Monday, October 4, 2010


I've been sending my stuff out for a while. Short stories, photos. Back in the day, as they say, I'd send out headshots and resumes. It's part of the gig.

But, back in the day, my stuff went into the mailbox on Monday and by Wednesday I'd be huddled by the phone waiting for the offers to come in. By the following Monday I'd be contemplating an MBA and wondering if I wouldn't be better off moving back to Des Moines. Sometimes silence is more brutal than rejection. At least with a rejection, there's an acknowledgement.

It's like auditioning. You can spend weeks putting together a repertoire of audition pieces, honing them down to ninety seconds and developing a matrix of combinations so that no matter what the audition situation you're prepared, and then spend months wondering why you're not being called back.

Then I went into human resources and spent weeks sifting through resumes and realized, more often than not, nine times out of ten, silence has nothing to do with the resume and everything to do with the target. If the target is very specific, the resume has to be too. If the target is very specific, then the headshot has to be as well. If the target is very specific, then the script/short story/novel must be as well.

Generalities will get you sent to the 'no' pile. But if your resume/headshot/script/short story/novel doesn't hit the target, it's not because it's not good. It's not because it's not specific. It just simply does not hit the mark. They wanted steak and you're offering sushi. Next.

It took a long time to figure this out, but when I was an actor my job wasn't to be a star. My job wasn't even to work in a small, non-Equity storefront production of Hamlet to be seen by six people. My job was to audition. That was the work. And over the years I found enjoyment and satisfaction in simply auditioning. The preparation and the two minutes I had in front of casting staff was the sum total of the work. And I learned to love it.

I'd like to tell you that once I released all expectations of the audition I was cast more frequently. I wasn't. But I was less frustrated. I enjoyed being an actor more.

Now that I'm submitting my writing, it's the same thing. The job is the creation. The job is keeping organized and sending my stuff out. That is the work. The rest is whipped cream on the sundae. And pay is the cherry on top.

Of course, I can't deny that the goal was, is, and always will be not getting the cherry on top of the sundae, but landing in the bowl where that cherry came from. But that's a whole other post.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Reading

It has been at least a decade since I've attended a play reading. And today a group of actors got together to read a play. A play that I had written.

Oftentimes I have emotions that I don't know I'm having, but I usually have a sense that something is going on when I can't sleep. Last night I couldn't sleep. I drifted off sometime around five in the morning and tossed and turned until nearly eight. Then I got up and raced around the house, trying to get ready for everyone who was arriving. Arriving to read my play.

I have been working on this script off and on for the better part of a year. Sometimes getting nothing more than three or four lines of dialogue down at a time. The bulk of the work happened over the summer, in July and August. In the middle of August I began to feel my energy wane and I knew I needed a deadline. I set a reading date and began to think of actors I wanted to read to me.

I was lucky. With only one exception, I got the initial actors I asked to read. And in the one case where I was turned down, the actor had been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that nothing could interrupt, and my second choice wasn't really settling for a second choice at all. She was just someone different, who did a brilliant job handling some of the most difficult material in the script. But having the six actors agree to read these roles crystallized things for me. One character made a radical transformation -- for the better -- simply because I had a face for the character. And having six very talented and smart actors agreeing to read my script really required me to turn out my best effort. I've written a number of small pieces, but this is the first time I've written something that I really feel proud of. There is almost nothing of my personal story in this play, and yet hearing it today I could suddenly see myself all over it.

As the cast began to read, I was nervous. It took every ounce of control I had not to ask them to stop, thank them for coming and tear up each copy of the script. I heard very little of the first two pages because I kept thinking to myself, "Who do you think you are? You have no business telling a story." Then practicality kicked in and I began to time the script. I had to trust that the actors could carry it.

The first ten pages, which probably accounts for the first fifteen minutes, I decided were terrible as they were being read. It wasn't the actors' fault. They had brittle dialogue in an overly dramatic story. It creaked with exposition. I could hear clunker lines that didn't fit. There were phrases that were painfully over-written and the first half is riddled with redundancies.

And then one of the actors read a line, and it was right. There was emotion connected to it. And not just an actor indicating an emotion that she felt should be part of the line. It was the bud of an actual emotion. And suddenly actors who had never met before today connected and I could see the relationship. And they laughed. The actors laughed where I intended laughs and found laughs that I didn't know were there.

