Romeo & Juliet @ Lincoln Center Education!

Hello again, friend! My little theater company, Psittacus Productions, recently created a brand new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Commissioned by Lincoln Center Education, our production is a 55-minute “musical” take on the classic play which performed this May for high school students from the 5 boroughs at Clark Studio Theater.

If you wanted to see us and missed it this time around, fear not. We have two return engagements scheduled with LCE (more details to come soon), and below you’ll find some photos to tide you over. All photos are by Christopher St. Clair.

Here are the credits, pictures follow!

ROMEO&JULIET: a musical adaptation

Words by William Shakespeare
Music by Matthew Marsh

Directed by Louis Butelli
Assisted by Nathan Winkelstein
Movement by Emily Terndrup
Staging & Design by Robert Richmond

With:

Louis Butelli
Evelyn Chen
Paul Corning
Luke Marinkovich
Matthew Marsh
Sarah Naughton
Sebastiani Romagnolo
Cat Yudain

Thanks for stopping by! More coming very soon….

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Aloha!

Hello, friend!

Your pal Louis here coming at you with more tales from Folger Theatre‘s own Gravedigger’s Tale, currently touring the nation alongside Folger Shakespeare Library’s excellent exhibition, First Folio: The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare.

It’s been a wild ride so far, and recently got even more wild. I have just returned from Hawai’i, where I performed in conjunction with the Hawai’i Book & Music Festival and Kapiolani Community College in Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

My host in Hawai’i, Mark Lawhorn, who is a Professor in the English Department, a sometime actor and true Shakespeare aficionado, created a beautiful exhibition to accompany the Folio, called Shakespeare Comes To Hawaii. I posted some pictures of the treasures he gathered over at the Folger Spotlight blog – click here to have a look at those.

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Bust of Shakespeare wearing the traditional ku kui nut lei.

Everybody I met in Hawaii, in conjunction with Gravedigger’s Tale and the Folio exhibition, was sweet and kind, welcoming, and incredibly enthusiastic about the work of Shakespeare. There were plenty of Q&A sessions, recitations and long conversations over cocktails. The whole thing was an absolute delight.

For now, though, I’d like to share some images from the trip, just to put things into context and, let’s be honest, to show off a little bit. My life doesn’t permit many vacations, so thankfully, work took me to this magical place…and left me with a few spare days to myself.

I should mention at this point that performing in Hawai’i was something of a milestone for me: it represents the completion of my 20 year quest to perform in all 50 U.S. states. Now I just need to get to Puerto Rico and Guam!

And so…here are some pics!

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Here’s a greeting at the Honolulu International Airport. “Aloha” is a word one hears frequently and it means something like “hello,” “goodbye,” and “peace, compassion and mercy” all at once.

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My hosts, Mark and Lynne Lawhorn, put me up on the 27th floor of this beautiful building on Waikiki Beach. Not much one for heights, I finally adjusted to the stomach-churning vertigo…assisted by some pretty spectacular views of the city.

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It didn’t hurt that this stretch of Waikiki Beach was a five minute walk from the apartment building. In the background, one can see the volcanic ash cone known as Diamond Head, one of O’ahu’s most recognizable landmarks. In Hawai’ian, Diamond Head is known as “Le’ahi,” deriving from “lae” for “cliff” or “promontory,” and “ahi” for “tuna,” because to some, the ridge resembles a tuna’s dorsal fin. Trivia!

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Another option for aquatic travel. I believe this is some manner of over-sized floating tricycle vehicle for four passengers. I did not attempt this.

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One thing I found is that Hawai’ians are fiercely proud of any native son or daughter who finds success on the mainland and abroad. One such native son was popular singer and musician Don Ho, who has this street in Waikiki named for him. Most active in the mid to late 1960’s, Ho is perhaps best known for his song “Tiny Bubbles,” with its relaxed, Hawai’ian vibe and reference to champagne. Why not cheer yourself up a bit by watching him perform it here.

