Sunday, April 29, 2012

Time to brush up that Italian...

I am ridiculously happy to announce that I will be playing Tybalt in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet for the Festa Theatre in Florence, Italy this summer.

We will be performing in the gardens of the Palazzo Corsini and also teaching a Shakespeare camp for children. 

I am giddy with excitement over working with this international theatre company, bringing theatre into the lives of children and performing Shakespeare in the open air of a city I've dreamed of visiting for much of my life.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Drawing Lines

If Joseph Rao Kony, the bloodthirsty head of the Ugandan guerilla operation known as the Lord's Resistance Army, has given any thought to hiding out in Deming, New Mexico, he had better reconsider.  The teenagers here are on to his game, they've got chalk, and they are having none of him.

A local high school teacher had the impulse to engage her students with events in the world, and she chose the "Stop Kony" movement.  She showed her students the Kony 2012 film produced by the organization Invisible Children, the film that took Facebook and the rest of the internet by storm in March of this year.  Animated by the film's presentation about Kony, the students took to the sidewalks of downtown Deming to "make him famous," as instructed by an Invisible Children slogan.

Who they want to stop Kony, and how, is not spelled out; although one student made a concrete suggestion outside the entrance of our post office:

Chalk this youngster up as an interventionist.

For the record, the United States deployed military advisors to central Africa last year to train and advise African forces who are fighting the LRA.  Last month, the African Union deployed its military force to hunt for Kony.

Is this sidewalk art an exercise in activism or slacktivism?  "Slacktivism" is the term coined for pretend engagement: posting something on your Facebook page, signing an internet petition, associating yourself with a community organization without actually contributing much or anything to its work.  At the same time that the internet is proving an effective tool for spreading messages to a large audience (viz. "making Kony famous"), it also gives rise to the phenomenon of momentary pretend-engagement.

The impulse to engage students in the world is right on, and since I know the teacher personally, I know her interest in motivating the kids was genuine.  What struck me right away is that she chose a human rights issue taking place in Uganda -- the other side of the planet.

There is pressure on teachers not to appear partisan.  Therefore, issue-oriented lesson plans have to be broad.  You can connect to a human rights issue in Uganda involving a mass murderer: it's easy and safe.  Addressing human rights issues here on our own border, the complex moral problems in play just a few miles from the classroom, where the border patrol frequently rescues illegal immigrants abandoned in the desert by coyotes (when they are still alive), might be controversial and bring unwelcome attention. 

These chalk-bearing students are directly affected by conditions here in Luna County that involve the economy, racism, narcotics, and sex.  Because of the aversion to controversy, Joseph Kony is actually a safer target than our own county commission.

Building the skills conducive to effective civic engagement is urgently necessary, and watching children grow up here and noticing what options they have for their lives make the point very clearly.  Teaching local activism, however, necessarily entails engaging local controversy.  It's part of the terrain.  For their sake, let's get on with it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

NATF Reneges, and We Retract

Last month, we joyfully announced in this space that the National Audio Theatre Festivals was going to produce Ricardo and the Whale, a play for radio that I drafted between 2008 and 2012.  To make it even sweeter, guest artist Philip Proctor of the Firesign Theatre would likely be performing in the piece.

Earlier this week, we received an awkward phone call informing us that the play would not be performed after all.  We were offered an apology not for the reneging itself, but for the failure to communicate the fact to me sooner than six weeks before the workshop.  The story about why NATF was reversing itself came out slowly in the course of the phone call, and left enough ambiguity that I suspect more went on than they disclosed -- perhaps organizational politics have come into play.  Notably, the president of the organization has not made any contact with me, even to offer a standard graceful "so sorry this happened" statement.

One legitimate reason to reconsider the play -- which could have been communicated to me at the outset -- involves a staggering coincidence.  Indeed, I think this will lead to the play returning to its virtual drawer again for a long time.  There is a book by Christopher Moore entitled Fluke: or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings which I had never heard of.  I hear tell it has been optioned by Disney for a film.  The story contains several story elements in common with Ricardo: the plots are very different, but both stories involve a whale used as a vessel, whale songs, and Atlantis. 

