I first met John Walski at Act One Studios, a small actor training studio in Chicago. John had just moved from Milwaukee. The studio gave their students ample opportunities to perform and I was ready to start putting my practice into purpose. The play was Robert Caisley’s “Santa Fe“, one of six one act plays performed in collaboration with Appetite Theater’s Bruchetta Festival. Santa Fe was the only drama. It was the second or third play of my acting career. In contrast, John was a working actor having toured all over and interned with Milwaukee Rep. I knew the moment we sat down at the table for the cold read that we were going to be cast together. Santa Fe is about two brothers, one who travels the world living adventures, and my character, a small town mall security guard who thought his life would turn out differently.
John was such a treat to work with. He was intense and focused, but playful. He’d throw salsa chips at me at the top of the scene. Always listening. Present. Dynamic. Engaging. Always with a twinkle in his eye. I learned so much from John through that show. He was a giver. A teacher. A mentor. A brother.
One night, after rehearsal, John and I were chatting. I told him I wanted to experience more of the world. He told me he was finally ready to plant roots. The exact opposite of our characters.
Eight months later, we were cast together again. This time it was for Sideshow Theater‘s one act play, “Fugitive Motel”, a play inspired by Elbow’s song of the same name (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJDf1atIuBc), written by Walt McGough. My character – a townie restaurant owner booked a room at a local hotel to have an affair. John’s character – a restless banker traveling from Philadelphia in the adjoining room.
The first table read mirrored our conversation eight months prior. I was thrilled to work with him again.
After one rehearsal, John told me I had the chops to be a working actor. I was flattered. And humbled. High praise from someone I admired so much.
The show was only three performances at the now defunct Bailiwick. On the third night, John was rolling around on the floor backstage 20 minutes before places to get more soot on his suit. That’s the kind of actor John was. Always digging a little bit deeper, pushing a little bit further, rounding out the character a little bit more.
The attached photos were during the climax of the show. My character is determined to leave his wife and his restaurant to experience the world. His character is determined to not shoulder the blame for me running out and romanticizing him. John gave me a stage combat tutorial. And his knee pad for the fall.
The last time I saw John was right before I moved to LA. My father’s stage pistol had a broken plastic handle. I asked if anyone wanted it. John drove 30 minutes to pick it up. And said he would fix it up and hold it for me until we met again. We talked in front of my mother’s condo for 20 minutes or so about my trip. We joked and laughed. He was excited. For me. Talking with John for 20 minutes was like talking for hours. I felt his warmth. He seemed proud. Like a brother.
John took his own life three years ago. I miss him. I wish I could hug him.
To get a feel for John, watch this. I think he’d be proud of where I am and what I’m doing.
2017 was a bumpy year personally and professionally, but I learned a ton and I’m excited to use my skills to climb another rung on the professional acting ladder in 2018. Here’s a recap:
After three months of waking up completely drained, I decided to buy a new bed. I bought a LEESA and I’m glad I did. For those of you considering whether or not a bed in a box is for you, I can tell you I’m getting deep sleep (lot of vivid dreams) and the LEESA sleeps cooler than a traditional mattress. It’s the one change I’ve made this year that is having the greatest effect on my life.
I spent time processing why I do what I do with a therapist. A couple big takeaways: First, I can only control how I respond to situations. Second, I can’t project expectations on others and get disappointed when they don’t meet those expectations, especially when those expectations were never communicated. Third, I’m learning to set better boundaries. Boundaries, in particular, have been especially helpful in reducing stress and focusing my time and energy on projects that will enrich and excite me. Fourth, I’m listening to my body and doing more self-care. And I learned a lot about myself, which, considering my body is my instrument for acting, has been extremely helpful in learning more about my personal process.
I’ve been studying improvisational acting at AdlerImprov Acting Studio for four years now and it’s transformed my acting. I feel more present and connected with my partner, more comfortable in chaos, and more spontaneous and creative. In the last six months, in particular, I’ve gotten exceptionally good at following a focus and letting it lead me instead of manufacturing or inventing. Ric Murphy, who currently teaches the class on Sunday, has been teaching acting for 40 years and helped create the professional actor program at DePaul University’s Theater School. He has taught some fantastic actors, including John C. Reilly, Judy Greer, Gillian Anderson. Under his and Rob Adler‘s tutelage, I’ve grown quite a bit and am very excited to use my sharpened tools in the New Year.
AdlerImprov Youth Summer Intensive
I co-taught the AdlerImprov Youth Summer Intensive with Amie Farrell. Amie’s a great teacher, coach, and actor, so it was an honor to work with her. I learned a ton about teaching, acting, and directing. First, “kids” have tremendous imaginations and they’ll surprise you with their creativity. Second, I realized how many choices are available in a script after sitting in the director’s chair. Third, I learned what it’s like to collaborate and how to use an actor’s inspiration to feed other takes. Teach if you can. It’s a highly rewarding experience.
After three years of using the same headshots, I needed new ones. I worked with Sage Kirkpatrick at Fresh Look Photography and was extremely pleased with the results.
I am now represented by Stewart Talent Los Angeles. Stewart was founded in Chicago and opened up it’s LA office three years ago. I’m grateful to work with them and hope they’ll take me on theatrically.
