The Shapiro Files

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Of Ice Cube, Marcel Proust, and Social Personality

Rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube was on The Daily Show last night. His appearance reminded me that he supposedly went to my high school. I dug out one of my old high school yearbooks to see if I could find him, only to realize I have no idea what Ice Cube's real name is. Certainly a Google search would have answered that particular question, but it was getting late and I started getting distracted reading the many yearbook signatures left by friends long ago.

Now removed by nearly 16 years, I discovered that it's possible to see myself at age 17 through the eyes of others as conveyed through their yearbook signatures. People talked about my constant dedication to my work in the music department and my creative impulses in general. I guess I haven't really changed all that much in past 16 years, as I'm the same way now with just about every production I get involved with. Who knew?

In all events, this idea of seeing yourself through the eyes of others got me thinking about Marcel Proust's magnum opus A la recherche du temps perdu (English title: Remembrance of Things Past), which I just happend to be rereading for the first time in about 10 years. In the "Overture" section of Du côté de chez Swann (Swann's Way), Proust writes at length about the nature of identity and how our "social personality" is created by others:
But then, even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is a creation of the thoughts of other people. Even the simple act which we describe as "seeing someone we know" is to some extent an intellectual process. We pack the physical outline of the person we see with all the notions we have already formed about him, and in the total picture of him which we compose in our minds those notions have certainly the principal place. In the need they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice as if it were no more than a transparent envelope, that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is these notions which we recognise and to which we listen.

Thanks, Ice Cube, for that strange little walk down self-examination lane.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Party's Over

This weekend marked our final three performances of Ballyhoo. After over two months of learning lines, doing character research, sending countless emails back and forth, finding props and costume pieces, spending a whole lot of time at rehearsals, and everything else that goes with putting together a theatrical production, it's very strange that as quickly as it all came together, it's now over. I've loved every single second of doing this play and I'm already missing it more than I thought possible.

Certainly I've been sad in the past when a great production comes to a close. But this one was different. This one was special.

In my depressed stupor, I've found myself asking myself what drives me to commit so completely to a production? Why do I put so much of myself into performing and getting close to a group of actors when I know our time together is ultimately limited. The answer? Love. No, not romantic love (although that may have played a small role when I first started doing this back in high school — after all, the flirting that went on backstage was a wonderful eye opener for me in those days); rather, it's love for the craft of acting, for the art of theater, and of course, for the people.

As for this latter point, I'd like to say again what an honor and a privilege is has been working with such an incredible cast and crew. Jennie, Becky, Anne, Cathy, Bob, Howard, Beric, A.J., Toby, and Irene, for two months you have been my family and I'm going to miss all of you more than I can possibly convey here.

In an attempt to cheer myself up, I suppose it's worth recognizing that a number of us will likely cross paths again and with any luck, I'll even get to return to theater one day and work with some of you again. So as the Vera Lynn song goes:

We'll meet again,
Don't know where,
Don't know when,
But I know we'll meet again
Some sunny day.

Or as Becky and I had the pleasure of saying near the end of every performance:

JOE: This is only the beginning
SUNNY: Of what?
JOE: Who knows, Sunshine? We have the whole future to choose from.
JOE: So think of something really good and we'll just make it happen.

Ballyhoo Cast

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Take the Baby Shapiro Name Poll!

During the baby name decision making process, there's three names to which we seem to keep returning. Just for the heck of it, I set up a web poll to get a feel for what others may think. The best part is that votes are anonymous, meaning no one has to worry about hurting our feelings. So I invite you to participate in the poll below and to do so with complete honesty — after all, we won’t know who you are!

What's your favorite name for Baby Shapiro?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Ballyhoo Backstage Photos

As promised, I've posted a whole bunch of "behind the scenes" snapshots from the past two weekends' worth of Ballyhoo performances. Take a look.

Steve as Joe Farkas
Steve as Joe Farkas

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

It's (Going to Be) a Girl!

Marcie had her 18-week ultrasound and we're happy to say that the baby was most cooperative. Thus the ultrasound technician was able to say quite definitively that Baby Shapiro is going to be a girl! Marcie and her mother have been expecting a girl all along. Whereas, my father, Sherwin, and I have all thought it would be a boy. Obviously, we were all guessing along gender lines (sort of like how the Congress always votes along party lines).

Wrong guesses notwithstanding, we're certainly thrilled. And of course, I'll be digging up my sheet music for the song "Daddy's Little Girl" in the very near future.

Now we just need to decide on a name. We'll let everyone know when we know.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

And Then There Were Three

Another Ballyhoo weekend has come and gone. For those of you playing along at home, that's seven performances down and only three to go (one on Friday and two on Saturday). How depressing. As I said before, I've really been having a tremendous time doing this play. It's incredibly sad thinking about the fact we only have two performance days left.

But to focus on the positive for just a moment, we had another great weekend. Audience turnout was good and all performances were very strong — even the night when Anne forgot her entrance and Bob and Cathy had to improvise for nearly five minutes! We also had a fun potluck between performances on Saturday, which included celebrating Becky's birthday. AJ made a beautiful handmade card that we all signed, Jennie baked a most delicious cake, and our collective birthday gift was a Booksense network gift card for Becky to use at her favorite bookstore, Kepler's, or at any number of other independent bookstores.

