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?

On copyright: Updated the Actor Reel (with controversy!)

So, copyright. It's a tricky, wibbly-wobbly thing.

I updated my 'Actor Reel' recently - for those of you not in the Biz, an Actor's 'Reel' is basically a highlight film of their best  / favorite film & television appearances. And while most of my favorite stuff is from The Happy Hour Guys, I have done a few other things as well - so I finally took some time and edited up a batch featuring stuff from Chappelle's Show, Lipstick Jungle, THHG (of course), and a fun little comedy film I did with Caroline Rhea and Jay Potter (see Caroline below?) And so I uploaded my little showcase to my YouTube account.

Well, YouTube was not impressed. They were trying to the folks who created this stuff, the copyright holders of the clips I was uploading to their service. Almost immediately they sniffed them out and froze the reel, sending me a notice. I understood completely. I want this stuff to be protected. I hate it when people upload entire movies and shows to YouTube and everyone gets it for free and no one who actually busted their ass making it gets paid - that's way, way unfair.

Howeva, I want to get paid too. And this is one of the tools I use to get work. So then what?

Well, there is such a thing as Fair Use. In United States copyright law, fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. I'm not trying to directly profit from this reel (other than letting people know I'm out there and open for business) - I haven't monetized it with advertising, and I don't care how many hits it gets. So I wrote YT back claiming that it was legal for me to use this material for reasons of Fair Use. This is my work, and it's how I get more work - people need to see it. 

Now I've traipsed around on both sides of this arguement - as a content creator with my film company, I believe in copyright and that the rights of creators MUST be upheld. But in our digital age, copyright is getting way fuzzy. The whole model needs some serious spiffing. 


Seriously: Who could be afraid of The Jeffrey?

Just posted to The Happy Hour Guys:

Been on Manhattan's Upper East Side lately? It recently became a much more Craft-y place, thanks to some folk who have a great deal of experience creating terrific places to meet, eat, and drink. The Jeffrey is the new Neighborhood Joint that starts pouring Craft Coffee at 6am, and then goes, and goes, and goes. Join Mark, Jimmy, and Squigs on a trip to this new gem!