Saturday, August 30, 2008

Celebrating Good Health - An Anniversary

Today marks the 4th anniversary of The Ancient One's emergency triple coronary artery bypass surgery. I remember the early part of August 30, 2004 very well. I remember when an angioplasty didn't get the artery open and being rushed into the operating room. I remember little else of that day. I seemed to heal well and went home 5 days later. Recovery was slow and I finally felt "good" again after about 3 months.

The Ancient One's open heart surgery was one week to the day before Bill Clinton's. Following his surgery I watched too much TV news and learned more than I wanted to know about the procedure and the use of heart/lung machines. I just wanted to get well.

Today, I am still heavier than I should be although 40+ pounds less than at the time of the surgery. I am obsessive about exercise; 3 days a week at the cardiac rehab center (my health club staffed by cardiac nurses) and walking every other day of the week. Strength training with 8 pounds weight is added in, usually twice a week (on walking, not rehab days).

I am a lot healthier now than I was 4 years ago. This is a happy anniversary. While it came about because of a medical threat to my life, that surgery added many years to my existence on this earth. I have now enjoyed 4 of those additional years and plan to be around for many more. I retired from my "job" and now do consulting and acting on my schedule, not someone else's.

Life is good! Sometimes it takes something like open heart surgery to appreciate all we have and how good life can be when it is lived in the now and the future. And The Ancient One is planning on being around for a lot of "future."


Friday, August 29, 2008

There's That Man Again. . .

That man with the bald spot was seen again today; this time as he was preparing to be a "mall walker."

After he first appeared in the previous post, Charles Gramlich stopped by and guessed (correctly) that it was The Ancient One and that he was portraying (incorrectly) Sean Connery!

Thanks for the compliment Charles! And, perhaps Charles, having never seen me, doesn't know that in the normal world the guy in the picture does not have a bald spot on the back of his head.

Shortly after the above picture was taken, the shoot began. It started with the "mall walk" and then proceeded to a 2nd location where The Ancient One changed first into a business suit for some scenes and later into pajamas. It was a long (11 hour) day and a lot of fun. I can tell you that once the clips are edited, they will appear on Talkshow With Spike Feresten which generally is aired at midnight Saturday nights on the Fox network. I am told that it will be broadcast at midnight, Saturday, September 13 (which some may argue is actually the start of Sunday, September 14).

I still can't tell you the name of the guy being portrayed in a comedy sketch that is a bit of a spoof. I can tell you that you will never see his face. I might get around to revealing all for those who miss the show. . . after it airs. I fully realize that many of us have trouble staying up past midnight. Yawwwnnnnnn!!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who Is That Man?

Those of you who know The Ancient One know that he has a relatively full head of hair. No bald spots in spite of his decades on earth. But when an actor gets a chance at a paying job where he is supposed to resemble someone else and is only being shot from the rear and side, he sometimes is willing to do strange things.

Just who is that man? And whom is he supposed to resemble? Maybe The Ancient One will talk more about it sometime after tomorrow's TV shoot.

Oh yes, a special thank you to Josie at Rolling Hills Barbers for her valiant effort with scissors and clippers!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Now That's Popping Corn!

One day last week around mid-afternoon, The Ancient One had a craving for popcorn. He went to the pantry and sure enough there was a box of the microwave variety. He extracted a package and read the instructions since it had been a very long time since he had indulged himself and made popcorn. It said to put it in the microwave for 4 minutes on the "high" setting. Into the microwave it went. The 4 minutes were entered on the timer and the start button pushed.

The Ancient One went into the other room to get something and returned to the kitchen at about the 3½ minute mark. He smelled something acrid, looked up and, sure enough, there was smoke pouring from the microwave. Being of sound mind, he raced across the room and pushed the button that not only stopped the microwave but opened the door. There was this charred, puffed up bag belching smoke which quickly escaped filled the kitchen. And then a stranger thing happened. The revolving microwave tray suddenly exploded! Trying to recall a physics lesson from many decades ago, he wondered if the cooler room air caused the explosion when it came into contact with superheated glass. But it really didn't matter!

