A friend the other day made a comment that this is a "film community" and that there isn't a "film industry" in the Twin Cities. In some ways, the same can be said for many of the arts -- music, dance, theatre, visuals. The greater Twin Cities, and the State of Minnesota as a whole, is a wonderful artistic melting pot with so much creative energy being spent. But the monetary rewards are often few and far between.
An artist lives by selling their skills. Sometimes, it may fetch an enormously high dollar (you should hear what some commercial payouts can be), others survive by the occasional grant, some actually work their asses off constantly on stage, in clubs, or via exhibits. The latter, you may have a great year, but then you start all over again. And by a great year as an artist, often is is in the $10,000 or slightly higher range. It is not uncommon for artists to have to slug thru a year or two or three making barely enough to pay union dues, let alone rent, gas, medical insurance and the ilk.
Often, an artist has to go where there is work, leaving behind a low rent place to take a summer job acting in the hinterlands for a dinner theater, or going to the desert for a painting fellowship, or abroad for the filming of a movie project. The bills at home still remain, and hopefully enough is made elsewhere to comfortably survive on location, so to speak. Of course, if one is working, one is not spending...or so the saying goes...but amazing how much junk food, snacks, and such you purchase when on the go.
But back to the "community" aspect. This area is a wonderful haven for artists. You find all levels of people working and living and teaching and sharing their abilities and crafts. An artist is always expanding their knowledge, and what better place to do it than in a community surrounded by like-minded people.
We do have some "industry." The metro area has many fine museums and galleries. You can go across the state and find small galleries representing the lifeblood of their own communities. We have performance temples all over the Twin Cities, most housing some of the finest dance, classical music, children's show, dramatic endeavors that are often the envy of other parts of the country. Just in theater, we have thriving improv, dinner theater, comedy houses...plus struggling but exciting small groups pushing the envelope. We have community centers that promote the Arts with the use of their gallery spaces and stages. We have street festivals, art crawls, music in the parks...hell, even movies in the parks.
It may be tough to earn a consistent living in this town, but there is an industry. There are jobs. But often the paid gigs don't promote the art you feel, which is often what the whole creative process is about. You don't have to sell anything to be an artist. You just need to express yourself (albeit, not at the expense of others, the environment or the cultural good -- well, maybe you can push the envelope sometimes).
Art is Being! Art is Exloring! Art is Mond-Boggling! Art is AllA round Us! Just look around you and you can see all the beauty that has been created, all the energy going towards Life! Yes, Art is Beautiful! It is...Wonderful! And, it's Perfect!
Yes...it is truly Fun to be a Starving Artist!
'Fantasticks' is old-fashioned, but still fun
By Ed Huyck, City Pages, Minneapolis
Mon., Jul. 18 2011
The original production of The Fantasticks ran for an eye-popping 17,162 performances Off Broadway over 42 years, as generations took in the Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt fantastical musical interpretation of Edmond Rostand's Les Romanesques. The current production at Theatre in the Round won't be around nearly as long, but it retains many of the charms of the original, long-running production. If you're not familiar, the show centers on two youngsters, Matt and Luisa, who fall in love across the wall their feuding fathers have built between their properties. As it turns out, the wall is a ruse, as the fathers long ago decided to arrange a marriage between their children and are using the separation to spark their love. They seal the deal by staging an abduction using a company (well, two is a company, right?) of aging, traveling actors, and a mysterious man named El Gallo. After Matt drives them off, all seems right... until the opening of act two, where, under the harsh light of day, the love under false pretenses starts to wilt. Both Matt and Luisa head off into the wide world, where they find that their innocence is a detriment and the swords are much, more real. By the play's end they are both much wiser, and have a far deeper understanding of their lives and love.