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Here’s the shop window of a proper ukulele vendor. I’m not much of a uke player (you can hear me give it my best effort here) but I am required to play and sing in Gravedigger’s Tale. Needless to say, considering the prominent role the ukulele plays in Hawai’ian culture, I was self conscious about playing it here. Suffice it to say, the folks I met lied and said I play well. They also corrected my pronunciation from my crass “yook-uh-lay-lee” to the more accurate “oo-koo-leh-leh.” Duly noted.

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Due to its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawai’i has a deep Asian influence on its culture, particularly when it comes to food. Above is a food truck serving a Japanese delicacy from Hiroshima, an omelette-type dish called “okonomiyaki.” Also a little family-run hole in the wall serving authentic Korean Barbecue. Delicious.

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I’m not one for selfies, but in this instance it seemed the right thing to do. I rented a moped for a day and it was far and away one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.

For some context: my father is a long-time motorcycle rider – on his retirement, he took a solo ride on his Harley Davidson from Long Island to Texas. I’ve long envied him his skill, bravery and expertise on a bike and decided that, fear for my own safety be damned, I was going to give it a shot. They gave me the sparkly gold helmet and wimpy turquoise moped you see pictured above. While it didn’t make me feel as macho as I imagine my dad feels on his Harley, it was absolutely exhilarating.

There are mopeds and motorcycles everywhere on O’ahu, but they all seem to be operated by intensely cool-looking, non-helmet-wearing natives. And here I come with my giant helmet and a little flag on my rental. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, every time I stopped at a red light, one of these daredevils would pull up next to me and offer fist bumps and the “hang loose” hand symbol.

Just because I think it’s amusing, I’ll share that the name of this particular model of moped is the “Buddy 2.0.” My Little Buddy.

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I drove My Little Buddy out here to Hanauma Bay, a spectacularly gorgeous grotto featuring a lively coral reef. Mild political request: can we please stop killing coral reefs?? They are beautiful.

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One more of My Little Buddy. I took him to the top of Diamond Head to enjoy the view. He seemed to enjoy it, despite his fraying flag. Poor little guy.

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What is it with Hawai’ians and SPAM?? Apparently, during World War II, SPAM (which stands variously for “spiced ham” and “Special Army Meat”) was in great abundance among the GIs stationed on Hawai’i. The canned meat-treat was ubiquitous, apparently, and enjoyment therein was passed along to the islanders who made it their own. On my visit, I had it fried with eggs and gravy for breakfast, and wrapped in rice and seaweed as a snack called “SPAM Musubi,” a kind of SPAM sushi.

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Speaking of local delicacies, I was taken by some friends to try the famous Waiola Shave Ice. To call it a sno-cone would be to denigrate it. The “ice” in question is shaved off of a wheel-shaped block to the consistency of new-fallen snow, and flavored with syrups. I got mine with lychee and condensed milk. Please note the anthropomorphized Shave Ice fellow behind me, a straw and a spoon unfortunately protruding from his icy skull. He doesn’t seem bothered.

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I took a little side trip to the island of Maui. There’s plenty to say about that, but I won’t bore you with more pictures of clear, body-warm water, flowers and gorgeous volcanic rock.

Instead, I’ll let you in on a secret. Sammy Hagar of VanHalen fame is the owner of a little cafe in the Maui Airport. He wasn’t there in person, but I could feel his spirit hovering nearby as I ate my SPAM and eggs.

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Well, ok. Just one picture of the hotel balcony on Maui.

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That’s about it for this edition of Gravedigger’s Tale, or “These Shoes Were Made For Walking.” Check back here for more Tales of the Road. Coming soon, I head to Amherst College, Virginia Shakespeare Festival, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and more.

And, again, for the more academic version of the Hawai’i trip, head over to the Folger Spotlight.

Thanks for reading, if you are. Aloha and Mahalo!

Until next time.

 

 

 

Gravedigging Colatown, SC

Hello, friend! Thank you so, so much for popping by for this, our latest dispatch from Gravedigging across the nation.

