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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Kind of Portfolio

Fellow humans, I have been charged with the task of creating a portfolio.

I love doing things. I love writing, improvising, clowning, taking pictures. I am self-critical, but I enjoy sharing as well as being shared with. That usually wins out.

Patches in the road thus far:


WRITING

• a piece for Wanderlust online journal about diversity in yoga

• a piece for Wanderlust online journal about hiking up Mount Fuji

• a blog entry about performing at Mixed Blood Theatre

• a transcription of freewriting from an audition for Sandbox Theater


PHOTOGRAPHY

My Flickr album for Stubborn Photography


VIDEO

While I was in Japan performing on Kinoshita Circus, I helped a friend of mine by filming videos illustrating some physics principles for her high school classes.

Newton's Second Law

collisions


PERFORMANCE

• solo improv, Where I Am Now: Loose String

• solo improv, Where I Am Now: Oil Painting

• clowning at Four Humors Theater's Firsty Thursdays: "Passing Through"


SPEAKING

• excerpt from The Pratfalls Podcast: "Buckaroo Banzai"

• excerpt from The Pratfalls Podcast: "Being (sm)arty"



Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dad Hands

When I was talking to her, I had to stop and think about it: are my dad's hands still larger than mine? I looked at her tiny hand laid against mine, palm to palm. I was sure the difference wouldn't be as dramatic, but his are surely still larger than mine. They must be — he's my dad.

It had been a while since the last visit. I live in Minneapolis, just over three hours up the road from West Des Moines. It's not that far, but when you work weekends as well as weekdays and get no paid time off, it complicates things. When you're an actor juggling multiple jobs, it makes the concept of vacation time even more unlikely. At ten months and counting, home felt too close for it to have been as long as it had been.

I wasn't smooth about asking and with Dad I didn't have to be. I told Dad how tiny her hands are and how it made me wonder. Being the person he is, knowing his adult children to be bigger, more experienced versions of the tiny humans he helped create and raise, he obliged.

I had expected there to be a huge difference.

Because of my frame, my hand was not as thick. The fingers were more slender. My skin was lighter than his, but the differences were small. End to end, heel to finger tip, my hand was the same size. It was odd. And it was a testament to the fact that I am indeed an adult.

By my age, my father had a fourth child on the way. Even when I stopped being short and could look my dad in the eye, he seemed to tower over me. Even now, when I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the man who taught me to shake hands — and hug — like you mean it, I feel I will never be as big a man as he.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Sunday Callback Freewrites (with prompts)

I had an amazing callback audition on Sunday. Part of the process involved freewriting and even though neither of them was incorporated in the final product (which we were proud of), I liked them enough to keep them. Sometimes you don't have to kill your darlings, but you set them aside for other uses.

THE SUN SHONE THROUGH THE CRACKS IN THE GYM CEILING LIKE LATTICEWORK IN AN ENGLISH GARDEN.
Weaving a pattern, a blanket of light. It was an odd blanket, but in that way that mystifies instead of scares. It was thin at one end and spread wider and wider, with room enough for anyone who could see it. Dust motes were not dirty, but living, warm and comforting, massaging each tiny hair that rose in goosebumps. I wasn't cold; I was energized.

GRAVELLY, DRY, DUSTY; THE ROAD TO HEAVEN IS PAVED WITH KNUCKLES, EARTH, PRESSURE, TIME
You hate the struggle — resent it. You learn to curse your tenacity and loathe your ambition. But you are so focused on the goal.
     "Keep your eyes on the prize."
     "Follow the drinking gourd," the ancestors say.
Why do you do this to yourself? Not cool, Robert Frost. "Road less traveled" my stubborn, Black ass. But if I quit, there's no way to succeed

Friday, October 9, 2015

Whatever Helps You Sleep At Night

Fresh off of arguing the inaccuracies of "the best actor for the role" and another in a never-ending chain of discussions about representation and questioning the idea of "default" and all of the entitlement that comes with it, Creatively Independent posted this essay on meritocracy and bias, merely by coincidence. Afterward, I reflected on a recent experience in which the veil was lifted on the notion of acting being nothing other than a meritocracy.

I recently auditioned for a commercial for an amusement park in the greater Twin Cities area that featured a father and a son. Maybe I was too animated for a television commercial. I'm more of a clown and physical actor, and without direction, sometimes I can play a bit too big for the camera, so that is a possible factor. Maybe I'm not fatherly enough or don't look old enough for people to buy that I was a father and I can buy that. Maybe my shoulder-length dreads would have made it too much of a problem-solving issue for hair and makeup to make it look like I was stuck upside down. It could have easily been for any one of those reasons I almost didn't get the callback in the first place. That happens all the time, but this audition was different. My agent clearly explained the client wanted to schedule a callback, but it might not happen because they didn't have any Black kids.

