Monday, March 22, 2010


Things were starting to go downhill at this point. I was rapidly trying to figure out what to do with the next few months, and more importantly, my life. Jess was leaving for either one month or 8 months on the disney cruise and some of our plans were shaken up. I had the SETC auditions coming up and and about 75% of me didnt want to do them. I wanted to fly home and see my family, but was thinking of just skipping the auditions and staying in columbus.
I had purchased a room for the night, so I decided to drive down and just give it a whirl. Although, on Friday, I was in Columbus during the Arnold Classic and went with my dad to see the bodybuilders and expo. Being there, i was surrounded by people in my business. Trainers, athletes, scientists, body builders, celebrities, etc. I felt at home. I knew what was going on. I knew what it took to get to where they were. I had so much fun. We left the Classic and I drove straight down to Kentucky. I arrived later in the evening and stopped by the convention. What happened in the next few minutes messed with my head and scared me to all bits. I first saw the sign of upcoming Broadway shows that were coming to the Rupp Arena. Then a few "actors" came running by me. Then i saw a dance call in the main area with everyone practicing, being loud, and just making a scene that anyone who doesn't follow acting would just consider "annoying". My only thought from this and that stayed with me through the weekend was "What are we doing?". What are we trying to accomplish? Are we actors because we're too lazy to do anything else? If we were put on this earth to be actors, why don't we spend 9 hours a day becoming the best we can be? What would happen if there was no such thing as acting, I mean really? Had we just not grown up yet? What is the end game of being an actor? Fame? Consistent work? Being the best at what we do? You can be cast in the greatest show ever, and 6 months later be unemployed, what is the meaning of that? Why does that bring happiness?What is the purpose of theater and getting cast in shows? These questions came flooding in and I looked around and felt sorry for everyone there.
Should I have been taking everything more serious? Did my not caring attitude hurt me or help me? I left the arena and went straight to a sports bar and had dinner and watched the games until it was late.
I woke up the next day with such a calm demeanor and relaxation I had never felt before. I woke up, warmed up, got dressed, went down and had breakfast, and made my way to the audition. I sat on a chair listening to my ipod, waiting to be seen, maybe get a callback and head back to see my family in Columbus. Then I had another sense of rolling my eyes when we all gathered in a room to do a group warm up. No. Maybe I shouldn't be here. I've been to over 500 auditions in NYC and not once did a group warm up ever cross anyone's mind. Was I too old to be here? Was my attitude just not right for what a student should have? Why did a group warm up and watching actors rehearse their audition as if they were searching for one last realization of the material that would put them over the top bother me so much? I'm not an elitist. I don't even think I'm a very good actor. That's why I want to go to grad school. But between what I experienced at URTA's and these few moments at SETC, something happened inside me that affected my audition that day and, since today is June 7, every day ever since then, which is: Why don't I stop trying to impress everyone and just do what I know I can do.
Holy shit. It might not seem a lot to read that, but I promise my life has changed ever since. I was the first person to go in my group of 20 and I walked on stage, practically forgot I was auditioning and just trusted all the work I had done in rehearsals and my feelings and emotions at that given moment and just performed. That's it. Entertained. I got wrapped up in this career because i liked to make people laugh. I liked to teach people things. I liked to be creative. Somewhere along the way I stayed in this business because I wanted a role or to be loved by people because maybe I didn't get the attention growing up lacked in self confidence along the way. But at that moment, I just talked. I played my comic timing. I talked to someone with intention and trusted myself. Something I had always done in shows, but never in auditions. And when I walked off after 2 and a half minutes, I could've cared less if I didn't get one callback. But just like any other feel good story, the opposite happened. I got called back to every single school that was auditioning that day.
The other thing that happened was after my audition, I witnessed and observed the desperation and "acting" that was done by the majority of people. I feel like 85% of things that happen to me on a daily basis is to teach me, so I wasn't judging these people but learning from what I was watching and knowing that I was witnessing a turning point in what would make me a better teacher than I ever thought I would be.