And when we finished, I fed them. And then we spent more than an hour talking about the play. And I listened. I asked a few questions. I'm grateful that I didn't have to explain too much, but these smart, talented actors confirmed my own opinions on a lot of points, pointed out a couple of crucial areas that need attention, and they talked like actors. I loved it.

Today was one of the best days of the year, and I have to thank Julia Maish, Nina O'Keefe, Sally Eames, Chad Ramsey, Shaun Baer, and Nat Swift for working for the price of a taco and providing me the input I needed to finish this play. I wish I had the opportunity to work with these actors to put this play up on the stage. It can never happen. Lives and professional obligations simply will never allow me to work with this collection of actors on this script, but I am incredibly grateful that I got to work with them for an afternoon. Incredibly grateful.

The finish line isn't nearly as far away as I feared it might be, and not as close as I'd like. But now I am ready for the hard work. And because of today I now feel like I have the right to tell this story.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Creative Process

Right now, it's all about the words for me. Except for paying gigs, I haven't touched my camera in weeks, but I find I'm not thinking in images right now. I'm thinking in words and concepts. I'm hoping that one cycle informs the other. I think that it will.

The Void Dance is resting right now. The latest draft was finished about two weeks ago and I have eight copies printed, ready for the reading next Saturday. I have sworn not to touch it until I hear it. I'm very lucky that I have six very smart, talented actors coming over to read this script to me. They've had electronic copies for about two weeks and I've not heard a word from any of them. I'm hoping that doesn't mean they're all trying to figure out graceful ways to back out. Or that they've taken one look at the script and then immediately went blind from the horror I've perpetrated on the page. It probably just means that none of them have read it yet.

But if all goes well, there won't be too much revision to the structure of the play and if there is anything major that needs to be done, it's simply style and word choice. I know there are two major chunks that I want to take a particular look at once the reading is over.

So far one person has read it and provided sparse, stoic feedback. "Good play. Strong characters." And she identified one of the sections I also feel needs attention. But she's insanely busy and I'm taking the fact that she started it, finished it, and was able to provide four words of comment as a good thing. I hope it's a good thing. I want this script to be better than good.

So, to distract myself I've started on another script. Eleven characters. While it is in no way biographical, details from my past are informing how it's flowing. Void had a very clear structure even before I started writing. This one...not so much. I'm sort of feeling very Kaufman and Hart, but I don't think that a modern, three-hour comedy will sell today. Still keeping the Chicago non-Equity theatre in mind, so for me it's critical that all eleven characters are compelling and dynamic so that good actors will want to play them. Technical requirements to a minimum. Focus on the text and the actor -- the cheapest commodities in Chicago Theatre.

But I can begin to feel the pull back to the camera. I have two projects cued up, and I'd like to get them both shot, if not edited, before the end of November. The end of November feels both a life time and twenty minutes away.

OK. Back to work.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Don't you hate people who neglect their blogs? I mean, what's the point of getting all emotionally invested in a blog only to have the writer blissfully ignore you? Doesn't the writer understand that you have needs?

Well, here's the deal: For the past few months I've been wearing my playwrighting hat, almost to the exclusion of everything else. I'm like that four-year-old who will only wear his Elmo t-shirt. Only the Elmo t-shirt. I WANT MY ELMO T-SHIRT!!! Only right now it's with my play.

I don't dare share any real details about the play at this point because it's at the stage where I'm beginning to ask myself what right I have to ever think I have the intellect or authority to create a play. Who am I to take up the work of Williams and Shakespeare?

But then when I either slip out (or into, depending on your point of view) madness and get back to work.

It seems to be going well. There is never a question of what needs to be done, and always a question of how to do it. But all of the characters have been named, which is an epic event for me because that means they can finally start to take ownership of the play. I can tell you that there are six characters. Three of them have made radical transformations since the beginning of this process, which I think is good. The story has been fully told - all of the dramatic beats are in place, and now I'm working backwards to make sure that the high points for each of the characters is in place and to make sure there is a logic to the flow. Then the next step is to go through the text as each character and make sure there is an inner logic for each. For me the final step will be to polish the language, because right now all of the characters sound like me. That's the part the frightens me the most because of the six characters, only two have distinct voices right now. And the character I believe to be the most difficult to play is also proving to be the most difficult to write.

