They didn’t have weblogs in 1987. But recently I recovered some old letters and diary entries of mine from the eighties off some ancient floppy discs. It’s been interesting to meet my old self in this way - through words I’ve long since completely forgotten. For better or worse, here are a few exerpts:
* * * January 12 * * *
Well, my job at Harley & Browne has ended. After 4˝ years of typing for them, I'm a free agent again. Well, almost. They want me to come in two afternoons a week to train the new staff on the computers there, so I've been doing that Wednesdays and Fridays. But that won't last long, and I presume that by March they won't need me at all anymore - except, perhaps, for freelance work. At the moment my plan of attack is to keep the money coming in somehow - so I've been to the people at Unemployment Insurance to register. But my goal in life isn't to rot in that morass. I'm actually beginning to realize that one can lead a decent life as an office tempprovided one knows the skills that are selling at the moment.
* * * January 23 * * *
(From a letter to Jim Wright)
Last time I saw [Fred Shubert] was at Jason Correia's funeral back in Christmas of '85. It was an odd moment to meet, unfortunately, as he was quite upset ... He looked well, if bigger. Wish I'd had a chance to yak with him about what he's doing - I keep hearing about this Catholic thing he's into right now, and I'd like to hear from him what it's all about. Do you see him ever, or write to him? Do you know what his address is? Now that I think of it, I'd like very much to send him a bolt from the blue letter and see how it's all going.
There's a secondary reason for wanting to write him as well. When we were still living in Toronto, Linda and I knew a young actor by the name of James Falcon. If you can picture James Dean, you can picture James Falcon - he was a young, blonde kid who was an actor and obsessed with the romantic lives of those who had lived fast and died young doing film noir movies in the '50s. He got to be a friend for all that, though never a close one - Jim was never close to anybody, really.
Anyway, he got married to this girl, Nimette, and then after a few months it wasn't going too well and Jim started getting weird, so all of us who knew him kind of disengaged ourselves from him. Linda and I were already in New York by this time, and I had a letter from Jim that I should have answered but didn't because, what the fuck, I had better things to do than write to a kid who was so suffused in his own troubles it was hard to talk to him about the real world.
Well, Jim ended up hanging himself one weekend when Nimette decided to break off with him, and ever since them I've kind of promised myself that, if there's anything I'll never do again, it's cut myself off from somebody just because they're suddenly going down some weird avenue. In fact, I kind of have this thing of wanting especially to be in touch with someone when they're in that kind of phase, just to make sure they're all right. It's just a little rule I made with myself after James died - that I would never again lose touch with someone just because they're off on a tangent, and, if I ever got the urge to write to them, I wouldn't put it off.
Not that Fred is about to hang himself - although Fred is no more eccentric than James was. But I'd like to drop him a line for my own peace of mind. And, all this Florence Nightingale stuff aside, I would like to just plain hear from the horse's mouth how he is. Do you have his address? Could you send it to me if you do?
. . .
Your comments on academia and the life (or lack thereof) one leads there are quite a familiar note with me. I know I left the University of Waterloo in '79 and headed to Toronto to make my way into life as an actor because I had had it with the ivory tower - I figured the best way to become a professional actor was to become a professional actor, and as soon as U of W stopped helping me towards that goal I left. One major contribution to my dissatisfaction with that place was that I would regularly get a glimpse of the difference between working theatre practitioners - actors who would come through on tour, for example - vs. the lecturers and acting teachers we worked with. I think we're of the same opinion on that score; while, yes, there can be exceptional professors to whom we should all be grateful for their dedication to study for its own sake, it's definitely not a life for everybody. And for many, the academic life seems to do little more than smother the spark in them while encouraging them to embrace a life of stable security - a particularly deadly thing in the arts.
This all came back to me with our last show, Butley by Simon Gray. Gray, a British playwright and lecturer at the University of London, has written quite a few plays over the years that either spoof or criticize life in the hallowed halls of ivy. In Butley, which proved to be his first commercial success (back in 1971), he draws a portrait of a lecturer in decline, a brilliant man (Ben Butley) who is passing the point of no return. Basically, after years of teaching wide-eyed M.A. students Shakespeare and Eliot he has become a cynic, a drunk, and an infantile rake who depends more and more on his tenure and his acerbic wit to keep him out of trouble. However, during the play the two most important people in his life finally disengage themselves from him - much to his surprise. His long-time best friend, Joey, and his ex-wife, Anne, at the end of the second and first Acts, respectively, come in and cut the cord. It's quite a shock for him, and as the curtain rings down you don't get the feeling he'll recover from it.
Aside from it being a play about someone whose dreams have failed him utterly (a favorite theme of mine), I was fascinated with the University environment that it all took place in. I thought the play spoke well of the sad consequences of the wrong kind of person becoming an academic. It made me think quite a bit about myself being an artist - and, I think, it speaks to anyone who becomes anything.
Well, I just bring this all up because we finished the show back in november and it's still quite fresh in my mind, so when you began talking about your own dissatisfaction with being an academic I did a firm "Yes, exactly" in my head.
. . .
It's funny to look at your letter and see you talking about no longer doing music as a full-time, full-force profession. I get a sense, however, from the length that you go to in explaining your reasons for changing to medicine, that it feels funny to you to find yourself suddenly embarking on something so new and different, after considering yourself a musician and composer all this time.
Well, as far as I can see it, that's perfectly natural - and to me, this change only means that one of two things have happened: either you're right, you are just a mediocre composer, and you've assessed the situation correctly in deciding to leave off music; or, more probably, you've simply decided to do something else for a while, to follow up a second strong interest you've always had.
