Saturday, March 26, 2011

The UnderGroundlings

Many Subway Cars in New York City Have Been Spray-Painted by Vandals. 05/1973

For the past few weeks, I've had an idea cooking in my head. I want to do Shakespeare on the Subway cars. It's not an earth shattering idea. It's not even a particularly original idea.

Every time I hear a barbershop quartet sing to a car of people, I think that could be me. Every time the kids come around selling candy that I'm allergic to, I think this could be so much more engaging.

Performing the Bard in a subway car feels, to me, remarkably true to the way the words were written to be performed: we're in a dank hole in the ground full of garbage, piss, and rats. Furthermore, fully half of the audience is actively not listening to what we're saying- they're here to do something else.

It's as the great Eddie Izzard says about starting out as a street performer: "what I learned about street performing hugely informs my stand-up talents. “It gives you this confidence that you develop standing on a piece of street where no one wanted to look at you in the first place, so it stays with me always."

Does that make this partially a selfish endeavor? Maybe. But no more selfish than any of the other interruptors on the subway, and I plan to not ask for money. The worst that can happen to me is a cop tells me to knock it off and move along, or I run into a real Shakespeare nut who tries to correct me. Or I get kicked, like the group who did this before me did.

The best? Well, I get some work. I get experience. I get to play with my friends. I get something to look forward to.

In any case, I shall attack this with all the vigor I usually give to new endeavors. That means list-making, planning, blog-writing and annoying phone calls to friends. Most of my writing on the subject will be on the Blog and Twitter I've registered for the group, and I hope to invite friends & fellow actors to be guest bloggers. It's not a movement, it's play.

-Chose scenes, number of Characters. Make cuts.
-Find out length of time between (specific) stations.
-Create t-shirt.
-Rehearse, once. In public.
-Just do it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Times States Obvious

Photo Courtesy of FailBlog.

You're probably aware that The New York Times has decided to add a paywall feature which somehow manages to imply that access to the website itself is valueless. As you probably could guess based on the number of Grey Lady links I put in my Twitter stream, I find this deeply irritating. My Liberal Guilt dictates that I fork over the lousy $19 & get a weekly Sunday paper to enjoy, perhaps with a steaming cup of smug. My realist/recent graduate sense declares that the paper will probably be stolen off my stoop, and the NYT app I access for train reading isn't worth any amount of money.

Since I'm annoyed at them, let's take a look at another recent faux pas of theirs: Announcing that Edward Gorey has had an effect on recent Pop culture. Perhaps it's my snotty, Coilhouse-induced attitude that Steampunk is Dead, but seriously people? I didn't need any more holes in my faith in you as the Paper of Record. Next thing we know, you'll be informing us that Edgar Allen Poe maybe influenced some writers somewhere.

Monday, March 14, 2011

An actor responds: the Ethics of Getting Paid

Becka, Mallory
Photo: Becka & Wendy backstage during 3PO. Hair/Makeup by Jackie Horn, Costumes by me.

Recently, the Ethicist responded to a query about the ethical obligation to reveal to one's freelancers the fact that they weren't going to get paid. Other than immediately calling to mind the website, it began a tussle within me of the moral implications of some of the casting calls I have seen.

I'm a little picky about getting paid: I'm the one who will talk to the management on behalf of the whole cast when a portion of everybody's paycheck is missing. If I am going to be working on a student film, I feel like I am getting paid in experience: everybody is learning how to work on a film together, & everybody walks away equally fed: another credit on their resume, & something to put on the demo reel in exchange for a finished work.

I shouldn't be pretentious about what I work on, & for the most part I'm gung-ho to work for 'the big gay feet show!' or 'vampire zombie killers from space', but remember that thing about first impressions? It's still true. So while I might be willing to stand around in my underwear right now if it means I am in the cast of Mad Men, I am not about to drop trow for something which is an obvious attempt to use boobies to lure people to a crappy movie.

Another thing I dislike is Stock Photography modeling- call me strange, but I feel hugely uncomfortable allowing just anybody to license my image. I know that modeling in general is selling out your image, but at least when you're under a contract you know what the image is going to be used for: shampoo, wristwatches, whatever.  Stock photography is a little different: I don't mind being on the company safety manual, but what if I am selling dating sites? Or anti-woman propaganda? How would that reflect on me if anybody saw it & made the connection?

But it's the transparent "commercial competitions" that I resent the most. Why should talented people fork over their time & energy giving free ideas to a multi-billion dollar corporation? If there's $5 million up for grabs, then why can't you pay your actors? Some people find me strange for taking such a strong moral stand on these things, but I guess it's just the way I was raised: I hate people who don't pay their taxes and park in the fire lane.

I understand that in the beginning it will be difficult for me (or anybody) to get work, & that most of the things I am applying for don't have money to give out, but unfortunately "it'll look great on your resume" doesn't pay the bills. Cold hard cash does. So if you want 12 days of rehearsal for a 1 weekend run of a show, I had better be seeing some money for the $1,000 I won't be making at my other job while I work for you. If, on the other hand, you want to get together and play through Shakespeare and we're all walking away poor, why then drinks are on me tonight.