Oh, and just between us -- as a little reward for your attentiveness and loyalty -- I'll announce the title here.

The Void Dance.

But that's all you get. That will have to hold you until after the first reading, which with any luck I'll have in September.

But until that time, I'm not likely to take off my playwrighting Elmo t-shirt and put on my photographer equivalent.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

More Inspiration

The other day I got on my bike and rode along the lake. It could not have been more perfect. I had a chicken lunch in my backpack and my old camera with me. Recently I read about an exercise of limiting yourself to thirty-six frames when shooting. With digital cameras, it is no longer necessary to take time framing a shot. You can just snap away and hope for the best. I want to be better than that.

This shot is in no way a great work of art. Still, this girl is inspiring. In spite of all of the obvious challenges she faces, the least of which is a broken arm, she was out on the court waiting for a pick up game. Eventually a couple of kids came along. While they wouldn't play an actual game with her, they did shoot hoops. And she held her own against them.

I don't know who she is, but I love her. An inspiration.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


No matter what new projects I take on, either as a photographer or a writer, at heart I am still an actor. Every now and then I miss different aspects of acting. Toward the end of my career I loved auditioning. I loved the preparation. I loved the hunt for new projects. I loved the competitive aspect of the audition. And I loved landing a role.

I liked rehearsals, if I was working with good actors and directors.

I hated tech week.

And I came to dread performances.

I hated tech weeks in non-Equity theatre because I found that many designers did their designing during tech week. I hated standing around on stage while a sound designer bumped up the level of a cue half a notch...and then down a notch...then up a notch. It drove me insane while lighting designers hung lights and strung cable while flipping through a script trying to decide the placement and length of a fade.

But my biggest problem while acting in non-Equity theatre was the unreliability of other actors. And in my career I developed a sense for who would be be successful and who wouldn't simply by the level of preparation and commitment. I have yet to flip on a television and see an actor I've known and worked with and wonder how that person got where he or she was. They aren't always the most talented. They aren't always the nicest. But without exception they were the most reliable.

By reliable I mean more than just being able to count on them to show up knowing their lines. More than just their ability to take direction. I mean that they were consistent. They stuck to their agenda. They knew who they were, where they fit in the business, where they intended to go and they relentlessly worked on their careers. For them, it was a lifelong commitment, damn the results or consequences.

I don't know if it's still relevant, but when I was acting Michael Shurtleff's Audition was required reading. I first read it in high school and read it cover to cover twice in one week end. I practically memorized that book. In it he has a chapter that I can quote here. "Consistency is the death of good acting."

While I won't argue that statement as it pertains to a performance on stage, it is not a rule by which to build a career. A consistent professional -- actor, writer, or photographer -- is a working actor, writer, or photographer.

Monday, May 31, 2010

After the Fall

I have never been an Arthur Miller fan. There. I've put the admission into print and probably branded myself as an illiterate rube.

In my junior year in high school, I had secretly made the decision I was going to be a star on Broadway. I knew my parents would never approve, so I tried to be as discrete about the decision as possible. Of course being in virtually every play that held an audition within a thirty mile radius of our home might not qualify as discrete to some, but I liked to think of it as living on the edge.

In preparation for impending stardom, I joined the Fireside Theatre. In the days before the Internet, the only exposure a young boy stranded in the cornfields of Iowa had to "real" theatre was the Sunday New York Times and the Fireside Theatre. Fireside Theatre was a magical oasis of culture, book club that allowed you to join for a penny and provided you with an introductory selection of plays, with the agreement to buy five or six at the regular price the next couple years. I thought I was pretty slick. My five selections were all five thick anthologies. For one penny, I managed to purchase forty classic plays. One of these anthologies being the best works of Arthur Miller. That summer I consumed Miller, Williams, O'Neill, Shakespeare, Shaw, the collected theatrical works of Agatha Christie, and a collection of the great American musicals. Only God knew when I would be summoned to play one of those great roles in a Broadway production on a moment's notice, and I had to be ready.

