Archive for October, 2005


Monday, October 31st, 2005

It is better to produce a great piece of theater than to see one. It is better to see great piece of theater than to have missed a great piece of theater. It is better to see a great piece of theater with the understanding that a great piece of theater is possible than to show up at a piece of great theater with grudging indifference, even if you are eventually won over. And above all of these is to be an actor or a director and being there for the entire wonderful evening.

I do wish that more of you saw our show, or I should say our shows. It’s astonishing the number of people who haven’t seen our last three productions. But, I also don’t want you to come if you aren’t interesting in seeing theater. We’ve done pretty well by our audiences, we’ve got extremely discerning people who have *loved* our last three shows, and all three of these properties are shows that could go on and make us money. Or, since it’s live theater, they definitely won’t make us any money, but they could become shows of some note.

But you should seriously consider whether or not you like being there, being in the theater watching the show. Because the seats aren’t really comfortable, usually, and you’re gonna be really close to people and you are gonna have to pay attention. You can’t come late, you can’t talk during, you can’t leave, you are a prisoner to this entertainment, and if you don’t want to be that, then don’t feel bad about not coming.

I’ve gone to a couple of improv shows, and I’ve done it because I *LOVE* people. Only an affection that supercedes fondness could get me to an improv show. I hate improv. It’s torture. Desperate sweaty people who don’t have a clue what they’re about to say conjure moments of wonderful genius, but I can’t take the pressure. The worst for me is when an entire evening goes by and people are close to having good ideas, funny ideas, but they never actually come up with the thing that is touching or moving or meaningful.

But I go. Because I love my friends deeply. But I’m totally honest with them. They ask me how I liked the show, and I tell them that I watched the whole thing between my fingers.

The fact that we have to make announcements at the beginning of shows, reminding people to turn off their shit and open their candy now, is amazing. The fact that, even after the announcement is made, people still don’t is astonishing.

It is entertainment, but it is also church. It will inspire you and move you, but you are a part of the evening, you are a part of the proceedings, and you have a responsibility to be a part of the evening. So, decide, and if you hate theater, then tell me that. Maybe you are an actor, currently trying to get employed in New York, and you hate being in the theater. Some people may accuse you of myopia, but that’s fine, just tell me and I swear to God, I’ll be cool.

But please know, we take our responsibility to your two hour prison sentence very seriously. When you come see our shows, you will be able to find something to hate, especially if you are clever and you put your mind to it, but we have no hostility towards you. We believe that you are honoring us with your presence and your behavior as an audience member.

Please understand, your presence alone isn’t an honor, but your good behavior during the play is.

We will never again force you to take your medicine, all of the vitamins are of the berry-flavored variety. The faces of the people after our latest play are something I will never forget. People were transported and delighted, disturbed and intrigued, and people keep saying “I was up all night talking about it.” If you come, in the future, if you come, we’ll keep bringing more like this. Just trust me and come, you’ll see.

Unless you hate theater. Tell me that. I have friends who voted for George Bush, and I still love them deeply. I’ll understand. You have no interest in being in the audience for a piece of theater.

Of course, you’ll have to understand when I don’t come to your show either. I love theater, but I’m not interested in seeing theater made by people who don’t.

Twice as good as the real thing

Friday, October 28th, 2005

I’ve made some vailed references to Fleet Week. These should not be misconstrued as any kind of dissatisfaction with the show. The show was one of the single greatest shows ever written in the history of man, it is as near perfection as anything else written, slightly better and more meaningful, to me and to most of the people that I know, than the bible. Yes, we are doing re-writes, but those re-writes are actually designed to make the show slightly worse so that it isn’t blinding in its relevance and truth.

If you have any questions, you can email me, and I’d be happy to answer.

Raindrops on Roses

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

So, here are a few of my favorite things about the play I’m in right now.

That play? Hail Satan

1. There is a moment toward the end of the play that I like to peek through the curtain and watch the audience squirm. They squirm with giant smiles on their faces. Those big ass “holy shit, oh no, oh no, they aren’t gonna… I can’t believe I’m watching this” kind of smiles. My favorite is when the smiles turn to laughter or, as was the case last night, when one person turns to the next and, as they both giggle, the comiserate about how they can’t believe we’re gonna actually do the thing we’re doing.

