Friday, October 23, 2009

How I Got My Equity Card -or- Pump Your Brakes

Actors' Equity Association. "AEA" or "Equity", founded in 1913, is the labor union that represents more than 48,000 Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. Equity seeks to advance, promote and foster the art of live theatre as an essential component of our society. Equity negotiates wages and working conditions, and provides a wide range of benefits; including health and pension plans, for its members.

During my sophomore year at NYU I got a job as an EMC (Equity Membership Candidate) at The Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ. Their producer, Roy Miller and their artistic director, Robert Johanson, wanted me to be in the ensemble for their production of Man of La Mancha and also understudy one of the principal roles. It took a long time for me to find out because they had to make a special deal with Equity to allow me to be able to do that job. I appreciated it – not only did it allow me to do that show, but the way the artistic staff believed in me gave me the confidence I needed to perform at such a prestigious venue for the first time.

But I was still just an EMC. While my ego was bruised at first, it ended up being a good thing, because I was able to play some roles while I finished university that I would most likely not have been able to if I had my equity card. I played the Witch in Into the Woods. As a woman. Charles in Pippin. The Senator in Hello Again. Let’s face it, I would not have gotten to play roles like that as a 20 year old if it weren’t for imaginative directors working Off-Broadway. I now think of this as an integral part of my development as an artist. I had been exposed to highly commercial theater and I also got to get down and dirty like any twenty year old artist needs to. I still needed to cut my teeth, as it were.

After La Mancha closed, I went back to school. Begrudgingly. It was a serious reality check going from working in a sold out run at “The State Theater of New Jersey” (and all of the luxury that goes with that) to living in a dorm and getting up early for class five times a week. And I still had two years to go.

During my final semester I got tonsillitis (while I was playing Charles in Pippin, I might add) and had to miss just over two weeks of academic classes. I was struggling to keep up with my work when three weeks before the end of the semester my Art History teacher informed me that there was no way I could pass that class and the best thing for me to do would be to withdraw. Not passing that class meant not graduating early, as I had planned. DRAMA! I was beyond disappointed - I was supposed to graduate in three weeks! I moped around for a week when I saw an ad for an audition for the national tour of Freedom Train: The Harriet Tubman Story. I wasn’t too keen on going on tour at that time, but I just couldn’t imagine going back to school immediately.

I went to the audition and got called straight to the final callbacks. I wasn’t nervous until I opened the door and saw the entire creative team behind the table. There were at least ten auditors - there were so many people that they actually had to push two tables together to fit them all! I sang my song, read the scene and went home thinking that they weren't too impressed and I really should register for the next semester. Within an hour, I got the call to do the show.

Six weeks later I was on the road, freezing my ass off in the snow belt. It was cold. This was the kind of winter weather where the temperature wouldn’t get much warmer than six or seven degrees. Sometimes, it seemed like I would never get warm. I got a cold that lasted three weeks! But I got to see so many cities and perform in some of our country’s most beautiful theaters that have been around since the vaudeville age. You could feel the magic in some of these old and ornate palaces. As difficult as the touring lifestyle is, and it IS difficult, I felt like the luckiest man alive as soon as I made my first entrance onstage every night.

And I got my equity card.

Yes, I do feel fortunate to that I got to join the union while I was still in college. And yes, that is pretty rare. When you're in drama school, everyone is focused on getting their equity card or at least becoming an EMC as soon as possible because you can't even audition for big shows unless you are a member of the union. I had spent some time taking class at NYU while still in high school and I wanted my equity card then! But I was no where near ready for that sort of artistic responsibility. I remember being frustrated that I didn't get my card from working at Papermill. I think the important lesson for me was that I had to keep working hard, growing as an artist and the union status would come at the right time. And boy did it! Instead of having to go back to school when I thought I was finished, I got to take a semester off and go on the road. I finished school the next fall right around the time I got my SAG card...

But that's another story.

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Rehearsal Hall Surprise!

