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Grown Man Cry

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Give and take.

In 2007, after my first real role on stage, I looked at Clare and said, “It’s good to have goals, right? I’ve not been good with follow-through, but I really want this thing. I want to be an actor, whatever that means in terms of my daily life.”

After reading affirmation in her, I continued, “Then, this is my goal: I want to be working professionally in the theatre in five years. I’ll do it. I know I can. I feel like that’s realistic.”

As my confidence waned, I added, “You know, professional just means you’re paid, so…”

I began to be paid occasionally for acting within three years, never more than a small stipend. In 2013, almost exactly six years since deciding on this course, I hit my highest point, taking in larger and larger amounts for fight direction, and earning a union salary for Les Miserables at Skylight. I had lived up to the promise I made myself. The problem with goals, though, is sometimes you reach them, and then what?

This year hints at being another peak year for me. Last year, I successfully completed my first teacher certification for stage combat, and I plan to pin another on my chest this year. The work I have done will set me on the path, at least, to making a reasonable living in theatre, though mostly behind the scenes.

When my mentor, DC, offered me a chance to work at the Rep in Arkansas on the Scottish Play, I could barely contain my excitement. I said yes, without hesitation. Later, I was surprised to learn that this did not sit well with Marcee. I asked the Rep director, via DC, for time to decide, fighting for the extended time away as beneficial to my career, but my wife saw this as not only deciding without her on something that might have great impact on our relationship, but also as choosing career over family; neither of these arguments is incorrect, regardless of my ability to throw doubt onto them.

In my deliberation on the subject, I came to the conclusion — undeniable, I think — that we would only argue without resolution, and the decision ultimately rested with me. I created a compromise. I would not audition for a role in the show, and would only spend the rehearsal period in Arkansas, leaving the production’s run in the hands of a fight captain. I am learning, by degrees, how compromise can cost.

Marcee remained unsatisfied. With my two three-work workshop stays, and adding another three weeks on, and confirming without another discussion, she felt low priority and dissociated from my life.

The director, having given me time he might not normally have spared, chose to go with a fight director who could stay and be a part of the cast.

I don’t know what to make of it. Obviously, it resolves the issue of too much time apart, but it leaves me feeling like I have accidentally discarded an opportunity to start a broader career path, and possibly tarnished my mentor’s reputation with that company. Rather than leaving things pleasant on all sides, my hesitation made everything worse.

I am bold in my choices, but seemingly only when there’s nothing on the line. Does this make me considerate or cowardly? Are they one in the same? I don’t want children for the reason that I don’t want to be responsible for the happiness and health of another person. I’m learning what it means to be committed to something like marriage, or pets, or theatre, and I still fear it. It’s cliché, but it’s also real. I don’t fear the cage so much as I fear watching someone give something up for me, or needing me more than I need them.

The good news is my August is free. The bad news is… I think I would have felt more free if I had been booked.

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Much Ado About Nothing (probably)

When I started to take stage combat seriously, I dove in headlong. Workshop after workshop, I took time and money from all other pursuits to become something I think I’ve always wanted to be: a bad-ass who never hurt nobody.

In that pursuit, at my first three-week intensive, I met Matthew, a man of splendid comic timing and similar ambitions. We recognized the nerdly tendencies in each other right away, and while he was not the firmest friendship I formed at the workshop, the bootcamp-like atmosphere created fondness in us all for us all.

So, it came to pass that he took over the combat and voice program at UW-Stevens Point shortly thereafter. When one of his students organized an event taught by Certified Teacher DC Wright, I gladly took the opportunity to drive up for the few weekends it was offered. At the time, I knew no one involved. Matthew had made none of the arrangements, but since I knew him, I asked if he would be willing to let me stay the nights at his house. He magnanimously agreed.

Over the days at that workshop, I became fast friends with the woman who had organized it, Amie (to this day, a source of great inspiration and camaraderie to me). What I learned, however, is that she had been dear friends with the prior head of movement and voice, H Russ, and that she had a rather contentious relationship with Matthew, partially from that change in staff, and partially as a result of her own fiery nature.

