Archive for August, 2006


Thursday, August 31st, 2006

I wanted to post some pictures from the recently closed run of Air Guitar. The show lives on where it always lived, inside our minds, regardless of this show closing. In fact, regardless of this production at all, but, in any case, here’s what you may have missed.

The gorgeous Jeff Hiller. I can’t tell you how many people cornered me and said “where did you *FIND* that guy?” as if it would normally be impossible to hire this level of talent for a showcase show. He was just fantastic.

Yes, now that the show has closed we can reveal “Princess Slaya” in all her glory. Also, Seth, the guitarist and Chris, the drummer, who make up 1/2 of GODS OF FIRE, who should, in a righteous world, also be too famous to work with me.

The closest thing to a cast photo we’ve got. Michael Poignand, on the left, Becca Ayers, on the right, are, again, phenomenal talents who are probably on the cusp of world domination. It makes me sad that the only picture I have of Clayton is this one, with his back to us in a yellow hat. Clayton Dean Smith is the kind of actor who gives you so much joy, you want to write a show just for him…

Jeff Hiller, airborn. He put this production on his back so many times, he pulled the performances out of both the frying pan and the fire almost every night. I take credit for hiring him, of course, but he should take credit for this production being as fun as it was.

We’re going on vacation today, flying in to Myrtle Beach, where the eye of a tropical storm is making landfall at almost the exact same moment we’re landing. I gotta tell you, it feels no different than the last two months…

Creation and Re-Creation

Monday, August 21st, 2006

I supposed the more you do something, the less holy it becomes. We look back on the vigor of youth not with jealousy or admiration, but with a sort of wry irony. That first time you go out on stage is much the same way that people describe the first time they do coccaine. You keep doing it, hoping it will live up to the first time, but there really is only one first time.

Back ten years ago now, in fact more than ten years ago, in April of 1996 I had the opportunity to basically produce, direct and play a role in “The Fantasticks” back at UNC. I played “El Gallo”, which, if you’re gonna also direct, is probably the right role to try and play since he’s the narrator and basically watches the play the entire time from within the playing space.

It was a magical experience for me, to finally get to be in charge of every single moment of a production. I picked the best script I could imagine, and somehow found this group of totally game awesome people to do the show with. In the end, probably none of the people involved would play the roles they played outside of the setting we did the show within, and I cast myself as El Gallo because I had to, almost no men auditioned.

I’ll never have that feeling again, and maybe I shouldn’t. After all, in the end, I was far less invested and had a much higher possibility for success.

Now, it’s much more complicated, for many reasons. First of all, we don’t just find great scripts, we create them. Actually, I don’t know that we’ve ever created a “great” script, but this last show is certainly as good as we could have hoped for. Only now, in order to maintain control over every aspect, we’ve run out of hours and hands. Even with three of us working as diligently as we can, there are big chunks of our theater company that we have to give over to hired hands.

And so, we are far more invested, because it’s our actual stories, our actual writing. But getting a single good review, or even a stack of good reviews, does nothing for us if the show doesn’t sell and move. It’s nice to be respected, and it’s nice to feel that people you don’t know understand what you’re trying to do, but that isn’t enough now. I remember watching David Yazbeck not win the Tony for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and I though “that guy is crestfallen, I’m sure…” but now, eight months later, DRS just announced it was closing on Broadway. I’m sure there are some who consider it to be not a success. 11 Tony Nominations, a win for Norbert Leo Butz, and a run of over 600 performances on Broadway, and theater folk are talking about it underperforming.

So, our lives are too short to produce other people’s material. If it succeeds, what do we get? The truth is, we’re better at creating content than we are at producing it, we seem to totally suck at certain aspects of it, so why would we re-create other people’s stuff? It just doesn’t make sense.

And so, our victories will continue to be mollified by expectations. We’ve gone from the Lab theater in North Carolina to producing four shows in the last 12 months that we are proud of in the heart of New York. Any one of the scripts we produced has money-making possibilities in regional theaters and college campuses and, I truly believe, in an off-Broadway run, or, in the case of Fleet Week, on Broadway. And it’s that sense of what is possible that creates so much disappointment, regardless of each piece having its own success.

