Monday, June 28, 2010

The Semmering

Have you ever heard of The Semmering? It’s an area of the Alps that covers parts of both Italy and Austria. It is an impossibly steep, very high part of the mountains. And as those places generally are, it’s a beautiful part of the world. The vistas, valleys and the clean fresh air are like nowhere else. Even the water tastes incredible.

The only way to see The Semmering at ground level is by train – The Semmering Railroad. There just aren’t roads in this area, you have to sit back, relax and see it the same way everyone did when it first opened to travel. The people who designed and built these train tracks back in 1848 were incredibly smart. They knew there needed to be a train that took people from Vienna, Austria to Venice, Italy. It would be great for the economies of both cities and everywhere in between. Most importantly, it would be good for the people themselves. People work hard all the time, all year long and their souls need to relax, they need to be transported to a magical place. And this railroad would take them someplace people had never been.

Since this would be the world’s first true mountain railway, there was not a train in existence that was able make the trip. But they built the tracks anyway. They built them because they knew, someday, the train would come.

You could say that being an actor is a lot like being one of the people who built those train tracks in the Alps. Us actors spend a lot of time preparing ourselves for the possibility of a magic moment somewhere in the not too distant future. We train ourselves, whether in conservatory or in class. Even if we went to conservatory we still take class. We practice at home, we rehearse and perform in plays in hole in the wall theaters, some of which are smaller than dorm rooms we’ve lived in. We act in short films. We write and perform in web series. We act in student films. We have private coaching for auditions. We produce and perform in showcases, concerts, and benefits. We sign up for open mic nights, we go to mixers, networking events, tweetups. We do targeted mailings and in person drop-offs. We do all these things in hope that it will get us noticed by people who hire actors, or at least noticed by people who can put actors in front of people that hire actors. And if that one thing we did does not accomplish that goal, we do another thing. And after that, another thing.

It could be easy to begin to feel lost, to feel like you’re going nowhere, that all of your work has been for nothing. Or worse – that it has all only been something for you to do. It would be easy to get frustrated, angry and self-destructive because you’re looking for more and/or faster results. Or even worse – it would be easy to lose your confidence in your abilities. It would be easy to question why something hasn’t happened yet, or why it hasn’t happened again.

It would be easy to lose yourself.

There are times when things slow down for whatever reason. For example, we don’t have control over the fact that business slows down in the summer. We can’t control the fact that most of scripted television is on hiatus, that there are less commercials shooting in the summer. Instead of falling prey to your fear; just keep working. Rehearsing. Training. Getting better. And instead of focusing on what has or hasn’t happened, try focusing on the growth you know you’ve made as an actor.

Remember how you got better because you were in a play for six weeks and played a character that was more difficult and demanding of your talent than any other character you’ve played? Focus on the fact that you got better, and then find a way to build on that growth so you may become an even better actor.

Remember when you surprised yourself? Seek to figure out what you did, and resolve to find a way to do it better. Find a way to be more spontaneous, with stronger, more specific choices, while you are even more present. Trust me, at the very least – you won’t have time for negativity. When you’re working to get better, and it all comes from a place of positivity and acceptance – you’ll give yourself even more room to grow.

And while you’re doing that, keep up the targeted mailings and the in person drop-offs. The auditions, plays, short films, open mic nights, concerts, benefits, the mixers, networking events, tweetups.

All the while, never forget that our art is noble. At the very least, our art is for the people who work hard all the time, all year long - whose souls need to relax, need to be transported to a magical place. At most, our art deeply moves and inspires people.

So when it gets tough, just remember The Semmering. Just like them, we have to lay the tracks before the train can come. Work diligently and lay the foundation with an expectant optimism. Nose to the grindstone.

You’ve got to have faith that the train will come. And when it does, you will be ready.

[© MMX MD TOTAL all rights reserved]

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Love Letter For All The World To See

I rarely get super personal here. But I’ve got the blues, y’all. The blues. And I’ve got it bad in a serious way. Like, hearing Sarah McLachlan singing The Rainbow Connection on the overhead play at a Starbucks just might make me cry while I’m waiting in line. See? BAD. But it’s with good reason. You all know I’m married, but you may not know that my love goes to Chicago for grad school every summer for six weeks.

The Great Divide started today.

Last summer was the first of the three summers. I was stuck here in LA because I was doing a play, and this year is no different. This summer, I’m working on an independent short film I will play the lead in, and that I also have a hand in developing. I’m stuck again – grounded, as it were.

I don’t take any part of this relationship for granted, but as soon as we get to this point in June it somehow feels like I do. At the absolute least, I sure have gotten used to sharing the bed.