Two of the key charms in The Fantasticks are the classic songs and the intimate, spare staging that embraces numerous theatrical traditions. From the opening notes of "Try to Remember," you can hear that you are in good hands and the Theatre in the Round company does a solid job bringing the music to life. As the lovers, Lars Lee and Carolyn Bartell Strauss both display plenty of musical chops and steady charm, playing their characters' innocence to the hilt. Gary F. Davis and Joel Thingvall also sing and perform well as their crusty, feuding fathers. Carl Schoenborn turns in a fine performance as El Gallo, who serves both as an instigator in the plot and the narrator. He brings out the character's easy charm throughout, though some of the singing and dancing leaves him a bit breathless and seemingly straining to keep up with the rest of the company. As the old actors, Jim Bitney and Tom Lockhart ham it up all the way with delirious results, especially Lockhart, who showcases his character's skill at playing death with an epic performance that takes him through the entire arena, and outside of it, and even gets to showcase a few moves that made him a semi-finalist on Dance Fever (and would have likely made Deney Terrio and Motion proud). Now, this is a 1950s version of a 19th-century play, so the gender politics are more than a little old-fashioned, with poor Luisa mainly pining for her love or being easily tricked by El Gallo (to be fair, Matt doesn't come off much better) as she waits impatiently for her true love to return. The Fantasticks runs through July 31.
I just finished a busy weekend. It actually started on the Thursday before, where I was called in during the a.m. hours to do a short film scene for a proposed feature trailer project in need of funding. Considering I had auditioned the Sunday before, it was a marvelous bonus to a week of projects.
Later that afternoon I went out for my second day of shooting on a student film project out of the Arts Institutes of Minnesota, a newer program in town. Marvelous script of a project which should be around 30 minutes and hit the Festival circuit come 2012.
That night I finished up the first week of rehearsals on "The Fantasticks," which will be performed in July at Theatre in the Round. I'm playing one of the Fathers, get to sing and dance and act quite broadly. Three of my favorite things! Have Mug Will Perform!
Friday night was the kick-off for the annual 48-hour Film Project in the Twin Cities. Some 60+ teams of filmmakers were given a genre, a character, a line of dialogue and a prop that needed to be put in a script. The writing began, the characters defined and calls went out. A completed 8-minute film needed to be done by Sunday night.
But before I could join my team, I had a one-day shoot out in LeSueur for a short film project. Arriving at 7 a.m. -- a nice 1 1/2 hour drive to the countryside, I got to grab a young girl and drag her into the woods, only to befall a victim or circumstance and die and literally become a part of a tree. It should be a gem of a project. Met fellow actor Charles Hubbell for the first time...this guy is impressive.
Shooting lasted until mid-afternoon and it was back to Hopkins to pick up a character in a 48-hour project. So, I became a biker burn-out, kinda an Ozzio-O biker guy in a world of his own. And that continued thru a location change to South Minneapolis ending at 2 a.m.
No one could complain at all of being tired, as the producing crew still had 17 hours to edit, score, mix, and cut to a proper running time...plus deliver the film.
The great thing about the 48-hour Project is that the films get done and will be shown a few days later (this case Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday at the fabulous Riverview Theater in South Minneapolis). You also get to spend all day with a great group of folks with one purpose in mind -- to make a linear, enjoyable film that will hopefully win, place, show in the Festival.
Now if this wasn't enough...I had a shoot Sunday night for a fellow who does special effect projections for use by haunted houses, as well as your everyday consumer. We were re-creating the classic Dr. Frankenstein's Lab-oratory and I got to be a big Igor with fellow cohort John Edel playing the good doctor, and this massive guy getting green-upped as the monster. The lab, built in Jon Hyer's garage, was a gem -- Ax-Man Surplus a big help. Pizza, lots of conversation, being able to see the film footage, made for a nice cap to the weekend.
A friend reminded me that all of this started last year, when a group of folks came out of rehearsal and started touring Shakespeare to Minnesota Parks, something I had last done 30 years earlier before life, love and kids took over.
It was this month that I performed my first play in 30 years, and entered the world of auditions, doing three film auditions on June 22nd. Since then, I have been an actor in 90 projects -- 55 films, 4 theatre productions, six script reads, and the remainder divided between TV pilots, music videos and commercials. Whew!