It is a writer's nightmare: you spend a long time working on something, only for you to discover that a bigger fish has come out with something similar.  Similar enough, at least, to bury your work.

Ricardo and the Whale is the second play in a longer playwriting cycle I've been thinking of as the "Algerstophanes Plays."  I've taken an interest in producing fanciful plays on socio-political themes in the spirit of Aristophanes.  The two plays I've written so far have had trouble getting anywhere.

The first one, The Dung Beetle of Mitchell County, recreates the initial premise of Aristophanes's play Peace.  But it doesn't succeed at straddling the whimsy of its inspiration with a modern anti-war statement and it is also difficult to stage.  I've submitted it to a few venues as a stage play and a radio play, but nobody wants to do it and it is shelved for now.

"Algerstophanes" has also written a play for children entitled Revolt of the Lobsters that has been performed on stage twice here in Deming.  Kids playing lobsters, how could it fail?  The play continues to be reworked occasionally.  (It's a caper comedy reminding us that we are eating living things.) 

Ricardo is much more whimsical and full of fun, lampooning American politics and media culture, and includes an ecological message.  But, you know -- this other book and Disney and -- well, crap. 

In a separate post, we will offer a synopsis of Ricardo and the Whale so that the story can be told and you can meet some of its characters.  In its current form it will not be performed and it will be a while before I decide whether to revisit it.

This might have been a good reason for NATF to pass up on the play at the outset.  But they accepted it and then, several weeks later, reversed their decision.  Ooof, bad.   We wish them well from our Burning House, but hope they will learn from this and improve their communication and procedures.  It smells to us like there might have been dissension about producing this play from the beginning (perhaps its social commentary was a factor), a question whether the play's acceptance was premature, no communication with me about any stage of this process, and a reneging of a production that would have brought me to Missouri to work with and learn from some impressive people in the world of radio and audio books.  Not nice.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

But we're getting paid!

The conservative objection to “safety net” programs such as Unemployment Insurance, food assistance, and so on, is that they discourage work. Why work for money, the argument goes, if you can get money for doing nothing?

Here is a social experiment. Let’s say I offer you a temporary job that pays an okay hourly wage, maybe what you’d get working a low-level office temp job. In addition to that, you will be fed one if not two meals – and the food is actually good. You will be paid for a minimum of eight hours per day, even if you are sent home early. More likely, however, you will be there longer than eight hours – maybe twelve or thirteen hours. You will be paid time and a half for overtime, of course. Now as for the actual work: for the most part, you are going to be given nothing to do whatsoever. You can read. You can play on your iPhone. All we ask is that you stay in this holding area so that we can find you, in case we have something for you to do. It’s outdoors, and you have the option of hanging out in this tent or outside – better wear sunscreen. Chances are good that you will not be given anything to do. This assignment can end at any time.

For a lot of people this sounds too good to be true. Get paid to sit around, read a book, text people, socialize with other people? Why work for money if you can get paid for this?

Try it for a few days.

There were about ten of us spending 13-hour days at the base camp of a movie set in Albuquerque -- the movie is The Host -- and on day one everybody had a grand time hanging out, getting to know each other. A guy named Eric got some tunes going on his “smart phone,” people got some sun and snacked on whatever the catering service left for us. There were people in between jobs, retirees, people taking a day off work to be an extra in a Hollywood movie, a few college students. As the day wore on, there was an occasional sigh of boredom, always countered with a reminder that we were being paid. “Best job in the world,” someone said. The unspoken message is, you have nothing to complain about if someone is giving you money.

Inconspicuously, I spent part of the day doing zazen in a chair alternating with walking meditation; and the rest of the day socializing, waiting, sending text messages to friends.

On day two, spirits were still bright. Everyone got along, and most had found the people they preferred to hang out with. A couple of loners set themselves up with books, or moved their chairs to the outer perimeter of the base camp to enjoy the mountains and the sunshine. The refrain of the morning was “Do you think they’ll use us today?”

The “they” was hard to pinpoint. The director who had supposedly chosen each of us personally from our headshots? The attractive woman named Danielle who seemed to be in charge of our “holding area,” bustling around talking into a radio all day? Other crew members and wardrobe staff darting in and out of the tent? No one had information for us, and they looked too busy to ask.

