As the new year rolls along I have no current acting plans, but that’s deliberate. I’m lying low for a little while and concentrating instead on working at my job, making money, and taking care of business - some personal, some professional.
However, I’m not completely asleep. I just finished doing the sound design for two - not one but two - plays that are currently running in Los Angeles.
The first is Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” directed by Jack Stehlin and presented by Circus Theatricals at the Lex Theatre in Hollywood from February 7 to March 16. Click here for more details, or go visit the home page of the Circus Theatricals website.
The second is a play called “Therese Raquin,” adapted from a novel by Emile Zola by Neal Bell, directed by Casey Biggs. This is playing at Pacific Resident Theater, a wonderful company on the West Side of town not far from the Odyssey. Click here to visit their web site and get more information. “Therese” is a very moody, mysterious, sad piece, and the sound design was probably the biggest I’ve ever done (over 90 cues, 130+ minutes of sound and music).
I went out the other night to see some friends do a staged reading of “Waiting for the Parade,” a wonderful play about women during World War II. They were all wonderful; and after the performance, they were also all embarrassingly pleased to see me. They kept asking what I was doing these days. I said to one at one point, “I’m re-tooling my life.”
That about sums it up. All my life I’ve resisted taking time away from theatre to make sure that other, fundamental life-issues are being handled. I’ve always wanted to keep theatre in my grip, 24-7. But you just can’t do that. If you do, you end up (as I have) homeless, or poor, or unhealthy, or all of the above. It’s pointless trying to act for a living if you can’t even sustain a semi-stable home life; because that home life is what enables you to show up for auditions in a clean shirt, well-rested, well-fed, ready to act. So enough. I’m re-tooling. For how long? As long as it takes. I hope to be back at acting by this fall. But no promises. I have to do this right; not quickly.
Do I sound a tad tetchy about all this? Of course I am. You think it’s easy for a theatre animal like me to go without a play for a week even, let alone six months? It’s not. Am I tempted, every minute, every hour, every day, to pick up the phone and call up all of my theatre friends asking for work, knowing I’d almost certainly have something within a day or two? You bet I am. But am I determined, grimly, not to do this all the same, because to do so would be just plain self-defeating?
You know it.
She was only 49.
I am stricken with grief. Linda was such a good person, one who did so much good for others. She brought so much happiness and laughter to others’ lives. If there were any justice in creation she certainly deserved a long and wonderful life. That what happened should happen instead is just awful.
I take some consolation in the fact that she died surrounded by the loving thoughts of many people. Linda loved the arts and culture, in particular Estonian arts and culture, the stuff of her own family roots. And she did much over the years to advance them. I would tease her sometimes about sitting there one day at age eighty with generations of Estonian poets and playwrights gathered around her feet; but the image isn’t far-fetched. Linda truly loved the role of facilitator. It was a genuine delight for her to help creative souls flourish.
And she didn’t mind the hard work that went with the role. She spent a large portion of every day, year in and year out, making phone calls, attending meetings, writing letters, and taking care of all the hundreds of other details that are required to make a Baltic film festival or poetry reading or dance event take place. Linda didn’t wilt under this kind of grind; she thrived on it. She was never happier than when she was settling down for a night of long-distance calls.
And so, naturally, with the passing of years there came to be many Estonian and American thespians and cultural attaches and poets and publishers who got to know her unique voice, her laugh, her lovely smile. And that is why I say she was truly “surrounded” by loving thoughts; because after Linda was taken to the hospital (she lay unconscious for two weeks, never waking) dozens of phone calls began arriving from brothers and sisters and cousins. Twenty times more family than Linda (or anybody else) ever actually had was ringing that nurses’ station, day and night, for information ... and you have to smile. It’s poetic. Those who loved art and culture were, truly, the family that Linda loved best. She devoted herself to them. So she would have been delighted - and very moved - to know that they were so concerned in return.
