MEDDLING

This evening was my final performance in Human History at the LA Sci-Fest. Our curtain was held til 8:20 because there were people lined up around the block, hoping to enter. I received my honorarium of $44 for the run…I MAY have broken even on gas, since its a 40 mile roundtrip for me. But that is hardly the point.

I got to meet, work with and enjoy the company of many talented artists. I got to perform theater in the genre of science fiction, which was my childhood companion. I began reading at three; by six I was inhaling Heinlein, Asimov, Pohl, Bradbury and many others. This run was a memorable experience, I had a Tom-Terrific time with this ensemble! It does reminds me of a hoary old chestnut that goes like this:

Jesse James stopped the stagecoach and shouted, “I’m gonna rob all the women and rape all the men!” One of his henchmen tentatively offered “Now Jesse, don’t you mean…?” Then came a reedy male voice from inside the coach. “Y’all leave Mr. Jesse alone. He know what he doin’…'”

AEA leadership, y’all leave LA theater alone. We know what we doin’…and we know why we doin’ it.11330038_10152814901661128_2937272173036036226_n

 

 

 

I have a confession. A week ago I overheard a putdown in our green room of such meter and magisterial contempt that I was smitten…enough so to self-indulgently slip it into ONE performance; an ad lib response to a whiny excuse. (Don’t try this at home, kids.)

GAZE UPON THE FIELD IN WHICH I GROW MY FUCKS…

AND SEE THAT IT IS BARREN.

Ahhhhh: The exhalation of relief as a 48 hour linguistic steeplechase comes to an end. Wednesday evening, my final performance as the futuristic Ziltraxian History Professor Grok, yesterday as Rakal, a charming murderous African warlord and this afternoon. the audio narration of copy involving both English and Vietnamese. Tornorrows Catholic Priest should be a comparative walk in the park…and no, there will be no Irish brogue!

Each of these characters have distinctly different cadences, different rhythms and inflections so I prepared them.. .and then walked away from them until show time. Todays narration was probably the toughest because of the reverence and importance of this tribute but also because the tonic qualities of Vietnamese sometimes demand a rising inflection that happens at the end of a sentence. I didn’t want to sound like a Valley Girl…nor did I want listeners to wonder, “Did he just say Puter Smath?” I’m sure authentic bilinguals pull this off without raising a sweat but I felt challenged. I’ll look forward to sharing the results.

While many of you know that I’ve long been medicated with an anti-depressant for PTSD, what you don’t know is what is required to bring my calmed self up to performance energy. The effort is tiring but hardly physically; when I’m tired its generally mental fatigue. That can make me difficult to be around “civilians” after a long day of work, so socially I’ve been bailing a lot, lately. Not a humble brag, I know we all have our own challenges to overcome….but I’m happy this run is coming to an end.

LA SMALL THEATER

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I moved to LA in ’91, after twenty years of NY life. I got my Equity card in 1972 after an open call at the Public Theater, did six shows for Joe Papp over the years. I’ve worked three Broadway contracts, numerous regional and Off-Broadway productions and with Grace Zabriskie, was among the first American actors ever to perform on stage in Romania. (Don’t Blame The Bedouins) I regard myself as a theater actor; I consider it the only true actors medium.

When I arrived in LA, my initial thoughts were, “How foolish! So many tiny theaters in this huge city; they can never be commercially viable.” And most weren’t…but that didn’t stop countless productions from coming into being. And over time, I came to realize that LA theater was less about finance and more about creativity. In recent years, I’ve had the good fortune to perform in two separate productions of The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy, first for Rogue Machine and later for The Rubicon Theatre, for which I received an Ovation nomination. This work was the pinnacle of my theatrical career; it was the most demanding and the most rewarding.

The Rubicon can seat around 184 but was configured to less than 150 for our production. It is a lovely space; thrust stage, comparatively intimate. The space at Rogue Machine, our smaller theater, seated perhaps 55 people. Our audience shared the confined cheek by jowl reality with Ron Bottitta and I. We were all imprisoned for 95 minutes, without intermission.

That intimacy led to singular theater for all that came during our six month run. Under John Flynn’s direction, Ron and I did exceptional work…but the audiences, many of whom returned over and over, shared with us how very unforgettable that evening was for them. You just can’t create work like that in a house seating 150, 250, 500, etc. It might make money but the experience would be far less memorable. Ours was like attending a salon in someones private home. BTW, towards the end of our run, having reached certain performance milestones, Ron and I were taking home weekly checks far in excess of anyones minimum wage. Small Engine Repair by John Pollono performed on our set with modest changes, following our show. It too was a huge success; it has gone on to a successful NY run and will enjoy regional productions in years to come.

As much as anything, this expresses my respect and appreciation for what small theater here in LA can offer to our artistic community. If you’re about money, then perhaps AEA has a point. If you’re about creativity, then our leaders do not know or understand why so many of us have been drawn to this profession. We aspire to be artists.

AEA Leadership: Lead, follow or get the fuck out of the way.

UNIONS

I’ve been a union man since 1971. Aftra…then AEA…then SAG. I enjoy three pensions today, 43 years vested. I worked along longshoremen in San Pedro during the SAG strike in 1980. The ILWU recognized our struggle and invited SAG members to shape up in the mornings, much as it was depicted in On The Waterfront. I did it for two weeks. It was dangerous work…but colorful. Then an Aftra soap opera brought me back home to NY.

I’m a union man. And I was a successful middle class actor. The same economic mentality that has savaged the American middle class, also made the middle class actor’s existence ever more challenging. So for a lot of us, we owe a debt of gratitude to our unions. They made our lives possible.labor