Feel the Burn

Work is bad for you. It's science.

I'm on a rather eccentric work schedule these days, as far as

my day job

goes. It has to do with splitting the job with another capable worker who was training for the position in the hopes that I would suddenly become rich and famous and not need a day job (which by the way, for those of you keeping score at home, hasn't happened yet). This arrangement means I work an average of 20 hours a week, or two-and-a-half days. So I work the first part, she the second, or vice versa. It's been strange. Good, because it's the holidays, and I have a lot to occupy me in my off hours. Bad, because I'm making about half as much money as I'm accustomed to when I'm city-side . . . and I wasn't exactly living large prior to these circumstances.

But here's another good thing: I can make more time for exercise.

And here's another bad thing: When I can't make time--i.e., work days--I am acutely aware of it.

Ooo, but do I know it. When I first started working here the job was much, much easier. I knew less about the work, had less responsibility and my boss was quite frankly coasting a bit on good fortune. Plus,

Friend Melissa

referred me to the job in the first place, and was around to cavort with. We never did anything unconditionally crazy, but she worked in a tiny office and I in a cubicle, which presented us with marvelous staging opportunities for what

Friend Heather

refers to as "archway humor."

"Archway humor" is that which is generated by the story one doesn't see. Rather, one sees the effects of incidences that occur "offstage." Your imagination makes up the rest. Melissa and I being both of the circus persuasion (particularly at that time, when we were both rehearsing with



Cirque Boom

), our archway humor consisted mainly of highly physical choices that exploited her doorway and my puppet-stage-like, low cubicle wall. I'm afraid Melissa engaged me much more than I her; I was still fresh to my job, you see. Every so often, for no particular reason, Mel would walk up to my cube, look me in the eye, and wordlessly execute a cartwheel. The effect was something like, "Hi Melissa. What do you want? Oo, nice sneakers!" When her head resurfaced, she invariably gave me a look that seemed to say, "What on earth just happened to me?" The effect on my mood was stunning.

Melissa don't work here no more, having moved on to greener pastures in The Garden State. It's difficult to say whether it is her leaving, getting ever-so-older (oh, the lessons we learn about the difference between "discomfort" and "pain") or the building stress of my work, but whatever the cause I find myself frequently passing the whole day without considering crouching in my chair, cartwheeling in the hall or doing push-ups against the copier machine. And I used to make a point of that. In a day in which I'm working at the office and going to rehearsal at night, I just fail to squeeze in a good work-out at home. Sometimes I fantasize about working as, of all things, a bike messenger, just to feel a pleasant ache of hard-won work at the end of the day. If it weren't already such a perilous job, just ask some people who know me well what a bad idea this would be. Plus, I'd probably be so ineffective. I would obey traffic laws, use hand signals and spend too much time poking around the offices I delivered to.

So here I am, venting my aerobic angst on the 'blog instead. The irony is, when I'm not working, I worry about how much money I'll make that week. Henceforth, these days shall be known as my "burn days." Feeling the burn of that last set of push-ups, feeling the burn of having to save up for coffee cash. The burn days are good motivation for getting something new doin' with my theatre career. That's the only place I've ever been paid for handstands.

Officially, at any rate.

I Second that Performance

There is a phenomenon among those known exclusively by thespians called "second-night slump." Opinions differ on the exact nature and causes of the "slump," but it is pretty universally acknowledged as something legitimate and worthy of consideration. In essence, it is a drop in energy between the opening and the next performance. Whatever truly causes it--a less personal audience, lower adrenaline, a sense of deja vu--it is a real thing that seems to me unavoidable. Opinions differ even more greatly as to whether the second-night slump is a good or bad thing. In most cases, I feel bad in it. Nothing will click and I'm off my game, or so it seems. Some directors (and, indeed, some actors) insist that the second night is always an all-around better performance. The actors are more relaxed, fluid, and the show loses a lot of the grating edges of first night. I was curious to know if, what with the

Fringe Festival

's bizarre schedule and our replacement actor, a second-night slump was going to occur last night. And, if so, whether it would be beneficial or detrimental.

Now I have no idea whatsoever.

That's not quite true ("...but I do lie."). The slump definitely happened, at least to me.

As Far As We Know

requires a certain intensity in performance, owing both to the subject matter and the style in which we've chosen to present it, and mine was slow to start last night. The engine, as it were, coughed a time or two before turning over. It began (it always begins with something small) with my missing the cue to begin the slower movement in the initial movement sequence. I caught the change of pace out of the corner of my eye and thought, "Oh yes. This bit."