I think I might slow down in Year Two a bit...the only things on the horizon for the remainder of the summer is four indie features with small parts, one feature with a large role, a Fringe Festival play, and finishing up a short student film project. Of course, I'm sure a couple more short films done over a day or two will materialize before Labor Day.
It's fun perrforming. Maybe it's just getting dressed up and being someone different. Probably it is making people laugh, cry or think.
Anyway, if there's a spotlight look...you might see me!
Being an Artist is not a steady job most of the time. You occasionally pick up a theatrical gig that can last weeks or months. But most jobs are very short, a day, maybe a few days, sometimes as little as an hour.
Often, the jobs involve a lot of sitting around, watching others perform, watching crew set-up lkights and position set pieces. Some time is spent rehearsing...which really needs to happen once you get the set pieces in play, props in hand, and all characters in position.
The toughest part about being an actor is mixing family or social life with work. You run to auditions at all hours of the day, you should take in occasional shows, you need to gather at social events after a performance, or just spend time talking shop with others in the field.
But you also need to spend significant time with significant others, above and beyond the normal breaking-of-morning bread, or coffee, or quick walk in the park.
Yet Acting, like other Arts of Music and Painting, involves a lot of time and effort, too much time in fact...it is hard work. You have a big payday, occasionally, but the hours spent leading up to that payday reduces anything you make to a nice minimum wage, at best.
My wife, Risa, paints. She likes to rise early in the morning and take in the sun in her Studio, then settle down later and watch some television, run afternoon errands, and do things.
I like to sleep late, get going around the noon hour, run around and audition and eat bad food and drink lots of pop, and then settle down too late at night and burn-off energy on the Wonderful World of the Internet.
I don't love the thought that people in a relationship need to schedule time just to do things, but it seems to happen more and more in our society, i.e. how many folks remember the days when we as kids spent time running around the neighborhood and dropping in to play with friends at random. Nowadays, you must make "play" appointments with kids to see each other sometimes weeks in advance. Oh, what a life we lead.
But I go beyond my original thoughts here. Being an Artist is hard. It is difficult to say no to advancement opportunities. Hard to say no to jobs that interfere at the last minute with probably other events (baseball games, anniversary, kids) -- again, especially the Acting Arena where you may audition on a Tuesday for a job that Friday, or over the weekend. Or, when weather pushes something to a different day.
I need to make time. Time away from this new-found career choice I'm embracing, and remember to embrace My Real World of Life and the People I have Chosen to Bring into thisWworld and Share a World with!
I started the Year 2011 off with a bang. Actually, it was an internal move as my artist wife Risa (www.createdbyrisa.com) and I moved from floor five to a larger studio/home/loft space on the first floor of the Tilsner Artist Co-Op. I actually hated myself, missing right away two film projects that I had to say "no" to as well as a music video by a friend. I literally pouted when I had to say "no" not just once, but twice to the feature-film "Monday." But then, on the last day of shooting, got called to be a political pundit! And then, I hit the floor running and averaged, well...too many projects if you look at the old resume for the first half of this year. Too many.
And now I am about to embark on another theatrical work, playing Bellomy in "The Fantasticks" at Theatre in the Round. Interesting, this long-running theatre actually saw me grace the stage in its 24th season...it is now their 59th! I actually was in three productions of "The Fantasticks" back in my younger days -- 1969, 1973, 1975 -- playing Mortimer, the young man who does dramatic death scenes. Some 120+ performances spanning Colorado, Minnesota and Ohio. I was a pretty good die-r...but would never attempt the stunts I did waaaay back when. Now I'll get to sing and dance as The Girl's Father.
I had hoped for the part of the Old Actor Henry who recites Shakespeare...sometimes badly. And I do use the Henry lines in one of my numerous monologues, my 1-minute dramatic humorist monologue. But I also dreaded the thought that I really can't grow a proper beard and would probably have to cut my hair quite short or even shave my head (or wear a bald plate). The part of Bellomy is quite fun, has lots of singing and comedic dancing moments. I actually have to work a bit being semi-serious! The show will be playing weekends in July at Theatre in the Round, Seven Corners, by the University of Minnesota West Bank campus.