Williams and Shaw became passions. The musicals were fun. Shakespeare a struggle, and Williams and O'Neill a duty. (The less said about Christie, the better.) I felt like I got The Crucible, if not exactly appreciated it, but the rest of Miller left me cold. There weren't really any playable parts for a seventeen-year-old boy as I couldn't throw a football to save my life. I did a production of The Crucible in college, and felt that my time in Miller's world had been served. Years later I saw a production of All My Sons at the Raven Theatre and because of that brilliant production, deemed the script worthy. But I read After the Fall at age seventeen. I didn't get it, and didn't want to. "Slop," was my insightful summation. And I never looked back.

And then Eclipse added it to their season. Sigh. Last week I reluctantly sat down to slog my way through the script. I don't like to take pictures of scripts I don't know because I want to be able to add value to the process. And even though I was certain I'd much rather be pulling out my own molars, I felt a responsibility to at least be able to say I had looked at the script.

Then something very unexpected happened. Miller began to speak to me. Man to man. His story meant something to a middle-aged man that it couldn't possibly to a teenaged boy. And when Miller began to speak, I began to listen. And as I listened, the remnants of my actor instincts kicked in and I became intrigued by how to play the roles. By the end, I almost felt a yearning to give Miller another try.

The shoot was Saturday. Nothing specific had been planned, but I knew I'd have Quentin, Maggie, Louise, and Holga. However, when I walked into the room and met the actors playing the roles, the image came to me immediately. I knew instantly what I wanted to do, if not exactly how to execute it.

I shot Quentin holding each of the three women separately. Steve Scott, the director, had suggested individual marital portraits of the three couples. While doing three individual portraits would have been easy, I wanted a single image that summed up Quentin's relationships. Nat Swift, who plays Quentin, had a difficult time because he needed to hold the same pose for each woman. The acting and the relationship had to be defined by the poses of the women. I wanted some sort of blending of the images, but wasn't sure how to achieve it without making it look cheesy. The amount of distance between each of the women and Quentin was one of the keys. The difficulty was giving each woman her own space, and yet making the relationship with Quentin seem believable. As with the play, Maggie was the most difficult. She is a victim, and the ultimate victim for me is Faye Wray in King Kong. I asked Nora to strike that pose. It was not an easy pose for her to hold. The image I ended up using blended the body from one shot, the arm from another, and her face from a third.

Once the Maggie shot was done, the others were easy. Louise is pushing away from Quentin and Holga is his equal and accepts him as he is.

The real difficulty came in putting them together in some meaningful way, and the key for me was Nat's eye line. The base photo was Quentin holding Maggie. I had to piece the other two women into it. There was a lot of resizing and rotating the images so that they all looked like they might be originating from the same waist, even though the actresses hadn't posed that way. Had I been thinking, I might have had an easier time if I'd used a tripod. That way my perspective would have been constant and resizing and adjusting perspective for Helga and Louise wouldn't have been so difficult. It took about three hours to get all of the actresses into something of a believable perspective, and then to line their eyes up so that it would look like Quentin could be looking at any one of the three.

Once the photo was done, I was not happy. It looked like a Photoshop mess, even though I intellectually understood what was going on in the picture, it didn't resonate. The images were too realistic. Turning it into a graphic representation was embarrassingly easy. Anyone with a modicum of Photoshop skill will look at it and sneer. I had wanted something very Warhol. But if there is one thing I've learned over the years, it's when to stop. The texture is right. So, it wasn't a complex process. It's effective.

In the end, the image isn't what I had originally expected. But it may be better. Much like Miller's work, it speaks to me in an unexpected way and I'm surprised at how satisfying it really is. It may just be possible that Miller taught me more than I realize.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Sometimes my weekend photo safaris don't take me any further than my own dining room.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Congratulations Millie and Chuck

Millicent Hurley and Chuck Spencer, the off-Loop Lunt and Fontanne were each nominated for Jeffs this morning. Here seen in pre-production shots for The Autumn Garden at Eclipse Theatre.
There aren't two more deserving artists!

Saturday, May 1, 2010


In the age of digital photography it just makes sense to take a new approach to marketing yourself as an actor.

Yes, you need the natural-light shot so that your agent feels like she has a marketable product to sell. Although I'd argue it's less about "capturing your essence" or even having a headshot "that just looks like you," and more about having a familiar product to sell -- but that's a completely different discussion.