I have a feeling that after medical school is over and you've established yourself as a doctor that music will find its equilibrium in your life again. You cite Albert Schweitzer as an example, and I also think of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - Lewis Carroll - who was a teacher of mathematics full-time when he wrote his Alice books. There is no shortage of examples of the successful marriage of two divergent talents in one lifetime, and I think your instincts are quite correct in suspecting that this will be the case with you. In fact, all the indications are that this is true, since you have always sought out situations - our high school band, for example - to create in.
In my case, I can remember being told in university that I had to make a choice, that I couldn't be an actor and a songwriter/musician equally well in the same lifetime. My only regret is that I took that advice for as long as I did - a year or so - and did very little music, until I realized what a pile of shit it was. It is not for anyone to waltz in and define your life for you, it's something you must do for yourself. And just because some two-bit joker (who, in my case, I should have remembered, wasn't a professional actor but a teacher in a very out-of-the-way university drama program) can't imagine doing two things well is no reason to say it must be so. Whatever you do, Jim, will be right as far as I'm concerned - but, as I say, I have a sneaking little suspicion that once a composer, always a composer. And I know, in fact, I'm not telling you anything new.
* * * February ? * * *
Sometime in the month of February I made contact with a channeller by the name of Anita Stergiu. Anita used to be an actress, and at one time she worked with both Steve [Gunderson] and Rosie [Lindau] in their children's theatre company. Around this time, Steve told me that he had been to see her and she had done a reading for him that was insightful, inspiring, beautiful, moving... the works. I got all excited and decided to go have a look myself.
Anita lived in an apartment on East 80-somethingth street. The session was $40. She and I sat together at her small kitchen table and smoked and had coffee. Then she did a kind of prayer and invocation, where we picture white light bathing the earth (the image still stays with me today). Then we both opened our eyes. Anita was not in a trance, exactly... she was still her friendly self, but kind of in a rarified state, as it were. She then took a pen and laid it upon a large yellow legal pad, and began to move her hand in circles. Within a few seconds, it began to loop across the page, making words, while Anita would speak aloud each word very softly as it formed. Sitting beside her, I would copy down each phrase into a notebook I'd brought along.
What follows is the transcript.
“How am I doing spiritually? I'd like to know if I'm doing well or not. Does that make sense?”
yes that makes sense you are a highly developed soul your energy is on the god plane you are guided by a guardian angel that protects and directs your spiritual learning
(Anita) “How does this energy work through Paul?”
your guidance comes from your strong intuition and your inner balance for you are a soul that has much love in your heart for the creation
“How do I get in the way of this energy?”
your ego is what gets in the way of connecting to your true nature this is something that you must learn to watch
“Have I led a past life that is influencing the present one particularly strongly?”
yes you were an artist in a life in England in the 1700s and you sacrificed your creative talent to worldly temptation you had great talent and painted beautiful images that came from the god within but the temptation of the mind took you away from your work and you succumbed to the negative energies in others and in the involvement of physical pleasure and never returned to your truth you died a very empty and tortured soul without purpose you have come to this life to complete this karma by being dedicated to your creative gifts your soul memory pulls you and you still sometimes find it very difficult to stay on this path for outer desire comes in and you still become confused but in this life you have balance and your gift is your life here and you know in your heart that you cannot betray it again
“Is it a good thing that I'm an actor? Is it helpful?”
paul you have come to this life to be an actor this is your soul's purpose in this life to give to others through this gift you are a teacher here you will teach others the truth of emotions for you are an excellent dramatic actor and you will give a clean and simple example of all the deepest emotions you will be successful at this it will happen in the near future you should consider working in England for a while with the classics for this is your foundation
“How did the classics come to be my foundation?”
you have a deep inner relationship with the classics for you lived in ancient Greece and in Rome and you worked as an actor in these times you have a deep understanding of this kind of work you are also physically built for it you have an inner rhythm for the language you must concentrate on this aspect of your career for this is where you will accomplish much of your work in this life
“Tell me about Linda.”
she is a high soul as well but not yet on the god plane she has a great deal of work to do on the physical level of understanding her inner motivation she needs to step out of the physical ego and she will then be closer to the inner guidance that she possesses
“Has Linda had a past life that is influencing this present one particularly strongly?”
yes she was a queen in Spain and had everything that the material world could give her but she didn't have peace in her heart or mind she was very disturbed and irrational and she became very selfish and intolerant of others in this life she must work on not being too critical of others or herself for she is critical mostly of herself and her lesson here is to let go of this criticism for it is keeping her away from her guidance
“Have Linda and I ever had a past life together?”
yes ancient Greece you were married then you were an actor and Linda was your wife who cared for you and your two children that grew to be actors also you had a good life but Linda always felt jealous of your work for it kept you very busy and away a lot of the time and she was very lonely and had an affair with a man from the senate that was a friend of yours
(Anita) “Is that all?”
they never found out about this happening and the marriage became stronger from this event for now Linda felt more in control of her life and she had this freedom to have her own personal enjoyment she began to then enjoy her husband again
“Is there anyone in this life that I will particularly help that I should look out for?”
you will help many through your work you have a sister that you should look out for she is the oldest and will need your guidance she needs help with her inner understanding of this life you will be able to teach her for she will allow you entrance that she would not allow anyone else she is very secretive in her thoughts
“Can you tell me anything about my birth parents?”
