Life Without Work

Here’s the most important thing I’ve learned since arriving in Los Angeles at the beginning of last month:

This town, despite being the center of the entire professional entertainment world, is responsible for more creative dystopia and cultural atrophy than any other place I’ve encountered in my life as a performer.

Gotta DanceSince my arrival, I have run into actors, writers, directors…all talented, smart and ambitious artists who came to Los Angeles with a dream of turning their imaginative abilities into spun gold who, instead, have found themselves simply starving for work, spending night after night wondering how they can keep the creative juices flowing when there is very often little to no outlet for them.

Remember the casting workshops I discussed in Devil’s Bargain? I have come to think that half the reason actors go to those workshops (and fork over the money to audition for…er, I’m sorry…”be seen by” the casting directors) is just to have the opportunity to act in front of someone for a change.

AuditionSure it might cost them forty or fifty bucks and yes, there is little likelihood that the workshop will ever result in a real, bona fide audition, and okay, what they are performing is a ten year old sit-com scene or a snippet from an episode of “Castle” in front of a casting agent who has seen the scene a dozen times already that month and is going over his grocery list in his head while you’re doing your scene.

Sure, yes, okay, fine. Don’t remind them. They understand that going in.

Theatre #2What’s important is that for a short while- those brief, precious, few minutes in that little, claustrophobic room- they are performing, goddamn it.  They are doing what they feel they were placed on this planet to do.  They are creating what is, for them, a unique character with real emotions and honest-to-goodness motivations for just a couple of minutes please because they finally, finally can.

It costs them money to do it and it is the acting equivalent of dining on fried sawdust, yes. But there’s no denying it:  On that night, albeit for a fee, they get to act.

All across this city, every night, classrooms fill up with frustrated actors who plunk down some of their few remaining dollars to attend acting classes, scene study workshops, on-camera seminars and even do-it-yourself cold reading get-togethers with their actor friends because they have an impossible-to-ignore creative itch and that itch, every once in a while, needs some serious scratching.

TheatreNow, you could say the same about any city, I suppose.  There are acting classes and scene study workshops wherever there are actors. But in my experience, in Chicago anyway, you don’t go to those classes because they’re the only available place for you to perform.

What you would do to get a good, creative scratch in Chicago would be to do some theatre. Audition enough times and you’ll usually find something.  It will require some serious commitment usually (say, three months at the outside- three or four weeks of rehearsal and then a five week run is typical), but pick the right theatre and hook up with the right artistic team and, within no time, you’ll get the creative shit scratched out of you.scratch

And while there is certainly theatre in Los Angeles (as I’ve happily attested to already), there are few people willing to make the long-term commitment necessary to do it.  “Give up three months for a play?  What if I get cast in a movie?  What then?”  

That’s the mentality. You can’t promise to be available to do the entire run of a play because you never know when that phone is going to ring and you’ll be required to fly off to Spain because Mr. Abrams needs you on that set right now!  I’ve heard this over and over again.

So what happens?  Actors don’t act.  Directors don’t direct. (Writers write, I suppose, but no one gets to read much of what they do.) And, ultimately, depression starts to set in.

OliverI had a discussion with an actress friend (who I will not name) who voiced exactly this frustration to me. We had a long-ranging discussion on this topic and I finally felt compelled to say:

“Tell me something: What do you want to do?  I mean, with your creative life.  Do you want to be an actress and play the great roles of Shakespeare and Williams and have a full, creative theatrical life or…do you want to be a movie star?  Because from what I’ve seen in this town, it doesn’t appear that you can do both.”

She ruminated on this (admittedly rude) question for a week or so and when we met up again, she said that she had finally decided that, for now anyway, she’s going to try and be a movie star. That’s her dream and, by God, she’s sticking to it. And good for her. I hope she succeeds. (I hope I do, too.)

But my fear is that my sweet actress friend will- presuming that stardom eludes her- wind up losing her love of the creative process. That the bitterness that can sometimes infect a performer who is not allowed to perform will drive her away from this field altogether.

As I said to her the other day, “If you time on this Earth is spent in preparation for something that never happens, then when you get to the end of your life…what will you have accomplished?”

Kinda harsh, right? Okay, I’ll give you that.

GodotBut no kidding- I know at least a dozen actors and creative types in this town who are watching the train go by- and waiting for their own ticket to ride that never comes- and their reaction is…to keep waiting. Months, then years go by and they keep up their vigil- like Vladamir and Estragon- gradually letting those creative muscles atrophy as they patiently mark time, optimistically hoping for their artistic Godot to arrive.

Why endure this torturous wait? Because they feel they must.  Because giving up the fame and fortune dream is simply not an option. This is the land where miracles happen, where stars are discovered at soda-shop counters, where any office boy or young mechanic can be a panic.Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.34.02 AM

This is not, I should make clear, true across the board. There are those out here who get work- and just enough work apparently- to both keep them in the game and able to satisfy that nagging itch as well. And some actually do manage to do theatre, making shorter commitments than we do back home (a two week run instead of five or six weeks, for example). And others write, direct, sing and otherwise perform. I don’t mean to paint L.A. as the place where creativity goes to die.

BakeryBut there is no denying that something truly tragic happens to creative people faced with little or no means of expressing their creativity. And when you live in a place where the performing arts (and the commerce that blossoms from it) is the primary industry…people get that much more bitter, sad and hopeless if they aren’t invited to play.

This, more than anything else, gives me pause when I contemplate moving out here. In Chicago- despite my never having made my living in the industry- I never wanted for creative work. I’ve written, performed in or directed dozens and dozens of plays over the years and never went a year without doing at least three, four or even five shows.

Art? Check. Commerce? Not so much.

So if I were to move to Los Angeles…would I get to do both?

Or…neither?

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Rich Bastards

Without question, two of the most breathtaking views of the city of Los Angeles are to be enjoyed from particular spots approximately ten miles apart as the crow flies.

The first is from the balcony of a museum dedicated to a miserly, self-centered and temperamental billionaire.  The other is from the top of one of the largest public parks in any city in North America which is named after a well-known philanthropist who went to jail after shooting his wife in the face.

Yeah, you read that right. He took a gun and shot her in the face.  

But let’s deal with J. Paul first.

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THE GETTY CENTER

Driving back and forth on the 405 Freeway in L.A., you can’t help but notice the Getty Center, perched majestically on the cliffs above as you pass through the Santa Monica Mountains.Getty Center from Air

Even if you don’t look up to see the sprawling, hillside campus as you zip down the highway (keeping your eye on the road always being a good plan), there is no way to avoid noticing- just West of the highway- the unusual mode of transport that carries tourists up the hill to the museum.

MonorailTo travel from the underground parking structure all the way to the museum campus, you have to ride one of a pair of monorails, which take turns climbing up and descending back down the mountain.  It is called a monorail but, unlike the Disney version, it isn’t on a notched track; it’s a pair of three car buses that scoot up and down a single-lane concrete highway built specifically for these vehicles.  And when you see these little buses rising up to traverse the mountain as you drive by on the highway…you just can’t help but notice.

Getty-Museum-Los-Angeles-015If you decide to check out the Center (as I did a couple of weeks ago), you park in the garage, which charges you a ghastly $15.00 for the privilege.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is: Once you’ve parked, the rest of your stay is free.  There is no admission charge to enter the museum and everything except the food court and the gift shop is offered gratis. Which, considering the person who endowed the place, seems only fair.

It is easy to forget the man behind the name, by the way.  There is no giant J. Paul Getty statue at the Center itself.  There’s no “Life of J. Paul Getty” exhibit dominating the Center.  In fact, his full name (as far as I could see) appears only on a modest plaque just inside the main entrance.  So before we go on to explore his amazing museum, let’s deal with guy with his moniker on the door.

GettyJ. Paul Getty, owned, among many other companies, Getty Oil (which, in the all-American way, he inherited from his father), and was what was known as an “industrialist.”  Which is to say- he was an über-capitalist member of the elite ruling class who once held the titles of “Richest Living American” (Fortune, 1957), and “World’s Richest Private Citizen” (Guinness Book of World Records, 1966).

I won’t give you Mr. Getty’s entire history, but will tell you two brief stories about him that will give you an idea of the kind of guy they’re honoring up on that hill.  First, there’s Getty the visionary:

Back in the late 1940’s, the world was almost entirely unaware of exactly how much oil there was in the Middle East. They had been bringing it up out of the ground for years, of course (Standard and American Oil had been drilling there since the 1930’s) but the real scope of how much black gold was under the sand was still unknown.

Then along came J.Paul Getty. In 1949, Getty paid Ibn Saud (the legendary founder and King of Saudi Arabia) $9.5 million- and signed a $1 million a year lease for 60 years- for drilling rights to what appeared to be a tract of worthless land near the Kuwaiti border in Saudi Arabia.  The site had, to that date, produced no oil at all and did not do so until Getty had already invested four years and $30 million in the project.

GusherBut in 1953- to everyone’s surprise but his apparently- Getty finally hit the jackpot and the wells drilled by Mr. Getty in the middle of the desert struck a huge oil reserve. This site produced, from 1953 onward, 16 million barrels of oil a year, pushing Getty from being a mere multi-millionaire to a multi-billionaire within just four years.

So that’s Getty the capitalist.  Impressive, no?