Not a good sign.

I did pull out of my tailspin eventually, but not before the memory scene and the car scene were sacrificed on an altar to the Goddess of Preparation. It seems that it would be a good idea for me to run through the whole of my part in the play the day of a show. This is not something I need to do for a regular performance schedule, but having days between each show makes for strange rot in the brain. I could feel it in every marching entrance--the tightness, the intensity (


, as

Sara Bakker

chides me) wasn't there. I was at once more relaxed than I had been Saturday, and yet less in tune with the play. I felt good about my last scene, but that was about it.

Yet the feedback was very positive. It's always hard to say how much of the response is politeness and how much is genuine admiration immediately after a show, but even using my deepest B.S. filter it seemed those I spoke with thought I had a very good show. So I'm letting it go, to some extent. But I'll be sure to run through my show before Saturday's performance (enormously easier, given that I won't be coming from eight hours of desk work).

In other


news, we've had our first review. Sort of.

There's a very interesting trend in New York (and elsewhere, I suspect) in the past couple of years, and it involves an intersection between the internet and live theatre. For some time now, the only major paper left in the city reviewing theatre was

The New York Times

, and their word on one's show was pretty much the kiss of life, or death. That's still strictly true, in spite of independent papers making more of a mark in the last decade in that regard, but there's a host of tiny, new player on the critique scene: Bloggers. The majority of reviews we had for

A Lie of the Mind

were from 'blogs, and 'blogs dedicated to theatre reviews at that. In some cases this is a very, very bad thing (see


; though not from a 'blog per se, illustrative of the potential problems of the exposure of unedited work), but in most cases the articles are surprisingly well-thought-out and composed, as evidenced by Tonya Plank's


to our little show.

I love this aspect of the internet as it is now. It's a bit like the wild west, a violent infant as prone to critical error as it is to tremendous success, a mixed metaphor (if you will) that nevertheless satisfies, because all have access to it. This I do verily dig. Someday in the future I imagine the 'bloggers will hit a collective slump in excitement and ingenuity, but for now it's still opening night, and the joint is jumping.

"I'm Not a Total Killjoy"

You were beginning to worry. Maybe this week would be only about

The New York City Fringe Festival

, and my appearance in

As Far As We Know

? Maybe the 'blog had ceased its delightfully random nature of random subjects at random times? Maybe the honeymoon is over, and you should just be buying cotton panties from here on out (they're comfortable, economical and support our nations economy)? Well, just when you were worried, I bring you freshness in the form of . . .


(How many of you got a flash of The Wonder Twins owing to that phrasing? "Form of vicious tiger!" "Form of slightly rusty bucket of water!")

Friend Mark posed me a couple of interesting questions a little (far too) long ago, and as I answered them via email (it's what I did before I 'blogged) I thought I'd really like some others' opinions on the matter(s). So, here you have the email, minus the friendly jousting of introduction:

What compels an atheist to commit acts of charitableness? I have to go a little Ayn Rand on this one: It works. It simply works. The world works through exchange and reaction, and we can not help but learn to make our exchanges profitable to our environment. The only thing limiting that degree of profitability is our personal degree of foresight. To put it another way, the most basic survival instinct says, "Yeesh, I'm hungry. Oog is fat and slow. I'll catch and kill him, and not be hungry any more." However, the longer the view our hypothetical cro-mag has, the happier (more profited) he'll be. "Hey, if I can get Oog to let me use him as bait, he'll be a renewable resource and I'll be hungry less often. Of course, I'll have to share some of the lion with him, but in the long run that'll make him more likely to let me mate with his sister. Oo! That rock looks pointy! I wonder if I can make it more pointy and use it to . . . "

Etc. Just to be clear, I'm not saying capitalism is my new philosophy. I'm pretty much sticking with Taoism, actually. It's just that in seven years and seven months, what I've come to learn about the Way is that it usually involves others, and in a reciprocal capacity. Even an atheist can understand the basic value in creating better circumstances for his/her fellow man/woman.

Now, as to what unifies Unitarian Universalists, I'm tempted to quip, "vocabulary." I'm also tempted to say, "Hey man, I didn't found the 'religion,' I was just reared by one of its ministers!" But I still feel allegiance to that faith, and do count it as a goodly one, and so will attempt to answer.

