Saturday, August 17, 2013

Evaline Burns

A woman named Evaline Burns spoke to me today.  She died, aged 35, in April of 1863.  Next to her gravestone, between hers and her husband Abel's, was a very little headstone -- also with the name Evaline -- whose tiny occupant was only days old when she died.  Evaline mere must have died in childbirth, or from its complications.  I was in a small patch of lawn, called Perrin Cemetery, containing some very weathered headstones scattered about.  This tiny cemetery is clearly a remnant from another time, surrounded by an old-fashioned iron gate, nestled next to a Meijer's parking lot and across the street from a Home Depot.

What did Evaline have to tell me?  Something scripted at the bottom of her headstone -- beneath the carving of a hand with its index finger pointing heavenward -- under her name, date of death, and age:

Friends and strangers passing by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now soon you must be
Prepare for death and follow me

Well, I was definitely a stranger passing by and the grim reminder Evaline gave me ("As you are now so once was I") didn't so much send chills down my spine as it did make Evaline seem more real to me as a flesh-and-blood-like-me-right-now person who just happened to die 100 years before I was born.  It was a funny feeling.

But what really arrested my sense of coincidence was a headstone a-ways over from Evaline's.   There I read that one Norman Starr had died August 17, 1863 -- exactly 150 years ago today!  What are the chances of that?  That was a weird feeling:  that I just happened to stop in and snoop around on the exact anniversary of one of the deceased.


By the way, visiting cemeteries is something actors and writers sometimes do to get names and ideas for characters.  It's a good exercise in letting your imagination wander and wonder!

Friday, August 12, 2011

What Doest It Means To Be An Actor?

This is a question I toss around in my mind from time to time. Over the years, the answer has varied. A subtitle could be, "How do I define success as an actor?"

Sure, a young actor's starry eyes are filled with visions of fame and fortune and posing on the red carpet. I know mine were. We all know too that a real actor is passionate about acting, about theatre and film. The other stuff is great, of course, but we all tell ourselves that we would act even if we were only performing in a church basement for free. That's not practical either.

At first, I'd tell every aspiring actor that of course, he or she could become a big star! As I matured, I realized how desirable it is to be a working actor, nevermind the A list. Hard work, study, training, practice, experience, professionalism -- all these things could add up to a satisfying career as an actor. But it isn't quite that easy, is it? It takes a lot of fortitude -- and a lot of love of what you're doing -- to remain a dramatic artist. I think I'm arriving at yet another understanding of what it means to be an actor. I was listening today to Olympia Dukakis on the radio, discussing her life and career as an actor. As I listened another description began to take shape: an actor is not much different than any other working man. Just as painters and poets, sculptors and other artists seek to illuminate what's best in humanity, and just as we reach out to each other just to know we're not alone, the actor can find fulfillment in simply a job well done.

Words are inadequate today, but I'll think on this and take it up again. . . . .

Monday, October 11, 2010

Indian Summer

An Indian summer, to me, is incomparable to any other seasonal phenomenon. Even sweeter than the first hint of spring, an Indian summer is a delicious gift offered by nature before the descent into the deep fall and ultimately, winter. Although technically it's only a true Indian summer if it occurs after the first frost (and I don't think we've had one yet), I would not call the lovely weather we're having by any other name.

For once, we're not rushing to greet the change of colors. During our first film project -- shot over a number of years and with a story and visual theme that takes place in autumn -- we prepared carefully to shoot while the fall colors were at their peak. Now, we were in the opposite situation: rushing to capture a late summer look before the majority of the trees turned. It was a real race; one that we completed successfully. It took ten days of shooting, but we did it. We no longer dread spotting another red or orange tree! Now we're on to the second round of exteriors that do take place during the peak of fall colors and will conclude by our final sequence of exteriors using the late fall look of empty branches.

