Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A letter I wrote to a friend of mine.

I don’t know how to sell Chicago anymore than I have. I can tell you all about the city, and it’s people, but at some point I’d just be talking about things you have little to no context for. Like someone talking about a fantasy football league there in without you. You have to be here to see it, to taste it, to really feel the cold road under your feet and realize this city has so much history that you’ll never fully grasp. Leaving Oregon wasn’t easy, but that’s why I left. Oregon was too easy, and represented little challenge with even less reward. I needed a fundamental change to prove to myself that even if I didn’t make it as an actor, that I had still made the effort to try. So all I can do is make the case for why I came.

I’ve been here a little more than 2 years, and with work, I am now part of a welcoming community of likeminded actors and am rewarded each week with the endless opportunities to watch and practice my craft. And I’m only talking about iO. I’ve yet to break into all the people who work at the Second City. And that’s just comedy. The amount of independent theater companies here is daunting. I have friend who work nonstop year round, traveling the theater circuit in town and around the country, making an amazing name for themselves because of all the easy exposure they get for their hard, and I mean hard, work.

Within the first year of being here I found a group of talent guys and organized them into a group that is now beginning to make an impact on the comedy scene here, simply by doing what we want because we love it, rather than what the path is suppose to look like. Imagine meeting some of the most talented people at Oregon during your entire time there on your first day, and realizing that you would all be coming up together. My class at iO is known as the Dream Team, because even though only 13 of the 60 people were put on a team, the rest have all done amazing things in the last year. Why? Because rather than fighting for the stage, we all love and support the shit out of each others art.

Seeing a pattern? The sell for me was community. The only time I don’t feel supported is when my own fear and self confidence gets in the way. Luckily I have people to punch me in the arm and tell me to stop being an idiot. People have my back, which makes any sense of competition seem petty. Yes, there are the ladder climbers, and you can spot them a mile away. But it just make the genuine, kind and compassionate people even more enjoyable.

In my opinion, Chicago is a better city, at this moment in time, than New York or Los Angeles. Though Chicago is a tough city, it’s certainly not NY or LA in terms of things being on the line. Simply looking at saturation levels of bodies and talent, you’ll spend most of your time fighting for stage time rather than focusing on what you’re doing on stage. Chicago allows people to cut their teeth and find their voice before going jumping into the fray. There is a reason that the a majority of the biggest talents. Here’s a little list, to prove my point

Alan Arkin
John Cusack
John Malkovich
Chris Farley
Tina Fey
Bob Newhart
Conan O'Brien
Jeremy Piven
Harold Ramis
John C. Reilly
Amy Sedaris
Bill Murray, along with most of the first 10 years of SNL cast members.
Vince Vaughn
Bob Odenkirk
Steve Carrell
Steven Colbert
All the founders of the UCB

But none of this matters till you can see it. I can talk this town into seeming like the best city in the world (which I may once you’re here). But it doesn’t matter until you experience it. That’s what I had to do. I had never seen Chicago before I moved here. And the first year was scary because I was finding myself here. But once I found people I trusted who could show me their favorite places, then the city warmed to me. Now, I can’t imagine leaving. There is just too much going on here that interests me. Not just theater. The music scene is amazing. I am sure I will see the next wilco or smashing pumpkins, or whatever amazing band from Chicago’s past, playing some small club before the get big, and ultimately disappointing.
And then there is the food. I could write pages on the food.

So here it is. You come to Chicago before the midpoint of year. Once it beings to warm up so we can really walk around and explore. Experience the city with me. I’ll show you the best time you could imagine. I’ll find shows for us to see, people for you to meet and fall in love with, and just give you the grand tour. I don’t want to belittle Oregon and all it’s greatness, but when you leave Chicago, you’ll see Oregon differently. Why? Because you have made the realization that you want to be here. You just needed to see it.

I need to see you here before July. I’m serious about this. Why before July?Because if you wait till later, it’ll be another year to get you out here. You’re at a critical point in your life at this very moment. The world is a blank canvass. You get to make choices not because you have a responsibility, but because you have the desire to. Yes I’m leaning on you, but you know you want to make a jump. You’ve got the fire, you’ve got the energy, and for the first time in almost 5 years, you literally have nothing to loose.

I didn’t write this so we can make magic here. I didn’t write this because I need you here for my sake. To be honest, I don’t need you here. I want you here, but I don’t need you. I am experiencing a lot of success on my own, and opposed to other times where we have needed each other to find success, I’ve stuck a claim on my own and make something. I don’t say this to insult you, I say this to challenge you. You are strong, and can stand tall. This city will make you. I say this so you realize there is no motive more than me wanting to see you succeed because you worked hard, and wanted to triumph on your own will. I would love to create amazing art with you, and the rest of our band of friends. But I realize you can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to. I came here because I wanted to work with people who were better than me, and who would make me better. I’ve achieved that and am learning more each day. I want this for you. That’s why I wrote you.

