Acting on the Fringe

We have been accepted by the NYFringe Festival this year, which is a real thrill for us. Never before, ever, have we entered into a production schedule with so much already in our proverbial backpacks, ready to make the trip.

The script is “Hail Satan”, which we did as a workshop production of a year and a half ago. I am a big believer not only in Mac as a playwright, and I think this might be his tightest script ever. Jordana, Mac and I do share a similar ability to disappear into whatever is expected of us, we can parody things nice and broad or we can parody them so thin that it’s almost unrecognizable, but this piece is one in which I completely hear “Mac”.

We’ve got the acceptance, we’ve basically got the script (Mac is doing some second act revisions that everyone except me seems to think are necessary) and we’ve got a director. We have all worked together so much in the past that we’ve got a shorthand for making the thing work, and I have to tell you, this is the dream I’ve had since I was a kid.

I always wanted *this*, I just didn’t know what it was. I’ve always wanted an audience for our shows, I’ve always wanted to be one of the people that helped say something really lovely. That’s the thing about acting, you get to be a part of storytelling and if you get really lucky, you get to be one of a group of people that are telling stories you want to tell in the way you want to tell them.

My acting life has been really terrible. I should say, I’ve been really lucky in love, I’ve been really lucky when it comes to money, and I feel like I SUPER lucked out with my kid, so I can’t really complain. But it really sucks being an actor. I’ll tell you why…

1) Other actors. It takes a special kind of abuse as a child that makes you crave being an actor. This particular career attracts only the most ravenously needy. There are a lot of people clawing their way to downstage center, leaning in to the follow spot the way an herb garden grows toward the window. Most of the time, these people get a little older, a little less desperate and slowly become okay-to-normal people, but not always. And even the mature, settled, considerate and kind actors, who are one in a million, still have that horrible eating need to be *watched while they do stuff*. It isn’t healthy.

2) Scripts. You fight like crazy, calling casting directors, buying writers and stage managers drinks, sending out your resume cold, calling agencies cold, all so you can get on the list where *someone* will consider you for a role on the Breakdowns. Not just a “Backstage” role, the one where you’ll get a metrocard and wear your own clothes in the show, but a “Breakdown” role. With residuals. A costumer. Who gives you a pair of shoes to wear, and then you give them back.

The thing is, you get one of these gigs, and then you start reading. I left an audition for a children’s show because reading the script made me start feeling physically ill. In a Home Depot commercial audition, I let the other guy go first and then I just sighed and walked out. Have you ever watched an Olive Garden commercial? Stop your DVR and watch it, it’s just… it’s torture. It’s inhuman.

But the very worst thing is the “Backstage” role, the one you have to wear your own clothes in, the one with six weeks of rehearsal being directed by the playwright’s college buddy, these are the scrips that are the absolute worst.

((( Please let me provide the caveat that the very best theater I’ve seen in New York has been showcase code, crazy ass scripts being directed by the playwright’s college buddy. There are a lot of off-off guys that are doing it right. But I’ve gotten just gun-shy of being cast in one of these things. I’d rather do one that my best friend wrote, directed by his college buddy…)))

3) The Director. If you find yourself with a really lovely script, don’t think for a moment it can’t be utterly destroyed by the director. I had always thought that the worst possible director is the one who walks in and really wants to save a script from itself. In one instance, I played the antagonist, a lovely young actress played the protagonist, and the director’s college friends were the supporting characters, which meant the entire play was designed around the ancillary characters doing distracting shit.

I had always thought “The Savior” was the worst, but I was proven wrong at some point. There are in fact directors who are directors because they wanted to be actors and couldn’t, and ran the box office at their college or something, and hung around, and hung around, and found a way to raise enough money to kinda get a group of people around them to produce and direct their own stuff. (if you look at reason #1, it’s not hard to see why these kind of people can actually get wonderful actors to work with them), but then when they actually have a script and a cast and a rehearsal room… they do nothing.

They run scenes.

And, at the end of the run, they say, “Questions? Comments? Concerns?” Or they say, “Let’s try it again, and really focus on *what* you’re saying. Y’know? Think about WHY…”

4) My Own Brain. I have problems with authority, linked in a lot of ways to the fact that I was desperately unhappy the whole time I was in school. I was the kid who got suspended for getting beat up. I was the kid who was put on probation when my gym clothes were found in the urinal. I was the kid who did well on standardized tests, but failed my classes. My teachers hated me as much as…. well, I guess, as much as most of the directors who’ve worked with me have hated me.

But, I failed school because I had an undiagnosed learning disorder that I have since come to terms with. This disorder made it difficult for me to *recall* lines, it didn’t make it hard to memorize them, and there is a difference. It isn’t that there would be a passage or two (or ten) in a play that wouldn’t stick, it’s that every night, every show, there would be something else that would leak out.

It’s a perfect storm, really. I had enough talent to get cast, but as soon as I did, I would hate the script, I would fight with the director and make her or him look like a dick in front of the rest of the cast, all the while I was showing flashes of brilliance and a constant sense that I might lose my concentration at any moment.


Two years ago, I retired from acting. I didn’t do it in any kind of a showy way, I just quit sending out my heashots, I quit accepting invitations to audition for stuff, and I quit pushing to be in the things we were producing.

My time away from acting has been extremely fulfilling. I love writing music, I love working on my house and there is nothing that could have prepared me for how much I love being a husband and a father. Over the last two years, I’ve found that my dream, where I accept the Tony, has disappeared, replaced with the dream of playing piano along with my son who’s playing violin. I got on medication that sobered me up quite a bit, and let me find the center of my mind. I no longer wander.

There is a part for me in the production we have in the Fringe this summer, and I initially suggested that we leave the part open, but both Mac and Jordana had artistic and non-artistic reasons for me to act in the show, so the last two days I’ve been steeling myself for the months ahead.

This morning, I find that I’m pretty clear and optimistic.

I think we can change our outlook on things. I think you can. I think if you’re in a bad marriage, if you get into therapy, you can pretty easily remember what it was that was good, the things you loved that got you into the marriage, and you can work them out with your partner. Acting was a bad marriage for me, but I don’t think it’s bad any more.

I love the character. I know this guy. I’m avoiding the bad director and bad script by going back into this in the safest possible way, with two of the
most talented and hard-working people I’ve ever known, in a setting that is as familiar as could possible be expected.

Maybe this will be the actual start. Maybe this will be the beginning of the rest of my career, the real career, the one where I’m not angry any more and I’m not looking to each play to finish me and fulfill me. Maybe this is where my wife and my son and my music keep me fulfilled, my love for my brothers and sister and in-laws and parents and friends replaces that horrible ache for attention, and I can just *do my job* without worrying about the rest.

I have to say, I feel like it can be. I feel really optimistic.