2. The silent play that happens at the same time as the textual one. Jordana runs a loose ship, if that can be compared to a tight one, but she has created an environment where respect and trust are absolute. We know the subtext as well or, to be honest, better than the text. All the way through the show, the actors are speaking with one another, we’re towing a line, we’re making bets, and all of it is super-textual. In order for a world to have that, you have to have a text as rich and as specific as this one.

3. Characters’ minds are changed in the course of each scene. Every moment in this play is a battle, and when you are on stage, sometimes you are losing a battle and sometimes you are winning, and that feeling is just magnificent. Especially since my character wins more than he loses.

4. There is a moment in the play for each and every character to lock eyes with mine, to ask me for information, and every single one of those moments, something wonderful happens.

5. Watching other actors grow into fantastic actors at the same time that you feel yourself growing with them, almost keeping up with them.

6. The moment that the whole play changes, that the audience is given something they were simply not expecting at all, and the fact that the moment is just seconds before the curtain comes down on act one. Knowing that intermission is an annoyance to the audience, they want so bad to see how this whole thing turns out. And that feeling of knowing that intermission is necessary for the actors to shower and for the stage to be cleaned…

I’ve never produced a play I didn’t love, except once and you all seemed to like that play anyway. This show has snuck up on us all, in a way, on us and on our audience. So you’ve only got three more days, and the weekend is selling out. Come tonight or you honestly might not be able to come at all.

Our Little Play

Definition of terms

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

Happiness – This is the thing that can happen in almost any circumstance, it’s largely dependent on your outlook. It’s entirely possible to be happy in almost any situation, no matter what’s going on. You can be happy with anything that happens, you just have to decide to be. Any situation of genuine joy or bliss, those situations tend to need new words, words like joy or bliss, in order to describe them. Whenever you describe yourself as “happy” you have to extend that definition to include “contented” or something else that will describe it better. “Happy” doesn’t mean much, it’s basically a decision.

Depression – This happens in every situation, completely dependent on outlook. It’s entirely possible to be depressed in any situation, and there’s nothing you can do about it. When you are affected by depression, it means that you are unable to choose the afore-mentioned happiness. It’s a chemical thing, or a circumstantial thing, or a seasonal thing, or whatever, but the basic thrust is that you are cornered into the inability to choose hapiness, at all.

Now, for these first two, for me at least, the strangeness comes with the seeming fleetingness of the former and the relentlessness of the latter. When you have the strength and the will to choose happiness, there is always the sense somewhere in you that it might leave you, when you lose the strength, and depression takes you, you feel that you will never come out of it.

Neither of these things is true, it’s just a sort of neurosis, a feeling, a fear, that depression will never leave and happiness will never stay.

Mania – This is an unfocused spastic euphoric energy that feels like joy and accomplishment all wrapped into a ball. It feels like everything in my body is metal and lightning strikes through me moment to moment, driving me on. Everything feels right, everything feels like scratching an itch, and each new thing I try is like a new itch I didn’t know needed scratching. It’s a totally useless way of being, except for the moments when smarter and more talented people than me can focus it and make it into something good.

Sadness – Again, this is circumstantial. Sadness can be kept at bay with fortitude, or with luck and circumstance. The right girl decides to kiss you, the right job comes your way, a moment of meaning enters your work or your relationship. Even a smile, or a smack, the strangest things will rouse you out of sadness. When I lost my first marriage, I was sad, and I was sad all the way until enough good things had happened to me that I hadn’t any choice but to choose happiness. I wasn’t depressed, I always had the choice to buck up, to walk away. A stronger man would have done it sooner. I’m not a strong man, really, I had to wait until enough good fortune came my way for me to choose happiness again.

Hate – I don’t know what this is. I can tell you that I have shame for the fact that I’m not stronger, and for the fact that I’m not smarter, but I live now with no real hate, I’ve basically forgotten what it is. I have spent so much god-awful time wading through everyone else’s reasons for the things they’ve done to me, that it doesn’t seem like any of it is really hateful. My ex-wife treated me as badly as anyone ever has, and I don’t hate her at all. I think people would have to behave in a way that was below my ability to empathize with, and I don’t know anyone who has acted any worse than I have on a bad day.