"Fuck it". What an attitude to adopt. My dad had told me. My grandpa told me. And here I was. 34 years old and it finally made sense.
I went into my interview/callbacks with that same attitude because of what I had experienced the day before. I didn't have to go to grad school. I wanted to go to grad school. At the end of the day, I was going to be ok. I love training people. I love working with kids. I 'm smart. I have personality. Sadly, I'm an unbelievable bartender and waiter. I went to each one like it was a first date. Let's see what happens. No one should be promising anything else to anybody. Just talk, get a vibe, and see what happens. No pressure. No matter what happens, life will keep on going and everyone is going to be ok.
And then I was introduced to The University of Central Florida...........


Let me be correct. It's U/RTA- University/Resident Theatre Association. It's what I had heard about. It was my shot. I had to apply. What the fuck was a nomination? I had to have someone nominate me to audition?? Oh God, what was I getting myself into? Most kids who audition are coming straight from undergrad. A professor nominates them and says they're good enough to be seen at the auditions. OK. Well, I haven't been in school for 12 years so my nominator was none other than Doug, my friend who is in my improv group Veal. Good enough? Good. If they're going to ask for something silly, they'll get a silly response. This was the very first incident of many that I realized I felt I was a little over the system and just wanted to audition. I had been doing it professionally for 12 years, had my EQUITY and AFTRA cards and just needed to be seen. Let me fight for it then. Thank God I got an audition slot! If I hadn't, someone would have probably been shot.
The next step was doing what any professional does: stand out from the rest. I got new headshots, put together a nicer resume, and sent a letter to every single school that was auditioning at U/RTA and introduced myself and hope to play the "here's my resume, I'm a good actor, let's get to the interview and see if we're a good match". It actually worked with a couple of schools. Very non-New York. The next step was putting together my audition. Not going to make the same mistake twice and prepared a Shakespeare piece. How did I decide which piece? My friend Alexis asked me what I was considering, I told her a few different roles: Iago, Cassius, and someone else and she said, "Go with Cassius, you could play that role immediately". And that's how I picked my monologue to try to get me into grad school and start my life. Who said I wasn't strong in my shakespeare?!? She was right. I picked a hell of a piece. My contemporary was more of a struggle. There was a piece I had been doing that I performed really well, but there was something that was missing. Then it came to me. I had to do my Steve monologue. A piece I had written for OSU and became part of me. It showed my sense of humor, comic timing, honesty, and who I was as a person. All the literature said "DON'T DO A PIECE YOU WROTE YOURSELF". woops. Again, felt like I know something they didn't.
I picked one of my true friends and best directors I've worked with, Ken Kimmins. He's directed me and has always been able to pull things from me and know things about me that has helped me out. Then there was the damn time limit. 3 minutes to introduce yourself, the pieces, and do them. The first time we timed it was 3:45. Ok, we should make some cuts. Besides the technical side of the audition, we spent so much time just talking about the pieces, and the philosophy behind certain characters, and being creative artists for the first time in a long time, and it was a time that i actually missed being an actor. Take away all the business bullshit, the love of the art is what is missing in this city, but we'll get to all that later.
Hours of rehearsal for 3 minutes. These are the equations that make me hate this job. But I was ready and felt the same way I had felt about everything else leading up to this and OSU. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. If I'm not supposed to be at a school, it won't happen. And thank God I held on to that belief.
My audition was around 12:45 and we had an orientation at 12. So I'm thinking someone will just remind us of the logistics and I'll have about 30 minutes to get ready. It was at this time I almost just walked out of the building. We had to do a screening audition in order to be seen by the schools the next day. Ok, so one bad audition and you're done. Like playing a bad game during March madness, you're going home if you don't step up to the plate. We're at Crown Plaza in Times Square and there's about 40 of us in the room. The lady who was leading the orientation was making me never want to go to grad school or be an actor. I understand that I'm older, some of these kids were seniors in college, and most people don't follow directions well. But this lady talked for about 30 minutes about how to audition, who you should be looking at, to use your voice, the idea of grad school, reiterating EVERYTHING in the manual, telling you how you should eat between meetings, don't go to mcdonalds, see a show, etc and my head was going to explode. If you have been "nominated" to audition here, these BASIC rules of auditioning should be drilled in your body. And if you're going to grad school, these are things you should have known 6 years ago. But here I am, listening to this 20 minutes before I have to perform.
