Friday, November 30, 2007

This Old Body. . .

This old body just isn't what it used to be; it is really dragging today. It just doesn't handle long work days like it did 30, 20, 10 or even 1 year ago.

Yesterday was my 4th and final day working as an extra on episode 2.6 of the FX show Dirt. This time it was a dual role; that of a passerby during the daylight hours and then back in my tuxedo as a studio executive after dark. The day started pleasantly enough with a very civilized call time of 10:30 a.m. at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. It was a relatively easy drive getting there since morning rush hour had passed. But I ended up spending 14 hours on the lot, finally wrapping at 12:30 a.m. this morning and getting home about 1:15 a.m.

That is why I am dragging today; that and my inability to stay away from the constant, rotating food choices (mostly unhealthy) offered up by one of the best craft services guys I've ever met. But it was a fun shoot and for once I can't wait to see the episode when it plays sometime early in 2008. It has many strange and unique twists which I cannot divulge here. Even if I could, to do so would take away from the viewing experience.

So, now to get some rest and move on to the last month of a too quickly passing 2007. Another year (and birthday) just around the corner. If I can just use the next month to lose all the weight I gained in the last 10 days! Now that's a pipe dream, isn't it!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Feeling Cinematic History. . .

The current extra work I have been doing on the TV show Dirt has given me my first opportunity to work at Paramount Studios. A couple of days ago, I noticed small display cases posted outside of each of the sound stages. For example, one of the pictures I took with my cell phone is the case outside Stage 11 which was serving as the "extras holding area."

While the photo isn't easy to read, it shows a list of films shot on Stage 11 over the years. It includes Son of Paleface (1934), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), and Ship of Fools(1962). At the bottom, it states that this stage was constructed in 1929.

Reading this display case put a whole new perspective on my experience. As much as extras tend only to be window dressing for the central action being filmed, I had a feeling of becoming part of film, or in this case TV, history. I thought about the many cinematic stars who had passed through this same space and how much I enjoyed seeing many of the films listed there. I felt part of something much bigger than the small part I was playing in one episode of a TV series.

Then, yesterday we were shooting on Stage 30. As the extras left the set, we were diverted to an exit one stage over. When we came out, I saw the door and awning pictured below. We were leaving through the entrance to the set for the Dr. Phil show. Apparently they were not shooting there this week. But again, there was that feeling of being part of a larger entity, the entertainment industry if you will.

A final impression that also comes from this week's work. On Monday morning and afternoon, we were shooting a scene outside the theatre on the Paramount lot. It was near the front gate where striking members of the Writers' Guild (WGA) were picketing the studio. There was the constant din of car and truck horns as passing drivers signaled their support for the writers. The noise was good to hear and reflected what virtually every actor I know feels about the strike and our hopes that it is settled soon with a fair deal for the writers.

I am recalled for tomorrow which should be my last day on this particular job. And I'm still wearing the tuxedo and pretending to be a studio executive. I wonder what lies ahead next.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A View from the 110

I worked as an extra on the FX series Dirt again today. It was a glorious clear day and I took the picture below from the Harbor Freeway (I110) on my way to Paramount Studios.

The view is looking north at downtown Los Angeles with the mountains seen in the distance (which, in and of itself, is a rarity). And the sky is absolutely cloudless with only minimal haze. The picture was taken at approximately 8:00 a.m. from my cell phone.

Why take this picture you ask? Well, you just don't see such clear views very often in L.A.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I Should Have Believed the Title. . .

Elizabeth George's What Came Before He Shot Her is the first of her many novels I have read. While I did enjoy it, I let myself be misled by the blurb on the back of the paperback edition of the book: It starts, "A kind and well-loved woman was brutally and inexplicably murdered. . .and her death has left Scotland Yard shocked and searching for answers." I thought I was sitting down to read an interesting murder mystery and would see how Scotland Yard went about finding the killer. But the shooting did not occur until page 654 of the 700+ page novel and, for the reader, there was no mystery.

