I Can Not Stress Enough...

There's a little voice in my head that moonlights as an escape artist.  It must be, because no gag or act of psychic bondage will shut the little son-of-ma'-brain up.  It is in essence a control valve for my ambition, and it goes a little something like this:

"Jeff.  Jeff.  Jeff.  Jeff.  Jeff.  Hey Jeff.  Jeff.  Jeff.  Hey Jeff.  Hey.  Remember that thing you have to do.  You know: the thing.  Not the one thing, but that other thing.  But do the other other thing first.  And then remember to come back to the first thing I mentioned, and then do that one thing.  If you can't remember any one of these things, well, you're probably going to screw it all up.  Actually, you will.  Screw it all up.  It's already screwed up, by merit of you being the one who has to do it.  It's all going to turn out very, very badly - even worse than using an adverb in an ambiguous context.  Which you just did.  Worse yet, the aforementioned screwing up will occur as a result of a spiral of failure starting with some small thing and eventually taking the entire endeavor known as YOUR LIFE down like the Titanic.  Because that's what happens to big, ignorant things.  Hey Jeff.  Hey Jeff.  If you don't stop sucking soon, it may already be too late..."

He's an extremely helpful little guy.  Especially when one is dealing with multiple deadlines.

Recently I added to my roster of responsibilities some work for a company that sends actors in to corporate environments to facilitate lessons in communication between managers and their team members.  I was wary of this sort of work at first, because

Wife Megan

worked for one such institution when she first moved to NYC, and they sounded horrible.  Very touchy-feely, metaphoric and therapeutic in their approach, which I personally find inappropriate for a work environment.  (Yes, even in theatre work - a debate best left for another post.)  Fortunately, the place I'm working for now has a more pragmatic view of communication in the work place, and it's one I thus far agree with.

So I'm trying to apply their philosophy to a conversation with my extremely helpful little guy (henceforth "EHLG").  It might go a little something like this:

Me: Hey EHLG. How are you?
EHLG: Hey Jeff. Hey Jeff.
Me: Um - hey.
EHLG: You know what?
Me: What's that?
EHLG: You suck. At living.
Me: Okay, see-
EHLG: Living is something you're very bad at.
Me: Do you see what you just did there?
EHLG: You mean the way I spoke truth to power?
Me: Well from my perspective, you tried to tear down power.
EHLG: Word up.
Me: But see, EHLG, I don't have much of any power over you.
EHLG: Word up.
Me: And if you tear me down, it only hurts both of us.
EHLG: Word...huh.
Me: What is it you're hoping to get out of this?
EHLG: You know, you're not very good at this feedback stuff.
Me: Okay.
EHLG: You fake it pretty good, but that can only take you so far and pretty soon you're going to fail and suffer.
Me: I'm suffering now.
EHLG: Not as much as you will if you keep going.
Me: Is that a threat?
EHLG: You know, you're not very good at perceiving threats.

And let's take a little break here.  This is a weird post, I'll admit it, but also pretty interesting to me, I must admit as well.  The first practice session I had with the feedback-training company got confusing quickly, because we were all trainees and we ran sessions with one another.  That meant that in addition to trying to learn the techniques the company used in role-playing, we were at times role-playing being a facilitator who was role-playing being an employee of a manager/student who was, him or herself, a role-player; all the while improvising a scenario with specific given circumstances.  (WE HAVE TO GO DEEEPER [



The big mistake I made in that practice session was not when I was playing the manager, but the actor/facilitator.  I got confused, and came on too strong with the obstacle that "manager" was being asked to deal with.  Ideally, one wants to adjust to his or her level of intercommunication and nudge it towards something more, and I just barreled on through with my characterization instead.  Call it my learned imperative response as an actor.  I've gotten better at it.  One key element is to insert a pause in the role-play for analysis and discussion.  It allows the manager to reflect and feel permitted to try a fresh angle.