Friday, March 11, 2011



When I find myself feeling cast down, it's usually because I've been away from the hum and crush for more than 12 hours. The energy of this city is addictive and contagious- I feel like my previous level of pushy workaholic freak comes in somewhere on the low end of the spectrum in relation to all the others doing the crosstown stomp.

Quick Sketching in GCT

When I need a quick pick-me-up, I like to head in to GCT and draw the people passing through. Not only do I see many inspiring outfits, I also get quite a lesson in posture/attitude/gait, a boon for both the actor and visual artist portions of my brain. 

Quick Sketching in GCT

I love the challenge of communicating a personage in less than five seconds, and one and two minute poses are always my favorite part of any life drawing class. In those sparse seconds there is no time to fuss over getting it right; all that matters is spatial relationships and movement. Well, really that's all that matters in art (to me), but there is greater freedom to fail when time is a limited resource.


Quick Draw on the Subway

Drawing people on the subway is another good game, although one that has to be undertaken with some caution. There are all kinds of crazies on the 4 train, and I am not afraid of being mistaken for one: I am more afraid of attracting their attention. It's good to draw when the carriage is sparsely populated, and all persons are sleepily disinterested.

Friday, March 4, 2011

New Job

After several failed restaurant interviews, an acquaintance recommended CTI Convention staffing to me- so you can find me four days a week behind any number of desks at the Javits center, punching tickets and practicing my frozen smile skills.

During the Toy Fair, I worked at a desk in a lounge & got to know some of the exhibitors pretty well. The day that show ended I gussied up, abused my staff pass & went on to the (massive) show floor to see if I couldn't flirt my way into some free samples.

Toy Fair: The Loot

Uglydolls wasn't handing out any items, but they were giving away tote bags by the armload- I kept one & sent one to my sister.

Perplexus were staffed by some super nice people, and after I asked them about ten thousand questions they handed me a free maze toy to take home "for being so nice." You guys? It's totally worth the dollars if you're a puzzle person. I bring it to the laundromat with me, & it's a real conversation starter.

Catan was selling their floor samples for half off, so I got an expansion that I probably would have never bought for full price. I haven't played it yet, but I'm pretty excited to.

Squishables gave me a small stuffed animal for $10. I'm not really sure why I bought it since I just got rid of a ton of plushies, but it's just so much fun to hug! Srsly.

The pens were given to me for free but not because I'm special- I think Sanrio brought enough pens with them to supply a small army (of gays?). The card game was acquired similarly, although once I let on that I was kind of a game nerd they pressed a few extra copies into my hands to distribute amongst my friends.


The following shows I have worked haven't really been quite as much fun, but the front desk keeps me interested and perky all day. Also, 70% of the people who work at CTI are actors/artists of a kind, so I've been getting some good tips.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New Year, New Mantra: Check-in #1

Castoffs from the Costume Shop

As written about previously, my New Year's Mantra has been "I can do it with what I already have." This was partially motivated by the realization that I am going to be broke as hell for the next year or so, and partially motivated by the fact that I am sick to death of being surrounded by extraneous crap. Let's see how I did these first two months of the year, shall we?

I succumbed to:

A Sweater from AllSaints: I shop their sale every winter, because it's the only damn time I can afford anything from their store. I will admit to having bought this simply to have something, and I feel badly about it in a way that I wouldn't let anybody else make me feel.

Alcohol: You guys, drinking in cute bars with friends? It's really fun. So is sitting on the floor in the living room and downing G & Ts. I don't mean to make it sound like I have some kind of problem, but seriously. Being in the city has really showed me how much fun social drinking can be.

Stuff from the Toy Fair: I did manage to flirt my way into a few free things, but they were selling Catan expansions at 50% off! I saved $20 (on something I probably wouldn't have bought if it wasn't on sale...)

Stuff from H & M: Ohhhh boy. The store in Times Square is HUGE, and all the stuff is just so darn cute, and - and - and -.... Yeah, there's really no excuse. I think I need to stay out of clothing stores for a little while.

I resisted:

Patton Oswalt's New Book: I'm sure it's hilarious, but I just can't cough up $25 for a book I'll read once. I'll put myself on the NYPL list for it (I'm spot #12), and when I get it for free in a year I'll enjoy it just as much as I'm enjoying reading his blog in the mean time now.

A Desk: I'm one of those people who needs a desk to feel sane, but I didn't want to have to drag one up and down the stairs in my new apartment building. The solution? A board on two (admittedly, Ikea) sawhorses.

Television: When we set up our new apartment, Schmem & I made a unilateral decision not to get cable. It's only saving us a few dollars a month, and I really wished I had it when the shit was going down in Egypt, but overall I don't really feel like I'm missing that much. I've never been a big TV watcher though, so that hardly counts as resisting.


Guys? I didn't do so well. When I first moved in I thought that I was just spending the necessary money to move, but now I've moved out of that grace period. If I find I'm not capable of controlling myself in stores, I'll try to avoid going in at all.

I will say that I find art and food to be the things worth spending money on right now. I finally live in the city I've spent the past four years running back and forth to for entertainment, and I'll be a sonofabitch if I don't take full advantage of it. But a little bit less with the clothing accumulation, especially since I'm about to run out of places to put it.