Late into day two, the jokes and humor centered around the absurdity of our work situation, the boredom, and wondering if we would even be given anything to do. At one point that day, we were loaded into a shuttle and driven to the set, lined up outdoors for several minutes, and three of us were chosen for filming. The rest of us were sent back, where we resumed sitting around, holding vigil in the sun.

Bored people are dangerous.  We actually talked about rearranging everything in the tent.  At another point, we talked about hiding and seeing what the crew would do when they noticed. 

“Hey, we’re getting paid!” was still a refrain, but the tone became edgy. Boredom is tricky for most people. If you practice zen , boredom kind of disappears as a problem: we enter into it, instead of trying to distract ourselves or fill the void with something. Boredom makes most people uncomfortable, because they feel like their situation is incomplete. They want something to do or they want entertainment, stimulation. Boredom augments the endless process of desire.  (Retreats do that, too, by design.)  I found it interesting because the technology we have these days allows for entertainment under almost any circumstances: even out here on the mesa, you could watch movies on a small laptop computer, you could surf the internet on your phone, you could access a library of books with one electronic device – and still people suffered from boredom.

They wanted something to do. Some found things to do: spontaneous litter patrols, things like that. And the shallow comfort that they were being paid for their time seemed to be less convincing to everybody as the sun moved in the sky. No one knew if they would be called to work tomorrow. Some admitted that they hoped they would not.

By day three, giddy hilarity prevailed. “Here we are! The featured extras! The director chose us!” Even those who had been the most comfortable, who had brought work to do while waiting around, shared in the laughter at our situation. Something in the culture forbade outright complaining: it was gauche to be disappointed that we weren’t working. “We’re being paid.”  And yet there was dissatisfaction. It felt strange to be told we were needed for something, and then to be paid for doing nothing. It wasn’t an outrage, just somehow dissonant. It felt like a social experiment – one of the many things people joked about.

On the third day, we were all "wrapped" for good -- having never made it in front of a camera.
Upon completing our check-out procedure, Eric said, "But hey!  The director chose us!"

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Requiem for Moths

It's moth season and several moths have found their way into Deming Zen Center.  They aim for lights and windows, any source of light, trying to find the sky and a way out.  Some die before we can help them find their way out.  Others catch on pretty quickly if we just open the door.

Zen Master Seung Sahn used to have interesting interactions with animals that would find their way into the dharma room.  On one occasion, he made the housemaster accompany him as he bowed to a potato bug that had crawled onto his meditation mat.  He then made a very formal introduction of himself, thanked the bug for coming, and escorted the creature out of the zen center because it wasn't safe for him there.  On another occasion, he did the same thing at morning bows when he discovered an insect in the dharma room, and as he helped it outside he said, "Come back when you have a human body!" 

This life is very precious, and the opportunity we have to practice is pretty rare, and time is fleeting.  The day came when even Zen Master Seung Sahn's body could not handle the prostrations that were part of his daily practice. 

Another teacher in our school, Myo Ji Sunim JDPS, once told a room full of students that they should practice as much as they could while their bodies were young and strong.  Early in 2012, she emphasized this point when she suddenly passed away.

Time is not as durable as the think.  Nothing guarantees even our next moment of life.  And when it comes to navigating human darkness and confusion, a lot of us aren't doing much better than the moths. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Eyes Have It

For the first time in my life, I had to wear contact lenses.  These were not ordinary lenses; these were hand-painted costume lenses, just like the pair you see in this photograph of Saoirse Ronan.  They cost around a thousand dollars per pair, according to a lens technician on the set of The Host, where I spent several days working this month.  Because of the expense, the lenses were specially insured, and I was asked not to give myself eye drops, to wear sunglasses as much as possible, and do nothing to my eyes while I wore the lenses.

A casting service in Albuquerque called me twice informing me that I had been "picture chosen" (chosen from headshots) by the film's director to be a "featured extra."  Why not take a gig like that?  It sounded a small opportunity to be seen in a major release, perhaps a chance to make a professional impression on the film's director, and in any case it was paid work.  I said sure, and made arrangements to stay at a hostel in Albuquerque.