EHLG: You suck.
Me: Thanks EHLG; I appreciate your feedback and will try to consider it in future endeavors.
EHLG: You're welcome.
Me: I wanted to talk to you today about your feedback, actually. Have you found it to be getting you the results you want?
EHLG: Mostly. I have to keep repeating myself, which is pretty irritating, but that's the way it goes when you're talking to someone sucky.
Me: Have you thought about trying a different approach?
EHLG: Oh, I'm always changing gears: you suck, you blow, you aren't good at anything ever, you are justly hated and/or despised, your failure is compounded by your ugly face and funny clothes, etc.
Me: You do spend a lot of time coming up with that feedback
EHLG: Thank you.
Me: Let me tell you, though, that what I see is that your negativity is working against you, making your job harder on yourself.
EHLG: You're not very good at perceiving reality.
Me: Thanks, EHLG, for phrasing that in that way.
EHLG: What way?
Me: "Not very good."  You did that earlier, and I really appreciate when you show that consideration for me. It makes me feel better about listening to you.
EHLG: Your feelings are unimportant and stupid.
Me: You're welcome to have that opinion, but can I just point out that by assuaging my feelings, you make your job more efficient? In addition, by ignoring them, you imperil your position in this personality.
EHLG: I do?
Me: Of course, I wouldn't want to lose you if I can help it, EHLG.  You are always working, always keeping an eye on your well-being, and I appreciate the vigilance.  It's just that your negativity threatens to bring down everything you touch, and I of course can't have that happening. By being so aggressive in your input, you're alienating essential coworkers, like passion and inspiration.  Do you understand what I mean?
EHLG: Yeah.
Me: What do you think about that?
EHLG: It's stupid.
Me: Well, let's agree to check in again next week, at which time we can review your progress and make some decisions about what will help us work together better.
EHLG: That's stupid and sucky and you're stupid and sucky and I hate you.

Sometimes, you just have to be proud of how well you can handle a situation, and hope to get better results next time.  Having a little understanding for yourself can help with stress, too.

A Job + A Love

Last week I had two very different experiences with acting, neither better than the other per se, but both interesting to me. The first was

an industrial with Lancer Insurance

, a company with which I've worked once before, the other

a surprise staged reading of

Our Country's Good

, by Timberlake Wertenbaker. As you might imagine, the first one paid (rather well) and demanded virtually no emotional depth, and the second I did for free and take my word for it: very rich with emotion. It's funny, but emotions can get rather short shrift in an analysis of acting. Critiques rarely mention them directly, and actors are discouraged from "playing emotion," as well they should. Still and all, it's an essential ingredient, and in one way what we're all there for. I think we're a little embarrassed by that, frankly, and that it contributes to our approaches to emotion. Yes, of course -- the actor must live the moment and play intention, not merely synthesize specific emotions. Yet we all seek that connection, that direct emotional interplay that only occurs between two people sharing the same space.

The industrial involved trekking out to Trenton and lingering in a parking lot behind a strip mall for most of the day. There Lancer had constructed a bus accident, hired on a couple of other actors, plus a group of their own employees to play passengers. I was fortunate enough to recommend one of the actors,

Jason Carden

, and so I had something really cool to do with the inevitably ample down time: chew the fat with a friend from college. To my great surprise, the other actor there was one

Jason Griffin

-- with whom I had worked on a completely other industrial, gained through completely other means, with no discernible connection. (To my even greater surprise, I actually recognized him.) The shoot involved a long period of waiting, followed by a short period of very brisk, camera-in-hand shooting. As I mulled over my position as an insurance adjuster, I thought how similar a position he's in at such a scene. He arrives at something that's a really big deal for others, where the stakes are high, yet is expected to make rational decisions and, ultimately, it's just another day's work for him.

Sunday's reading was another reunion of sorts, as all the friends of one

Cynthia Hewett

who could be found surprised her by being the fellow actors and audience in a reading on her day-of-birth behalf. There is this network of folks who were involved in the founding of

The Metropolitan Playhouse

(now under different management) of which both Cynthia and

David Zarko

are members, and it seemed they were all there that night. This meant that I was the youngest of the actors involved (an experience I haven't had in a while) and relatively outside the dominant social network. I knew one or two others, though, and it was a great reading. The play is full of humor and pathos and interesting characters, and working on it (however briefly) with such pros made the thing crackle nicely. Plus, every person was there for Cynthia. It must have been one of the most open and involved audiences I've ever had the pleasure of performing for. It was one of those acting experiences that reminds me of why I love it like I do.

It shouldn't be all that difficult, bringing together the work we do out of love and that we do out of necessity. I'm inclined to believe, in fact, that the separation is not only artificial, but of our own making. Subconsciously, perhaps, I


having the two separate, because it makes me inner world simpler to imagine acting as more pure, money-making as more virtuous by merit of it involving discipline. If you asked me, of course I'd say immediately that I'd like the two together, please. But just maybe some part of me has an interest in preserving that dichotomy. My hope is that acknowledging that possibility is a help in learning to overcome it a bit more.

Because buses or the colonization of Australia, gratis or paid, I really do love this work.

Anxiety ANXIETY Anxiety

Yeah. The dreaded A-word. That one what doth top off my list of topics more often than I'd like. There are some occasions for which I'm sure it would not surprise you, Dear Reader, that I experience my share of stress. Under-rehearsed show openings, callbacks with prominent theatre artists and just auditions in general. Then again, there's one I probably haven't written much of -- namely, the return to NYC after a long-term gig has taken me away.

