Sunday, December 11, 2011

On Holidays During Financially Leaner Years

Let’s face it. Some years, we’re just not as financially liquid as we’d all like to be when the holidays roll around. This is one of those years for us. For me, it’s especially daunting because my birthday is December Ninth. And a grown ass adult, birthdays aren’t about getting presents the way we used to when we were kids. This year, I’m reminding myself that birthdays and the holidays are all about the spirit of the occasion this year.

It’s not like I lost my savings in the stock market or anything awful like that, but I did run into some financial... realities. The role I booked in Republic of Two [one of several projects I shot this year] required that I get back into SAG to be able to perform in the movie. While I joined SAG in 1999, there’s a long, drawn-out and frustrating story about how I lost my membership, and when it was time to come back, I had to pay $3,000. That’s American dollars, btw. Luckily, SAG gave me three months to pay the balance, and it was due at the end of October. Near the beginning of October, I had to replace the clutch in my car. $1500. YIKES.

If you’ll notice, these abnormal expenses were both in the same month. On top of that, my sweetheart is in grad school and paying the final year of tuition, which is the most expensive year. As you can see, financially, we’re a little bit lean right now. Which also means that we’re not able to visit my family in Georgia for Christmas this year [we rotate every year, so the last time was in 2009]. That hurts. But– we have each other! And we’re lucky enough to be able to drive to my in-laws’ place, because they’re in California.

Because of all this, I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks trying to get us into the spirit, reminding us both that it’s really about being together, being with friends and family, and simply celebrating how awesome it is to be alive. Funnily enough, everything was immediately more bearable as soon as we put up Christmas decorations.

What I did not expect was this – not expecting lavish gifts and only looking for the spirit of the day made my birthday amazing.

Birthdays are an overwhelming experience with facebook. So many people wishing you an awesome day and an awesome year ahead fills the heart right up. If that makes me sappy, then call me sappy - s'okay. Also, an old friend [when we were friends, we were inseperable, and we were as close to each other as I’ve been with anyone in my entire life], wrote me. Life brings people together and pulls them apart, and we just haven’t been communicating for the last few years, and she’s rarely on FB, so... You know the drill. Best of all, she called me by the nickname she gave me, and had the grace to use asterisks on all the inside letters just so I was the only person who knew. That was one killer gift.

My laptop died. It was born in 2005, so I’m beyond happy with the service it gave me, but I’m not exactly able to rush to the Apple store this weekend and get a new one, so it is sad. I was at Melrose Mac, seeing if they could fix it when they told me it was unfixable. I kinda knew it might be unfixable [hell, the guy at the Genius Bar literally laughed in my face when I brought it to them. Apple calls it ‘Vintage.”], so it wasn’t a complete surprise. Then, on the overhead music in the store, Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” came on. Sir Duke is more than just an amazing song to me. When mom was pregnant with me she would often play “Songs in the Key of Life.” When “Sir Duke” would come on, I would go crazy in her tummy. Dancing full out in her uterus. I tend to associate that song with that story and hearing it on my birthday at Melrose Mac felt like a good omen about rebirth, about starting over. New.

I may be in the middle of a renaissance.

My godmother emailed a pic to my mom and I from the time period when I was about seven and my mom was about thirty. It was taken in Central Park in New York City at the Alice and Wonderland statue, on one of my first trips to the city. Not only are we both rocking some serious 80s fashion, but you can see in my face and body language that I am falling in love with that city. And I really was – I very much remember that. But, because of bad storage issues, my mom lost most of her photos of us from when I was a kid. [we had no idea photos needed to be stored for archival, we just put them away. Photo Archival is IMPORTANT, y’all - even digital pics.] Because of this, that pic is an amazing gift; anything we can get our hands on is literally priceless. And the pic is GOOD.

One of the things my sweetheart brought home was Hershey's Kisses. We don’t [ahem, normally] keep candy in the house, so it was surprisingly fun. Also, because my mom is a chocolate fanatic, I grew up with Hershey's Kisses always being in the house. I mean, they were a constant on the grocery list like milk, butter and eggs. They were around so constantly that I completely lost interest in them. Even when they are so amazing. If you like Hershey's chocolate, you know exactly what I'm talking about. What was weird is that my mom was going through Hershey's Kisses the most at the time when that pic was taken. I felt such a large sense of symmetry to look at that pic and remember that time and have Hershey's Kisses melt in my mouth all at once that it was difficult to ignore. Pretty fucking awesome, I tell you what.