Well, Getty the family man is another matter. A famously cheap guy, he once installed pay phones in his mansion to keep visitors from making long-distance calls and driving up his telephone bills. Married and divorced five times, Getty once decided, after his 12-year-old son died of a brain tumor, that he had better things to do than to attend his own kid’s funeral. (His wife, understandably, quickly divorced him afterwards.)scrooge

And when, in 1973, his sixteen-year-old grandson, J.Paul Getty III, was kidnapped, Getty personally negotiated with the kidnappers to get the ransom down from $17 million.  It was only after – and this actually happened, folks- the kidnappers sent back his grandson’s ear with a reduced, $3 million demand, that Getty agreed to pay no more than $2.2 million—the maximum amount that would be tax deductible- and lent his son the remaining $800,000 of the ransom at 4% interest. (At the time, remember- Getty Senior was worth about $1.5 billion.)

Charming guy, huh?

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Okay, we’ve dealt with Getty the man.  Let’s move on to Getty the Experience.

The Getty Center, simply put, is an astonishing architectural achievement. A series of exhibition halls- each a separate building- are perched atop and amongst the hills and it is an incredible experience to wander through them, stepping into the various display rooms and then back out onto the many balconies that surround the museum.

Getty Center ViewThe views are breathtaking, as you might expect since the museum is on top of a mountain, and the lack of any obstructions means that the Getty Center offers a full, 360 degree view of the L.A. basin and the mountains that front it. From one outcropping, you can swivel your head and see, starting on your right, the entire coastline from Malibu to the Northwest and the oceanfront all the way down to Orange County and San Diego in the far distance off to the Southeast. And on a clear day, as I enjoyed, your jaw just hits the floor.

Getty GardenBack to the exhibits.  Since Getty (while a penny-pincher in other areas) was an art collector without peer, the collection he amassed in his lifetime is nothing short of amazing. Paintings, drawings, manuscripts, decorative arts, antiquities and sculptures- Charles Foster Kane had nothing on this guy. And most of Getty’s collection is on display at the top of that mountain.

I would go into detail about the exhibits, but there is nothing more boring that describing art.  Suffice it to say that it is a spectacular collection and the Rembrandts alone are worth the trip.  You can find more info on the art on display right here.

Getty CubesFinally, the architecture.  Brilliantly conceived and executed by architect Richard Meier, the site has a series of modern, bright, curving buildings that are beautifully integrated with the cubist exhibit halls that contain the majority of the artworks and somehow, it all fits together wonderfully.  I could have spent the entire day there and, indeed, would go back all the time…were it not for that damned astronomical parking fee.

The Getty Center is so serene, so gorgeous and the buildings themselves are so in tune with the surrounding countryside…you can almost forget about the greedy, mean old bastard they named it for.

Almost.

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GRIFFITH PARK

But you want to hear about the guy who shot his wife in the face, am I right?  Okay, here we go:

Griffith_Jenkins_GriffithGriffith J. Griffith (yes, that’s his name) was a multi-millionaire publisher, newspaper man and mining expert.  Born penniless in Wales, he emigrated to America, worked as a reporter, got involved in the mining industry and, being a clever fellow, soon amassed a fortune digging stuff up out of the ground.

He then did what all bright, rich guys do, if they can:  He married up.  His wife Mary Agnes was a society gal in L.A. and their marriage made Griffith an instant celebrity in the city. After buying a gigantic ranch in the Northern area of downtown, he decided, in 1897, to donate a huge portion of the ranch to the City of Los Angeles, calling it “a Christmas present.”

Of the 3,000 acre gift, Griffith said: “It must be made a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people.”  He went on to say: “I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happier, cleaner and finer city. I wish to pay my debt of duty in this way to the community in which I have prospered.”

And then he shot his wife in the face.

ArcadiaActually, I should not make light of this. It’s a pretty awful story.  In 1903, now a secret drunk and suffering from delusions (he thought the Pope was trying to kill him and that his wife was in cahoots with the pontiff), Griffith confronted Mary Agnes in the presidential suite of the Arcadia Hotel in Santa Monica and pulled out a revolver.

Griffith ordered his wife to get on her knees and told her to say her prayers because he intended to shoot and kill her.  She complied, after which- as he promised- he fired, striking her in her right eye. Mary Agnes, in an extraordinary feat of self preservation, then jumped up and threw herself out the window, landing on a rooftop below and fracturing her shoulder.  She would- get this- survive this ordeal and later testify, her disfigured face veiled, at Griffith’s trial. A truly admirable and unfortunate woman.

san-quentin-state-prison-opened-in-july-1852-circa-1910-california-views-mr-pat-hathaway-archives

San Quentin- Griffith’s temporary home

Griffith, his defense claiming “alcoholic insanity,” was eventually convicted- not of attempted murder, but of assault with a deadly weapon- and was sentenced to two years in San Quentin.  (That, my friends, is one hell of a defense lawyer.)

He tried to restore his reputation after being released from prison but…it was far too late for that.  Even the two pet projects he offered to fund for the city- the Greek Theatre and the Griffith Observatory- were slow-walked by the city council and were not completed until after he died- of liver disease, if you can believe it- in 1919. (I missed out on the chance to visit his grave, as he is buried in the Hollywood Forever cemetery. Next time.)

So that’s Griffith the man.  Let’s talk about the park.

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Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 1.33.41 PMGriffith Park has been referred to as the Central Park of Los Angeles and with good reason. Located just North of Los Feliz and just South of Burbank, the park is as close to the center of life in L.A. as any place could be.  The actual park itself consists of a series of small mountains with various trails, roads and buildings cut into it, which you think would destroy the natural beauty of the place but…they somehow make it all look integrated and not disfiguring.

Greek TheatreInterspersed throughout the park are all kinds of beautiful landmarks, including the Greek Theatre (which is, as you’d expect, this huge, outdoor amphitheater in the Greek style), the L.A. Equestrian Center, a Merry-Go-Round, the L.A. Zoo and, of course, the world famous Griffith Observatory (made all the more famous by it’s being used for a key scene in the film “Rebel Without a Cause”).

RebelOn the day I went, with my friend Adam Meredith, we did not have time to visit the Observatory (though I will be back!), but we did go on a long, beautiful hike through the mountains and up over the North side, which offers you a tremendous view of Burbank and the San Gabriel mountains.

But the real view is to the South.  You may have seen the Lincoln ads where Matthew McConaughey is overlooking the city in his beautiful new car?  That’s the same spot where Adam and I stood, goggling at the incredible vista from the top of the mountain.

View of Los Angeles from Griffith Park, California, USA

Looking down from the trails cut into the mountains, you can see tennis courts, the Greek Theatre and, across the valley, the majestic Observatory perched atop an adjacent hill. It is a wonderful place to explore, to meditate and leave the craziness of the city behind.

Batcave-smPlus, if you’re interested, you can visit the Bronson Cave  (better known as the Bat Cave from the old Adam West TV show) as well as the site where they shot the scene in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” where Eddie travels to Toontown.Cave-Toontown

The real reason to visit Griffith Park, though, is the landscape itself. I can’t think of an urban park that rises up so high and towers above it’s home city the way this place does. Most of the large city parks I’ve been to (Central Park, Grant Park, even the public parks of San Francisco) are beautiful, but relatively flat.  griffith park

Griffith Park is a hilly, multi-level, gorgeous jewel right smack in the middle of this desert city and if you get a chance to go…get there.

But for goodness sake, try to forget about the guy with his name on the gate. Yikes.

I’m going to assume there are some pretty places in this town named after nice people.  I’ll keep looking.

Let Me Get That…

What, you haven’t heard? Oh, yeah. All the cool kids are doing it.

You can’t go into a restaurant in LA without running into someone who’s either done it or are just about to do it.  If you haven’t done it yet, you’re just soooo 2015.

So…what is the newest “in-thing” on the West coast?  Here it is:

Buying Kevin Lunch.

Every day, this strange phenomenon has become more and more popular.  In fact, in some cases, it’s even spread to dinner!

In today’s episode of Invading Nirvana, we are going to dive into the history and sudden uptick of interest in “Buying Kevin Lunch” and see where this new fad might lead.

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eat_here_sign_by_mertonparrishOkay, all kidding aside, my friends out here in the Golden State are among the most generous people on the planet.  Not only do I get regularly invited to dine with them, but invariably they either welcome me into their homes (which are, as you’d expect, California-style beautiful) or, when the bill comes at the end of the meal, they dive for the check.

I have, due to the fact that I’m now (almost) entirely unemployed and trying to stretch my dollars as far as they can go, been studiously avoiding eating out.  More often than not, I pack my own lunch if I know I’m going to be gone for the day. (And let me tell you: That’s a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches).

But that hasn’t stopped my friends and colleagues from showing me some good old-fashioned West Coast hospitality and I honestly could not be more grateful.

mess hallIt began on my first full day here.  My old Chicago chum Michael Sheppard asked to meet me at “Mess Hall” in Los Feliz.  I was wise enough to order the legendary Mess Burger, with onions and Vermont cheddar and was richly, almost criminally, rewarded for my wise selection. And Michael, bless his heart, wouldn’t hear of my paying for my own meal my first week in town.  Perish the thought.  What a mensch.

CrossroasThe next night, Jasmine Ryan welcomed me to town with a meal at this lovely little vegan restaurant called “Crossroads” on Melrose in Hollywood.  I had never eaten straight-up vegan food before and let Jasmine pick the meal for me.  Though I later kidded her about it being something less than food, it was actually a really tasty dinner of mushroom soup and very cheese-like non-cheese. She wouldn’t hear of my contributing to the bill either, calling it her “Welcome to LA Present.”

