Monthly Archives: April 2011

You come crash… into me

On August 25, 2004, Dave Matthews Band was sued by the state of Illinois for dumping raw sewage from the band’s tour bus over a bridge into the Chicago River on August 8, 2004, though the band was not on the bus at the time of the incident.  The dumping of up to 800 pounds of human waste into the river, in addition to violating water pollution laws, also descended upon more than 100 people in a boat on a tour of Chicago architecture.  The band settled the suit by paying $200,000 to an environmental fund. As a part of the settlement, for five years, the band was required to log every location, date, and time their tour buses’ septic tanks were emptied.

Tennessee Williams Project Endnotes

The readings are done now – they finished Saturday night.

We sat behind music stands the back of the stage. When the lights shifted, we would come forward and set up for the next short play. We’d bring our music stands with us, to hold our binders or sometimes just bring the binders. It was dark in the house, like you’d expect I guess. The theater had a horizontal bank of seats at the front. None of these were full, except two off to one side, and the young man on the aisle kept looking back toward the door. Other than that, we were aware of a fairly full house in the stadium seats behind the horizontal risers, but I could only make out the faces of the two who sat in the middle of the closest row. One of these was my friend Sarah, and I knew her by her hair and glasses.

The audience was very friendly. I think they were mostly invited by the playwrights or the writing program. The writing professor who explained the performance primed them well. She explained that the works were part of four weeks of writing exercises led by the writing program into the papers of Tennessee Williams, which are held by the University. Every week the playwrights were taken to the Williams exhibit and given five specific prompts, directing them to examine some aspect of Williams’ life, or a person he knew, or a line from one of his plays. They were to choose three prompts and write short plays based on each. After several rounds of revision, some of these became the plays we read.

I enjoyed the experience on a number of levels, some of which I’ve documented on this blog. We had some funny moments during our brief rehearsal period. A lot of what I’d been expecting, regarding my performance and performance abilities came unfortunately true. During the first play I had a role in, it was amazingly hard to shift emotions, and the tone of the scene seemed muddled and lost to me. Chalk a little of that up the jitters. The rest is definitely part of the stumbles on this path back to being a working (and I mean working in the most robotic sense) actor. I don’t want it to be easy. I want it to be effortless, and that is going to require a lot of hard work.

This is a line from that first play:  “Will I like it?  Or will it feel like a failed poetic dream?  Will it feel just like people sitting in chairs talking or will it transform?  Into truth, life, essences of things?”

Some of the cast were undergraduates, and very talented in their own right. I was not startled by their talent, however. It was how supple their voices were, how tuned their minds were to the job, how carelessly they could practice one day knowing that when the time came to perform, they could make choices and follow through with them. It seemed their bodies, voices, and minds were amazingly efficient. “Am I chasing youth?” I wondered. At one point, as I’m sure I’ve told almost everyone I know, I wanted to learn about the world because my understanding of characters was frustratingly limited. I’ve learned a lot since that decision, was this the cost?

Here’s my report on what it felt like, on the inside, to do the readings.

1. The infrastructure is woefully in need of service. A lot of musculature is either gone, or doesn’t know what to do. There is very little fineness that can be expressed, and while the tone is loud enough, it can’t flex or shift with any ease. It is only loud enough in one very specific and fairly restricted middle range. Bass is missing at good volume, high treble too. But most importantly: it is currently impossible to have a quiet or intimate moment and be heard. It is also completely impossible to hold a moment or shift quickly. Voice, body, mind, spirit – nothing seems to have nimbleness to it at all. The feeling is “glocky” or “clotten,” and it’s a strange one.

It’s kind of like scrawling a message on your PC and throwing it at someone… and calling that email.

2. With all the old mechanism and musculature sticky together the way it does, and the small parts doing the large work and the large parts doing very little, it’s strange to feel that there is something going on deep, but that only a rattling suggestion of it makes it out the top. And the stuff that makes up the public appearance of the character, the outward side of the character, what the audience sees, are just spinning wildly, barely touched at all by the deeper currents that drive the character.

