Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Theater Needs Critics

I was zipping around town yesterday and happened to tune in to my local membership funded NPR station. I was listening to Larry Mantle on Fresh Air. Larry is a sometimes embattled talk show host on KCPP, who is often criticized for bringing up 'soft topics'. However, Larry is a great reporter on the issues facing artists from an industry perspective. And while he does cover a lot of local and state political issues, he does a fantastic job keeping the public informed about the status of Arts and Culture in California.

Yesterday he chose to cover the topics of the cut backs in the news paper business and how the specifically hurt the Los Angeles Theater community. You're reading this here on line, so chances are you do not buy the local paper as much as you used to... or you never started. Well, guess what... a lot of people do not read the paper anymore, and that means that news papers are a dying breed in the traditional sense. It's sad to think that some of our most prolific news institutions will die off in the next 10 years, because they failed to create an online presence soon enough to move from the in hand product to the electronic product. Thus they newspapers are slowly but surely cutting jobs, and that means some of the most important critics in Los Angeles, got the axe this past week.

Most of us, who have produced theater, know that a great review means more butts in the seats and a higher box office review. Word of mouth is powerful, and that age old grape vine chain usually begins because a number of people read about a show in the paper, and then they go out and see it. Now, that the papers are cutting back their theater critics, less and less shows will be reviewed and exposed to the right demographic. So, the producers have a symbiotic relationship with critics. Producers need them in the right ways and at the right time. Now that the critics are out of work, Theater Producers will have one less reliable resource to spread the word about productions in town. This also means that some really good or even great shows will fail to be recognized in a manner that the 'general audience' can see. Sure, the truly 'In' theater buffs will know the game and what is out there, but that margin of dedicated audience members is so very small.

These cut backs mean that in L.A. the big Houses will continue to get press (Geffen, Pasadena Playhouse, Centre Theater Group Houses). While the mid level to high AEA99 theaters with a good rep will suffer terribly for the lack of coverage. While the low end producing done for small one time rental shows in NoHo and Hollywood will receive absolutely zero coverage from the papers. Word of mouth, blog reviews and Gold Star will now be the best marketing tool for the small time producer trying to get some steam on a good project.

The end result is a less informed audience, who already is penny pinching in this economy. With Oscar season up as well, the big time nominated movies with an artsy feel, will be a welcome and more cost effective alternative for patrons who would usually rather go see theater. Lean times all the way around.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Doug Allen R.I.P.

Well the news yesterday was boisterous and today the truth of it all came crashing into reality. Doug Allen, director of SAG and lead negotiator was fired in an internal political battle that is sure to draw stronger battle lines within the Union. Some are hopeful that replacing Allen with a more experienced negotiator will result in a fair and swift resolution to the ongoing labor situation. I for one do not think SAG will get a better offer, although at this point AMPTP should seek to provide a sweeter deal so we can end this. What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 26, 2009

SAG Awards

I will save my discussion for what Awards shows do to Actors, for a later post. Suffice to say, that I usually avoid watching the awards shows because... they're boring as hell. However, I was stuffed with steak and mashed potatoes at a family dinner and the SAG Awards managed to tick onto ye' ole viewing box. So, I watched.

Needless to say, I have a few questions...

1) Who has actually seen Milk?
2) Why is there way more talent in the Ensemble TV Comedy Category than the Ensemble TV Drama Category?
3) Why wasn't The Dark Knight nominated for Ensemble Drama Movie?
4) How does your cast win Best Ensemble Movie (Slum Dog Millionaire), but none of the individuals win a best actor award?
5) When will actors stop kissing producers asses? I'm talking to you, Lead Guy from Mad Men.
6) Was Meryl Streeps comment, "Awards mean nothing to me anymore" kind of a slap in the face to everyone who voted for her?
7) Alan's little appearance on stage... awkward much?
8) What the hell was that montage about great actors playing the roles of people struggling with illness and disabilities morphing into a montage of actors playing monsters?
9) Why were Katie Holmes nipples crooked? (I'm not trying to delve into Perez territory here, but go back and look at the tape. Those things are chasing bees.)
10) Why wasn't the only actor I was interested in seeing not there to accept his award? Paulie G, where are you?

Needless to say, due to the climate of the awards and the current labor situation, it was bound to happen that one actor would comment on the situation. Tina Fey, of course, took the bullet and made her little opinion in the form of a joke.