The last time I saw Linda face-to-face was just last year, here in L.A. We had a great time visiting and talking. I told her she looked just the same, and she did; the curly yellow hair, the grin, the blue eyes. Her voice slipping around the scale, giddy with enthusiasm. Her laugh, unlike anyone else’s laugh I’ve ever known (a delighted, outbursting ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! like a machine gun of joy). Since then we’ve talked on the phone several times, just to touch base, or catch up. They would always begin the same way: her voice going “Oh! Hi Polliwog, it’s Linda!” We would share current news of each other, or old friends. I’d tell her about Tom, our cat, who we got in 1984 and was still alive for many years, living with me. Sometimes she would need help grappling with an issue, and I’d offer advice; sometimes she’d do the same for me. It was great to know and be known by somebody that well. She would say, “Paul, you’re this kind of person...” And I knew I could trust and believe her.
The world seems tremendously poor and flat now without her, and for the first time in my life I actually feel unsure, myself, of whether or not it’s worth carrying on. It just seems so unfair. I feel like, Well, if that’s the way life is going to be then forget it.
But I haven’t got the nerve to jump off a bridge. Sigh.
I’ve created a special section of this site in memory of this darling, wonderful woman. It’s located here.
And of course, anyone who knew or cared for Linda is a friend of mine; you’re welcome to send me an email. I’d be pleased to hear from you.
* * *
P.S.: I just have to add that life sometimes has its own peculiar, poignant timing. Today is Saturday, August 16, the day of Linda’s funeral. At about 9am this morning Tom the Cat - Linda and my cat, who I inherited after our divorce and have kept all these years - died of old age in his little box in my kitchen. It’s the season of departures, it seems.
But on the good side, I can now picture the two of them up in Heaven’s New Arrivals department, each looking at the other and saying, “Wait a minute - what are you doing here?”
These days I’m just trying to remain calm and heal. But Jesus, it’s hard. I turned 44 at the end of August and for the first time in years and years, no card or call from dear Linda. I remember this feeling from when my father passed away; after a death, a year of first-anniversaries-without begins. I’m going to be haunted, I can see, for a long time yet.
At least it’s better than it was. For a while there I wanted to just roll over and die. But now I’m trying to stay focused on my goals for this year and execute my plans one by one, even though I’m not in the best frame of mind. I’m going on faith right now that time will heal and I’ll be glad, later, I kept putting one foot in front of the other.
I keep having dreams. Sometimes I remember Linda. Sometimes I’m seeing other old faces from the New York days. I wonder if Linda’s trying to give me a message? I wonder what it would be if she was?
One thing helps me keep on track. I imagine myself up in heaven looking down on the aftermath of my own death. If that were the case, and I could see that those I cared for most were losing heart or letting it drag them down, I’d be very upset. In fact, I’d be desperate to comfort them and tell them hey, I’m okay - buck up, you’ve got to carry on. And I try to picture Linda like that now. In my mind she’s watching me, and though she’s unable to speak to me, I know what she wants. The worst thing I could do is give up right now; then I see her sad. But if I go out and live and try to make my dreams come true, then she’s smiling. I’m going to hang onto this image for a good long time. Back to life. Back to the world. With Linda there, in the background, hopefully smiling. Always.
My friends are the best. I’ve had so many extraordinary emails and phone calls the past few weeks. It makes me feel very lucky.
*** Nov 3 ***
I pay the piper - and the piper pays me.
I’m pretty skeptical of astrology for the most part, but sometimes I’m a classic Leo. During my twenties and thirties I lived according to this dictum: I’m going to be a successful actor soon, so I’m not going to get bogged down in the little stuff. Unfortunately that meant, among other things, failing to deal with certain driver’s license issues and/or pay my income taxes on time. As a result, I woke up one day about two years ago to realize that I had more than one traffic citation way past due and quite a few IRS bills demanding to be paid - and these were simply not going to go away or remain on hold for very much longer.