3. I do not know what to do in front of people anymore. There isn’t anything to fall back on anymore, which I kind of like, and there is a possibility that whatever I’ve learned since I quit acting last time is still sorting itself out. But, man. It was bad out there. I railroaded over jokes, I tried to cry, I’m pretty sure at one point I dropped into a Spanish accent. Seriously, I felt like a drunk father who showed up at his kid’s middle school class and tried to explain himself. Thank God I did some pre-work so I at least knew what I was trying to do up there. I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d tried to wing it.

4. Pre-work. This is the part of the process I was the most happy with. I fell into a nice rhythm analyzing the plays, my lines were almost memorized after the first week (and this was just a reading, remember), and the plays that I worked the hardest on came out the best. There was a lot more I could have done on textual analysis, though. And a lot of research I never did. Hell, I didn’t make it to the Tennessee Williams exhibit once—that’s a freaking no-brainer.

4a. Warmups. I started these, but didn’t do them every day. I’m pretty sure they helped. My vague assessment is that I’m going to need to straighten out some of these warmup exercises, so I have a routine. And I have to go through that routine every day. If any of this stuff I’m working towards is going to work out, it’s going to happen here.  Like Allen Iverson told Deion Sanders, you have to practice.  Also, I really want a cool-down exercise.  That’s going to go a long way toward a non-destructive acting lifestyle.

5. Physicalization. Didn’t happen, for an obvious reason: these were readings. I didn’t have the responsibility or anxiety of building the physical aspects of a character, but I also didn’t have the elation of release or inspiration that comes with physicalizing desire and intention. Looking forward to this next step with excitement and trepidation.

6. Casual alcoholic addiction.  I lost two days to being hungover.  I can’t work like that, and it’s going to be important to remember that when I get drunk, the next day is useless.  Such is the cost of that fun.  On that note, I haven’t gotten drunk quite as badly as I thought would happen when the project ended.  (I wore myself out helping my sister remodel her house at 7am Saturday morning.)  I had a little bit of celebration last night with Emily T, and the next part of this Hong Kong Transfer is to make sure I get started working on next week’s project.

Overall, the project was an unconventional success.  I learned a lot, I had fun, and I feel good about what happened.  Two good options for this week’s project: one writing and one acting.  Both need attention and both need to be far along or finished by May 1.  Coin flip, anyone?

A Million Random Digits

Created in 1955 by the RAND Corporation, A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates was an overnight success, selling out of its initial print run in a matter of days.  Early reviews had downdressed the work for its mathematical tone, and publishers believed that the long stream of totally random numbers would have trouble finding a wide readership.  There were, however, a few who predicted the success of the book, particularly outsider and progressive critics.  Alphonse Behr of MAGACHINE wrote that the book was “Brutally honest… the first truly great satire of the 50’s.”  And in this view, the work has ripened considerably, becoming more and more relevant with each passing year.  Truman Capote mentioned the story in a New Yorker article he wrote about himself in 1970.  “AMRD is a riveting thrill ride.  I never knew what was going to happen next.  The most astonishing work I’ve read since Pi.”

The movie adaptation, starring Burt Lancaster as the unforgettable “Man who reads the Million Random Digits,” fared well, though viewers found the romantic subplot with RAND Scientist Vita Femme (played by a delightfully lisping Audrey Hepburn) unimportant.

A sequel titled “Stop reading this, what the hell’s the matter with you?” failed to chart, but has found an audience on college campuses for its post-modern tax forms are here and its biting tone.

Another boring update about being an actor

I went through my first full physical and vocal warmup last night, and it is painfully clear how far out of shape I’ve gotten.  The entire front of my chest has no feeling or resonance whatsoever, likewise my head and neck (although those did get in the game a little bit towards the end).  After the full warmup and one little hour of rehearsal, my diafragm… diagfram… googled it, diaphragm!  That’s a weird one.  My diaphragm was exhausted.  A few scary moment seeing how far I’ll have to go to achieve a performance of any real meaning, but, then again, you have to have those moments of seeing where you are.  I’m not so terribly worried, because in my mind there’s only one direction to go from here.

Suspended Monk-Week and had beer with my trivia team, and smoked half a cigarette.  It smelled mighty good.  That’s part of the game I guess.  A big step forward and a little step backward.  I’ve been paying for that beer and smoke all day, clearing phlegm out of my throat and resting up as much as possible for tonight, our final run through.

