The Preparation- Part Two- Resistance is Futile

Headshots, apparently, have gone the way of the dodo.

Don’t get me wrong- you still have to go to a photographer and have your pictures taken. But then hoofing it over to National Photo and ordering up a few hundred black-and-white copies to send out to agents and casting directors? No longer necessary.  Borg

Life in the digital age has changed all of that. Where once you had to take all those matted eight-by-tens and physically staple hard-copy resumes to the back before stuffing them into envelopes for a big mailing…now your JPG is uploaded to your agent’s website, shared via one of the mega-casting sites like Actors Access or Casting Networks, forwarded to directors and casting directors via email, uploaded to your IMDB page and broadcast on your personal website, assuming you have one.

The same goes for your voice-over reel. Once upon a time (and I remember these days, boys and girls), you had to have multiple hard copies of your reel that you could distribute via hand delivery. And we’re talking about cassette tapes here, people. Before CD’s came into vogue and long, long before digital copies were available.

Voice-over agents and recording studios used to have shelves filled with these multi-colored little cassette covers, each lovingly personalized by well-compensated graphic designers and alphabetized for easy reference. Depending on what was required for a specific job, the persona in charge of casting would pluck this or that tape off the shelf and pop it into a cassette player so the client could have a listen. Once the choice was made, back up on the shelf you would go until the next job opportunity came along.

Almost all of this is now a part of our storied past. Nowadays, you may still have a few headshots printed out (for the occasional theatre audition), but mostly, it’s digital all the way. Voice-over reels are now housed electronically on agency websites, not shelves, and can be shared at the click of a button.

(In fact, the majority of the VO auditions I submit these days are recorded in my home, on a personal sound system in my very own studio and then forwarded to my agency for formal submission. I barely see the agency or the inside of a professional booth anymore unless I book a job.)

All of which is to say: When it came to heading to California to begin my West Coast odyssey, one of the first tasks would be to get my digital act together.

This involved multiple steps:

First- digitize everything. Pictures, resumes, reels, demo tapes, production photos…absolutely every conceivable piece of media related to me or my career needed to be on the computer.

Next- Update whatever was older than six months. That meant new headshots, a new VO demo, up-to-date resumes (for commercial, film and theatre) and, most importantly, a brand new video demo reel (more on that anon).

After that, put all my updated info out there into the world. Move my new pictures (thanks, Brave Lux!) to my Actors Access page. Subscribe to and update (with a headshot) my IMDB page. Spread the digital word far and wide. Which meant:

Creating a personal website. Now you, dear reader, can go ahead and create a website all on your own, if you like. If you decide to visit Squarespace or similar DIY site, you can have your peronalized, unique-to-only you site up in minutes. Zip-zap-zop. But chances are it will look like something you slapped together in a few minutes instead of appearing slick and professional so…I decided to go with an expert, just to be sure.

Happily, I am good friends with two digitally-savvy webpage designers who were willing to set me up for a very reasonable price. We inked a deal and I set them loose with whatever digital bits and pieces I could put together to see what they could create.

My friends, Jhenai Mootz and Joe Bowen of Renegade Websites, did not disappoint. These days, if you visit my personal site (www.KevinTheis.com) you will see separate pages with information on my acting, directing and writing, all neatly categorized. You can listen to my VO demos, check out production photos from the plays I’ve appeared in or directed, get a link to my publishers if you’d like to purchase a play or book that I’ve written, conjure up reviews old and new from various sources and- maybe most importantly:

You can view my spiffy new video reel.

This last bit- the video reel- is the first real reel (real reel?) that I’ve ever been able to put together. Up until about three years ago, I had almost zero television and film experience. But since Hollywood discovered recently that Chicago is good for more than just set-up shots for “ER” every couple of months, Chicago television shows have grown exponentially and Chicago actors are quite suddenly getting more screen time than ever before.

And once I grew my beard (I am convinced this is the reason), I have become the go-to guy for Chicago Scumbag Television. My characters- Douchebag Lowlife Brother (Chicago Fire), Douchebag Grease Monkey (Chicago PD) and, of course, Dick Cop (Betrayal)- have solidified my reputation as the Slimiest Actor in Chicago ™.