I was beginning to sense a pattern.  Did I really look that hungry? Or poor?  Or both? Perhaps so.

Next it was dinner at the beautiful house belonging to my dear friend Amy Ludwig. She and her husband served up this amazing short rib dinner which, sadly, canceled out all the gastronomical good I had done for myself by eating vegan earlier that week. One green, leafy step forward, two juicy, meaty steps back. But another unforgettable night.

musselsI have previously described the crazy, Hollywood day I spent in the company of James Sie and his husband Doug Wood, but perhaps I did not properly laud them for the amazing mussels over pasta they prepared for dinner that night. Those boys have a big, gorgeous kitchen and, by God, they know how to use it.

My old college friend Renee Sicignano hosted a big Italian meal at her house up in the Valencia hills and had both me and our mutual friend Richard Courtney over to enjoy it. We spent the night reminiscing, catching up and consuming vast quantities of her delicious pasta. (Thus canceling out about three trips to the gym.)

GenghisOn and on it went, people pouring food and booze into yours truly.  Tom Kelly stood me to a night of drinks in a local craft brewery.  Jeff Eyres introduced me to the dining pleasures of this hilarious Chinese/Jewish fusion restaurant called “Genghis Cohen” in West Hollywood. Adam Meredith and Shantelle Szyper treating me to homemade spaghetti squash with fresh asparagus.  And my buddy Ed Burgess gave me an historical tour of East L.A. capped by a meal of the most delicious tacos I’ve ever had in my life.

[SIDE NOTE:  Ed Burgess, who likes to really delve into the history of wherever he’s living, gave me some insight into how the people of Los Angeles feel about their tacos.  And he put it, as he said, in Chicago terms:  “Tacos,” he said, “are LA’s hot dogs. Every one has a favorite cart, stand or restaurant. Their neighborhood taqueria. Their wLupe'sorkplace taqueria. And a specialty taqueria that’s out of the way. These places also all have some kind of ‘taco special’ just like a Chicago ‘hot dog special.’ But tacos.”  And the tacos he fed me at Lupe’s in East L.A.?  The hard shells were still warm and greasy from the fryer.  Mmmmmm.]

One of the most fun and informative afternoons was brunch at a place called Franklin & Company with my friend Matthew Miller.  Matt is a director who worked with me and my Irish Theatre cohorts on two of our biggest hit shows: Conor McPherson’s “The Weir” and “The Seafarer.” (Meaning that he has directed me as Finbar, Ireland’s biggest douche, and Mr. Lockhart, the devil himself.  Makes you wonder what Matt thinks of me, eh?)

FranklinMatt is enjoying a fascinating career, going from stage work to TV to film at a moment’s notice.  He is executive producing a television show called “Teachers” for the TV Land network (here’s hoping it gets picked up for season two), teaching on-camera skills and other acting classes whenever possible, jetting back to Chicago on occasion to direct a stage show and, all the while, filming, casting and directing TV commercials (indeed, he called me in for a commercial audition my first week in town).  The insights he has into the world of show business in L.A. are invaluable.

Matt and I downed Bloody Marys, chatted about the vicissitudes of the business, wolfed down eggs, bacon and hash and at the conclusion of this fine meal, as so many others have done before him, he snatched the check away from me at the last minute.

spaghetti-and-meatballsSome old friends of my father, these charming folks named George and Ellen Shannon, had me as their guests in their lovely, blast-from-the-past apartment just off Hollywood Boulevard a couple of weeks ago.  George and Ellen, both in their seventies, are these wonderfully rabid liberals who generously sprinkle their dinner conversation with obscenities, which I thoroughly enjoyed (i.e. “Ah, I forgot the fucking salt in the kitchen.”)  They loaded me up with pasta (oy, the carbs!) and insisted I bring the leftovers home with me.  A beautiful night with some wonderful people and a nice infusion of lefty politics to boot.

DemocratsCat O’Connor, an ensemble member with Seanachai/Irish Theatre since the beginning and a longtime California resident, also had me over to her place and I had the pleasure of spending the evening with both Cat (indisputably one of the nicest people ever to walk on two legs) and her equally sweet and hospitable mother. Again, we spent the evening talking politics and throwing up our hands in disbelief at the clown car full of goofballs the Republicans are currently considering as their nominee.

I then got to accompany Cat to her weekly acting class where I was reunited with old Chicago acting buddies Marc Vann and Gus Buktenica.  We had fun for a few hours cold-reading scenes and flexing our atrophied acting muscles.  I hope to be able to join the class as a regular member, should I extend my stay here.  (The jury is still decidedly out on that.)

Barneys_BeaneryThen, earlier this week, I met my old pal Jim O’Heir for lunch at this absolute dive called “Barney’s Beanery.”  Jim, once just a working stiff actor like the rest of us, has shot into the stratosphere in the past ten years after landing the role of Jerry on the hit show “Parks and Recreation.”  He performed on the show for all seven seasons, eventually moving up from an incidental role to one of the most beloved main characters, primarily due to his crafting of the hapless Jerry (or Larry, or Terry, depending on the day) with such a brilliant mix of pathos and hilarity.

Jim has a peculiar affection for “Barney’s Beanery” as it was the first place he and his old comedy colleagues from White Noise Theatre used to congregate after they first moved to L.A. years ago.  The food, he warned me, was perfectly awful and I would likely need a bottle of Pepto and a nap when we were done.  But that didn’t stop us from demolishing a plate of the world’s worst nachos an an enormous pitcher of- wait for it- “Barney’s Beanery Red Ale.”  Woof.

Jim in Bath

How our evening ended.

You’d think that a guy of Jim’s stature in the industry might have changed some over the years. Not a bit. Within minutes were were chatting away as if no time had passed, catching up on each other’s families, making the most offensive comments imaginable and enjoying the fact that we finally- after almost two decades- had this opportunity to reconnect.  I looked at my watch at one point, thinking that we had spent perhaps an hour and a half together and was stunned to see that four hours had flown by.  An extraordinary day with a wonderful man.

 

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I have to say, though, that if there are Gold Medalists in the “feeding Kevin” field, it belongs to my friends Monica Kaiser and Paul Stroili.  I am planning a long and heartfelt post in their honor at some point in the future for their many, many acts of kindness, but for now, let me simply say:

Not content with putting me up in their home, driving me about the city, keeping quiet as church-mice when I record my voice-overs in their closet and generally tolerating me cluttering up their lovely apartment, Paul and Monica have gone over and above the call of duty in keeping me well-stuffed with victuals.

CheckStrictly speaking, it has gotten out of hand.  Paul has reached for so many checks, I’m surprised he doesn’t require Tommy John surgery. And he’s always quick with an excuse why he should pay.  “Oh, you drove me all the way here today” or “You helped out with the radio show this week” or “You should be using your money to buy some decent clothes. Let me get this.”  I’ve managed to get a couple of checks away from him but, for the most part, Paul’s got the speed of a cobra.

KushiyuSushi at Kushiyu, the greatest sushi restaurant in the city.  Burgers at Plan Check (which must be tasted to be believed).  Tacos at their local tacqueria that would make Ed Burgess say “These are some damn good tacos…for Valley Food.”  This amazing curry ramen soup at Asahi Ramen. Heavenly fish and chips at a nearby British Pub called Robin Hood. And, just last night, the most tasty lamb chops imaginable at this local eatery called Kravings.  Paul is my culinary tour guide of Los Angeles and he is putting on a hell of a show.

I finally insisted on making dinner for Paul and Monica the other night and, while I certainly wowed them with my signature dish- a lovely chicken limone that turned out beautifully- it was a teeny-tiny drop in the bucket compared to my hosts’ never ending generosity.

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I know it must seem as if I am the actor equivalent of a hobo, knocking on doors and begging for a meal every day or so, but the truth is…I just have great, generous friends who are more than willing to stake me to the occasional meal, knowing that, when my fortunes eventually change, I will either pay their generosity back or- as a wise man put it to me this week- pay it forward.

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My California friends have certainly taught me one thing (or, if I knew it before, they have hammered it home):  If you can help someone, do it.  If you can lend a hand, reach out. Even if it is a kind word, a whisper in an agent’s ear or a hot meal…it does a body good to step up and give a fellow traveler a boost if you can.

Today, I travel to Orange County, all the way down in the Southeastern corner of this huge megalopolis.  Sara’s Uncle David and his wife Caren, who we both adore, are hosting a party at their big house in the little suburb of Placentia and all of my in-law cousins are going to be there.  Should be a lot of fun to finally see them all after so much time.

Hmmmm.  I wonder what’s on the menu?

 

 

Hollywood Forever

Just south of Santa Monica Boulevard in and to the north of the Paramount Pictures lot lies one of the strangest places I’ve ever visited: the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

hollywood-forever-signSounds like a joke name, doesn’t it?  “Hollywood Forever.” But that’s what they call it. And, indeed, some of the most celebrated performers, directors, composers, writers and other show business luminaries are buried and/or interred here. (But seriously- look at the logo.  An infinity symbol? Really?)

I could hardly resist going, mostly due to morbid fascination and partly because it’s one of the few free activities in this town and I’m really trying to watch my nickels and dimes. And it kind of has to be free, as it would hardly be appropriate to demand an admission fee simply because so many non-celebrities are buried there (“Oh, you want to see dead Uncle Herbert? Eleven-fifty, please.”).  Still, free admission to anywhere in this city is a welcome relief, so…I went.