However, this quote came out prior to the evening's festivities.
"There's concern that our union has dissolved into a state of so much infighting," said "Dexter" co-star Julie Benz, who was nommed for drama series ensemble. "It's like a teacher losing control of the class. We've been let down by our leaders. I'm not going to point fingers ... but it does feel like we are in a bit of a crisis right now."(Variety)

I would agree with Julie. She's right. As you watched Alan walk out on stage last night, you realize. This guy is clueless. He's more interested in looking important one night out of the year at an awards show, than he is in leading this Union. He's leading it all right... into the toilet.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar Time

I shall refuse to give you my speech on the Oscars. Oh... who am I kidding. If you have not heard me say it before, I'll say it again, the Oscars are just a clever way for Hollywood to market movies to theater goers who wouldn't be caught dead going to them if they were not nominated for an Academy Award. I site the consistent reviews I get from people about MILK and BUTTONS before the Golden Globes (Boring), after the globes (Amazing). Oh, award shows... you get us every time! Well, the biggest fashion show in the world will once again grace our television shows, and in case you missed it on the news or radio or internet... here are the nominees.

On a persona note, this is the third consecutive year that I have worked on a movie nominated for Best Picture. The previous two were Babel and No Country For Old Men. This year it's Frost Nixon, which I have a very, very brief appearance in.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Watching Lost: Live Post

Well, I'm sitting on the sofa of my Estate watching Lost. Sawyer finally got a shirt. I completely forgot how complicated this damn show is. I usually hate flash back re-cap shows, but if I didn't have one for this show, I'd totally be... Well... Lost.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Doug Allen Does A 180: Big News!

SAG chief negotiator and executive director, Doug Allen, did a complete one hundred and eighty degrees today, reversing his pro strike authorization vote stance in favor of sending the existing AMPTP contract to the membership at large for a ratification vote.

Yeah, this is kind of a big deal. For many of us in the industry it's the first good news we've had that could signify the end of Labor issues in Hollywood for at least three years (until 2011, when the mother of all strikes will occur).

So, what brought about the 180? Well, as you know from my post earlier in the week, SAG held a board meeting early in the week, in which a majority of board members (and members of the Unite For Strength faction) had a clear agenda to bring a no confidence vote on Doug Allen. Doug's supporters managed to fillibuster this vote until Doug backed off on his Strike position. In other words, Doug Allen 180'ed to save his own ass. I will keep my sources completely confident and I will honor their wish for me to keep the real dirt off the internet for now, but Doug was going to be canned in that meeting.

So, he survived by reversing his opinion. He released this statement today on the subject...

""I proposed that the strike authorisation referendum be suspended and that management's offer be put to the membership in a ratification vote," the letter reads. "I also proposed that, before that membership ratification vote, we meet immediately with the AMPTP to determine to what extent, if any, they are willing to improve their last offer, to maximise its chances for ratification.

"I further proposed that the offer then be sent to the members with pro and con statements from national board members and that otherwise the Guild would remain neutral during any member vote during ratification. This process will give SAG members the opportunity to formally express themselves on the bargaining issues.

"This suggestion was communicated to some, but not all, board members in attendance, and apparently was rejected by some who heard it, at least in part because they believe I could not be 'trusted' to implement it. Since I am the one proposing it and since I have never acted contrary to the directives of the national board, that is not a reasonable objection."

So, WHY is he backing down now?

Well, it's pretty simple. This move is a win / win for Doug Allen. First, he satisfies the majority of SAG members who do not want to vote on a strike. It's clear that the leadership guiding negotiations has a minority opinion in SAG on handling the strike. Second, by sending the contract to the membership, he removes any blame from himself for any current or future angst. For example, if the Membership passes the vote and in three years, they are complaining about how bad their "AFTRA" contract is, Doug can say, "Hey, I did everything I could to get us to Strike for a better deal. This isn't my fault, it's UTF's fault." If the contract doesn't pass the membership, he can go back to the table and say to the AMPTP, "See, I told you they wouldn't go for it." Another Strike Vote would be right around the table, and AMPTP would have to determine if continued labor issues in a dire economy is something they want to continue doing.

Doug's a slippery little snake here, but in the end this may be the final straw that ends nearly 15 months of Labor issues that have crippled one of the top five industries in America. Hopefully, a rebound for Hollywood, helps rebound the economy. I just hope a lot of my friends who lost their jobs at the studios due to cut backs, finally can return to work.

It will be interesting to see how AMPTP comments on this, as Doug wants them to sweetened the deal a little more to push it through the memership. I also wonder if Phil Rosenblum will get a t-shirt made that says, "Doug Allen Sold Me Out".

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gear Sighting: Kick AXe

Okay, Okay! I've realized two things... first, product photos on a black background blog are a little odd, because most products have photos with white back grounds... how wonderfully stark. This makes the site look a little icky. Maybe, I'll have to reformat the look again... Sheesh.