And if I do nothing more than corner the market on assholes in this town, I could do a lot worse.

Unfortunately, I appear to have hit the wall, TV-wise, and the scumbag roles appear to have dried up (more on that in a different post). But I’m betting that there are a few TV dickheads in Los Angeles and I am only too happy to queue up and show the folks in California what a real dirtbag looks like. (I have got to find a better way to put that, though….)

So if Step One was to get the body in tip-top condition, Step Two was to improve and expand my digital footprint.

Check.

On to Step Three. The easy part. Getting a West Coast agent. After all…

….how hard could it be?

Advertisements

The Preparations – Part One – Body Wars

Having agreed long ago that this California thang was going to be something that I actually did (instead of just talking about), my wife Sara and I began making certain preparations for the trip.

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 10.19.14 AM

First and foremost for me was:  Get into shape.

To be clear: I have never been truly out of shape.  What I mean by that is that even in my darkest days of self-indulgence — before the kids were born and Sara and I used to spend almost every night in one bar or another carousing with our friends — I never managed to become what you’d call overweight or even modestly pudgy.  I lucked out when they rolled the genetic dice and, despite my many years of imbibing the finest of the malted beverages on a fairly regular basis, I’ve only been — at my heaviest — slightly over my current weight by fifteen pounds.  I wasn’t “fat,” but…it wasn’t pretty.

And look — there’s nothing wrong with being a little heavy, if the look suits you.  I know a lot of guys who look great even though they’re carrying around a few more pounds than they should.  Truly, if it works for you, terrific.  Don’t go changing to try and please me. 

But a pot belly on a skinny guy?  That never works.  Just never. 

Also, I am able to drop weight fairly quickly.  I’m a runner, and when I feel the need to lose weight, it doesn’t usually take long.  If I buckle down, combine a little bit of common sense diet with a whole lot of pounding the pavement, the pounds melt away pretty quickly.

I realize that, in this way, I am extremely lucky.  Some people- poor bastards- put on a couple of LB’s by just walking past a goddamn bakery and believe me- I sympathize.  I’m not patting myself on the back for my ability to stay trim.  I’m just designed that way, mainly thanks to the fact that my mother was built like a gymnast.  Short, strong and lithe.  I got her body instead of my giant father’s.  But that’s hardly something to take credit for.

However, it is one thing to be “not overweight” and quite another to be “in shape.”  I have never, in my life, been “in shape” and I wanted to see if it could be done.

The real challenge?  Well, that would be my age.

See, I turned fifty this year and by all accounts, my window of opportunity for getting into anything approaching “shape” should have been passed long ago.  You’d think.  An aging body will not (or should not, logically) respond as well to a young body to a workout regimen.

Or would it?  I was determined to find out.

I started by consulting with some professionals.  I had been working out fairly regularly, as the office building where I work has a free gym for all the tenants in the building.  My problem was, I was winging it.  I didn’t really know what I was doing and it was high time I consulted someone who could set me on the right path.

My buddy John Ferrick worked in a gym on the North side of Chicago and he offered me a lot of very good advice.  Even better, he able to get me a giant discount on a few sessions with an actual, licensed personal trainer and I jumped at the chance.  I am not a wealthy man (and I’m super-cheap to boot), so I knew a good deal when I saw it.

The PT – let’s call him Tony – met with me for three sessions and really set me straight.  First of all, I had been over-training.  Pumping iron almost daily and not giving my muscles time to heal and recover.  So the muscles themselves (what there were of them) never had a chance to actually get toned. 

Also, I was doing too much at once.  Curling barbells AND bench press AND running during the same session.  Silly rabbit.  I was advised to concentrate on one muscle group at a time and take a day or so between every workout.  Seems obvious now, of course, but to reiterate: I didn’t know what I was doing.

Tony set me on a course that involved what he called “Push Days” and “Pull Days.”  It may be self-explanatory but….I’ll explain anyway:  on Push Days, you do exercises that involve pushing weight away from your body (bench presses, push-ups, that sort of thing) as well as these perfectly awful shoulder lifts that…well, tone the shoulders, obviously. Then on Pull Days, you do the opposite:  barbell curls, chin ups, pull-down bars.  Anything that involves pulling things toward you.