Where they get you (where they got me, anyway) is when you ask for a map of the place. They have no compunction about charging you a fiver for a single piece of paper, but really, I wasn’t complaining.  I wanted to see me some celebrity graves and so forked over the required simoleons.

By the way, the whole place has this absolutely terrific view of the Hollywood sign.  It really couldn’t be more picturesque.  It makes you wonder why anyone not involved in the movie business would want to be buried there, but in truth- most of the hundreds of graves in the cemetery contain people with zero connections to the film industry.  Very odd.DSC02050

There are a number of sections to the grounds, including a large chapel (with a mortuary) on the Western border, gravesites scattered through the four large lawns, a small lake with a beautiful tomb in the center (smack dab in the middle of the the “Garden of Legend”) as well as an additional, enormous mausoleum against the East wall.

Hollywood CemetaryThe map is semi-helpful, but you still have to do a lot of searching to find the people you’re looking for.  And if you’re expecting the stars’ graves to be generally noticeable and ostentatious, you’re going to be (mostly) disappointed.  In fact, some of the biggest names in the place have some of the most modest, understated tombstones.

Not all.  But most.

DarlaI started in the West mortuary, primarily because I wanted to look up Darla Hood.  You remember her, right? One of the few (if not the only) female performers on the old “Little Rascals” shorts. But try as I might (staring angrily at the map and scanning the walls for her name), her resting place eluded me.

Not so her old boyfriend Alfalfa’s.  Carl Switzer’s grave was just off the main road, in plain sight. Interestingly, his is one of the few tombstones that has DSC02051the name of his character on it. (Darrin McGavin’s doesn’t say “The Night Stalker” for instance.)  For those of you who may not remember, ol’ Carl was killed in a very odd dispute over money involving the return of a lost hunting dog (and not, as the popular legend goes, in a poker game) at age 31.

There’s an odd grouping of folks just up the road from Carl.  Adjacent to each other lie the graves of Mr. Blackwell (of the “Worst Dressed” lists), Maila Nurmi (a/k/a “Vampira”) and the aforementioned Mr. McGavin.   Obviously, the placement of their graves is completely random, but it seemed like an oddly poetic trio to be sharing eternity together.

It was over at the Garden of Legend that I had the most difficulty.  I was absolutely determined to find John Huston’s grave but it was nearly impossible to locate and the map was less than useless.  Finally, after a long search, I finally found it buried under a bush. DSC02059Mr. Huston (a favorite director of mine) has one of the most humble resting places in the whole joint.  Not only is it almost completely hidden in the greenery, but it is a double grave, as he chose to be buried with his mother Rhea.  Sweet, I suppose.  But a tad strange for my taste.

Oh, have you ever wondered, “What ever happened to Fay Wray?”  Well, I can tell you. She’s planted in the ground just down the road from John Huston Fay Wrayunder a very tasteful, plain gravestone.  Fay lived almost a hundred years, too, so tip the cap to her.

The most over-the-top tombstone- unsurprisingly- belongs to rock legend Johnny Ramone.  Not only is it enormous, but it sports a statue of Johnny, complete with guitar, sprouting out of the top. Never one for subtlety, IMG_0946those Ramone boys.  (His brother DeeDee is just up the road a piece, but he opted to skip the statue.  A wise move, in my opinion.)

Across from Johnny is the Fairbanks Lawn, which features a huge, rectangular fountain at the foot of the tombs of both Douglas Fairbanks and his namesake, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. FairbanksOne could argue that this is the most over-the-top monument in the place, but it is so tastefully done, I had to give the “Are You Kidding?” award to Johnny instead.

Next to the Fairbanks Lawn is the mausoleum, but it was unfortunately closed the day I went, robbing me of the chance to pay proper tribute at the graves of Peter Lorre, Peter Finch and Rudolph Valentino.  (Mickey Rooney is also buried there, but he is prominently interred in the front wall of the building.  No kidding- it is an incredibly big DSC02055slab for such a little fellow.  Rooney had asked that his epitaph be “I tried” but, contrary to his wishes, it instead reads “One of the Greatest Entertainers the World Has Ever Known, Hollywood Will Always Be His Home.” So…a little different than what the Mickster wanted.)

Finally, before I left, I paid tribute to two of the greatest voice legends in film history. Buried not one hundred feet apart, on the West side, lie the graves of voice-over master Don “In a World” LaFontaine and, just beyond him, the Man of a Thousand Voices himself, Mel Blanc.  Blanc’s epitaph is the funniest one in the entire cemetery and reads “That’s All Folks!” I wished I had a flask so I could properly salute them both.

There were more residents I didn’t get a chance to visit- Cecil B. DeMille, Erich Korngold, Don Adams and Jayne Mansfield among them- and many others on the map whose names I sadly did not recognize until later (Charles Middleton, a/k/a “Flash Gordon’s” Ming the Merciless is there!), but there is only so much time you can spend alone in a graveyard before getting creeped out.

 

One final, bizarre piece of trivia about the place:  A couple of nights every month, the cemetery hosts a movie night, where patrons can pay a fee, bring a picnic dinner and camp out in the grass while a popular movie is projected on the side of the mausoleum for the entertainment of the masses.cinespia-hollywood-forever-cemetery3

I am not making this up.  Movie patrons literally sit amongst the graves and watch films in this place on a regular basis and from what I hear, these are extremely popular events.

Don’t ask me to explain it.

It’s…Chinatown.

No wait.  That’s not right.  See what this place does to you?

Tell Me a Story

BedtimeWhen I was a kid and would visit my father (my parents divorced when I was very young), my Dad would read a bedtime story to my brother and me every night.

And let me tell you- our Dad was just a terrific storyteller. A professional actor for years, our Dad did every voice, every imaginable accent, every different character and his well of imagination never seemed to run dry.  Bob Theis really knew how to bring a well-written story to life.

Watership_Down_coverOur favorite book- which he read to us from beginning to end twice– was “Watership Down.”  If you don’t know it (and you should) it is this terrifying, hilarious, touching, upsetting and uplifting book with dozens of different characters (each with his own, unique voice) and we would always beg Dad for an extra chapter when he started to close the book for the night.

More than anyone else, my father was responsible for showing my brother and me that there was nothing more enjoyable than to read a truly great story from an actual, tactile, hold-it-in-your-hands book.

As a result, I have always loved to read stories aloud.  I read into a tape recorder when I was a kid, listening to myself intoning “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” and critiquing myself unmercifully.

princessLater, in college, when Sara and I were first dating, I read William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride” to her every night and the story has become woven into the fabric of our relationship. (By the way- if you’ve only seen the movie and never read the book, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.  The book is ten times better.)

I was lucky enough to get involved with the storytelling program in Chicago called “Stories on Stage,” which featured local actors reading the greatest short fiction ever written. Each performance was recorded and the best of them were chosen to be aired on the local public radio station, WBEZ, on Saturday nights.  The pride I took in hearing that one of my stories had been chosen for broadcast remains a highlight of my entire acting career.sos_logo_vert

Then, after Milo and Gwen arrived, the storytelling gene really kicked in.  Between the two of us, Sara and I have read both of our kids all of the best books we could find.  And aside from the satisfaction of imparting the best stories on Earth to our children, it has also been great practice for us as actors.  Seriously- you want to hone your cold reading skills?  Read a few novels aloud to your kids.  You’ll be among the best cold readers on the planet.

Little did I know that all that reading aloud was a prelude to what could- potentially- be a new and extremely lucrative career.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

EdisonAudiobooks (or, as they used to be called in the 1930’s “Talking Books”) have been around for over a hundred years.  In fact, soon after he invented the phonograph, Thomas Edison began promoting “phonographic books” to allow blind people to enjoy the great works of fiction.

Unfortunately, the recording formats available in those early days made reading entire novels nearly impossible.  The recording tubes on those first-generation phonographs only allowed for about four minutes of reading time.  Even when they began selling record albums in the 30’s, the brand new closed-groove records only brought the available reading time up to about twenty minutes.  So…short stories and poems could fit on them, but Dickens was out of the question.

ThomasBy the 1950’s, Caedmon Records entered the scene and became pioneers in the spoken word field.  Their first release was a recording of Dylan Thomas reading his poems. Needing filler for the B-side, they had him read his own “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and were shocked when it became one of their most popular offerings.  The company would go on to record some of the 20th century’s greatest authors reading their own works, including Carl Sandburg, e.e. cummings, W.H. Auden, Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot and Eudora Welty.

But perhaps most importantly, Caedmon put a lot of actors to work.  Laurence Olivier, Burgess Meredith, Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peggy Ashcroft…the list of titles and performers is endless.  And they were very popular.

Self HelpBy the 1970’s, cassette tapes came into wide usage and the market began to expand, but mostly “books on tape” were used as listen-in-the-car instructional manuals (“Learn Spanish in Three Easy Lessons!” and “Stop Smoking Today!” and “Don’t Waste that Commute: Try Kegels in the Car!”, that sort of thing.)

It took a traveling salesman named Henry Trentman (who listened to a lot of tapes on sales techniques as he traversed the nation) to realize the potential for the audiobook market. Mr. Trentman created Recorded Books, putting real money into the kind of high-quality recording studios we see today and hiring professional actors to read the stories.Print

It started off slowly but Mr. Trentman’s idea eventually caught on.  By 1984, there were eleven audiobook companies, including Caedmon, Metacom, Newman Communications, Recorded Books, Brilliance and Books on Tape.  They all had fairly small catalogues and made, at best, decent money.