Buy a ticket. Call me the moment you do.

I love you. I would not be doing this if I didn’t, if I didn’t know that this would be an amazing place for you to flourish.

On a Brisk October day I sit and watch ‘Northern Exposure’ while thinking of my brother.

Monday, December 27, 2010

How I ended up where I am (part one)

I was sitting in a canoe when my life changed.

Actually, I was sitting on terrible plaid couch when my life really changed. I was in a canoe when I decided to change my life.

So, I was sitting in a canoe. I was just outside of Eugene, OR, my home at the time, enjoying a brisk morning with my father, Brian, on the river. My father and I had, and still do have, a fantastic relationship. As a child my father did the best thing he could do which was answer, to the best of his abilities, all my questions, which only cultivated more curiosity. And when he didn’t have an answer, I rushed to find it so I could return with the hopes that the knowledge I had found would impress him. It’s certainly not a unique relationship, but I was the eldest, and it was all I knew. I love my father like no one else, because he is a great person who brings out the best in all those around him, even if you didn’t realize it at the time. See, my father, believe it or not, changed the course of history. You may say that this is a little egotistical but it’s my story, and I think history would be very different had the events that transpired had not happened.

My father was responsible for moving my small family from the foothills of the Rockies (Colorado) to the forest of the Willamette valley (Oregon). He was the person who had taken me from my comfort zone of private school, wealthy friends, and a very shy community and thrown me and my brother into the hyper-accepting arms of hippies, burnouts, racists and weirdos. He’s the one who would eventually allow me to find something greater in myself than no one in my family realized at the time. He was the first person to see working at what I was most proud of, which eventually took to me where I am today.

Oregon was simply a mystery to my 12 year brain. I had played a simple computer game, one that seems to have been played by every American my age, called ‘The Oregon Trail’, in which you take a family of settlers trek across the country along the titular path fending off disease, braving river crossings, and aiding in the waste of thousands of pounds uneaten meat after a 20 minute buffalo hunting mini game (nostalgia setting in yet?). The game emulated my families journey across the mountains, and up the california coast, though my mother never let me shoot anything that wasn’t on a Gameboy.

This game was all I knew of Oregon. I wasn’t aware of anything or anyone coming out of Oregon, with the acceptation of Cylde Drexler, who had been traded to the Houston Rockets the year before we moved.1 When I told my classmates I where I was moving, the reaction was always “Where is that again?”. These were kids in an advanced learning program, one of the top in the state, who could at the age of 11 write a 15 page paper on osmosis or the civil war, but had not cultural context for the beaver state.

The news hurt more than anything I had ever experienced so far in my short life. Oscar Wilde once said “if you can survive childhood, you can be a writer” and after the news of the move, I wasn’t sure I would have survived past my childhood. Having spent the days leading up to Christmas ‘95 finalizing the move (reason being my father had gotten a
much better job that simply being a detective for the Denver DA’s office) my parents sat my brother and I down in the living room2 and told us we would be moving. Later we both admitted to thinking the news was about a grandparent dyeing, and in our emotional backlash to the incident, wishing in our head that it had been. Tears were shed, but the inevitable happened. I had lived in Colorado for 12 years and would move to Oregon and live there for 13. 13 of the best years of my life. Though if you were ti have asked me during any of those years, I would tell you that I was miserable. That Oregon was slow, and boring, filled with people who were out of touch.

To this day I still believe that Oregon is the modern day equivalent of Oz or Narnia, or whatever mystical kingdom you prefer, just as long as its people are filled with joy and have no sense of the world the rest of us live in.3 If Darwin were to have studied Oregon he would compare the inhabitance to the creatures of the Galapagos, but only if the animals on the Galapagos consciously chose to isolate themselves rather than just be turtles and lizards. Oregon represented a fundamental problem for me, and it’s a problem I still have with the place; it’s too easy going, it’s too accepting of anything, and it loves itself to an extreme more than any other place I have ever been. To some, it’s magical, and it is to me, but I’m to much of a realist to ever drink the entire cup of Oregon flavored kool-aid.

Yet, despite my fervent hesitancy to assimilate, today I have fond words and memories for Oregon and it’s people. I was a shy kid in Colorado, someone who was picked on, who, on many occasions, was the kid on the playground who pissed himself because he was to afraid to ask to go to the bathroom, the one people tell me they felt sorry for.4 The friends I had were other shy kids, who were just as award as me. There were social pressures in Colorado, the likes of which I can only compare to the structure of a Jane Austin novel and I’m sure I’m not the only American elementary school child who felt this way.