Last night I had not one, but two anxiety dreams, both closely related to the fears associated with returning to the city and my more-regular life after I've spent some time acclimated to the good life. Keep in mind, "the good life" dangles me over a cliff of poverty, taunts me with creative failure at every turn and has its own share of stress. Yet somehow, the thought of returning to el day jobo and the verities of (big) city life manages to top any of that. It tops it, turns it around three times and kicks it out the door by its reproductive organs. It's awful, frankly. Mostly, I think, because it's laced with reminders of the compromises I have still to make in order to make this triple-life work for me. I crave integration now just as much as I did as a freshly graduated BFA holder. More, perhaps, because now I understand how sweet it could be, and how rough, too.

I haven't a whole lot to complain about, from one perspective. And I dearly love returning to better food, somewhat more fiscal compensation and, of course, my much-missed wife and friends. And heck (AND tarnation), there are no surprises here. I'm good at NYC at this point. I got my technique down and everything. My fellow artists will understand the frustration of tasting, just tasting, the possibility of sustaining one's life doing what one loves. Wherefore anxiety? Why not anger, or sorrow, or something more productive? I have no ready answer. My theory is that it springs from the aspect of less-than-welcome change. I'd probably do better with it if I could embrace it as opportunity. It doesn't have to be a reminder of what I


have. I need to work on this.

In the meantime, the final showings of

The Very Nearly Perfect Comedy of Romeo & Juliet

gallop apace. This show has definitely infected me with a Shakespeare bug. I'm planning to read more of W.S. for a bit when I get back to the city, feeling very connected to the amazing, functional poetry of it. Last night we had a pleasant surprise in our audience in the forms of a former Zuppa actor and friend of the troupe.

Erin McMonagle


Seth Reichgott

visited from


, where they are rehearsing

Leading Ladies

. They had effusively nice things to say about our work, which is always welcome from fellow theatre artists, particularly those you particularly respect. We visited ever-so-briefly after the show before they needed to get back to Bloomsberg, but it was loverly. I hope I get to work with Erin again, and Seth for the first time, soon.

Some of my anxiety over the end of the show, and the re-entry to the day job, has been mitigated into productivity. I've arranged to meet with

Friend Cody

to discuss a regular acrobatics/balance group, and intend to spend a good deal of my time once back in sending out headshots and auditioning, perhaps for more Shakespeare. I usually have the best intentions for setting my best foot forward when I return to my home base, then wallow in adjusting to my return and feeling (quite frankly) sorry for myself. So it is my fervent hope that making appointments and such will keep me out of such nonsense this time around. Dang it, I like this work. Why lag, much less stop? I don't need a vacation. I need a never-ending trip, and I am my own events coordinator.

Hm. Maybe I should have been an author of self-help books, instead.

Study Under This!

I got a surprising call yesterday from the casting director of

Humor Abuse

. Apparently, they still haven't made a decision for casting Lorenzo Pisoni's understudy, and she wanted to make sure I was still available. I, of course, had written it off by now. In fact, when she asked, "Are you still available?" I swear for a moment I heard, "Sorry, we can't use you this time." It seems that with getting the show into previews (starting tonight), they just haven't made a decision yet. (Another possibility of course is that they want to see more people, without lopping of the possibilities they


seen thus far.) Oddly enough,

Friend Dave



friend is also up for the slot, though I have yet to hear whether he received such a follow-up call. Perhaps they have half the male circus-actors of New York on hold? Perhaps. Still, it's always nice to hear that one didn't commit career sepuku in one's callback . . .

But Soft, What Paycheck Through Yonder Window is Cut...?

My very awfully busy week last week was every bit as awfully busy as I had imagined. Rewarding, but not in the material sense, as most of the payment I'll receive for said work will take its saccharine-sweet time in getting to me. This I'm afraid is standard practice for the teaching artist (largely what I was, apart from

Romeo Montague

, last week) which is all-too ironic, teaching artists being folks that generally need the money rather immediately. I don't do what I do for money's sake --


-- but there are times when one needs it more than others, and now is such a time for this guy. As I tried to impart in one of my workshops this week: Work is not a job unless it pays, and a job is not a career unless you are working. But let's assume the institutions will not fall apart completely before I get my checks, and focus on the work. The work is what this branch of my 'blogging is about, after all.

Tuesday was

a workshop

for the Electric Theatre Company's Griffin Conservatory, one in acrobalance. However, my usual teaching partner (my Juliet Capulet) sprained her calf and got a cold in one fell swoop over the weekend, and I was stuck trying to teach partner balancing without being able to demonstrate it. This turned out all right, though, as I had only two students show up and was able to modify the class to a general "physical acting" one, with some balance and tumbling instruction. So for three hours, on the padded floor of our


set, we three cavorted and grew together a bit. It was the most remedial class I'd taught in a long while, which was actually very nice. It reminded me of how much there is to appreciate in the smallest or most intuitive of movements.