Acting, believe me, is work. Again, it is fun work if you do enjoy it! (Hey, I told my wife that the other day, when I sat as a mature make-up model for a young student at FACES MN, that was work. And doing a photo shoot the other day, four characters and getting 370 images, that was tremendously hard labor -- especially when the best came when I stopped posing and actually put on the red clown nose and moved!)
I'll be back more often with the blog. My schedule is light. What do I have in the next couple of months...rehearse and perform the play, five movie projects, or did I just get a sixth. One more re-shoot of a film. I'm doing a model pose for a liquor commercial tomorrow. Dressing up as Dr. Frankenstein's Igor for a special-effects projection project mid-month. And I'm even getting paid for some of these endeavors!
Work! Fun Work!
I must say that I never worked harder than I did for AN OLE AND LENA CHIRSTMAS.
The rehearsal process of any show is grueling. You need to memorize lines (and cues...you must do it the same way so others know when they can talk). You have to put words to motion. You have to deal with props and the set. You have to then deal with costume issues. And then the audience -- sometimes they laugh, sometimes they don't.
Is it old age, or perhaps being away from it for awhile...but struggle I did in learning my lines...and the songs.
Learning lines...saying it over and over again, and also developing the character, the person you will be on stage.
Happily, from two weeks before opening when I felt like a blight on the production, paraphrasing all over the place, not giving consistent cues, and being lost in my character direction...it all came together dress rehearsal week. Yes, that was a week from hell, as some might say. We were on set one day before preview. We had no music until preview night. No lights until opening night.
But since we opened, it has been fun, fun, fun. Sure, there are dropped lines now and then (I screwed up the days singing my song just the other night) but your comfort level becomes such that you can do anything on stage to keep the show moving, entertaining and alive!
The OLE AND LENA show has a great cast. We all mesh and are having a wonderful time between the meatballs and tater-tot hot dish, skits from the waitstaff, and lights that don't go off when they are supposed to. Sure, "there's no fish in da hole" at times, but the audience loves it!
I just wish I had the energy to continue runs on the next two OLE & LENA planned shows, between now and Memorial Day. Sometimes I think once a year will be enough.
But we'll see.
And the mind is slowly winning the memorization battle, or so it seems!
As I near performing live on-stage again in a musical of all things, I have also had a few more opportunities on the film front.
When doing film or commercials, you always hope a body part ends up in the spot, then you go for a full-face or your whole figure. Next you love it if you actually get a word or a line. Then you hope you get a character. And, finally, a...lead.
Been doing my share of standing around as background, sometimes a hand, other times a back-of-the-head...but have had a few good weeks, here. One of four in a fine student film by a 19-year-old wunderkind out of MCTC. My second project with the kid, and I hope more will follow (he has already talked to me about two other ideas -- which is great when you are an aging character actor).
I managed to pull off another part in a two character script. Something about burying a 17-year-old. The creepo factor could be there, but the script has a nice twist. Marvelous director, again, giving me a short showcase!
Somehow I snuck in a parole officer in a zombie film. A few lines, a nice look.
But the gem is the lead in a film by an MCAD student, basically a future biography of himself. Can I play a total loser well? Have to wait and see. But the three-day shoot has quickly transformed into a five-day shoot due to less than idea weather conditions. Thus, the evils of Minnesota winters and films with outdoor scenes.
But it's not everyday you get to walk around in your underwear, on film. Plus run like an action star, albeit a BIG action star. And shoot a grenade launcher. I can't wait to finish the film as well as see the final produck which will be dropped in its entirety somewhere on my webpage (it will be 12-15 minutes of film, perhaps -- a nice short!)
So I'm now a leading actor on-stage as well as on-screen! Who would've figured?
Not bad for an Old Guy!
I'm working on Ole right now. That caricature of Scandinavian virtues. The clown prince of Iceland. The Lefsa of a Lutefisk Nation.