If you’ve come here from the Folger Spotlight, please, please note that anything you read here is my own – in no way does it represent the beliefs or positions of the Folger Shakespeare Library. That said: if you haven’t already, you should definitely be all kinds of friends with them across all of the social media platforms. It’s the 400th anniversary of Will Shakespeare’s death, and nobody is making sweeter music about it than Folger. Get in there and do eet.

And so here we are!

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So far, my one-man show Gravedigger’s Tale has traveled to Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Florida, and South Carolina. In the morning, I hop on a plane to play the show in Hawaii. There will be plenty to say about that, but, for now, I want to focus on the South Carolina gig. And even more particularly, I want to focus on my dear friend and closest collaborator, Robert Richmond.

It’s hard to know even where to begin about Robert.

I’ll start with where he’s at right now. Rob is the Associate Chair, Co-Artistic Director and Professor of Theatre at University of South Carolina in the enchanted city of Columbia, SC. He also directs plays all over the place, most notably at Folger Theatre in Washington, DC. He is Dad to two beautiful kids, both of whom I’ve had the great pleasure to know since they drew their first breaths. He is a mentor, a teacher, a friend and a confidant to a huge number of people, many of whom now dance alongside us in this ridiculous business. He is a nurturer of talent, a brilliant editor and advisor, and is the person I would call first if I was taken to prison. Admittedly, he’d probably let that call go to voicemail. But he’d be there for my court appearance in the morning, and would have acting and wardrobe notes.

We have worked side by side in a wide variety of venues since 1998, and I hear his voice in my head every time I am required to make an artistic choice: even when I’m working on a project that Rob is not working on, we are still collaborating.  As an actor, I think, “what would make Rob laugh?” As a director, I think, “how would Rob solve this problem?” As a teacher, I think, “how would Rob articulate this?” To be fair, sometimes I think that and then do exactly the opposite. But, to be even more fair, most often I outright steal from him, or just do what I imagine he might do.

All of this is to say that there wouldn’t be such a thing as Gravedigger’s Tale without Robert. It was his pitch and his concept and, a year ago, Folger locked he and I in a room with instructions “not to come out” until we “had a show.” I’ve been in that kind of situation before and, believe me: there is nobody else with whom I’d rather be locked in a room – you know, like that crazy “escape puzzle” kind of room – than Robert.

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Rob in a handsome suit.

If I had to put it into words, I would say that the reason for the statement is that we both sort of live for “the room.” We love the problem-solving nature of it. We love the challenge of it. We love the gallows humor that comes from it. We love the heightened emotions that come from it, and how they reflect the work, just by being there with a task at hand. I won’t presume to speak for Robert here, but I also love some of the shittier parts of the room. The too-much coffee. The tired limbs. The eye-wobbling frustration of pounding away at an expired idea. The 11th hour burst of energy, leaping to one’s middle-aged feet when a new idea seems like it just might work.

Additionally, I love how, when I make something with Robert, we find two (or more) ways to the same destination. More than that, I love how, once we’ve made the thing, it takes on a life of its own when it’s unleashed on an audience.

Which brings me to part deux of this blogggg post.

Our Gravedigger show is billed as “interactive.” Now, that means lots of different things to lots of different people. And please believe that I am just as horrified by being asked to “participate” in an evening’s entertainment as the next person. (Please disregard at this point the fact that I currently perform in the amazingly kick-ass Sleep No More. That’s fodder for a whole other post).

In this show, it’s all very gentle. I pull a female audience-member onstage to help me with Ophelia and, more pertinently to this post, I pull a male audience-member onstage to stand in for Hamlet’s father. In the bit, I explain how Hamlet’s uncle poured poison into his father’s ear, and what the effects were. I then “coach” the audience-member in the finer points of dying by poison.