Plus, Tony said, don’t neglect your legs and back.  “Because you’re a runner, you probably don’t think you need to work out your legs, right?”

“Right,” I said.

“Wrong,” said Tony.  “Biggest muscles in your body, your legs.  They need a workout beyond just running.”

“Biggest muscle in your body, maybe,” I thought, but didn’t say.  

I listened.  I staggered through a couple of intensive and perfectly dreadful workouts with Tony.  I paid him his damn money.  And then I thanked him kindly and went on my way, armed with the workout knowledge I finally needed.

Next, diet.  Here, I got help from a then-amateur and now professional  personal trainer, my friend Aaron Christensen.  Aaron and I are roughly the same age but Aaron is… Aw, hell to say “fit” doesn’t do him justice.  The guy is an Adonis.  And he knows his shit.  AND he’s disciplined.  And a hell of a nice guy.  (Now that he’s a fully trained PT, by the way, I highly recommend that folks reach out to him.  Send me a message if you live in Chicago and need his contact info.  You’ll be glad you did.)

Anyway, Aaron gave me lots of advice on how and what to eat and, mos
t importantly, what to avoid.  You may not know this, but sugar is in fucking everything and you have to really know how to hunt it down and avoid it whenever possible.  Plus lots of greens.  And minimal meat, if any at all.

And no beer.

Well, I ignored that last one, but I switched to the lowest calorie beer I could find- Miller 64’s.  Have you seen them?  They come in this nifty little blue can and they are what Monty Python used to call “making love in a canoe.”  They’re fucking close to water.

And off I went.  That was eighteen months ago.

Now?  Well, I started off with a body fat percentage of 18.5.  Within the normal range for a man my age.   But today it’s 12.6.  My BMI has also dropped three points, which is pretty remarkable for an old guy.

I religiously hit the gym three times a week (no more than that) and run every morning with my big, dumb dog. 

And it shows.  I am now in the best shape of my life and, hey guess what, my years on this earth just passed the half-century mark.  All kinds of neat stuff has happened as a result, too- more stamina, actual muscular definition, better mood.  And Sara is…well, let’s just say “not displeased with the results.”

And this is nothing compared to what I’m going to look like by the time I get back.  Because among other things, I’m going to use my time in California to get just as ripped as my weary old frame will allow me to get.

So, Step One- Getting In Shape.  Achievement unlocked. 

On to Step Two.

Bedtime Stories

My daughter Gwen and I have a nightly ritual. After Sara is finished reading to her from whatever novel they are currently exploring (they just finished “Little Women”), Sara comes downstairs, taps me in and I head up to Gwen’s room to tell her a story.Bedroom

The topic of the nightly story is whatever suits Gwen’s fancy. Usually, she asks to be told about our family’s history- about my mother, Grandma Terri, who she never met.  Or she’ll inquire about my childhood, my relatives past and present, life in the theatre…anything that piques her curiosity on that particular night.

As I result, my stories have been many and wide-ranging. I’ve told her of holidays past- Christmases and Halloweens and Thanksgivings from long ago. I’ve described every pet I’ve ever owned in great detail, as she can’t seem to get enough of funny animal stories. I’ve told her of my parents and what they were like when they were younger. I’ve related whatever G- or PG-rated Rocky Horror stories I feel comfortable enough to share with her and, of course, I have regaled her with stories of Sara and I post-college and Before the Arrival of The Children.

She seems particularly interested in hearing about the dark, early days of my youth when every piece of music, movie, television show and bit of information was NOT at your fingertips and available at a moment’s notice. (“When I was a kid, I watched ‘The Wizard of Oz’ once a year…because that was the only time it was on television!” “No WAY!”)

So the other night, just last week, I found myself perched on the edge of Gwen’s bed, waiting for her nightly request. But on this night, as sometimes happens, Gwen just looked at me and said, “You pick.” This is my cue to rummage through my memory Rolodex and come up with something of my own. Instead, I had a thought.

“Let’s talk about this whole California thing. How about that?”

“Okay.”

“So…you know I’m going away. Just for a little while. I’ll be out in Los Angeles looking for work for about three months.”

