Was I Naked? Did I Speak?

These are the two questions I immediately ask anyone who tells me they've dreamed of me. I've been asking them since college, though I can't remember exactly why I started. (In all probability, it had to do with someone once dreaming of me as a silent ninja [true story {I used to wear a lot of black}] and the other bit . . . because, you know: college.) At any rate, it's been quite a while since anyone other than Wife Megan has mentioned to me of a dream-me paying a visit, but last week someone did. And I was quite taken with the dream.

I'll leave the analysis to you, Dear Reader, both of the dream and of my particular affection for it. I will say this about that, though - I'm certainly in a place in my life wherein I am coming to appreciate a good plan.

Without further adoobie doobie do:

"You dominated a dream of mine last night. 
"I was holding a party in my apartment, although, as dreams often do, the apartment was larger and more elaborate and in fact looked nothing like where I now live.  Anyway, I was 'holding' it, but you had organized it.  And it was remarkable what you did.  There were teams of enthusiastic helpers and functionaries, none of whom I had seen before.  They all had specific jobs in rooms with specific purposes.  There was a dessert room overseen by a very beautiful French woman and her very handsome boyfriend who was not French, but only ever spoke French so I didn't get an idea of where he might have been from.  There was a beverage room with very jolly bald men in charge.  There were rooms upon rooms of buffets manned by unfamiliar actors, except that [NAMELESS DEAR KOOKY FRIEND] somehow snuck in amongst them.  The entire scheme was so elaborate that you had painted arrows and directions wittily worded onto the carpets with some kind of durable but removable spray paint.  Then behind all this in a small room with a window, you sat with sleeve garters and a humorously improvised visor, like from some Dickensian novel, with electronic gear in hand that communicated with your empire, and another one of those jolly bald men as your assistant. 
"The only thing the party seemed to have lacked were guests.  But maybe I woke up before it started. 
"Thanks for all your hard work. I hope you got some sleep in spite of it." 

Dream Log: Church of Improv

It's rare that I remember my dreams.

I woke up this morning in the midst of a very vivid one. I was taking an improv class from Amy Poehler and Matt Walsh, founding members of the

Upright Citizens Brigade

. It was taking place in an elementary school in my old town. In fact, I believe in my mind it was supposed to be the same elementary school in which my church used to convene, before they raised the funds for their own building. Though in retrospect, it looked more like a cross between a smaller school (right up the hill, in fact) that my mom once substituted in and the ConEd educational facility in Long Island at which I occasionally work.

I got there early; so early that I had no one to guide me to the right room. But soon enough Amy and Matt came along and I was nervous to be there, and didn't know anyone at first. Matt asked me to help him set up, and suddenly started giving commands with urgency, moving desks and opening blinds, etc. Somehow I knew I was helping him with an object lesson, which he soon revealed to the class. Something about energy and agreement. I was happy to have provided a good example.

After not too long in that class, someone pulled me aside. It was a 50-60 year-old woman from my mom's current church, in fact. She and I stepped outside the building, and she started giving me keys - two sets of keys. I was given to understand that they were the keys to everything she needed keys for: her house, her car, everything personal. She was giving them to me because she couldn't go back home, and wanted me to keep them safe for her.

While she was doing this, my actor friend strolled up, blithely unaware of the seriousness of the situation. He was there for the class. I shooed him away with a look, and the woman never really knew he was there. I assured her that I'd take care of her keys, but that she'd be taking them back soon enough. We parted, and I set off to look for my friend, who had wandered off around the side of the building. I had been really surprised to see him there, and really wanted him to join the class.

After not too long I found him inside, in a different part of the building. It didn't take any convincing for him to join - he seemed just to not know where it was. As I walked him back to class - now a bit concerned that too much time had lapsed for me to return to it - we came upon two more of my friends who were there for the class (Friends




, in point of fact) and we all went in together.

It was fine to just jump back in, and class continued apace.

And then my alarm went off, the cat jumped off the bed and I think I elbowed Wife Megan before awkwardly knocking myself out of bed like my limbs were on fire.