Still, there are times when it may be in your best interest to have a marketing image that is unexpected. One that is going to stand out after a long day of auditions.

Scenario One: A casting director is looking for a Macbeth. She goes to her files with the specs for what the producer has requested. Dark. Ominous. Hint of fragility. And what does she have to work with? Five thousand toothsome grins. Now, of course she's a professional, knows her talent pool and can pour through those files and pull the twenty photos and resumes she thinks are most appropriate. But what if you're the perfect Macbeth and the casting director has never met you? She sees your toothsome grin, and if you get pulled from the file, when she has to narrow those twenty photos down to the five she wants to call in for an audition, do you think she's going to choose the toothsome grin she knows, or the one she doesn't?

Scenario Two: You go to a casting call for an up-and-coming company that is doing an edgy production of Macbeth. They are having two or three days of open calls, at the end of which they're going to invite selected actors to a call back. If your audition is on day one, are you so confident that by the end of day three your brilliant audition is going to be remembered clearly? How are you helping that director remember you if you went in with your toothsome, one-shot-suits-all-occasions headshot?

Scenario Three: Everybody and his cat has a website, a visual medium. Why would you waste anyone's time with just the same toothsome grin in three versions. "Here I am smiling at the camera while wearing a green shirt. Here I am smiling at the camera in a red shirt. And here I am NOT smiling and wearing a black shirt. Hire me."

A couple of years ago Jennifer Aniston turned forty years old. Yet, still an attractive vital woman she had semi-nude photos of herself published to remind the industry and the movie-going public that she was still a player in the girlfriend archetype and romantic comedy genre. Doesn't your career deserve the same attention to detail and creativity in marketing that Jennifer Aniston's does?

In the end you have to use the marketing tools that you feel most accurately represents your artistic approach and professional comitment. But it's in your best interest to consider adding an unexpected image to your marketing toolkit to give you an edge in your quest to play Macbeth, and to level the playing field against an actress who is willing to strip to get the part you want.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's Tuli-tuli-tuli-tuli-Tulip Time!

I am a geek. I love tulips. Across the street from my home there is a Frank Lloyd Wright house, and the front yard is a field of tulips. Every year I have promised myself that I would go over there and take a ton of pictures, and every year I miss the season.

This year, I made it. And wouldn't you know that my favorite shot from the entire session is the one with the tulip that isn't part of the field! It's there, but I was drawn to that single yellow tulip, like it had escaped.

For me, the season is all down hill from here.

Monday, April 12, 2010


The mailing is an essential part of any professional artist's routine, and building the mailing list is nearly a full-time job.

I launched my Facebook account with an eye toward marketing myself as an artist. I'm rethinking that approach slightly. It's too intimate, too personal and I find that I'm a little annoyed by people who incessantly post invitations to their shows. Once is fine. Twice if it's a long run. But two or three times daily? Relax!

But it's just so easy. And it's free. There's no discussion when it comes to pointing out that most professional artists struggle to make ends meet. For the actor/singer/photographer/writer, free is good.

But the new electronic modes of communication and promotion do not in any way cancel out the value of a good, old-fashioned mailing. In fact, I think they enhance it. A postcard contains the same information, but is less intrusive than a blaring Facebook announcement or an e-mail blast. Because electronic announcements and promotions are so easy, they must be used sparingly. And because there's a cost involved with a postcard, they have a gravitas that an e-mail blast doesn't. True, your postcard or letter might have a shelf life of fifteen seconds -- the amount of time it takes to remove it from the stack of incoming mail and toss it into the trash. It may never be seen by the 'important' person, but it stands a better chance of generating a response than does an e-mail trapped in spam filter or a Facebook announcement that is so ubiquitous that it is rendered invisible.

Mailings are simply part of the cost of doing business in the arts. Just like headshots, paint, guitar picks, and paper. Factor it into your business budget. And remember the old marketing adage: Half of your marketing dollars are wasted. The problem is, you don't know which half.

Friday, April 2, 2010


I'm not going to lie. This winter has been a tough one. There has been so much I've wanted to accomplish...and much of it simply did not happen. I'm working on a collection of essays, a collection of short stories, and building my photo portfolio. Somewhere in March I hit a wall and everything came screeching to a halt.