One place I recently discovered while location scouting: the Clinton River park system in Shelby Township. Did you know Shelby Township has about 1,000 acres of park land, much of it containing wooded natural habitat along the Clinton River? Like my recent discovery of New Baltimore, I was amazed that I've lived in southeastern Michigan just about my whole life and never knew about the Shelby park system. When I called Director of Parks and Recreation Joe Youngblood, he offered to have a park ranger show me some location options for our shoot. A park ranger! Immediately, Ranger Smith of The Yogi Bear Show flashed in my mind. How interesting....was this going to be a real park ranger or just somebody who filled in the title as a formality? Well, after meeting with who has to be the most effervescent park ranger on earth, I can now attest he is the real thing. Ranger Kerry S guided us with enthusiasm, knowledge and wisdom. I felt like a kid on a field trip. I learned to distinguish poison ivy (three leaves) from a natural decoy (five leaves); I saw firsthand the handiwork (or should I say the toothwork) of beavers on trees; I learned how life-giving sap rises and falls in trees. That's a lot for a city dweller/suburbanite to learn in a couple of hours.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

DREAMS at 1515 Broadway

Another opening night! This year we're producing a very interesting play from our past called Dreams. I have to say that although we've worked with some good actors in the past, this year's group is probably the most "even" we've worked with, meaning the level of skill across the board is consistent. Normally, in a group of actors with serious aspirations, there are a few very strong actors amid a group of solid actors and a few who have difficulty holding their own. Not so this year.

We had a success last night -- no disasters, thank God! Congratulations, Jeff, Aaron, Ahmad, Don, Leon, Rhys, Ian, Ann Marie, Jen, Shayla, Maiya, Marcel, Jim, Mary, Tony, Lauren, Josh, Cheryl, Scott, Joey and Rochelle! I'm so proud of you!


I'd also like to thank my "gal Friday" -- on Friday -- Megan Otzen. I'm very excited about encouraging her talents in the world of film and theatre production design and art direction. We ventured out to the workshops of the Grosse Pointe Theater to pick up some last minute wardrobe items. Rick at the GPT was wonderfully kind and helpful. And funny too. His love and knowledge of costume design for theatre is inspiring.

Well, it'll be off to 1515 Broadway soon... Bye for now!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Monday News

Our new Intro Workshop got off to a strong start last week. Welcome to Christine, Philip, Tracy, Justin, Angela, Bethany, Brittany, Debbie, Danny, Jessica, Natalie and Don! We admit new students during the first two weeks of any Intro class, so I'll be welcoming a few more this week.... Stay cool today, everyone!

Don't forget to save a date to attend our show at 1515 Broadway in June. Performances are June 11, 12, 13, 18 and 19!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Spring Term

Well, here we are at the end of April already -- 1/3 of the way through 2010. We can literally count on the fingers of one hand the number of shooting days left on our current feature film project, Politics of Street Crime. Our Spring Term has gotten off to a great start with a new roster of ambitious, talented actors. We're looking forward not only to working with this new group in an upcoming play, Dreams, but to start on our new film project, Rabid. It's a good time to be involved at the studio.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ah, it's been a while since I've been here....recently saw some truly nice pictures of a family day trip to Alger last October to visit the family cemetery. My two grown sons, Dylan and Bryce, with their dad and his Aunt Marie. She is a remarkable woman. Petite, perky, punctual and ever pleasant, she is. The cemetery in Alger is a near magical place. Quiet, a little lonely, and -- one might think -- abandoned, except for some recent dates on some headstones and the trimness and neatness of the grounds. Not the prettiest lawn, but neat nonetheless. There are some old, great trees, appropriately sad-seeming themselves. In the distance is the substitute murmur of the highway, which in the times of progress replaced a river. Here, my sons can visit the resting places of their forebears. The patriarch of the main branch of the family -- who came from County Monaghan in the north of Ireland to Canada first and then to Michigan -- Hamilton Dunn (and all the other Dunns, of course); the Geislers; the bit of Native American blood thrown in by a stray relative and the infamous Aunt Ivah, about whom I've heard some little whisperings about white witch-hood, whatever that is. Also resting in this place is a hero, Calvin Davey. His sister (and my dear, much missed, mother-in-law) Audrey, would show us movie-star pictures of her forever-mourned brother whose ace flyer missions in World War II sometimes weighed heavily on him, a son of a clergyman. Not a visit goes by without his nephew Brian's mention of the hushed awe inspired by the planes that flew over this little cemetery in tribute after his untimely death. My sons are comfortably familiar with this place that shelters ones who've loved them and others who loved those before. With some sweet-sad sighs, we all left and headed toward Standish, location of Wheeler's Restaurant. I'm told eating at Wheeler's was a family tradition. Beneath pictures of Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood icons we enjoyed a hearty meal seated at a round table. We bid Aunt Marie a fond farewell and gave her best wishes for her yearly winter trip to Florida (smart woman!) That day last October is a gem in the jewel box of my memory.