Wednesday, January 16, 2013

my top 10 professional theater experiences

so i've been sorting through the past 8 or so years of theater moments in my mind, and i thought it would be a fun little walk down memory lane for me to go through and choose my favorite 10 experiences from my career on stage.  there is no science to these choices....i just went through everything i had done (from workshops to dc fringe shows from education programs to main stage full blown productions) and put my favorite 10 in numerical order.  so, without further ado...i give you tonight's Top Ten list.

#10:  Detective McDevitt/History on Foot with Ford's Theatre
(2011 & 2012)

i started this exciting program a little over a year ago with the ford's education department, and i have to admit that after i learned the 31 pages of information and script, i have grown to really love it.  the program is also coupled with a classroom version that i do via skype to classrooms around the country in a small studio in front of a green screen at the ford's administrative offices...and i love it as much as the walking tour.  the tour tells the story of the conspirators involved in the lincoln assassination, and traces the steps of where they all were and what was going on in washington that night.   (it is also a program that, although i am technically "retired" from theater, i will be continuing to do in the immediate future because i love and the people i work with in the ford's education department.)

  #9:  Grease at Olney Theatre Center
(fall 2011)

i've never been a huge fan of the movie or stage show 'grease'.  sure i like the music, but ultimately, it's a really terrible show with a really terrible message that says lose your standards and morals to be cool.  but who the summer of 2011, my good friend bobby smith, famed actor and director, asked me if i would come up to olney theatre center and play the role of vince fontaine in the production he was directing.   and boy am i glad i did for a few reasons - none of which were my awesome wig or suit.  first off, the company of actors was the most energetic and fun group i have worked with probably ever.  like just thinking about how high energy they were makes me tired right now.  second, i got to spend a lot of time with the ever-delightful delores king williams, who played the other "adult authority figure" in the show.  and finally, i was on stage for a total of like 12 minutes.  literally.  10 minutes right at the top of act 2...and then another 2 minutes at the very very end of the show.  the rest of the time i sat in my special red chair in the green room and watched tv, read books and magazines, laughed with gannon o'brien and just hung out.  it was, for all intents and purposes, the greatest and easiest contract i have ever worked...and i was thrilled to be a part of the experience.

#8: Orphie and the Book of Heroes Reading - Kennedy Center

last fall, i got a call from the kennedy center theater for young audiences office, asking me if i could be a last minute replacement in their reading of a new musical at their annual page to stage festival.   after hearing about the show and the cast (comprised of people i really love working with), i said sure.  and it. was. awesome.  the show is a new musical for young audiences called 'orphie and the book of hereos' about a young girl in ancient greece looking for a girl hero among all the male heroes.  i got to play a mean boy, a siren, and a pegasus flight attendant.  type-casting!  the book and music were written by michael kooman and chris dimond, and it is one of the sweetest, funniest, thoughtful shows for children that i have ever seen or heard.  the process of our reading for the festival was only a few days...but the audience loved it, and i think that it is going to be making an appearance in a sooner-than-later season at the kennedy center - and when it does, run do not walk to see it.  i still hear some of the songs in my mind at random times...and it reminds me how grateful i was to be a last-minute replacement in a reading of a piece that has a long life ahead of it!

#7:  Liberty Smith at Ford's Theatre

in 2008, i was another 'last minute' replacement in a workshop/reading of a show that ford's theatre was developing called 'liberty smith'.  it was a show that was basically forrest gump meets the american revolution meets disney animated musicals land....and i loved EVERY minute of that workshop.   so imagine my joy when after the reading, ford's decided to do a full blown production of the show in the spring of 2011 - and extended an invitation to some from the workshop to be in the world premiere!  i accepted quickly and had the time of my life through that experience...thanks in part to the show, and in part to the fantastic cast of friends i got to spend february - may of 2011 with.   it was another show where i played a plethora of fun characters...with a number of quick costume, wig and shoe changes, all while singing my face off and dancing my feet off.  it was my first time on the ford's stage, and it was about as big a show as i had ever been in up to that point....all because i decided to 'dare but to dream'....