Funnily enough, even though I was fully paid up with SAG six weeks ago, it took a while for SAG card to arrive in the mail for some reason. BUT - it came in the mail on my birthday. On my birthday! It’s difficult not to feel the universe is saying something to me with that gesture. And you know what? I’ll take it! It's plastic like a credit card [not paper like AEA or AFTRA cards] and it is shiny. Most of all, it makes two important statements: Malcolm Devine is a professional performing artist and he’s been working in SAG projects since 1999.

These were phenomenal birthday gifts. If I were expecting large material things, I would have completely missed their exquisite subtlety. I feel like Hugh Grant at the end of a romantic comedy – “Love actually IS all around!” That’s not to say I wouldn’t like to get a huge LCD TV, a new computer, a new couch and a new car with a big red bow on it someday. But, this ain’t bad, y’all. This ain’t bad at all.

[© MMXI MD TOTAL all rights reserved.]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On OKLAHOMA! [the musical]

As an actor, it’s important that I keep reading screenplays and plays. Screenplays are a little easier to read without seeking them out, I read new ones each time I audition for a project. I have to seek out plays a little more, but I’m always happy I did.

Recently, I reread the classic musical Oklahoma! and it blew my mind. It was completely different than I remembered from seeing productions before, or even when I worked on scenes in Musical Scene Study class back in my conservatory days. It’s not that the productions I saw were bad, or that I misunderstood it when I worked on the scenes myself… It just wasn’t fully understood. But this time, so much more was clear.

Every time I had seen the show before, it was all presented so simply. Curly the cowhand and Laurey should be together and Jud the hired hand is clearly gross and not worthy of Laurey, he’s the villain. We love Laurey because she accepts Jud’s invitation to the box social, and doesn’t go with Curly [even though she wants to] because that means that she is a good girl who doesn’t go back on her word. It’s all so very nice. But there always seemed to be something missing from the experience for me. It also makes the entire show hinge upon whether or not Laurey is polite – will she break her word and go to the social with Curly?

That’s it?!

As soon as I began reading Oklahoma! this time, everything felt much more urgent. And questions popped up immediately. What if Curly is arrogantly toying with Laurey about asking her to the social instead of being teasingly cute? And then she says yes to Jud when he asks her… The audience doesn’t get to see that scene, but I always assumed she says yes to Jud because Curly has said (teasingly or toyingly) that he won’t ask her. Reading it this time, I realized that if she didn’t want to go with Jud she easily could’ve made an excuse. Everyone in town would have fully understood and would not have thought any less of her. It’s Jud. Ew.

Meanwhile, we’ve met Will and Ado Annie who have reminded us that we’re all so wonderfully alive, with a world of feelings inside of us that need to be expressed physically. I won’t digress into an argument about what that sexuality represents in the show, but it’s clear that it’s about change. People are allowing themselves to physically express their desires – and that change feels dangerous. There’s a scene between Laurey and Ado Annie where Ado Annie explains how when her motor gets running, she “Can’t Say No.” She asks Laurey for recognition and Laurey says she has no idea what Ado Annie is talking about, but… what if she does? What if Laurey is vexed by this very issue right now?

And then, for me, all hell broke loose.

Yes, Laurey loves Curly. Laurey loves Curly the way love is written about – butterflies, the stars and the moon – and that love is real. But what if Jud makes her feel alive inside; makes her feel like a grown woman? Sexually? And what if, as overwhelming and scary and new that feeling is to her – she loves it? What if it excites her just as much as her feelings for Curly do…?

All of a sudden Jud feels like he is quite misunderstood. And Laurey really needs those smelling salts to tell her what the heck she should do. Then the show becomes about this girl becoming a woman dealing with a very difficult choice about how she’s going to live her life.