Very excited to be working on these Tennessee Williams inspired plays, and especially to be a part of work by an old friend – Sarah Saltwick.  Really wonderful stuff all around.  Her short play about Margo Jones and Tennessee Williams the night before the opening of the Glass Menagerie was a lot of fun to work on yesterday.

It turns out Andy won’t be receiving that story draft until Monday at least, due to a USPS-Coachella conspiracy.  I’m pretty sure that story’s the next project for me.  Going to hop into that on Sunday, I think, with some mad type-up-rewrite action.  It’s fun to take a few days away from a rough draft.  I don’t remember most of what I wrote, but I know it’s in my room somewhere, a rough and awkward version of a complete story, no longer needing to be told, but sitting there complete, waiting patiently for me to come back and make it better.

Today’s update… nothing happened

Last night’s rehearsal went well.  It’s been a fun week so far, rehearsing these short plays in the evening and working on them during the day.  My stomach hurt last night toward the end of rehearsal, but it turns out with all the focused breathing and stuff I’d forgotten to burp or fart.  Hoo-wee!  Isn’t acting galmorous.

More usefully: my ribs are pretty tender, in the front and the back.  I haven’t started seriously working them (this is after a year and half spent outside a theater) but just a few days’ worth of light warmup and light rehearsal and I can feel the seeds of improvement.

Practical concerns regarding the plays: there’s too many of them and too short a time to work thoroughly, so I’m focusing on breath connection, appropriate exercises and dropping in.  To me, those things mean 1) making sure I have power of breath when I need it, which allows for delicacy 2) making sure that power is coming from the correct places, diafragm and resonators and 3) basically making sure each word I’m going to say is connected to as many of my thoughts and memories as possible, you know, like remembering the time freshman year when Tomko and Micah and I walked out on the ice on Lake Michigan because one of the plays mentions doing that.

Other practical concerns: It’s been a monk-week, no alcohol, caffeine or any other controlled substance.  Alcohol turns my diafragm to jelly.  Caffeine gives me a boost, but everything gets out of order and the wrong parts work too hard while the right parts don’t do enough.  I quit cigarettes a month ago or so.  A big factor there was watching actors who smoke make consistently small choices because they have to protect their damaged lungs.  Maybe it works for some people (most of the previous generation) but not for me.

Monk-Week: I’m going to try and avoid bingeing next week once this project is over.  Here’s my plan on that: have a small celebration as soon as work is over, and the next day get focused on the next project.  Hopefully, I can keep that carrot in front of me and power through my usual drop into alcohol and confusion.  I guess a big part of being self motivated is being self regulating.  I’ll post here, though, whatever the result.  What’s the point of a blog if not to keep you honest?

It’s all been true

Austin Nelsen’s job is to surf the interwebs for blahblahblah purpose.  This brings him in regular contact with UFO sightings.  He sends them to me, I post them here, you for to read them.  Here’s the first two:!5791340/newly+released-fbi-memo-from-1950-confirms-flying-saucers-crashing-in-new-mexico

(yah, yah, I’ll fix this up later when I’m not so dang busy)

That Rainbow’s Days Are Numbered…

Quick updates:

.5) My sister has been talking to me about what’s the purpose of a blog.  She brought up that a lot of folks like to read blogs because it’s similar to what they themselves are up to these days.  (I kind of took a side-emphasis on her recommendation, because she was talking about the genre of blog called I-HAVE-THIS-MEDICAL-DISEASE-AND-I-FEEL-BETTER-KNOWING-OTHER-PEOPLE-DO-TOO.  Those are legit blogs, but I don’t have a disease.)

It’s a pig’s life, this one man graduate-school I’ve put together for myself, but maybe a noble one.  In light of all this, I’m going to try and be more clear and specific about the artistic work, and a little more honest about the fun parts.  No sense in a half-truth, no matter how embarrassing it is to spend four days partying and two writing.  Especially when you’re running up debt and not getting a degree.  Is that worth it?  If the work is good.  We’ll see.


1) Have beard, considering hitchhiking.  Although, I suppose the more accurate statement would be: have goatee, considering evil wizardry.