#6:  Willy Wonka: The Musical - National Tour with the Kennedy Center

so this was the event that got a career in theater started for me.  augustus gloop on the kennedy center's national tour of willy wonka.  we played/visited 47 states from the time we left in august 2005 until the time we returned in may 2007 (with breaks in between here and there.)  it was such an adventure!  exploring states and cities i never thought i would get to.  taking the show to large coliseums and to small podunk theaters in the middle of nowhere.  spending nearly 2 years as part of a rock star company to 3rd-6th graders across this great nation of ours.  and to top it all off, driving every inch of the tour in a 15 passenger white van.   there was lots of laughter....some tears...tons of music...lots of cheesecake...endless hotel stays....a wheelchair....a power outage in the middle of the show....friends from coast to coast...and enough happy memories for 2 full lifetimes!   couple all of that with the chance to form friendships with people who today are some of my favorite people of all time, and i would say that all in all, it was a fantastic experience that changed my life.  and it made me hate kit kats.

#5:  Super Claudio Brothers: A Video Game Musical - DC Fringe Festival
sometimes the unknown projects turn out to be the best.  i was in a show in the 2009 dc fringe festival and thought it was such a great experience that i probably wouldn't do another fringe show in following years because nothing would compare.  then 2010 rolled around and i got approached about playing an EVIL PLATYPUS in a musical spoofing the super mario brothers nintendo games.  it was to be called 'super claudio brothers: a video game musical'....and it turned out to be smart, entertaining and funny as anything.  the company was made up of theater friends (a few wonka tour pals) and the show itself was so well written (by the fantastic marshall pailet and drew fornarola) that we couldn't help but have a blast doing it...first at the fringe festival and then on a 2 week extension after the fringe festival closed.   this is another show (like 'orphie' from above) that is going to have a life far beyond a little black box theater in washington if you see it turn up somewhere, run and see it...and imagine me as the evil platypus...who is really just misunderstood.

#4: Ford's Theatre Annual Gala 2011 & 2012

so i've done a few different galas in my day, but there is nothing quite like being in the cast of the ford's theatre annual gala.  for the "work" of singing harmony on a few show tunes and old standards, you get rewarded with some of the most amazing experiences you can have in washington dc - like a private reception in the capitol building, where you pretty much have free range to wander and see everything you want to see, rub shoulders with stars of stage, screen and american politics, and a black tie dinner in the atrium at the portrait gallery to celebrate after the show.  my highlights were definitely meeting and getting a picture with the incomparable julie andrews (who was an honoree) in 2011 and hanging out with and getting pictures with the civil wars (who were part of the entertainment) in 2012.   such a blessing and event full of some of my happiest memories with some of my favorite friends in all of dc theater!

#3:  Willy Wonka Tour performs in the East Room of the White House

what more can you really say?  our tour was invited to perform on the first monday in december in 2006 in the east room of the white house - a performance to help kick off the holiday season.  every year, the white house invites a group of children (in 2006 it was children who have a parent or two serving in the middle east) to enjoy a performance in the east room.  there have been bands and ballet companies and broadway shows...but we were the first children's musical to perform.   we got to see much of the main level of the house - the east wing, the east room, the red room, blue room, and green room, all decked out in white house holiday glory - we got to meet the president and first lady, who were absolutely lovely to us - and we got the excitement of being flown home from our tour (which was in sacramento, ca at the time), put up in a hotel here in dc, and then flown back out (to seattle, wa) to meet up with our show again before we had performances.  there are no words to describe the experience - but magical and unbelievable come pretty close!

#2:  The Rise and Fall of Annie Hall at Theater J

i have done my fair share of new pieces and works in my 8+ years of theater...some have been really great pieces (highlighted above) and some....well, let's just say some have NOT been so successful.  in 2009, i got the distinguished honor to work on a new play with a small company of actors that holds the place in my heart and mind as my most favorite experience ever from beginning to end.  from a director with a clear, concise vision (my friend, shirley serotsky) to a cast of people who probably had way too much fun together, we took part in a show that holds a special place in my heart because it challenged me in a lot of ways.  (the least of which was having to play a stoner - and having to learn how to smoke fake pot in a number of different apparatuses.  oh the day we had 'pot school'....i will never forget.  such a delight.)  it was a show that struck a chord with me about friendship and ambition and forgiveness...and it is one of the times in my career that i can say i felt like an active participant in this "process" from the very beginning to the very end.  i will forever be thankful for my experience with this show.