Look who I ran into the rehearsal hall at the Center Theater Group! CTG runs the Ahmansan, the Mark Taper Forum and the Kirk Douglas Theater. You all know Lea Michele from the TV's GLEE[!]. What you may not realize is that she comes from the Broadway musical Spring Awakening. Jonathan Groff was her costar in that musical, and will be playing her possible love interest on GLEE! WHAAAAAAAAAT?! Sounds like fun. They're doing a workshop of a new musical at CTG, which could end up being exciting. Either way, it was fun to hang with them both during a break, albeit briefly. What resulted is a surprisingly good picture. Note how tired we all look. I would like to add that this pic was taken about 45 seconds after I had finished singing a vigorous ten page song - that's why I look so "awesome."

Jonathan, Soccerboy, Lea. (photo credit: Jonathan Groff)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Box-Office Round Up: October Eleventh, 2009

5. Paranormal Activity $7.07 million [week three]. Well! The folks at Paramount are surely jumping up and down based on these numbers! I know that seven million does not seem like a huge number, but you must consider that it’s only on 160 screens and is getting a $44,000 per screen average. That’s good news, the next highest per screen average is $11,700 and that belongs to the number one movie! PLUS – this picture pretty much succeeded on the basis of viral marketing. This movie has been a trending topic on Twitter for the last ten days – all based on a few well-placed trailers. Well done, Paramount. Well done.

4. Toy Story 1 and 2 in 3D [re-release] $7.7 million [week two].
I think everyone knew that these would place in the top five – I mean these are new animation classics! What else is there to say?

3. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs $12 million [week four]. Since this the first edition of The Dup in quite some time, I feel I should mention the fact that everyone was surprised at how well this movie is doing. Anyone who tells you differently is lying to your face. Yes, it’s based on a longtime bestselling children’s book, but those fail as movies all the time! [Ahem, The Seeker: the Dark is Rising] The key with children’s movie adaptations is to keep the budget low enough so that home video can save you if need be, because we all know that as much as any kiddie flick makes in it’s theatrical release, it’s always going to at least double that on home video because parents will always need something to occupy their kids without them.

2. Zombieland $15 million [week two]. I had no idea how this movie was tracking before it was released; all I knew was that those ads and trailers seemed to keep getting funnier the more I saw of them. This movie is a bona fide hit – it made its budget back [and more] on its opening weekend. Pundits say that this is an example of the death of star vehicles, but… I don’t agree. Yes, this is a small film without any huge box office actors in it – but Woody Harrelson is a name. Jesse Eisenberg is a name of sorts, he’s still up and coming but people definitely mention that it’s got the dude from Adventureland. Once you factor in its genre roots and the fact that it was the first genre flick of it’s kind to open in October for Halloween’s sake, you had to imagine that it’s be a hit. That being said, I also think that if this movie starred two hugely well known actors everyone involved would have to spend so much time explaining why their stars aren’t actually slumming that it wouldn’t be a hit at all – even un-savvy audiences would think it looked like a payday.

1. Couples Retreat $35.3 million [opening weekend]. Couples retreat is an example of good marketing. There have been outdoor print ads up for a few weeks now and they never seemed to be apologizing for themselves (see Surrogates). In fact it was exactly the way I felt about the print ads for The Hangover. I had not seen a trailer, but somehow these ads just began to look funnier the more I looked at them as the weeks rolled by. Then I finally sat down and watched the trailer – I had no idea that it had Vince Vaughn AND Jon Favreau - that’s like every bachelor’s favorite pairing. And then I learned that they wrote this picture together! As soon as I found that out, I knew that it would be a hit. And in fact, it’s the highest gross for a movie they wrote and starred in. ALREADY! Actually, they broke their previous two movies’ grosses (Swingers and Made) sometime early Friday evening. I’m just saying. Congrats to the boys – for a lot of us, Vince and Jon feel like people we know. They’re there because we put them there.

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