Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thank you

Kindergarten: Miss Heartline which we wrote with a heart and a line because we didnt know how to spell. She caught me chewing gum one day and scolded me silently. I still remember that.
First Grade: Miss Buchman. I've heard she's passed away. I remember my favorite Halloween party was in that class.
Second Grade: Mrs. Floehr. One of my favorites of all time. At the age of 7, I learned how to be sarcastic, loving, and disciplinary at the same time. I remember her writing my name on the board when I did something bad. God, I hated getting my name on the board. And a checkmark? Crap!
Third Grade: Ms. Fyffe. The first year of what we would know about standardized tests. Also, Christmas Carol with George C Scott came out that year and we read the script along with the movie. The first of 3000 scripts I would read with passion.
Fourth Grade: Miss Orsborne. I thought I was sneaky and changed a punctuation mark on a quiz and she gave me credit for it. I still remember that. I actually feel bad about that. I also remember making the largest Indian Burial ground as a project. We also watched the Challenger explosion in that class.
Fifth Grade: Mr. Cook. Finally a male teacher! Woody Hayes died while I was in fifth grade. We played the longest game of taking wagons across the country on a big map on the wall. I remember my wagon made it across safe. I remember decorating pumpkins and having to write a creative story about the pumpkin and its personality. I also remember that damn movie about making doughnuts and how it changes if you type in 100 and add a zero it makes 1000. The hilarity came from those 900 extra doughnuts!! It made me crave doughnuts the rest of my life. Started playing guitar that year.
Sixth Grade: Mrs. Hoeflinger. One of my favs. Still keep in touch with her to this day. Started playing trumpet that year. Made a video about something which she'll remember. Ah, 1987. The invention of the VHS. I remember her saying she knew Mandy Fox was going to be a great actress back in 6th grade. I wanted the same kind of compliment. I craved it.
Ms. Haddad and Mrs. Fullen: My art teachers through elementary school. Mrs Fullen implanted the music bug in me. Ms. Haddad let me learn the concept of creating. Which I took hold and went crazy with it.
Middle School: Ah, puberty. Learned sex education. Learned the physical aspects of it. They left out all of the emotional and mental bullshit that comes along with it. Mrs. Christianson had Pat and I do my first real acting scene. I was Tom Cruise from Rain Man... of course I was. We did Christmas Carol in 8th grade. Pat was Ebenezer Scrooge. I had a bit part. I was pissed. Not at Pat, but taught me early that this business sucks.
High School: Mr and Mrs Brenneman. The two people who I hate more than anyone because they made me become addicted to this thing we call performing. They took me at a time where I was slightly interested, and flooded me with music, theater, performing, and learning that art was more than just getting applause. The music and theater program at my high school was/is more advanced and more organized than a lot of colleges around the country. I remember Robin taking me into her office and giving me her honest opinion about who I was as an actor and my possibilities. She told me once I found myself and my own voice, I would be unstoppable. We did more literature, concerts, plays, programs, events, entertainment, and practice time in high school than some actors do in a lifetime. They are 2 of my closest friends in the world.
It was here that Mr. Shepard let me have free reign in my creative writing class. Ms. Chase challenged me every day to not just memorize the facts about politics, but actually know it. Mr. Winland gave me cramps in my writing hand, Mrs. Bower taught me comprehension, Mrs. Vance taught me the superiority of technical design and professional expectations (and accepted nothing less than perfection in my writing), Mr. Smith and Mr Blackstone taught me the basics of the gym and health which I use to this day, Mrs Hensley and Mrs O'Shaughnessy who I owe everything and more to, Mr Snider, Mrs Felch and Mr Bay who taught me that I'll hate math for the rest of my life, and Mr K and Mrs Gottliebson who taught me stuff about theater that has stayed with me all these years.
Dr Johnson at Otterbein College who I feel I owe my life, success, and my first child to. Not only did he teach me about music, but how to live life as an artist. How to run a class, expect the best out of people, and not to accept shit from students who should be doing better. Ed Vaughan, Dennis Romer, John Stefano, Chris Kirk, Stella, and Robert Behrens taking a guy who worked off his instincts and knew the rough outline of acting and trying to make something of me.
Now I'm back in school, as a grad student. In just a few months, I've dusted off the cobwebs and learned how to go about learning to develop my craft again. Thank you Kate Ingram, Tad Ingram, Chris Niess, Be Boyd, Julia Listengarten, Earl Weaver, Jim Brown, and Mark Brotherton for taking a chance on this 35 year old and beating the crap out of my bad habits and showing me new ways of looking at things that I've been studying for decades. A special shout out to David Lee who I was fortunate enough to TA for and left the semester with a stronger vocabulary, literature compilation, and being able to talk NY theater and art with a familiar Hell's Kitchen citizen. Even though I didn't even participate in the class, his words and lessons penetrated this sponge of knowledge I'm dealing with and just showed me you never know who you're affecting as a teacher.