yes your natural mother was a young girl in Canada that got pregnant with you through her boyfriend who was also young and she wanted to marry him but he was afraid of this commitment and she thought if she had you he would change his mind but he didn't he left Canada and went to the United States and she was forced to give you up for adoption by her parents
“Would it be good if I ever tried to find her and perhaps contact her?”
no for now she has children grown and a husband that knows nothing of this happening it was very traumatic for her to give you up and she was suffering in her heart for a long time and the only way she could eliminate the pain was to forget the birth and she did but in her heart she is giving love and attention to her children in your memory
* * * March 4 * * *
(From a letter to Steve Gunderson)
I'm awfully sorry to hear the bad news about Doug. I'm just coming to realize, now, how close he must be to you. When you first mentioned it to me I thought, oh, it's an old acquaintance, or something like that - which is, of course, a shock. But I had no idea that you and he were in fact close (if old) friends. And so I didn't really say anything about it one way or another. But it's become clear to me now that he must mean a great deal to you, and in that light I'm sad for you both.
But I think you are right. I think it's a good thing that you are there to be with him now. As Anita's angel said, you are learning from him at this moment just by his being in your life. And for your part, you are able to be there for him and give him strength and joy that he otherwise might be doing without. it's a shame for anyone to die so young, but perhaps it's just simply time for him to move on and there may be better things in store for him that we cannot imagine here in this life.
I had an acquaintance (less than a friend, but more than just an old schoolmate) who died of AIDS-related complications during the Christmas season of '85. It was a strange time, I remember, because here was this poor guy dying of this disease and, for crying out loud, on top of all that he had to go through it in a small little gossipy town with his immigrant Portuguese Roman Catholic family so he probably didn't have one scrap of meaningful or understanding conversation about what was happening or what was to come before it was all over. I never saw him before it happened but I went to the funeral afterwards and I tried to send him good energy and wish him well on his way, even though they were reading enormous Catholic masses over his poor head and the family was weeping Hail Marys as though it were the end of the world - instead of, I believed even then, the beginning of a new one.
Anyway, while I know it's a bit strange to be talking about funerals while Doug is still alive and kicking, it will happen eventually and I don't mean to be tactless, but what I'm getting at is that I'm sure you are providing a sane and comforting presence to him right now. And although I'm sure it's all sometimes enormously profound to you, you nonetheless have the chance I didn't have - to give him your strength and wisdom and joy directly, to say things to him that will truly help. So, while it would be better if it weren't happening at all, I can't think of anyone I'd rather have around if I were Doug than you, Steve, because of what I know you can and will impart to him.
All the same, you're quite right ... life is quelle strange.
* * * April ? * * *
In the month of April I went back for a second visit with Anita Stergiu, and again had a conversation with her guardian angel. At that time, although six years into my marriagen with Linda, I had a tremendous crush on a woman named Jackie Riggs, which figures in our conversation.
Here's the transcript:
“Last time you said that acting was what I came here to do - but it's occurred to me since then that perhaps there is another, larger task or goal that I may have in this life beyond that. Is there?”
you were meant to be an actor in this life in order to share your deepest emotions with others for you are a mirror of life in its deepest emotion caring state
“Last time we talked, and again this time, I feel very familiar with you. Do I know you? Have we met?”
i know your soul very well for you have been in my company in the world beyond the physical where you are in the astral world
“How did we meet?”
paul was a student of mine many times in the astral world
“Will I ever be able to talk directly with my own guardian angel?”
you are going to become in touch with your angel when you are ready for you will at the correct time be receiving guidance from your angel through your dream state
“Will this happen soon?”
you have some time before this happens but you will know what it is when it comes
“Anita channels you; some people channel healing powers or other things. Is there anything I should try to be a channel for myself?”
you are a channel through your acting you are channelling positive energy that manifests into truth through emotion that creates understanding for others
“What is a twin soul?”
the twin soul is a duplicate of your soul it has learned the same lessons at the same time as you and it can be in different circumstances and when a twin soul meets in a life it is a beautiful and balanced relationship and you enjoy the same things and understand at the same instant you help each other by just being together it is very rare to be in the same life together this is a gift that happens when you are both at a very high level in your development
“Will I meet my twin soul in this life?”
no not in this LIFE
“Why did you circle the word 'life' in the last answer?”
to say that all life is one it has no time in it and makes no difference if they meet now for now is the only thing ever present
“Is there any important question I should be asking, or matter I should be asking about, that I haven't thought of?”
you would not be asking about anything that you were not ready to hear the answer to trust yourself for you would ask what you need to know
(Anita) “Do you have any message for Paul?”
the message is to remember that this path is not of the intellect it is of the heart you must try not to rack your mind with trying to figure anything out you must lead with the heart here for it is where all answers lie you experience truth in the physical you are with the god energy when everything you do is for the good that is present in it when you are selfless and open to all that exists
“Lately I've had romantic feelings towards a certain person. What's going on?”
she is a soul from a past life you were her father in a life in Rome and you loved her dearly she was the light of your life and you were always proud of her you had a peaceful and harmonious relationship for she loved you as well and always delighted in your company
“What about now?”
you are together again in order to help each other and this will happen through close friendship that will turn into a love relationship if you will it
“When you say ‘if you will it’ do you mean me alone, or her and I both?”