Dreamscapes & the Common Journey

A little while back, I found myself -- rather through the invention of necessity -- exploring the surreal in

a clown performance I created and performed

. Lately I've been wondering if that experience might have opened up a new avenue or two in my creativity, as I fantasize about more and more bizarre images on the stage of my mind. This is new-found. You could always describe me as a bit weird, but outright "surreality" has never been a thing I've been interested in creating, much less for the sake of itself. I love the absurd, the sublime, and am just as psyched for the opening of

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

as the next guy, but using it in theatre is a terribly delicate balance. And I have been burned, many, many times before, my friends.

And yet. Yet I find myself dreaming of some particular world that's more a dreamscape than anything specific to history or the here-and-now. It's influenced by a lot of things, and may prove easily categorical, but for now it seems to me to be unique. This is not my idiom, and so I feel a little at-sea. Delighted, too, of course; otherwise why would I be returning to it again and again? I'm challenged by it. I keep looking for a story in its midst, something on which to hang my hat. Surreal or no, I can't bring myself to stick with something creatively unless I'm somehow meeting an audience halfway. So, you know: no worries there, O my vasty Audience.

The surreal or fantastic really is just an idiom, not a goal or even a path. It's become a bit elusive in recent years, as fiction in every genre has accepted everything from "science fiction" to "magical realism" into its official ranks. Things that used to be sublime are given categories and named. And I love those domesticated notions, don't get me wrong. It just makes it a bit trickier to make something to a surreal effect.

The trick, I think to making a successful yet surreal bit of art is to aim not for the "surreality." Rather, aim for a pure connection with the audience. Maybe there are glowing eyeballs replacing your old ones (to take an example from my little piece) and maybe that


really interesting to think about in an allegorical way, but what the audience is there for is a connection that allows them to identify with you and be reminded of themselves. So it's not about how cool glowing eyes are, but how they make you feel and function, and what then you do with them. Actually, more immediately and most importantly, it's about your instinctive response to them. This I think might be my favorite part of Terry Gilliam's movies -- amidst all this strange, inexplicable stuff is a continuum of watching people


in specific ways, emotionally, instinctively. That's the scalpel of the sublime, after all. There's little-to-nothing of a cultural commonality, so you damn well better have a human one there.

How shocking that a born-and-raised U.U. like myself would find that situation appealing.

This is part of why the silent comedians were so successful within the idiom of the surreal. (And if you disagree with me about that, shut up, you're stupid.) The formula -- if you can call it that with all the pioneering they were so busy doing -- is of a low-status, accessible character getting into big trouble and struggling to win out over it all whilst incident after incident happens to her, and she has to react. We have to react, instinctively, no matter how little sense may apply to what we perceive. Heck: How much sense could it make to be watching projected shadow and light and be having a hysterical response to it? (Just as much sense as it did to have the same reaction to performers on a stage, or Plato's cave shadows, to answer my own rhetoric.) The supposedly surreal surrounds, and it's a fool's game to try and create it from nothingness. All it takes is a little nudge of people's perspective.

I may be nudging soon. We'll see. It's what my brain wants, anyway. Come along?

Running Up the Bill

I've spoken with a few people about the curious case of the open call last week (see


) and continue to feel the way I felt about it at first blush. And believe you me: I did blush.

This morning I awoke later, though still ahead of my alarm, and unhurriedly got myself bundled to stand in line for a time slot in an open call again. This time the call was at The Public, for their summer production of

Twelfth Night

. There is very little reason to believe that I will be cast from an open call for such a thing and, besides that, I have committed to other adventures this summer that would interfere something fierce. The agency with which I freelance claims to be looking into the barest possibility of maybe potentially setting up a scheduled audition for the exact same show, perhaps. So why attend at all? Well, that's exactly the sort of question one asks oneself whilst waiting outside for one's fingers and/or toes to drop off. Add to that the fact that I was potentially losing precious paid hours at el day jobo, and it seems downright foolhardy to stand around for a couple of hours with March's lions raging about you. But

Running Girl

(where-so-ever she may now be) had an interesting effect on me. In addition to putting open calls into a more sensible perspective, she got me wondering how much I still have to learn.

Intellectual curiosity is a wonderful gift.