I'll have photos from Becky's birthday celebration (as well as a lots of backstage photos) posted on my website within the next day or two. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Joys of Anger

Last night was our first performance of Ballyhoo after the longest break we've had since we started the rehearsal process a couple of months ago. The second weekend of just about any production is almost invariably strange, as the cast and crew actually get to enjoy a handful of days of life outside of theater before entering the Twilight Zone of performance again. Interestingly, whereas most productions I've been in tend to have a rough "first-night-back" performance, I felt that last night may have been the best one yet. Well, at least it was for me.

Oddly, it had everything to do with my horrible mood.

I got a call from our director yesterday afternoon with an unusually vague "note" (theatrical term for feedback to actors) regarding my departing comments to Sunny (played by Becky). The note apparently came from a different director who had directed Ballyhoo at some point in the past and who, I'm guessing, happened to strike up a conversation with our director at some point after one of our performances last weekend. Supposedly the director felt I was "tentative" when saying goodbye to Sunny. Of course, she didn't say just when this was. Unfortunately, I have to say goodbye to Sunny something like 10 times over the course of the performance, so the lack of specificity was very frustrating. And not only was this irritating enough, but this wasn't even our director's note. Why would our director even care what someone else thinks? Not to mention, after two months of rehearsal, doing lots of character work, and a full weekend of performances already behind us, do I really need to hear I'm "being tentative" during some non-defined moment of the play? Aren't actors insecure enough without having to deal with vague feedback that can only succeed in making us crazier than we already are?

Needless to say, that phone call substantially soured my mood and I entered last night's performance very angry. Without having any specific guidance, I made every exit bigger — no matter who I was talking to. I certainly felt dishonest at times (it's the "method snob" in me), but clearly I had no other option.

At the end of the night, the director seemed very positive about my performance. I have to admit that my anger gave me an edge in all my scenes that probably wasn't there before (whether or not it's right for the character, well, I guess that's a discussion for another day). Nonetheless, I suppose I've learned the hard way that anger can be a very effective acting tool.

Now I just need somebody else to tick me off at some point today so I can have another good show tonight.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Life is Suffering

Zen Buddhism in a nutshell:

A) Life is suffering
B) Suffering is caused by desire
C) To eliminate suffering, you must eliminate desire

To properly eliminate desire, one must meditate for hours on end focusing on a Zen koan (an unsolvable riddle such as "What was your face before you were born?") and following the Seven-Fold Path. Now, I've never claimed to be the most industrious fellow, but seven folds is still quite a lot. One or two folds: definitely. Three or four fold: maybe. But seven: not so much.

Now why am I rambling on about this topic? Because there is more than just desire-based suffering. There's also the most basic: physical torture. And this is what I've had the pleasure of dealing with for the past 24+ hours. It seems that I had caught a form of the stomach flu from Howard, who plays Peachy Weil in Ballyhoo. He came down with this most delightful form of the flu on Saturday and miraculously made it through that day's two performances. I started coming down with mine late afternoon Monday. I had to call in sick to work Tuesday morning, something I very rarely do. I guess the only upshot of all this is that I seem to have lost a pound or two. Well, that's one way to diet.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

First Weekend Reflections

The first weekend of Ballyhoo performances have now come and gone. Predictably, I had a great time and my fellow cast members were brilliant as usual. As for myself, I really can't objectively say how I did. I know I didn't hold anything back and I tried to be as "honest" in my acting as I know how. If that proves to be less than thrilling to some, then so be it. Not that anyone implied such a thing, but sometimes it's what doesn't get said that plays upon my insecurities. I'm confident that our audiences really enjoyed the production overall. But it's those usual run-ins with certain members of the local theatrical community who always get the best of me (this most certainly does not include Ron, who was quite gracious — see below). They're the ones who give that forced half-smile and say "It was goooood" or "You did a nice job" with clenched teeth. That never fails to shake me.

On the other hand, Marcie was extremely positive (of course she always is with my performances, but her positivity did seem pretty authentic) and our friend and talented actor/singer Ron was full of glowing praise for all involved. Besides being a great guy in general, he's a terrific person to have in the audience because he always seems to genuinely enjoy himself and has a wonderfully contagious laugh. I'm also grateful to all our other friends who took the time out to see our play, which includes Loren, Tami and her friend Orin, Spence, Lisha, and my manager Judy and her friend Amy.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Countdown Begins

ClockBallyhoo tech week is here and opening night (Friday, April 8) is just a handful of evenings away. With only a little time left to the rehearsal process, I'm finding myself full of mixed emotions. Of course I'm excited to finally have a live audience to respond to what we're doing. But I'm also sad that just as soon as our play opens, our days of working together will be rapidly coming to an end. I know this is a very "glass is half empty" outlook, but I guess the reality of this possibly being my last theatrical production for some time is starting to hit me in a big way.

This feeling is intensified by the fact that this production has been about as enjoyable as anything I've ever done in theater and I'm truly going to miss these great people with whom I've been working over the past month. It's very rare to have a cast that I feel this much affection for (the last time was Blood Brothers six years ago) and I'm really dreading having to say goodbye. And if all this weren't enough, I love "being" Joe Farkas. He's the closest to me than any other character I've ever played and it's been very fulfilling performing a part so close to the vest.

So on this overcast Sunday late-afternoon, the skies outside might be turning gray. But here inside my house as I sit in front of my computer, things are more than just a little blue.