I wanted to get back into an improv comedy class and my commercial agent suggested casting directors are always looking for Groundlings or UCB on the resume, so I enrolled in Groundlings Basic. It wasn’t for me. I felt like it was too heady – start with a 10++ emotion, and activity, and get out the who, what, where in the first three lines of dialogue. I’m an Annoyance guy. If you’ve read Mick Napier’s book, Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out, the Annoyance doesn’t believe the “rules of improv” make a good scene. It takes a different approach, one that I prefer.
A couple years ago, a casting director suggested I’d benefit from The Alexander Technique. This year, I explored it for 10 weeks and I’d highly recommend it.
The goal of the technique is to “to develop the ability to avoid unnecessary muscular tension by retraining physical movement reactions.” In layman’s terms – break body habits/tension to improve overall body efficiency. I feel like I benefited in a couple different ways:
I carry myself with more confidence and presence.
I felt my wind pipe open, which means I’m using my voice more effectively and breathing more comfortably.
I learned some simple tips and tricks to use to prepare for auditions.
I’m more efficient. I brush my teeth different. I wash my dishes differently. I walk more efficiently.
AFI Directors & Meisner
Rob Spera puts his AFI directing students through a five-week Meisner crash course to encourage them to write more personal scripts and find their creative voice. To kickstart the crash course, Rob brings in a handful of Meisner trained actors to help with the repetition, emotional preparation and activities. This is the third year in a row I’ve participated in this initiative.
Pilot Season Prep
I took AdlerImprov Acting Studio’s Pilot Season Prep class with veteran working actors Amie Farrell and Brian Kimmet. While I don’t do a ton of theatrical auditions at the moment, I know it’s a valuable skill I’ll need to have as I move to the next run of the ladder. I took the class last year and saw how. I feel more relaxed and composed in the audition itself. I’m making stronger choices based on what the script is telling me. And, most importantly, I’m putting less pressure on myself to “get it right.” The one big takeaway this year is if I’m in the ball park, I’ll get a second take and I can use that take to play even more.
All in all, this year was another solid year of growth and exploration into my creativity, spontaneity, and presence. And I’m better actor for it. Looking forward to applying all my tools in 2018!
A surfer. A salsa dancer. A cancer survivor support group organizer. A yogi. A MA theatre studies grad. A personality test aficionado. A dog walker. And a publicist. That’s who played in the second round of iO West’s “The Pool”, a show that features graduates of the iO West and iO Chicago improv training program.
Like “The A Team,” we were a special forces unit hand selected to perform a “Harold” on iO West’s mainstage. We had a four week run at 7 PM on Tuesday nights. We opened for various Harold teams.
If you’ve ever performed a Harold, you know how challenging it can be when eight strangers get together to try and create group mind, especially in just six weeks. Veteran improviser and our coach, Douglas Sarine, pushed us early and often to come from a place of truth. Aside from grounding our performances and creating a shared, relatable experience with the audience, it helped to simplify our approach to performances, i.e. less need to manufacture.
This was an extremely positive experience. The only bummer was that I felt like we were just starting to hit our stride in our fourth and final performance.
For my birthday (June), my mother gave me a Lodge 7 quart cast iron dutch oven so I could make No Knead Bread popularized by the New York Times. It’s a simple recipe: flour, salt, yeast, water. That’s it. All the ingredients you need. But here’s the catch. I’ve made six loaves of bread so far. Each has gotten progressively better, but it’s a work in progress.
Acting feels the same way. In the first paragraph of Viola Spolin’s book, “Improvisation for the Theater,” (and Rob Adler, AdlerImprov constantly reinforces), “Everyone can act. Everyone can improvise. Anyone who wishes to can play in the theater and learn to become ‘stageworthy.’ We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything.” Similarly, everyone has the ingredients to be an actor, but it’s a process of doing, practicing and constantly refining.
Like my first couple scenes, my first few loaves of bread had room for improvement. The transfer from towel to blazing hot dutch oven didn’t go well the first four loaves because the dough stuck to the towel. I did some research. I read that letting the dough rise overnight in a crock pot was better than the bowl, wiping the sides of the crock pot with olive oil would help removing the dough, and using flour sack towels (I ordered some from Breadtopia), would make the transfer to the dutch oven easier. It worked!
As for my acting career, I’m ready to make the transfer from the metaphorical towel (acting classes) to the blazing hot dutch oven of LA (commercials, TV and film).
This book is gold for anyone that’s interested in pursuing a career in TV comedy because it lays out the archetypes, their motivations and the keys/pitfalls of playing them. Obviously there are shades of grey and characters flip back and forth, but they usually have one driving motivation. He also lays out the intentions for each and provides ample examples of the characters throughout TV history, as well as scripts, to demonstrate the character’s actions as well as the keys of comedy – set ups, patterns and switches.
Here are the Eight characters:
The Logical One – The audience. The voice of reason.
The Lovable Loser – The com in sitcom. Constantly making mistakes in their quest to get what they want.
The Neurotic – They act abnormal under normal circumstances. Expect things to turn out a certain way and get upset when it doesn’t.
The Dumb One – The best friend or sidekick. Comedic relief with a one liner or a glance.
The Bitch/Bastard – They bring the edginess. The audience POV, but meaner and more clever.
The Womanizer/Manizer – The flirt. They want sex any time, all the time.
The Materialistic One – The pampered ones. Shallow.
In Their Own Universe – Edgiest characters because they can say and do almost anything.