Archive for February, 2005


Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005

It has been said that the most important thing in music is silence, and it is probably the most important piece of artistic advice I’ve ever gotten. There are two things that I do with a choir that make all the difference (and this isn’t my idea, this is pretty much anyone who’s ever directed), I make sure that we all agree on what kind of vowel sound we are making at all times and I make sure we know exactly when the cut-offs happen. Those micro-seconds of silence are the most important thing in making a choir sound like a unified voice.

When you are dancing, it isn’t the movement that is the answer, it’s the focus that happens when you aren’t moving. When you waltz, there is that step, side, together thing, but there is a hiccup between beats one and two, where you pause, focus, in almost too small an amount of time to count. Without that pause, it’s just stepping in rhythm, it isn’t dancing.

More important than any of this, as an artist, is knowing when to keep your trap shut.

I have two things looming over me right now. I have a play that I have to finish writing, and I am buying a house. Those are two very large things, and I find that the myriad of small things attached to those two large things are plaguing me in such a way that I have become somewhat less useful to my friends and family. I find that the slightest provocation sets me off in such a way that I worry about doing lasting damage to my relationships.

Frankly, as long as my writing partners and I are getting along, I couldn’t give a shit about the rest of it, and that’s a real problem. There is no telling what I might say in the blog when I am like this.

So, I am not taking a hiatus, but I am going to allow for that silence that needs to be there. I often feel some pressure to keep this up, mostly because a lot of my friends and family read it when they can’t talk to me and it reminds them that I am still out here. I will be better in two and a half weeks, when all of this will hopefully be in check and I can laugh with the people who currently make my blood boil. But until then, I may not write at all.

In high school, I had a bit of a thing with a girl in my orchestra. She was in college, I was a lot younger, and I think she hooked up with me because I had a mohawk. I got her on the phone one day, long after she had grown tired of me, and we actually had a nice half hour talk. I thought, “Man, I am gonna *SCORE*”. The next day I called her back to let her know I was going out of town, and she just started laughing. I realized that, after trying to avoid me for a month or so, she had spent that half hour on the phone, hoping *that* would get rid of me.

It is in the same spirit that I offer up this pseudo-hiatus notice. Rest assured, I am fully aware of my or this blog’s importance to anyone. Take this as more of a protection against my own self recriminations at being lazy than it is begging off from you the reader. I may update, but not very often in this next few weeks.

Order from Chaos

Thursday, February 17th, 2005

The song I mentioned a few blogs ago is still plaguing me. Last night, I gave my latest version to Mac and Jordana, and almost immediately they saw what I couldn’t, that it just doesn’t work. So, it’s back to the drawing board, although, of course, not back to the beginning. The song is salvagable, it’s just a little clumsy right now. My effort to fix the clumsiness made it so much worse. It was like meeting a one legged man and, in an effort to help, cutting off his other leg.

There was a good moment in the meeting, when I said, “I completely agree that it doesn’t work, I have total faith in you guys that it doesn’t work, but you have to have faith in me that it doesn’t work the first way either.” I have to say, it isn’t how we work. There is no blind faith and understanding, we put one another through the ringer in terms of justifying changes. I had to play the song for them several different ways before they agreed. Compared to earlier in the evening, when Jordana wanted to change the word “dick” to “balls”, and she immediately gave up because she couldn’t justify it, we’re pretty demanding of one another.

It’s hard for me to explain why the song doesn’t work, it’s just that it sits on the ear wrong. I’m not talking about notes or chord progressions, when strange or discomfitting stuff happens on that level it’s usually somewhat inspiring. There is a problem with the construction of the song, the way the parts fit together. In short, it takes too long to get to the chorus, the A section feels twice as long as it should, but the ways to fix that are varied and strange, and sometimes, like last night, I just have to play a bunch of ideas out loud.

We’re also buying a house here in Astoria, and the house doesn’t really work as is either. There is a problem with the space, with how it all fits together. The bottom floor has no walls or doors, it just flows from the front to the back, and we have to have a kitchen, a dining space and a living/entertaining space made out of it. The top floor has three huge rooms with very little identity.

This is where my parents step in. The problem with the song, I went to my mom. My mom that Jordana called “Ol’ Reliable” once, not realizing the absurdity of calling a woman who doesn’t know what time zone she went to sleep in last night “Ol’ Reliable”. Jordana called her that because every time I’ve come to her with a musical problem, she’s given me several ways to fix it off the top of her head.

About fifteen years ago, I played a song I was really proud of for her on the guitar. I was proud of it because I did the trick that every crappy guitar player uses, I kept my fingers in standard chord position and then moved my hand up the neck and pretending these were “jazz chords”. She pointed out that, while the chords were lovely, the progression was actually pretty damn standard, and I went back to my room and figured out that, despite the 9s and 11s and bullshit, I was actually wandering between A, D and G, the same chords as, say, La Bamba.