“Television work or movies or what?”

“Whatever they’ll let me do, Gwen. Heck, I’ll do anything.”

“I know that.”

“Okay, smart aleck.” I grinned at her. “You should know, though: the odds of finding work anywhere as an actor are pretty tough. And it can be even worse in L.A. So I don’t really know what to expect. I’m kind of nervous about it, but excited, too. You know?”

“Sure.”

“But let me ask you: Suppose I did get super-lucky. Imagine I got hired to do…I don’t know…a TV show or a movie or something. I actually beat the odds and got a good job. We’d have to move to California, maybe. What do you think of that idea?”

Gwen crinkled her brow and pondered for a moment. “It would be…”, she searched for just the right word. “Well, awful, really. Just terrible.”

I wasn’t quite expecting that reaction. “Aw, honey. Why do you say that?”

“Well,” she said, “All my friends are here. Everyone I know. It would be a whole new place where I don’t know anyone.”

“Sure, sure. I understand,” I said.

“But,” she added, with a sort of fatalistic tone to her voice, “It’s not like I’d have any choice.”

I could see the conversation was upsetting her a little and I felt like I should change the tone.

“Hey, this is just imaginary. We’re not going anywhere, we’re not even planning to move. I probably shouldn’t have even brought it up because the truth is…I’m probably just going to be back in a couple of months and back to what I was doing before. This is just…a little adventure I’m taking, okay?”

“Okay.”

“I just wanted to know what you thought of the idea of moving. It’s not like it’s a reality or even, really, a likely scenario. Just to make that clear, all right?”

“All right.”

Now, before I relate what happened next, I need you, dear reader, to keep in mind that Gwen is a twelve-year-old kid. A super-smart, mature-for-her-age twelve year old, certainly but…this is not a conversation I was having with a grown-up or a colleague. Just remember that during this next bit, if you would.

“Dad,” she said. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” I responded. “Anything you like. Fire away.”

“I was wondering: Is there a small part of you that hopes that you don’t succeed and then you have to come back here to your old life?”

I stared back at my child, absolutely speechless. I could not believe these words had passed her lips. Hell, I couldn’t believe the question had formed in her mind. “Is there a small part of you that hopes you don’t succeed?” How had this even occurred to her?

Well, you better believe I thought it over for a while before answering. She lay there, staring up at me, waiting patiently for an answer.

Finally, I said, “You know what, Gwen? That’s a great, great question. I hadn’t really thought about it before. But I’ll be honest with you. The answer is no. Not even in the slightest bit. I really, truly hope that something works out. That I get something…anything, really…to justify this whole trip. Because I’ll tell ya: going to the office every day, nine-to-five, and doing what I do, it’s…well, it’s…”

“Terrible, huh?”

That stopped me. “No,” I said. “No, it’s not terrible. I don’t work in a coal mine or a sweat shop or something. I work in a nice office with good people. I like everyone I work with and they treat me really well. They pay me a decent salary that has allowed me to buy this house and raise you two kids and allowed us to travel and build a pretty good life so…no, it’s not terrible at all. It’s just…”

“Not what you feel like you should be doing with your life.”

“There you go. Right on the money, yes. I want something more and so I’m going to go and try to get it. We’ll see what happens.”

“Okay. I get it.”

I felt like it was time to wrap things up and let her go to sleep, so I looked for something comforting to say. “Look, here’s the deal, Gwen: I’m probably going to go out there, work my butt off looking for a job wherever I can find one. And I’ll get an audition or two if I’m lucky, learn a whole lot about life in L.A., spend the winter in sunny California and…then it will be time to go. And I’ll get on a plane, come back to you and your brother and your Mom and go back to the way things were. I mean, what I’m trying to do is really tough. More likely than not, it’s not going to work out and I’ll be back before you know it.”

And I saw her take that in, pause for a moment and consider what I said. Then eyes misted over a bit and she looked up at me and my daughter said:

“Oh, I don’t know.  After all, there aren’t a whole lot of Kevin Theises out there.”

Then she smiled.

And oh, my friends.