Second, if I were to go to the most REMOTE ISLAND in the world, then I would need really cool and portable gear. Not sure how many trees are on the most REMOTE ISLAND in the world, but I'm sure I'll need to chop something at some point on the hikes throughout the lush and rocky terrain.

Thankfully, the Kick AXe was invented. This wicked little Sci-Fi inspired gadget, looks like something Ripley would have used to cave in the skull of the Queen Xenomorph. It folds up quick and easy and provides you with that chopping tool you need out in the wild. Because, banging your knife with a rock get's old after a while.

Doug Dodges a Bullet

So, there was some big time flack at a big time board meeting held by SAG in L.A. this week. The big story that was leaked from the 30 hour marathon session was the fact that Doug Alan, lead negotiator for SAG in the War against the AMPTP, was going to be removed from his position. Variety reported on it, many news sources reported on the leak 'from the inside'. However, when the board members emerged from the secret battle grounds, nothing had changed, and the proposed Strike Authorization vote would go on as scheduled (next week). If you need any further evidence that SAG is fundamentally broken, this would be it. 30 straight hours of deliberation and NOTHING CHANGED!

Want to Get Away?

I have to admit... part of me longs to be unplugged for a short amount of time... I think all of us just want to get away every once in a while and leave our obligations behind. It's part of being human. I think this place might be a great place to completely get away from it all. It's the most remote island on the planet.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Broadway pain to Broadway fun... or not.

When life gives you lemons... then do what SNL does... make your first poignant and relevant sketch since the campains.

When Broadway Finally Dies...

I hesitate writing this blog, because in many ways it's deeply depressing for me to finally acknowledge the writing on the wall. Back in October of 2008, I wrote this post about the possible impact that the arts could expect from the current economic downturn. While, I discussed the overall potential for the limitation of an earning wage for art driven organizations and the artists themselves, my overall point of that article was to reflect that an artist big picture goal is to serve a community during the most troubled of times.

While, I still believe that philosophy holds the weight of a tidal wave, it's becoming hard out there for one of the most endangered mediums of American Art... Theater.

Broadway is in many ways an institution. The NYC street is not so much a geographical hub of theatrical innovation, but in many ways, it's a symbol of the potential of what theater can be. It's been a measurement of success for actors, artists, playwrights, producers and directors. It is also one of the few places America has, where we can point and say... "Hey, we're culturally relevant." However, if you read the writing on the wall, Theater is dying in America. Broadway's swan song is imminent.

This month Broadway will close some of it's most successful shows, because they simply cannot go on in their current state. Prices are too high, and patrons with available cash are too few. No city in America felt the collapse of investment banking harder than New York. And if they investment bankers are turning to jobs flipping burgers, there isn't a whole lot of folks out there ready to drop $120 bucks on a pair of nosebleeds to see "Wicked". The show model of "Bigger is not only Better, it's more lucrative" has tanked the Big Time Theater Producers much like the SUV tanked the Auto Industry's Big Three. It's their own fault, but none the less the tragedy of it is unfortunate.

For the last several years, Broadway has been the last big justification for artists and craftsman to pursue a career in Theater. Hey, there's money in being a stage actor. Look at Broadway. However, many of us know that's not really true anymore. Money has been slipping away in earnest for several years now. One can only wonder if the dream of walking the stage on the Big White Way, has finally died and future thesbians will now consider becoming... well... accountants.

I feel that the big theatrical production has completely marred what Theater should be. While it would be sad to think that an icon can and will fade, it's also somewhat comforting that we can stop expecting to see productions like "Shrek: The Musical". Perhaps the death of Broadway is a boon for what "real theater" should be about. I have always contended that theater is about community and about creating a center for enlightenment. The small regional theater is really where some interesting things happen and people actual come to theater for the right reason, to connect with their neighbor.

However, in the end what will really suffer as Broadway falters, are the actual Theaters themselves. These epic buildings, without tenants and revenue, will be sold off to developers and probably turned into Grocery Stores or Public Storage. It's just sad that the history will fade away, and be replaced.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

SAG vs AMPTP... Quiet

What gives? We're weeks away from the vote and all the posturing has died down a bit.... I wonder why? Don't you?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Right Choice and The Strong Choice

Actors spend a lot of time vetting over a single word, "Choices". For the lay person, a choice is a decision to due something. I'm standing at Starbucks and my choice is a Grande Vanilla De-Caf Latte. Sounds simple, right? However, the concept of Choices for actors is a bigger deal.

