's the only way to inspire remorse, too -- to make the killer experience that emotion anew.

So there I am at the kitchen table at 6:00 this morning, contemplating my lines and what sort of truth they're trying to pull out of me.  Anton (the Cat) lolls drunkenly on the floor beside me, stuffed for the time being with a fresh wad or two of pulverized meat, and I'm frustratedly whispering my way through threats and incriminations for fear of waking the wife.  It's hard not to just edit myself to death with doubts -- no way you can pull off this kind of dialogue, look at you you're a puppy dog, just give up on memorizing and try to find a threatening sub-vocal noise to use -- but I really want to make myself into a murderer.  What's the hook?  Maybe I can bring a hook...?

As the callback time approaches, I find myself remembering great film villains.  Walken's crazy rhythm, utilized in its insane best in the Bond film

A View to a Kill

.  Heck: several Bond villain actors.  Ledger's Joker.  Javier Bardem  in

No Country for Old Men

.  Nicholson in

The Shining

.  The closest I could think of to my guy today was DeNiro in

Cape Fear

.  (Sadly, I had not a few months to pack on the muscle and get really comfortable with having my fingers sucked.)  Can I channel one or more of these?  Is there a key to this little puzzle?  Will the people I'm auditioning for at least let me prowl around a little, get in my body?

The answer to all these questions was of course: No.  No, once in the room, once faced with delivering the lines to another human being, it became all-too clear that the only way to do it was to do it.  To be Jeff as he might be if he would do something so terrible as the man he's playing did.  And, when you look at it that way, it takes a lot of the pressure off and allows us to just, you know: act.  Let them figure out if I'm believable.  I'll be too busy believing to care.

(But dang: DeNiro in

Cape Fear

 was incredimazing.)

This Is Just to Say

I have enjoyed

the actors

that came in

to callbacks

and who

were probably tense


its oddness.

Forgive me

I cannot cast you all

so brave

and so totally awesome.

Short post here just to touch on the callbacks for

our next Zuppa del Giorno show

, the which I'll be directing. They have taken place this week, and after a little more coordinating and ruminating we should have our third performer. This was effectively my first time on the other side of the table in an audition process, and I learned a lot from it (possibly at the expense of the actors involved?), both as someone conducting an audition process and as an actor in said audition. More anon on that. (I'm really racking up the promised 'blog topics here.)

This post is really just to say that everyone who came in was awesome. It was an extremely unconventional callback process, due to the developmental and improvisational nature of the show, and each actor handled it with style. See if this doesn't terrify you: We set out a table of assorted random objects, and had people in two-at-a-time. The game they played was to tell a story between them, with one person verbally telling the story and the other telling it physically. They could use any of the "props," and at any time they could switch positions, yielding their vocal or physical storytelling to the other, or swooping into the other role. And they just kept going until I said, "Scene."

Tough, no? Awful, really, for people psyched to have an opportunity. If I could have come up with any other way to find out what we needed to know, I would have done that. But I wish you could have been there, Dear Reader, because what everyone did was unique and effective and inspiring. So, thanks, Auditioners. I would like to take you all out for milk and cookies.

Causal Coincidence

Oh. Hello. Been waiting here long, have you? Here, let me just get out my keys, and . . . . Wow. Which one is it again? Oh right: "Aviary." That makes sense. And to the door which is now, open again. Huzzah! Hello! Welcome! Your back-order of ponderous pontification awaits!

Theatre and technology have in my mind of late been taking interesting waltzes together. This is owing largely to my new adventures in administration with

the ACTion Collective

, which incorporates a lot of models from Internet media and business, because

Collaborator Andrew

and I are raging geeks. It also, however, has a thing or two to do with personal discoveries I've been making about my interactions with others. For example, in acknowledgement of finally emptying my inbox (upon purchase of a so-called "


" phone) I decided that from here on out I would reply to every single email I receive. Previously, I did not, because I saw it as a waste of time and a furthering of compulsive behavior. Now I'm finding that I get much better responses and results from the people I'm corresponding with when I always reply in some way, not to mention the better results I get from myself by always trying to find something to add. It's a very basic idea. It's also a core tenet of good acting.

Look for a future post regarding my ideas about theatre being the original "social media." Breathless anticipation, thy name is 'blog . . .

One particularly interesting overlap I find in the folds is the way in which theatre and electronic mediums of communication reflect our social behavior back to us in often startling and crystal-clear ways. I recently read

an alarming article

(link to some salty language and disturbing behavior) that addressed the strange privilege we all seem to feel now to be reporters rather than people involved in what's going on around us. We've always been drawn to vicarious experience, even before YouTube and video games, and some of us are drawn to involvement in the creation of such experiences. The voyeur impulse is strong in all of us, I think, because we continually need to refresh our sense of belonging -- self-awareness can be oddly isolating.

Do others feel things the way I do? If only I could see into other people...especially when they think they're alone....

There's more to it than that of course. It's all really rather complex.

Which brings me to a term I'm using lately to describe a phenomenon I've particularly noticed lately: causal coincidence. It's difficult for me to discuss this idea without getting inured in issues of philosophy and religion, but it's not my aim here to expound on those aspects. No, I'm just standing back and marveling at the way Twitter works, and how similar I find it to the way in which acting work comes my way. To (t)wit -- a large number of tiny incidents, relatively unrelated, somehow culminate into a large or significant effect. I say "relatively unrelated" because it's difficult (impossible?) to determine all the interactions in something with as grand a scope as Twitter's network, or the casting community of New York. I think of fractals, Escher progressions and helices -- tiny, basic elements that develop seemingly of their own accord into complex structures. Issues of cause and effect seem almost meaningless in this context.