About eight years ago, I went in to my dad’s house in Napa and was absolutely floored. We sat for a long time and he showed me the pictures of the house before he bought it, and showed me the renovations and design ideas he had. He even pulled out a blue-print for a house that he had designed with his brother and dad back in the fifties. His understanding of space… That’s not really it. It’s an understanding of creating order from chaos. Both my parents are brilliant at creating order from chaos, and it has led all of their children to embrace chaos as an inspiration for the creation of order.

Bear with me, this is one blog where I might not be completely full of shit.

My dad is an inspiration in the rehearsal hall. He is one of the greatest rehearsal conductors that I have ever seen, and every musician friend who’s worked with him, even the ones who don’t like him, say the same. A score is laid out in front of him and a hundred hard-drinking, self-loathing classical musicians sit down in front of him and his lightning musical intelligence is so palpable that everyone in the room leans forward on their seats to see where they are about the be led.

He does the same thing with visual space. He thinks in three dimensions. Sure, this means his kitchen is spotlessly clean, the handles of his mugs all go the same way and the labels on his mustards always face out in his fridge, but it also means he is a master designer and decorator. People build homes based on the idea that they need bathroom and bedrooms and rooms for a TV and couch, but my dad creates space where you sense, right when you walk through the door, where you are supposed to be, where you will be comfortable.

My mom does this with voices. There is a fairly good chance that, as you sit reading this, there is a fair amount of noise going on in the room. These are all just voices. And, of course, my mom has voices spinning around in her head. Clarinets, more than, y’know, evil voices saying “BUY MORE COOKIES” (although, from the looks of it, that voice is pretty loud as well).

The entire world is this great cacophony, people make noise because they are doing things they have to do without any concern for the sound. My mom’s life is designed around making the sounds come together to make you feel a certain way. She has a great ear for lyrics, her writing is superb, but it is the way she is able to build sound upon sound, doubling clarinets with trumpets for the thrill, putting cello with French horn for warmth, switching the chord to the relative minor for melancholy, this is where she creates perfect order out of nonsense.

So, I begged my dad to come out and see the house we’re buying right after we close. I want him to walk into the space and start talking. I know he’ll say “Have you thought about the table right over here?” and I’ll freak out. And I go to my mom with these songs and say, “This isn’t working, and I know why, but I don’t know how to fix it” and she’ll say, “Go to the B *natural* 7, then the B flat major.” and I freak out.

The great thing about both of them is that, if something works and I don’t know if it will, they will say, “You’re worried about this and you don’t need to be.” They know how to make order out of chaos, but they also know when the art is being compromised.

Anyway, I know the song is wrong because the design is bad. The lyrics are amazing, (thanks to Jordana) the stories they tell are part of the larger whole in a perfect way (thanks to Mac) and it’s up to me to fix the music instead of fucking with what they did. Right now, it’s a mess, but I feel like I’ve got some genetic proclivity for making it work.

The True Test

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

Every single play one does has that one day, one rehearsal, sometimes one *week*, where you realize that the play is simply not going to happen. There is not enough time, you are missing some key element, you will never make that costume change… something that convinces you that the play simply *will not work*.

This is less so with a lot of the downtown straight theater one does, mostly because any kind of technical problem is featured instead of hidden. I can’t remember the last piece I did on this level that had the audacity to put in a costume change, let alone technical stuff that could go wrong. “Dity Juanita” covered a span of about a year or so, and we wore the same pants and shirt for every single scene. When you’re doing a show on a bare stage with eight lighting instruments and wearing your own clothes, you’re not gonna have too many technical problems.

But you still have that one day where you know it isn’t gonna work. And the feeling isn’t gone the next day, you’re just a little gun-shy, but you keep rehearsing. Then a few days after that, you still have this horrible feeling, but somehow it’s come together in a way you weren’t expecting. Then, opening night, the show happens, regardless of the fact that you were *positive* it couldn’t.

I’ve mentioned here before that we are writing a show, and yesterday was the first of what I am sure will be one hundred days where I feel like the show has no chance of going up. We got our application in to the Fringe Festival on Monday with a completed act one, including all 12 songs, and a deeply descriptive synopsis of act two, including three more songs. The script is tight, the music alone is a hundred pages. But then I woke up Tuesday and realized that we have to have a “production ready” script in 23 days, and there are three songs that I have never even *heard* in my head.

Mac talked me off the cliff by pointing out that the production ready script on March 11 will not have to be the same script that goes up September 15, so my panic went from a blind rolling boil to a manic simmer. Jordana came home and listened to some of my ideas for songs and, as is her want, began singing tunes to me complete with lyrics for some song ideas, and the simmer went back to a sweat. “Okay,” I thought. “With the three of us working on this the way we have for the last eight months, we’ll be fine.”

Then I got a call from one of our producer friends, who is really excited about the project.

I aint gonna name names, but this producer is actually, in my mind, just a guy I’ve known for the last 13 years, since we were both hanging out in, but not going to school at, UNC. His kindness and sense of humor are matched only by his enthusiasm for theater and his ability to make shit happen. So when he gets excited about something you’re doing, you better goddam listen to every idea.