Actually, I realized the deceptive nature of the blurb before I reached page 250; perhaps a bit later than I should have. But by then I realized that the novel was the backstory, i.e. all that happened leading up to the shooting. The novel does offer interesting and perceptive psychological insights into growing up on the "wrong side of the tracks," in London. It contains incredible detail into the lives of what is best described as a broken and dysfunctional family living in the worst of circumstances and facing the worst results from being in a poverty ridden, outcast minority environment. We see the implications of growing up facing discrimination and learning from birth to never trust the authorities, even those who actually mean well and want to help. It was a disturbing, revealing story and truly dealt with what came before he shot her.


Now I move on to Steve Berry's first novel, The Amber Room. Previously, I read his The Templar Legacy and thoroughly enjoyed it. I expect a similar reaction to the intrigue surrounding this search for treasures that disappeared during World War II.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Aftermath. . .

We awoke this morning to news that a new brush fire was burning in Malibu and many homes had already been burned. Additionally, on our return drive home from San Diego, we saw evidence of the impact of the fires from several weeks ago. The following pictures were taken from the car while driving north on I-5 through Camp Pendleton, a major Marine Corps base. The first looks off to the east where the primary color is black on the burnt out mountainside.

The 2nd photo shows one of several places where the fire burned right down to the edge of the highway.

Once home, we again, as was the case during the first fires, could smell the smoke from the Malibu fires about 30 miles away. It was a bit of a somber end to what otherwise was a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with Donna's family in San Diego.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays when you just have to be with family. So this morning we headed to San Diego where Donna's parents live in an assisted living community. But it was a little different this year; for the first time in my memory we had our Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant. In addition to Donna and me and her parents, Alicia and Seth drove down from L.A. to be there along with a young cousin who not long ago moved to L.A. from Tokyo. Donna's brother Ron and his 2 daughters joined us. We chose a restaurant we knew and liked, the Jamacha Grille in El Cajon. And it really was a wonderful dinner except. . . they ran out of pumpkin pie; so we headed back to Ron's home where we were served up our annual pumpkin pie portion as made from scratch by his older daughter.

It was different but it was good and I discovered one major advantage of going out on Thanksgiving; there are no leftovers on which to gorge oneself. The amount I consumed this year was both appropriate and probably would bring smiles to the faces of my doctors.

As an aside, as we were finishing our meal, my cell phone rang. The call came from Brooklyn with greetings from oldest son Bill (whom some of you know as BillyBlog) and daughters Shayna and Jolee. They also had a restaurant Thanksgiving and said the meal was delicious even though the place at which they celebrated ran out of turkey. Somehow, running out of turkey seems un-American to me. What is this country coming to?

I hope all of you who stop by had many things to be thankful for on this very special day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

They Cleaned Me Up Nicely. . .

I worked yesterday as an extra on Dirt, the TV series starring Courtney Cox which will begin its 2nd season soon on the FX network. I must say that they did clean The Ancient One up nicely for his background role of a studio executive.

It was a long (nearly 15 hour) day on the Paramount Studios lot. And, as is usually the case, it was a lot of fun with about 80 extras working the shoot, most of them dressed up in formal clothes. The shot for this episode will not end until next week and I am already called back to work on the 26th. For ongoing information on Dirt and the schedule of episodes for season#2, check out the information on the IMDb website.

Hit #3000

This site received its 3000th hit at 5:30 a.m. yesterday. The visitor had an IP Address from Cox Communications in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Another small milestone.

Thank you to all who have visited and have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ah, Those “History Boys”

Yesterday afternoon we went to see the acclaimed pay "History Boys" at the Ahmanson Theatre. It was outstanding although I was not always clear on just where the play was headed.The entire cast was excellent and I must say that my knowledge of dialect is not sufficient for me to be critical as was the review in the Los Angeles Times about how this almost all American cast handled lines spoken in the idiom of northern England.

Technically, it was a beautiful show; outstanding set light and sound. But, as much as I enjoyed the performance, the more I think about the production, the less satisfied I am.