On the first day, extras who were fitted for these lenses reported to a special trailer to have their lenses inserted by "lens techs."  But they never got to me.  On that first day, they used me as background in a few shots without the tell-tale extra-terrestrial eyes.  Not that anyone will notice.  The eyes are pretty striking to look at in person.  Reactions to them varied: a few said they were quite comfortable, and a few others suffered, reporting tunnel vision and itchiness.  Lens techs circulated throughout the day with eye drops on demand.  One extra had a very bad reaction to the lenses, his eyes actually turning red and swelling by the end of our day.  I heard later that a few people sought care for eye infections after that.

I had gotten a pass that first day.  How would my eyes react to these things when I reported to set again?

The base camp was near the Hard Rock Pavilion in Albuquerque, a small city of trailers and tents staged on the mesa.  In wardrobe and makeup, we "featured extras" lined up outside the makeup trailer where the lens techs did their work.  People went in and a few minutes later came out with spooky eyes, blazing white and blue, dabbing at themselves with moist wipes as they made their way back to the extras' tent. 

I introduced myself by saying that I had never worn contact lenses in my life and had a very difficult time even with eye drops.  They were wonderful and patient.  Everything seemed sanitary and calm.  Despite my squinting (which I tried to defeat by force of will, with little success) they got the lenses in and all was well.  For sure, I was constantly aware of the lenses:  they blurred my peripheral vision somewhat, and even with eye drops there was a sensation of having a speck of something in each eye, but it was tolerable.

I wore these lenses for two consecutive 13-hour days, and the only time I was in something like agony was after they took the lenses out the first day.  My eyes raged with pain, as if I had been poked in each eye, and tears flowed all evening long.  I went out for supper and basically sat there with eyes weeping as if I had had my heart broken. 

The last thing I did before lights out that night was drop in some thick lubricant the head lens tech had given me.  "It will blur your vision," he said, "so put them in, turn out the lights, and go to sleep."  He wasn't kidding.  It sure felt good, though.

On the third day, the lens tech intervened on our behalf, telling the crew he did not want us wearing the lenses unless we were going on camera.  And, as it happened, they never got to us.  Indeed, they wrapped me that day, never having used me, and it is not clear whether I am reporting to work again next week, or if my "featured extra" opportunity has been scrapped.

The tale of what we "featured extras" did with ourselves for several days at base camp will be taken up in another post.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tonight on USA: The Spot-Algernon Drinking Game

Choose your beverage.  Perhaps a refreshing juice, perhaps something stronger.

Tonight, on the USA Network, watch the new episode of In Plain Sight entitled "The Medal of Mary." 

(Coincidentally, the guest star of this episode is the actor Stephen Lang; I went to the college named for his father, Eugene Lang.) 

There are two scenes in this episode where I may be spotted, looking FBI-ish.  If and when you spot me, have a shot of your beverage.

If you miss it tonight, the show's website (linked above) will play full episodes, and there is also Hulu.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hello from Albuquerque

Good evening from the lounge of the Route 66 Hostel near downtown Albuquerque.

After my second day at the base camp near the filming of Stephenie Myer's The Host, I returned to the hostel to organize myself for a dinner expedition in this unfamiliar city.  Getting a cup of water downstairs, I nearly collided with a bespectacled Frenchman in a kimono, who offered me some of the macrobiotic dinner he had just prepared.  He then introduced me to a folk singer who was also in the lounge, guitar by his side, where they were engaged in a spirited debate about anthropology. 

After my return, there will be a post or two about base camps, costume contact lenses, and sociological experiments.  For now, I hope everyone is having a pleasant week.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What will become of personal libraries?

To me, this looks like heaven.  To my wife, it looks claustrophobic.  I can see how it might seem that way, and yet in a library I feel anything but confined.  To me this is a forest with seemingly infinite spaces to crawl in and explore.

This has much to do with the way I grew up, surrounded by shelves that towered over my head, covered with books and record albums.  My parents' combined collections amounted to the tens of thousands, and my father also collected a couple of thousand vinyl records.  These days, he has added an imposing collection of movies on VHS tapes and DVD.