Wednesday was a two-show day, our first, and due to a faulty calendar I managed to schedule my

career workshop

at Marywood right between the two. For a while I was nervous about this, as my central theme would have to be, "Do better than I have." But I learned from the students, who requested some further coverage of acrobalance (I've teased them with it here and there over the last couple of years) and that I talk about

In Bocca al Lupo

. So I called it "Finding Balance," and tried to combine physical activity with discussions about balancing a professional life with a creative one in the theatre. In essence, I was putting this here 'blog on its feet, and I ended up feeling that it went rather well. It's still a fledgling workshop, to be sure, but with a little more organization and some more concrete material I could see myself running it other places. At any rate, the students seemed to get good information out of it, and definitely enjoyed themselves. I like combining thought and action. Feels like acting!

Thursday and Friday, Heather and I

choreographed fights

for North Pocono High's production of

A Midsummer Night's Dream

, which was in itself a kind of workshop, involving as it did students who'd never done any physical theatre at all. Marywood has an up-coming


coming up too, and it's awfully fun to be surrounded by these shows whilst doing


; popular opinion has it that Shakespeare created them in close conjunction with one another. For North Pocono, we spent all of Thursday teaching stage combat basics, then taught them specific choreography the next day. We had just enough time to do it all, at that, and had to rely on their note-taking and diligence hereafter for any hopes of it sticking. The four actors were wonderfully focused, though, and we would have failed had they not been. Overall, I'm very happy with the work we did. We taught them funny, story- and character-based choreography, and we did it right, without skimping on technique and safety.

Which makes it rather ironic that I got PWN3D by Paris in our fight for Saturday night's performance.

The performances went fine this week, though we had considerably smaller audiences across the board compared to our preview, pay-what-you-can nights last week. I came to feel quite a bit more at home in Romeo this week, and truly, even the quiet audiences seemed to get a lot out of the show (I usually disdain that "they were quiet, but

really attentive

" excuse for bad shows -- these I do not think were those). I had a big week for visitors; my parents came Friday night, and

Wife Megan


Friend Patrick

saw it both Saturday, and for Sunday's matinee. This is the first Zuppa show Patrick's been able to catch, which made it an absolute thrill for me. Sunday morning the director thought that these audience members might be part of the reason my performance was the way it was. He said it was a very good show, but that I was just

this close

to playing more for myself than for Romeo; nearly showing off, to put a finer point on it. He asked me to just be careful, and relax.

So the past couple of days have had a cherry a-top my gradually built sundae of doubt about continuing as I have with Zuppa del Giorno. No conclusions as yet, but me, I am a'thinkin' . . .

But the real news! I got punched! In the eye! Yes, in our climactic battle, I accidentally got a shiner from one Conor McGuigan; and yes, I'm sorta proud. I don't think I've ever had a black eye before and, in spite of speaking in verse at the time, this one was pretty Fight Club-y. The move was a down punch to the face, where I am kneeling and he stands over me. Among his other virtues, Conor's got bony knuckles, and at least one of them connected with my brow that night. The effect is rather like my left eyelid is stuck in a Boy George video -- lovely, deep purples, but only on the lid. A little concealer does the trick for shows, and now I get to make up stories about what a tough/hilariously clumsy guy I am.

It made for good conversation in my audition today. I hadn't planned on returning to New York these days off, but got a call V-day about auditioning for a Lexis-Nexis web spot and decided to shell out for the bus ticket again. It was quite an out-of-the-blue opportunity; I was plucked from the casting files of one

Lisa Milinazzo

, but for the life of me, I can't remember what, if any, connection we share. The bad news is that the filming dates conflict with the final shows of


, and are thereby impossible for me, but the good is that the audition went great. I seem to get these opportunities to play straight-faced businessmen that are actually funny and run with them. This was another case in which they asked me to improvise around the script and loved what I came up with. (I really, really need to parlay this type into some live show that will get me noticed by agentry.) Casting people for

The Office

, please note: I am your guy in spades. I even know Scranton! Come on!

I'm looking forward to this final week of the show being rather more relaxed. Even our two-show Thursday should seem a breeze, compared to last Wednesday. My first order of business upon returning to Scranton tomorrow will be to attend a rehearsal of Marywood's

A Midwinter Night's Dream

, which I'm very much looking forward to (their actual performances conflict with ours). Then I hope to spend my days getting resumes out for the next gig, 'blogging more, and beginning the first revision process on


. That's not exactly relaxed, I guess. But it sounds wonderful . . .