APA_logo_photoEverything changed in 1986, when the Audio Publisher’s Association was formed to promote awareness of the industry.  Soon, publisher after publisher woke up to the economic potential of recording audiobooks and the literary clubs all across America- Time Life, Book-of-the-Month, and Scholastic- started offering audiobook titles to their members.

audieThe APA also began to give our annual awards for the best in audiobook production and named their award- to no one’s surprise- the Audie.

By the end of 1987, audiobooks were a $200 million market.  By the mid-nineties, it had ballooned to $1.5 billion.  With each leap in audio technology- from cassette to CD and then CD to digital download, the market got bigger and bigger.

Deyan_Logo.slideBy 2014, the industry had grown so large that an enterprising duo named Bob & Debra Deyan of Deyan Audio were inspired to open the Deyan Institute of Vocal Artistry and Technology (DIVA), the world’s first campus and school for teaching the art and technology of audiobook production. (Keep those names in mind, if you would.  They come up again later.)

Long story short:  Audiobooks are now big, big business.  Bigger than….well, you know.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Two weeks ago, on February 1st (the day I picked up my beloved Cherry and drove her down to Venice Beach), I attended a meeting at the SAG-AFTRA offices at the invitation of my friend Chuck Constant.

sag_aftraThe meeting at the SAG offices was all about the efforts the union has made (and will continue to make) to convince the big audiobook publishers into signing union contracts. Many hundreds, if not thousands, of union members record audiobooks every year and the union, being the smart cookies they are, want in on the action.

At the meeting, Chuck walked me around and introduced me to the assembled guests. It quickly became apparent that I was standing in the midst of the Audiobook Elite.  These were the best and most well-compensated audiobook narraters in the country and they had all come together to share their insights, tell their war stories and offer up their industry tips on how to make the business better.Audiobooks 3

It was, to put it mildly, an eye-popping experience.  I learned, for example, that this past year, audiobooks outsold print books for the first time in the history of American publishing.  Think about that for a minute. Hell,  just think about the money involved in that for a minute.

beeaudioI also learned that the union has been largely successful (though huge obstacles remain) in getting the big publishing houses to sign union contracts. Some are still resistant (especially the Big Kahuna, Audible.com), but the biggest of the second tier publishers- including BeeAudio, Tantor and Brilliance- have all inked agreements to abide by the union’s fee requirements when hiring members.  Which is a giant step.

There are still plenty of publishers out there paying actors (specifically non-union actors) extremely low wages for audiobook work, but this is turning around.  The more people learn about the standard industry rates for this sort of work, the more they will begin to demand a higher salary.

Audiobook 2Let’s deal with that rate for a second, by the way:  Actors get paid a pretty fair rate for audiobook work.  Generally, it’s about $200 an hour or thereabouts.  But keep in mind, that’s for a finished hour.  Not for an actual hour’s work.  A good narrator- and I mean a top-of-the-line pro- will record for an hour to get forty minutes or so of usable work.

So do that math:  If you’re the best of the best, you’ll work five hours to get two and a half to three hours of material.  That’s about five or six hundred bucks.  A good rate? Absolutely.  But if you’ve never spent five hours in a booth reading aloud…it is freakin’ brutal. You earn every goddamn penny of that money.  Recording books is very, very hard work and you have to be highly skilled to pull it off.booth hell

And I haven’t even talked about the editing process yet….and I won’t.  Because you can imagine how involved that is.

So…good work?  Yes.  Lots of titles out there and not enough talent?  You bet. Easy industry to get into?

No so fast.

On the one hand, all you really need to get into the business- technically speaking- is a means of recording your own voice. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Getting a really clean, clear audio recording involves having a studio of some kind, even if it is rudimentary.

COATI’ve seen a few homemade studios cobbled together by my actor friends and they range from the sublime to the absolutely ridiculous. I have a setup in my own basement at home that would make most audiobook narrators cry.  But it was good enough to pass muster when I recorded the audiobook for “Confessions of a Transylvanian,” so I’m not complaining.

ACX-Logo-High-ResAnd anyone can audition to record audiobooks.  All you need to do is to sign up at the Amazon/Audible site for audiobook production, ACX.com. At ACX, anyone at all, union or non-union, can audition to record any title that is seeking narrators. Plus, through the website, you can winnow the selections down until the titles suit your type.  You can choose based on age, sex, genre, pay scale and a host of other filters.

[SIDE NOTE: There is a metric shit-ton of gay porn lit on ACX. Frankly, I had no idea this was such a gigantic audiobook market. No joke: If you’re up for describing highly detailed dude-on-dude sex acts, you may have a big future in the audiobook industry.]

Pay scale options, by the way, range from the high end ($400-$1,000 per finished hour) down to the lowest end: a share of the royalties.  If you opt for the royalties, you won’t get paid for a finished hour. You will instead get a percentage of however many audiobooks are sold. If the book sells a lot of copies…you can make out really well.  If not- that’s a lot of work for nothing.  So beware.

Another important note:  You can get done recording your book, submit it to ACX (or any other publisher) for approval…and they can reject you.  The recording quality may not meet their standards and that means you wasted twenty or more hours of your life recording some completely unusable digital audio.  Which can be…frustrating.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So, among the millions of other things I’m trying to do out here in L.A., I am also trying to break into the ever-expanding audiobook market.  And the meeting at SAG-AFTRA was the most tantalizing glimpse I’d ever had behind the curtain and into the backstage machinations of the business.

party bargeTruly, I felt like I was standing on a dock, watching a packed party-barge of revelers float by and thinking “Hey…I’d like to be on that ship.  Can I come aboard?  Pretty please?”

Well, things took a step in the right direction this week.

On Saturday, I got a message from my dear friend James Sie, an audiobook narrator in his own right, who had just signed up to do some work (he hopes) with Debra Deyan. Remember her?  She and her husband Bob were the two who founded Deyan Audio (one of the premiere audiobook houses) and later started up the first-ever audiobook school.

debra_againJames gave me Debra’s email and recommended I reach out to her so, being the responsible actor I’d like to pretend I am, I shot her a message along with a link to my website’s Voice Work page. I pushed send and…never expected to hear from her again. (This is not pessimism.  This is survival. Actors who wait by the phone go slowly MAD.)

BrillianceAudioAlso on the menu this weekend:  Recording new audiobook samples for submission. Brilliance Audio, for example, requires five separate audio submissions.  They want four fiction (one straight narration, one with dialogue (preferably with a character of the opposite sex than the narrator to see how you handle that sort of thing), one with dialects and quirky character voices and one of your own choosing) as well as a non-fiction selection (instruction manual, self-help book, etc.).

microphoneMy friend Chuck had invited me over to his house to lay down the tracks and I spent the entire afternoon in his jerry-rigged kitchen studio recording and uploading the MP3’s. (Chuck was a huge help, by the way, and his technical mastery of audio recording software is a sight to behold.)

Then, towards the end of the afternoon, Chuck said to me:

“Hey, I’m going to this industry event tonight, if you’d like to go.  Producers, narrators, a whole bunch of people should be there. It’s a party over at Debra Deyan’s house.  Have you heard of her?”

My heart about dropped out of my body.

“The owner of the audiobook company?  Are you joking?  I wrote to her yesterday, Chuck. And you’re inviting me to her house tonight?”

“Sure. The lady I was going to take to the party is sick. Want to go?”

Yes.  Yes I did.

I zipped back to Paul‘s place in my Cherry car, dressed for the occasion (Chuck had said “casual” so I opted for jeans and a nice sports jacket) and at around seven, Chuck stopped off and drove me to the party.

And holy. Guaca.  Mole.  What a place. It is, quite simply, the House that Audiobooks Built.

pool deck

Yeah.  Like that.

You walk up the sloping driveway and you pass the guest house. That’s right.  The guest house.  Then you make your way to the back and step out onto the enormous pool deck where the first of three open bars awaits you.

The live jazz trio in the corner belts out “Girl from Ipanema” as you wander into the house, past the regulation pool table, the enormous living room with the unimaginably huge plasma screen TV, the phenomenal kitchen and the- no kidding- three recording studios.

In the house.  Three recording studios.  And that doesn’t count the two in the goddamn guest house. And, of course, all along the walls are framed Audie-award winning CD’s, lined up one after another, just in case you were confused about why this house existed.

Wedding_crashers_posterIt wasn’t until after I arrived at the house, however, that I discovered the reason for the party.  I learned, to my horror, that it was Debra Deyan’s wedding reception.  A couple of years earlier, after a long battle with ALS, her husband Bob had passed away and tonight, she was celebrating with her new groom- who had eloped with her earlier last month- and had invited all her nearest and dearest to toast her nuptials.

And me.  I was there, too.

I recognized a number of narrators from the SAG-AFTRA meeting in attendance, including the most shining star in the audiobook galaxy, Scott Brick. Go ahead.  Look him up. If there can be a “Michael Jordan” of audiobooks, Scott is the guy.  He’s got 600 audiobooks under his belt and a trunkful of Audies to go with them. (And he’s very charming and not at all full of himself, actually.  Which is always nice to discover.)

Eventually, I met the bride but Debra was understandably far too distracted and busy at her own wedding reception to really take me in.  Which was perfectly fine.  I only hoped she would remember me in some vague way when she finally checked her email and saw my message of the previous day.