For me, the most significant aspect of this story set in northern England was some of the similarity to issues in present day American education. As a retired college professor, I have long been unsettled by the conflict between "teaching" and "teaching to the test." When I was in the classroom, I often said that I could not teach anybody anything. If I were a successful teacher it was to the degree that I could encourage students to want to learn; I saw the role of the teacher to be a catalyst who raised the questions that would lead students to go and find their own answers, sometimes related to facts and sometimes to their personal values. Hector (played wonderfully by Dakin Matthews) very much fit this model albeit in a somewhat eccentric and quirky way. In counterpoint was Irwin (Peter Paige) who was hired by the Headmaster (H. Richard Greene) specifically to prepare The History Boys to succeed at doing well on admission tests. In coaching them, he even suggested that lying in interviews was okay if it meant getting into the more prestigious universities.

It seemed that much of the raciness built into the script was there to provide titillating humor, to keep people laughing and not paying too match attention to the tension between teaching philosophies. Of all the cast members, I found myself most drawn to Dakin Matthews, as much for his portrayal of Hector, whose style and approach I admired, as for the fact that he is a Professor Emeritus from California State University, East Bay (formerly Hayward), one of the sister institutions to California State University, Dominguez Hills, where I received my emeritus designation when I retired.

Dakin Matthews

All in all, it was a pleasant afternoon at the theatre but I suspect it could have been more fulfilling than it was.

Another Run Ends. . .

The Little College on a Hill ended its run today at California State University, Dominguez Hills. It was a good closing weekend with appreciative audiences. Below is a full cast picture, taken just before today's performance, with arms raised in a shout of "hear our voices" the theme of a protest rally scene within the play.

Friday, November 16, 2007

All “Brushed Up” for the Final Weekend

After 4 days off following last weekend's performances of The Little College on a Hill, Director Bill DeLuca scheduled a brush up rehearsal for last night. Even though a couple of cast members were not there because of class conflicts, it went well and we all feel prepared for this weekend's final 3 performances. I was able to get some pictures during the rehearsal. (Fellow cast member Roberto Vazquez kindly snapped the photo of The Ancient One).

Upstage, looking out

From the stage left wings

During the protest rally

During Keven's dream

The Ancient One

I also want to thank and salute Candice Embrey (pictured below), our first time stage manager. She has taken charge and conducts herself like a seasoned pro, not a newcomer to the stage managing craft.

Finally, below is a piece written by cast member Joanie Harmon that was distributed via e-mail to the entire CSU, Dominguez Hills community. It says it all:


As the "roving reporter" of our university's Communications and Public Affairs department, I have been privileged to learn about my alma mater from the inside out. I've met accomplished alumni, ambitious and committed students, and a dedicated faculty and staff who teach and support them all, to graduation day and beyond. In addition, it is a common occurrence when I socialize in my non-campus circles, that I meet people who have been affected by Dominguez Hills in some way, either directly or though a family member or friend.

Participating as a cast member in "The Little College on a Hill" has been a watershed experience for me. In watching the production unfold, I have witnessed a true story within a story. My fellow alumnae, Naomi Buckley ('01) and Brenda Killian ('00), have gone straight to the heart of the matter here on campus. In depicting the history of Cal State Dominguez Hills, they have brought a gritty realism to the ivory tower. To quote their script, our university is "not a social experiment, it is a social advancement that is long overdue."

One of my favorite moments was during a pivotal scene that involves the entire cast. In it, the campus community unites for a protest rally that spans four decades of issues at Dominguez Hills. While the words did not necessarily follow a linear conversation, at one point, someone dropped a cue and to fill the gap, another actor jumped ahead.

Words and gestures that had been such a challenge during the hours of rehearsal crystallized and the cast seamlessly followed the scene from the "new" starting point. When there was a pause, we picked up the lines we were supposed to say previously and finished the scene. No one in the audience could have known the difference, but we did, and at that particular moment, as during many others, we were an undefeatable team.

If only the pervading atmosphere on campus were like this scene – and its quick save – at times. Not once during the entire production of "Little College" did I see that legendary actor's ego surface among any of the cast members. I think that the campus community could definitely learn from this collaborative, collegiate spirit that pervades the production. All worked for the good of the show, from the most accomplished actors to the first-time novices.