After extracting and dousing the bag and letting things cool off, The Ancient One finally removed the glass tray and cleaned things up, he pondered his fate. How would he explain the gremlins that caused this mess when dear Donna returned home from work? He thought quickly. To the computer he dashed. He googled "microwave turntable" and "microwave tray" and search for a replacement to order for the 3 year old appliance. He found what appeared to be the right vendor and the needed tray. He wasn't sure so he called the vendor. Yes, it was the right part and was immediately ordered. At this moment on this day he loved the power of the internet and its ability to save his hide.

When Donna retuned home, The Ancient One calmly told her about the calamity ending his explanation with ". . .and the replacement has already been ordered." She gave him that "oh, how stupid can you be look" that all wives seem to have mastered and asked, "How much did it cost?"

Yes, that was an expensive bag of microwave popcorn that I DID NOT get to eat; $26.95 plus shipping and taxes of course! It will be here in 3 days . . . please!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Sheriff and the Judge (CCPT)

Thanks to Milton Chen, here are a couple of photos from one of last weekend's performances of To Kill a Mockingbird at Culver City Public Theatre (CCPT),

The first shows Sheriff Heck Tate (Eric Billitzer) and Judge Taylor (The Ancient One) just before their entrance onto the stage from the audience area early in Act 1.

And the 2nd shows them moving across the stage a few moments later.

Thanks to Milton for allowing The Ancient One this opportunity for some blatant self-promotion.

Final performances of CCPT's To Kill a Mocking Bird are this weekend (August 23-24) at 2:00 p.m. in Paul Carlson Park at Braddock and Motor in Culver City. Y'all come by, y'hear!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Baseball Memories. . .

If you are a baseball fan, stop over at BillyBlog when you get a chance. The Ancient One's first-born son recalls attending a Detroit Tigers-California Angels game in August, 1974.

I can tell you that he warmed his old father's heart with his memories. And they brought a smile to my face as I recall the game about which he speaks as well as taking him to his first Major League game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis earlier that summer.

Thanks Bill!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Two Mysteries, Or Is It Just One

I had not previously read any of Catherine Coulter's novels. My introduction to her writing came via Double Take, the 11th book in her FBI Series.

FBI agents Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock, married to each other, are at the core of the mysteries in this series. Yet, if I had not checked Coulter's website for some background, I would have seen them as just two of the "good guys" in this novel. It seemed to me that Special Agent Cheney Stone and Dixon Noble, a sheriff from Virginia, played more prominent roles in solving the 2 mysteries in Double Take.

Actually, it just seems like there are two separate stories here. Coulter very ably starts with what appears to be 2 unrelated investigations on opposite coasts and gradually weaves them together until we see at the end that there is a single source of the evil perpetrating the initial crimes.

It is highly likely that I will read other novels in Coulter's FBI Series. She does say on her website that they can be read in any order. Knowing how obsessive I can be, I'll probably go back and start at the beginning.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Challenges of Performing Outdoors (CCPT)

I write a lot about rehearsals and performances with Culver City Public Theatre (CCPT). Yesterday as I was sitting backstage waiting for Judge Taylor's entrance for the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird, I was thinking about why I enjoy performing in the park so much. While I enjoy the camaraderie among the actors and being part of a good ensemble cast, there is also great satisfaction simply in the challenge of presenting a credible performance in an outdoor venue with no amplification

When I first performed in the park in 1996, I remember the director bringing in a voice coach to do a short workshop with those of us new to the outdoor theatre environment. I don't remember the individual's name, but I remember clearly his stating that our job was to make our voices "bounce off the houses across the street." This requires the ability to breathe correctly and to project our lines from the diaphragm and not the throat. If we were to shout without proper breathing and projection, we would quickly lose our voices. Since that first summer, I have often commented that if you can successfully perform in the park, you can perform anywhere.

But there are other factors that challenge the actors. There are numerous distractions that drown out voices and make it difficult to stay focused. The loudest of these are the fire engines with their screeching sirens that can be heard from blocks away and the jet planes and helicopters that fly overhead. We've succeeded in getting the ice cream man to NOT ring his bell as he comes by to hawk his wares. We have silenced the leaf blowers by offering gardeners bags of popcorn to arrange their schedules so that they are not across the street at performance times.