Chuck and I spent the evening wandering about, meeting fellow narrators, noshing at the various food tables, helping ourselves at the open bar and goggling at the amazing house. At one point, I stood stunned as I recognized, across a crowded room…my new agent, Orion Barnes, accompanied by his lovely wife Erin.  (I thought this town was supposed to be huge, but apparently not.) We even met Dan Musselman, the Director of Studio Production at Random House who, I would soon learn, could make or break me if he so chose.

It was my first truly swanky Hollywood party and I hope it shall not be my last.

Finally, Chuck and I bid the assembled guests adieu and hit the road. Chuck dropped me off and I can only hope I thanked him profusely enough not only for offering up his home and equipment early that day, but especially for the opportunity to go to the party meet Debra and her amazing parade of friends.

monAnd then…when I woke up this morning, a miracle had occurred.  Debra’s assistant Lauren at Deyan Audio had written back to me, lauding the audio excerpts featured on my website and asking me for more.

The party barge had pulled up to the dock.  Was I available to climb aboard?

I spent the following day recording and re-recording the piece I want to send back and I will, with any luck, finish it up this morning and send it off for their approval.

And then, like a chump, like a rookie, like a newbie…

…I will wait by the phone.

Let’s hope that son-of-a-bitch rings, shall we?

Back in the Saddle

After a brief (albeit too brief) respite in frigid Chicago, I jumped on a flight Thursday afternoon and soon found myself back on the Left Coast.  And believe me when I tell you: When the difference between the temperature in your departure city and the temperature in your arrival city is over sixty degrees…you notice it.Sunshine

Chicago, being it’s usually hospitable self, presented me with temps in the single digits for my final two days in town.  And Los Angeles, also true to form, was a jacket-shedding seventy degrees outside.

So explain this one to me:  Why, the moment I disembarked, did I suddenly miss home so much?

Trick question, of course.  It was that gorgeous family of mine.  Getting on the plane to come back out here was much tougher the second time around.  With every instinct telling me to jump right back on the next flight home, I instead steeled myself, thinking: “Buck up, pal.  You’ve got a job to do out here.”

Specifically:  getting a job out here.  (More on the progress towards that endeavor in the coming days.)

FlyAwayLogoI gathered my effects, jumped on the commuter bus from the airport (which they poetically call the “Flyaway”) and met Paul at the station, whereapon he whisked me back to the apartment to relax and enjoy a martini with Monica.  Which brightened my mood considerably.

And I also made sure to check on Cherry as soon as I arrived.

Oh, I’m sorry.  Have I neglected to introduce Cherry?  How rude of me.  Here’s the scoop on her:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

handing-over-car-keysWhen Paul and Monica returned from Chicago at the beginning of the month,  I was forced to relinquish their car to them.  It was a tough thing to do, handing over the keys, as zipping around the city in their stick shift sporty little Mazda had been a highlight of the trip.  But it ain’t my car so…back to the owners it went.

The next day, I Ubered (Is that a word?  Ubered?) over to Santa Monica where I had a morning audition set up, after which I was to pick up the new wheels I had reserved the previous week.

And which fine car rental establishment did I choose to trick me out with means of automotive transportation on my meager budget?

If you guessed “Rent-A-Wreck,” congratulations.  Buy yourself something nice.

Rent-a-WreckI walked into the rental office where a group of three septuagenarian business owners greeted me kindly and reviewed my reservation.

Then the main guy, Dave, said the magic words:

“You drive stick, right?”

I must have beamed at him.  How on Earth did he know I wanted a stick-shift car?  I ransacked my brain and finally concluded that I must have mentioned it on the phone the previous week when I called to make my reservation and Dave, bless his heart, remembered my request.

“Yes, Dave,” I said blissfully. “Yes I do.”

“Got the perfect car for you.  Right this way.”

They walked me outside…and there she was.

What they had put aside for me was a 2009 Hyundai Elantra. I will go ahead and presume that you don’t know what a 2009 Hyundai Elantra looks like, so I will show you. Brand new, the Elantra looks like this:cherry_flipped

That is decidedly not what this car looked like.  My car looked like some enormous person had eaten..and then crapped out…a very similar, yet now thoroughly digested, car. And the huge person doing the eating and the crapping of said car was not a healthy person.

But in all honesty, at that moment, I did not care in the slightest.  I was still in mourning from having to give up Paul’s manual drive car…and here I was being offered a manual drive car to replace it.

I was in heaven.

I turned to Dave.  “Can I take it for a spin first?”

He looked a little annoyed.  “You’re the first guy to ask for a test drive in over a year, you know that?”

I resisted the temptation to say “Because not all your cars look like they were slowly pushed out of a giant’s anus.”  I didn’t think it would go over well.

gearshiftThey handed me the keys and, with one of Dave’s office-mates as a ride-along, I took the Elantra for a spin around the block.  Despite the fact that it had already racked up 109,000 miles on the odometer, the engine roared to life, the transmission seemed up to snuff and she went from gear-to-gear more smoothly than even Paul’s car did.

By the time we got around the block and back to the lot, I was in love.

I hurriedly signed all the paperwork and forked over more money to rent the car for a month than the Blue Book value of this steaming pile of car could ever be, but I didn’t hesitate for a minute.  I couldn’t wait to get back out on the road.

I was still wearing a full suit (jacket, tie and dark shoes) from my audition earlier that morning so, dressed perfectly for the setting, I decided to take the car down to Venice Beach.

venice beachVenice, in case you didn’t know, is the hippie/homeless/druggie capitol of Los Angeles. Seriously, the strip of head shops, bars and cheap souvenir stands that line Venice’s oceanfront is matched only by the truly filthy, slightly dazed, bloodshot-eyed and mainly harmless denizens of the beach itself, each of whom is more grimy, stinky and frightening-looking (if not actually threatening) than the last.

As I walked along the beach in my suit, it occurred to me that I must have looked like a narc, a drug dealer or a pimp.  Or maybe a little bit of each.

Venice HomelessThere were little encampments all along the beach and dotting the adjacent park. Clearly, hundreds of people lived outdoors in this area. (Why not? If you’re down and out and find yourself in a city where the temperature rarely dips below fifty, what better place to camp than on the beach?)

I strolled along, taking in the view and checking out the skateboard park (those dudes were shredding, by the way) before deciding to head back into town. I had an appointment that night to meet my friend Chuck Constant at the SAG-AFTRA offices for a symposium on the audiobook business and I needed to get moving. (Much, much more about this meeting later, by the way.)

Before heading back into the city, I texted a picture of the car to Sara in Chicago and asked her to show it to my daughter Gwen so she could name it.  We have a tradition of naming vehicles in my house and this car, perhaps more than any other, needed to be christened. Given her hue, Gwen (who had just finished reading S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders) didn’t hesitate:

Cherry.  Call the car Cherry, Dad.

You got it, kiddo.  Cherry it is.

And now for the reveal.  As many of you may know, in car parlance, a “cherry” car is one in top condition.  Sleek, smooth, almost new-looking. A real beaut.

My Cherry, however, has been around the block a few times.  In fact, she’s been around a few more blocks than is really healthy for a car to be around.  In addition she appears to have been cobbled together from various other, similarly shaped vehicles.

The reason I suspect this?  Not one color on any part of the car- the door, the roof, the hood, the fenders- appears to match any other color on any other part of the car.

I would try to describe these various colors myself, but I decided to go ahead and farm it out to my graphics designer instead.  Here is his representation of Cherry’s various colors (these are, naturally, taken from the official Sherwin-Williams palette):cherry_colors

And so there you are.  My mode of transport for the month of February. She runs fine, Cherry does, but getting her up to speed on the highway can take a minute or so.

And she guzzles gas like a hobo slurps down Sterno.

And people stop on the street to gape at her, wondering how a human being can stomach being seen in such a vehicle.

Me?  I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

 

Home Fires

Riegert

My dear friend and L.A. host Paul Stroili likes to relate a cautionary tale about life on the West coast that he heard from actor Peter Riegert.  I’m paraphrasing, of course, but the essence of the story is as follows:

Life in Los Angeles is like walking out onto a beautiful pool deck.  The sun is shining and the sky is clear and blue.  You are handed a cool, refreshing beverage and you decide to sit down by the side of the pool and enjoy a brief moment of enjoyment in the sun.

And then…boom, you’re eighty.

slow-snailI have discovered, in my short month in L.A., that it is very easy to move from a quick pace, as I had when I first arrived, to a more leisurely stroll as time ticked by. Something about the atmosphere, the cadence of the city, forces you to slow down, drink in the sunshine and smell the flowers.

And then…boom, it’s February.

Well, if I needed a bit of inspiration to kick up the pace again out in California, I got it this week when I returned home to Chicago for a few days.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It only took me about three minutes after I landed in Chicago for me to realize- I mean fully realize- the true heroes of this entire California Adventure.  I knew it before, of course, but didn’t truly understand it deep in my bones until I saw them all again after being away for almost four weeks.

Their names, as if you didn’t know, are Milo, Gwendolyn and, primarily, Sara.Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 12.07.31 AM

These wonderful people- my son, my daughter and my wife- are the people who are sacrificing the most (and enjoying very little of the benefit) in order for me to scamper around Southern California, basking in the sunshine and being the master of my own fate, while they slog away in the dead of Chicago’s winter, shoveling snow and living as frugally as church-mice, keeping the home fires burning.

I landed at O’Hare Sunday night, returning for just five days for a job I had booked before I left town.  I was picked up at the airport by Sara and Gwen- and I’ll tell ya: my heart fairly burst upon seeing them.  I had stayed in touch with them on a daily basis, naturally, and would try to employ the FaceTime app to its fullest capacity just to see their mugs as often as I could but…to embrace them, to hear their breath in my ear, to whisper to them how much I missed them- that was everything.

