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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

15 minutes of lame

In 1977, a little movie opened that changed the course of cinematic history. It also had serious ramifications in regards to my life. Even today I, still feel the effects of that film about good vs. evil set in another time and another place. Of course, I am talking about Star Wars. I was probably around the age of 4 when Star Wars was re-released, still without the moniker Episode IV: A New Hope, and it was the single most defining moment of my childhood. I must say it's hard to compare it against anything else at that time because I had seen only one other movie in the theater at such an early age, the Ralph Bakshi animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. There is a story that gets recalled every so often, that as a child, I had to explain that movie to my parents. Is it any wonder that Star Wars had such resonance with me? From the moment Princess Leia planted those medals on Luke Skywalker and Han Solo I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be Han Solo. That lasted until Han was frozen in carbonite in the sequel. Then I readjusted my career path and settled on wanting to be Chewbacca. Okay, I'm kidding. I can say that from that early age, I have been fascinated with film and film making. I knew that I wanted to be in Hollywood when I grew up.

The evolution of such a lofty goal can be attributed to the fact that as a child, and even today, my imagination has been overactive. Actually, that's an understatement. I should say it is hyperactive. On a scale of 1-10, it goes to 11. I was constantly afraid of my bedroom due to the fact that I couldn't see inside the closet or under my bed and therefore any number of monstrous creatures resided in those dark places. What I couldn't see was far worse than anything that I could. Take your concept of the bogeyman and increase it exponentially and you had what I thought the bogeyman was. That was the downside. The upside was that I was always good at playing with my friends because I could imagine an entire world for us to play in and all they had to do was ask what I saw and they believed it, too. My wife will tell you that anytime I explain anything, I go to Erie to get there. It's a fault in my thinking. The more elaborate and detailed the information is, the better the quality. Granted, I do tend to ramble on and if you've read any of my posts you'd say, "DUH!" This was the driving force in my wanting to be a filmmaker or at least an actor. There are photos of me dressed up in costumes, which usually consisted of afghans, kitchen towels, or blankets, all pretending to be anyone but myself. I constantly developed new characters and voices to try out on a tape recorder that I carried around.

I finally got my big break in sixth grade when I joined the chorus in our school. Some how I managed to pull off singing just well enough to be let in and our grade school put on two productions a year. The winter production which had a Christmas theme was called Santa's Gone Hip. In this off, off, off, off, off, off, Broadway musical masterpiece, Santa finds himself to be antiquated and decides to update his image to compete with the times...and hilarity ensues. I played the part of an elf dressed up in punk clothes. I looked more like a skunk in Jams as I sprayed white coloring in my hair to give an outrageous look. For the spring show we did a retrospect on the history of communication called, Heard It Through the Grapevine, in which I had my first speaking role. Due to over abundance of energy and tendency to speak in John Moschitta fashion, I was sent to our Speech Teacher to learn how to slow down and enunciate my lines. After all, I had the opening speech and wanted to do my best.

After grade school, the opportunities to perform were limited with the exception of straight choir or band. I had already been in concert band and knowing that whatever got me through the singing process in grade school was luck at best, I opted to forget choir and stayed with playing the drums in marching, concert, and jazz band. Still the ham I was, I stood out from the crowd with my clownish antics. Once I began high school I was given new hope, in a round about way. The drama offerings in our high school consisted of either a Senior Class Play or a yearly Spring Musical. Still not wanting to make anyone's ears bleed, I shied away from choir but did join up with the stage crew for both productions. By my junior year, I was shanghaied into auditioning for the musical as well. My friends pretty much pushed me into it. It was rather uncharacteristic of me as I usually walked to the beat of my own drumming. Peer pressure never really affected me, at least that what my friends told me to think. I didn't think I could sing or dance, but I could act. Unfortunately, the musicals required the first two traits more than the third. My only saving grace was that I was a boy. That was pretty much a ticket into the cast, no matter what. So, I debuted my triple threat of mediocrity on stage Connellsville Area High School's 1992 production of Li'l Abner. I did not have so much a speaking part as most of lines were spoken by the character of "All" or "Everyone." But, I did have the distinction of being one of the few with the most stage time as I was constantly being put into more and more scenes doing more and more things. During the Sadie Hawkins Day Race, I was a part of a trio of men trying to escape marriage by hiding amongst cornstalks in a synchronized choreography of sneaking around. I was also one of the slovenly husbands that were magically transformed into a beefcake by drinking "Yokumberry Tonic." I was, of course, the before representation.

During the summer, I managed to work my way into a community theater production of Damn Yankees. I played Ted Nugent. I'm kidding. I played a baseball player with a few lines. It was a church group that passed around lead parts among their inner circle. Three of us from the high school performed and all agreed that our high school productions blew them out of the water in terms of talent. For our senior year, I was given the opportunity to audition for the Senior Class Play and did get the role of Homer Zuckerman in our production of Charlotte's Web. My first real speaking role in high school was a chance for me to once again hide underneath a costume and make up, portraying an older gentleman. I sounded more like a combination of Ross Perot, Jimmy Stewart, and my Jan Show, the high school Physics teacher. I followed up the play with another speaking role in Barnum, our Spring Musical. We based our production on the BBC's Michael Crawford version rather than the Jim Dale Broadway production, playing more on the convention of breaking the fourth wall. Convinced I had a better grasp on the acting requirements for the role, I was a bit distraught with being relegated to a smaller character. Not having the voice that my peers had, I relied on my timing and ability to understand how to play off the audience. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to convince the director. If only I could have Milli Vanillied my way through it, it would have been spectacular. Not wanting to let my inability to sing well get me down, I relished in the opportunity to be a part of the circus that quite literally was the production. Again, having the distinction of being in nearly every scene as some sort of character, I learned how to spin plates, juggle, crack a bull whip, and even was a barker for a side show stand in the lobby prior to the show. That gave me the chance to totally improvise my character as we did not have any kind of script to work of for the role. The show was expanded to run for two weekends, something never done before in our school, which gave us a chance to be apart of a real theatrical run. Barnum closed on March 6th, 1993, my 18th birthday. It was probably one of the greatest accomplishments of my performing career. I'll never forget being on stage during the curtain calls with the confetti coming down underneath the multi colored lights which flooded the stage dressed as a three ring circus. It was not uncommon for the performances to get a standing ovation during the run, mostly due to the fact that our town took two things seriously, high school athletics and the musical. It was, however, the first time I truly felt deserving of one.