There are moments in your life, if you’re very, very lucky, that your heart fairly explodes with love and joy and surprise and astonishment.  When you feel like all the stars have aligned correctly and you are exactly where you should be, in just exactly the right moment, with the right person who is saying exactly the right thing.

Needless to say, this was one of those moments. One of those rare, perfect moments.

Because when you have the support, faith and love of an amazing kid like that?

Sometimes…that’s all you need.

 

 

Sweet Home

Chicago is my home. Always has been.chicago-skyline

I moved here when I was a wee bairn, mere months after my mother brought me into this world at an Army hospital in Frankfurt, Germany. I lived here until I turned eight, by which time my parents had divorced and my Mom decided that she had quite enough of this snow nonsense, thank you very much, and dragged my brother David and I down to South Florida.

I could go into detail about how well that move panned out, but it just so happens that the story of my adventures in Florida is chronicled in the future bestseller “Confessions of a Transylvanian.” So we’ll skip that part for now. Suffice it to say that my heart remained in Chicago even as I lived and grew up down in the sweltering Swamp.

After high school, I fled Florida, much in the way a svelt, seventeen-year-old rat flees a sinking barge full of drugs and despair. Moving to the town of New Paltz in upstate New York and matriculating at the State University, the plan was to get a good theatrical education at my new school and then move to New York City to begin my career as an actor.

Because that’s what you did. That’s what almost every actor did. You really didn’t have much choice. It was New York or L.A. Period.

Then, a miraculous thing happened. My old home town’s theatre scene EXPLODED. This was mainly due to the Little Company That Could ™, called then, as now, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, who brought no less than three mind-blowing shows to New York City during the time I was at school just up the Hudson River. One I missed- “True West” – but two I managed to see- ”Balm in Gilead” and “Orphans” and they were exactly as exciting and eye-popping as advertised. Suddenly, “Chicago theatre” was the buzzword. And by the time I graduated in 1987, the choice was clear.

Go to Chicago and become an actor, Kevin. Go home.

By this time, I was living with this cool punk girl named Sara and she seemed game for the Chicago experiment, though she was wary of leaving her home state (Sara grew up in Manhattan). But given the choice between moving to Astoria, Queens (the actor’s living quarters of choice in New York) or taking a flyer at Chicago, we went with the City by the Lake.

And we never looked back.

Over the years, I have built a career in Chicago of which I can be, and am, justly proud.

I started up a theatre company with my friends that flourished for a short while and then died a natural death, as such things usually do.

In the past twenty-eight years, I have worked at dozens of venues, with hundreds of actors and boatloads (boatloads?) of directors, on plays written by such diverse talents as Beckett, Shakespeare, Feydeau, Dylan Thomas, Williams, Moliere, McPherson and Friel and have worked on original works and adaptations from such amazing writers as Karen Tarjan, Ann Noble, Jim Grote, Chris Hainsworth and Robert Kauzlaric.

I’m an ensemble member with one of the city’s finest companies- the Irish Theatre of Chicago- and an artistic associate at the Midwest’s oldest outdoor theatre- the famed Oak Park Festival. I’ve directed over thirty-five shows, proudly collaborating with some of the finest stage managers, set, costume, sound and lighting designers that have ever walked the planet, and can boast of three Joseph Jefferson nominations for my directing work and one for acting (losing the latter to General Zod, damn him). Last year, I happily shared the 2014 Best Ensemble Jeff Award with my compatriots from ITC’s “The Seafarer,” one of my proudest achievements.

Not incidentally, Sara and I married and had two of the most amazing kids you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet- Milo and Gwendolyn- and they are the beaming, sunny lights of my life.

Finally, I’ve been on television, on screen and on the radio in various capacities and in numerous roles too many to list and have enjoyed a healthy and profitable voice over career to boot.

It has been wonderful. Moving to Chicago was unquestionably the best decision I ever made in my life.

And yet…I can’t make a living here as an actor. Not even close.

Oh, I know a few actors who do, but they are few and far between. They hop from show to show at the large Equity houses and command salaries that, while not extravagant, allow them to live just on the sweat of their thespian brows. Or they have a few regular voice-over clients who help to keep their heads above water. These self-sufficient actors of my acquaintance I can count on my fingers and toes and still have a couple left over.