Finally, she gets done and I go to my room, audition, felt good, and left. That's it. That's auditioning. 3 minute. In and out. Thank you. I left it in the room.
So........... I have to come back a couple hours later and get my results to see if I'm auditioning for the schools and now we're in the same room but the numbers have doubled. And here comes the woman again. For the next 30 minutes (as she's holding the results sheets in her hand) she explains to us, in detail, success stories from past U/RTA auditions, why the schools might not like you, don't take it too hard, how to come back next year better, what we should do at our callbacks, specific things schools are looking for when they audition you, etc and again....... my head is going to fucking explode. After her drama club speech, we received our results.
I passed! yay! We have orientation tomorrow morning and my callback is at 10 am. Thanks.
The next morning we go to New World Stages and meet as a group. Thank God, we have a new leader. He comes in, tells us the logistics, and we then go into the theater and get to look around. We walk on the stage. I go out into the audience to see what they'll see, and what I see is this: Boys doing acoustic checks with their voices and looking up. Crazy noises from mouths. Acting, and I mean ACTING of monologues. Wow. I am old. Save your energy people. Focus. Find your objective and just go after it in the most natural way. thats it.
When my time came, I went in, did my monologues. That's it. Thank you. 3 minutes. Done.
Should I have checked to see where the acoustic sweet spots were before? nah.
Back to the Crown Plaza. Oh God, here she is again!! Now we're getting the reasons schools might not call us back and what to do with that information. Again, more success stories from years past. STOP TALKING STOP TALKING AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH. PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok, after all my work, letters, calls, coachings, research, years of acting in NY, who called me back? UNLV, Roosevelt, Purdue, and Maryland. Shit. what about the Texas, Cal U, Florida, Florida State, Northern Illionois, Indiana??? Wait, what did that woman say about why a school might not like you? And what the fuck was Roosevelt?
My first callback was at Maryland. As I sat down, they said they received my pic and resume and wanted to know what it was about their program that interested me so much. i couldn't answer truthfully. "Actually, nothing. I sent those to every school so that I could spark interest and hopefully get an interview." I didn't get a good vibe from the recruiters and it went really downhill when the question was "Who are you Jason?" I answered "The perfect boyfriend". "No, don't be funny. answer truthfully." Oh God, these must be the nominators for the Academy Awards. Comedies can never be considered Best Pictures! To be funny is not acting. Just like in college when Theo, Ian, and I did funk and rock 'n' roll and weren't considered music majorly enough. Then she came out with a doozy "I see you've done mainstream theater, but what's your interest in experimental theater?" Oh god, I can visualize this program now. 'We are going to crawl, moan, cry, and pound our chest, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is acting'. When they said I'd need to come down to the campus for a final callback, I realized it just wasn't meant to be.
Roosevelt wasn't really a callback. They invited everyone and just explained the program. I liked it a lot, but I think I would have gone broke living in Chicago with no income.
Purdue was pretty average but I couldn't imagine living in Northern Indiana in the middle of nowhere. That would have been tough on Jess.
Then UNLV. Perfect. I had been looking at the program for awhile now. Perfect location. Such a laid back interview. The guys were great. The recruiter had gone to school with my theater head from undergrad. The program was laid back, very physical based, good money. The conversation led to all areas that i liked. We went past our 15 minutes and I left thinking "I need to get an apartment in Vegas, I'll be living close to my friends, Jess should be ok out there, and it'll be warm!"
First offers would be made Feb 15th, what a birthday present! I called my friends in Vegas, let people know that this might be happening, and started visualizing myself there. I contacted the current students at UNLV and got feedback on the program from them. Seemed like the same things were said by all of them. What was most suprising was how diverse the background of the class was. It seemed like these kids weren't even serious about grad school when they were accepted and their theater background was sometimes minimal. This was such great news to me because how could they pass me up? I'd be perfect for them!
