Fi-diddle-dee-dee: Back to the Berks for me!

Not since 2011, when I was there to do a play. But this time, a Musical:

Tomorrow I'm heading to the train and then to Western MA, where I'll be hanging with old friends Katie B., Graham, Joe and others (and making new ones) working at the Berkshire Theatre Group playing the terribly silly Dr. Kitchell, And Many Others. And of course at some point (perhaps many points), I'll be heading back to MOE's Tavern, because, well, #CraftBeer and #AmazingWhiskey:

Life is good, y'all: Life is good. This should be damn fun. Stay tuned for rehearsal updates!

Revelation in a $43 cup of Starbucks.

I just had a major revelation rise out of a $43 cup of Starbucks. Story:


I'm in Vegas this week, doing an Industrial show (or what we like to call Business Theater) for just a couple of days. We've been staying at the MGM Grand, and our show, for Country Financial, was an interesting little presentation on a huge conference center stage, woven through some long speeches being given by the top brass of this company. The greatest piece of Art? Absolutely not. But it's been a terrific gig. We've been paid well, got housed in a beautiful hotel in a fairly warm climate (while the East Coast was getting pounded by a huge snowstorm), got fed like Kings and Queens, and I even got to the gaming tables - and it looks like I'm actually going to leave Vegas 'up' about 100 bucks. Happy days!


So yesterday morning just before I checked out, I went downstairs for a $43 cup of Starbucks. Well the Starbucks cost $8 - (8 dollars for a cup of Starbucks drip and a scone! YIKES!), so where the other $35 come from? As I was stirring in some milk, I noticed that on the gaming floor not 10 steps away there was a five dollar Blackjack table with a nice, welcoming looking dealer standing behind it.   I sat, and I was the only one at the table – you can do this when it's 7 AM on a Wednesday, even in Vegas.

When you play Blackjack and it's just you and the dealer, it can be really fun. You can really play the game, and if your dealer is personable, you can strike up a conversation that can ramble nearly anywhere. My dealer's name was Audrey. And as she was casually hammering me with a very unfriendly shoe, the questions began: "What do you do for a living?" "I'm an Actor.". Usually, Actor gets some kind of reaction, but she barely blinked. Because this is Vegas, and she gets every kind of everything at her table. For a moment, I mused that in a certain way, she's a priest, and this is her confessional - but then I thought, no that's not right; she's a zookeeper, slinging cards and jokes at whatever kind of animal runs, flies or crawls by. "Could you break this for me please? " "Well I'm not strong enough to break it, but I'll definitely give you change." Bah-DUM-bum. 

She dealt me a 20 and then proceeded to deal herself 21 the hard way, and as my head sagged and she reached for my chips, another casual question: "What's your favorite thing you've ever done?"


Now as a person who makes their living as a Professional Actor I've easily been asked this question a thousand times. I usually have some kind of stock answer for it, and so I began my usual "Well, that's a really hard question, but..."

Revelation. BOOM.

And I realized that in that silly little industrial show, I had just as much fun in the moment, in the doing of it, in the performing of it, as I've ever had in any show I've ever done. Anywhere.

So who cares? Why does this matter? PROCESS. That's why. It is all about the doing of a thing, not where you are doing it. (As long as you're getting paid, of course - I mean I am a professional and all.) I've been on Broadway, on television, in film, I run my own series, and even in a conference venue at 7AM, I was having a fantastic time with fantastic people.


Perhaps getting hammered at Blackjack is a method for making that clear. (This is not a method that I would advise participating in frequently - but it is quite effective.) Thus: Are you enjoying what you're doing at the moment? If not, then you should probably find something else to do. Me, im going to keep finding every opportunity I can...  just to be in the show. Wherever it is. As long as it's paying.

Thank you Audrey. You took my money... but in the end, I owe you. 

On being bald & blue: What are you working on?

Greetings readers! Time to get on the way-back machine:

Photo by Ken Howard @BMP

Photo by Ken Howard @BMP

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!"

Mark Wilson - he lives in LA now.

Mark Wilson - he lives in LA now.

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."

I laughed.

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:

My 1997 Christmas Card.

My 1997 Christmas Card.

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.

My film company. 

My film company. 

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?