But yesterday, at the end of the day and completely exhausted, I decided that enough was enough and the time had come to start back up. So, I went back to where I get my best inspiration: Michigan Avenue.

I love Michigan Avenue. When I first moved to Chicago I was completely intimidated by it. All of the bustle and chic boutiques were a million lightyears from where I started. The hustle is just invigorating. I can always find something envigorating.

Still, in all of the energy, it's great to find a breath of stillness and that's what this shot is for me. After weeks of not touching my camera to do work for me, I found this simple brick wall at the end of the day and was entranced. I love the texture, the pattern and the way the light falls. I love the lines in the background and the color. It just felt like the perfect expression of where I am right now.

I'm finding that as an artist, the challenge for me is to maintain focus. I have so many things I want to achieve and I feel the progress being made in all directions. But I'm also aware of the danger of spreading myself too thin and wonder just how successful I could be if I focused on simply one thing. Still, a single focus has never, ever been who I am.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Resurrection Blues -- Eclipse Theatre -- Production

The first show I did in college was The Crucible. I had wanted to play Reverend Paris, and somehow managed to get the role. It was a gorgeous set, I had an incredible costume, and from what I remember it was a fine production -- although I don't recall myself as being especially outstanding.

But for me, Arther Miller has always been a touch didactic. I recognize that his masterwork, Death of a Salesman is brilliant, and I have loved All My Sons ever since I saw the Raven Theatre production. But his other works have sort of struck me as Shaw without the charm, or perhaps flabby Ayn Rand. I've always walked away from Miller acutely aware that he WANTS TO TEACH ME SOMETHING, and when confronted with that attitude I'm not always the most willing of students.

Resurrection Blues begins to make up for that. For one thing, it's a comedy. Not necessarily expected from Miller. And as always, expect Eclipse to unearth a forgotten gem from a master. I sat thru a run of the second act to prepare for the shoot and was surprised -- delighted even -- that this script actually had playable intentions for the actors. Or perhaps these actors are just better than I was when I had to play Miller. Froth it ain't, but it's light and the lesson is sold softly. That's probably has at least as much to do with Nat's direction as it does with Miller's writing.

If you you're a Miller skeptic like me, you're going to want to check out this show and give Miller a chance to change your mind. I may have to go back and re-read The Crucible now.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

When Bad Projects Happen to Good Artists

A few weeks ago I had a shoot where everything went wrong. I was striving for an effect that required equipment I do not have but trying anyway with the equipment I had. To say that the results were disasterous would be an understatement. The results would have given small children life-scarring nightmares. I was so disgusted with myself -- because I should have known better -- that I put the camera away, and for the first time since picking it up began seriously questioning what I was doing.

I wasn't worried that I would give up photography forever. Although I haven't been seriously practicing photography my whole life, I have been an artist and have hung around artists my whole life. Crises of faith happen, and the chief benefit of age is recognizing them, not panic about the panic, and let the crises pass. It always does. And at the end, I have found, my passion (and usually my skill) is stronger. The truly scary thing is that these phases don't come with a prescribed expiration date, so while you're in it you begin to wonder if it will ever end. It does. Sometimes it takes a day. Sometimes it takes a month.

If, however, it extends beyond a month the only thing to do is to get back up on the horse, ignore the panic and pretend it doesn't exist. Start over. Start from the beginning. Be patient with yourself and do what you know.

The passion does return.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Key to Success

I hate failure. It hurts. It happens more often than I would like.

In the early days of my acting career each audition was not just a referendum on the quality of my talent, but an evaluation of my soul. I dreaded auditions almost as much as I was thrilled by them. What I really feared was a job interview. Landing the gig that would pay my bills while I waited to become a star was more terrifying. I felt like I had no marketable skills -- and in truth I had almost none.

Less than a year out of college I found myself with a nice sparkling prospective career -- and no income. In those days, the job source was the Chicago Reader and if you needed a job, you also needed to figure out where the reader was being delivered first and snap one up as soon as possible. It came out on Thursday, and Friday was locked in pounding the pavement. Then late on Friday the Sunday Tribune came out and Saturday was mapped out planning the Monday assault. I interviewed for anything and everything for about six gruelling weeks. At the same time I had to find a new apartment and had very, very limited funds with which to achieve that feat.