My life had come into financial crisis previously and each time I’d muddled through somehow - but now I finally said enough is enough. I realized that I just wasn’t taking life seriously - and if you don’t take life seriously you can never expect to get what you want. Maybe I’m just growing up now, at the age of 44; or maybe I’ve been bumped on the head so many times the message has finally sunk in. For whatever reason, around the time of The Cherry Orchard in the summer of 2002 I finally admitted that life wasn’t working the way I was doing it and it was high time I tried some new priorities.
My dear friend Tori King may be the only person who really knew the full scope of my problems at that time. I actually slept on her couch for a week one time when I didn’t have the rent money. She was a great pal, but she was also very clear that there was only one solution to my problems and that was to get a job. Any job. Immediately.
She was right. And so one day I applied for a job at the company where Tori works - and, lo and behold, they hired me. The signs looked good, but still, I showed up for my first day with more than a little trepidation. The reason is, I had to make this work, yet I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to; that my vagabond soul would somehow turn out to be pathological - and I’d find some way to sink this opportunity. But then, something very nice happened. I kept working and working, and I didn’t mind it. And weeks went by, and I started getting paid - and before you know it I was starting to actually enjoy myself. And feel better too, about myself, and my life, and the future. This shouldn’t have surprised me. The most inept life-counsellor knows that regular employment is empowering, and brings a bushel of benefits. But my ignorant self was bemused by the whole thing. Imagine! My life-goals weren’t being lost or trampled. In fact, as I kept at the job week after week, they seemed more attainable than ever before.
The more I worked, the more I gained confidence to meet old problems head-on. I dialed official phone numbers and began asking people what they wanted me to do, and then conscientiously set out to do it. This last four weeks in particular have seen me visiting the L.A. Superior Court so often I thought they’d put my nameplate on a chair, plus multiple visits to the (always-effervescent) California Department of Motor Vehicles. Not the stuff of joy, you might think, and yet I’ve found the whole process wonderfully exhilarating. Some days I’ve felt like skipping down the halls. What a relief to be taking action at last! What a joy to be living life again, instead of holding back!
Honestly, now I’m downright embarrassed by all the foot-dragging I did. What was I so scared of? A little discipline? A regular schedule? What a wuss! I’ve been working now for about a year and a half and look at what I’ve accomplished. I have a nice apartment now, and a cell phone, and a good computer. I have a car which is fully paid for, insured, and properly registered. I have a driver’s license again. I’ve been to court and am paying off all my old fines (on the installment plan). I’ve contacted the IRS and am paying them too (another installment plan). And even with all this, I’ve still been able to afford an air conditioner for my apartment, plus a few other nice things ... like having a social life. My existence has been amazingly good ever since the summer of last year, and so I never thought I’d say this, but here it is: I love my job and am very grateful to have it.
So ... there you go. You can teach an old dog new tricks.
*** Nov 16 ***
So Laura Niemi calls me last week and asks me to be in a play, and then this week Casey Biggs does the same. Never rains but it pours.
And unlike the last year and a half, I said yes to both. I said yes to acting in Laura’s project because the play (“Ourselves Alone” by Anne Devlin) sounds wonderful and, just as key, it’s not happening until the new year. I’ve been thinking for some time that by early 2004 my life will be settled enough for me to start taking on acting work again. That’s the time I hope to have enough $ laid by to get new headshots, and hopefully too I’ll have started losing some weight. So the timing feels good.
Casey and Jack are doing “Macbeth,” though, which is a shame because it’s my favorite play of all time. But oh well, I’ll have to be in it some other year. I’ll do sound for it, though, and I’ll get to see Jack tackle it. It’ll be interesting; I know I’ll learn some things about producing this play, which will hopefully serve me well later. Someday I want to put on the ultimate “Macbeth.” If that play is done the way it should be it is perfectly capable of, by turns, thrilling the audience, scaring the crap out of them, bringing them to tears, and haunting them for the rest of their lives. I know it can be done.