“Would it be a good thing if it did become a love relationship?”
my thoughts have no meaning here it is Paul's lesson and his soul's choice of experiences
“I feel stuck in conflicting feelings about this. I don't know how to proceed.”
paul when you are in conflict with yourself especially you must do this make a list in mind of what you see here as positive and what you see as negative aspects to the problem and then do nothing just be still with it you have registered all information into the mind and subconscious now you let it go knowing with faith that it will reveal itself to you and you will be motivated to do what is good in the situation
“That sounds like acting. You study all the information you have about a certain role, say, and then when the time comes to play it you let your instincts take over, knowing that they have been schooled well and will therefore guide you in the right direction.”
yes acting is your tool it is the mirror of life and what works there works in life
“Last time we spoke you mentioned my past life as a painter. Is there any way I can see any of the paintings or works that I created during that lifetime now?”
this work is no longer available to see you in this life will paint again it will be used for your method of relaxation and freeing the mind of its overactiveness you will do this very soon painting will be very much the same as in the other life
* * * August 25 * * *
(From a letter to Kathy Najimy. My good friend Steve Gunderson and I had, around this time, word processing jobs together at a New York law firm. Then one day he got a call from a friend in San Diego saying a deal had come through for Steve to go there and write a musical. The show became Suds, which opened at the San Diego Rep in the fall of ‘87, transferred to the Old Globe in ‘88, and then moved to off-Broadway several months after that.)
I saw Steven off this afternoon, and the depression of it which I've been fighting is kind of sinking in even as I write this. I'm happy to see him so revved up to be working on a thing and I think this show will also auger well for the future, so it's a good thing and all that. But hell, Castor Oil is good but that doesn't make it taste better.
At least I've gotten over feeling bad about the project. I had a very complicated reaction when he got the call at work a week or so ago from Bryan telling him that the show was on - and it frightened me a little, because my reaction was rather selfish. Basically, I heard the call come through and Steven was suddenly happy as hell and I realized the show was on and he would be leaving in a week. And then I stared at my little computer screen ... and I felt as though I was chained to it and it was the worst imaginable fate in the world. It seemed as though God had reached through the clouds and put his finger on Steven and he was going to be whisked away to some wonderful thing, and all I could think was, "What about me? What about me?" It was awful. I was shaking, and I had to get up and go out and walk around. And while I did, two little boys came up to me and sold me raffle tickets, and they were so cute I started to forget about it, and came back feeling better.
But I was still mildly sulking the next morning, Sunday, when we all showed up at the MMA to do the convergence thing*. While we were walking down the path to the needle, I mentioned it to Tim because I wanted sympathy, and he said something which, witting or unwitting, was right on the nailhead. He listened to me say how surprised I was at being so upset and all that, and he said, "You probably felt left out."
* The harmonic convergence - the alignment of planets in a straight line - occurred on this day, and many New Age types were heading for Central Park to celebrate. Linda and I and a few other friends all met at the Museum of Modern Art (MMA), behind which stands a large obelisk brought from Egypt at the turn of the century, known as "Cleopatra's Needle." There, with Anita Stergiu, we did some prayers and quietly celebrated.
And a big, big bell went DING in my head - bigger than anything that's gone ding in a long time. I couldn't shake it. Later on, at work, and then after that, at home that night, I thought about it and thought about it ... and I realized that what Tim had just said in three seconds was something I had not only been feeling that day, or about Steven's thing - it was something I've gone through all my life. I began acting in high school to compensate for feelings of being socially left out. I've done lots of things, in fact, big and small, for fear of being left out. And I also realized that many of the worst moments in my life have been moments when I thought I was left out - by love, by music, by friends, by theatre. It's an enormous discovery, so big that I'm flabbergasted I never understood it before.
Anyway, that partially explains why I felt so bad at that moment, and I'm glad I understand it better and that I'm over it now - although I still get twinges. When I dwell on the fact that Steven and Bryan and Sue and Melinda will all be having so much fun on this show I almost feel left out. But then I realize it's not like that; they're not leaving me out, they're just doing what they can with what they have, and I see how silly it is to feel that way. So now I'm concentrating instead on thinking good things and sending them via bulk mail to San Diego. There will probably be a few there with your name on it, too, by the time you & Mo go.
One last thing about the fear of being left out - it's another reason I was pleased by the birthday party very, very much, Kathy. I felt like I belonged to you and everyone else there, and I can't think of anyone I'd more like to belong to in the world.
* * * September 2 * * *
(From a letter to Steve Gunderson)
Woke up about an hour ago and have been padding around the house ever since, knocking about on this and that. Sometimes when my eyes open on the couch I lie there, look at the clock, see what time it is, and then, in a foggy way, I think about things. I try to think of why I want to get up so badly at all. On middling poor days, I sometimes lie on the sheets and look at the ceiling, for perhaps half an hour, and think to myself, "I have no show and no audition today," and then I want to just go back to sleep until I have one ... even if that takes until October. But invariably, of course, the impracticality of that dawns and so I roll over and get up and make a coffee and then I immediately feel much better.
. . .
I got a call last night from someone who wants to meet me Friday about an NYU film he's doing. The king of student film rides again. I think they may eventually pass a rule there barring me from any future films, as it may be getting hard for the teachers to judge their students' work objectively when they keep seeing the same actor, over and over.
Oh, I shouldn't be this way about it, you know. I mean, really, often the only difference between doing certain projects and certain others is that you're getting paid for the others. But for some reason, that sense of accomplishment of getting paid and actually making one's living at it - inconclusive as I know it is - is with me a great deal these days. I suppose it may be in part because so many people I know are doing it, and seem to go from project to project with hardly a bent hair. And while I know it's not as simple as it seems sometimes, I still wish that just once I could get something that I could do and get paid for it to boot, so that I could say to myself, There, you're doing it. You are actually worth money to some production or other. Somebody wanted to hire you above all others. You have achieved something.