Somewhere around week four, I became numb to the fear of interviewing. I recognized that it was still there, but it didn't slow me down. In week five I started getting a lot of calls for follow-up interviews, and in week six I was offered three part-time jobs. I took two of them, and in turn each one of those turned into full-time jobs, one of which sustained me and my acting career for almost ten years.

When I went into the serious job market and began climbing the corporate ladder, I again took the approach that I would interview for everything. Then I landed a job interviewing job applicants. I started out being terrified of the interview, and I ended up being the interviewer -- and a damn good one, if I do say so myself.

Not all of those interviews were successful. As an applicant, I've probably interviewed for nearly a hundred jobs. I've probably done as many interviews as I've done auditions. And not all of those were successful either. I have absolute horror stories about auditions. Auditions that crippled me in some way. But I carried on. I only stopped auditioning when the entire theatrical experience bored me. And I kept auditioning long after I should have stopped because I wanted to make sure I was stopping for the right reason, and that I wasn't just giving up.

In that evaluation process, I decided that failure is a relative term and that I did not accept failure. There are set backs. There are disappointments. But there is only failure if I allow there to be failure. Even now, as a photographer, with all the best intentions and preparations, I experience set backs that could be termed failures -- if I let them.

I know this sounds all Rah! Rah! But the truth is it ain't over til it's over. I've watched artists with mediocre talents at best rise to unimaginable heights simply because they refused to define a set back or disappointment as failure. They refused to set a drop-dead date that will define the success of their achievements. That doesn't mean they didn't have goals. It means that if the results fell short of expectations within the time frame prescribed the goal was re-evaluated, progress was analyzed, and a new goal calibrated.

Calibration is the key to success. Stamina is the key to success. Flexibility is the key to success.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I've been working pretty hard on my portfolio -- expanding my range and trying new things. And from time to time I submit my work to an online community for comment and critique. The comments, almost without exception are brutal. BRUTAL.

At first the comments were crushing. I worked so hard and saw so much progress in the work that I submitted. I would have to walk away from my computer, watch a movie, clean the bathroom, and make a stab at curing cancer before I could go back and review the comments. Things like, "you have no business behind the camera" and "did you use a cell phone?" would seep through my eyeballs and ricochet around in my brain for hours. Then I would try to break the comments down into usable bites. I'd literally copy and paste the comments and go sentence by sentence, deleting everything that seemed to be written out some sort of deep personal trauma and keeping that which actually was a valid technical critique.

Then I would look at the commenter's work and compare it to mine; not in a qualitative way necessarily, but in more in an attempt to understand they're perspective. Once I did that, sometimes I agreed with their assessment and sometimes I did not. But I always felt like I learned something.

Then I would pick up a Vanity Fair, or a Vogue and apply the same critiques to those shots. It was horrifying and disappointing. Many, many of the photos in those publications and almost all others would not meet the specifications laid out in that online community. Not to put too fine a point on it, but some of the work of some of the world's top fashion photographers, in some of the world's top fashion magazines, is crap!

And at the end of my analytic cycle, what I would come away with was deep depression and disappointment. There would be variations on a theme, but I would be trapped in a recurring loop of a "You suck!"

Until I remembered my career as an actor...

Without naming names, I have seen many actors who were weak on stage, who were personally difficult, who were sloppy and lazy at their craft, go on to very distinguished careers. I mean, award-winning careers. I mean multi-million dollar pay days. And I personally know actors who are brilliant, who can be depended upon to give gut-wrenching, nuanced performances that make the audience weep, laugh, and reflect upon the meaning of life -- and all while trying to drown out the rattle of the Red Line. Some of these actors' annual salaries don't even reach the minimum poverty line. If you're in the theatre, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

I have spent years trying to figure out why that is. Dismissing it simply as luck is too easy. After a decade of analysis, I'm convinced there is no such thing as luck. What the people who are achieving notoriety and riches have that my less financially secure artist friends do not is tenacity, confidence, and stamina. They're still crappy actors -- and one or two of them actually know it -- but they didn't let lack of quality stand in their way. They took every opportunity and turned it to their advantage. Some of them took criticism and grew from it. Some of them -- and I'm sorry to say, the most successful of them -- didn't give a rat's ass about what most of the world thought of them or their work.