It's ironic, but in a way what unifies us U.U.s is one thing I strive to avoid in my personal philosophy: identification through discrimination. To put it another way, "WE are WE because WE'RE not YOU." U.U.s are united by--to some degree--their common belief that the other folks are wrong . . . to tell anyone that they're wrong. We phrase this delicately, that we are a non-denominational community committed to accepting the personal beliefs of all, but that's a bit of a paradox. Particularly when it comes to folks like malevolent Satanists or abortion-clinic bombers. So we hedge in the fence a bit with shared beliefs about the value of human life and avoiding a missionary mentality, things of that sort. But essentially, we all hang together because we can (nay, deem it valuable to) lower our standards of specificity for the sake of creating community.

Kind of like my answer to your first question.

Satisfied? Comments?


My favorite joke to tell is a knock-knock joke. So, pretty much automatically, you know that it's inane and probably not reliably funny. So why should it be my favorite?

Last night I had my first New York rehearsal for

As Far As We Know

since returning from our New Hampshire (NOT Vermont) week-long workshop. It was just my person, Kelly's and Laurie's all in a

tiny rehearsal studio

working through the two scenes in the play (for the moment) that are simply Nicole and Jake, sister and brother. They are memory scenes for Nic, with elements of hallucination or nightmare, and one of them we've been doing in one form or another almost the entire time we've had a playwright on board. It is affectionately referred to as "1-2-3 In a Car."

For a while there--in particular over the last workshop period--it was entitled simply "1-2-3." That's because it was restructured and taken out from inside the car to being set partially underneath it, as Jake works on the vehicle. Yesterday, minutes before rehearsal, I printed a revised script that had been emailed to us, one and all, to discover that the scene had been largely restored to its former state.

"Damn," thought I.

It's incredibly awkward, you see, performing pantomimed driving. There's a reason mimes don't speak. That reason being, all mimes have their vocal cords personally removed by Marcel Marceau.

No seriously though, pantomime takes enormous concentration (I sometimes wonder if mimes haven't indeed had their sweat glands removed) and I think it's an especially talented person who can convincingly drive an imaginary car whilst truthfully playing a scene. Hence: "Damn," thought I. And the first part of rehearsal was just as I might have expected with a scene so well-worn, with a layer of additional pretense applied: Halting and stilted, with a dusty sensation in my throat. "Damn," thought I, "will the hoped-for acting rehearsals all be as dry for me?"

And then, remarkably, we all started working together as actors and a director. I had somehow forgotten how good it felt. Sure, we did some revision of the script along the way (prerogative of the UnCommon Cause) but it was more internal, within the scene and without too much time spent (re)hashing out the play as a whole. In sum, we found the emotional truth of a scene that has existed for almost two years, and did so within the confines of a tiny room and a fairly standard rehearsal process. I was so uplifted by the experience that when I left rehearsal at 10:00, I felt as though I was leaving a performance, full of juice to run another four hours or so (and I did stay up past my bedtime reading old drafts of a werewolf story I may never finish).

In his

Being An Actor

, Simon Callow asserts that the most comparable experience a non-actor has to performing is the act of telling a joke. In a joke, so the theory goes, all the considerations of structure, performance and communication are present, in a very concentrated form. Personally, I dread telling jokes, especially to people who don't know me very well. It seems to me the expectation is just too much, that I'll never encapsulate my experience of hearing the joke sufficiently to make it worth people's time. Occasionally I'm wrong about this outcome, but for the most part it's another one of those skills most people assume actors (especially comic actors) naturally possess, right up there with impersonations and dance, and that I am sadly lacking.

So. My favorite joke to tell?

Who's there?
A mime.
A mime who?
. . .

Never mind that I find reversal of expectation, silence and surreality (is SO a word) incredibly funny; this joke leaves off all that junk I feel horribly self-conscious about and, usually, somewhat disappointed by. No applause, no critiques, no climax or denouement. In fact, no feedback of any kind, as I've robbed the listener of even the moment


the promised catharsis. I love the rehearsal. I love the problem-solving and private victories. To hell with the punchline, I usually say.

Yet I'm excited, this time, to put all our work on T

he Torture Project


As Far As We Know

up in front of you all.

Self-Aware . . . ed

Self-awareness is a fascinating aspect of the human condition. It will blow your mind to think of it for very long. I mean, dude: You're only able to think


it because you


it. It's an almost inconceivable cycle of reciprocation, like the chicken and the egg, or

Siegfried and Roy

. An endless spiral in and down, forcing us to wonder if infinity owes more to inner space, than outer.