Love – A million different ways, I’m sure. For me, it’s that moment when you look into someone’s eyes and to look away, to miss whatever might happen in the next second behind those eyes, to even blink, is a crime. When you look at someone’s face when they are looking right back at you, and you just can’t bear to look away, that there is nothing else you can possibly look at that will give clarity to your life, when you know that there is an answer to a tiny question, and that answer will come if you just look long enough, that to me is, of course, nowhere near what love is, but when you are dealing with something that indefinable, you may as well say it.

And so it is for me. That moment when you can’t take your eyes away. That happens with my wife. And it happens on stage. So you can say it’s the ego, I can say that it makes me handsome in a world where I am not, but the truth is that it’s the other time I feel that feeling, for a moment. And I miss it when I don’t have it. For most men of my appetites, the might want more women, or more time drunk hanging over the shoulder of a friend. I hope there is something more than acting, as it seems to be a mistress I can’t really woo, but I know love when I’m in it. And, at least until Saturday, I’m still in it.

Guest Blogger Jordana Williams

Friday, October 21st, 2005

i’m really proud of HAIL SATAN. the actors are doing really terrific work and a lot of exciting things are happening on stage. the audiences we’ve had so far have been really engaged and have stayed with the piece as the tone shifted from funny to creepy to creepyfun to sweet to fucked up to seriously fucked up to (from certain perspectives) hilarious. and they’ve talked about it with a real interest afterwards. we just can’t get more than a handful of people to come see it.

part of it’s just math. if we had more people involved in the project, those people would bring more friends. also, because this came so quickly on the heels of FLEET WEEK, i didn’t feel like i had enough time to advertise for and hold auditions, so i basically just invited actors to participate–meaning that the people involved are already “in the family” to some extent. this may have been a serious mistake on my part. but i also have a hard time regretting it when i see what good work everyone’s doing. another part is that none of the three of us is solely producing, so any publicity efforts are potentially weakened by the fact that we are exhausted by our artistic responsibilities, which we have a hard time not putting first. truth be told, i’m useless at publicity even at my best and brightest, so there’s that.

we’ve created what i think is a great show, but we have failed (thus far) to create an Alluring Event. you can tell people your show is great, but those people have seen a lot of stinky shows people assured them were great and so they are understandably skeptical. i like to think that we have a pretty good track record–such that people who know our work would be intrigued by whatever we’re doing next–but of course i think that. pretty much everyone thinks that about themselves, no matter how wrong they are, which is why audiences are inclined toward disbelief. that’s where the Alluring Event comes in.

FLEET WEEK had a lot of things going for it–the (somewhat compromised but seemingly indestructable) cache of the fringe festival, a large cast and production team, a catchy title (particularly intriguing to one of theater’s most reliable target audiences), the involvement of some well-established artists and a few early press mentions (which i attribute partially to luck and partially to some of the aforementioned assets). all of this in concert with a focused pr push from our whole team helped us sell out opening night well in advance–and that’s when people really started to buy tickets. i think the young people refer to this as “buzz.”

ayn rand was always going on about social metaphysics–the tendency of people to equate popularity with merit. the flaw in that thinking stems from the fact that every person who supports this hypothetical person or thing is probably doing so for subjective, complicated, personal reasons and is probably not lending his/her support free of external influence. so to add up all of these people and try to draw up some kind of objective assessment of the quality of the thing in question is neither scientific nor reliable. it’s like an actor with the “oscar winner” stamp of approval. you might have hated or felt lukewarm about the performance for which they won the oscar, but you can’t help feeling like they are now officially good or venerable or whatever because they won the award.

sometimes it felt like FLEET WEEK was just successful enough to inspire backlash–much of which came before anyone actually saw the show. [that’s mostly me being an ungrateful douche.] in any case, it was successful enough to get seats filled. and when that happened, it was largely the full houses and “buzz” that people were responding to (with support or resentment) rather than the piece itself. so far, the converse doesn’t seem to have happened with HAIL SATAN. as i said like twelve paragraphs ago, our audiences seem to really dig the show even though it isn’t popular. i really hope the crowds pick up, but, if they don’t, i hope that doesn’t stop audiences from seeing the merits of the piece or the actors from believing in themselves.

ideally, a theater company should have (at minimum) a dual focus. there should be one branch working on making the art as good as it can be and another branch working to create the Alluring Event. those branches can be all the same people, but those people won’t get much sleep.