The Producer’s Thanks

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Our show opened and an awful lot has happened since.

Creating this show has been difficult, from the first note all the way through to the opening night. I’m gonna go so far as to say all the way through to the third show. We started with a scrap of an idea I called “Quitter” which was about an actor who gave up his pathetic life and blew all his money calling a press conference to announce his retirement from off-off Broadway. It bears no similarity whatsoever to our current play except for the rough idea of a talented but bitterly unrecognized young man dealing with his career.

We changed the main character to a musician, better for a musical, and then sort of had the world of Air Guitar foisted upon us. We discovered the competitions several years ago and thought they were amazing and absurd and, most of all, theatrical, so we had the title lingering in with several other concepts, (including a mexican wrestling musical) when an industry friend of ours pushed us to write Air Guitar *this year*. Because there was a book and a movie and all the rest of it coming out this fall, it would be nice to be on the crest of the wave.

From the very beginning, we were working from an outside perspective, from an inorganic concept. We had wanted to write a show about Air Guitar, but the story hadn’t presented itself to us. Jordana and Mac started to create the basic structure, the guitarist was married and they lived with his med school best friend, and when they finally made it to Oulu, the best friend would be failing out of school and the main guy would be on the verge of cheating on his wife… it was very loose. Very, very loose.

And I started generating music. I had some ideas that I liked, some that I didn’t, and plenty that I liked but wasn’t a good enough guitarist to implement. So I started building structures and I figured we would get a music director that was a phenomenal guitar player and pianist to play the score and teach the parts.

It took some months for Mac and Jordana to finally have the meeting where Mac said he didn’t like the script, didn’t like what was happening and was afraid to push through the script he wanted, which was much darker and richer. It was difficult for him to say, and difficult to hear, since both Jordana and I wanted a Mac Rogers Script ™ and always had. But since our last show had been downright silly, Mac thought that’s more where we were leaning. And it didn’t help that I had written a song about a monkey that didn’t further the plot.

Once we started firing on all cylinders, once we realized that Drew, the main guy, would be haunted by this spectre, that his wife was accidentally pregnant, that their marriage was essentially over at the *beginning* of the play and that the competitions helped rebuild it, we realized we had a wonderful story. And we also realized that we were about two weeks away from the beginning of rehearsals.

Seriously. That’s how it’s been. Once Jordana and I got pregnant, we realized we were on a hell of a time crunch, but more than that, we got a little buzz last year, it was important that we stay on the radar. It was important that we make a new play, and the Fringe Festival is the best place to try that.

We had found our story, and I had found the music director of my dreams. The band called “Gods Of Fire” is beyond incredible. (I saw their show the other night, their show that had nothing to do with Air Guitar, and they were so fucking smart, so fun, so amazing. They were exactly what I had hoped for in our band for the show. Unfortunately, they can’t be those guys in the show, but that’s for later…) I had written enough material that I could start yanking pieces out that didn’t work. We had a cast that were incredible, so I had to re-cast some of the songs in places that would work, and throw out or re-write some tunes to feature the best of the talent we had.

And it just kept getting harder. I can’t go into the specifics, and it doesn’t do any good to point fingers or to take blame because, ultimately, the entire blame and entire credit goes to the producers. It’s that simple. When a show wins a Tony, the producers get to accept it because they’re the ones who hired the right people, they’re the ones that secured the rights to the perfect show, they’re the ones who get credit. When a show doesn’t work, the same logic applies, the wrong people, the wrong show, the blame.

Tech week, we simply had no idea what we were gonna get. We were playing down to the weakest points in every single person involved while we were in rehearsal. The band was pushing for cuts, the director was pushing for re-writes, the cast was making up lines and making up blocking right up to our tech. rehearsal. Large set pieces were cut, costume changes weren’t gonna work, the mics were terrible and the band was too loud. Our tech. ended and, separately and without knowing the other was doing it, Mac and I despaired.

Jordana didn’t. She said it was all gonna be fine. Mac and I figured it was some sort of prego-positivity.

We shuffled closer to opening, and every day the show got 300% better. Each of the next three rehearsals felt like a week’s worth of work had gone in. People had started memorizing their lines, the show was taking on a cohesive look. It was moving forward.