We talked for a while, and it was a blast. We talked about a lot of names of other producers and money people, we talked about actors, we talked about festivals and we talked about content. His concern, inspired apparently by my brother, is that this is a play with gay themes written by three straight people. But really, there’s nothing we can do about that. We can include as many gay people as possible in the design and development stages, as well as employing gay actors, but we can’t really fold in another writer.

(As an aside, I firmly believe that *the* great debate we are entering now is the right to privacy, included in that is the right for us to do what we want with our bodies. There is no political situation right now that I care more passionately about than the right for homosexuality to exist, the right for us to do anything we want in the privacy of our homes, and to speak openly about the things we enjoy in the public forum without any fear of reciprocation. Abortions should be like nose jobs, blow jobs should be like blow jobs, no matter who is delivering or receiving, and everyone should be able to talk about their lives without fear of government intervention.)

Despite the fact that our show is a celebration of the gay lifestyle, as well as an honest look at homophobia and self hatred that permeates our society, and despite the fact that the punk in me wants to tell anyone who thinks that what I do with my dick affects how I tell a story to fuck off, Mac and Jordana have been aware of the problem from the beginning, and we have been very clear about how the story will unfold. Anyone who finds the situation distasteful isn’t gonna like our plays anyway, we can’t write for people we don’t respect.

But that was just the beginning. My producer friend says we have to cut the cast down to nine actors. Right now, it’s thirteen. And that’s thirteen without a chorus. I’ve been seeing this show as 42nd Street, it looks like producers now are looking for “Side by Side By Sondheim”. The fact is, if this show needs thirteen actors, it won’t be produced unless it’s the greatest musical ever written.

And it won’t be. That distinction belongs to “Oh Calcutta”

So, now I’m firmly convinced that, even if we get all of this done, which I won’t, it will either not be accepted at any of the festivals for its cast size or, it will be accepted, it will get in and cost us everything to produce, but no-one will pick it up because of its cast size, or, it will get in, it will get moved and it will get widely panned as being a homophobic diatribe because none of the writers are gay.

And I’m sure that I have all of these worries simply because I’m having trouble coming up with tunes for two of the songs in the second act. Of course, Jordana helped me come up with one of them last night. And Mac has made sure that, if we are criticized for homophobia, it will be a dumb criticism.

And you know what? At this point, if we were panned as homophobes, at least people would be paying attention. We produced a great play last year that people really loved, and we weren’t able to make more out of it than we should. If everyone’s paying attention, at least we can talk to a better class of publicist and booking agent. Everyone hated Guy Ritchie’s last movie, but it’s still on HBO all the time.

So, I don’t know. This is the day, I guess, and tomorrow it will be a little better, and two weeks from now it will be a memory. I just hate feeling like this.


Tuesday, February 15th, 2005

You really shouldn’t ask an actor about a playwright, because there is no way an actor knows the difference. A playwright’s job is the opposite of an actor’s job. A playwright has to take what is virtual and make it literal, an actor has to make what is literal into something physical, and the actor usually has no way of knowing what the playwright did or didn’t do.

An actor, even a bad one, takes the written word off the page and creates a living person. That’s why we call it acting, the actor is always in the action of the play, feeling the feelings and saying the words and moving through the imaginary space in real time. A playwright has this sense of what is happening in a twilit ether and, even the bad ones, write down what the make believe people in his or her mind are saying and doing. For the playwright, he or she cannot help but distill vast emotional landscapes into dialogue and stage direction, for the actor, these distillations have to be re-hydrated into full human beings.

So, I’m just going to say a few things about Arthur Miller, but keep in mind that I am first an actor and second an audience member of the theater. It’s a distant sixth or seventh to pretend I’m a writer.

Death of a Salesman was an extremely important play for me, and for a lot of us who grew up right after the sexual revolution, right after the deconstruction of the American family. I’m sure the vast majority of people believed that our home lives had changed, that the mythologies had been undone in the decade between Leave It To Beaver and Rhoda, but the fact is that most of our parents were still going through the same bullshit that their parents had.

No, there was no direct point for point parallel between Willie and Linda Lowman and my parents, but there are some startling similarities. A person who is embraced only as long as their use is obvious, and then cast off the second they become burdensome. A boy walking in on the obvious betrayal of the myths he has created for himself and his family. The rage, the boiling rage at the disrespect and the lies that bubbles right under the surface, surging up every now and then. But mostly, the love you feel for people you don’t like, simply because they are family, this sense of being POWs in the same war, the war your parents fought against each other and together against the world. These last two things, the anger and the adoration, went straight to my core more than the situations.

I understand that people believe there was a heavy handedness to his writing (the angelic wife of a struggling man named “Linda Lowman”, with a stupid dishonest kid named “Happy”), but I, and many people of my generation, was born after Brecht was sown into our subconscious, after irony and satire became so entrenched in our world view that we see heavy handedness as almost wry. I just wrote a play where a character is named “Seaman Swallows” not because I think it’s funny, but because I think it’s *not* funny and it is written anyway. The other character is “Seaman Ravioli”. Because that’s not funny either.