I witnessed moments of laughter and nervous energy as we rehearsed lines that were at first difficult to remember. Voices that were usually soft-spoken were encouraged to project themselves in order to deliver these lines with flair and emphasis. But most importantly, I witnessed moments of great humanity. I watched as younger and more expert actors taught older, less experienced actors the tricks of the trade. In return, the older cast members – many of whom were new to the stage but more schooled in life experience - gave in return the encouragement and mentoring that is so needed by youth of every circumstance.

One cast member will soon be graduating from a local high school and is deciding where to begin his college career. Another actor, who works at CSUDH in Outreach, took him under his wing and outlined the steps he would have to take to apply to Dominguez Hills.

"The Little College on a Hill" is a microcosm of our university. It looks back at the beginnings of the college, which were in part a response to the violence of the Watts Riots and the need for social change. It highlights the intellectual freedom to question, think and grow that a progressive institution provides.

Most importantly, it reveals one of the greatest "points of pride," as our new President calls our many achievements as a university. Dominguez Hills may have started as a "little college," and in many ways, it still is.

But the accomplishments of its people, the warmth of its on- and off-campus community and its effect on not only the local area and the state, but numerous corners of the world, have made it a giant in the California State University system, and indeed, the entire nation.

We would like to invite you, the campus community to see "The Little College on a Hill." Every student, faculty and staff member and alum should see this play, because it's all about us!

Joanie Harmon (Class of '03)


Thank you Joanie!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Random Night Photos

I took my camera with me on a short walk in the neighborhood tonight. I randomly shot some pictures and the following seem decent enough to post:

Crescent Moon Over Palos Verdes

An Autumn Welcome to Our Home

Glass Wind Chimes

A Rocky Dolphin Image

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What do You Write When There's Nothing to Say

What do you write in a blog when you feel like you have nothing to say. I generally don't write just because I have a blog; I like to write about things that might have some interest for somebody.

So, here I am in the process of breaking my own rule. Why? Because it brings to mind a good story.

I can't remember the year that the late Senator Edmund Muskie (D-Maine) was running for President in the primaries. Somewhere along the way, probably in New Hampshire, an energetic young TV reporter decided to interview Muskie's mother. He commented on the fact that she seemed to be a woman of few words and then asked her why she didn't talk more about the campaign and her son and his opponents, etc. Muskie's mother thought for a moment and then replied, "I only speak when it improves on silence."

It's a lesson we all should take to heart. Have a nice day.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

One Weekend Down, One to Go

The performance first weekend of The Little College on a Hill is over. And a successful 2 performances they were. The entire cast was on a high Friday night as the hard work of the past 6 weeks came to fruition. The audience was of respectable size although there was plenty of empty space in CSUDH's 450 seat University Theatre. Because the play was written about the history of California State University, Dominguez Hills, a number of local dignitaries and old friends were present in the audience. A special treat for me was the presence of playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez in whose Harvest Moon I appeared in 1996 under the direction of Bill DeLuca. That was my first experience performing in a bilingual production.

The Saturday night performance seemed to follow a pattern I have experienced in theater where the 2nd performance of a run usually experiences some strange happenings. In Little College there is a scene built around a campus demonstration and rally. The entire cast is on stage and virtually every character has something to say about some "wrong" of society or politics that affects the university and its students. The rally is punctuated by cheers of "Hear Our Voices!." At one point early in the rally, there was a long silence. One of the actresses, sensing that someone forgot a line, kept the rally going with her lines which in this case, came near the end of the scene. The one or 2 who normally followed her did so AND THEN SOMEHOW the scene circled back to include all the lines and actors that had been missed with the actor who closed the scene picking up his line when everyone had their say, albeit in an order other than was written and rehearsed. It was one of those wondrous moments that I love in live theatre when the audience has absolutely no idea that the scene is going on other than scripted. In this case it was a marvelous ensemble scene where the entire cast contributed to a successful outcome.