I swear I'm not snorting the pot.

It is fascinating to me, though. Self-awareness seems to be a uniquely human condition, though this may simply be a result of we being the only ones we understand, verbal communication-wise. I mean, maybe a dolphin (maybe even one in S&R's

Secret Garden

, which just scares the crap out of me) can conceive of thinking "I am," and is maybe even capable of expressing it, and we just can't relate. I'm inclined to think, however, that we are the only ones on this planet who can think about what (or worse: who) we are. It's also my opinion that such a gift creates as many problems as it solves.

Take, for example, suicide. Other creatures can starve themselves to death, it's true, but we seem to be the only ones who can plan our own deaths, not to mention come to perceive nonexistence as a preferable condition to life itself. This is the big (possibly biggest) down side to self-awareness--the way it can wreak havoc with a simple life of stimulus and response. The urge to examine is inherent in us as a species, and I suppose it was inevitable that such an urge would eventually come to be focused upon our selves. On about a par with self-destructive behavior as an unwelcome result of self-awareness, is bad acting.

What? Well, it's on a par for me, anyway.

There are few things quite as miserable as suffering through a performance in which the actors are self-conscious. The young, I suppose, pull it off with a certain earnest quality; but the older the actor, the less forgivable this heinous crime of art. Nothing will destroy the verity, and suck the wind out of the sails of a show faster than even a single actor who seems to be aware he or she is anything but the character he or she is playing. I'm not speaking to style, here. If your play includes the actors as characters, well, fine (see


for my general responses to such defiance of classical structure), but even in such cases the moment of action has to be believed in. Self-consciousness destroys that more effectively than any other distraction, and lots and lots of we actors (we thousands, we stand of others) spend lots and lots of our time working on reliably attaining a state in which we can do the deed without thinking.

Enter an Eastern perspective. This summer, my father and a fellow member of my mom's church are writing a sermon together (UU Breakdown: Most American UU churches apply to their ministers the agrarian tradition of summers off, in which time the parishioners get their chance to shine from the podium. Most parishioners, though not farmers, tend to apply this schedule to their church-going, as well.), the which is largely based on drawing connections between spiritual beliefs and quantum physics. The sermon, I believe, was inspired in large part by this:

The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics

. I know nothing of physics (for that, try

Friend Chris



write for Spider-Man; the other one]), but I've read my share of more eastern thought, and find the connections very, er . . . connected. Taoism--my particular favorite--speaks of all things beginning in unity before being split into "the ten thousand things." It also incorporates a concept called

wu wei

(无为), often in the axiom:

wei wu wei

. The first means roughly "without action," the second, "action without action," which is often interpreted as "effortless action." To put it another way, the idea is that there is a way of achieving things without using a lot of effort. Now, paraphrasing philosophy is tricky enough business, but trickier still when the book you're interpreting is a combination of personal and ruling philosophies, possibly written with a particular ruler in mind.

This combination of personal bias and undefined terms makes the

Tao Te Ching

rather like any acting textbook. But I digress. At great length. Shamelessly.

It is appropriate, to me, that terms such as physics, action and philosophy should find unity in a discussion of the craft of acting. In Taoism,

wei wu wei

speaks to the idea of there being a way of all things (


) that it is our tendency to interrupt or otherwise interfere with through our actions and deliberations; therefore, the best way of achieving goals is to be sure one is going with this way, or at least functioning with an awareness of it. The more one achieves this, the more his or her actions will arise from stillness. Similarly, the actor (her role named by the very stuff of her craft--action) must be an expert listener and, after long hours of exploration and decision making about her actions, live in the moment without choreography, true in the moment, one with the way. A true moment on stage must be like a force, such as that term is defined in physics--just as inevitable, just as simple.

It's a tricky business. We have to be self-aware to manipulate ourselves into belief in the first place, and then we have to abandon all self-awareness to allow that belief to breathe, if only for the span of a moment. It's a state I have thus far found comparable to states of prayer, meditation, inspiration, intoxication and what many Western religions refer to as the Holy Spirit. Even the Old Testament God

chimes in

on the subject: אהיה אשר אהיה (if, by "the subject," you mean this bizarre set of connections I've been attempting to make).

So best of luck with finding your


in all things. And don't stick your head in a tiger's mouth, ever, much less make a


out of it.