Yesterday there was another event in the park where they were using amplified music. They didn't seem to even consider our request to hold down the volume during the children's show. Occasionally, a birthday party and the joyous shouts of children celebrating with a piƱata will drift across the park. Next week, the annual Fiesta Ballona will be going on a few blocks away and we will have to face rock music from their main stage flowing through the neighborhood into our performance space.

And if the outside noises aren't enough to distract us, there is the wind. There is always a cooling breeze in Carlson Park. But sometimes it does more than cool the summer air. Today the wind toppled two of the flats defining the set just prior to the start of Sluefoot Sue and Pecos Bill. Those of us backstage took turns holding the legs on the flats to make sure they stayed in place during the performance. Then, as the wind gusted during To Kill a Mocking Bird, the prosecuting attorney had to scoop of papers with his notes as they took flight during the trial. The judge had to weigh down and reposition his legal pad to keep the pages from flapping in the breeze.

And yet I find all of these challenges to be an integral component of the joy I find in performing with CCPT. And I was thinking of all of this while waiting for the beginning of Act 2 and my entrance in a wind blown judge's robe to preside over the trial of Tom Robinson.

So come join us next weekend for the closing performances of CCPT's 2008 season. For those in the Los Angeles area, Paul Carlson Park is at Motor and Braddock in Culver City. Sluefoot Sue and Pecos Bill starts at 12:00 noon and runs 1 hour. To Kill a Mockingbird begins at 2:00 p.m. and runs for 2 hours.

Come join us. You'll have a wonderful afternoon. And it's free!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mailboxes 1

I seem to notice all sorts of interesting things on my daily walk (at those times my face is not buried in a book). I've taken and posted pictures of colorful banners. Earlier this week it was a striped fumigation tent covering a large 2-story house.

Today it's mailboxes! Below are several colorful painted receptacles into which neighbors receive their bills and advertisements (among other things).

Now 2 boxes with decorative additions to the standard shape and design.

Finally, brilliant red decorated by the local population of crows.

The next mailbox post (whenever it may be), will include boxes that have different shapes and interesting frameworks built around them.

Hmm! I am starting to think that I have too much time on my hands? Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Now That's a Tent. . .

I just love the way they fumigate houses around here (and elsewhere, I assume). They get rid of those creepy, crawly, usually hidden critters by putting a big tent over the house and pumping it full of some toxic gas that kills the little invaders. It seems this is usually done when the house is sold and the buyers want assurance that termites and other pests are not part of the reception committee when they move in.

On my morning walk a few days ago I spotted a house being readied for fumigation.

Now that's a tent! It probably has 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Oh, What An Opening @ CCPT!

It was a wonderful opening weekend for To Kill a Mockingbird at Culver City Public Theatre (CCPT). Our 1st performance went well with a few of the usual opening glitches but very few in the audience had any idea of where lines or cues were missed. The Ancient One got a bit twisted with one Judge Taylor's lines but was able to extricate himself in a semi-graceful way.

Today's performance was far better. The actors had high energy and the large audience seemed to be transfixed by what they were watching. Eric Billitzer, as Sheriff Heck Tate, did a bit of brilliant improvisation at one point when fire engine sirens screamed a block away at the same time a large (and loud) jet flew directly overhead. Afterwards, one audience member declared it was the best performance she had seen in Carlson Park since the 1st play she had seen there in 1996. (Okay, I confess, the comment came from the Ancient One's Wife Donna. But she does not give that kind of high praise very often.)

Obviously, the judge could not take pictures, but his camera was in the capable hands of Heidi Dotson on Saturday and she snapped away. A sampling of the results follows:

Those are all that I'll post now! I hope to add captions plu pictures from other photographers later. AT least these give a flavor of opening weekend. Enjoy!

Friday, August 8, 2008

To Kill A Mockingbird Opens @ CCPT

I am back on stage tomorrow as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (stage adaptation by Christopher Sergel) opens the 2nd half of Culver City Public Theatre's (CCPT) summer 2008 season. The Ancient One is cast as Judge Taylor and presides over the trial of Tom Robinson.

I finally got a chance to take a few pictures at the final dress rehearsal last night. Below are the best of the lot.

