Friday, August 18, 2006

Where was I?

Okay. I've stared at the title bar for the post far too long. This blog, like my life of late, has become choked into stasis. So instead of digging up a few linkworthy things or whipping out some quotable screed, I'm just going to spill.

I've been wondering what the hell I'm doing here ever since I took a blurry cab-ride from Penn Station to NYTW back in late April. I imagine everyone has some requisite "centering" amenity that they can't live without: cigarettes, perhaps, but Jesus seems to work for some people, too. I don't know. I'm at an age where the sexy calculus of the artist's life is starting to break down. Not to despair, necessarily, but maybe some despair would help unhinge my m.o. and force me to make bigger/better choices.

Because I'd like to think that my career-to-date has been the result of some self-driven master plan, but it hasn't. Even and especially this latest chapter in NYC: I am a creature of circumstance. I didn't even get the comforting finality of rejection -- that moment every actor learns to repress or burn off or re-contextualize into an acceptable, educating Event. I did that. And then I was de-rejected. Or something. So my "achievement" wasn't this show, it was my ability to adapt to the caprice of other professionals ... the ones who control who gets work and when and why.

But I don't feel like I've adapted, either. I've lived in some flavor of vagrancy for the better part of two years ... letting my finances play catch-up to the demands of my career which, ironically, doesn't even begin to yield basic solvency (never mind vacation, travel, wealth, organic groceries, dental checkups, etc.). And because I'm in this scrambled holding position now, I don't have the patience, focus or peace of mind to do anything apart from compulsive list-making. I tease out trends and chapters while I wait for the rudiments of a healthy life to take hold. Yes, it is the very portrait of a flustered ego clinging to whatever metric it can find to make sense of things.

To that end, here are some autobiographical fun-facts for 2001-2006:
  • 8.5 . The number of addresses I have had in the DC metro region. I was hours away from signing a lease for the 9.5th when I got the call to come north. I say "8.5" because one of those addresses (4618 15th st. NW) was really just a basement closet of a room that I hastily switched to so I could sublet my adorable Wisc. Ave. studio and thereby afford to vanish to Juneau last summer. To say I lived there would be an embellishment. I remember occasionally crashing there for one or two REM cycles. But I never bought groceries there or nailed anything to the wall.
  • 6. The number of addresses I have had in the NYC metro region since arriving here on April 25th. Needless to say, I haven't bought groceries or nailed anything to the wall at any of those places, either. I find my savings drained by the repeated purchase of commonplace items like nail clippers, umbrellas, coffee, laundry detergent, etc. All the things you'd normally have on hand at home.
  • 126. The number of times I have performed columbinus. This includes the 2003 Kennedy Center workshop, the 2004 Littleton workshop, the Round House production, the Perseverance production, the Seattle, Anchorage, and Valdez performances, the NYTW backer's presentation last fall, and the most recent run this past spring. Please forgive me, but that tally led me to wonder ...
  • $9,000. Total compensation for the above. Before taxes and union dues. And just to put that in perspective ...
  • $12,775. The amount of money I spent on cigarettes between 1999 and 2006. I need this number to help quell the pangs of self-righteousness that usually perk up after excessive contemplation of the preceding number.
I know this is a silly exercise but the stat-hunting isn't totally depressing. It's not especially illuminating, either. It's like playing anagrams while serving jury duty. I think. Any rational person would look at that list and say, "Quit smoking." Or maybe, "Quite smoking before you bitch about your salary." And they would be right. But I like this because it gives me an "act-able" choice: Is theatre harder to quit than smoking? Hmmm. They both bleed you dry. They both take years off your life. And two open wounds are worse than one.

And, yes, I take that as a legitimate dilemma. Because the past five years have also been marked by the occasional announcement that someone I know and love and admired has quit the business. Usually for reasons more compelling than: "It really gets in the way of my smoking." But still.

The other day I was walking up 6th Ave. on my way to an audition when a 4ft long cast-iron rod thundered to the ground two feet in front of me. The crowd parted to look up. I was on the phone getting more precise directions from my manager Laurie at the time. Our coversation ...