The cold was something of a shock, having been warmly enfolded into the Los Angeles “winter” for the past month, but it was also refreshing.  In actuality, most of the time that I had been gone, there had only been about a ten degree difference between the two cities on any given day.  (Most of the time, but…not always, in all honesty.)

Chicago in WInter

“Huzzah! Opening Day at Wrigley approaches!”

But the cold in Chicago is unlike the cold anywhere else on the planet and when I stepped outside the terminal, it was as if the city was saying to me:  “Welcome back, smart guy. Hope you didn’t leave your balls in Cali.”

And indeed I had not.

I got home and finally saw Milo, who was stoic upon seeing me but…I could tell he missed me in his own way.  (The dog, of course, went bananas and then, after five minutes, promptly forgot I had ever left. Furry little moron.)

DinnerThe Theis/Nichols clan ate a late dinner and then gathered around the living room so that I could catch up on their Stories from the Heartland, they could hear my Tales From the Great West and we could, together, make tentative plans for the future.

At the end of which, we decided….not to make any decisions, just yet. The experiment, after all, is still only a third of the way in. Things were going pretty well so far, it’s true, but…the lack of any paid work in California remained the elephant in the room.

Pro-Con-BlogWithout going into great detail (some semblance of family privacy must be maintained after all), there was a great and tearful debate about whether or not the concept of uprooting our life and home in Oak Park was a good idea in the first place. And given the overarching uncertainty about the success of the trip itself, it seemed a bit premature to decide anything at this stage.

Still…is there a distant possibility of moving to California?  Even somewhere far, far down the line? Maybe.  Is there just as likely a possibility of my coming home at the end of March and settling back into my old life? Absolutely. Is it just too soon to tell? Decidedly.

But…did Sara and I spend an hour or so on Sunday night checking out condominium prices in the San Fernando Valley?

You bet your ass we did.

Hey- no harm in looking, after all.Listings

 

 

Make ‘Em Laugh! (Or Else.)

Two interesting developments this week, but let’s begin with last night and my first professional appearance on a stand-up stage.

As a result of my impromptu and unnecessarily stressful audition at Flappers Comedy

standup-comedy-thinkstock

Club last month (see Tragedy Tomorrow!), I was unexpectedly booked to be one of the openers at what the club calls their “Pro Am” night, which is Flappers bi-weekly evening featuring both new and seasoned comics (thus the “Pro” and “Am” parts of the title).

The way they typically organize it is like this:  First they hire a headliner- someone who the typical comedy fan might recognize, either from television or movie appearances- and promote that comic as their closer.  They then hire an Emcee (usually a regular at the club), a “Special Guest Comic” and then sprinkle rest of the spots that evening with new/amateur comics (or, in my case, OLD amateur comics).

Tone BellLast night, the headliner was supposed to be a comic named Malik S but, sadly, Mr. S was ill and they had to bring in a last minute replacement, who turned out to be the comedian/TV actor Tone Bell.  Mr. Bell is apparently one of those guys who bounces from show to show on television, never quite hitting it big, but the minute his old TV show is canceled, he manages to land another one.  A neat trick, if you can pull it off.

The Emcee was a charming guy named Richy Leis who would warm up the crowd and then spend the rest of the night simply introducing the rest of the comics, some of whom I recognized from the Flappers auditions the previous month.

Now let me stop right there. Because an interesting moment occurred when I went to Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 2.16.28 PMcheck in.  I arrived at the club, walked up to the box office and introduced myself.  The guy then looked at me and said “Are you a comedian?”  And, having never been asked that question before, I was shocked to hear myself say, “Yes.  Yes, I am.”

Because, really, until that moment, I was not a comedian.  I was a guy who had dared to step up and try to be funny at some open mic nights.  But I had never really been hired to perform at a real, live stand-up venue before.  So tonight, for the first time, I was a comedian.  Which kinda blew my mind.

I made me want to get pulled over by a cop on the way home, so I could smart off to him and have him ask me:  “What are you, some kind of comedian?” At which point I could say, “Why, yes, officer!  Thanks for asking!” And then give him a tight, ten minute set just to prove it.

open micNow you might think, “Sure, this is your first professional (or semi-pro) gig, but you’ve done this sort of thing before, Theis.”  True.  I have done, at this point, at least a half-dozen open mics in my young stand-up career.

But remember: Up until tonight, almost every person in every audience I had performed in front of had also been would-be comedians.  This would be my premiere performance in front of a group people who had paid money to see comics rather than simply showed up to perform themselves.

Final note, before we get to the actual show:  The previous week, I had tried an open mic El Cidat the El Cid club in Silver Lake, accompanied by my friends Adam Meredith and Ben Carr. It had been an interesting lineup of acts: some comedians, some musicians, a few rappers. A real variety show.  I had been slotted for later in the evening and when I finally got up, I decided to try out a new routine I had never performed before.

And I totally bombed.

I won’t say I got zero laughs, but it certainly felt that way.  Without question, it had been the least successful of all of the stand-up attempts that I had made. They hated me.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 2.37.14 PMPlus I got to do it in front of two friends.  So, you know.  Hooray.

So this show at Flappers would be my first performance on stage since the El Cid debacle and I was determined not to repeat my oh-so-memorable failure.

To that end, I decided to trot out what I consider to be my strongest routine.  It is this ridiculous long-form diatribe about what I have determined to be one of the most dangerous and malicious developments of the past half-century: the pimping-out and tarting-up of that most pure of confections- the Oreo cookie.

I won’t describe it to you in full (I think you have to see it to appreciate it) and sadly I do not have a recording of my performance last night.  But when my turn at the mic came up (I was third in the roster), I jumped up and gave it to them with both barrels.  And I am happy to report:

It killed.

They didn’t leap to their feet at the end or anything, but I had steady laughs throughout, I was comfortable enough to joke around with the audience when the right moments arrived and I finished on my strongest joke, which was a delightful surprise.

And while the El Cid crowd may have made me question this whole stand-up business Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 2.35.20 PMentirely, the Flappers crowd last night?

They may have created a monster.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m just getting started with this stuff.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

But that’s not all.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are a few ways that actors can submit themselves for jobs out here in L.A. (and in any market in America, for that matter).  You join a casting website, like Actors Access or Casting Networks, and you get regular alerts from both sites when auditions that might be right for you are posted.

actorsaccess-logoYou then submit yourself for whatever might be appropriate for you and…you wait. Sometimes they get back to you, sometimes not.  Happily, since I have been here, I have had at least one or two auditions per week through each of these sites.  (I have another this afternoon, in fact.)

So I’ve been driving to various places around L.A. in the past month, auditioning for these small and/or student films and hoping to hear back from them.

And this week- I booked one.Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 2.27.28 PM

I don’t want to make too much out of it. It’s a small, independent film and the payment is what they call “deferred,” (a/k/a no payment at all), but it is- despite the lack of salary- a union job and it will shoot here in late February/early March.

It is a real, actual, bona fide job in Los Angeles.  Which is pretty nice.

Now…if I can only figure out how the hell to get paid out here, I might die a happy man.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Final note for today:

ChicagoI will, if you can believe it, be back in Chicago this week for five days.  Before I left home, I had managed to book two jobs- one in Dallas and one in Chicago- that actually would provide me with some income.  Three weeks ago, I flew to Dallas and back for the first gig and this week I will do the same but, this time, I get to go on an all-expenses paid trip to see my family.

Which really could not have worked out better.

As you may have realized, dear reader, this trip to Chicago falls almost in the exact center of my little California Adventure (which is scheduled to conclude at the end of March). So this booking will allow me to go home, reconnect with my loved ones and, naturally, provide the opportunity to have a very serious discussion with Sara and the kids about where we go from here.

So…keep the experiment alive?  Wait a few more weeks to make that decision?  Pack up and head home?

All these questions, and many more, when our program continues.

The Sights! The Sounds! The Smells!

Getting to know any city- Chicago, New York, London- means visiting the out-of-the-way places only the locals know, but it also means getting acquainted with the tourist spots, too.  There may be New Yorkers who’ve never visited the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island but, I’m sorry, that’s just ridiculous.  You want to know your city?  Try to know it all.

With that in mind, I’ve been trying to see as much of Los Angeles as I can while I’m here. (After all, I don’t know how long this little stunt of mine is going to last. More on that later.)  So when I’m not recording voice over auditions, working on a writing project, or staring in horrified silence at my dwindling bank balance, I try to get out into the city and check out the most well-known, world famous sections of the town.

Here’s Report #1.

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HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD

The neighborhood in Hollywood surrounding the old Grauman’s Chinese Theatre has changed tremendously in the years since I first visited. When I last set foot in this section of town back in the nineties, the place was- to put it kindly- a fucking dump.

HomelessHomeless people lined the streets, half the storefronts were boarded up, and the only going concerns appeared to be Grauman’s itself (called, at the time, Mann’s Chinese Theatre) and the Scientology Center.

These days?  The whole strip has been Disney-fied.  (Literally.  There is now a Disney store there, among many other new, cheesy retail shops.)  It has become the L.A. equivalent of Times Square, including the celebrity lookalikes and life-sized character impersonators (Spider-Man, Chewbacca, Transformers, et al.) pacing up and characters-on-the-hollywood-boulevarddown the street waiting for you to pay them for a picture. All the storefronts are now filled with high-end clothing stores, souvenir stands, restaurants and a half-dozen movie houses.