Opening night was a technical disaster. The band overwhelmed the cast, even though they thought they were playing at half volume, nobody’s mics worked and it was a state of general panic. But, strangely, the show was there. The second show we were so panicked about the sound issues and the balance issues that nobody had fun. The band screwed up some numbers, the cast screwed up some, lines were dropped, it was just a mess.

But then came last night.

What we saw last night was the show that lit us up eight months ago. Moment to moment, the best of what we had thought of was being re-created by the cast, and for some of them it was light years better than we could have ever dreamed. The Celeste we saw on stage was fully human, fully smart and sexy and more rock-n-roll than we could have imagined. The temptress, Danielle, was wrestling her own story out, completing the holes we left for her. This character, originally designed as a bump in the road for Drew and Celeste’s wedding, got thunderous applause at one of her entrances.

It was all there. A character named Jammin’ Bread? We thought it was a joke, and it turns out, it is! The audience laughed! We ended up cutting the monkey song I wrote, but that didn’t stop the doctor from having a star turn. It is Mac’s writing, he doesn’t create second bananas, but this Steve was fully human, and his story was as compelling and exciting as the relationship story.

And on top of it all, Ulrich. The spectre. I don’t know that Jeff Hiller needs a whole new crowd of fans, and I honestly don’t know if this show will deliver them to him, but he is a master. His slightest gesture, his every move. Our Drew centers the show and gives everyone something to play off of, and Ulrich takes full advantage of every second.

Last night, the show finally happened. We had a gracious and amazing review from, the kind of review that made it hard for me to breathe because it seemed that the reviewer had seen the show we dreamed would happen but feared wasn’t going up on stage. If the reviewer saw it, it must have been there. Last night, I saw it too. I was dancing in the sound booth, the stage manager and I were applauding everyone.

Last night, the show happened. I feel proud, certainly… relieved, definitely. But mostly, I’m just so thankful.

The Producer’s Prayer

Friday, August 11th, 2006

Let the things in our control work as well as we can expect.

Let the things not in our control go our way.

Let the actors hold for laughs and applause, and let there be laughter and applause.

Let the critics be smart and firm. I don’t ask for kindness, and don’t want it, but I beg for thoughtfulness.

Let the lights move on cue, the mics open on their mark, and let the story be heard without being marred by the tech.

Let the actors live inside the play.

Let the house sell out at full price, and let the buyers be thrilled they spent their time and money.

Let the drummer play steady enough and the band play quiet enough for the story to be heard.

Let the luck break in our favor.

Let there be enough when we’re done, enough love, enough money, enough determination, enough satisfaction and enough earned respect, so that when this is over and the curtain comes down, we can take a deep breath and start again on a new show.

Above all else, let the audience love it. Let me be wrong about my worst nightmares, and let them be right who think it will all work out. Let the audience love it.

If nothing else, then just that. Let them love it.

Why You Shouldn’t Do It

Thursday, August 10th, 2006

This will be one of the last posts I do on this blog before I either shut it down or move it over to a sort of “daddy-n-me” picture blog for my family and friends to keep up with the baby and the wife and me. I hope this will be pretty short.

There is a sense as an actor that you are supposed to take every job that comes your way, and there are very few people who would argue this point. Work begets work, as the saying goes, and you should take every single opportunity, no matter how much the material may or may not appeal to you. Maybe the lighting designer will get you another job, maybe the lyricist is also a playwright, every job you take creates opportunities in the future.

It wasn’t so for me, and I think I’ve learned why. I was involved with several shows over the years that had no merit, no material in them for me to hold on to, and no chance to move forward. I didn’t like the shows, and I did them in the hopes that work begets work. I was wrong.

And I’ll tell you why in just a second, but first I want to ask, why is this true for actors but not true for writers or directors or designers? If you don’t like a project and you’re asked to direct it, of course you turn it down, no matter how large an opportunity it is. If you’re asked to design a show you have distaste for, of COURSE you don’t do it, and every designer in the world knows that. When you’re offered a job as a music director, you’re given the score and the script before you decide to take it.