My own collection of books is much, much smaller, and yet some of them still languish in boxes in the garage, as my wife and I struggle to find some middle ground on the matter of shelves.  It hurts, although I do feel grateful for the open shelves I've been allowed to set up.  Visitors can walk into this office and infer whatever they might infer from the books on display.  Moments ago, Gabriel -- not quite reading yet -- became curious about a book on the shelf and pulled it free for inspection.

That was a crucial part of my childhood: exploring shelves.  Of course, my father provided ample shelf space to explore.  There were days I would even attempt to play hookie because I was in a mood to explore the shelves, to see what new music or books I could find.  My mother was pretty sharp, so I rarely got away with that; but when I suffered a real cold infection or flu, the consolation was a journey into the wonderland of my father's books and music.  Early on, I imagined that this represented the endless layout of my father's own imagination; but eventually I realized something that was, for a child who was "smart" and somewhat isolated from his peers, quite comforting: that the human imagination is a shared resource.  Not quite the same idea as a mundus imaginilis or Hurqalya, but definitely a resource comprised of the presence and imaginations of countless human beings living and dead.  Among books, I felt I had company without social pressure.

And the discoveries!  Science-fiction and fantasy, history, and art.  Being very careful to put things back in place (my father was a stickler: to this day, he can walk through his numerous stacks and tell you if a book is out of place), I pulled out so many books and records, some of which seemed not to have been touched or exposed to the light in years.  Classical music.  Rock from the 1960s.  Novelty records.  Radio drama.  Stand-up comedy.  Avant-garde music, including some of the earliest recordings using electronics (what later came to be called synthesizers).  I discovered Captain Beefheart here, and Moby Grape, Canned Heat, Country Joe and the Fish, and Quicksilver Messenger Service.  Of the familiar classical music, I recall exalting to the Russian composers most, but Beethoven and Liszt thrilled me, and I discovered a love for the baroque that resembled an admiration for architecture.  (My passion for renaissance-period music and Asian music would come much later.)

I cannot imagine what my childhood would have been without a man's personal library to wander through over many years.  Oh, we went to the public library every couple of weeks, also: we went as a family, and I had a library card at a very young age.  Yet the private, personal library is by definition unique and close to home.  It is something I very much want for Gabriel and Lucca, even if it means figuring out how to finish the garage and turn it into a library. 

And as much as I admire the technology of our iPods and Kindle readers and e-books, I worry that what remains of the personal library will be shrunk and confined inside personal electronic devices to be kept to ourselves, inaccessible to the little hands and wide-open eyes of our children, for them to investigate on their own when we are not around to censor and filter the information.  The best story I could ever invent to enthrall my children cannot light up their minds the way their own curiosity and exploration might.  If there are no open stacks, no previously unexplored volumes, no forgotten places with an authenticating layer of dust waiting in the shadows, they are denied this.

That seems like a claustrophobic way to grow up.

[Image: One of thousands of images from the photo blog Bookshelf Porn.]

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Albuquerque and Impermanence

My visit to Albuquerque was for work, but I lucked out and had a few unscheduled hours on Tuesday for seeing some more of this unfamiliar city.  As it turned out, my fitting was near downtown, a short drive away from Albuquerque's aquarium and botanic garden.  After trying on three outfits and being photographed holding a slate with my name on it -- a suit and two casual outfits in retro-1960s style, which meant tight pants and short breaths! -- and then going to an eye doctor downtown to have my eyes measured for costume contact lenses (to make my eyes look extra-terrestrial) -- I regrouped with a quiet stroll through the botanic gardens, enjoying the perfume of lilacs everywhere.

The aquarium is impressive in its own right, although the place was surprisingly crowded on a Tuesday afternoon.  Lots of children and adults knocking on the glass walls of aquariums, trying to interact with sharks and stingrays and jelly fish in some way, posing for photographs, and so on.  It made me awkwardly aware of my own humanity, staring at these living creatures on exhibit.  It was darkly amusing to emerge through the exit, after viewing exhibits warning about the dangers of overfishing among other environmental dangers, and to be conveyed to a restaurant.  "Hungry?  Have some trout!"  And the gift shop, of course.