At one of our shows at USC, I spotted a very rapt and eager boy, probably 8 or 9 years old, in the audience with his parents. I couldn’t help myself: I simply had to pull him up and poison him. I won’t waste too many more words on it, but this boy was…perfect. He was open, he was game, he was brave, he was funny, he gave the audience a big “thumbs up,” and he was all anybody could talk about at the reception afterwards.

I’ll close this post with a sequence of pictures of this excellent young man in action:

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Found him!

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Placed him, produced poison!

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He begins to “die…”

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He “dies” simply and elegantly.

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I take his example.

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He does it better than I ever could.

I wish I knew that kid’s name. I wish that he could’ve been in the room with Robert and I when we created the show, because I feel like that kid every time Rob and I get to work together. I hope that kid keeps coming to the theater, regardless of where his life takes him. I just can’t thank him enough. Not to sound like an absolute sap, but I get a little bit misty thinking about our moment on-stage together.

Oh! Just by the way, all of these photos are courtesy of the most excellent Jason Ayer and the University of South Carolina’s Department of Theatre and Dance.

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Thanks for reading! Next stop: HAWAII!!!!!

Come back and see us, y’all!

Ole Missss

Hello, friend!

It’s your pal Louis here. Adventures in Gravedigging recently took me to Oxford, Mississippi and the gorgeous campus of Ole Miss to teach some masterclasses and put on our latest performance of Gravedigger’s Tale for Folger Shakespeare Library. If you haven’t, you can head over to Folger’s excellent Spotlight site to see some more pics from the trip. If you’ve come here from there, please note that nothing here represents the views of Folger in any way – just me.

I want to talk very briefly about the world of academia, something that has long had a pull and an appeal to me. I was ten years on the road with a theater company; more often than not we played college campuses, for many communities the only performing arts center, and interacted with tons of students, undergrads and grads alike.

I’ve always been drawn to teaching. Perhaps it’s in the blood – my parents were both educators. Plus, I think one learns when one teaches, perhaps even more so than when one is “taught.” I enjoy the dialectic, I enjoy the rhetorical experiment, I enjoy the sculpting of language in order to communicate as precisely as possible, I enjoy the surprise that can occur when a long-held belief shifts or clarifies. Primarily, though, I enjoy the company of students.

On this trip to Oxford, I had a chance to work with a fantastic bunch of students, all of whom are currently in rehearsals for a production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Their professor Matthew Wilson, a friend of mine with whom I’ve crossed paths many times on the Washington DC theater circuit, is directing the play – and was about the most excellent host one could hope for at a tour site. What was meant to be two one-hour sessions with me turned into one long four-hour session, and even that didn’t feel like quite enough time for any of us.

I suppose what I’m saying is that, as soon as this acting thing reaches its conclusion, maybe teaching is the way forward. Feel free to contact me with nice tenure track faculty appointments. 🙂

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Now if that all sounds a little bit too highbrow for you, I want to assure you that the trip to Oxford was not without some revelry. Intent on showing me what else this college town had to offer, Matt guided me to the town square where we sampled some locally brewed beer at City Grocery. I loved the square so much I returned the next day for a catfish po’ boy at Ajax Diner. The city has a mystical quality – it very much reminded me of New Orleans.

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We also joined several other members of the theater faculty for a dinner at chef John Currence’s restaurant Snackbar, whose raison d’etre is a fusion of traditional French technique with Indian flavors. I had a pork loin vindaloo that I’m still thinking about a week later. Soooo so tasty.

I’ve saved the best for last. Now please understand that I’ve traveled extensively through the course of my career and I thought I’d encountered most regional delights. But Matt told me there was a Mississippi delicacy I was obligated to try before returning to New York. Ladies and gentlemen: Chicken-on-a-Stick. Available at the food counters in local gas stations, this delicacy is exactly as advertised: juicy, succulent fried chicken breast speared on a skewer, and available with choice of dipping sauce. Best enjoyed in the parking lot, torn up with the fingers, while chatting with the friendly locals.