#1:  2012 - Shows With Eggs That Hatch

all of my other experiences listed here are single experiences with a show...but my #1 favorite experience in theater has been the entire year 2012.  first of all, it was the year that i realized my priorities have shifted, and i decided to take a bow out of this business...and i think the ability to realize that is worthy of noting.  but beyond that, 2012 is the year that i a) did 2 of my most favorite shows; and b) did 2 shows that both discuss/deal with eggs that hatch.  one literally, one metaphorically.   and what shows they were!   1776 at ford's theatre has been one of my most favorite shows for a long, long time.  i love american history - i am ridiculously patriotic - and i just love the book of this fantastic musical.  i had the chance to play lewis morris from new york - and for 2 months, i had the joy of abstaining, courteously from our vote for independence.  it was another cast made up of good friends, and it was a strong cast of male actors, and it was a breathtakingly beautiful production from top to bottom.  i loved that experience of "hatching" a new nation every night!  and then fast forward to the end of 2012, where i took to the stage as horton the elephant in seussical the musical at imagination stage in bethesda.  i rarely say i am perfect for a role or a show - but if you know me and you know this show, it really is a role that was seemingly made just for me.  and the joy of sharing that story - with a company of new friends - was such a great way to round out the year and this journey for me.  lots of laughter - a few tears - and so many hugs for delighted children after each and every show!  

oh the thinks i have thought over the past 8 years!!!


honorable mention:   
doing a les miserables number for a campbell's soup convention in town - 2010
(not so much a highlight...more just down right hysterical.)

precious memories with bayla whitten.  TO THE BUSES!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

a final bow....for now...

8 1/2 years ago, i fell into what i thought was a dream:  the opportunity to make a living as a stage performer.  doing theater and getting paid...two things that, up until that point, had never been spoken in the same sentence in my life.   after a bit of careful consideration, i decided that it was something i simply had to do.  so i quit my "real" job, packed some bags and set out on the adventure of what would soon be known in my life as "living the dream"....or as a few of my friends like to call it, being LTD.

and what a dream it has been!  for a kid from idaho, who never really thought he would ever get to do anything like this in his life, there have been so many wonderful moments and memories throughout it all.  from an almost 2 year national tour of a musical to performing at the white house for the president and first lady, from performing on the stages at the kennedy center for the performing arts to performing my most favorite musical, "1776", on one of the most famous stages in american history, ford's theatre, i have found a way over the past 8 1/2 years to make a living by getting paid to do theater.  isn't that ridiculously awesome? 

with that quest to 'live the dream' came some challenges and "consequences", as well.  (many of which make sense, but i didn't really think about when i jumped in head first.)   because being an actor is oft times very "short term" employment (many contracts run anywhere from 2-5 months, normally), you are always on the look out for the next gig and the next gig and then the next gig.  (can you imagine if office jobs were like that?  only 2 or 3 months long ever?  and you just had to keep lining them up?  awful.)  also, because you are an actor who wants to work, that means you have to take jobs when they come.   it doesn't matter if they coincide with holidays and vacations and family events.  for the most part, you take the jobs and you keep getting jobs because you are available and present and work hard.  and no matter how much you work, chances are high that the money isn't that you probably will have a 2nd (and 3rd or 4th) job to make ends meet...and to fill in the spaces when you can't find that "next gig" for awhile.  but these are all things that you learn to accept because in the end, you want the chance to tell the stories or sing the songs or wear the costumes or be in the spotlight...or a combination of them all.

i have accepted these "conditions" of the job and have apologized over the years for missing holidays and gatherings and trips and events...and the people in my life have been wonderful and understanding and very supportive at every turn.  i really have been blessed through it all with an amazing foundation of support from people who i have always felt were cheering me on and rooting for my success.

2012 was a year of record for me for a couple of is that i got the chance to do 2 shows that i really, truly love and have been dying to do ("1776" and "Seussical"), and the other is that after it's all said and done and the costumes are put away and the lights are turned off, i have decided to put this adventure of "living the dream" away for awhile (may be a year, or 5 or 12) and focus on the parts of my life that have been patiently waiting in the wings.

i think this all came about because 2012 was definitely a year of change within my family.  my oldest niece got married - my 3 oldest nephews all graduated from high school - and a majority of my nieces and nephews (14 in all) suddenly were young adults with full, active lives and taking part in events (mainly the sporting type) that i was missing clear across the country.   what made it tough was having commitments to shows in washington dc and not being able to make a quick trip home for a graduation or a wedding (or my 20 year high school reunion.)(that's right.  20 years.)   if they lived down the road it would be one thing - i'd get an understudy to go on so i could go to a wedding or watch a graduation.  but when they live 2,300 miles away, it's more than just a day out of the show, and there are always hefty travel fees involved.  you're looking at being gone numerous days, and having to choose one niece or nephew's event over another since you couldn't possibly do all three or four AND still keep your job/show.