HAIL SATAN–tonight, tomorrow and next wednesday-saturday at manhattan theatresource, macdougal street between 8th street and waverly. please come. please tell your friends.

Boxers Fight Too Long

Wednesday, October 19th, 2005

Boxing has to be one of the most cliche-ridden sports in existence, which makes sense since it arguably has to be the oldest sport there is. The entirety of human dialogue is littered with boxing cliches, just in an etymological sense. But boxing also has cliches that are more literary in nature, and none is more poignant than the boxer who keeps fighting after he should stop.

Ali’s fantastic career in the early 70s, after he came back is well documented, most famously with the Rumble in the Jungle and his fights with Frazier, but people don’t remember he fought until 1980, getting shattered and knocked out. He didn’t know when to walk away, and when he finally did, it had long been expected.

His final fights didn’t change his legacy, in fact they created a new wrinkle for boxing enthusiasts to look back on over the years every time yet another boxer didn’t hang it up in the denoument of their prime. But it also brings to mind, what about all the boxers who didn’t have a prime?

There are hundreds and hundreds of boxers training right now, working their asses off for the chance to fight professionally. God, why would they do that? Why, when there are any other thousands of ways to make a living rather than to stand in front of people for the express purpose of their beating you, and all in front of as many people as you can get in a stadium, all of whom might cheer you or boo you based on their capricious whimsy? But they do it, they fight for the chance to be humiliated, because within that chance to be humiliated is the chance to be a hero, to be cheered.

Also, for a lot of these guys, they might be engaging guys, they might be entertaining guys, but they aren’t incredibly smart. Maybe they didn’t graduate from high school even, regardless, they probably don’t have college diplomas. Maybe they don’t have any money, or any way of making money. Maybe they have kids, or desperately want to have kids, and the only skill they have is to stand in front of someone and get punched while a crowd of people decide how well they are doing.

The worst is the guy who trains to be a fighter, but can’t quite bring himself to do the things he needs to do in order to get a title shot. Maybe the years start slipping away from him while he’s trying to figure out what kind of fighter to be. Maybe he’s a puncher, but he really wants to be like Sugar Ray. Maybe he’s a light weight, but he keeps trying to get into the higher weight classes. Maybe he can never get down to a fighting weight that gives him a puncher’s chance.

So how does he know when to hang it up? Ali won every fight, and then he started losing. He still didn’t know to hang it up, he still tried to fight. What if you never really won? This guy’s been fighting exposition fights, just to get seen. Getting beat up, or maybe even winning spectacularly, as the fight before the main event. Maybe he even gets a purse now and then, but mostly he’s just trying to get his name known.

It’s got to dawn on him eventually. Even if he’s a great boxer, even if he has enough skill for a title shot, his twenties slip away due to mismanagement or fighting in the wrong weight class or a couple of really hard to swallow losses to competitors he should have known how to defeat, and he starts looking at his thirties. He’s in his mid-thirties, he’s got a man’s responsibilities now, and he’s still fighting in exhibition fights.

Maybe he still loves it. I’ve heard that once the art gets in your blood, you can’t put it down. Maybe being in the ring is the best feeling he has, the only time he feels good and whole. But his timing is off. Too long between bouts, too little actual training as a young boxer, habits too calcified to be as good as he might have been. And he’s fighting for exhibition, he’s doing it in front of the tiny crowd that comes early, comes really because they are a fan of boxing pure and simple, they don’t care who’s doing the fighting.

Maybe he’s lost so many times that he doesn’t even recognize that this loss should be his last, that he never really was a boxer. He was a body to throw in the ring while the fighters he fought built their records and went on. He counts his life in steps removed from greatness, the boxers he’s beaten that went on to beat great boxers, the kids he was in the ring with as a young man who are now fighting in big venues. He even tells stories of fights he’s won and lost, and those stories are fun to hear. But as he gets older, the fights won’t give him any more stories of winning.