The aforementioned gas station:

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Chicken-on-a-Stick:

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Me with a friendly local gentleman:

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Me with the most excellent host, and all-around good guy, Matthew Wilson:

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And that’s about it for this dispatch. My next trip will take me to Columbia, South Carolina where I’ll do some more teaching, some more performing and will absolutely be eating as much barbecue as humanly possible.

I’ll close with this picture of the courthouse that sits in the center of Oxford’s town square:

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Until we meet again!

MIAMI: Expel the winter flaw.

Hello, friend!

It’s your pal Louis here with a little post about my recent whirlwind trip to sunny Miami with our latest engagement of Folger Theatre’s Gravedigger’s Tale, currently traveling hither and yon to commemorate the big 400th anniversary of the dying of our buddy William Shakespeare.

If you’ve come to visit from Folger Theatre’s SPOTLIGHT blog then, by all means, welcome!, and please take a proper look around this site. Moving forward, my plan is to post brief tidbits on each Gravedigger gig to SPOTLIGHT with fuller and more detailed info here in this space. So share away, link away, “like” away, Tweet away, bring the full spectrum of emojis, do whatever it is you’d like to do. Nobody can stop you.

Also, this seems like a really good time to mention: any and all views expressed here are my own; in no way whatsoever do they represent Folger Theatre or Folger Shakespeare Library. Those folks are all way smarter than I am. Plus, they’re located right next to the Supreme Court, whereas I’m located across the street from a Subway sandwich shop and a liquor store. Appointment of new cashiers here is simply not in the news.

Right now, I’d like to get into this a little bit: eleventh graders are simultaneously the most terrifying people in the world and the loveliest people in the world.

Our Gravedigger’s Tale booking in Miami took place at Florida International University. They have two campuses. One is further South and deeper inland, and is where the First Folio was displayed for the gig. The other is located right on the water – the Biscayne Bay, to be precise -and is home both to the theater where we played, and a couple of charter high schools. We did an evening show for the general public, followed by a matinee for some two hundred or so students from the high schools there and…it couldn’t possibly have been more fun.

Here’s what I mean about eleventh graders. First of all, they are scheduled within an inch of their lives. This means that they all showed up at once, in an enormous and riotous pack, exactly five minutes before curtain. They were excited about a change in their routine, and thus fairly rowdy. They are at an age wherein they have a fair number of things going on in their minds and bodies, not a single one of which includes a middle-aged actor saying Shakespeare words to them. They were close to losing their minds at seeing the other kids from the other schools, at figuring out who would sit where and next to whom, the energy in the room was a chaotic torrent, tempest or, as I may say, whirlwind of passion. I wasn’t sure I even had the nerve to walk down the aisle, where several of them were still standing, in order to begin the show.

But begin we always must, otherwise the venue doesn’t give you the check, and I would probably have to reimburse somebody for my plane ticket.

Our show begins with me doing some silent tomfoolery (“clowning,” I would call it, if I were better at doing it) which varies in length depending on the venue and the crowd. Perverse soul that I am, I decided that I would not only not shorten it for the eleventh graders, I would actually extend it, just to see what would happen.

Do you know what happened…?

They went for it. Ohhhhh, they really went for it. They got that I was an odd little man with a problem, and that I was going stand in front of them and go about trying to solve my problem. And this is good news because, when the words finally started, we were already kind of all on the same team.

And the words? They listened. They understood. They laughed. They were vocal in responding. They were alive.

In the show, I pull two people up from the audience onto the stage – a male to play Hamlet’s father, who I lead in a pantomime of “death by poison-in-the-ear,” and a female to play Hamlet’s love Ophelia in a brief scene. By the time we got to the boy coming up, the crowd were so ready for him that they actually cheered for him – just his walking to the stage. By the time we got to the girl coming up, and she was soooo good, I could feel their despair when they learned later about how poor Ophelia drowns.

