Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Actor, sure...but playwright?

It's been a little while since my last post. Things have been busy on the home front. School is nearing the 3/4 mark for the year, which is something everyone seems to be consistently counting down from Day 1. In updating the public on my goings-on, I haven't done any acting yet since my return from California, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been busy in theater in different capacities.  I hope to do some upcoming theater acting and maybe find some small film opportunities, or more commercials between now and when school begins again this fall.

First off, this spring semester I began teaching Theatre Appreciation in the Theatre Department at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne (IPFW). I created a curriculum (lessons, lectures, exams, etc.) from scratch, which isn't anything new. I've done that almost a dozen times since I've started teaching all of those years ago, but it's still a TON of work each time. The course is going well. I've enjoyed the relationships and class environment that I've experienced thus far.

Is it something I'd do again? I'm only six weeks into it, but nothing's happened that would discourage me from accepting an offer to teach again in the future. Is it something that could replace high school teaching? I don't know at this stage. I assume that I would have to get a Master's in some form of theatre (history, directing, etc.), and to do that I'd have to go away to school somewhere...more than likely. I haven't looked into it, but I'm pretty certain that further education (which  isn't a bad thing, other than the finance and impact to family life) would be required at some point beyond my current Master's in Secondary Education.

Beyond branching out collegiately, I have recently been recognized as a first place winner of the 6th Annual Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival with the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre.  I don't think I've mentioned that I've written a play in my past blogs. It's something that I wrote in the spring of '14 about 10 months ago. I wrote it during my rehearsals for Arena Dinner Theatre's production of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit when I was Charles Condomine.

It's a story that I couldn't shake out of my head...and I just had to get it written down. Upon completing the script, Is This Seat Taken?, my wife and theater friends read it. All of the reactions were positive and everyone was really supportive and prodding me to submit it to festivals.  I wasn't so sure. I loved the story. It was emotional for me to write. Funny at times, sad and emotional at others...but it was definitely a story and a play that I wanted to tell. It was a play that as I wrote it I kept asking myself if it was one that I would enjoy watching, and would it be a role that I would be interested in doing. If it didn't meet those parameters, then I wasn't going to continue with it. I was, and am, very proud of how it turned out.
I've had a handful of people ask if I'd audition for it. I wrote it with my voice in mind, however, at this time, I'm convinced to ride out the role of playwright through till the end. I want to see what a playwright experiences throughout the process and run of the show. I've done the actor-thing, but never the playwright-thing. It will be interesting. I have no doubt, no...doubt, that I will be more nervous come opening night for my play than I ever have as an actor. I typically don't get nervous. Excited would be a better wording to describe my pre-show state of mind. Excited is different than nervousness.

By winning the festival, Is This Seat Taken? will have a full staged production at the end of May and early June this year. They will audition actors, cast it, rehearse it, and stage the entire thing for a paying audience with talk-backs afterwards to pick the cast's and playwright's brain. I've revised it a few times since it was picked up. As I tell my students, writing is never done...you just run out of time. I had some notes from people who've read it, and there were some things that I personally wanted to modify. I had the chance to revise, so I took it and just recently sent the finished/final draft off to the director. They'll start auditioning in another month or so, which should be interesting.

Ironically, the day before I found out that I'd won first place in the festival, I was phoned by another theater that I'd placed in their festival too, Vero Voce's New Playwright Festival. However, this festival isn't producing the entire production. FW Civic Theatre will retain the rights to the world premiere of my play. I submitted a sample (10-pages) to Vero Voce, and they're going to produce just those 10-pages. So, each performance over one weekend will include my 10-page sample of Is This Seat Taken? (the first ten pages of the play) along with 7 other playwright's short plays/scenes/acts.  This occurs in mid-March in St. Charles, IL.