I've had every intention of continuing to audition, open call or no, beyond my experience with Shakespeare on the Sound. Somehow, though, embarrassing as it was, receiving a specific response to my experience of auditioning that day made the whole effort seem far more rational, more attainable to me. More human, to put a finer point on it. I had proof that auditions were not just about a monologue, however uneventful they may seem, but a dialogue. It was a weird experience to hear back from someone I mercilessly critiqued -- reminiscent of reading my own reviews for productions, especially when they're written by total strangers. I suppose casting directors don't often hear such direct critique one way or another, and it's probably owing at least in part to Running Girl's acting background that she could have such a grounded response to my ignorant assessment of her state of being. Of course I was embarrassed. I was also inspired. So, if you're reading this, I'm sorry, Running Girl -- and also: Thanks.

More after the audition . . .

* * *

Now was that so bad? (Answer: No, it wasn't.) I've figured out very specifically what my misconception about auditions is. While I know it not to be true from my intellectual side, my emotional side still insists on every instance of minute-and-a-half audition time being my chance to change things for myself. This is a common ailment amongst those who want something so bad they can just taste it. It is a little less common to have made as little progress as I in abandoning this fantasy by my age, but I'll not dwell on that. I've always been a bit of a slow learner when it comes to certain bits of common sense. I live day by day, but I thrive on my dreams, and it can be a simple matter to dwell in one's thriving.

I just made registration for the audition slot, speeding from work at the last possible minute and getting directly on the 6 for Astor Place. The Public was a'sprawl with young actors, and a few older ones, and the proctor was glad to see I made it in time. It wasn't too long before we lined up outside the rehearsal studio, and I was third in line. It was another popular call, and another in which they were fitting in as many people as they possibly could. They had so many alternates, though, that they were turning away non-Equity performers just as I headed inside. Within there was just one of the three casting associates from the billing, but with an assistant. I did the same monologue, and tried to enjoy it. I think I was lacking in my "living in the moment," but that may be my own comparison to dozens of other times doing the balcony monologue. Either way, I was thanked and I left with very little response from the pair one way or another, and I felt . . . like I accomplished something significant. Small, but significant.

Then again, you need a little dreaming, even if you just aim to live. When I auditioned for




) I had NO hope of getting the part, and I had a fairly terrible audition, but just acting on the dream was fuel for some good work thereafter. I can't say for certain where we find the right balance between the dream and the life, but I can say that I'm pretty happy with what progress I've made thus far toward finding the one in the other. And for that, I actually owe thanks to everyone who has participated in the dialogue.

Thanks, everyone. Luck 'o the Irish to you in your thriving.

Wrapping Up Romeo

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!


The actor is silent, twitching his fingers as if to draw something out, then upping the gesture until it is a furious, full-arm coaxing.


Arise, fair sun! And, and and...


The actor looks around himself frantically, finally spotting something in the distant horizon.


KILL the envious moon, who is already sick and pale with grief that thou her maid art far more fair than she!


The actor gives a take to the audience as if to say, "

Wow, did you hear me come up with that?

" The actor is never sure if this take is going to land as he intends it {that is, as a gleeful sharing of enthusiasm rather than giving the sense that he's impressed with himself} and so, sometimes, he skips it. Sometimes.


I'll miss my clown Romeo. Though potentially not for long, as the Italians are very encouraging about getting some part (if not all) of the production to Italy to perform, either this summer or next. Still, the curtain has fallen on this particular outing, and it's unlikely that another will be quite the same. So. To review:

The key to my take on Romeo lay in a late note from our clown director, Mark McKenna. He compared Romeo to a puppy -- all loyalty and enthusiasm, no strategy or subtext. This worked great, though I'm sure another performer could have done it better. One of the greater challenges for me in this exploration was to let go of my calculation and crispness in favor of an instinctive openness. I've never done so well at this before, yet I'm certain I didn't take it as far as it could have successfully gone. (So I'll be thankful for another chance, or two.) Romeo had big, ungainly paws and an ear-flapping energy. Part of the beauty of this puppy imagery was that it gave permission to be angry as well as cuddly, which helped me figure out how a clown Romeo could slay a commedia dell'arte Tybalt. It's funny: I used to attribute an animal to every character I played, a technique I've gotten away from in my adult career. Of course playing such a young lover would end up being nested in that work!