This little realization about the importance of achievement is something I've come upon in the last year or so. 1987 has certainly been a year of self-discovery, sometimes. Tim's comment about feeling left out echoed all the way back to the cradle for me, and hand in hand with that is my second little learning experience about myself - to wit, that I seem to have a small-town, in-bred need to measure up to the yardstick of life. And in fact, that I want to do it very much. I would like nothing better than to unequivocally stand next to that yardstick, and do my best, and measure up. It's a challenge that I'm dying to have happen.
But I won't dwell on it right now ... because I know you hear this all too often from me, and I don't want it to seem that all I think and breathe these days is achievement and how to get it.
. . .
I spoke to Neale Harper on the phone - a conversation that made me ashamed of all my hang-dog feelings in the past few weeks. Neale is - get this - rehearsing a show, having a tough time at work, paying an enormous American Express bill (which got racked up when he made all those trips to and from Australia while trying to get back last year), and, on top of it all, he has to move. And what did he do on the phone when he told me all this? He laughed. He laughed, and said, "Ah, fuck, what else is new?"
It suddenly dawned on me that, while all this shit probably bothered Neale a great deal, and while it certainly wasn't easy on him, he was not letting it get him down.
It made me feel ashamed.
* * * October 28 * * *
(My delightful audition for “Iron Eagle II.” From a letter to Marina Endicott.)
I did my audition for Iron Eagle II on the weekend - Saturday morning, to be exact. It was an unusual experience in many ways - aside, I might add, from the fundamental novelty of going on a feature film audition, period. First of all, when Dave [Williams] phoned me from ICM last Wednesday to tell me about this thing, he gave me the bare facts on the phone; time, place, people you'll be seeing, name of film. I noted with pleasant surprise that the person I'd be auditioning for was the director himself, and not some casting agent flunky, and I was pleased about that because I think I get along well with directors and so I was optimistic about my chances for making a good impression. Also, when you audition for a director, he has the power to say, "Well, you're not what I exactly thought of for this role, but I like you, so you're hired." Which a casting director simply cannot do. A casting director may love your work, but if you don't fit pretty closely the physical description of the character handed in by the production office, well, they may admire you, but they probably won't call you back.
So, anyway, I'm pleased to be auditioning for the director, but I still don't know what the role is. Neither do ICM. Dave just says that they asked for pictures and resumés of Canadian talent living in New York, and so ICM sent over all of theirs, and I'm the only one that this film has decided to see.
The 'Canadian' part of this has a reason, and I'm sure what the reason is is that part of this film will be shot in Canada. You know about ACTRA rules.
I get to the audition studio, on 47th Street just off Times Square, at about 10:30 Saturday morning. I was scheduled for 10:50, so I signed in, and then went to sit down and look for sides to read over. Sides, at the risk of over-explaining, are those selected pages from the script that you'll be reading from, and which are always, at auditions, prominently laid out or even handed to you as you sign in. (Did you know that? I've no idea how many auditions like this you've been on.) Anyway - so I look around for sides, dutifully, and there aren't any. Someone then says, no, they want to talk to you first, then you'll get sides. Still being in that early, wary stage of an audition at this point - all my antennae are on the alert for signs of craziness - I simply accept this information and sit down.
I make myself comfortable, and then look around the room. My heart sinks a little. Everyone there but me looks about 23 years old, male, good-looking in that Tom Cruise kind of way. Oh dear, I think, they're auditioning for the lead. They won't want me. This is another of those mistakes that inevitably happens when all they get is your picture - they think you look like one thing but you really don't and when they see you in person they realize their mistake, and then it all becomes perfunctory as they let you go through the motions before thanking you and sending you away.
What a shame, I think. I wanted so badly to have a crack at this one. I wanted to get this film because it would have been so nice to make a little money, for a change, and also to show Dave at ICM that he should send me out on more stuff, because when he does I can get work. But I can hardly inspire Dave's confidence if I never get a job.
This reverie is broken before too long. My name is called. I get up and follow a pleasant young man into the little studio where it's clear everything is happening. There are two others in there, making three in all; one is a middle-aged gentleman who's very nice, and there's a young man standing by a largish video set-up. A video camera on a tripod is pointed at a chair on a little dais where, it is clear, you sit during the reading so they can tape you. But I don't go up there this time. Instead, the older gentleman introduces himself as Sidney Furey, who I know to be the director. We walk over to a little table off to one side and sit there.
Sidney is a very nice man; perhaps in his late 40s, short hair, deck pants and casual shirt. My first Hollywood movie director. I like him at first glance. We sit down at the little table, and he says he'd like to know a little about me so he can observe me talking and decide which of the several parts he'd like me to read for. Aha, I think, so that's what's going on. I start to feel better. He asks where I'm from for openers, and so I talk about Galt, and within a minute I'm making jokes and cracking up the two guys who are running the video. Sidney himself laughs easily, and is quite warm. It all seems to be going well.
He gives me sides for a character named "Collins" (I think), and I leave the room to go out and study them. As I walk out he mentions that I could try it with a Southern accent, if I can do one. If I can do one? That's a very nice, polite way to ask, I think.
So now I'm back out in the hall again with the others, reading my little script and feeling better by the minute. Now I realize they're not auditioning me for the lead, it isn't all a big mistake. They want me to read for a character on the side ... and one it looks like I might even be able to do.