Well, my birthday came and went. The next few days went by. Oh my God, it's happening again. I sent an email to my contact and received "We made first offers, we can't move on until we hear back from them, but you're still in the running". The horror! The horror! All I wanted to do was go to grad school and get my MFA. Why is this the hardest thing in the world?!?!?

The Year between

I don't know when I actually decided to continue on with my determination to get into grad school. If I had written this a year ago, I probably would know. I'm almost positive it was when I moved in to my new apartment and my third roommate was leaving in August to attend Florida State-Asolo to receive her MFA. She told me about URTAs and how she had auditioned there and received all these callbacks and offers and was having a hard time deciding which one she wanted to attend. Oh my God! 15 -20 schools watch you do an audition and the ones who are interested in you contact you?? That sounds perfect! In all of those schools, how could not one of them like me? I mean, I'm older, I've toured the country and world with two musicals, I do improv, I've done regional theater, tv/film, and have a tremendous amount of New York experience. I should have just punched myself in the face then. I spent that year just playing the waiting game. It was March and the auditions wouldn't be until January.
It was in that time that I met a girl who has changed my life and would become a huge part of this story as it unraveled. I didn't know that I was going to fall in love with her, and if the timing had been any different, I don't know how the auditioning, getting an offer, and moving would impact our relationship, if there would be a relationship to impact. But the Gods set it all up right so that by the time decisions were being made, we were really ready to move our relationship forward and talked about her coming with me. Let's call this "she" by a name: Jess. Jess was in NYC doing the actor/dancer stuff but didnt love the city as much as she thought she would. We were both in a rut of working too many hours and not being creatively fulfilled. As the URTA auditions approached, I was worried about what schools were auditioning and if they accepted me, would Jess be bored out of her mind or be able to strive in a some career.
Silly me, I thought there would be some generic website that listed all the schools that provided MFA programs and maybe more specifically, if they were accepting a class for the fall of 2010. If you're new to this, MFA classes are very small (4-12 people in a class) and the schools' focus goes on that class so they don't accept students every year, but every other year if not every third year. Now there are some schools that recruit ever year and I sort of had in mind which ones those were. In an internet that contains over a billion websites ranging from chemical makeups of metals to bestiality porn, do you know I couldn't find one simple website that had the information I needed. So after watching a couple hours of bestiality porn, I realized I had to call every single school and do the work myself so i could research the schools and be ready when audition time came. I had my own notebook. Listed every school I could find with an MFA degree and the phone number. And then started calling. I probably called 50-60 theater schools and found out one of the few things: 1) The school didn't have an MFA program 2) They did, but the receptionist had no clue what I was talking about 3) Yes to MFA, no to recruiting his year 4) Yes to MFA, auditioning at URTAs *ding, ding, ding! 5) Yes to MFA, auditioning independently (enter USC) 6) Yes to MFA, auditioning at SETC. Wa Wa Waaaah? What the hell was an SETC? So I did research on that and found out some grad schools auditioned at the South Eastern Theater Conference in Lexington, KY a few weeks after URTAs. Ah, hell, I guess I'll do that too. Its just a drive from my parents house.
From there, I registered for URTAs, SETC, and scheduled some meetings with independent schools. I met the representative from USC and had a great conversation and was really interested in the school. I guess I should describe what I was looking for in the school to help you understand better. First, they have to be on Playboy's top 10 party schools. Second, their cheerleaders have to be cute at football games. Oh yeah, and they have to have an MFA program. 1) I was leaving NYC for a reason. I wanted to be back on a campus. I wanted things cheap, space to move around, cheap, slower, cheaper, nicer, bigger place to live, and cheaply cheap. 2) I wanted to teach the undergrads 3) Good financial package, I'm sorry, great finacial package 4) a program with film technique and a place that they encourage student led stuff like my own work or forming an improv group 5) For it to just feel right.
With USC, the program was good, but I'd be living in LA and I'd be thousands of dollars in debt when I was done. I was realizing what was more important than the actual program.