Why is it different with actors? Why can’t an actor come in, audition, and then say “before I commit, I’d like to read the whole script. Not because I want to see if the material is worth my time, but to see if I can bring something to the material.”

Now to the why. If you can’t find something in the material to embrace, you are gonna be bad. It isn’t a judgment on your talent or your maturity, but if you don’t respect what a play is trying to say, then you aren’t gonna be able to help the writers and design staff tell the story. It’s that simple. If you are asked to play a divorcee, but you’ve never really been in a long term relationship and you don’t really understand the pain that the character is going through, maybe the play isn’t for you.

Because an audition shows so very little. Some people audition well and then get surly and passive aggressive once they are locked into a script they have no affinity for. I’m one of those guys. People hear me sing, watch me act and look at my gorgeous mug and decide to cast me. They have no idea that once we get down to it, if I disagree with the agenda of the piece, I’m gonna do *just barely enough* to get by.

It’s disgusting on my behalf, and I am broadcasting this information not as a macho challenge, but as a wholehearted apology. I could name names, but it isn’t worth it. If you worked with me and got shit from me, 90% of the time it’s because I entered into the thing without any respect for the material. The other 10% of the time, you were probably a talentless idiot and I couldn’t make anything out of the script, but that’s very rare.

There aren’t bad scripts, there are just scripts that are trying to do things that any given person doesn’t want to see or doesn’t care about. Nervous Boy, which I talked about here, was extremely elegant to me, many of my friends hated it. None of us are wrong. But you know what they did right? They got Mac, who cared a lot about the character and the script. If they had Al Pacino in that role, the play wouldn’t have worked. Because Mac is a better actor? No, because Mac had something to bring to the character that Al Pacino wouldn’t – an understanding and a bone deep agreement with the playwright.

It won’t hurt my feelings. Seriously. I’m basically a writer/producer now, and the thought of trying to drag an actor like me through a process which the actor-me had no respect for the ideas in the show… it’s terrifying.

It would literally keep me from sleeping. I am not exaggerating here, it would make me wake up in the middle of the night screaming. Of this, I am absolutely sure.

So, my advice to all you actors out there who are just making your way… don’t do it. There will be other shows. Do *only* the shows that you feel you can add something to. Turn down the shows you don’t respect. And if I’m directing, producing or writing, believe me, I would 1,000 times out of a thousand, rather have you not there then have you there giving me just enough to barely get by.

You Be The Judge

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

Some pics from our press conference

I have never been in this position before, but I’m here to tell you, I have no idea whether or not you’ll like this show. It’s too close to me, it’s too strange to watch, it has required more of me than any play I’ve ever done and at this point, I’m making no promises.

The actor’s nightmare? That shit aint nothing.


Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

Really quick – Jordana and I definitely don’t get in each other’s shit, and with our other writing partner, we totally stay away from each other, even to the semi-colon part. Jordana and Mac have had really inspired musical ideas, and basically *ALL* of their ideas eventually become “my” music (although they don’t always end up in the final shows) (and sometimes when they do, they shouldn’t).

But we’re very clear on keeping the aisles clear. If there’s something we don’t like about, say, a scene, one of us will go to Mac and say “This doesn’t work for me, and here’s why”, and after the last couple of years, those words are enough.

When one of the two of them says “this song doesn’t work for me, and here’s why”, I don’t try to defend the song, I just take the parts of the song I like and try to make a new song.

In one of our rehearsals the other day, somebody mentioned a line that they didn’t like, and Mac said something like “yeah, I don’t know why I didn’t change that, I just really liked the writing…” and that’s how I feel about my music as well. There are some things that I hold on to because I think they are pretty and smart, and that should be enough to justify their existence. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m not.

Jordana is the one most often caught in the cross-ways, because her lyrics have to be musical, but they also advance the story as much as the plot, so she’s got responsibilities on both sides. Which means, it’s harder for her not to step on toes, she has to give Mac notes about lines the characters are saying, either because they don’t match the motivation of her lyrics or if they cover ground her lyrics are about to cover in the song, and she has to give me notes if the song seems like it’s creating a mood the the scene doesn’t call for.