In other words, things are looking up in Hollywood.  (Though, truly, the Chewbacca guy looks like he’s got mange.)hollywood boulevard

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now officially called the TCL Chinese Theatre, though the Grauman’s banner still hangs outside) is the big draw in the neighborhood.  Out in front are the famous cement hand- and foot-prints from almost two hundred of the biggest Bogartmovie celebrities of the past hundred years.  From Clark Gable to R2D2, Marilyn Monroe to Al Pacino- the forecourt has ’em all. (Additional impressions in the cement besides hands and feet include Harold Lloyd’s glasses, Groucho Marx’s cigar and the wands from all the Harry Potter kids, among others.)

The theatre itself, which features the famous towering, Chinese-style entranceway, was Grauman'sbuilt after the success of owner Sid Grauman’s lesser-known Egyptian Theatre, which survives to this day and is located just down the street.  The Chinese theatre has changed hands several times over the years- and hosted hundreds of premieres during its long life (including 1977’s Star Wars) as well as three Academy Award ceremonies- and is now the site of the largest IMAX theatre in the world.

Up and down Hollywood Boulevard you can stroll the famous Walk of Fame, which sports hundreds and hundreds of Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.11.39 AMcelebrity’s names set into stars cemented into the pavement. If you are anyone either in movies, on television, in the music industry (or are otherwise super-famous enough to qualify), you get a star.

Most of them are recognizable names, of course (think of a major movie actor or actress and their name is likely there somewhere) but there are others that leave you with a big “Who’s that?” expression on your face.  (Such luminaries include Pedro InfanteArt Acord and the unfortunately named Larry Semon.)

My friend Erin Philpott and I spent the afternoon the other day walking Hollywood Blvd.,Walk of Fame shouting out the names of actors we knew and loved who had stars adorning the sidewalk and quizzing each other on the unfamiliar names (“Dick Haymes ring a bell?  No?”).  We also may have stopped in for beverages at the Jameson’s Irish Pub and the Rusty Mullet, but I’d like to see you prove it.

Back to the sights:  Just down the street from Grauman’s, you’ll find the gorgeously refurbished Dolby Theatre Dolby(formerly known as the Kodak Theatre).  This is a live entertainment venue, though, and not a movie theatre and is probably best known for being the venue for the every Academy Awards ceremony since 2002.  Other events are held at the venue, including various non-Oscar awards shows (the ESPY and BET awards, for example), as well as rock concerts and the American Idol finals.  But who cares about that shit?  They do the freakin’ OSCARS there!

Of course, the Scientology Information Center remains a neighborhood stalwart.  I could write all day about the Church of Scientology and its prevalence here in Los Angeles (and Scientology_Center_on_Hollywood_Blvd._(2746273728)certainly hope to, one of these days- I’ve always wanted to get sued), but for now, suffice it to say that on almost every street corner in every bustling section of town, there is a nattily dressed young couple (they always seem to travel in pairs) handing out brochures for the church or inviting you inside for your free copy of Dianetics and an auditing (don’t ask).

Oh, and if you think the Scientology building on Hollywood Boulevard is creepy and ominous, wait til you see the one on Sunset Boulevard.  If you had any bejesus in you, this place would scare it right out.

There are plenty of other famous landmarks in the immediate area of Hollywood Boulevard, including the iconic El Capitan Theatre, the infamous lingerie store Frederick’s of Hollywood, the Pantagesstunning and legendary Pantages Theatre, as well as tourist traps like Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Madame Tussaud’s, but honestly…there was only so much I had time to try and see (for now).

But Hollywood Boulevard has unquestionably been brought back from the dead and is now the tourist-stuffed, ridiculous, glitzy pile of L.A. ridiculousness you would expect from the very center of the entertainment world.  I would highly recommend a visit, but whatever you do…

…don’t touch the Wookiee.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 1.23.43 AM

El Teatro de Los Angeles

 

Theatre in Los Angeles gets a bad rap.  Depending on who you talk to, there is either no theatre in L.A., bad theatre in L.A. or…theatre in L.A. exists, but is totally pointless.

I can speak with almost no authority on the subject, having been here only four weeks, LA Theatrebut I can tell you that based on my limited experience, the theatre that does exist in this city appears to be good, popular and robust.

Not across the board, certainly.  But then, you couldn’t say theatre in Chicago was robust across the board.  A lot of Chicago theatres- and we have, indisputably, the most healthy, vibrant and creative theatre scene in the country- still suffer terribly from small crowds, lack of critical coverage and a general sense of being criminally underfunded.  I speak from very personal experience.

But since I’ve been in Los Angeles, I’ve seen four productions- technically two full production and two readings- and it is only fair to say that I was highly entertained at all of them.

AVDHCThe first was a show at a company in town called Theatre Unleashed.  It was not only a holiday show, but a holiday parody show called “A Very Die Hard Christmas.”  It was, as you can guess from the title, a live-action version of the classic action film “Die Hard” (and featured my good friend Adam Meredith as Hans Gruber, hilariously channeling the late, great Alan Rickman).  This adaptation, for shit and giggles, featured a Burl Ives-style Rudolph-era narrator (personified by a full-size snowman puppet), a leading actor playing John McClane who started off with a bloody lip and became a virtual blood geyser by the end, and an engaging, inventive and energetic cast from top to bottom. I would have to give the show a…how do you say it?  “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”

The next two shows were staged readings, both at Antaeus Theatre, which is currently Antaeusbeing managed by my friend and one-time Seanachai ensemble compatriot Ann Noble. Based on what I saw the two nights I was there- readings of Brecht’s “Galileo” and Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”- these folks have a truly superior theatre company that is doing incredible work; so much so that they are moving operations from their small space on Lankershim to a much larger theatre of their own in Downtown Glendale.  (And they have more Buffy the Vampire Slayer veterans, pound for pound, than any other theatre in town.)

CelebrationFinally, and perhaps most enjoyably, I caught a preview of Eric Rosen’s lovely play “Dream Boy” at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood.  Carefully crafted by director Michael Matthews, it was a gorgeous production that featured an extremely strong and committed ensemble, a picture-perfect set, terrific lighting design and a very moving and evocative soundscape.  Michael Sheppard, who is the Co-Artistic Director of the theatre, should be justly proud of having helped to build such a beautiful and healthy company. (Plus the place was packed the night I was there.)

So…I’m sure bad theatre exists here (as it does everywhere).  But so far…I haven’t seen any evidence of it.

I’ll keep looking though because, so far, I really like what I’ve found so far.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I would be remiss, however, if I discussed Los Angeles theatre without mentioning the small-theatre-300x225elephant in the room, which is the new Equity rule regarding 99-seat theatres.

Let me preface this section with a caveat. Or…rather, a mea culpa.  Hell, let’s call it a mea caveat and leave it at that, okay?  I am going to do my best to describe the controversy and will happily correct any mistakes, but it is a hot-button issue and I don’t need any zealots jumping down my throat if I don’t get the whole thing exactly according to Hoyle.  That said, here’s the scoop:

Essentially, from what I understand, there has been a long-term agreement between the smaller theatres of Los Angeles (you guessed it- those with 99 seats or less) and the Actors Equity Association (the union for stage actors) that allowed the union actors to EquityLogo_RGBcolor1work on a “waiver,” dismissing their usual union fee and accepting, in some cases, as little as $7 a day.

What this allowed the theatres to do was to afford some of the top Equity talent in town without busting their budgets.  And, naturally, it allowed the union actors the chance to work and stay sharp.  And everyone seemed happy.  Poor, but happy.

But the union was not happy.  After all, when actors don’t get paid, unions don’t get paid. So back in April of last year, the National Council decided to change things.  They passed a resolution that required most of these theatres (the terms are complicated, but I’ll get to that), to pay all of their Equity actors the minimum wage: $9 an hour, going up to $10 this year.  And they did this despite the fact that the local Equity actors voted against this resolution by a 2-to-1 margin.

Oh, there were compromises and exceptions built in as well.  If you really want to get down to the small-bore stuff, try this on for size:

The new deal actually is a compromise – it allows theaters with fewer than than 50 seats to produce up to 16 performances of a single production budgeted under $20,000 without having to pay minimum wage. It also allows L.A. actors to collaborate as a group to self-produce theater without the requirement of an Equity contract and without having to pay minimum wage.

Fun, huh?  You can go blind reading this stuff.

ILove99_Horizontal_LogoWithTagline_v04_1200pxWAnyway, that’s the big hullaballoo. And everyone’s got their knives out, ready to defend their little patch of turf.  It’s the Sharks and the Jets out here and there’s no telling who will come out on top.

Now, you want my personal opinion?  (Sure you do.)  Pay the goddamn Equity actors.  If they want to donate the money back to the theatre afterwards (like I, um, hear is done in Chicago on occasion), let ’em. But if you don’t pay your union actors at least the minimum wage (if not an actual, union salary along with their pension and welfare benefits), then what is the freakin’ point of being in the union at all?99 seat protest

We have tiny, little storefront theatres in Chicago that regularly employ some of the top union talent in Chicago and manage to stay afloat. (Usually by employing the aforementioned kickback scheme.)  There’s no reason why it shouldn’t work out here.

And yeah, I may get my head chewed off for stating my outsider’s opinion about a theatre community that is not my own, but…guess what?

You disagree with me, you can click the little “x” in the corner of this page and make my opinion go away forever.

Not that you would.

Right?