All of that happens before we even get to the first real scene with Jud! Up till then all we’ve had is a couple of lines from him. [Shoutout to R & H for letting everyone else have their say about Jud before he really even arrives. My man Jud is a man of mystery.] Before this reading of the show, I felt the scenes between Jud and Curly in the Smoke House where Jud lives were meant to be funny, and show how dumb Jud is. But this time, when I read the scene description I was taken aback. Jud is the hired hand and lives in the old smokehouse, yet he decides to put tools on the walls and have barrels of nails and screws in his room. I never realized he chooses that as decoration. He works on a farm; we know they have a toolshed because this is the smokehouse. [For all y’all whose families didn’t work on farms, smokehouses are for smoking meat and not where you keep your non meat-smoking tools. Especially if you no longer smoke meat and have your hired hand live there.] Jud just loves them so much that he wants them as decoration. It’s a small detail, but it’s enough to let the audience know Jud loves working with his hands. Really loves it.

In the scenes in the Smoke House, I never fully understood how dirty and manipulative Curly was being while calling it “playing” with Jud. All the joking about how if Jud was dead people would finally admit to being Jud’s friend, but only when he’s dead. Curly even has the audacity to fully suggest that Jud kill himself. WHAAAAT?! Yes, he plays as if he’s joking and sings a funny song about it but… When you think of Jud as someone that Laurey might actually like a lot, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for Curly to kinda feel like Jud being dead would be a real solution to all his problems. As my Grandma would say when a bull tried to mate with a sow, “That ain’t right!”

All Poor Jud can do is wallow in sadness and sing a song about how misunderstood and lonely he is. And it is heartbreaking.

Even with all these thoughts, I wasn’t completely sold on thinking of the show in this way until that last scene with Laurey and Jud, where he asks her why she won’t ever let herself be alone with him. Jud gives a monologue that’s as full of love as any leading man ever has. He shows a real love for Laurey that’s an astonishing betrayal of how soulful he is. He proves he’s a complicated man that’s capable of a beautiful kind of love that’s just like the love Laurey thinks she feels for Curly. And that scares Laurey terribly because it’s not simple or easy to understand. Why would it scare her so if she didn’t feel similarly about him…?

All of a sudden I truly understood why this show is a classic. It’s dirty. It’s gritty. It’s raw. Most of all, though – it’s real. And I never understood that before.

Monday, January 3, 2011


So it’s been a while since I mentioned The Entire Month Off, hasn’t it? I will say this: the list I wrote was far too much for me to accomplish in one month and still go to my day job and go to auditions and perform. BUT – since I wrote a list that was too ambitious, I accomplished more in November than I ever do.

The first two weeks were overwhelming. I was just trying to knock everything out as fast as possible. Then, the week before Thanksgiving, I got the stomach flu. And it was AWFUL. All I will say is that every single bit of fuel that was in my body was evacuated. And it took a long time for my tummy to be able to digest anything easily.

Two interesting things happened when I got the flu. First, I was forced to eat sublimely clean food because my digestive system simply would not take anything that wasn’t – and that was one of the items on my list! I continued to eat that way until Thanksgiving, when all hell broke loose (but my system was ready for that kind of food). After the holiday, it was easy to go back to eating good, efficient fuel. Having the stomach flu forced me to really listen to what my body was saying it wanted. It seems that’s the key to truly fueling your body in a way that is clean and efficient. And that includes figuring out when to put the fork down.

Second, when I had the tummy flu, I could not be in a rush to do anything – I simply didn’t have the energy. I’d be reading one of the books on my list and was having fun! And then I remembered that I only chose to put things on the list that actually made me happy to do them.

And that was the whole point of the experiment!

After that, I went easier on myself. I went the long way ‘round, as they say. Instead of working on this monologue for a specific audition, I was adding it to my repertoire. It made me realize that I should spend a good while getting it right. To actually rehearse it, not just memorize it. That’s the only way it would serve well as an audition piece anyway. And by working diligently and taking your time, you give yourself the biggest chance to have this monologue make you a better actor.

One thing that was abundantly clear is when you tell the Universe that you’re going to work hard, it supplies you with more work to work hard on. And that’s a phenomenal thing! To have more opportunities come your way simply because you’re open to working? I’ll take it! But it’s clear that only happens when you’re truly committed to doing work.

And now the big secret.

This whole experiment was a test for a larger idea. Could I work this way for longer? I can tell you I’ve been working like this ever since November 1, 2010, when this all started. It was my rehearsal for New Year’s Resolutions. This is my resolution: to work like this all year long, and see where it takes me. I know for sure that I’ll get more thing done that I need to get done. At the very least, I know I’ll be choosing to do things that make me happy. And that should never be discounted.

Try it out yourself. You’ll be glad you did. Trust me. ;)


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