In 2003, I decided that a good way to spend my birthday would be by starting it out going to an audition, so I did. In spite of a strong audition, it didn't seem I'd get the part -- they were looking for someone who played the piano -- but through a series of incidents, I did. We ended up incorporating my circus skills, which took it in quite a different direction. That show led to returning to work with the same theatre in subsequent summers, and seeing a show that involved my costar from the first show. That show grabbed my attention, and I mentioned admiring the work to the director. Years later, I was invited to join their new project, in which I became deeply involved for a couple of years. A lot of change went on for me during that time, including both rather seriously injuring myself, and acquiring the most raw strength I've ever had, and much as a result of both I made a return to circus studies, which in turn has me now seeking out playwrights and performers to create my own circus theatre.

And off of all that, myriad other unexpected challenges and opportunities. You could point to any one action in my career and see how it indirectly led to things amazingly other, and maybe that's just life, but it's brought into sharp relief when you consider the question of cause, or coincidence. I see it as both. More specifically, I see coincidence -- that is, any correlation between (relatively) unrelated actions or events -- as often being causal, and I see a certain mass effect when these causal coincidences coincidentally accumulate.

Maybe another definition of the whole question is in order, but I'm not going to be the one to make that happen. What I'm going to do is embrace the function, however it functions, and make the most of it. To be involved, and not merely reporting.

Though the reporting can be pretty great, too.

We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes

In terms of irrational behavior, I believe the actor without work will rank right up there with most persons under the influence of psycho-reactive narcotics. The actors with no future prospects of work, well . . . it's a good idea to stay away from the likes of them. Even their Facebook updates are likely to be tinged with a sense of desperation. "

Jeff Wills is

Why do they all hate me so much...?!" Just, you know, as a completely hypothetical example.

Perhaps it's all a bit misguided -- an unfortunate cycle that comes as a result of having to prove we are, in fact, actors. It can be difficult to justify oneself as an "actor," and have the average person regard that classification as something more than a description of one's favorite hobby. Even if you went to school for it, perform internationally, get paid for it on a (semi-)regular basis, there are two qualifications people look for when you make the claim of being actor. 1) Have they seen you in anything? 2) Are you working on anything right now? So yes, there's a certain compulsion there, which is awful for everyone: for you, for the work itself, and yes, even for the people you end up talking to at parties. Ever wonder why you meet so many actors who can't help but tell stories in any given conversational context, stories that invariably lead back to their life and work? This is why. It's called (by me, anyway)


It is obnoxious and ingrained, and a lot of the work of that ingraining is done by the very people who end up resenting it.

Ironically enough, I'm pretty sure that this technique is a terrible way of actually getting work. When it comes to getting people to think of you for projects, a much better conversational tactic for all involved is asking questions and making your side of things predominantly about responses, rather than volunteering stories. It generally makes the person one's talking to feel interesting, and encourages excitement about their interests, and as far as the conversation goes allows one to learn a thing or two to boot. This has interesting parallels to the techniques of good, interesting acting as well, in which the emphasis is on listening, reacting intuitively and making the other look good. It just adds up. It makes sense, it builds things and leads to usually pleasant surprises.


However, we all go a little mad sometimes. (For some reason madness is particularly poignant when set against the backdrop of a tea party, or other social setting.) Personally, the only way I could imagine having more regular trouble with this most basic of social concepts would be if I were genuinely socio- or psychopathic. (Commentators, please leave thy opinions on this last at the door....) Is it a troubled mental pattern on my part? Nature, or nurture? Could it simply be that I'm in the wrong damn business? Do other actors start thinking to themselves, "I'm getting to old for this crap," at age 25? And just what is it that keeps me comin' back, a'comin' comin' back?

Well, as far as character flaws go, I have a few. I'll man up to that. I'd like to think that if I was perfect, I'd be pretty boring. One such flaw is a tendency to take everything seriously (even comedy) and feel feelings very deeply. (I may have to rename the 'blog;

Feeling Feelings Very Deeply

has a nice sort of quasi-ironic ring to it.) I'm not saying that I am a feat of human emotion or anything like that -- I state this as a flaw. It is the bit of me that responds to arguments being had by total and complete strangers by shrinking into a speck on the spot, or the bit that could unabashedly cry over seeing an overweight person unable to sit on the subway. And, as evidenced on

March 12, 2009

, this little personality quirk comes out in full force when it comes to anything related to casting. In that instance, it didn't even occur to me to hold my ground in responding to RunningGirl. From start to end, I was ruled by emotion.

There's a commonality here. The typical actor neurosis and my personal neurosis both stem from continual feelings of inadequacy. Now, sure, many people would never admit this as a cause of their


behavior, if in fact they could even recognize the

résumé-ing (it's a turn of phrase that will sweep the nation). How can we have such awesome stories if we're inadequate? Plus, where do we lay the blame of causation? Our feelings, or the social aspects and stigmas that encourage those feelings? The very questions involved are enough to make anyone feel a bit inadequate, if over nothing else than over our ability to understand ourselves.

I've gone a bit mad just contemplating it.

What's desperately ironic about the whole thing is that this is a business and a craft in which being unique is one of the best traits to possess. Trying to be what others want is not what acting is about (good acting, anyway) and the best work is accomplished by those who can make unusually effective choices -- emphasis on "unusually." I'm a firm believer in the idea that the more understanding we can have about who we are, the better our work will be. Inadequacy springs almost entirely from holding oneself to someone else's standards or, often, to our perception of their standards. Everybody's got a little madness in them. There is no normal. And freeing ourselves from the idea of normalcy is part of what people really love about good acting. Show me how to be true, and I will show you how much you can be loved for it, warts and all.

But if I don't get some real work soon, I'ma kill somebody.