For the rest, most of the performers and directors here in town use their talents to supplement their day jobs, not the other way around. They slave in offices, wait tables, do retail, teach grade school or find ways to work in some of the larger theatres as grant writers or box office personnel. Good, honest work but…certainly not what they should be doing with their time. Hell, some of the best actors I know, and I mean the best, do not even have union cards. They can’t afford to join the union because they might not work if they did.

And they must work. For no money, if necessary (and it often is necessary), but they must work.

So they toil for bus fare (or close to it) just to get on stage. They rehearse for weeks and perform for months, often losing money in the process, just because they love theatre so much that the sacrifice becomes secondary.

The play’s the thing. And their commitment is unwavering. That’s why Chicago enjoys a reputation as the best theatre town in America. Because no one in the country works harder, for less remuneration, and yet manages to produce such fine, compelling, original and moving work, year after year after year.

Chicago actors survive on nothing more than their devotion to theatre. It sustains them. It gives them purpose. And the work, most of the time, is reward enough.

And for almost thirty years, I was right there with them. I rarely made enough working in theatre to pay my rent and usually didn’t really care. I did shows because I loved the people involved and wanted nothing more than to collaborate with like-minded artists night after night. Who needed money? I had art, goddamit it! That was all I required. And it was an all-you-can-eat artistic buffet, my Chicago.

Well, I can’t do it anymore. At least not for awhile. I need a break. I need to see if there’s something more out there. Something that will pay the rent and maybe, just maybe, punch that artistic clock as well. And I’m sad to report that Chicago, for all its glory, is unable to help me out of this rut.

So…I’m off to Sodom, to see what that’s like.

But my heart will remain here. In Chicago.

My home.

 

Go West, Old Man

If I had a nickel for every friend of mine in the acting business who decided to head to Los Angeles to try and find good, steady work, I would not need to contemplate having to go to L.A. to find good, steady work.  I would be up to my damn eyeballs in nickels.

Making the trip to L.A. to try and strike it rich is an idea as old as California itself.  AnHollywoodd just as thousands of would-be millionaires rushed to the Sacramento Valley to find gold in them thar hills back in the late 1840’s, most of those who pack up and try to finally “make it” in Los Angeles end up with little more than a pan full of sand to show for it.

It is a fool’s errand.  The longest of long shots.  A complete waste of time and money.

Damn, I can’t wait.

This coming January – 1/4/16 to be exact – I am going to gather as many of my worldly goods as I can carry and join the long parade of dreamers trooping dutifully to the City of Angels to try my hand at the West Coast version of show business.  I’ve been in preparation for this move for months and have, I think, a few advantages that some others making this trek do not have (more on that later).

But- and this is key- I am going with no illusions about my chances.  More than likely, after three months or so, I will realize that things aren’t quite working out as I had hoped and will head home to Chicago, lesson learned, and resume my career here.

Or not.  I am hoping against hope, bucking the odds, all of that.  But have no doubt- I’m looking to be one of the rare few who actually does defy the odds.  We’ll see.  Very soon.

And for those who might wonder- yes, I am going with the full strength and support of my family.  Sara, Milo and Gwennie are behind this idea 100%.  Well…Sara and Milo are. More on Gwennie’s take in a later post.

I also plan to chronicle my adventures here on this blog.  I do this as a quasi-public service, as there will be many who decide to make this trip in the future and might wonder about the pitfalls and mistakes that one can make when heading to La-La Land.  So I will be as honest as I can be about the things I do right and the things that go tragically awry.

But it will also, doubtless, be a long, lonely road I will be traveling and so I hope that by keeping the lines of communication open through this blog that I can maintain some level of human contact with all the friends and colleagues I am leaving behind in Chicago.

So please, if you would, chime in as often as possible.  Offer ideas, comments, snide remarks…anything that might be of use will be greatly appreciated.  But mostly, it will just be great to hear from all the folks playing at home.

Okay, that’s it for now.  The Big Announcement.  More posts on the prep, the plans and the apprehensions that keep me up at night in the days to come.

Stay tuned.  The Adventures of the Nice Midwestern Fellow in the Wilds of Tinseltown continue…right after this message!