Found an inexpensive hotel near downtown to flop before my early-morning call on Wednesday.  Right across the street was a burger joint calling itself "Holy Cow" (refreshingly blunt) that also served cold beer, and wasn't very crowded.  After some refreshment there, it was early to bed and early to rise.

Sometimes things seem to be going "our way" and sometimes they don't.  One week, an exciting audition and a "featured extra" role on a blockbuster movie can make it seem like things are going great.  The week following, things can look very different: you don't get the role, and the other gig turns out differently than what you were promised -- and that includes the pay.

In lay life and lay practice, times like these are an opportunity to watch the process of anicca, the law of impermanence.  Even this is a creation of the mind.  Things seem to arise and fall away, to the extent that we attach ourselves to mental objects.  Gripping things with the mind is, like they always say, akin to grasping empty space.  If we weren't gripping things due to fear and desire, it would not look like turbulence at all.  It's just the music of this moment, unfolding in beautiful and surprising patterns like one of Bird's solos. On the days when I'm not gripping quite so tightly, it really does feel like there's a kind of rhythm to things.  During my trip to Albuquerque, it felt like that.  Improvising.  Holding the expectations lightly and doing good work just this moment.

It felt like a very long day on set, outdoors surrounded by open mesa, with 55-MPH winds blowing dirt in our faces all day.  When we were handed our vouchers at the end of the day and cued to leave, a crew member shouted, "Everybody works next week!  We'll see you all next week!"

Maybe so.  Maybe so.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On the Importance of Demons

Ikkyu, by way of Gary Snyder, wrote:

Humans are as stupid
As cows and horses.
Poetry, literature--
Works out of hell.
Self-pride, perverse pride,
The misery of the passions--
We can sigh for those
Traveling so intimately with demons.

Snyder explains a little bit:

His "intimacy with demons" is not to be seen in the light of the occidental romance with alienation, however.  In Japanese art, demons are funny little guys, as solid as horses and cows, who gnash their fangs and cross their eyes.  Poetry is way of celebrating the actuality of a non-dual universe in all its facets.  Its risk is that it declines to exclude demons.  Buddhism offers demons a hand and then tries to teach them to sit.  But there are tricky little poetry/ego demons that do come along, tempting us with suffering or with insight, with success or failure.  There are demons practicing meditation and writing poetry in the same room with the rest of us, and we are all indeed intimate.  It didn't really trouble Ikkyu.

This appears in Snyder's introduction to Beneath A Single Moon, a 1991 book about contemporary Buddhist poetry. 

This is very good and reminds me of an important dimension of acting, from the standpoint of the practitioner.  There is a danger of perfecting technique yet learning to exclude these "demons."  In so doing, the performance is deprived of the artist's own humanity, for one; and further, the artist denies herself opportunities to embrace them and wake up. 

[Image: William, a student in one of my acting workshops in 2011, explores physical space while blind.  Photo by Tracy Williams.]

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Our Dove Sanctuary

While I'm off in Albuquerque, please take a moment to wish our family of white-winged doves a good spring. 

Outside our dining room window, we saw a flimsy nest and later saw a white-winged dove nesting there.  It's a decent spot, as a matter of fact, the tree standing between our house and the brick wall along Spruce Street.  A quiet spot to receive the heat and hatch an egg or two. 

Some time later, we saw mama bird sitting with one small chick.  And before you know it (we're always saying that, aren't we), on Monday, we saw that chick exploring a different tree altogether.  Later on, chick and mama sat side by side on a branch near their nest, looking out over Spruce Street.

And Tuesday morning, that nest is empty. 

Monday, April 09, 2012

Buddha's Birthday, Auditions, Extra Work

The past week has shot past like an asteroid, loaded with events.

There were holidays, of course: Buddha's Birthday at our zen center (photos here) and Easter at Sarah's church.  Above, you see my two sons at the Buddha's Birthday ceremony.  Having participated by offering flowers to Buddha, they both made for my lap when we sat down for a few minutes of meditation.

During the week, I was still absorbing the news that Ricardo and the Whale (a play I have been writing since 2008) will be performed this summer with Philip Proctor likely to be in the cast.  Then came some news on the acting front.