While not getting a callback or not getting a job is typical in the business, sometimes the reasons behind the outcome can also be more frustratingly, disturbingly typical than we want to accept. Even if I had not been the "best actor", I was nearly denied the chance to prove it on the field of battle as an equal, even after passing the first test. I also might have been the best actor and didn't get the job, but I won't ever know. I can always improve, but when the issue became the color of my skin and the existing reasons in society why I wouldn't have worked out, that's notably bigger than a one-man job.

By extension, it was also a statement on the composition of families in the United States of America. I almost didn't get a callback because mixed families apparently aren't a thing or obviously blended families due to remarriage isn't a thing or adoption isn't a thing. Having a kid that didn't obviously spring from the loins of this man wasn't a leap they wanted to make and because it's a business, was likely not a leap they were willing risk trusting or expecting their intended audience to make. You have to match because at least in matching, you don't have to ask the more conservative members of your audience to consider the idea of a "nontraditional" family as being valid and worthy of consideration. Remember: we live in a country where a Cheerios commercial depicting an interracial family was considered groundbreaking and controversial — in the second decade of the 21st Century.

If the world of theater truly were a meritocracy, colorblind casting might not be as much of a thing, and representation might not be as much of an issue. If acting were truly a meritocracy, one might have to look at how representation repeatedly shakes out on stages across the country and then admit that when one says "the best actor" one usually just means a white actor, and is at peace with all of the messiness holding and supporting such ideas might contain. Or maybe we just need to be more forthcoming about admitting the cultural factors that add up to the need to cling to the idea of a meritocracy to make us feel better.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

New Blood

I am in rehearsal and I am sitting in a chair in the main house of Mixed Blood. The theater is an old firehouse built in the late 19th Century.

There is remodeling and upgrading being done during the rehearsal period. There is another rehearsal happening upstairs. Today, more than the other days of this last week-and-a-half, it smells old in here.  I am not smelling paint fumes or the recently cut wood of the set and stage. I am smelling and looking at old wood. It is a scent that is comforting and grounding.

They say that the bell tower on the northeast corner is being restored and a bell will live there again. That is one of the coolest things I have heard all week and the thought excites me. I can see US Bank Stadium on the other side of the freeway to the west. I steal glances at the progress each time I go to the bathroom. It doesn't look completely horrible, but its existence is complicated and problematic.

The subject of this play — race, representation, and portrayal — is complicated and problematic.

An Octoroon is a play about race, but not in the comfortable way that is accepted in the current state of theater. It is not the sort of play that will have people nodding their heads congratulating themselves about How Far We Have Come. It has a wicked sense of humor that is tied to a storied history of laughing through examination of pain and airing of grievances. After laying this show in the laps of audiences night after night, there will be talkbacks. I have never heard of a show or a theater having talkbacks after every performance. This is an exciting idea to me.

The play we are rehearsing is based on a "tragic mulatto" melodrama from the late 19th Century. It is as much an adaptation as it is a sendup. Its point might be lost on some people. The audience may miss some of the points or come up with their own. It may very well escape them that a character that is known for being mischievous and lighthearted is being silent and still, calculating and focused, contemplative and evaluating and for very good reason. It often escapes people — even some "clowns" at times — that a clown is a real person and that real person has real reactions. Sometimes that person has had enough and drops the antics because the audience and the situation need it.
I did not think as a clown and improviser that I would be on this stage in this theater, let alone any such notable stage in the Twin Cities. But one day a friend called an audition post to my attention. My eyes glazed over in disbelief and I signed up for an audition slot. Three months later, I sit here in this old building among new people, having a new experience.

I still have trouble believing this is happening. And yet here I am: in this building with a history, doing a play with a history but mutated by the present, in a medium whose problematic and complicated history we challenge simply by continuing to engage in it. It's been frustrating to pass on project after project, a role here and a role there because of this show, but this feels great. It feels big, like something I should do right now. This is a new adventure.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

You Still Have Much To Learn

YOU STILL HAVE MUCH TO LEARN

If your belief
your memory
is dependent on a symbol
for its strength
then your memory
your belief
is a weak one indeed.

