Friday, July 30, 2010

The Domestic Life of Actors

Last night I had the great fortune to score free "media tickets" for the touring show of Wicked, seated in the same section as local celebs like Colleen Marshall and Jym Ghanahl (my first real "press perk"). I had written an article for (614) in which I interviewed one of the actors, Justin Brill who plays the Munchkin-turned-Tin-Man, Boq, so I was excited to place headshot with a live person. I'd spoken to him on the phone about a month ago, where he was at home in Manhattan.

Between scenes of the show at the Ohio, I started to wonder how Brill might be enjoying Columbus so far. Which got me to thinking about the lives of actors, or really, the unconventional life of the professional artist.

When I 23 I spent one year in up-state New York working as a literary apprentice at a regional theater. While I had grown up being involved in drama and earned a bachelor's degree in theater, this was my first exposure to people who made their living in the arts. Most of our actors had moved to New York City to pursue acting only to end up spending months and months out of the year at various cities in the Midwest. This because all of the regional theaters from all over the country (not to mention the various touring groups) all audition in NYC.

So these actors, some in their 20s but most in their 30s and 40s, took up residence in a block of apartments rented by the theater and did their best to maintain their version of "daily life" on the road. Because I was young, I was only able to see them through a veil of idealized envy. They were, after all, getting paid for things me and my friends were doing for free to fill the balance of the monotonous job-job. They were all so cool, haning out each night in the cabaret after shows, drinking wine, smoking, telling amusing stories about their minor celebrity encounters in the business. They had a worldy wisdom that was intoxicating.

What I began to realize was a sort of fast-track emotional existence. Relationships of all kinds seemed to come quickly and easily. And then they were gone and on to the next gig. In some ways, this seemed exciting, something I found it difficult to grasp as I collected addresses and intended sincere continuations of my connections.

What I didn't realize until many years later was the inherent complexity of their lives. Many were divorced, a few had children that required much coordinating to either see or have with them. For them, there was no coming home at the end of the day and settling into a couch with a loved one or putting children to bed.

In my Wicked phone interview with Brill, he mentioned having just gotten married. "How does that work?" I asked, perhaps a little too pessimistically. "We're lucky," he said. "My wife happens to be the dance captain of this particular tour. That almost never happens."

I've seen many people who make it work, who manage to work out the tedious details to manage the conventions that ground them while that urgently pursue the passions they need in order to function properly in the world. All without the promise that any of it will pay off in any sort of tangible way.

But I thank them. From the bottom of my music-loving, theatre-appreciating, film-obsessed heart.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Old School Ode #8 - The Significance of Rick Springfield on the Development of the 12 Year Old Girl in 1982

I do not have air conditioning in my Jeep. Luckily, I have my Dad's spare truck parked in my driveway for those days when rolled-down windows and bundled-up hair will just not cut it.

That vehicle has a tape deck. As much as I like the radio, I can only go so long before I feel the need to control what I am listening to. So I've taken to rummaging through my box of abandoned cassettes in my basement.

Which is how I've come to be listening to Rick Springfield's "Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet" almost non-stop for the past week.

To go on about how Springfield was a huge star in 1982 would be a redundant waste of time. Even those who don't care could not argue this point. What intrigues me now, however, is just how spot-on Springfield was in appealing to an almost exclusively prepubescent female audience, given he was in his thirties at the height of his popularity. One could argue this is creepy, but I'd like to try to give Springfield the benefit of a thorough consideration.

Let's start with the album cover of Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet:

I won't say it looks like something a twelve year old girl could pull off, but it absolutely appeals almost exclusively to that demographic. Anyone who ever picked up a Teen Beat in 1982 knew that Springfield had a dog named Ron. That he loved this dog enough to put him on one album cover (Working Class Dog) is one thing, but to bring him back and be humbled enough to eagerly play man-servant to said dog? That's altogether something else. Throw in the pink and the poodles and the silly posturing, you're not going to win over the Van Halen crowd.

I would imagine all teen idol types are under some sort of pressure to consistently appeal to the throngs of screaming girls. But unlike the guys in the Beatles who longed (rightfully so) to shed their teenybopper image, or George Michael's hidden-in-plain-sight homosexuality, Springfield's songs seemed a genuine expression of his inner landscape. I would imagine it might have been confusing as an artist to recognize a common maturity level between he and his audience, but he never seemed to fight this or condescend.

Springfield uses the terms "girl" a lot to describe the women in his songs. This might be offensive if he didn't also seem to refer to himself as a "boy." He has a song called "How Do You Talk To Girls" that is almost embarrassingly earnest in its longing to understand the opposite sex. How he manages to not sound like an emotionally stunted man-boy is astonishing.

Likewise, there is a song called "April 24, 1981" the title referring simply to the date of his father's death. The song is short, perhaps not even a minute, and the lyrics are simple

I know all your life you've wondered / About that step we all take alone / How far does the spirit travel on a journey / You must surely be near heaven / And it thrills me to the bone / To know Daddy knows the great Unknown.

Girls all over the world, girls who had never known one bit of loss in their lives, collectively wept over this song. While I had my musical crushes (forever having to point out Johnathon Cain from the Teen Beat centerfold Journey posters...) I was never the overt screamer. But there was something about Springfield that made it easy to fall for him. He appealed to many types of girls - the quiet, the pretty, nerdy, even the tough girls. At my school there were a trio of girls who were known for their allegiance to wearing black t-shirts featuring the icons of rock - Rush, the Doors and Ozzy - who were hard-core Rick devotees.