Lots of phone calls. Christina Burck also rang me back after I had called her about three weeks ago. We’re going to try to hook up for dinner this coming week. Then SZ called about a friend’s play needing audience. And lastly, Mom called, amazed because the news was full of how a freak storm had dumped snow on Los Angeles. I doubted this very much, but then went to work later and checked CNN and sure enough, it had. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.
*** December 1 ***
Down to the Old Globe in San Diego this past Saturday to see Steve Gunderson in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” It was lots of fun. Melinda Gilb, an old pal from New York days (& an old friend of Steve’s) was in it as well, so it was a double treat. I was thrilled.
After the show Steve had to go to the S.D. Rep to check in on the tech for “A Christmas Carol,” an adaptation which he wrote the score for several years ago. He actually used one of our old songs in it, a tune called “Heaven Knows” which we wrote together in, I think, 1987. He warned me that it was very prominent in the show and, sure enough, when he introduced me at the tech everyone ooh’d and aah’d that I was co-composer of this song. Felt very nice. Funny thing: I wasn’t sure how to behave. Like composers are supposed to ‘be’ a certain way or something, and I hadn’t a clue what it was!
This is the second time in about six months I’ve been to the Globe. Saw my pal Joel Polis in “Julius Caesar” there this past summer. Then, and now with Steve, I was (pure and simple) jealous as hell. The theatres there are so big and beautiful, and the setting is like a gem in a bracelet - the bracelet being Balboa Park. I’d love to work there someday. Or at the Rep, which is downtown, and is also a fabulous theatre.
It always creates mixed feelings for me to enter a theatre as anything but a performer.
Seeing lots of shows lately. Went last week to see Stephanie Zimbalist in “Defying Gravity” at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura. Tonight I’m off to the Odyssey to see Ron Sossi’s latest production, Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away.” Christina Burck is stage managing. I’ve seen her a lot lately: we went to see Steph’s show together too. Christina’s a doll, and I’ll say it here for all to hear, she’s one of the best stage managers I’ve ever known, bar none. Everyone I know who’s worked with her remembers her. She has a gift for one of the most difficult jobs in the world. And she’s pretty, and nice, and good-hearted to boot. One of God’s better efforts.
Talked to Laura Niemi just a few minutes ago about “Ourselves Alone,” which I auditioned for two weeks ago. She - together with Elise Robertson and Kathleen Dunne - are mounting it next year in Hollywood. They’re all alumnae of Circus Theatricals; more important, all three of them are wonderful actresses and I’d love to appear with them in something someday. But the male parts in “Ourselves Alone” all seem to be a mismatch for me. Either too old, or too young. Or, I have to say, too little to work with. I feel a little uncomfortable with the last, but I have to be more professionally selfish right now - as I recalibrate my acting-sights higher for the New Year. I’m never going to work at places like the Globe if I keep accepting small parts in small productions. So I need to set a standard - and that standard is, I won’t act in anything anymore unless either the part, or the opportunity, is big. It’s got to be that way.
But they’re great women and if there was any justice in heaven every guest to this website would know who they are, because they’d be famous as hell. It’s a very sobering thing, I’ve found, as I go along in this life of the actor, getting a bit older each year, to see the number of really wonderful people - talented, amazing, beautiful - who somehow haven’t ‘made it’ to the big time. Some are people I’ve know since my twenties and I would have bet my foot that by now, in our mid-forties, they’d be household names. Others are people I’ve known a relatively short time. Yet in both cases, I’m talking about people with real, powerful talent and appeal, and yet somehow it’s never turned into real, smashing success.
Maybe it’s this that’s nagging at the back of my soul and making me re-focus so forcefully on my career lately. It’s dawned on me that it really is possible to go an entire lifetime and not realize your fondest dreams.