But six weeks is nothing, you say. Before you know it, it’ll be over – right? Well I can explain this. This is our fourteenth year together and our fourth year married. We even lived in different cities for five years. And four years ago, when we finally were able to be in the same place again, we felt this was it.

Now don’t get me wrong – the two of us both know the score, and the roles could be reversed at any moment. Actors leave to go on location all the time. I’ve been on tour, and have worked out of town. Hell – I just spent a week on location in Santa Barbara in April and even that was somewhat difficult, yet I am STILL grateful for that experience. Yes, I know these are the lives and careers we’ve chosen. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

A few days ago, Shoshana Bean posted a video of herself rehearsing a song she was to sing the next day at a small venue here in LA. Her show was called “Today I Sing The Blues.” The two-minute video was amazing. As a singer, there’s not a lot more I respect more than someone who can sing the blues. As a listener, it hurt; I’ve got the blues. I wanted to see her show – it was cheap, and just down the street and I knew she would blow my socks off. But I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to go and cry throughout her entire set. That just ain’t right, you know?

As it got closer to showtime, I watched her video again. And again. And again. I thought about taking my love with me. But I chose not to. I was sure what would happen. But as I watched/listened to her video on repeat, I did find a sort of solace.

Yes, having The Blues hurts. But the way Ms. Shoshana Bean was singing that song… She understood. She knows.

And hearing her sing that song provided me with relief.

Then somehow I was reminded how lucky I am to have found anyone at all. And it could be worse – I could be lonely, yet, that’s not what I feel.

I'm just going to miss all that light.

I’m reminded of Romeo and Juliet, who both met untimely ends. BUT – they found each other. And THAT is reason enough to rejoice.

I wouldn’t feel all of this if I weren’t in LOVE.


Sunday, June 13, 2010


As a black American citizen who has benefited from all the hard work people accomplished in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, I have a vested interest in American ideals, our citizens’ rights and most of all; Equality.

If not for the Civil Rights Movement I would not be able to vote.

If not for the Civil Rights Movement, I would not have the education I have.

If not for the Civil Rights Movement, I would not be married to a person from another race.

And the list goes on.

This mindset is where I come from when I think about the issue of Gay Rights.

I have lived in New York, Los Angeles and even kind of lived in San Francisco for a minute [full disclosure, I was in SF about two weeks out of every month for quite a long while] – and because of that, I always think about Gay Pride at this time of year. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last couple of years because of Prop 8, and the way the Gay community responded nonviolently. Martin Luther King, Jr. made the contributions he did because nonviolent change was the cornerstone of his message.

What I’ve been thinking about today centers around two things regarding the Pride celebration. What does walking around in your underwear have to do with Pride? And this completely wild behavior – what does it advocate?

In case you don’t know, haven’t heard about it or seen it for yourself, people at Pride celebrations go Ca-razy. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll. And then they do it all over again. And then they do it again, for real. I mean, c’mon – the first one was just a rehearsal, right? People always mention that the way gay people act during Pride is exactly the way heterosexual America thinks gay people act every day of the year. C’mon son, now we know that’s not true! We all know there are too many gay people in this world for us to have a functioning society if that were the case.

But it does make me wonder, why should gay people have to be on their “Best Behaviour” during Pride? For some reason, I’m reminded of black people telling other black people not to eat watermelon in public. No one tells people to behave themselves at Mardi Gras, or Carnivale, right?! Why not? Because everyone accepts that those are isolated events where people act that way, they don’t assume those people are like that all year long. I’m all for telling everyone to be safe, and that is important. But telling people to “watch themselves” just seems to be the opposite of what it means to be “proud.”

Gay people still feel oppressed and clearly feel a need to LET GO. And for people who grew up feeling like a freak, being with 100,000 people who are similar to themselves is reason enough to throw down! But that’s just my observation, combined with my opinions of events of the past. I mean back in the day, black people were definitely told to “act right,” because we were proving that we belonged in society – that’s also why we were nonviolent. But gay people being “flamboyant” is not only nonviolent, it’s downright loving.

The first time I ever saw a Gay Pride Parade, I was on vacation with my family in Montreal when I was 14. Now, I’ll admit – that parade was a lot to take for a 14 year-old from the South. And the men walking around in public in tiny underwear thing was especially strange to me. Most of all, it was intimidating. We were trying to get back to our hotel, and everywhere we turned there were hundreds of people; topless women in leather, men in their underwear and they were all chanting “We’re Here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!” It was a lot to handle. By the time I moved to New York City, I had gotten used to the progressive dress code and simply accepted it.

Many gay people continually talk about the underwear thing with disdain. I always forget that even if these people are gay and moved to New York City by the time they were twenty years old, it’s very different from anyone seeing it as a student in Junior High School. I was young enough for that to be part of my childhood, but once you’re twenty – you’ve already solidified some ideas and ideals.