So, I experienced Death of a Salesman (first on stage at the community theater level, but many, many times since, including the Dustin Hoffman version on film) first as a story, then as a series of moments, but lastly, as an actor and lover of language. “Attention must be paid. Finally, finally, attention must be paid to such a man”. (I’m quoting from memory, so apologies, I have “Arcadia” and “Equus” on my bookshelf, but no Arthur Miller) “Mistakes have been made and I’ve been remiss”… “He had the wrong dreams. All of them, wrong” Fuck, I wish I had the actual play, because now I’m remembering a bunch… not just the “A man is not an orange” thing…

Willie talks about the death of a friend of his, with a thousand people at the funeral, and he says something like “What is better than to be able to walk into a town at 80 years old, pick up a phone and have the guy at the other end know who you are…” I’m mangling it, but the ideas are gorgeous, and as a kid I wanted to play every single role.

“The Crucible” was the first play I was involved with behind the scenes. My mom wrote the music for a production and they needed a boy choir to sing on the recordings, and it was my first time in a studio. I still remember the song, about Giles Corey being pressed to death under stones, and I still remember reading the script. That and “Caucasian Chalk Circle” were the first two plays I ever read, thanks to my mom.

The Crucible was the first play where I realized you could use the theater to make a statement about the larger world. I had always felt like actors created characters who had trouble finding love with one another, which is probably the full extent of what small children understand about plots, princesses and toads and whatnot. But the very thing that people criticize about The Crucible, the fact that it is politically heavy handed, is the thing that jarred me and woke me up.

Still, to this day, when people say things like “We live in dangerous times” or “there are evils in the world, greater than any evil we have known before”, it is exactly because of The Crucible that I say, “Um, read your history.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but after reading the Crucible, I went and read about the Salem witch trials, and then went and read about McCarthyism. I didn’t understand it, I am, after all, an actor and not a historian. But if Miller’s work did that for me, is it possible he did it for others as well?

I don’t know his full library of work, I am only distantly aware of him as a playwright and I know he was married to Monroe and blah blah blah. But when people tear down Arthur Miller, it’s a little like talking about how ugly the civic buildings in your town are, it’s finding aesthetic flaws where real *work* is being done. Arthur Miller’s two great plays are still changing minds and shaping our outlook, and that’s more than most critics have done.


Friday, February 11th, 2005

It always cracks me up when actors say things like, “I’m not an actor, I’m a re-actor” or “I try to listen to my fellow actors more than *acting*”. What cracks me up about it is, y’know, how good a listener can you be if you can’t hear yourself sounding like an asshole?

But man, if you get the chance to be around artists, open up your ears, and fast. It doesn’t matter if they are good or bad, if they are lazy or disciplined, if they are bold or scared, listen to it all. You can’t disregard what people say unless you are actually listening. I mean, you can, but it would be a *huge* mistake.

Theater is a colaborative process, probably film is the only one that is more so. With dance pieces, the music isn’t generally edited to fit the choreography and, even though I hate it, scripts are often altered to match a director’s or actor’s vision. I did a film once with a fabulously talented writer/director who was cowed into changing a lot of his lines because the sitcom actor playing the lead wanted to “add some motherfucking funny”. This kind of stuff happens in theater with almost as much regularity, but film is even more collaborative because there is the foley stuff and the editor and color shifts in the film and all kinds of crap that happens for a year after the thing’s been shot.

With a play, a writer writes it by herself or himself, largely, and then meets with a director or a dramaturg who will give advice about re-writes. Then a reading will be done and a talkback session, and another re-write. Then, in a perfect world, the play will be mounted and during that process the director will want to change some things, actors will want to change certain things, and a technical staff will want to change certain things, and it’s really a battle between the playwright and the producer as to what they agree to change and what they don’t.

With a musical, that process starts much earlier, when the people writing the show get together. It used to be that songwriters would write a bunch of tunes and then a book would be written to lace them all together, but those days are long gone. Even though our show does have a lot of tunes in it, it’s written that way on purpose, in an effort to give a wink at those old shows.

But, this does mean that we all have to start listening to people long before we want to. *WAY* before. The editing process has begun from the moment pen hits paper, or rather fingers touch keyboard. There is a verse in one of our songs where a character claims to pick up girls by capturing and killing panthers and making “panther steaks”. We have joked since we wrote it that someone will think it is stupid and want to remove the lyric, but what actually lies in wait for us is something far worse. Something we all three think is really important is probably getting in the way of the show and will have to be removed, and we have no idea what that thing is yet.

We met with a director some time ago, and he suggested that one duet be changed from one set of characters (one of the two couples) to another set of characters (one member of each couple). I wasn’t sure about it, but I decided to just write it and not worry. I wrote about thirty versions, always holding on to this one melodic chunk…

And, as you see here, I finally switched it to 3/4 and made it a sort of Texas Two-Step waltz. Once I did that, I realized I had it, that it was just so lovely. The song almost writes itself around this little phrase.