This fighter can retire, but the crowds won’t even know. He can walk away and all that happens is his wife and his family and friends breathe easier because he won’t get hurt. He does have to decide what to do with his life, how to make a living, but the beautiful thing is that he never really made a living as a boxer anyway. His life has been happening while he was boxing a couple of times a year. And if he could just find the strength to walk away, he might make a living, might find a job, might not be distracted by a dream that only existed when he slept.

But boxers fight too long. They never know when to walk away. And really, who can blame them?

Cheating by posting an email I wrote

Friday, October 14th, 2005

I had a rare and wonderful thing happen to me tonight. I saw a really good play in the middle of a ten minute play festival. It was one of those theater experiences that, when the lights go out and you hear a young man’s voice mutter behind you the single word “amazing” you feel like it’s gone from being something you felt was a great personal experience to something you were glad you got to share with someone.

I already had a pretty good resume by the time I got to Chapel Hill. In fact, I had already done Caryl Churchill’s Ice Cream when I was cast in it at the Lab, but I had no idea how far I was from having done any real work as an actor. I had done a lot of real work, I had done some monumental heavy lifting, but I had never been asked to go to a place that I didn’t know, the place my mom describes as “that spot on the map where it says there be dragons”.

Dan was the director, and I was acting opposite Claire and Ann Cone for most of the show, with one amazing scene of Steve Alexander thrown in for good measure. It was difficult for me to get past being an actor. In retrospect I might never have actually done it since I was completely unfamiliar with who I was when I wasn’t acting, but I got really close to being an active and different person who delivered the lines Churchill wrote, and I got there because of the people I was acting with and because of my director. I remember there was a point when Dan said, “what are you trying to say to her?” and I said, “I’m asking her if she’s mad at me,” and Dan said, “then do it.” I turned to Claire and, after a moment’s hesitation, I said, “So, are you mad at me?” and Dan said “no, no, no, sorry, no, use the *line* to ask her that…” and there was such pity in both his eyes and in Claire’s that I didn’t bother to get all huffy, I just apologized and tried.

There was a moment at the end where my character loses his shit and screams at the character played by Ann. I couldn’t do it, at all, and for some reason I knew that if I even tried to do it it would be even more humiliating than if I faked it. This is gonna blow y’all’s minds, but Dan was totally cool with that. I got to the end of the lines I could do, and then I would drop character, drop out of the scene and just mutter the rest of the words one at a time. I said something like “I just can’t do this,” and Dan just said, “Yeah, you can’t. But you will, and until you know that, don’t worry about it.” He was right, he was totally right.

When I look back on the insignificant list of plays I call my career, I am proudest of my work in Ice Cream, it is the biggest leap I’ve ever taken as an actor or an artist, and one of the largest leaps forward I’ve ever taken as a person. It’s because I would look into Claire’s eyes and deliver a line, and the way I would deliver it would change her. Then I would listen to see how she was gonna say the next thing, and depending on how she said it, it would change me. And this happened under Dan’s eye.

This isn’t a revolution anymore, ever since I moved back to New York it’s been this way. We weren’t taught anything at Carolina, but for some reason Julie Finefrock and Matthew Kinney know how to be in a Mac Rogers play better than the outlanders. But, after weeks of rehearsal, suddenly the two non-heels are falling into line, and they’re starting to act like the rest of us. They learned more from Jordana, Mac and the rest than their degrees from Syracuse and NYU could give them.

I should tell you that the play I saw tonight was a Mac Rogers play and it was directed by Jordana Davis, and it isn’t Hail Satan. “You Look Really Hot” is going up at manhattantheatersource this week, and the elegance of the writing and directing is the perfect partner to the brutality of both the writing and the directing. It’s a remarkable night of theater, even if for only fifteen minutes.