I’ll write more about our process later, it’s fun to talk about, but this is just a response to Ian’s Blog

Kissing Cousins

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

We are in the middle of having to make some rather large decisions about how to proceed with marketing our show. We’ve been afforded some amazing opportunities, which is good since we can’t afford to buy them ourselves, but we’re debating the usefulness of some of the different ideas. Just a quick recap on some of the marketing ideas that have been discussed here before. Put on your tongue-in-cheek-ometer for the following.

1) Name of the show. Pretty simple. Before you ever start writing, go ahead and pick a name that will mean something to people. At some point, someone thought of “Xanadu” and said “Ha! More like Xana-DON’T! Am I right!?” and then they went and named a show that. Except “Xanadon’t” looked wrong, so they named it “Zana DON’T!”. It’s just… I look at that and I feel pain.

2) Write the show so that people will really like it. Seriously. As you go through just be all “Now, will people see this and think it’s awesome? How do I make it more people-see-it-as-awesome-er?”

3) Cast famous people. If someone has their own daytime TV talk show and seems to be a big fan of musicals, there’s no reason not to cast her in a role that requires the skill to pull of the 11 o’clock number. Especially if she’s a gay icon.

4) Cast good people, who are famous. Hugh Jackman kept a show going despite staggering bad reviews. He kep it going right up until the very day he left the show, which was the same day the show closed. That’s how good he is.

5) Get a great image and a fantastic tagline and then buy ads and email blasts.

6) Get pull quotes from even the most bizarre sources for reviews. There’s no reason you can’t say “absurd!” and “irreverent!” and “Historic!” in your ads, even if the quote is “the comedy is absurd, but, despite the irreverent use of stage space, the play still seemed mired in the historic niceties of standard theater”. and the review was from the Waterfront Brooklyn Pipefitters quarterly.

So, how do you do it, if these are the accepted ways. And what are you supposed to do if you don’t have any money at all.

Well, this is sort of our mindset on the whole thing. We have a story to tell, the three of us, and it’s pretty important to us. It’s the revelation that we’ve discovered in ourselves and in our associates, that we seem to go through a second growth spurt when we hit our thirties, or thereabouts. And though we’ve seen a billion movies about the mid-life crisis, we don’t get to see too many movies or plays about this phenomenon. And that might be because it is an invention of our generation…

When we realized that a show with the title “Air Guitar” might ring out in people’s subconscious, we decided to frame the show around this idea. We had the title that would resonate, and we had a story that meant something to us.

So, our first mistake is that we weren’t able to figure out what parts of the play were awesomer than other parts. And we got different opinions. And the three of us had different opinions. So, as usual, we skipped step two in our marketing concept. And, that marketing concept is pretty obnoxious anyway. I’m pretty sure only the most callous and devious people sit down and sculpt their art with some sense of world-wide acceptance as their touchstone.

When it came time to cast people… we just got lucky. We bypassed the Famous, who have agents that will actually steer the actors away from working with us even if they want to, and went straight to the underground. Basically everyone that came in were all people we admired and figured “shit, I’ll send an email and see what they say”.

It was astonishing that we got such amazing actors, two and three deep for every part. Now, the problem is, nobody in the cast is famous. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t awesome. So, instead of saying something like “Larry St. Larry (of Most Recent Hollywood Crapfest)” we’re just letting people know where they might have seen these guys before. So more like “Larry St, Larry (of Awesome Offbrodway Ohyouremember!). And the truth is, people seem to be more personally excited about this cast than any other cast we’ve ever had. These are all people our friends have seen and *love*.

So, now we’re to the graphics and the tagline bit, which are in the capable hands of Jordana and Mac for the words and Claire and Dave for the graphic. You put four geniuses together and get the fuck out the way, that’s what I did.

From here on, we’re confused. This is where you have to figure out “do I leave a stack of postcards at Arlene’s Grocery? Do I book the cast in a public performance in the park? Do I call up the broadway channel on Sirius and try to get that guy to talk to Ulrich?” It’s impossible to know.

So, we’re just pushing through. If you would all just come see the show, and bring 85 friends, I wouldn’t have to worry about the show selling.

So. Maybe just do that.