I've been on the road a lot.
I mean I haven't been on a national tour; but it certainly feels like I have been. 35 weeks of work last year. much of it on the road, and a chunk nearly that size in '15, mostly out of town - Long Island, Boston, Stockbridge, St. Louis.
Don't get me wrong: I. LOVE. WORKING. I love it so much that I say yes. I say yes to everything.
But maybe the time has come to say no. At least once.
This is a dilemma that every working actor runs into now and again; When you're blessed enough to work in our industry, 99% of the time you grab it. But then you begin realizing that no one back home recognizes you any more. You go to your gym down the street and the desk gal does a huge double take and shouts, "Where've you BEEN?"
I don't like dropping off the radar. But a J-O-B is a J-O-B, no?
Maybe, in order to be 'in line' for the bigger jobs, every now and then, just every now and then, you need to say no to the first suitor at the door. I know it sounds a tad overzealous. But I'm ready to stay home for a while, and work in the good old NYC. As Actors we're taught never to say no; a yes in the scene usually leads to more wonder. So maybe instead of no, I'll just say...MAYBE.
Maybe. And I'll wait. And work.
Greetings readers! Time to get on the way-back machine:
When I first came to New York in May of 1993, there was only one show I wanted to see: Blue Man Group. I had heard how amazing it was and couldn't wait to have my mind blown. BMG did not disappoint - drums rattled my skull, captain crunch was turned into Action Art, paint flew in all directions, and 3 bodies on stage did ever more fantastic things, including cunning moments of irony and humor. It was smart, it was tribal, it was utterly unique. And as I watched I remember thinking, "Wow. I could never do that, but it is without a doubt the coolest thing I have ever seen!"
Cut to 3 years later; I'm out of town working at the Guthrie. On my answering service (this is pre-cell phones, folks) I get a message from Mark McClain Wilson, an old friend from the University of Michigan who happened to be working at Blue Man in Front of House (audience relations, tickets, etc). His message: "Hey man, I'm at Blue Man these days - and guess what? I heard they're looking for guys. As I recall, you're about the right height, and I know you're a drummer - You should send in a picture and resume. Here's the address."
And I erased the message.
It seems that even when so new to 'The Biz', I was already making casting decisions for myself, as in casting myself OUT of shows - but truth be told, the experience of seeing BMG had knocked me out so completely that I didn't even consider throwing my hat in the ring. So without another thought, I bleeped his idea and continued singing my way through Minneapolis.
But Mark, bless him, didn't give up on me. 2 weeks later, another message: "Hey man, they still haven't seen anything from you at Casting - I swear, you should give this a try. Come on, man - what have you got to lose?"
Fine, I thought. Fine, enough already. I sent in a picture and resume.
Several months later:
I was Bald and Blue. And I remained that way for nearly 2 years.
Lesson One: Never, ever cast yourself 'out' of any show. You just never know.
But that's only where this story begins. More lessons await.
Without a doubt, all the shows I've done have left marks on me artistically; some good, some bad. But BMG's effects have been particularly deep.
After several months in the company, I remember running into Chris Wink, one of the 'Original Three' Blue Men - (Chris, Phil Stanton and Matt Goldman started Blue Man as an artistic exploration / salon journey in the late 80's); I turned a corner down in the depths of the Astor Place Theatre and there stood Chris, who looked up at me and said, "Hey, Jimmy, good to see you. How's it going? What are you working on?"
I'd never been asked that question after being in a show for that long before. Momentarily flummoxed, I stammered, "Um, well, I, uh... remember that part of the show when all 3 Blue Men come downstage, then turn as one to the audience and-"
"No, no, that's not what I mean," he said. "What are YOU working on?"
DING! The color of my world changed.
I looked around me. The guy who was filling banana tubes was also a terrific painter. One of the Blue Men who trained me was developing a Performance Art Piece that he was self-producing at a small found space in the East Village. Dumbfounded, I realized that nearly EVERY company member at BMG, whether they were talking into tubes, training to be Blue Men or were selling tee shirts in the lobby - nearly all had some kind of artistic endeavour of their own. Street Dancers, Actors, Filmmakers, Musicians, Found Object Artists... in addition to their 'work life' at BMG, they had one or several side projects that they were constantly evolving. And I realized with a start this was the basic culture of the place: This show, BMG, which was on the way to becoming an artistic behemoth, was started by 3 guys and their friends who were just 'working on their own stuff'. It worked. It works.
I thought of my hidden artistic side - I had always written, thought about filmmaking, but rarely showed my work to people, thinking, "Who am I to create, to have an Official Artistic Voice...?" But there, that day while standing in a theatre full of proof to the contrary, my mind changed.
I began showing my stuff around. I began working in Film, writing, producing, creating. I swallowed my fear and let my stuff be watched, critiqued, digested, enjoyed. And in 2003, I made my journey as a producer / creator legally official by incorporating Back40 Films, LLC, my very own legally extant Film Company, into existence. Since then I've written, produced or co-produced over 300 films. Here's one favorite; A Face in the Rock, a conceptual trailer for a feature length film that I wrote, set in the Upper Peninsula, where I grew up:
So, the lesson here? The enduring tattoo on my soul?
As a professional Actor of over 20 years, I know that in the Biz of Show, so very little is within my control. However, my own work is something I can completely control. It's my playground, forever and always. And there is power in that, there is momentum in that, and ultimately there is a kind of stability that the Biz cannot provide. And the only person I ever have to give permission to... is myself.
A Master Teacher of mine once said: 'Some people wake up with dreams and go to bed with Reality. I say wake up with Reality and go to bed with Dreams'.
Make dreams the stuff of your every day. How to do that? Create your own work. As much as possible, and whenever possible.
What are you working on?