November 2007

A few years ago I had a few websites, and used to put out a quarterly newsletter. I had to close them down to do a bit of re-thinking, re-structuring, re-everything. Now that I am within sight (I hope) of finishing my first novel, I’ll be needing a website soon, so this blog is a kind of pre-launch.

Living in New York, I find Thanksgiving an easier festival on the nerves than most of the others up to and including birthdays. It’s because, as we agreed at dinner last night, it’s really all about a feast, and hasn’t been quite hi-jacked by commerce in the manner of Christmas, and (in the US) Halloween. Talking of feasting, and now that I am verging on 50, action must be taken. I am fighting a losing battle with my waistline which seems to have it’s own mind and is determined to achieve an inch per year. Watch this space.

I am one those actors that has been trying to do something else for a living since the day I started. It’s not that I don’t enjoy acting, I do. It’s not that I don’t work, I do (although few of us work enough), It’s not that I’m not good at it, I am – alright, modest explanation here: the world is oversupplied with good actors, there are a lot of us about. And as for me, well I am good at what I do within my limits – don’t ask me to sing onstage, for example.

Most actors these days have to be actor hybrids. The glamorous end of the business is full of actor/directors, actor/producers and the actor slash devolves all the way to the most traditional actor/waiter. The reasons for this are several. First though, always has been and I guess always will be, the extraordinary difficulty of earning a living wage even if fully employed. Being an actor is a fun gig, but Dionysus levies a price on his servants.

Within the profession, the popular wisdom is that you shouldn’t try to explain what its like to civilians, and maybe that’s smart, but it’s such a cliched complaint from the actors that it’s so hard to make ends meet – and the irony is that the small percentage of us who are known to the public make as much money as any professional, and that tiny elite that are really well known, make a bunch more than the President – that I want to say something about it, and dammit it’s my blog, so I will.

Actors are forgettable. Think about it. You might remember the lead (but even then it’s often; “who was the guy who played…?”), but try and remember the best friend. How about the neighbour with one scene, the visiting uncle with three lines? And that is majority of us. See what I mean? And of course I’m talking about actors who get onto TV or into films. What about the stage actors? And that’s most of us.

The only way you might remember a stage actor is if you see them regularly playing a range of parts, and the only way that might happen is if you live in a town where there is a resident company of actors and you go to the theatre now and then.

All of which is a long preamble to talking about my last job. I just did a play called Arsenic And Old Lace at The Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas. It was fascinating from several points of view. First off, the Alley is one of the very few, in fact at this writing, the only theatre of comparable size and stature in the USA which fields a permanent company of resident actors.

One of the advantages to having a company of actors is the high quality of the work. Assuming reasonable working conditions, at the very least there will superior ensemble skills than can be achieved in three weeks rehearsing with semi strangers. At the Alley, every member of the company is an accomplished performer, and there is a culture of mutual respect for the craft that holds the company together. The theatre has thrived through flood, and dwindling aging audiences world-wide, to achieve a high level of artistic excellence and financial stability. And they pay okay too. Only the Guthrie amongst major regional American theatres pays better.

Much of the Alley’s success is directly attributable to its Artistic Director Gregory Boyd, a man of unusually high I.Q. and as gifted a master of stagecraft as any I’ve known in thirty years. I had a delightful time in Houston, and the production was a laugh riot from start to finish. The two ladies were played by the delightful Mia Dillon, and the amazing Dixie Carter, brilliantly supported by the Alley company at its characterful best. I gave a pair of contrasting cameos in Act One and Act Three, and in Act Two when I should have been writing chapters of the novel, I played backgammon with that splendid actor Todd Waite. Houston, an oil and space exploration town (there are so many) built on a swamp, is now the fourth largest city in North America, and it sports world-class opera, ballet, and theatre all within a few city blocks.

Now I’m back in New York, and as with all theatre gigs, when it’s over it’s as if it never happened. As of this writing not engaged to do any acting, although there are a few irons in fires. Poised for a final edit on the novel. Have not looked at the manuscript for all this week, and will not for another week yet.

Touching on the novel, I have a new respect for people who crank them out year after year, and frankly admit writing this one has been a huge learning experience. I’ve enjoyed it though, and look forward to learning more, and maybe even one day officially becoming an actor/writer.