I hunker down over the pages. This is obviously one of those young-kids-flying-fighter-planes movies, and Collins seems to be a sarcastic MP who works on the Air Force base where the leading young man has been assigned for training for a special mission. He's a running character in the film, it turns out - always there with a sneer every time the leading man's chips are down. Perfect. I get it right away. The scene I have to read is a short one and quite straightforward. I walk up and down, speaking my lines under my breath with different accents, until I settle on one that seems right and is comfortable. I even start working my jaw unconsciously, and find that the lines come out better if I pretend to be chewing gum at the same time.
After perhaps half an hour and watching several of the others go in and come out and leave, they call my name and I go back to do the reading on camera.
I'm not nervous at all - just excited. I think it's going to go well. I sit down in the chair, and Sidney sits across from me by the camera to read the other part. We roll, and he slates it, and then we read the short exchange. When it's finished, the camera clicks to a stop.
Sidney then turns to one of his assistants and says, "You see - it's worth seeing Canadians in New York because once in a while you find somebody like this." My heart skips a beat. The conversation then suddenly, mysteriously, begins to revolve around what a stunningly good reading and accent they all think I've just done. I'm a little perplexed, but pleasantly so. I mean, it was decent, for a first read-through ... but they seemed to love it. Sidney says let's do it again, so we do. He loves it again. The technicians look at the video monitor (which I can't see) and compliment my face, saying how great it is for such a character. Sidney agrees. I crack a few more jokes about that, and we all laugh and are having just a wonderful time. I can scarcely believe it!
Perhaps I'm mentioning my own good humor a bit too much, here, but that's only as a measure of how amazed I was (and still am) to have been so relaxed and even occasionally funny during this whole experience. After my second reading, as we sat there talking, Sidney mentioned that the role of Collins was one of those small roles that, nonetheless, had to be around for the whole two-month shooting schedule because he popped up at odd times. "Now you see, Sidney," I said, (referring to getting paid for relatively little work), "that's my kind of part." That brought the house down. And then, shortly after this first gag, we were talking about how part of the filming is slated to be done in Israel, and I said that would be nice as some old friends - Howard Rypp and Jack Messinger - are over there right now and doing well in Israeli theatre. Sidney seemed quite interested, and asked me about them. At the end of this little discussions, I said, "So you see, Sidney, you have to hire me for this film. It's the only way I'll ever be able to afford to see my old friends." He laughed, and said he'd see what he could do.
With all this joshing around, it occurs to me after the fact that I (hopefully) have left Sidney with two distinct impressions: one, that I can look and speak the part he's looking for; and two, that I'm a relaxed, fun person to be around. I know that sounds silly but I think it may be a factor all the same. Given that everyone else he was seeing that day were young leads - nervous 24-year-old actors up for their first major motion picture role - I think he was immensely relieved to find someone who, for a change, was having a good time that morning.
Anyway, so that was my audition on Saturday. I called ICM on Monday to report, and talked to Dave. My, he works fast. He'd already spoken with Sidney, and Dave said "They liked you very much. I don't like to say anything about these things beforehand, but we'll see."* I was pleased to have it confirmed from a second source that things had, indeed, gone well. Already by this time I was sure I'd hallucinated the whole thing; it couldn't have been as good as I thought it was. But Dave seemed pleased, so I'm happy.
* Dave also said, "Sidney said you were the highlight of his trip to New York." I think I was too modest to tell Marina.
So now, of course, I'm in a terrible limbo, waiting to hear about it. What will happen next, if it happens at all, will be that I'll get a call from ICM. If I get that call, it means they want me. If not, then they don't.
And I know it's a terrible thing to do, but I can't help it, I keep daydreaming about doing this film. I dream about going to Israel and then going to Canada and being in this movie. About doing my very first part in a real motion picture. I'm already turning the part over in my mind, walking around the house trying accents and walks and things. It may not happen. It never has before. Slow down. It will come, if it does. And if it doesn't, you have to keep on going anyway. Don't get too excited.
But I can't help it. I get too excited anyway.
Just a comment on the above: In 1991 I read two of David Niven's books, The Moon's a Balloon and Bring on the Empty Horses. I can't remember which one it was, but in one of them there's a story about his first performance in an important role in a big-budget film.
As the story goes, David had to make an entrance into a ballroom scene, wind gracefully through the dancers, then elegantly arrive at someone-or-other's side and deliver a few lines. On take one, terribly nervous, he came through the door, stumbled, bumped a few extras, made hash out of his blocking, and then, finally reaching his marks, garbled the simple words he was given to say. However, to his astonishment, when the director yelled "Cut!" the entire stage burst into - quite sincere - applause. He was flushed with happiness and thought, "Gee, perhaps I didn't do so badly after all! Maybe I am cut out to be a big-time movie actor!" They did a few more takes, with David relaxing more and more each time, and wrapped the scene in a few hours.
It wasn't until many years later that David heard the rest of the story. As it turns out, apparently that morning the director had made an announcement to the cast and crew - before David arrived on the set. "Ladies and gentlemen," the director said, "we have a young actor with us today who is doing his first important part in a major motion picture. He is going to be, understandably, quite nervous. When his first take is finished, I want you to smile at him and applaud, and congratulate him on how well he's done - no matter what happens." According to the director, David's first take of the scene was an unmitigated disaster, just as Niven had experienced it. But the applause and the smiles following completely saved the situation. Niven's confidence was completely restored, and the scene, ultimately, worked beautifully.
When Niven told this story in his book he closed it by saying, "I shall always love [the director - I can't remember his name] for doing this for me."
I have been wondering, lately, if Sidney Furey wasn't perhaps using a bit of the same psychology? It's embarrassing - because I've always been so proud of my Iron Eagle II audition experience ... but the simple fact may be that Sidney saw I was nervous - or at least, full of excitement - and, in order to calm me down, and help me relax, he told me how good I was. So I could unwind and give my best performance.