I moved to Oregon at the end of my 7th grade year, and realized that the social constraints that were so suffocatingly present back in Colorado did not apply to me. This was because 1) Oregon, as stated before, was a land of free thinkers. And the children of free thinkers, though crewel as all children can be, were whipped cream compared to the harshness of my past and 2) I was the new kid. I’ll make this a little clearer for those who may not understand. There are new kids and then there are new kids. Being a new kids means your new, but so was the kid from Florida last year. There’s nothing so wild about that anyone would look at you for more an a few moments and then move on doing fractions. But I was entering a place were there had almost never been a new person in the school. I likened it to being an anthropologist discovering a tribe in the amazon who had never seen a Westerner. I wasn’t new, I was alien.

This was truly the greatest gift my parents could have given me. Not the allure of being something the children of Oregon had never seen, but the opportunity. In truth, I was shy in public, mostly to due the gilt of not wanting to disappoint anyone (a crippling affliction I still struggle with today). But at home, I was nutty. I sang made up songs to commercial melodies all day, I wrote plays of films I had seen and made my brother act them out with me for our parents5, I watched Monty Python, Kids in the Hall and Ren and Stimpy because my parents didn’t want me watching The Simpsons because it was ‘rude’. I was weird, and suddenly Oregon wanted me to show it. Suddenly Oregon wasn’t just a place, it was a stage to show just how fucking odd I really was. And in the 13 years I was there, despite a few months of being in the deepest depression of my life, I embraced my inner weirdo.

But that was only the first few years. In the later years of my high school experience, I, like many of my classmates, was reaching a state of young adulthood. By the time I was accepted into the University of Oregon, I was a sapling of the person I am today. I was at University for a total of 5 years total, with about a 2 year combined break between 4 and 5. The years I was in my mid twenties in Oregon were surely the worst, mostly because I wanted to leave and Oregon would not let me go. In the literal sense of wanting to finish my college before I set off back into the rest of America, and figuratively, with the bounty of comforts Oregon was offering. In Oregon, even the poorest people, sleeping in shoebox size studios and living off borrowed money and food stamps (my life from 2003-2008) still lived like kings compared to the poorest people across the country. Oregon never offered the challenge I wanted, and instead challenged me in ways I found easy. I could suffer and succeed, unlike others. Living like Van Gogh while is Provence wasn’t difficult for me.

Oregon formed me in more ways that I was ever able to understand while I was there. It took me selling most of my luxuries and shipping 1/2 ton of books across the country to realize it. Looking across the corn fields of Iowa on my way to Chicago made realize just how lush Oregon’s fields were. Tasting my first frozen tomato made me long for the fresh produce the West offered. I prayed I would find a bar filled with cheap, hoppy beers, easy girls, and spirited conversation just around the corner. Alas, Chicago could not offer these things.

Instead it gave me something greater. Long, dark winters to thicken my skin (though the cold was something I was use to coming from Colorado, it was the wind that was my nemesis). Great chefs, brewers and bakers who shared me love of all things gastronomic and showed me the ins and out of truly unpretentious food culture. And art, every night of the week, for cheap. Funny people flocking to this town to be a part of something. Writers and actors taking the path less traveled and cutting their teeth on the stones Del Close had placed. Chicago was the lens that focused me, the wood that stoked my fire, the muse for my words. Chicago was exactly what I needed after 13 years of hating Oregon, claiming it was lost, and never truly realizing what a fantastic place it was.

So it was on a canoe that I told my father for the first time that I was planning on moving away. And like all the best fathers do, he shook his head in silence. He knew, because he had done the same with California when he moved to Colorado to ski for a few months, eventually meeting the woman of his dreams, and starting a family in a one stop light ski village. He knew that once I got on my feet after some rough years, I’d be gone. He and my mother, both children who had also left their respective towns their entire had chosen to never leave, felt the call. They knew their two sons would feel it just as strongly. He looked back at me, and smiled, containing the unique mixture of loss and excitement, and simply said, “good for you”.6

1) My father is also responceable for getting me into the NBA at this time with season tickets to the then great Denver Nuggets. To this day I can still tell you almost any surface leave sat about #55 Dikembe Mutumbo. Mutumbo would eventually retire while playing for the Rockets, one of many oddly coincidental facts about my families life in Colorado and Oregon.
2) There’s the ugly couch I was talking about. Best part of leaving Colorado was ditching that monstrosity.
3) Hence the reason I don’t make reference to Harry Potter, DC/Marvel comics, etc. All to self aware.
4) Facebook can do wonders for your confidence when bygone bullies come looking for forgiveness.
5) I remember our Back to the Future being like the first time I saw Hamlet.
6) The conversation before this moment consisted of 1) me trying to explain Doctor Who to my father who recalled a friend of his watching it 2) debating the merits of The Beatles being the greatest band ever, or just another boomer group 3) My relationship with my Mother, which is a whole other story 4) Fishing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010