So, I did it, I wrote this little country waltz, and the thing that’s so great about country music is that it is much closer to jazz than it is to rock and roll. By being the opposite of jazz, controlled, bright, rhythmically unbending, it has to follow the same sets of rules but backwards. Where you might get minor nine 4 chords in jazz, you’ll get major minor-seven 2 chords in country (sorry about that, it’s my blog I get to say what I want, but any non-musicians will read that and think “Sean knows a lot” and any musicians will read it and say, “Sean’s full of shit…”)

Anyway, I wrote this little bizarre waltz and pushed and pulled a strange little melody out of it. Last night, very late in a marathon Gideon writing session (four hours of shit-talking and Chinese food) I played it for Mac and Jordana and they both thought it was wonderful, just wonderful. Mac left and Jordana got in the shower.

When she got out of the shower she had some lyrical ideas, but she had more or less forgotten most of the tune. Because, you see, except for the part quoted above, the tune is largely *SHIT*. Cool chord changes, bullshit unsingable tune, but I didn’t care. I wanted those weird chords, I wanted to bend the song to my will, so I fucking *jammed in* this retarded tune.

Jordana started singing and I had about three seconds of wanting to save the song I had worked two months on. During the fourth second, I jumped out of bed and got my guitar, and the next half hour I scribbled furiously to catch what Jordana was singing. I listened to her song and, although most of it was my song already, it was better. It was simpler, it was smarter, and you will remember the tune.

We got to a point and I realized that if I threw away everything from the song before, the song would be like Andrew Lloyd Weber, which isn’t bad, it’s just that he writes as if he is strolling downhill, the songs continually going where you think they ought to if you’ve, y’know, ever listened to any music ever. So I made some tiny changes, changes that Jordana heard and liked better than what she had done.

Look, I’m lucky. When people are making changes to my stuff, it’s smart people doing it. But I’ve had some terrible directors, *TERRIBLE*, and yet every single one of them said more smart stuff than dumb stuff. And when Jordana’s lyric “everything was going according to plan” came out, and I said, “Can we say that another way?” she knew exactly what I meant. Although the words say what we want the character to say, those words have been said that way a million times before, and it’s worth spending an hour or two trying to find a way to say it in the character’s voice.

That guy, that sitcom guy from that movie, was wrong when he thought he was bringing the funny. I wish to God the old script were still there, and I wish to God the creators of that movie had had the level of intelligence and talent in his cast that I am surrounded by. I’m not saying it’s important to change everything you can change. But the writer/director of that movie was smart enough to listen to both people who aren’t as smart as he is, and people who are smarter and that really is a huge compliment.

Who We Are

Thursday, February 10th, 2005

I just wanted to let you know who we are, in case you are simply a reader of this blog, and you aren’t the kind of person who knows my people in person.

We’ve been accused of not having enough drive, enough spirit, it’s true. We hold doors and pull out chairs, and when that happens, sometimes other people get through the door and other people sit down and we don’t. For some reason, this southern gentility has been named “After You, Dear Alphonse” by none other than Jordana, and it can make for a difficult debate session sometimes.

We don’t close deals the way people think we should. We don’t sprint that last half mile sometimes, unless we’ve paced the race and that last sprint is for a personal best. We aren’t aggressive, we aren’t competitive the way we should be. We don’t submit our work to enough people, we don’t make enough phone calls to contacts, we just don’t close deals the way people think we should.

There is something about the way we were raised, something about how we live our lives as men and women, where we just don’t know how to exploit a contact, how to take advantage of an undeserved situation, and we too often see our situation as undeserved.

Last night, our team played an arch rival, and we played just terribly. We had a sinking feeling right from the beginning of the game, that same feeling we had on election night, that feeling that what had been said about us was too much, what had been said about the opponent was too little. There are things that weekend warrior basketball players do, bouncing a dribble off your knees, trying to do too much when you are triple teamed, forcing the game, that our team did from the first second last night.

We didn’t deserve to win last night, at all. The other team is nowhere near as good, and they were working at triple their talent level to achieve something.

These guys I know, the guys with websites and loads of publicity pictures, the guys who have eight songs prepared for every audition, who toil to create perfection even in shows they have no interest in being a part of, the writers who finish the plays that will most likely be produced, they deserve the success they get in their little slices of life.

But we, my friends and family, are like slow moving majestic ships, picking up barnacles and stories, slowing down to pick up pirates and princesses, losing the cartage that means the least and building thick sturdy hulls of coral and character. We get lost and defeated sometimes when we look at our complicated stores, especially when we need to streamline, because our storage is nothing but riches.

We will slowly get there. My team, last night, didn’t deserve to win, hadn’t played well, played like people who were asking themselves questions instead of men who didn’t bother to ask. Our coach is a kind man, more concerned about the emotional maturity of our best offensive player than about his game. He knows the game is there, he wants the player to be a man. We played terribly, and yet, with 18 seconds left, we were down by one and we had the ball.

I know what I would have done.

I just don’t have it in me to try to win a game I’ve already lost. Every once in a while I will show up to an audition or a party, and try to make a better life for myself, but every time I do that, I just choke, I don’t even get a shot off. Because, in our living room, where my friends and I make our own tiny art and make our own tiny jokes, I know that if someone happens to walk by and look in the window, I’ll have won the game that I’ve been winning the entire time.