I shall have to ask him about this sometime, if I ever get to meet him again. If true, I think I would like him even more.
* * * October 29 * * *
Rehearsals for the Durrenmatt play [“The Midnight Conversation”] are going well. It's a two-man show, and I'm doing it with Arunas, that friend and actor we've known for a while who I've mentioned to you before. We rehearse at Arunas's apartment almost every night, and it's been some really good, difficult work. The play is quite philosophical, and making it active is a challenge. Perhaps most of the difficulty lies in the fact that it's quite hard to tell, sometimes, what the actions and activities are. Although we're not discussing things in rehearsal in those terms, on my own I've been digging for actions and objectives because they're far from immediately apparent. So I go over the script during the day and try to pin down just what the hell my character is about, but I keep changing my mind.
Well, I'm not worried. The play goes on a week from tomorrow, but if I have to get up in front of an audience and still be trying new things out, so be it. It will still be interesting for them. I'm narrowing it down, anyway. But it's still a puzzle in places.
* * * November 10 * * *
The play opened last Thursday night, with the inevitable last-minute rushing around for props and set items. It went over quite well. It's a lovely piece, as it turns out. I was quite nervous before we went up last week, however, and I couldn't figure out why. The answer occurred to me over the weekend; it's for two reasons. First, because I've created, and then discarded, many interpretations of this role before finally settling on the one I'm doing, and so, unlike the past where I often know from day one what I'm going to do, what I ended up performing was something only decided on days in advance of the show. And secondly, I was nervous because what I decided on was very small, and precise, and fine, and gentle - no room for the old trick of shouting yourself into feeling comfortable at a nervous moment, or, in those first scary seconds before you hit your stride on the stage, perhaps making a bold movement of some kind just to steady the nerves. None of that here; it's all very soft from the start, and, at its most climatic moments, it gets even softer. Quite nerve-wracking, in many ways, but in others a lovely experience. I like it because in my big final speech it becomes all voice. I talk, quietly, in this little theatre, carefully sifting through each thought, each word, slowly, gently ... and the audience, bless them, is as quiet as a mouse the whole time. It's a beautiful feeling.
Friday night during curtain calls several people shouted "Bravo!" We had a packed house that night, 77 people in a space big enough for 70. I agree with them, too, if they were bravo-ing about the play - it's quite a pretty piece and the rewriting of it that I ended up doing (the original translation was ghastly) has a few nice lines of its own. And on the other hand, if they were hollering about anything I'd done, I'm grateful for the encouragement at going in this direction with the part.
. . .
It's cold, cold, cold today, and raining to boot. A truly miserable day. You can feel the chill through the windows, and the wind gusting outside is icy and wet. Brrr.
I've just talked to Steven on the phone. We're going to get together tomorrow for the first time since he's been back. Good. I'm glad to be back in the swing of things with him again. Although it's not as though we haven't talked at all this past week or so. On two separate nights I've gone over to his place at the end of the day and both times we talked until 4 in the morning.
Lovely conversations, really. We talked about life and art and plays and acting, and the future. All very exciting and full of big dreams and, strangely, full of courage too. I say "strangely" because when I think of all the things that are so uncertain about the future I'm a little amazed sometimes that I have, or anyone has, the nerve to keep going. But that's part of the nice thing about acting conversations with friends, I suppose; you get to buck one another up. And it's good to offer that encouragement. I like it. It's a very generous, kind thing to do, telling someone to hang in there, I think.
I suppose I should qualify that and say, it's a nice thing to be able to do, since I wouldn't tell just anyone to hang in there. There are definitely those who would be better off hanging out than hanging in. But not Steven. So it's been nice.
. . .
A few months back I read William Redfield's Letters From An Actor, which is an entire book of lengthy letters that he originally penned during the 1962 production of Hamlet that starred Richard Burton and which was directed by Sir John Gielgud. That was a fun book because the show was rehearsed at the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto and it opened there first before going next to Boston, and finally here - so it was fun to hear him talking about Toronto locales during rehearsals. However, Redfield gets quite tiresome sometimes because he keeps going on and on about wanting John Gielgud to explain his part to him - how he (Redfield) is "an American actor" and thus needs a different kind of attention than Gielgud is used to giving, and throughout the book he pines and begs and worries and frets over playing Rosencrantz, for God's sake, until I just wanted to slap him and say, Shut up and make it up for yourself, for God's sake! You're a big boy now. Surely you can create a character without having to constantly harass the director if it's obvious the director is concerned with so much that he doesn't seem to have a lot of spare time to be constantly rehearsing you.
Then, a few days ago, I began reading Gielgud's memoirs, An Actor and His Time, and he touches upon this same production, and it became fascinating to see it all from the other side. Gielgud talks about how the American actors would chase him all over the place, wanting the "meaning" of their parts, and he says an English actor would simply take the role and make something of it while waiting for the day he could play Hamlet. Also, in Redfield's book it becomes fascinating because Gielgud begins with a strong concept for the play, but it seems to evaporate during rehearsals. He wants them to work in modern dress, as though the performance were, in fact, a run-through. He wants pieces of other, old sets to be on the stage, so that the whole thing looks as though it's an early rehearsal. But then, in Redfield's continued account, it becomes maddening because Gielgud never talks about this concept in a big way much after the first week or two, and he also seems to be daily giving conflicting direction. Switching back to Gielgud's memoirs, Gielgud says of this that he went into the production haunted by every Hamlet he had ever seen (perhaps 25 different productions) and by the fact that he himself had played the role for 20 years, and so he wanted a concept that would free him from these ghosts while at the same time perhaps even helping the cast. Also, as to the conflicting direction, he says that he always throws out dozens of ideas, expecting the actor to "know from the dozen which are the one or two good ones worth keeping."