It began with an audition.  A very good audition.  I don't know if I'm supposed to keep quiet about it, or maybe I'm falling into actors' superstition; it is a speaking role in a feature film playing the brother of the film's lead actor, a name actor whom I vaguely resemble.  Not a large part, but quite decent, consisting of 2-3 scenes with said name actor.  At this writing, I keep my phone within eyesight at all times.

The audition required a trip to Albuquerque, 240 miles from home.  Happy to do it, of course.  While I was in town, I got a call about another project.  No audition for this one: a featured extra on The Host, an adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's one non-"Twilight" novel.

The agony of extra work for the actor!  Typically, these credits do not even appear on a resume.  Background work probably won't give you material you can use for your demo reel.  When I've done background work, I haven't met many fellow actors -- lots of interesting people, but actors with established credits who are working stay away from background work.

"Featured extra" is a little bit better.  Featured extras get more screen time, and might even act a bit although they do not speak. (Once you speak,  you're no longer an extra.)  The waitress who hands the film's star a sandwich in a scene is a featured extra; the silent cop who helps arrest the lead; all those guys holding down Sean Penn in that scene from Mystic River (including my old Trinity Rep friend, Richard Donnelly); those are featured extras.  They get paid more than regular extras (who sometimes don't even get paid).  Sometimes such a player gets an upgrade to a speaking role.  And you might get to rough up Sean Penn.

Given my employment situation, I've been accepting extra work with gratitude, mostly on the USA Network show In Plain Sight.  It pays at least as much as a temp office job would.  Now, on The Host, I'm playing one of the extra-terrestrial "Souls" that inhabit the earth.  There will be six days of work for me this month.  Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work I go.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Finding Mickey

So, Gabriel was pulling things out of mama's bureau and playing with them.  As you do. 

For the record, it was mama who handed him her black brassiere.  He wasn't sure what to do with it, so he handed it to me.  As the elder male figure in his life, I demonstrated male elegance and maturity by wearing the brassiere on my head.

He regarded me with a serious expression for a long moment, and then some sort of realization visibly fell into place in his mind and he smiled with satisfaction.

"It's Mickey Mouse!!"  he exclaimed. 

Whereupon he spent part of the morning wearing his new "Mickey Mouse ears." 

Welcome to our home. 

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Chess and the Sword

"Pressing Down the Pillow" means not letting your opponent's head up.  In the Way of Martial Arts combat,  it is wrong to let your opponent lead you around or push you into a defensive position.   
-- Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

Some chess players use a similar idea when they play white, using bold openings they have memorized to crush black's development immediately, putting pressure on the king's bishop pawn right away, sometimes introducing the queen within the first few moves hoping black will start giving away pieces and/or open up the king.

This is gambling and either way is not likely going to make for a good match.  When someone wields these memorized openings without understanding them well, even a less experienced player can upset them.  Your opponent might well wiggle out of the trap and you will find yourself overextended, your pieces cornered in black's territory with no backup.

The end position above (white resigned at this point) came about when the player, an online opponent from Greece, used a bold variation on an opening attack on my king's bishop pawn (which, you will see, is still on the board).  For a little while, he had suppressed my development and laid down a net fraught with dangerous sacrifices for me.  I wasn't sure how this would turn out, so I just very calmly addressed the threats, developed the pieces as I could, taking my time. This is how it ended up: white overwhelmed, wondering how this happened. 

I wonder how many games I've won as black merely because white came on too strong in the opening and didn't know what to do when the initial attack failed.  Another tip from Musashi: time is infectious.

Being drawn in is something common to all things.  Becoming sleepy is infectious, just as yawns and such are infectious.  Time, too, is infectious.  ... When your opponents show themselves to be skittish and hurried, you should give an appearance of being not at all affected by this, and rather move all the more leisurely.  Your opponents will then be caught up by your actions and will show signs of slackening.  

A tip about chess: unless you're a highly experienced player who has attained some mastery in position and theory, don't bother memorizing openings.  For all the years I've played chess, I still don't really know Alekhine from alkaline.  I've played hundreds if not thousands of games, and slowly I have come to a better understanding of the hidden cause and effect, of the strengths and weaknesses of a position as it changes move by move.  It's hard to develop this understanding if you play nothing but speed chess.