First of all, and to be fair, we have to talk about the phenomenon of people turning themselves into sex objects. Most of the year, people work their jobs, go to the gym, see movies, visit their family and go on vacation. And then when Pride comes along: RELEASE! I think these gay people not only want to feel attractive and sexy, but they also have a healthy need for that attention, love and expression of sexuality as well.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Being a sex object it so looked down upon in our society, that most wouldn’t dare do it without an excuse. Just like Halloween – that is the reason every costume you see is either the slutty or sexy version of a costume idea. And why is there nothing wrong with that? Because: people who need that release don’t allow themselves that freedom in their everyday lives. And everyone, no matter who they are, deserves Freedom.

I’m reminded of a conversation I recently had with a female friend. She was understandably frustrated with the idea that there is no word in our society for a male slut. Slut is a word used to describe a promiscuous woman, and the sexism of it all rightly pissed her off. I told her that we do have a word for a male slut. We call male sluts “Men!” She laughed so hard she spit out her coffee. Really.

But back to the main event [and I think this is the heart of the entire matter]. So many gay people grew up feeling like a freak even before they knew anything about their sexuality. And once they got an inkling that they may be homosexual, their feelings of oppression were multiplied and were confirmed by society. We all know Gay people are oppressed, that’s a fact not an opinion. So when these people, who have felt like an outcast their entire time on this planet, finally liberate themselves – they feel AMAZING. Free. Complete.

And after spending your life in the dark, once you’ve finally given yourself light… You finally feel so proud that walking around in your underwear is an expression of your FREEDOM. You can’t truly oppress a soul that’s liberated itself.

That’s PRIDE.

[©MMX MD TOTAL all rights reserved.]

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Summer in LA

It’s about to be summer in LA! It’s the time of year when you start getting random phone calls from “friends” asking for things. Will you refer me to your agent? Can you call that casting director you know and recommend me for this project? You know who covers Paramount at CAA, right? I know you’re union, but will you perform in my Primetime National Network Commercial for free…? THEN a week later, at a party, you’ll overhear them saying how they can’t believe all you did was talk about yourself on that call. Bitch, after you asked for a favor AGAIN, you asked me how I was!!!


Chace Crawford got arrested in Texas for Pot Possession. If he wasn’t already gay, he definitely got ate up by all them horny mens in the clink! Y’all know what I’m talking about: if Chace Crawford wasn’t rockin a beard right now, you’d think that pretty boy was one hot lady.

Apparently the Universe is trying to get me to go to a party at the Playboy Mansion in July, because multiple friends who don’t know each other keep contacting me to get me on the list. The Playboy Mansion. In the middle of summer. Yowza.

Rue McLanahan died and we are all torn up about it. Though the wisdom of Blanche Devereaux will live on forever! In related news, Betty White was seen standing on a mountain, holding a sword as lightning strikes behind her, shouting “THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!!!”

Christina Aguilera sang a song on the American Idol finale that shows off how mature she is, and what she’s capable of expressing. It was a brilliant performance of a breakup song that was surprisingly not oversung. Most striking was her acting of the song – she came on and created a mood and sang on it. If she did that performance in a Broadway musical, she would win a Tony Award. Really. But just to make sure we know she still got it, she performed this song in a skintight unitard, that was partially see-through! Christina Aguilera: all class, all the time.

Janet Jackson performed on the same American Idol finale while she was in between weaves! She was rocking the same hairdo she had when she played Penny on Good Times [which was the last time I saw her real hair, not that there's anything wrong with that]. Apparently grief does make you brave! “No mama, don’t burn me with that iron!” CLASSIC!

I got a fortune cookie the other day that said “Good Luck!” What the hell kind of fortune is that?! Is my life so ridiculous that even a fortune cookie is telling me I need luck?! DANG, MAMA!

Now that it’s warmer, people are walking their dogs everywhere. When a dog is pooping on a patch of grass, am I the only one that wants to point at the doggie, laugh and say “You have to poop outside! Even YOU look ashamed! You are not dignified! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!” You know you want to. And you'll think about the next time you see a dog "make."

Got some See’s Candies as a gift. Tell me something: How the hell does See’s Candies get away with not giving you a map of what each candy is? ARROGANCE!!! They think their candy is so good that we shouldn’t need to know what it is before we eat it? Well let me be the first to say: Fuck you, See’s Candies! We don't ALL love hazlenut, you motherfuckers!!!

And that, friends, is just the beginning of Summer In LA. Let The Games Begin!

[© MMX MD TOTAL all rights reserved]