Sven and Ole are clowns. Buffoons. Laurel & Hardy? Gleason and Carney? Fred and Barney? Or, in reality, Joel and Mark.
Staging a play IS hard work. You have to learn the words. But you also have to place them with actions, as well as responses, to what's happening on stage.
Plus we have songs (I'm no singer, really) and fre-wheeling doofus dance steps. Yes, there's room for improv, but when doing broad comedy, you have to worry constantly about pace...timing.
But the Voice! Do I do the accent heavy. The dats and dis and yas and uffdahs abound. Or do I retain as much of my own voice as possible -- I am, afterall, a Minnesotan and have my own unqiue way of saying and phrasing words.
Which is the other part of Voice. Saying the words correctly, the inflections proper, the emphasis a-okay.
All these little things that go into the ultimate performance.
Somehow, everything does come together and the countdown starts and when you get down to the last weekend, or the last day, you don't want it to end.
Happily, Ole and Lena's Christmas Adventure may be a yearly gig. And there is a sequel in the works...The Big Apple Adventure!
We got a great director, versed in burlesque, which is right around the corner form vaudeville, which is what Ole and Lena truly IS -- caricature, broad-band comedy, watercooler humor, mindless entertainment with a little seltzer-in-your-pants.
When one enters the performance arena, what, praytell, is the greatest fear thouest may face?
No, it is not the audience sitting 10-feet in front of you, or spread out in the hundreds, nay, thousands, on the green hills of the park. When the lights go down in the house and up on stage, you can barely see the faces. But you hears the coughs.
I'm suffering this week. Caught a cold. One of those things that seem to happen when the weather is a touch warm with a breeze, but still cool enough to wear long sleeves or a light hoodie. But inside, the air is cold.
It doesn't help when you run yourself ragged with early morning calls after a light night of sleep (thank you neighbor from above and your all night bass music track).
The Common Cold. Yes, worse than the flu (which often comes and go at such a rapid pace that it acts as a pure cleansing of the system). You are dry. You are full of goo that likes to run. Your limbs ache. Your voice changes hourly. Everything seems to move slower...actually, it does move slower.
The worst part about a Common Cold, you have to worry about the spread to your buddies on stage.
As an Actor, you can often fight the Common Cold. Lots of sleep, low energy days if you don't have a slave job. You can drink lots of water. You can pump yourself with Vita C. You can have the chicken noodle soup. You do everything possible so you can stand and speak for two-plus hours and then collapse again.
Of course, the greater fear is always a broken limb, or even just a sprained ankle. That totally destroys movement on the stage.
But the Common Cold! Go away, please, and come again on another day. Like when I'm not doing anything useful!
Had our initial talk thru and director meet for the Ole and Lena and Sven and Ingrid and Gnome and Mrs. O Project. Us Minnesotans sure have a strange way of talking
All of us, trying to sound like the citizens of doufussville, ended up sounding like a bunch of Irish from the Swedish side of the tracks of ol' St. Pauley.
It will be fun tackling caricatures. Doing extensions of a dialect. Taking effort to make these cartoon characters real to the watching public.
We got a director who is versed in burlesque, as well as making people laugh. I think she has more than a touch of the luv of vaudeville in her genes.
And improv. The Ole and Lena Project is a bunch of extensions of the famed jokes, put together into a situation and having a more than liberal beginnings and endings. It will be up to the actors to make the laughs loud, the actions big, and the audience involved. We don't want the audience to drink into stupidity, just enjoy the stupidity around them and on the stage.
Sing-a-longs, smell-o-vision, planned misfires, incorporating real mistakes into the evening's fare.
Ole and Lena and Company will be a winter wonderland adventure. I don't look forward to fighting sleet and snow on the highways, if it turns to be a true Minnesotan winter. But the warmth of fellow performers and the laughter of the audience is sure to bring holiday spirits to us all!
I just want to make Axel Torgerson proud!
This BLOG will be my personal exploration into the World of Performance Art. Follow me as I return to an Adventure started in the sixties to be An Actor!