Maybe it won’t happen at all. Maybe I will just be another in a long line of people who wrote their quiet songs and made their own homegrown art. I know there are a million people with garages full of wood lathes who make the most beautiful jewelry boxes you can imagine, and give them away to friends as gifts. There are people taking ballroom dance lessons that never compete, they just live for their two times a week that they dance. And there are people who keep blogs, writing every day these perfect little entries, shaping words into pure poetry without editing and without any thought to publishing.

I have a team with as much talent as I’ve ever seen. And we haven’t won yet. We’ve won a lot of games, and we’ve lost some. But I know the character of this team, I know who we are, and by the time we get to March, we won’t have to steal a victory that we didn’t deserve. We will have won walking in. I know my people, and I know that’s what will happen.

I would not say Benefit

Tuesday, February 8th, 2005

Last night, Jordana Mac and I, in other words, the entire staff of Gideon Productions, went to a benefit for The Play Company. We are big supporters of the play company, if “not giving a single dollar to the organization but still go and see every play” counts as big supporters. Mostly, we support their mission and their execution. Whenever we talk about The Play Company, there is some debate about which of the plays they’ve produced is the best, but every single play they have done has been incredible.

There was a moment last night when the director of the play “Trust” said, “no company has done so much with so little,” and, despite the fact that their budgets are $98,000 more than any show I’ve produced, I think I agree with them. We’ve always aimed our bow and arrow across the yard and more or less hit the target, these guys might have a handgun, but they’re hitting targets on the moon.

I have a horrible sense of being out of place when I get shoved in a room for a show or a benefit that I don’t actually feel a great deal of passion about, and I’ve often thought that maybe I was just a little shy. But last night I realized that I should just stick to gatherings where I can honestly be passionate about the organization, or I should learn to be more passionate about more things before I go to too many of these things.

One should always bring Mac along on things like this. “I’m starting a trend,” Mac said as he eschewed eating utensils of any kind, favoring the shovel-then-lick-fingers-clean method. Jordana looked across the room, saw a woman wearing a jeweled top complete with a large fake parrot on her shoulder and said, “I should be friends with that lady,” and within twenty minutes, they were perched on two chairs talking like old immigrants from the same country.

I made the rounds, marvelled at some of the celebrities, became incensed with the fact that a sprinkle of charm in a handsome black man is often mistaken for talent, and ate tons of *amazing* food. When Lindsay introduced me to one of the producers at Spike TV, the dude said he was looking for a brand new channel, something not yet done, and I said, “We need a channel that’s mostly good looking girls doing really stupid shit in bikinis, marathons of 1970s James Bond movies and then basketball done with inset trampoulines… Can we do that?” Fortunately, he laughed, since that is a distillation of what SpikeTV is.

I didn’t really care about any of the theater or movie celebrities, but when I saw Tyler Florence, I nearly tackled him. He must have only stayed a minute, probably because he saw the look in my eye, that “you’re the best thing on TV” look. Seriously, I’ve watched the food channel, and this guys is a gold mine. Great looking, really smart, seat of his pants cooking chef, the guy is brilliant. “Food 911” if you haven’t watched it, is Tyler going into average people’s kitchens to teach them how to cook the stuff they really want to, using their kitchens and their dishes. It’s so awesome.

The highlight of the evening is when Dana showed up with Capt. Jack Bowen, who is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. I said “Hi Jack!” and he reached out and grabbed my finger and wouldn’t let go. It was amazing.

For Now

Monday, February 7th, 2005

I don’t have children, and it’s possible that I will be the worst father ever. People think I will be a good father, but that’s largely because I’m a good actor, and I have faked everyone into thinking I, y’know, “listen” and shit, so I am prepared for the fact that I will be a bad father. I might end up raising that one kid that makes your kid insane.

When I was growing up, half the time we thought to ourselves, “Man, what the hell is the problem with our parents?” I had a best friend named Gretchen in fourth grade. We played together *all the time*, our favorite game was Star Wars, played on her trampouline with pool cues. We would lightsaber fight for hours, swinging the pool cues at each other’s heads while jumping up and down uncontrollably.

Then suddenly, we weren’t really friends anymore. I remember the two of us talking to our assembled parents, I remember us being confused as hell, I just don’t remember any of the specifics. I remember Gretchen and I talking about how they didn’t realize we were too young to care about being a boy and a girl. We actually talked about it. “Maybe we’ll care later, but why can’t we be friends now?” We spent hours swinging pool cues, off balance, at eachother’s heads, but our folks didn’t want us spending too much time together as a boy and a girl.

But, y’know, I’m not really tied up in knots when it comes to sexual stuff at all. I figure at any given time, people are trying to have sex, or, better yet, they are having it, and I’m pretty much okay with that. I’ve had partners “cheat” on me, and I can say with all sincerity, the two things about it that bothered me were the lying and the fact that everyone else thought it was unforgivable. I’ve just sat there while everyone else said, “I can’t believe she did this”, when it seems perfectly understandable that *anyone* would do it, I just wish we didn’t have to *lie* about it.