The other, gaffe, if you will comes at the end of the play when one major character (Keven, played by Jerron Mitchell) completes his dream scene and has to exit the stage and theatre, race around the building, up the steps, come through the theatre entrance and down the steps to the stage announcing his arrival to his colleagues (Eli played by James Knudsen and Correy, played by Ingrid Interiano) who are waiting to show a video which he is carrying with him. Unfortunately, the outside entrance was locked when he arrived. James and Ingrid did a marvelous job of adlibbing the anticipated arrival while Jerron raced back down the steps, around the building, through the stage door and entered from stage right making it possible for the final scene of the play to be completed.

Yes, every performance in live theatre is different from the night before and the ability to get through those glitches without the audience having a clue about the problems. In film and TV, they can reshoot and edit scenes; in live theatre they go one, sometimes in unexpected and wondrous directions.

So, the 1st weekend is completed. We will have a pick-up rehearsal on Thursday to run through our lines and then complete the run with performances Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It's sort of nice to be in a production that runs only 2 weeks but it sometimes seems like an awful lot of work to prepare for just 5 performances rather than the more usual 6-8 week (12-30) performance run.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Ready for Opening Night. . .

I leave for the campus in about 3 hours feeling ready for opening night of The Little College on a Hill. An online article on the production can be found here in Dateline Dominguez Hills.

Compliments of Tom Marinello, I can also offer the following photo of The Ancient One in one of his costumes; this one dressed as a mariner during a dream in which the character Keven is trying to define himself and his aspirations:

Cast as the college's founding President, I am also seen dressed in 1960's business attire and in full academic regalia. Eventually, a full set of photographs from the production will be posted on the university section of Tom Marinello's website. Tom is an outstanding photographer who, among other things, has been posting photos from theatre productions at California State University, Dominguez Hills for several years.

If there is any interest in seeing shots of The Ancient One in previous productions, check Tom's pictures for Prelude to a Kiss (2005-06 season) and Tales of the Last Formicans (2003-04 season). Okay, that's enough self-promotion for one post.

Now to rest and then on to opening night. Thank you to those who suggested I "break a leg."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Just One More Rehearsal. . .

I am exhausted! Three dress rehearsals down and just one more to go. Then The Little College on a Hill opens. (The flyer for the production can be found here.)

So far, the dress rehearsals have gone fairly well. All the props, video and special effects have been incorporated. We have gotten through a couple of the more action oriented scenes without having anyone fall off the stage. Last night I triggered the "smoke machine" (dry ice and water in a steel drum on the back of a wagon I'm hidden behind when the scene opens) and it seemed to work as planned. The lighting changes are now well set and coordinated. Hopefully, the last costume adjustments have been made.

The only problem, it seems to me, is that we still have not had the entire cast of 35 for any of the rehearsals and may not until opening night. One cast member has been sick this week and we all want her strong and well for opening night.

Tonight, our rehearsal will be done before an audience of about 80 high school drama students. It really helps to have some folks out front before opening night to get a sense of what lines will get reactions. As much as this helps, every performance is different. Every audience has its own personality and, no matter how focused the actors are, each performance is affected by the way the audience responds.

So, I will try to get a bit of rest before tonight's final rehearsal. AND. . .I will make sure that I get some relaxation time before tomorrow night's opening performance. To any of my fellow cast members who might see this, BREAK A LEG!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

One Down, Three to Go and Then. . .

Well, we got through the first full dress rehearsal of The Little College on a Hill last night; now only 3 more rehearsals before we open on Friday night. As is true of most rehearsals of this type, there were some rough spots. First, there are 35 cast members; an unusually high number. Second, 3 cast members were missing last night causing a few of the rough moments. Third, this production has an open set. There are no walls; just a series of set pieces on wagons that move about from scene to scene. What this means in a large (450 seat) theatre is the actors have to work extra hard to make sure their voices are heard in the top rows; there are no solid surfaces (i.e. walls) to help throw the voices toward the audience. Tonight is the 2nd dress rehearsal and I am sure that improvement will be obvious.

Below are a couple of photos I took last night:

The actors (L to R): James Knudsen, Glen Jimenez, Joanie Harmon and Ingrid Interiano

Roberto Vazquez

And finally, in the category of blatant self-promotion, a profile view of The Ancient One, taken at Sunday's rehearsal by fellow cast member Joanie Harmon:

Well, time to get ready to get to campus for the 6:30 p.m. call. Maybe we'll be done somewhat earlier than last night's 11:15 p.m.