Followers of Christ
did without crosses
Tribes of Judea
did without stars

People on whose backs this country 
was built
the people whose lands
were stripped
(so we would eventually
have strip malls)
did without
a place for ceremony
a place to call home
and without the dignity
of being recognized
as equal humans
And if only you would look
(beyond maintaining
your own reflection)
you would notice
they still do

Your comfort then
commanded as much priority
over being decent people

as you demand it does now

This country
is not just yours.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

This Past First Year

One year and a week ago, I returned to the United States of America after touring Japan for two years with Kinoshita Circus. I was nervous and anxious. During the months leading up to my departure I was agonizing over numerous issues: I must be crazy to turn my back on such good pay. What if nobody remembers me? What if I have to start all over in acting and improv? What if I never clown again after this? I don't want to be a has-been or a never-was. What will I do for work? Will opportunities even materialize?

I had one extremely part-time job to return to, a website to scour for auditions, and a pair of friends who offered their spare room as lodging. Oh yes — and I also had a car to buy. Ten days before I returned stateside, I received a panicked call and email from my younger sister: a tree branch fell on my car and totaled it. I had been on the verge of owning it outright — one [big] payment shy for which I had the money in my account. I had been waiting strictly on ceremony.  In spite of these fears and that last big financial bump in the road, I had a list of goals to pursue upon my return.

This last year has yielded more than I can imagine.

I should rephrase that, for as Han Solo said: ". . . I can imagine quite a bit."

This last year, more of my goals were realized or set on track than I had expected.

I was in a show in the MN Fringe Festival. I got to participate in something clown related with my girlfriend for the first time. I attended a couple of general auditions for the first time. I auditioned for and was in a show produced by Live Action Set. After many years, there was a remounting of "A Klingon Christmas Carol" and I auditioned for and was cast in it. I had my first leading role in a show. I performed solo improvisation again. I taught some workshops, including one for current Ringling clowns. I took workshops. I started freelance writing on an occasional basis. I started feeling like I actually knew what I was doing, that I knew what I was talking about, and that people would listen to me. I had people approach me to include me in projects. I started delving into improv coaching. I returned to the Science Museum of MN. I was accepted into two improvisation festivals.

There were plenty of bonus features to boot. I was cast in an episode of a locally produced show (that has yet to air — on cable!). I got to sit in a makeup chair and be worked on by a professional effects makeup artist (I'm still wetting my pants over that one). I performed in the Chicago Avenue Theater Project. I attended my first comic convention. I was in a show at a major theater in the Twin Cities. I had the chance to audition for The Tortuga Twins and made it. I got to work with Sandbox Theater company. I got to hear people say that they had heard about me from other people. I became part of another show for this summer's MN Fringe. I was part of Dangerous Productions's parkour project. I became involved with coaching and judging high school speech individual events.

I learned a new level of how I cannot do all of the things and did my best to hold fast while I was riding the edge of burnout. I started re-learning to say no because I was so busy, but I also became better at taking the good kind of risks. Along the way I missed friends' birthdays and shows. I missed so many concerts. I missed an entire season of roller derby for which I was supposed to be a favorite team's mascot (That particular eventual "no" hurt a lot.) I felt crummy because of it. I spent February through now juggling rehearsals and shows and work, with every show's rehearsal process having to sacrifice space and time to another (or another show) at one time or another, with at least two people in charge weathering increased hypertension as a result.

I connected with a fellow cast member so much that we have a sort of nerd media/nerd representation salon/panel/collective idea in development. I connected with people in improv who —in startlingly typical improviser fashion — I thought wouldn't give me the time of day. I've had project and show ideas. I've been included in project ideas. I've had ideas to apply to clowning and I have an ever-clarifying vision of where I want to go in my effort to bring all-too-absent clowning and physical comedy to the local scene of the neo-burlesque wave that's sweeping the nation. I have grown in my ability to discuss matters of race and representation and have started to think I might even want to turn that into something.

In this last year, I have relied on the generosity of many people. I don't like doing that. I was able to help out some friends and family monetarily and that made me feel good, but I'm better at helping than I am at accepting help (while still feeling good about myself). I learned that through all of the years of loathing the idea of networking and how slimy the concept felt, I'd been doing it the whole time. I learned that real networking isn't trading favors or having a slick pitch for yourself. I learned that it was more about actual connection and fostering those connections honestly.

I say all this not to brag, but to share and to give thanks. I've had a lot happen this year and my plate was full, even when my bank account wasn't. Success is more than monetary (although money is marvelous) and love and respect are solid currencies. No one is an island and I have countless people to thank not only for the past year, but for a great many things that led up to it. I intend to keep working, keep building, and keep thanking.