2) Finished draft of short story, first draft I’ve been happy with (those who know: Mars, terraform, etc.)  Not done by any means, a real rough draft, but it’s finally all on the page.  So now I’m in the middle period, as recommended by Stephen King.  I sit around a wait a few days and do other stuff to keep myself occupied, and theoretically when I go back and edit, I’ll have a more expansive perspective on it.  I’m pretty new at this process, still working it into my bones, y’see, but it’s kind of fun to walk through the steps the first time.  Andy’s got a handwritten copy in the mail (because he sends me his rough drafts), the rest of the folks who want to read rough drafts are gonna have to wait til it gets typed.

3. Celebrated rough draft being done by meeting folks down at the springs on Sunday.  Barton Springs is teh shit.  Sorry, I don’t have a picture, I wasn’t really thinking blog while I was there.  Definitely want to spend more Sundays there this summer.  It’s sweet to get there at 11 and drink your coffee real slow-like, and hang out all afternoon while the place fills up.

Later, my uncle came to dinner and made some awesome shrimps.  Man, that guy tells some crazy stories.

4. Saw some improv on Friday called SHOWDOWN at Salvage Vanguard Theater.  That show’s done, but their work is very quality.

5. Started rehearsal for a series of Tennessee Williams inspired short plays, written by UT MFA playwrights.  Went well, rehearsal good.  Had caffeinated tea early in the day, which disrupts some stuff.  Warmed up physically, but not vocally, and that had repercussions as well.  First time I’ve been in a theater in… a year and a half?  First time I’ve performed in… a year?  There’s definitely going to be some time spend in revival this week, and the work probably won’t get all the way to where I hope it will.  But it feels dang good to be back in the saddle.

We only get one day on each play, and we get each play when we show up at rehearsal.  Not ideal, but those are the rules for this round of the game.  So I worked like crazy last night after rehearsal, and a refresher this morning.  Don’t have to be off book, but I’d really like to see how well I can do this.

I cannot think of a title

Writing is really hard.  I’m getting better at it, because drafts are coming faster, but when I finish one—I guess I should say, when I finished the last one, I was so ready to be done with it.  I really wanted a break from writing for a little while (which I did take; THOUSBAHTHOUSWESTH!).  The messed up thing is, I’m starting to understand why writers get so insane about their work.  It is a long, long process, and I’m only writing short stories.  These things involve so much of you for so long, it’s slaving to keep using that same little instinct-muscle all the time, you know, it doesn’t matter how tired you get, that little iris-sized part of your brain keeps going, “and then he thinks this, and then he says this, and then she comes in, and then he does this,” and you kind of just have to keep not freaking out or letting yourself get distracted, because after a while, the only thing worse than how exhausted you get is how fucking insane it will make you to not finish it.

It’s not like this is Shakespeare up in here, either.  This is just regular old Chris Hejl level writing.  It’s a bit more cogent than what shows up on dear old blog, but yeah, it’s still just a rough draft and stuff.  It’s still some rough chopped shit.  I guess when I say I’m getting better, all I mean is drafts are slightly easier or faster or I can focus up a little longer.  It remains to be seen if anybody (outside of Andy Lampl or my mom) will get anything out of reading my work.

Wikipedia, Butler Memorial Edition:
[Matt] Howard also habitually rode a rusted-out bicycle to Butler’s 6:00 am practices, regardless of the weather; during one 2011 ice storm, the handlebars bent under him while he was riding, causing him to fall onto the ice. He would say about this incident, “I fixed it.  Just poured some WD-40 in there and bent them back. It’s a little risky to ride, I guess, but I can’t see buying a new one.”
Also, the NCAA has started giving out an award for the highest GPA of any athlete who reaches the finals of their sport.  There’s 88 final rounds in all sports across the NCAA’s three divisions.  They’ve given out this award for two years, and Matt Howard has won it both times.  That sounds pretty pale against losing two NCAA finals.  Whatever, though.  He still sets a pick like a fullback.


Send me your videos of animals fighting and I’ll post them on this blog.  THEY MUST BE HOME VIDEOS.  NO MICHAEL VICK SHIT.