And in rehearsals now, suddenly, I’m taking another step, It’s been forever since a piece challenged me like this, it’s been forever, since Ice Cream, that I thought I couldn’t get a scene, that I just couldn’t. And, the miracle is, that Jordana said “I know you can’t, but you will, and until you do just take each bit you can do and build on them and don’t worry about it.” There is no reason for me to blow smoke up anyone’s ass, it’s as easy for me to be silent or, y’know, fat and obscene and obnoxious, but it is a revelation to work with Mac and Jordana.

“Hail Satan” doesn’t have the same possibilities built in for commercial success as “Fleet Week:, it will simply be too unpleasant for most people. And not bad people or lazy people, it is an investigation into horror and at our age and our venue, horror is an exploration of bad decisions and terrible consequences. This play does not have a knee jerk political argument and it isn’t free of sexual predation. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what the play is about. But I also didn’t know what Ice Cream was about, and there is no way that I could understand either while I’m working inside them. Especially when liberty isn’t an allowance but is insisted upon by the director and the actors. Being in this play makes me feel like a child. I wish there was a more complete way of saying that, but that’s what it is. I’m a child for the time we’re in rehearsal, and my brothers and sisters are the best in the world.

All this to say, I feel real lucky. And when I die, I’ll be a tar heel dead.


Shame Of The Talk

Wednesday, October 12th, 2005

It’s easier for a mind like mine to divide the world into bivalent camps. I don’t mean only the types of people or types of approaches to the world, although I certainly do mean that to a degree. But there is also the actions that all types of people take. And the massive problem to this way of looking at the world is pretty clear, I don’t really have to even say, but just to make sure that I am saying what I mean to say, the problem with this binary view of the world is that even if you find a way to set up only two camps, people keep switching between them, and are often in both at the same time, so it’s essentially useless.

Except when it isn’t, which is in any kind of discussion of theory, be it political or artistic or, I don’t know, mathematic. I mean, obviously in basic math, things either are or they aren’t, but the moment you get into real life applications of math, shit falls apart, and the same can be said in political theory. Is the right really up in arms about Bush’s nomination for the court? Or are they *saying* they’re up in arms so that she will be confirmed? Who knows. I don’t get to vote on it, and all you fuckers who voted for Bush thinking that your civil liberties would be protected are gonna be marching with me when Roe gets overturned and I’m gonna get to say I told you so, and really, that’s all I want out of life.

Artistic theory is the place where I find that I get the most use out of creating simply yes or no situations, where I can either embrace or disregard something simply. If I can start large, and then work my way down, then I can get to useful answers for myself. I spoke the other day about the actor serving the work and the work serving the actor, the artist vs. the careerist, and that’s a useful thing for me because it allows me to feel all high and mighty when actually what I’m doing is not calling the right people and hassling them to cast me in a commercial.

The real problem I have is that this blog is a big hindrance to me being able to do the things I want to do. It’s either/or situation. Those who talk about how things should be done vs. those who do the right things. I’m a big fucking talker, and it’s that aspect of my life that I am both ashamed of and seem to be powerless to do anything about.

Yesterday, at rehearsal, I had one of those moments of profound shame, and I trace it back to wasting time on writing blogs and discussing theory. Where most people look at their own fat and feel like it is a testimony to their laziness, I look at bad acting and dropped lines as a complete lack of discipline. When a moment comes and goes, when I chose an easy path or fall into a trick or, God help me, if I panic and don’t know where I am in a script, I just want to fucking die.

I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, despite the fact that I spent hours working on my script this morning I do have to come to terms with the fact that I spent hours working on it over the last two weeks and I still lost it in rehearsal yesterday and fell apart so completely that I had to actually look at the script to know what the lines were. And I’m writing this blog, the twenty minutes I’m spending writing this blog, I could be spending running the lines from the scene I totally fucked up yesterday.

But if I am going to write this blog, then I’m gonna write it, and if I can stand before you and claim that careerists don’t know how to make a good performance, then I will also stand before you and say, yesterday, the careerists were way fucking better than I was, and for all I know, when the show happens, it may be exactly the same. The people with the polished resumes and mailing lists might actually be better actors if I spend all my time talking shit about their resumes and mailing lists.

Plus, I have a great resume and a whopping mailing list. Who the fuck am I kidding? I’m drawing lines that will make me feel better, as if to say “the brown hair and brown eyes I have are what make me special, compared to George Clooney and Salma Hayek”. It’s bullshit, and I’m just calling myself out real quick before I swallow my disgust and go back to my script.