I have a lot of confidence when it comes to my own fidelity, because my understanding of intimacy is completely screwed. By some incredible stroke of good fortune, intimacy and sexuality are not all that wrapped up in one another for me. I don’t have to have sex with someone to feel a sense of intimacy, and I don’t need to do the deed to feel a sense of conquest. If I look at a girl and I can tell she digs me, that’s enough. Because it has never been something I put a whole lot of stock in.

I lost my virginity really early, and I never really stopped having sex. But I also remained friends with everyone I slept with, I still write emails to girls that were hook-ups in high school. I have been right on the edge, so to speak, of having sex with someone and could see in their eyes that they were scared, and I stopped with absolutely no regrets. I’ve never regretted sleeping with, or not sleeping with, someone.

A big part of it is that I never really got that much out of it. It isn’t that I am free of talent in that department, but I have to guess I’m pretty workaday. I certainly have never felt the same thrill of understanding and communication during the sex act that I have felt while I was, say, playing in a string quartet or acting in a play. And if the pornography I’ve, y’know, stumbled across is any measure, I’m certainly not the most gifted man in the world. But what I lack in firm abs and strokes-per-second, I think I make up for in sharing jokes.

Now, why are so many of my friends so bent out of shape about the whole thing? Why are there boys and girls bobbing up and down in each other’s wakes, wishing they could be closer but terrified of how close they are? My guy friends have a level of intimacy with my wife that makes my chest swell, she cracks jokes and they laugh, they call and talk to her on the phone, she is essentially a really good looking guy that they can be themselves around. How can they be that way with the women they sleep with?

I’m not talking about you, don’t worry. I’m talking about that guy.

Is it possible that, if America wasn’t so terrified of polishing all the sexuality out of our children’s lives, that maybe our kids would grow up with a sense that sex is simply one way of communicating with one person, that masturbation is as essential as napping or snacking, that you can love someone you don’t fuck and fuck someone you don’t love and we can all still be friends later. Janet Jackson flashed a nipple on TV and mothers were saying “I don’t want my children to see that!”, y’know, the same children who were *nursing* a few years ago, and we are outraged, but so very little discussion goes on about Darfur or Abu Ghraib? If you care more about sex than you do about America torturing Iraqis, then you are the problem.

My kids will have to be the frontline of liberation. My sister knows she can talk to me about whoever she’s sleeping with, and I won’t come within a stone’s throw of judging her. She’s an adult woman that can fuck the Pope for all I care, I just want her to have good friends, a nice place to live and lots of money. I’ve covered for family members who were lying their way through affairs and nonsense, and I’ve forgiven my exes for their divertisements. My in-laws never judge their kids’ sexual lives, and with our sisters we generally know details pretty soon after consumation.

I have to think that my kids will ask questions and that I’ll answer them with as much openness as possible. It could all change, I could be a rotten father. But let me give you a snapshot of Jordana and I on the train yesterday:

Jordana: You like to do that head spin, don’t you?

Sean: Yeah. I think the head spin adds a lot of funny.

Jordana: With the double take?

Sean: Yeah. This is the regular double take ( Sean looks at Jordana, tries to look away, then snaps his head back at her) and this is the double take with the head spin (Sean looks at Jordana, tries to look away, then rolls his face around in a circle and snaps back at her). I find the spin effective.

Jordana: I like the spit-double take.

Sean: This is the slow burn double take. (Sean looks at Jordana, tries to look away, then slowly turns his head toward her. It isn’t funny.)

Jordana: Not as good as Charles Durning.

Sean: Yeah, that one doesn’t really work.

Jordana: (Eyes lighting up) I like the slow burn spit take.

Sean: (already laughing) The Slow-Burn Spit Take? How the hell does that work?

Jordana: It’s like this (Jordana pretends to drink, then, slowly, her whole face goes slack like a zombie, corners of her mouth turned down. Prretend water rolls out of her mouth all over her clothes.)

Sean: (laughing so hard the train is starting to stare)

Jordana: The spit take is when you’re surprised, the slow-burn spit take is when your life is ruined. (She does it again.)

Sean: (laughing so hard his voice is making those little whistle noises)

And that to me is what it means to have intimacy. The hours of unexplained dialogue that fit into this conversation are a thousand times better than fucking some 19 year old. It’s nice to come off stage and have some 19 year old want to have sex with you (let’s face it, the only time I’m remotely attractive is when I’m on stage) but it’s so much better to just know you can without all the need to prove something. If we understood the *chasm* between intimacy and sexuality, would we maybe not fucking care so much about porn and gay marriage? Would we be able to keep our eye on the ball? Could Clinton have achieved a lot more in his presidency if everyone admitted that we didn’t care who he was getting a blow job from?

I think so. But, again, I might be the worst father ever.

Five Hours

Friday, February 4th, 2005

My alarm was set for 7:21 this morning, which is 14 minutes earlier than usual because it was still set from the morning before. I woke up at about ten after, turned my alarm off, peed and went back to sleep. I woke up at 12:20.