Let's start the discussion on a broad scale. You can ask a lot of actors a simple question, "As and Actor, what is your job?" You will get a ton of different answers, like: tell a story, be in the moment, create a character, etc. I have come to love this quote on what an actor's job is, "To Live Truthfully in Imaginary Circumstances." At the end of the day, actors are creating a false reality for the audience to engage. The 'realness' or 'truthfulness' of that reality creates an experience that is impactful for the audience. So, if we make choices in everyday life, those choices created onstage, must have the same touchstone real life quality. If they do not, then you have egg on your face, or worse, you never book work.

For some actors they can be pre-planned and carefully crafted ahead of time in rehearsal or in personal work (ugg) or they can be created within the moment of the performance improvisationally (yeah). They can be small, like whether or not to pick up a book and read it on stage briefly while in the midst of a dialogue scene. Or they can be Big, like deciding a character's preparation or global motivations for an entire play. Like I said, they're diverse, but in the end, we just call them, choices.

The Choices you make on stage are the art part of acting. Just as a painter makes choices on his or her canvas, the actor uses his or her body, stage, scene partners to make choices within the story. How good those choices are, how convincing they are, define your art in this discipline. Therefore, you can see why actors could get really worked up about choices.

Early in my career in Los Angeles, I joined a great theater group with a diverse set of actors. It was a membership group so people came and went every year. There were a lot of amazing actors who booked tons of work in the group, and people would always say, "Oh, So and So, makes such interesting choices," or "They're choices are so compelling, I'm jealous." I was young and despite having a degree, untrained, and I was easily caught up in this really important word, Choices. I used to agonize over whether or not I was making the right choice or a good choice or an interesting choice... it was demoralizing at times. I think a lot of actors can relate. They ask themselves the question, "Am I doing this right?" I think part of that anxiety stems from not fully understanding yourself as artist, which is a touch road to walk down, but it's also part of the world of comparisons that actors constantly engage in. These negative habits and lack of exploration personally create the life of anxiety surrounding choices, which affect how you rehearse and audition to be honest.

The worst part about choices is not making them. That's because the actor gets so anxious and in their head, they become wooden, stilted, false. I remember watching a play rehearsal once, and an actress was just standing in the scene, not moving. The director asked her, "What's Wrong?" She said, "I didn't make a choice here, did I?" He of course agreed. The question was, "Why?" Her response, "I don't know the right one to make." As I replay it now in my mind... I cringe.

So, here is your daily paradigm shift, There is no such thing as 'the right choice'. There is not singular perfect choice. It does not exist. This is what so many actors fail to realize. And the act of trying to come with "The Perfect Choice" is a process that for me looks like the marriage of banging the tv for a better picture and a Senate Confirmation Hearing. I worked with a director who was always after 'the perfect choice' in rehearsal, and he would have me a scene 27 times to find 'the perfect choice'. Then he'd find it, only to change it the next day after 37 times through running the same scene... that, my friends, is creative agony. I later came to the conclusion, through my own return to study, that there is no right choice. There are but a myriad of appropriate choices. Those appropriate choices become brilliant choices when the actor makes them strong... and thus, you have what all actors must seek to make... the strong choice.

The strong choice is the one hundred percent, stick your face in it, burn your eyes out, commitment to what you are doing on stage, 100% truthfully. This choice is the choice that books work, wins awards and furthers the individuals artistic journey. It's what lights up the room, makes a director feel he's found a budding star, and makes an audience member become a fan, buy the DVD or come back the next day to see the matinee at full price. The strong choice is what actors need to aspire to, not the right choice.

Why? Well, it's because the strong choice is so simple. It's the equivalent of me putting a ball on a tee for you, and saying swing as hard as you can. It's not effortless, but it's straightforward honest and pure. It simply take 100% commitment and zero fear of failure. However, you'd be surprised how many folks can't swing for the fences with a choice. I think it may be that word "Failure" that prevents them from letting it all hang out. "What if I embarass myself. What if I piss off the casting director? What if I don't book the gig?" The funny part is that by not taking a risk and making a storng choice, you are embarassing yourself, pissing off the casting director and you won't book the gig.

But, that's the process of the artist in end. The art should be a journey that changes you personally as well as artistically. I write this note, only to provide you with encouragement in your own discipline as an artist. I say this so that you will stop worrying about, 'screwing it up' and start doing the work without fear. If you find yourself paralyzed in making that kind of choice, and I meet plenty of actors who are, then get some help, invest in a community that supports you, go see a therapist, get into a class where you are encouraged to take risks. Sometimes the only way to swim is to jump into the water with both feet.