So, I've already crossed statelines, baby! Who hoo!  It was definitely a surprise and honor to be selected.  There was something about placing in another festival that just reaffirms my play in my mind. Others have said nothing but good things...maybe they're just being nice to my face...but to have strangers in Illinois, and also panel of judges in Fort Wayne vote on my play as #1 without knowing I wrote it...it's created a special feeling inside me creatively that I've never experienced before. I remember my first big roles as an actor and doing well (in my mind at least) and hearing people saying nice things about my performance, which obviously made me feel good. I remember the way that felt...and this is like that...but different in a way. It's hard to explain. It's probably because I "own" the play. I "made" the play. Yes, I "make" roles that I perform...but I didn't "originate" or "birth" the script, or role even if my take on the character is new and different.  It's hard to explain further.

Where will things go from here as a playwright? I don't know. I've joined the Dramatists Guild to utilize their resources online. I'll seek out more opportunities to submit my play. I've written another play that was never intended for people to read. I might try sprucing that one up and submitting that around too.  So, I'm not sure where this will lead, but I want to just enjoy the role this first time around as I'm called "playwright" instead of "actor." It's something new, and when things are new, they're exciting too. I'm really looking forward to holding my wife's hand as the lights come up on stage for that very first performance and the characters that have played out in my head with the dialogue that no one has heard spoken (other than myself as I was typing)...it will be live...only then will I truly be a playwright. Pretty exciting.

Friday, September 19, 2014

I've had a couple of months to decompress from the summer adventure. The positive support and excitement that I've experienced from friends, colleagues, students, and anyone interested in my story has been very heartwarming. A lot of people were genuinely excited for me, and that makes me feel very loved. In fact, once a student asked me an acting question since he had just seen my local commercial that morning, and I mentioned Los Angeles this summer...the whole class snapped to attention and bombarded me with questions. I had to cut it short as we were definitely getting off-track for the day, but it was nice to see their excitement.

It's VERY hard for me to quickly sum up what the summer was like for me when someone asks "How as your summer?" So, I enjoy having a Q&A instead of me trying to summarize in 30-seconds what I did. Usually, I suggest they take a look at my blog in order to get the best snapshot of the six weeks out there.  The best chance that I had to sit down and debrief what it was really like in detail was when I did a local radio interview. I was asked by a local radio station, WBOI 89.1, to talk about my story on air. And to make the story even cooler, the interviewer was a former journalism student of mine from about ten years ago, Katy Anderson. Here's the WBOI page about me along with the 5:40-long interview. 

Also...Katy was gracious enough to cut together the entire 20-minute interview for me into this MP3.

I recently received the finished version of the commercial that I described in detail in earlier posts for The General Insurance. It is a national insurance commercial that will begin airing shortly. You gotta look quick, I'm not on there very long. They shot a LOT of takes of my partner and I, and based on some of the personal comments with me off camera, I expected a few extra shots to make it, but they must've run out of time (and space) in the commercial to fit everything in.  It looks pretty sharp.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

It's a Wrap!

The adventure has come to an end…for now. I’m calling it a week early. There’s nothing in the pipeline, and I haven’t heard anything from recent submissions. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been passed over for the recent online submissions…which is standard with the hundreds and hundreds of submissions that they receive. It’s a WIN just to get an email inviting for an in-person audition, or to submit a video audition. So, I’m going to home and have a little more summer time with my wife/kids before heading out of state for a wedding right before returning to school.

The final tally was two physical auditions…and booked two jobs: one short film (“Donut Planet”); and The General Insurance commercial. I had three video audition submissions (one of which was the precursor to the live audition for The General). I had two audition submissions for audio voiceovers, and I never heard back about any of them, but they were fun to record and submit.  Finally, I had two job offers that I turned down…a feature film and a Funny or Die video. They both fell on the days that I was already busy. I don’t think they really wanted me, but I think they got in a pinch (someone probably dropped out at the last minute) because they called me the night before each of the shoots. They would’ve been great experiences. So…in essence, I book four jobs (though I only accepted two of them).