That means I overslept by five hours, which I’m pretty sure is a record for me.

You know you need sleep when you sleep that long. I slept, easily, twelve hours last night, the kind of sleep that happens when you are just so relieved to be on the far side of something you didn’t enjoy.

I have been careless in this blog before, I spoke out about being treated badly by a guy who was a peripheral friend of mine, and that guy found the blog and responded with extremely hurt feelings and I made a huge public show of making up with him. Within a year, I had realized that his disrespect of me, that inspired the initial rant, was a symptom of a larger pattern that would make it impossible for us to ever really be friends anyway, and I felt like I had sold out some on the apology.

So, despite the fact that no one I just got done working with is ever going to read this, let me start by saying some positive things. I have a deep and abiding affection for both the writer and the composer, both men I really adore, both men I would support in *any* endeavor. These are not just both extremely talented people, they are really kind and loving people. There is a great mutual admiration society between the three of us, and, even better, the show they wrote and which I was just in, is a really good show, one I really believe in and am glad I was in.

The cast was, to a person, fantastically talented. As in every cast, there will be some people you are closer to and some you never quite click with, but it was wonderful seeing them work their way through a very specific kind of theater and figure out all the best ways to make the show right. Without hesitation, for the musical I’ll be producing over the next year, I would call any one of them to come in and audition. Which may seem back handed but the truth is, I’m so used to being in shows with people I never want to work with again that it’s a miracle we got five people together who responded with kindness to one another.

If I heard of success coming the way of anyone in the cast, I would not only be extremely happy for them, but I would feel like that success was deserved. Each person in their own way had level of talent and diligence, matched with an inate kindness you don’t always get in the theater (especially music theater), so that if any one of these people suddenly got a major break, there would not be an ounce of jealousy in me, I would be overjoyed.

This same kindness and affection was shared by the entire creative staff. The design team was over-the-top in terms of excitement and kindness toward the cast and toward the project. I got a really nice email from the *set designer* after the show closed, thanking me for my work and for what I brought to the show.

That being said, I couldn’t be happier that the show has closed and would have to think long and hard before re-visiting it, should I be so honored as to be asked to be part of it again. It took me several weeks of rehearsal before I began to be aware of the feeling I was getting.

In the nearly twenty years that I’ve been doing live theater, I had to go back to the very beginning to find the level of mistrust and disapproval that I found, and it was then that I realized it had *never* happened to me in the theater. It was in class, in high school, when everyone would turn in their papers or hand in their quizzes on the summer reading, and I sat there hating myself because the teacher so clearly hated me. I was a terrible student, every single time I was in a classroom, I was a pretender, incapable of doing the work, uninterested in doing it well, and confused and bored by the laborious nonsensical hoops I had to jump through to please the people around me, none of whom were ever pleased by anything. Suddenly, I was in the same place.

I have never, in the course of being a live performer, been in a position where someone doing a show with me wished I was someone else. I have never felt that other people were *dissapointed* in what I was doing. I found myself, in this rehearsal process, looking around the room and going, “oh, ME? You’re talking to ME?”

The things we were asked to do in certain instances, places to hold our heads, parts of the stage to point our toes toward, and the endless mocking and looks of disgust, not just during rehearsal but even from the light booth during performances, would have been intolerable if they hadn’t been unfamiliar to the point of confusion. Once I, and some of my castmates, realized that we were barely being merely tolerated, (a shocking feeling given that we were all terribly talented people, willing to work for little money and understanding that no one involved with the show had any kind of cache or name and that the show would be seen only by children in a show we were doing for the love of theater), we, to extend the metaphor, began to feel like our mistress had gone mad.

I have always had demanding artistic collaborators, I don’t know if there has been a single show where I didn’t feel that thrill of trying to live up to the ideals set by the other actors or the playwright or even the *lighting designer* who wants a particular effect and you have to hit your mark and hold your head just so to get it, the theater is filled with people who want the best and ask it always of themselves. I have been cast in roles I could barely sing (“Superstar”) that I could barely dance (“Chorus Line” and “No, No, Nanette”) and in shows where I had to use every ounce of my acting chops (“Dirty Juanita” and, strangely, “Hunchback” come to mind) but I have never come home from rehearsal feeling as if I had been tolerated and disregarded.

It comes at a bad time, when I feel like I could just focus on writing music and plays. I have to remember that the audience was thrilled, I have to focus on what I could see in front of me during the shows instead of what I saw through my peripheral vision. What makes us actors, what, in part, drives us to be artists, is a need to communicate and be appreciated for that skill and the voices of a couple of unwitting detractors (unwitting because I’m sure they felt like they were being very nice) will sometimes drown out those of a hundred appreciative voices, and I need to remember the important voices to continue.

But I slept five extra hours today. These are five of the hours I’ve lost not sleeping over the last few weeks, and I’m glad to be out. I said in a blog some years back that if I could get back in, I wouldn’t complain, I would just bask, and it turns out I didn’t live up to that this time. I’m glad to be out.