Monday, November 5, 2007

It’s Called Hell Week for a Reason. . .

The week prior to a play's opening is often called Hell Week. . .and with good reason. It is the week the entire production comes together. Yesterday was the Tech Rehearsal for The Little College on a Hill which opens next Friday. It was a day devoted to all the scene changes and setting the sound and light cues that provide the ambience, if you will, in which the audience will see the production. As Tech Rehearsals go, this one was not too bad, it only ran for 7½ hours. This particular production has about 100 cues, i.e. points at which sound and/or lighting changes are introduced. We went through the entire play "cue-by-cue," starting lines, stopping them and moving on to the next cue and so on until everything is set.

The below photos were taken during the Tech Rehearsal and give a hint of how things will look on stage at various points in the play:

This evening we begin 4 nights of dress rehearsals. Costumes and makeup will be worn and adjusted through the week as needed. Props will be introduced and actors will get accustomed to working with them. In this particular play, there are some videos that are part of the storyline and they too will be integrated into the production. For the final dress rehearsal on Thursday, we will have a small audience so the cast can get an idea of what to expect in the way of laughter and other reactions from out front once we open.

So it's a week of late nights and perseverance. If this production is like most of the others in which I have participated, the opening night result will make all the long hours, hard work and hell well worth it.

Torre Wearing Dodger Blue

I just watched the introduction of Joe Torre as the new manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. It does this old heart good to see Torre wearing Dodger Blue.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Murder, Mayhem and Satanism

In the afterward to her novel, The Mephisto Club, author Tess Gerritsen tells us that the basis of this murder mystery came from her finding and reading, many years ago, The Book of Enoch, “an ancient text, dating back to perhaps two centuries before the birth of Christ.” This book’s “long-lost” text contained the story of The Watchers, fallen ages who an “unholy race produced that would forever plague mankind. . .”

From that beginning this novel grew and it is a very dark story indeed. Very graphically horrible murders and indications of Satanism at work. I found it a little confusing at first but once the various plot lines came together it was quite a good read, albeit a little anticlimactic at the end.

And now crossing the pond, I will start What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George, a new author to me. I’ll just have to see why “Scotland Yard [is] shocked and searching for answers.”

Friday, November 2, 2007

An Actors’ Eye View

Most photos we see of theatre are taken from the audience looking toward the performers. But just what do the actors see when they are up on stage. Truthfully, almost nothing because the lighting tends to make the audience invisible to the eye although the ear certainly picks up all sorts of sounds. . .and comments.

In small theatres, those of the store-front variety, actors do see the audience. It is the nature of working in cramped spaces. But as the theatre grows larger, the ability of the actor to see "who's out front" is severely restricted. However, during the rehearsal process, the "house" is visible and when working in a large venue it can be daunting.

At last night's rehearsal for The Little College on a Hill, I did take a photo from upstage aimed out at the seats. This is the space in which we are working, the University Theatre at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

This is the place where, 13 years ago, I performed for the first time. I started out spoiled, moving, for later plays, from this full proscenium stage with 450 seats out front to various community theatre venues ranging from 34 to 200 seats. And the picture only shows the "stage right" portion of the seating. The lighted areas at the top of the picture are in front of the control room. This is the space in which I will feel like I am living as we enter the final week of rehearsals leading to our opening on November 9.

It would be quite an experience if all those seats were filled at curtain time; that is not likely to happen for this production. In fact in all 5 productions I have done in this theatre, there was only 1 performance of 1 play during which the house was filled to capacity. And that was for a performance in November, 1994 of A Shayna Maidel. On that particular night, Director Sydell Weiner had the house sold out to an audience of holocaust survivors who came to see a play about the reunification of a Jewish family following World War II. It was my first play and one of the more emotional nights of my life.

But I wander. When I started writing this, I just wanted to show you what the actor sees when standing on the stage when the house is empty. Guess I got carried away a bit.