High School Crush

Thursday, October 6th, 2005

I’ve written the last several blogs in lieu of doing things that I really should have with that time, and today is no exception. I am acting in this new play that we’re producing, and I haven’t done any acting at all since earlier this year, and that show didn’t really count. As much like riding a bicycle as it is, it also isn’t. Especially as you get older. There is no other way to look at it, the life of an artist matures with their years, and fame and fortune can often prolong an artist’s adolescence to the point where they become totally insignificant by their sophomore effort, and sometimes fame and fortune can bring on a second adolescence late in someone’s life that render them meaningless rather quickly.
This totally sounds like one of those “Fame and fortune ruin people which is why I’ve avoided it” kind of things, but that’s not true. I’ve never avoided it, it avoided me, it ran from me in great gazelle strides my whole life. But it has left me in the wonderful position, over the last two years, of acting purely as an expression of the art of acting, knowing that I will never make any money, never be a success. It has allowed me the presence of mind to obsess over the minutiae that I used to be unable to address because I wanted, so badly, to be attractive.

There is a long standing debate among my friends in the theater, one that is unspoken largely but still glaring through every moment. The fight between the artist and the careerist, between how the person can serve the expression and how the expression can serve the artist. If you look at Courtney Love, you are obviously looking at a person who has dabbled in acting and in songwriting and in different artistic pursuits, but always chosing projects that will further her profile, the work serves the artist. If you look at someone like my friend Matthew, his obsessive devotion to a script that he’s working on coupled with a complete inability to insist that people come see his plays, even an inability to pursue larger works or even audition, you are seeing an artist who is serving the project.

Now, in both cases, it isn’t possible to do only one thing. Love is a performer of great power, her albums are reviewed well, her performance in “The People Vs. Larry Flynt” was extraordinary. And Matthew has headshots, he does let us know when his shows are performing. But it’s the approach to one’s life that defines whether they want to serve the art or they want the art to serve them.

I have a job, a job that pays me a little bit, and I haven’t taken care of the job very well. I also have a house that I am supposed to be repairing, and I haven’t dealt with that as well as I probably should have. I mean, I’m not a contractor and I’ve managed to do everything from dry-wall to plumbing to electricity, but we have been living in this house for five months and the kitchen isn’t usable yet, so I guess that’s a problem. There are also a series of projects that are music related that could be better served if I just set aside an hour a day to work on them.

This stuff snowballs around me. I honestly don’t care about any of it nearly as much as I should, and that’s a problem because all of these things are normally very exciting to me. I love parts of all of these things. Maybe not the job, but the house and the music, God, I love those things so much. But I’m having trouble being of service to these things right now.

The only time I feel good is when I’m in the script. Rehearsal, and the time I spend working on the script alone, have become like massages to me, in that I almost don’t enjoy them because I know they will be over soon. I hate when they are over, I hate going to do other things. I hate it. In a way, it’s a real tragedy that I love acting so much, that I honestly pine for it when I’m not doing it, that it’s hard for me to watch other actors do roles I want, that it’s like watching someone fuck my wife. It is such a shame, because I’m much more like Matthew, I won’t ever be able to find a way to make a living doing this.

I won’t ever make a living on stage. I won’t, and I’ve accepted this. But when I accepted it, it made me a little sad, and that sadness changed me just a little. It’s always in the back of my mind, it’s like the whisper in “The Rocking Horse Winner”, the walls shift and a subsonic boom that you can’t hear, that only rattles your ribcage says “this thing that you love will never love you back, this thing that you love will never love you back…”

And yet, still I believe. I started banging on the door fifteen years ago, and slowly all the bones in my hand broke and shattered and turned to dust and eventually my hands fell off and I’m still banging, quietly, with my nubs. I saw it with musicians when I was a child, a soul-deep satisfaction with the turn of one phrase, with the translation of the math into music, and I still live for that one moment, that well-delivered line, that moment of truth that happens. I used to think it was applause, but I know, in my 36th year, that I’m not as shallow as I’ve always felt, and that the moment of truth is what I’m living for.