That's the point of this blog. Here are a list of teachers and professors that have changed my life and educated me in order for me to change others. I didn't even go through the teachers I had to get my personal training certification, my acting coaches, voice coaches, audition coaches, etc. There is a power that teachers possess that is magical. We're all going to leave this earth one day. What are we going to leave on this earth is what is important. Teachers do that. They have so many students they don't realize what word, sentence, lesson, or advice they give that changes the path of a student forever. Teachers should get paid like athletes and actors. If you're really really good, you should be making 20 million a year. Thank you for every minute that every teacher has ever spent with me. I'm grateful for everything you have done for me and hope every student that has sat in front of you appreciates you as much.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why I do what I do

I'm already upset with this blog because of its title. They do identify my belief in the theme of tonight's entry, though. Other titles on the short list were "Leave me the fuck alone", "I feel sorry for your future", and "Really, this is what you're worried about?". I have come to pleasantly accept that I'm a stream of conscious writer. I hardly do any editing from the time I sit down to the point I post the blog. I believe that stems from my wholly and holy belief in the magic of the moment right now. I do not fear making mistakes and I believe that since I've made 7,444,376,395,103,998 mistakes in my life and I can still wake up every day with money in my bank account, a smile on my face, and doing what I feel I was put on this earth to do, I learn from them and move on.
So, back to my title. I honestly feel that 30 people watch me a day (most likely more) and roll their eyes and say "if Jason would just do this, he would be so much happier and successful." Well, I haven't really come across anyone who is much happier than I am. And what is the standard for success? The theme of this semester/year for me is "I'm out of NYC for the first time in 12 years, I was an actor for a total of 12% of the time I was there, I worked three jobs, let the city run me down, let girlfriends put my life on hold, let money dictate my actions, didn't see theater on a daily basis, didn't audition on a daily basis, did everything half ass, didn't take full advantage of my opportunities, and where did that get me?" Writing on a blog about my experiences as the oldest member of my grad class and trying to figure out the world. And on the flip side, I am the happiest person every day when I get out of bed and the only thing that is going to hold me back from everything I've ever dreamed of, is me.
The inside joke in the grad class is that I act in too many of the undergrad's directing scenes. As I remember waking up at 7 am on saturdays, teaching at a preschool till 3, sprinting to my restaurant to work until 2 am, and then being back at the preschool at 9 am to work till 6pm......... I will act in 700 directing scenes a day if that means I can try different acting techniques (read previous blog entry), meet new artists, read new literature, get new ideas from the directing teachers, and meet other fellow actors who just might be a perfect fit in the theater/comedy company dream that nestles itself silently in the back of my brain. I get to wake up every day and create, collaborate, try things, fail at things, succeed at things, be part of a community that surprises me everyday, and learn and argue with professors who themselves believe and admit they are looking for as many answers as I am.
Because........(timpani drum)............it's all going to end very very soon. The one advantage I have above everyone else at this school is I've seen the other side. Although, I never judge anyone for this and hold it against them. I didn't realize it at that age. That's why this is MY blog. I'm giving my truest self to the world. I've played in the big leagues. I've fought in the equity wars, the chorus call wars, the casting director wars, and have survived with minor and major injuries. Suck it up now people. It all goes away!!! I feel like I am in the middle of a vacation and it doesn't seem fair that I get to do what I want everyday. Every Wednesday when I have the decision to either sit in the grad office and read a script, go to the practice room, act in a directing scene, sit and stare at the wall, say hi to someone new in the hallway, or bitch about my life...... I think about the 5 years that I sat on the N train at 2:45 and cursed my life that I was going to bartend and wished I didn't have money to worry about and could just sit at home and read a script, go to a practice room, act in a directing scene, sit and stare at a wall, or bitch....oh that's what I was doing.....bitching about my life.
I'm almost 33% done with my time at UCF. WTF???? That's the new generation's way of saying What the Fuck... (My parents read my blogs...it's a great form of communication...Love yooooooooooooooou!!) I do more in one week here than I did in 1 year in NYC. Even when we didn't have classes over the break or on weekends, since I wasn't forced to study and work, I didn't. When I graduate, I promise I'll go 4 months without trying to further my smarts or technique in acting. It's sad but true.
So that's why I do what I do. I'm soaking everything up now because I know what it's like to have nothing, and right now I feel like I have everything. The English Proverb says "We never know the worth of water till the well is dry". To all the people who toured the country and world with me doing unbelievable shows and getting paid on every Friday: Remember all the bitching about the mundane shit?? Doesn't seem so bad now, does it?? How's that catering gig at Foot Locker going?