Perhaps I am overlooking the obvious charge that Springfield's songs were better than everyone gave him credit for. Should they be compared to even the pantheon of classic pop songs? Probably not, but as I strain to listen to my almost thirty-year-old thinly worn tape, I realize how easy it is to simply soak in the songs that I am not listening to for simply sentimental reasons.

I saw Springfield in concert when I was thirteen, fourteen, and twenty-seven. Going to the latter show, I worried that I had become like those middle-aged ladies you hear about going to see Tom Jones. But it was a huge crowd of all kinds of people - women as well as men, suburbanites and urban hipsters alike - all hovering around thirty at the time, all there to celebrate what we loved about Rick Springfield.

And he seemed genuinely proud that we'd finally come of age...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

CAPA Summer Movie Series: The Love Affair Continues...

If I am remembering correctly, last year, I had at least a couple posts professing my profound love for the Summer Movie Series that takes place at the Ohio Theater.

Every year, when I pick up the flyer (that I promptly tape to the door in my home office) I immediately scour the list, picking out about ten films I'd really like to see. I eventually had to learn to accept the fact that schedule conflicts and unforeseen circumstances would ultimately get in the way.

Setting the bar low (at one showing per summer) I learned I could congratulate myself if I exceeded that. Last year I saw three - The Day the Earth Stood Still, South Pacific, and Wings, the latter taking its place as my favorite CAPA Summer Movie Series viewing of all time (which is saying a lot considering I saw Gone With the Wind in 1980 when Columbus experienced a minor earthquake that shook the one-ton chandelier above our heads...)

See - for that post...

I am proud to report that this year, I have well exceeded my minimal expectations with my fifth show last night. There are four more left, and I have plans to see two of them next week. Usually, my desire to be "cultured" is thwarted by my default "middlebrow" tastes. But I have come to recently appreciate art produced before my lifetime.

I will wait until the series is over before I comment individually on each movie. But, so far, there has not been a dud in the bunch.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Palms Up!

Ten years ago, I was involved in a car accident that broke my arm in two places and required plates and screws. After a follow-up surgery almost a year later, considerable scar tissue built up, causing an unusual disability in my right hand.

I could not turn my right hand palm up.

Which you wouldn't think would be that big of a deal. And, all things considered, it's not. However, not being able to put my hand in that position often caused pain because some ancient muscle memory would suddenly want to turn in a way it couldn't. I also couldn't lift certain things because I couldn't get my hand up underneath something like, say, a table. Or when people say, "Put out your arms" and then load them up with things. I couldn't do that (but I can hardly complain about the "Sorry, I can't help you carry that heavy load," I was kinda glad to see my heavy-lifting days behind me...)

Anyway, the other day I was driving and noticed that I was gripping the steering wheel from below, something I have not been able to do for ten years. At first, I thought it was a fluke, that I was in some position where I'd always had range of motion. Once I got to my destination, I stood next to my car and flipped my palms up. It worked. I did it again, then again with increasing excitement (not realizing until late how ridiculous I must have looked to passing traffic.)

A week later, I am still intrigued by this latest, literal, breakthrough. I believe what has happened is that some of the scar tissue that had caused the hindrance has, after all of this time, broken up enough to allow me range of motion. I'm fairly certain of this as I can hear an accompanying crunching sound while flailing my hands about.

I'm sure there is some kind of metaphor that could go along with this, about some balance between acceptance and perseverance or the like. I'm just happy for the improvement.

Until I start getting calls to help people move...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Considering the Guinea Pig

While I recently crossed the country for a pet-sitting gig, watching after a charmingly dim dog and a pair of low-maintenance cats, I'm not what one would call a "pet person." Perhaps this is due to the notion of how much energy it takes to raise one consistently drilled into my brain by my mother.

When I was a child, I was one of those kids who visited the elderly neighbors on a regular basis, finding some sort of specific comfort in the alien nature of their ancient knick-knacks and seemingly constant viewing of Lawrence Welk. And they had dogs, of the appropriately low-key variety. I loved these dogs and would have sworn at the time that they loved me, although looking back I can see how my exuberance (and tendency to want to dress them or cart them around in a wagon) was surely only tolerated.

I did, for a few months, have the only pet of my childhood, a hamster named Hammy (I know, an embarrassingly common name coming from such a creative child...) I pawed at that thing constantly, taking him out into the backyard, plopping him into the basket of my bicycle, wheeling at top speed down the alley while he poked his head out of the top, gripping on for dear life. It never once occurred to me what I might do if he suddenly jumped or flew out.

Anyway, I am reminded of all of this because I agree to pet-sit for my friend's daughter's guinea pig.

So Cookie and I have been co-habitating since Wednesday evening. She requires even less care than I had initially thought (which I'll admit was minimal), but her presence makes it impossible for me not to consider the life of a guinea pig.

If you don't already know, they don't seem to do much.

At first, I thought it was because they live in such tiny cages. That maybe they would somehow, with more space, be inclined to run and frolic.

But this doesn't seem to be the case.

So I went to the research. According to Wikipedia, "their strongest problem-solving strategy is motion. While guinea pigs can jump small obstacles, they are poor climbers, and are not particularly agile. They startle extremely easily, and will either freeze in place for long periods of time or run for cover with rapid, rapid, darting motions when they sense danger."

Yep. That seems to be more Cookie's style, perpetually darting into her purple plastic igloo whenever I enter the room. Which I find unfortunate, but it's not like I'm out to become some sort of rodent-whisperer. It would be nice to know that this animal had a pleasant visit, but essentially job is to make sure the pets aren't injured or die while their owners are out of town. Which is why I guess they make good pets for young children. That, and they're awfully cute.

Still, knowing it just sits there for hours upon hours, staring out into the cage from her igloo, kinda freaks me out...