With college, I concentrated mainly on straight acting and had several roles in productions at the University of Pittsburgh. By the time I had graduated, I appeared in Room Service, Fuente Ovejuna, Psycho Beach Party (which I acted alongside Joe Manganiello), The School For Scandal, Lone Star, The Widow's Blind Date, Hopscotch, The Philadelphia, and Pericles. Not bad having Sheridan, Shakespeare, and Horovitz on your acting resume. I also managed to rack up one lonesome film credit. Technically, I was an unpaid extra, but still I poured a lot of method acting into playing "Crowd Member" in 1995's Jean-Claude Van Damme's classic film, Sudden Death. Since college, I have bounced around among the local community theater groups performing Summer Stock. But in 2003 I got my biggest break yet, I appeared in a commercial and was paid for it. On advice from a friend and fellow actor, Bob, who has appeared in at least one commercial for Austin's Cleaning Products, I went to an agency in Pittsburgh that provided actors for film and television productions. While I was there to sign up, I was asked to just do a quick audition for an Eat'N Park commercial. Being a regular customer, I must have impressed the casting director when I automatically rambled off an order from memory as part of my audition. I was contacted the next day and given instructions for showing up at the corporate site to film. I was beyond ecstatic. Finally, I was getting the opportunity to be a paid actor. I knew that I had no shot of being a real star unless I moved to Hollywood or New York. I wasn't interested in starving for my art for years until I had break, so I gave up the dream a long time ago. Still, there are tons of real acting jobs in Pittsburgh as more and more production companies come to the area to film.

Dinner For Two (2003)

The commercial was set to be shown on broadcast television in mid January of 2003. I managed to catch it during the Golden Globes and later on during the Pro Bowl. I couldn't believe it. There was my ugly mug on my television set and I didn't have to press play to get it there. Of course, I had to tell all my friends and co workers that I was on TV and even though it was all of maybe 4 seconds, it was like I was a star. My fame would soon be fleeting as I was given another job, later that year. I scored a shoot for Value City department stores. It was for a circular ad that would appear in the regional newspapers. Again, I touted to anyone who would listen that I was going to appear in their Sunday Paper and not in the Police Blotter. I made the treacherous drive to Columbus Ohio that summer for the photo shoot. I say treacherous because it was during the Sniper Attacks of 2003 along the highways of Ohio around Columbus. I managed to get to and from the shoot with no incidences and anxiously anticipated the arrival of the Sunday Paper in the coming weeks. When the day had finally come, I went to the store to buy the paper, proud to leaf through looking for my picture. It was a summer clothing line photo shoot and I was wearing a blue shirt and shorts in the ad. I flipped through the superfluous news filled pages looking for the ads sandwiched in the center. There it was, the Value City ad. I scanned the page and found my ad panel.......There I........wasn't. It was the right outfit but I wasn't wearing it. Normally, I won't be the first person to say that I am a pretty good actor. At 5'10", I am average height and can pull off a lot of characters. I think I do have some acting chops, but I don't think I could have pulled off portraying a 6'4" tall African American, which was what I saw when I looked at the spot where I was to have been shown.

For whatever reason I was replaced, I'll never know, but it was the last job I did with that particular agency. I found it increasingly hard to get time off for auditions and they neglected to use my work or cell phone as a primary contact number always leaving me messages on my home phone asking if I was interested in coming down the next day to audition. Since I needed a little more than 24 hours notice to arrange for a later shift at work, it became nearly impossible to schedule anything and I just let the dream die.

So, there you have it. My fifteen minutes were here and gone and now I've taken on the more demanding, yet highly rewarding role of father to my 8 month old daughter, Bailey. She's named after my two favorite characters in television (WKRP's Bailey Quarters) and film (It's a Wonderful Life's George Bailey). I still believe that if given the opportunity, I could be a great actor or filmmaker, but I like my life and I'm comfortable not being the center of attention. It was something I was so good at and craved the spotlight for most of my youth. For now, I may not be able to make a movie or act along side some of the greatest performers going, but I still have the chance to create a rich and immense world. I'm sure I'll have no trouble in convincing the one person who will relish in the opportunity to explore it. Perhaps she'll follow through on my dreams and make it big. I don't care if she never gets her name on anything other than the honor role. She's my biggest fan and my biggest hero and I'll never pass up the opportunity to take a photo with her. Just as long as it's me in the picture when I develop it and not somebody else dressed like me. That still burns my ass.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think I only saw the Eat N Park commercial once, but I was so proud!!


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