I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish in such a short time. It makes you start to wonder what could be if I did this full time. I thought I was so lucky to get these jobs, and I had a new friend out here tell me that I’m not lucky for getting the jobs. He said that I was lucky to get the audition and not get passed over from my online submission amongst the hundreds of other submissions…but I had to “get” the jobs. I had to assert myself ahead of the line amongst the other hopeful actors…and I did that…a few times. So, he very adamantly told me not to say I was lucky anymore for getting two paying gigs.  I’ve learned my lesson.

I am forever grateful to the friends, and friends of friends, that went out of their way to make time for me…whether that was giving me a place to stay for a night or two, or meeting me for a meal where I could pick their brains about the industry.  Thank you to Collin for everything that you’ve done, Jillian/Kayla/Simon for taking several hours of your time to hang with a complete stranger, Alandra/Jose/Christie/Brandon for letting me crash in your place for a handful of nights throughout the summer, Joe/Joel/Ben for hooking me up with people out here …and more importantly VOUCHING for me, and Rod/Tad for having a meal with me and catching up. I truly hope to help people out in the future when I have the opportunity like you all have done for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Going forward, I am returning to the classroom in a couple of weeks, and my friend Collin has a connection with a casting individual in Chicago, so I hope to continue exploring this world when I come home…maybe weekends, or taking a personal day here-or-there to hit an audition. I don’t know. We’ll see. Detroit is blowing up film-wise recently (Robocop, Transformers 4, and even Superman vs. Batman, etc.), so that’s another option too for the Midwest.

Thank you for all of the support in reading and sharing in my adventures through this blog. I’ve never done a blog before, and as my friend Rod pointed out…it’s very ten-years ago…so, I’m pretty “with it” and hip…for 2004.

I am going to keep this blog going with any entertainment related information in the future. So, if you are truly interested, please subscribe to this blog (not sure how to do it, but I know a few have done so already) so that you’ll know when I put something new up.

Lastly, the main person that needs the most honest, heartfelt thank you is….my wife. She was a trooper in helping me prepare for my trip, and while I was out here, she was my MVP with keeping our house going back home and being a single mom for the last sixish weeks. It was her that helped push me to do this, which was incredibly scary to even contemplate coming out here let alone actually jumping out here…yes, the Lilly Grant helped make that jump easier, but this was 1.5 yrs in the making WITHOUT the Lilly Grant being a realistic choice/option.  So, thank you, sweetie.

That’s a wrap!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rancho Obi-Wan (STAR WARS!!!)

Finally, the post you’ve been waiting for. One of the most exciting and anticipated days of my life.  I was fortunate enough to go to the world’s largest private collection of Star Wars Memorabilia. It’s located in Petaluma, CA (north of San Francisco), and it is called Rancho Obi-Wan. It’s owned/operated by Steve Sansweet.
Anyone that has followed Star Wars closely beyond the films should know his name. He is responsible for writing some of the most popular Star Wars books that have been printed. He is responsible for the 1.5 million word must-have (and I do have!) Star Wars Encyclopedia, three huge volumes! He was the Director of Specialty Marketing at Lucasfilm, and later called head of Fan Relations. Since retiring, he holds the title of Fan Relations Adviser.


He was a former Wall Street Journal writer and eventually worked for Lucasfilm during the last 90’s through the prequels before retiring. He travels to all of the conventions, and he’s in San Diego right now for Comic Con. Steve goes anywhere that Star Wars and its fans get together. Hands down, he is one of the greatest living ambassadors for Star Wars. Aside from George Lucas (obviously), John Williams, and the actors of the films, he is probably the most recognizable face of Star Wars to die-hard fans.  So, to have this opportunity to have a personal guided tour of his collection was very exciting to me. In my mind, he is a huge A-list celebrity to me.