KM: Okay, so ... the address you gave me seems to be a light fixture store.
LM: No, I know it looks like that but there should be an office entrance nearby with the same address.
KM: Um, I ... oh. Okay, I think I see it.
LM: You see it?
KM: Yeah. Sorry about that.
LM: No problem.
KM: Okay, yes. Definitely. I'm walking there now.
LM: Great, so you're ...


LM: ... almost there?
LM: Whoa. Are you alright?
LM: You're okay?
LM: What happened?
LM: Window washers?
LM: Construction crew?
LM: Are you going to be alright?
LM: Okay, take care of yourself.
LM: What?

Now, it's hard to be fatalistic about these things because ... well ... in my experience, Fate ran out of lessons a long time ago. I've had near-death experiences before. I'm an extremely clumsy person as it is -- toasting bread is a near-death experience. So I feel no need to gussy up the whole episode as some sort of maybe-it-was-a-sign moment. Fate has been syndicated. I don't worry about fate. I have plenty of things to worry about. Gravity, for example. I guess I'll get to the rest of New York later.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Small World Story: Part One - Kit Marlowe

For the past three weeks, I've been house-sitting for David Grimm. Sound familiar? The DC reading audience should remember his name from a curious little spat at Studio Theatre in November 2001 when Mr. Grimm hopped down the coast to catch Second Stage's production of his play, Kit Marlowe.

A brief history. Kit Marlowe was my very first professional job. After a long audition process that involved no less than four rounds of callbacks, director Mike Chamberlain gave me the part of Henry Percy -- a small, two-scene role with perhaps four lines. John Cohn was Kit, Carlos Bustamante was Thomas Walsingham. I also met Tim Getman, Dan Via and Hugh Owen through this production. We often speak of this show with the kind of boyish pride normally reserved for bar-fight scars.

Kit Marlowe remains memorable for other reasons. There was the night the set caught on fire, for example. Looking back, most of the cast-mates agree: the production would have met a more dignified end had it simply burnt to the ground that night. No one would have been hurt, and the building would have been instantly razed for the $3million condos that have been built over Studio's Church Street space since then.

But instead, we were shut down by lawyers and publicists. Mr. Grimm left at intermission (before my scene!) and somewhere around Thanksgiving, I got a call from Studio asking if I was available to hop back in to a Grimm-approved version of the show.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, for anyone unfamiliar with the play, Kit Marlowe chronicles the rise and fall of the playwright Kit Marlowe -- using a style and structure that could be described best as ... yes ... Marlovian. Our director made several modifications to the script -- modifications that probably would be celebrated or at least encouraged if the playwright were dead. I think Grimm's scrupulous formalism triggered the "re-imagining" lobe in Mr. Chamberlain's brain. So we had characters that were split into separate parts. We had a collision of modern and Elizabethan dress. We had one character speaking Spanish (even though he was an Englishman in France). We had excessive fight choreography that spilled on top of dialogue. We had a wonderful mess: critical failure and commercial success.

When Grimm had the production shut down, most of the actors were relieved. As a novice, I just assumed that this was the way things worked in professional theatre. You know ... actors getting respiratory infection from dank, dusty performance spaces ... playwrights issuing cease and desist orders ... spontaneous set fires ... all that. I had a great time.

Fast forward to 2006. I meet David through cast-mate Nicole Lowrance. I needed a place to stay rent-free and David needed someone to feed his cats while he was off at Sundance developing Steve & Idi. So before he took off for Utah, we got to sit down and patch together the Kit-tastrophe.

I guess I mention all this because it's a handy historical marker for me. Absent a permanent home or job in NYC, I cling to anything that gives me a sense of when/where I am. So reminiscing about Kit Marlowe (my intro to DC theatre) with the playwright (shortly after my intro to NYC theatre) gave me some much-needed perspective on where I am and what I've done with my life these past five years. A neat, little chapterizing bow, I guess.

I have another story about Small World playwright encounters, which I'll share tomorrow. It's less rueful and more embarrassing than this one.