these decisions to miss life moments started weighing heavy on me earlier last year, and i started to re-evaluate what i am doing and what is keeping me away from the people who have known me the longest and loved me the best.  what i decided was this:  20 years from now, those kids aren't going to care if i did 'shlemiel the first' or '1776' or 'shear madness' in a theater in washington dc...but they will probably say that it kind of sucks that i'm not in their wedding albums or in the photos of their graduations.  they will barely remember the name of the character i played on the 'willy wonka' tour, but they will remember that i never actually was able to take the time to watch them play in their state basketball tournaments or in their sophomore volleyball tournaments.

none of this is to say that there isn't something to the fact that i (an uncle, a brother, a son, a friend) took a risk in stepping into the unknown to follow this dream of mine...and came up somewhat successful in many ways.  there are lessons i'd love for my family and friends to take away from what i have done - to take more chances, to follow your heart, to get up after you face plant in the middle of the stage in front of a sold-out house and go on with the musical number, to find something you love and find a way to do it every day.   i am proud to say that i went on this incredible journey of being a professional actor, and i found my way through it a lot on my own at first...just through trial and error...and then with the guidance of the wonderful friends i have gained through it all.  in the end, it has been an exciting, thrilling, humbling, scary, joyful, rewarding and marvelous experience.

what it boils down to is that in 2012, as i got another year older, my priorities they are known to do.  i realized that what was important and necessary for me 8 1/2 years ago has changed today.   that's not to say i want to abandon my theater connections all together - i will keep my membership in my union, i will continue working with the ford's theatre education department on the programs that i do with them (more on those another time), i will seek out opportunities to do readings and workshops and to choreograph and maybe direct.   but what i will try to not do is be in a situation where i have to miss more of the life events that are happening in my family.

as i took a final bow today on stage during our final performance of "seussical the musical" i was hit with a wave of for the past 8 1/2 years and for the highs and lows that i have had in my theater career, appreciation for the people this adventure has brought into my life and whom i consider some of my dearest friends, love for the support i have received from friends and family across the miles and over the years as i lived this life on stage, and excitement for what the ending of this adventure means...and for the beginning of the next chapter of my life.

there is more to come in future entries on what is next - but know that it involves more time popping out of boxes, cheering at ballgames, visiting friends, seeing the world, watching more theater...and on and on and on.   there will always be stages to perform on...and i have not ruled out the possibility that somewhere down the road i might want to be back on one...but for now, i'm excited to see what 2013 has in store for me and my family and friends...and to be an active participant in all that this new year has in store!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

my simple plan in 2013

blogging in 2012 did NOT go as i had planned.  i had grand visions of what i was going to accomplish last you can see from my splattering of posts through january 2012 and maybe a couple in february 2012.  and then there was silence...which is pretty hysterical if you go back and read about all of the projects that i was launching last year on my quest for happiness.  it was going to be a grand march to the throne of joy!  if they gave points for good intentions, i think i'd be winning.

sadly, it turns out points are not awarded in the intentions category.  i wouldn't exactly say i'm losing because of it, but still, 2012 is littered with the things i didn't do:

-blog through the year.  making it to february 15 isn't even really a valiant effort.
-finish my 3 random magazines a month challenge.  it started out strong...but it petered out in may.
-finish my 'picture a day for a year' project.  the best showing of my failed projects...i made it to mid-august.  but still missed the last third of the year.
-attend my oldest niece's wedding.  i hate using the excuse of work...but work.
-attend my 3 oldest nephew's graduations.  more work.
-attend my 20 year high school reunion.  stupid work.
-work at the london olympics.  SURE it was somewhat of a pipe dream...but so was vancouver 2010, and i was there.
-travel much...if at all.  i mean, a quick trip to nyc or philly...or the virginia suburubs doesn't really count.

don't get me wrong - there were a lot of wonderful things that went right in 2012.  all i'm saying is that the grand plans i had last year at this time were interrupted by life marching by.

so in 2013, i'm not going to make a lot of grand plans.  they don't appear to do me much good.  here is my very loose and general plan:  i want to continue to focus on being happy...i want to write more....and i want to find what is the next "thing" for me.  (in the next week or so, i will write more about this, as i take a huge step away from my 8 year career as a professional actor and start on a road to...something...else.)

i still find a lot of joy in i'll set aside the gimmicks and failures of 2012 and hopefully get back to the basics of just writing my thoughts and observations and experiences.  i don't even really need anyone to read them...i just want to do it for me.

i can't wait to see how far i get!