Leading up to this experience, I was so excited. Very rarely am I around people that I can talk about Star Wars on a deeper level than simply the films. There’s a lot of conversations that I have daily/weekly about Star Wars at school or with friends, but it usually only goes deep enough to cover the movies. I’m constantly having to pull back what I talk about because they wouldn’t understand, or they’d be unfamiliar with the information that I’m sharing as I’m citing the Expanded Universe novels and comics (now referred to as “Legacy” and has just been disavowed as FACT in the Star Wars mythos due to the upcoming films coming out next year). I was very excited to talk to Steve and ask questions concerning the Star Wars universe that I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time. Story lines that I’ve never spoke to with anyone because I don’t know anyone personally that has read the books that I’ve read. I’m sure they exist, but I haven’t found them yet. So, if you’re reading this and you know me, I’d love to chat sometime about the Yuuzhan Vong invasion and what you thought about it, the fate of Darth Bane and his books, or the X-wing series…or the New Republic novels with the New Jedi Order….things like that.


 Along for the ride on this journey is my friend Collin. Collin is the director of Animals, the film that I made a cameo in as a narcotics officer last fall. It was an official selection in the major film festival this spring, South By Southwest (SXSW), and in fact, they’re getting extremely close to signing a distribution deal to get it out to the public in theaters and online, so that’s cool for him. Collin has been a savior for me during my trip out here, and to reward him, I wanted to take him along on this journey as he’s a massive Star Wars fan too. His schedule was clear, so we did an up-and-back to Petaluma (7 hours) this past Saturday. I took a quick break from Second City to make the trip, but if I was gone longer, I’d miss more improv workshops, and I didn’t want to do that. They are/were too valuable to me, so we made a very, very long day out of it…but man, it was spectacular.

We left at 5:30 in the morning, and we had to get there by 2 p.m. for the tour. The collection is a private collection, so it’s at his house. So, it is a private residence in a residential neighborhood. They didn’t want us showing up early, hanging out in neighbor’s driveways, staking out their house, etc. “Show up right at two o’clock for the tour” is what the email said, so Collin and I followed it. The drive went unbelievably fast. We talked about nothing but movies for the entire drive up, and man, that time flew by. We got there about an hour early, no traffic, which was nice. So, we hung out at Taco Bell (naturally) until it was time to head over. We had already done a drive-by of the house so that we knew what we were looking for when we returned. We pulled into their driveway at 1:59. And they said, “Look for the white gate with Obi-Wan on it.” Well, it definitely stood out.

As we pulled up to the gate, we saw several people standing around already inside. Someone didn’t follow the directions on the email, but we did. So, we were let in, we were given out name badges, and the tour began.  A very nice lady named Anne started the tour off, and it threw me for a curve. I got the sinking suspicion that she was going to lead the whole tour, and I was disappointed as it was advertised that Steve was going to do it. About ten minutes into it, she took us to the official starting point on the tour, and that’s where Steve was standing and greeting everyone by name as he shook our hands.  The time had come!

The tour began with us shoe-horned into a tiny corridor, or hallway with one door at the end, and two doors (one on each side of the hallway). We were cramped, but we were reassured that the tour would “open up” and we’d have more room once we got started. Think of the hallway scene in Willy Wonka before he opens the door to the candy room. It was like that. So, Steve welcomed us, and said hello, but he said someone else would like to great us properly.  He clicked a button, and an illuminated 3-foot bust of Obi-Wan Kenobi suddenly illuminated and an audio recording began. It was Obi-Wan’s voice…it was a pre-recorded 2-3 minute audio clip welcoming us and it was sprinkled with movie line references, etc. It sounded like Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan, but it was James Arnold Taylor…the animated Obi-Wan from the Clone Wars show and video games. I guess when you’re Steve Sansweet you have connections in the Star Wars world.
During the recording, I was watching Steve’s face, and he had a smile on his face and was almost conducting to the background music of the recording, which was obviously the Star Wars score by John Williams. He was enjoying this so much. I can’t imagine how good it would feel to be walking people around my possessions and these people paid to come and see my stuff. And then I get to talk about my passion, Star Wars, and they eat it all up.  It would be a cool feeling. 