I know this sounds bitter and a little superior, but as I say on a daily basis: I could be dead tomorrow and do I really want to spend my day bitching about something that will have no matter in my life in a week? That's what people do who gossip and worry about others more than themselves. They are bored with their own lives and at least someone out their is living a little. Reality shows?? Why do we care? So to sum up: Live every day tot he fullest. Block out the negativity. Do something today you've never done before. Because tomorrow might not be there.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Rehearsals!!!!!!!!!!!!! My heaven. My playground. The sex room for my creativity. For years I used to view rehearsals as tedious, time consuming, and a waste of my talents until the real magic happened when there was an audience. I can't tell you when I converted to the ways of the artist, but I'm at a place now where I'd rather rehearse than actually perform. Rehearsals are the time to explore into the conscious and unconscious depths of our own minds and our characters. We do "plays" because that's what they should be. A time to play. The reason most actors don't have 9-5 jobs is because they don't want to "work". But the moment those actors get on stage and have 4 weeks to rehearse a show, they become narrow minded, stressed, academic, and goal oriented. Why? Because it all comes down to the nights of the performances. Will the people in the audience like them? Will they impress their friends? Will they impress their professors? Can they make other actors in the audience realize they are watching superior acting and should long to deliver lines the way they have crafted them to sound? That's all fucking horseshoe.
The only people who judge other actors performances are other actors. The general community goes to the theater to be entertained and usually are turned off by actors who are so into their own performances, how they look, and want to have all the attention when they're speaking. They don't know why they're turned off, probably because they're at the theater to enjoy themselves and they're confused why there is such banal crap in front of them. My professor Kate had the quote of the lifetime last week. In one of her heightened speeches to the masses (but only 8 of us are sitting there) she was criticizing us for making so many safe choices. "Why do millions of people go watch sports on a nightly basis? Because it's interesting! Challenging! Unpredictable! Attention grabbing! Why have millions of people stop going to the theater? Because it's boring! Predictable! Mundane! We've seen it before!!!" It's our job to grab the attention of our audiences and that's done by showing them a side of life they haven't experienced before.
Why do certain celebrities get so much fame and attention? Idiots like The Situation, Lindsay Lohan, and Charlie Sheen? Because they are 3 dimensional people who were are enamored by. By witnessing their actions and words, we cannot believe the things they do and are surprised daily by the things they actually continue to do. Why are we not able to do that as actors for the characters we play? We make the safest choices, play generic emotions, say our lines with no idea where it's coming from or what we want, forget about the element of surprise, and play all of the greatest characters written as any person that is walking down the street. What is so safe about Charlie Sheen? Wouldn't we pay big money to see someone play a character that they have flushed out as deep as Charlie Sheen? We have trouble finding the connection between words on a page and a full living, breathing character that affects the people around them in the same way.
We do this by rehearsing. 90% of actors will get their script, highlight their lines, memorize their lines, learn their blocking, say the lines they memorized, repeat that every single night until closing night of the show. They'll put the show on their resume, become facebook friends with everyone in the show, tell everyone what they hated about being in the show, and then try to get another show and repeat the process. Kill me.
I know certain actors who don't like to work with me. They consider myself slightly dangerous on stage, but never in the manner I'd hurt somebody. My core training has stemmed from the Atlantic Theater Company, Improv, and Meisner. In all three places, the rule is "We don't know what's going to happen on stage". That not only makes it exciting for the audience, but pretty fucking amazing for the actors too. By the time we open, we have a frame, we have very specific moments that need to happen, we have studied the role to know what might happen and what wouldn't happen, but besides that outline……………….Let's play. By the time the show opens, the exploration play lessens and the moments between actors are the times of unpredictability. But bring on rehearsal!!! Give me a playground, a director who wants to explore, and a cast who sees a vast land before them with the potential that we will build the next New York City, and I'm in heaven. I don't know the answers when I start a show. When I do find an answer, there's part of me that figures that's just the tip of the iceberg. I've been doing it ABC lately, well I'll try XYZ, then I'll try ^$#. Who knows? It gives me an actor hard on to know that something that I find could change the way this character is perceived that has never been thought of before. Nothing feels better than being on stage with an actor that when you look them in the eye, you are both so comfortable with your characters that no matter what happens, you'll be able to respond truthfully and honestly and not ruin the show that has been written. That's why we love certain sitcom characters that we could put in any position and know how they'd react. Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, Kramer from Seinfeld, Barney from How I Met Your Mother. These are characters that we want to make every single show we ever do as rich as. The answers aren't in a book somewhere. They're from our past, our present, our imaginations, our collaborations, our intelligence, the children inside of us, our experiences, and an infinite amount of other places we hold inside of each and every one of us.
I'll leave you with this. Stop boring me. I'll stop boring you. Make me want to watch you, care about you, identify with you, love you, hate you, laugh at you, cry with you. Stop performing for me. Communicate with me. Get in the rehearsal room and explore as many parts as the character as you can in the allotted time. Because if someone was playing you on stage……..it would take them years to connect to who you truly are.