So it was down to my URTA auditions. How could I fail? I'm a New York actor, I've toured.............................

First and last stop- Ohio state

My idea was to pretend I've been keeping this journal for the past year and a half and let you experience my struggles to get into Grad School in hopes of receiving my MFA in acting. But I'm going to write my experiences for the past 14 months in one sitting. The short of it is this: My decision, OSU, failed, URTAs, failed, fuck it, SETC, success? I could be sitting here on the eve of getting accepted into The University of Central Florida for the fall of 2010 and I think it would be an amazing story of how I, a 34 year old actor living in New York City, made the decision to go back to school and how so many forces have put me where I am today.
I think the journey begins about a year and a half ago when a relationship I was in ended. It was at that moment I realized I hadn't been living for myself for some time. I had put my goals and career track on hold and needed to take care of myself. I was just starting my 30's and was stuck in a restaurant, a kid's preschool, and catering. I had just started to try to receive my certification in personal training which would be part of my foundation of what I considered what I wanted to do in my life. After passing that test, I felt like I had a much more solid focus on my future. Then I went home at Christmas and innocently drove by Ohio State one night and suddenly realized I might be ready to go to grad school, something I had been planning on for a long time, but the time never seemed right because I couldn't find any happiness and support to propel me into that tough life. That night, I looked at the OSU program on line and realized they were auditioning for their class right now! It all made sense. I was supposed to move back to Ohio, be with my family, watch my niece grow up, attend a school I had always wanted to go to, and receive the degree I had always planned on. I called the recruiter, found out I could audition on campus the day of my birthday, Feb 15, and in my head, I'd be accepted soon after, move my stuff away from New York, and start my new life. Things looked good. A friend of mine was on the faculty, I had Columbus roots, and damnit, I was a New York actor with a shitload of experience, 2 national tours on my resume, tv shows, and a lot of uncovered talent.
I was told they wanted a basic audition. 2 contrasting monologues, one being my own work because OSU was big into that. Perfect. I'd do a contemporary monologue and a piece I had written about my experiences in Asia which people loved to hear.
My birthday went well. My best friend from undergrad was a musical director for OSU and my friend on the faculty saw me in the hallway. "Just let me go in, perform, interview, and if you need to offer me a position today, I will be willing to take it" I thought. The audition went smoothly. Did my pieces, got great laughs, good moments, and then sat down for the interview. Told them why i wanted to go back to school, why I wanted to go to OSU, and what I wanted to accomplish while I was there. I didn't care how many people they had auditioned, how could I not be a top choice? OSU is not Yale or NYU! But I thought this not in an egotistical way, but just matter of factly. I left the audition room with the state of mind that "I left everything I wanted to in that room", a great feeling for all actors. I look back now and realized there was one question they asked that i didn't think twice about. "Jason, how is your Shakespeare?". I didn't want to lie, I hadn't done much. I had toured the country and the world with two musicals for almost 5 years. I was doing a lot of regional work, a lot of improv. I think my Shakespeare is good but not great. Just like my tv/film work. Its good, I can get by, but I'd like a lot more practice to make it second nature.
Well flash forward a week. I was moving out of my apartment in astoria and was looking for a new place. "Well, if I'm moving back to Ohio, should I get a short sublet and what do I tell those people about how long I want to live there?". So I called my friend on the faculty to see if I could get a heads up on when offers would be made because of my move. She was very very nice and called me back and said since it sounded like I was going through a life change,s he would call. Now this is on my voice mail and I'm listening to it in the back kitchen of my restaurant in Times Square. "Jason, we thought you were great, it's obvious you have tremendous talent, but the faculty is concerned about the extent of your Shakespeare. This is because we have a close partnership to the Royal Shakespeare Company. I've seen the lists and you're not on the first round of offers and I don't see you on the 30 people on the wait list". What the fuck. Not even on the 30?? I'm really that bad? I'd be that awful to be part of your training program? With my experience, I could start a training program! Jesus Christ!
Now what do I do?