Please know that I roll my eyes at my own self-indulgence as much as you possibly could, and I know that this isn’t a tragedy. I’m not trying to say that I live a tragic life. But man, I would be one of those roly-poly, happy as a pig, fat guys if I could have ever found a way to live my life as an actor without becoming a door-to-door salesman at the same time.

Writing Fetish

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

We were watching an early West Wing episode and Jordana said, “God, this show really fetishizes writers”. And then she did that thing where you rub the area just in front of your nipples slowly and moan a word (the word in this case was “ooooh wriiitttiiiiing…), but I’m not gonna tell you about that because it isn’t the point.

They do fetishize writers, but nowhere near as much as we do in general. The more I see the great political divide open up in front of me, the more I feel like people who like to talk are liberals and the people who don’t like it when people talk are conservatives. It’s as if we’re being liberal with the spoken word, whereas they are being conservative with it. Whatever, that’s not the point either.

There’s a song by the Mountain Goats called ‘No Children” that is among my favorite songs ever. It is bitter to the point of hilarity. There are lyrics like “In my life, I hope I lie and tell everyone you were a good wife. And I hope you die. I hope we both die.” The song starts with…

I hope that our few remaining friends give up on trying to save us/
I hope we come up with a fail-safe plot to piss off the dumb few who forgave us/
I hope the fences we mended, fall down beneath their own weight/
And I hope we hang on past the last exit, I hope it’s already too late/

This song is funny as hell. He describes an indisputable set of ways that he and this woman he hates but is caught with can both die and be destroyed to the point where their relationship will no longer even haunt the world as a possibility.

Now, here’s the amazing thing. My friend Deb, who was trained as an actor heard the song and hung on to one line. In the middle of the myriad possible disasters, the singers talks about them going to hell, dragging each other “hand in unlovable hand”. And that one phrase, that one beautifully drawn moment, meant the world to her. She argued that it was a love song.

I didn’t dismiss the argument, and I didn’t argue with her. At all. I laughed about it, I’m sure I made a public spectacle of her by pointing out that every single moment in the song, including the one she mentioned, very strictly make this a song of total despair, but in the back of my mind, I was totally convinced. Yeah. This is a love song.

Why would someone bother putting enormous effort into creating a song about someone they despise. And why would the effort be so pointed, so poignant, why would the language be so powerful. “Our friends all say it’s darkest just before the sun rises, we’re pretty sure they’re all wrong. I hope it stays dark forever, I hope the worst isn’t over, I hope you blink before I do…” I knew she was right.

The power of interpretation. That’s what we’re doing, in case you are wondering, during all those long hours of rehearsal. It isn’t ass-sniffing, it’s a cosmic wrestling match, it is a battle of wills, with you, as the actor, pitted against the director and the playwright and the audience and the other actors, with shifting allegiances and petty frustrations. We switch sides a hundred times, we use the lines and we work against the lines, we set up trust funds with other actors and then we raid them.

It’s alarming. You look into someone’s eyes and you tell them something, and then the scene is over and you look into their eyes and tell them something else. You look at someone and say, as your character, “You cannot be trusted” and then you look at them twenty seconds later and say, as yourself, “I trust you.” It’s torturous and inhuman.

What do the words mean? I mean, that’s the stupidest question because the only reasonable next step is to clarify, what do they mean to whom? If I’m Sean, playing Charlie, and I’m talking to Matthew, playing Marcus, then who am I talking to, and who am I talking about? And are these words mine, Charlie’s or the playwright’s? And don’t they actually belong to the director and, ultimately, don’t they only mean what the audience is able to understand? What if Deb is listening, what if she’s listening with a special kind of hearing where the words are symbols and the cadence and the intention is all she hears?

It’s torturous. It’s unpleasant. And maybe the worst is when you’ve gone through the torture of writing it, the torture of producing it and the torture of watching it being rehearsed and in the end, like they said to Prufrock, all you hear is “that is not what I meant at all, that is not it, at all”, and to know that, when you are done talking, that too is a love song. It’s inhuman, exhausting, each moment like a little death. And, ultimately, it’s the only thing I ever do that feels like this.