Prior to that image, there was a lot of struggle on my part to succeed as a clown in the role and, as I said, my success was mitigated by me just being me. I remember in college my TV/film acting teacher told the class that I shouldn't be going after non-brainy roles, that my "look" or "type" was too focused for that. I thought,

thank goodness I'll be doing theatre, where I can more easily transform

, but the personality traits she was picking up on were perfectly valid. I'm a thinker. That's not to say I'm especially intelligent, just that I work from my head first whenever I can. Bad habit for an actor, generally speaking, which is part of what I like about trying to do this amazing craft. I like the work involved in getting instinctive, getting into my heart. That didn't save me from some fury-inducing frustration during this rehearsal process (natch'), but even that was reminiscent of my teenage years, and so wasn't entirely an obstacle.

I have come to a new appreciation of the axiom that "there is no subtext in Shakespeare." This is a saying so often said that it is starting to lose letters, holes appearing like new constellations in the firmament of phraseology. (And yes, I do miss the language already.) In the little roles I've previously filled, it was apparent to me that every character says what is on his or her mind, and nothing less, but it wasn't until trying to fill out a role like Romeo that I felt how essential that no-subtext rule is. You don't just say everything as you feel it, you express it, wholly, and the whole thing is in motion the whole time. There is no stop to your internal life, there is no censorship or, ultimately, room for grand interpretation. Take, for example, the following:

"This gentleman, the Prince's near ally, my very friend, hath got this mortal hurt in my behalf. My reputation stain'd with Tybalt's slander -- Tybalt, that an hour hath been my kinsman! Ah Juliet; thy beauty hath made me effeminate, and in my temper softened valor's steel."

This ended up being the text I most had to mess with, interpretation-wise. Somehow in the clown world and with our vasty cutting of the text, it needed to be an upbeat bit, in order to more dramatically drop in the moment when Benvolio came back with Mercutio's mask in hand to tell of his demise. It's right there: mortal hurt. Romeo's upset and knows that Mercutio's at death's door, yet I felt I had to play it lightly, as though Romeo were oblivious right up to the last second. It never felt right, and it never would, because there's only so much room for interpretation. The conditions are all right there in the text, and honesty lives in living them out in their time and measure.

Apart from a few other little alterations, I feel strongly that our show was very true to the story and the characters. There was some doubt of this to begin -- we didn't know if a clown & commedia world would work at all, much less whether it could be convincingly applied to


. (Note: Next time, Jeff, read through the play a couple of times before you get super excited about your concept....) We were lucky in discovering, in my opinion, that this concept was in fact well-suited to the material. Romeo and Juliet are just as innocent and moment-to-moment as clowns, and they are surrounded by a world of connivers, and scarred fighters, and hypocrites. And all these people are lovable, even the worst of them, which makes the tragedy truly, uh, tragic. You feel bad for


. It will be a while before I'll be able to see the play as anything other than how we conceived it. Indeed, watching film versions of it I'm compelled to laugh, especially during the back-to-back "banished" scenes. You can't expect me to believe that he wrote those without some sense of the comic irrationality of teenagers.

One criticism of the show lingers for me: That it was too manic, that the tragedy was ultimately undermined by all the broad comedy preceding it, and came off as too abrupt. This sticks with me because I feel quite the opposite. To me, life is like that. Tragedy is abrupt, and I meant every emotion prior to our characters' deaths, regardless of how comic the effect was, so I feel that there was plenty of room there to believe that something truly sad was happening. This critique is also interesting to me because, technically speaking,

Romeo & Juliet

is not exactly a tragedy. The deaths are quite accidental and unnecessary, rather than inevitable. There is no return to the status quo, true (the hallmark of classical comedy), but neither are the main characters of especially high status. Furthermore, it seems to me that Shakespeare


this, and spent some effort to counteract it. Of all the lines we cut, a great many were (I believe coincidentally) of a foreboding nature. Hardly a scene goes by without Romeo and/or Juliet saying something about a bad dream or sudden image of death. Methinks the playwright doth protest too much, in other words.

What we made, ultimately, was a very broad, structured comedy that aspired to inspire tragic catharsis at the end. I know we reached this aspiration for some, and not for others. Such is theatre, such is life. I feel very fulfilled, now all is said and done. It was not as I imagined it, but that's collaboration, and the show was probably better for it. I learned much, and kept learning, which I take as a sign that we were doing something right in terms of story and character. The audiences enjoyed themselves, and we achieved some measure of delight, surprise, and grief. It was funny, and it was beautiful, and if I never get to play another leading Shakespeare role again, I can happily hang my hat on this.

That's not my plan, though. I've got a taste for it now.