When it concluded, he gave us a little information about where we were standing. The hallway was lined with posters, original posters from the movies when they were released. In addition to hundreds of action figures that were on display, which included their identification numbers and labeling. He said they researched that there were 2000+ action figures in all that were made, and they only have about half on display, but the rest are in boxes ready to be displayed…they just have to find the room. He said they were going to line the hallway we were standing in, but I don’t see how that will work. You’ll have to almost shimmy your way down the halls then, but I’m sure they’ll find a place eventually. 

I asked if he had “Yak Face.” Some people looked at me weird, but even though I didn’t collect them religiously when I grew up, I knew that Yak Face was one of the most sought after action figures from the early eighties. He was a character in Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi, and he was never released in the U.S. for whatever reason. Steve obviously had one in his collection.

After the action figures, he showed us a bathroom loaded with Star Wars stuff, a lot of it I’d seen before like the Darth Maul soap dispenser. I loved that thing. The painted toilet seat was amazing as it depicts Boba Fett fighting his way out of the Sarlacc Pit, which is  a stark contradiction to the film. This is where the Expanded Universe is fun. Boba Fett was arguably one of the most famous characters from the early trilogy of films, and his total screen time probably equated to less than a minute in total length. He was such a mysterious character that people latched onto him. Many hated the way he died, or supposedly died, in Return of the Jedi. His jet pack is accidentally ignited by a near-blind Han Solo, and it sends him soaring into the side of Jabba’s sail barge, where he crashes and falls down onto a sand dune ultimately rolling right into the maw of the sarlacc. Not a very glorious/glamorous death for a fan favorite, and for me, it ranks right up there with Darth Maul’s death. Not very exciting, and far too quick. The Expanded Universe has since resurrected Darth Maul too, so that’s been fun to see more stories with both of these fan favorites.

After the bathroom visit, we went to the library. I felt as excited by this stop as I’m sure Belle was when the beast showed her his library. It was awesome, though I didn’t have nearly the room Belle did when the camera twirled around her as she spun around. I did my own spinning…in my head. It was glorious. All of the Star Wars books in print were located in this room, and several different languages were represented too. There were figurines…not action figures…but figurines, or statues.  Several three-foot tall pewter statues of Vader and Boba Fett. Steve told us that George Lucas doesn’t have many Star Wars trinkets in his office, but he does have the pewter Vader. Sweet.


After leaving the library, we were smashed into the hallway again, and Steve activated a little electronic remote. All of a sudden, the Star Wars fanfare began, and he opened up the mysterious door at the end of the hallway…the door that looked like it led into a closet. We all suddenly realized what was happening...we were going into the warehouse.

After walking in and soaking it all in, he began talking about the cantina band from the first movie (The Modal Nodes, the all-Bith band…for you Star Wars nerds, like myself). He pushed a button, and they grooved to the music as if they were alive. Mildly cheesy, but the effect was pretty cool.

We spent the next hour making our way down the long, long room of memorabilia as Steve stopped and addressed the trinkets on all of the shelves. He had stories for everything, though he didn’t talk about everything. He spoke about whatever he was in the mood for…and there were always stories. Stories about counterfeit items, stories about rare artifacts, etc. The time flew.


 At the far end of the room, there were life-size LEGO statues of Darth Vader, R2-D2, and Boba Fett alongside a glass casing of dozens of replica lightsabers. Almost all of the lightsabers had autographs by the actors (or voice artists) that portrayed that character on film. It was pretty sweet. It reminded me of the rows and rows of Batman cowls that I put in my Warner Brothers Tour post awhile back.