It’s possible that some of my fear of eleventh graders stems from just what a mess I was when I myself was in eleventh grade…and by how little I’ve changed since then, psychologically speaking. But what I learned in Miami, and what I will try to tell myself the next time I’m in the midst of a social exchange that returns me to my eleventh grade self, is that the very first things to bubble up in any of us, when faced with a new or unusual situation, are recognition and love. Love for our fellow human beings.

I agree that it isn’t as simple as that. Something always gets in the way.

What gets in the way of our natural impulse to love? The same thing that gets in the way of good acting: worrying about what somebody thinks about us. Worrying about being judged. Worrying about how we compare with other people. Worry, worry, worry.

What fuels that in the year 2016, 400 years after Shakespeare died? I don’t really know. But I think there is a prime suspect: our constant reliance on devices. I’m just sayin’.

And if you’re reading this on a device? KEEP READING!!!! And then follow me on Twitter and stuff.

But for real, though. I’ll keep writing stuff if you keep reading it. And why don’t we try to be our best eleventh grade selves? Curious, engaged, passionate, full of all that life has to offer, sitting on the cusp of all of that life will take away.

Next up, University of Mississippi. “Ole Miss.” “The Old Man.” “Deee-eee-eep River.” Come back if you get the reference, come back if you don’t, just come back.

Thank you, friend!

 

Introduction

Greetings, friend! Welcome to the website, and welcome to the blog.

My name is Louis. I’m a scrawny, bald, middle-aged actor based in New York City. I’ve been here for more years than I care to contemplate – having grown up in a little seaside town on Long Island, NY, coming to the city was simultaneously a dream and an inevitability. Years later, well, here we still are. While my work has taken me to places near and far, it is to New York that I constantly return. It is a spiritual home, if by ‘spiritual,’ we mean ‘pushy, fast-paced, occasionally smelly, and utterly electrifying.’

Did I mention that I’m an actor? Here’s the thing about that: it ain’t easy. Unless one has acquired riches and fame, it can be difficult to frame the gig for people who are not in the business. Let me put it another way:

‘So, what do you do?’

‘I’m an actor.’

‘Oh, cool! So, what have I seen you in?’

The problem inherent in the second question is one of metaphysics. Not to be rude, but how would I know what you’ve seen me in? There’s also an issue of phrasing – I suspect the question is primarily a semi-polite way of saying, ‘have you been on the TV or in the movies?’ Or to be even more reductive, ‘have you acquired riches and fame?’

Frankly, though, the problem is more likely to be just me. To have arrived at middle-age and to have spent 20 years in the business without acquiring riches and fame can sometimes feel like a bit of a shanda, to tip my hat to my New York roots.

Why bother, then? one might rightly ask. I’ll try to boil it down:

What the gig, and perhaps more importantly the lifestyle, has been to me is a feeling of complete freedom. More often than not ‘the work’ simply doesn’t feel like work. Rather, it feels like some sort of a scam: there are people who will buy you a plane ticket and put you up in a condo somewhere so that you can dress up in outfits and pretend to be someone else. Weirder still, there are complete strangers who will pay money to watch you play pretend – and, at the end of it, clap their hands for you and put your name in the newspaper. It truly is the oddest thing. And for all of the occasional indignities, it really couldn’t possibly be more fun.

So why the blog, then?

I’ll be honest. I have a big milestone coming up this year. I’m working on a little project called Gravedigger’s Tale which recently got a booking in Hawaii. Once that booking happens, it will complete my visits to and performances in all fifty American States. To say that I find this both wonderful and bizarre would be an understatement, and my plan is to use this space as a reflection on twenty years of travel and performance.

If you follow along, you’ll find that I’m a little bit nerdy, I have a tendency to ‘mansplain,’ that I tend more towards the cerebral than the personal – my goal is to rectify that. I want to be vulnerable and honest, and I want to take you with me to Hawaii.

Come back here from time to time: I’ll be posting about each and every stop on the Gravedigger journey, starting with the three stops already in the can: South Bend, IN; Manhattan, KS; and Miami, FL.

Until then!