Sheriff Heck Tate (Eric Billitzer), Jem Finch (Zander Ayeroff), Atticus Finch (Dean Edward) & Bob Ewell (James Sherrill)

Calpurnia (Allana Barton), Scout Finch (Remy Beland), Boo Radley (Vinny Brar) & Atticus Finch

Boo Radley, Scout, Atticus & Heck Tate

Hopefully someone will send me performance pictures to post here. Alas, The Ancient One has yet to figure out how to take pictures of plays in which he appears.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Last night we began the final 4 nights of run through rehearsals for To Kill a Mockingbird, which opens at Culver City Public Theatre's (CCPT) venue in Paul Carlson Park next Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. We also started working in costumes to the degree they were available.

As Judge Taylor, of course, I need black judicial robes. Sharon Savene, a fellow CCPT member, came through with a graduation gown that apparently had been used by her sister. It fits perfectly! Now, I was aware that in recent years, students purchased, rather than rented, their caps and gowns. I never thought about it very much. Then last night, I happened to notice the label in the robe/gown the good judge will be wearing.

Huh? Notice the bottom line. I showed it to others in the cast, several of whom wondered out loud, "Then how do you clean it?" I assume that you don't. In this modern day and age we have garments to be worn until dirty and then thrown out. I'll just have to keep it clean until the end of the run.

I guess these graduation gowns are in the same category as that "disposable underwear" I remember reading about several years ago. Oh well!

P.S. Ignore the size on the label. The Ancient One has never come close to 6'0", much less the range shown. But the gown, as a costume, still works.

Visitor #6000

Visitor #6000 stopped by to look at The Ancient One about 30 minutes ago as I write this. As always seems to be the case, I have no idea who was provided that significant number. . .other than. . .

#6000's ISP is in the Central District of Hong Kong and clicked on this site at 12:40 a.m. tomorrow morning after a Google search of the name "James Spader." I wrote about him and working as a background actor on Boston Legal in my most recent post.

Thank you for helping me achieve this new milestone, even if you do not appear to have actually stayed around long enough to read the post.

Now on to #7000!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Like a Master Class on the Set

Last night I finished my 4 day job as a background actor on the set of Boston Legal at Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach, CA . (That's right, Boston Legal is shot in the L.A. area as are a number of other eastern series, e.g. CSI Miami and CSI New York). Since I now have my SAG card, I was able to be assigned the role of a juror and ended up in the #2 seat in the jury box. Next to me was the jury foreperson, Jennifer Williams, a delightful actress with whom I was able to share some wonderful conversation between takes on the set.

One of the exciting aspects of the week was the opportunity to watch William Shatner (Denny Crane) and James Spader (Alan Shore) display their "lawyer skills" in the courtroom. As it turned out, Shatner only questioned one witness. The rest of the time Spader was doing the questioning and the closing argument. As I write this, I know that I am putting it forth as a real courtroom which obviously is not. But from the vantage point of the jury box, the experience of the last 4 days was, as Jennifer Williams suggested, taking a master class in acting on camera. And it was a phenomenal experience.

The lasting memory I will have of this past week was watching James Spader working. And doing so from an up-close vantage point. Yes, Jennifer, it was a master class and The Ancient One learned a lot while sitting on that TV jury.

The title of this episode is "True Love" and, I believe, it will be aired Monday, October 13 at 10:00 p.m. on ABC.

This was likely the last time The Ancient One will work on Boston Legal. Apparently ABC only renewed the series for ½ of the season. "Jury members" usually can't return for about 3 months and the word on the set was that shooting of this quality show will wrap in mid-November. I will miss Boston Legal! I will miss working on this show which has been my favorite since I started doing background acting work 2 years ago.

Code Red?

In hospital parlance "Code Red" means fire. This morning, while I was working out in the cardiac rehab center at the hospital, a voice announced over the PA system, "Code Red, Code Red. Seventh Floor Nurses' Lounge. Microwave." For some reason, that announcement touched everybody's funny bone and the room (patients and nurses alike) burst into laughter. As far as I know, the fire was extinguished before there was any significant damage.

Burnt toast anyone?