Reading this made me even more highly annoyed with Redfield than I was already, because it was clear again that if Redfield had simply stopped for a moment and considered that Gielgud was another human being, groping after the best ideas, just like everyone else, Redfield might (and should have, to my mind) taken a little more responsibility for his own character. Instead, he put Gielgud on a pedestal and waited for the manna to come down. How very irritating. No wonder the booby had trouble with his part - he had an enormous "director as God" complex that was getting in the way of every impulse.
*** November 11 ***
The cold and the rain have finally turned into snow, here. The first snow of the season. It fell in big wet clots today but it's not melting at all, and so everything is topped with white wooly packs about an inch or two thick. It always looks so pretty when it snows here for the first time. Everything is so clean and white.
It's my fifth Christmas season in New York. Who knows? Perhaps by the time my tenth comes I'll have something to show for it all. Although perhaps my longing to succeed makes it all the more beautiful. To walk through these streets with a fire in your heart to be on top of the town - a feeling so immediate that you tremble with excitement - I sometimes wonder if that's what makes New York look so special. I wonder if it will still look the same ten years from now, if, by then, perhaps, one is successful ... and it's a common thing to do what right now you only dream about?
Oh, ring, ring, ring you phone. Call me, you agent, and tell me that someone wants me. Pericles at the Public, or Pinter in Pittsburgh. I don't care. Ring, ring, ring.
. . .
The Durrenmatt play went well. Only four performances, but three of those were concentrated and, I think, quite good. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of good comments my acting got, as I created the part as a very quiet, gentle man. I could use none of the old tricks I have done so well before - being forceful, with lots of strong weight and quick time. Instead, this was all flexible space, sustained time, light weight ... very different for me. It was quite nerve-wracking, actually; for example, at the absolute height of the play, where I had a long speech that is of the utmost importance in convincing the other character of my position, I did it all with sustained time and flexible space. I was quite afraid to do it like that because the speech builds slowly, and I didn't want to make the audience restless - but in the end I wanted it to be like that so I resisted every impulse I had to bang the speech out and keep it moving. Instead, I drifted from thought to thought, almost getting lost, then coming back again - all very gentle, and spoken very softly. Many people commented on it - not, that is, that speech in particular, so much as the whole character being very different for me - and very effective. Well, I'm pleased it went so well.
I was also surprised, and pleased, that a number of people remarked on the text and story of the play. The choice of script was mine, and I was quite nervous because I thought it might be a bit too ... I don't know, too philosophical, perhaps, or too thoughtful. I was worried that we'd have a Rock & Roll audience but be doing a chamber music kind of play, and they'd all be bored or impatient with us. But it didn't come out like that at all - quite the opposite. The play seemed to be quite popular and I think most of the people who saw it liked it.
There was a bit of a glitch opening night which kind of spoiled the ending - - a nerve-racking thing when you've just gotten through the show and you're within seconds of successfully concluding your first performance. What happened was that just before my last line in the play, the lighting operator blacked us out, thinking it was all over. I was stunned, because the end of this play is so pretty and I was, of course, just in the act of rising to it, walking my measured steps into position, about to say the last fateful words that would ring in the audience's ears. And then all of a sudden, bang, blackout. Of course, being a true theatre professional, I stood there in the darkness like a trained seal wondering what to do. The audience wasn't applauding - they must have clearly seen me getting ready to speak - and now what? Say my line in the dark? But then what? If I spoke it in the dark, how to indicate the end of the play? About four or five seconds had gone by by this time, and the audience still wasn't applauding. Finally, I opened my mouth to speak my final lines - and I got all of two words out - when, to my astonishment, the curtain call lights came one. Now I was really out of sorts. Here I am, still standing in my final position with Arunas; I've just clearly spoken in my character voice; an incomplete sentence hangs in the darkness; and suddenly, here are the lights coming on again and it's time to clap. Or is it?
Well, I couldn't think of anything bright. I just turned and bowed, and the audience, confused, applauded - and we walked off. I was so ANGRY, Marina. I could have killed Maria, our operator - even though I knew she had learned the show fast and was probably extremely sorry for the gaffe herself.
Later on after I calmed down a little I thought about all this and it occurred to me that what I should have done was stop the show right then and there, back everyone up, and then simply re-do the ending properly. After all, it's such a small and informal space, that theatre, that with something going wrong it probably would have been less uncomfortable to have the actors stop the show, correct an obvious major mistake, and then carry on - rather than watching them floundering and confused. I could picture, say, a great old English stage actor of the old school, turning to the audience at such a moment and, with extreme charm and grace, saying, "Ladies and gentlemen ... I'm afraid, as you can probably see, that we have made a bit of a mistake with the end of our play. As I would like very much for you to see it the way it should be done, I'd like to ask that the lighting operator at this time restore us to the lighting we had just before that premature blackout ... [lights change] Thank you very much. Now, let us try it again, and this time show you how it's supposed to go." Then they back up a few lines, resume the play, get the ending right, and it's all very neatly corrected.
However, I said no such thing, and so it ended as I described it. Fortunately, our second performance more than made up for any first-night goofs. The house was packed, the show went beautifully, and there were cries of "Bravo" during the curtain call. After that I rested a little easier and forgot about any speeches I might have made - though I'll keep it in mind for the future.