Next to the lightsabers was a room that he called the “treasure room.” In it houses his most expensive artifacts up to this point in the tour. Models of the finest detail were found in this room, many of which were donated by Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). These weren’t chintzy, they were top of the line. One of a kind. Awesome stuff.



Well, at this point, the tour was wrapping down. You could feel the momentum waning, and we were about two hours into the tour at this point. Then he walked over to a curtained wall, and he hit another button. The curtain pulled back…and oh, my, god…we were looking at the Tantive IV’s hallway. The hallway of Princess Leia’s ship in the original movie, the hallway that the stormtroopers cut through and a shootout commenced, and ultimately, we see Darth Vader for the first time emerge from that cut doorway. A very iconic moment in Hollywood history, not just Star Wars history. Darth Vader was recently voted as the #1 villain of all-time by the American Film Institute (AFI).

We went up the stairs to the door, and then Steve opened the door…oh, my, god…the tour wasn’t over! There was a whole other building that we had to walk through. It kept going! In fact, my favorite part of the tour was commencing.  More life-size statues, more costumes from the movie…but what I loved was all of the fan art. I’m enamored by the creativity of the Star Wars art that I’ve seen throughout the years, and this stuff blew me away!


After several minutes of walking around this additional warehouse. He flipped on a light switch, and the arcade turned on in a back corner of the warehouse. Over a dozen arcade games from the ‘80s-‘90s suddenly came to life and the kids on the tour ran over and started playing all of the games for free.  I took this opportunity to chat up Steve without the kids around, and boy did he open up.

I asked him how he insured his collection, how could he possibly put a price, or estimate, on the items. The time, energy, upkeep, maintenance, security, etc. He went into an elaborate explanation that I won’t go into detail here, but if something happened, he’d be covered monetarily, though it would be impossible to replicate the collection. Some of the items are so rare, or are one-of-a-kind in nature, they’re priceless.


I asked him about the recent news that the George Lucas museum isn’t going to be in San Francisco where’s he’s been for his whole film career, but rather, it’s going to be in Chicago between McCormick Place and Soldier Field right on the water. Very openly, Steve told me about how the city council was leading George around and around and dragging their feet, and he finally had enough, and his wife has connections to Chicago, so he’s going to invest his billion dollars into constructing a museum along the lakefront in Chicago. San Francisco’s loss for sure.

This was probably my favorite part of the tour, in fact, I had so much fun talking to him that on the drive home, Collin and I were talking about how much fun it would be to sit and pick his brain. I said, “We should’ve invited him to pizza, or something.” Something tells me that he would’ve accepted. What a missed opportunity. I wish I could go back and ask him. He genuinely liked Collin and I as you could tell by his body language and bluntness (including language not suitable for kids) in his answering of my questions.

Oh, and on a side note, there was a family of four that asked me where I was from at the start of the tour, and I said, “Indiana.” “No way, so are we,” they responded.  Then at the same time, we both said, “Fort Wayne.” Unbelievable! Out here in the hills and country north of San Francisco, in a tour of 15 people, we find some Fort Wayne people. I told them that I’m a teacher at Carroll, and he says that he taught for twelve years at Canterbury High School. I drop a few names of people that I know work there and he says that he knows them well.  What a small world after all.


That day will stay with me forever, and I hope to take my family back there some day. I think even at their current ages they’d enjoy it, but give them a few more years to immerse themselves in the world of Star Wars (especially with the films that will start kicking out pretty regularly in the next two years), and I think they’ll enjoy it almost as much as I did. Who am I kidding? They’ll never enjoy it like I did.

What a glorious day!

Here's a little bonus nugget for those that made it to the end of the blog. Someone actually recorded most of the tour and edited it together for Youtube...so skim through it, or watch it whole in it's entirety (like I did). You'll get a sense of what it was like for us. Some of the stories are almost word-for-word the same, and some of the props/stories are different from what he showed us. Really a neat experience, and you don't have to travel to California to experience it....though seeing it in person was marvelous!