From this realization I draw an immense amount of comfort and inspiration. Now I can look at my own work with a critical eye and appreciate what's good in it. Is my work flawless? Absolutely not. But those flaws are not going to stop me. And they won't always be there. The real work is to learn from those flaws.

It's all about stamina and staying the course. The destination is an afterthought.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Resurrection Blues -- Eclipse Theatre

Directed by Artistic Director Nathaniel Swift
March 25 - May 9, 2010
The Greenhouse Theatre
2257 N. Lincoln Ave. -- Chicago

Sunday, January 31, 2010


I believe that goals are essential to a happy life. The problem with goals, however, is that while focused on the end result you can oftentimes miss the journey.

And what's doubly difficult for me is impatience. For me, almost all progress is too little progress. I know where I'm going, and I get frustrated with the fact that I'm not there yet. This was a terminal flaw in my acting career. I would set a goal on Monday, and by Wednesday begin to get frustrated because I wasn't making "significant" progress toward that goal. By that I mean that on Monday, I would decide that I would win an Oscar and by Wednesday wonder why Stephen Spielberg hadn't called. By Friday, I wouldn't be fit to live with.

What I didn't realize is that progress doesn't come in a smooth consistent stream. Progress comes in fits and starts. It can move at a glacial pace, and then jump ahead at lightning speed. The trick, of course, is to be ready for that lightning jump. Having the skills in place to support that rapid growth is essential. And sometimes it's necessary to slow progress so that your personal infrastructure can catch up.

This week I made two major leaps in progress. By the smiling fates of the gods, I lucked into a brand new camera! It's dazzling in it's wonder. I could not wait to do my first session with my new Olympus E3. I did, and the photos are beyond my expectations in quality. Then I sat down to edit samples for the client, only to discover that my new camera requires a major upgrade in my computer software. A huge investment that I was/am not prepared to make at this time. So it's back to my old, trusty camera for the time being.

However, the above photo was taken with the old camera and edited with the old software. And here's where the lightning jump is the most gratifying. This is the type of work I've been shooting for for the past three years. I could not have done this shot a year ago. Not even six months ago. I'm thrilled.

Six months ago I set a goal of shooting the Vanity Fair cover within the next five years. Maybe I'll get the call on Wednesday!

Thursday, January 28, 2010


With the new year, and avalanche of projects has come crashing down around me. In a good way! Right now, it's all about the mailing.

I've set some pretty lofty goals for the next four years and five months. (The goals were set with a five-year term a couple months ago.) I'm not necessarily comfortable publishing them at this point because they're very ambitious and they take a lot of leg work to get off the ground. But a key component to these goals is to send out mailings. There is the agonizing over which samples to print into postcards, the endless mailing list maintenance, the creation of the pithy little notes...daunting.

And fun. When I was an actor, I realized that I enjoyed the audition more than the rehearsal and the rehearsal more than performance. And a root canal more than tech. Of course I want international acclaim, wealth beyond my wildest dreams, and a front-row seat at the Academy Awards. Who doesn't? But it's not the result that is the real goal. It's finding the journey that you want to take that is the real goal.

As 2010 really gets underway, I'm finding that I only have time for one serious artistic shoot a month. Headshot work, my writing, and the routine of day-to-day living are taking up the rest of my time. But the January project has already been shot, and progress on the editing is coming along very nicely. I'm on schedule.

The other thing that I like about photography is that I'm able to call up the first frame I ever shot and compare it to the latest frame I've edited. One of my many flaws is that I tend to be hypercritical of myself and my work (sometimes almost paralyzingly so), but I know I've made progress when I look at my latest job and say, "Damn. That's good."

No matter what your journey, I hope your year is starting off as well as mine. Drop me a line! Share your success!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Andi Earles -- Winner

For the third year in a row, an Archetype Images session was the grand prize for the Saint Sebastian Monologue Match Up. This time around, the winner was Andi Earles, breaking the cardinal rule of auditioning -- she won with a piece that she wrote. This is a young woman that is about to break. Keep your eyes open for her!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Whole New Year!

And here is my beach on Christmas Day.

There has been so much going on, and virtually no time to sit down and write about it all. Up this week: my first nude shoot!