I spent the evenings with Matthew, but the bond-forming days with his students and DC. I was at a point of life where socializing had become paramount, and Matthew’s more homebody nature, influenced by his deference to the necessary student-teacher distance, did not appeal. So, as a guest, I behaved less than perfectly. I honored his house, but not his company, at least not as highly as I might have. He made no comments on this, if he noticed it.

In the past few years, I have become close friends with H Russ, DC, and Amie, and have had little to no contact with Matthew. It hope it is due to circumstance, but it may have something to do with the animosity between him and Amie, and his rightful perception that I would take her side, should things come down to sides; I simply know her better. Indeed, I may be the only one who holds on to any of this. I don’t know and I won’t until I speak with him again, I suppose.

In the meantime, I don’t know what reputation I hold with Matthew, and even were I to reach out, the bond of the national fight family, our mutual friendships, and his own forgiving and kind nature might lead to him withholding any resentment that may still exist. For my part, I would be willing to let bygones be bygones, and he would be welcome to ask for any favors from me, not simply as recompense, but as a mark of a continued, burgeoning friendship.

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On fear and comfort.

Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wanned,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing—
For Hecuba!

What’s Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba
That he should weep for her? What would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appall the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing

Am I a coward?
Who calls me “villain”? Breaks my pate across?
Plucks off my beard and blows it in my face?
Tweaks me by the nose? Gives me the lie i’ th’ throat
As deep as to the lungs? Who does me this?

‘Swounds, I should take it, for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-livered and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave’s offal.

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On endings and beginnings

In 2006, I was living with Clare, and having one of my infamous breakdowns, but at least this one ended differently. I had been binge watching The Office (BBC) during my days, while I pounded keys for yet a company that refused to recognize my value even as I acted a fool.

When I can’t convince people of the value of what I do, I make myself the most obviously firable employee for all reasons except my work. Then, when they inevitably bring me in for discipline, I tell them outright to fire me. They never have. They still miss my point, perfectly made.

Martin Freeman’s character, Tim, had realized on his 30th birthday — mine was coming up — that he didn’t want to spend his time working in a mid-range paper company. The similarities in my own life were too strong to ignore.

I pounded my fists and raised my voice at Clare, who had never earned my ire, not once. I raked my face and racked my brains. I searched and scraped my soul for how to proceed. And I found it.

The one thing in my life that I consistently looked forward to was teaching stage combat (which I called “fencing”) at my high school alma mater. I would pursue that. That realization lead me to the SAFD.

Now, nearly ten years later, my unyielding depression’s mumbles echo painfully in my ear, as I have been accepted to the exclusive, prestigious, and mettle-testing Teacher Certification Workshop. I have arrived at the doorstep of my past self, with weak knees and a dead heart. And a compass, broken, with the arrow pointing up.

“Here is where it all leads,” I say to myself. “It’s still the only thing you look forward to, but that doesn’t mean what it used to.”

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On fighting.

Come for me, G’mork! I am Atreyu!

G’Mork is a servant of the Nothing, that great expanse where existence itself is wiped away. Death is the obvious analogue, but in this case, it is the death of the spirit, the death of the imagination.

I think people forget why suicide becomes so appealing. The person conflicted about that nonexistence often struggles not only with pain, but the feeling that they ALREADY do not exist. The world, the universe, even their closest friends appear indifferent to their existence, and it feels selfish to boost one’s own self-love to the point of importance, so… why not? What other choice is there?

And this striking rebellion, when hope seems lost, when his best friend, Artax has succumbed to the sadness, represents that glimmer of hope, that realization that all of existence amounts to simply being, being what and who you are, whatever the consequences.

Since we’re going to die anyway, I’d rather die fighting. Come for me, G’mork! I am Atreyu!

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Damaged love.


From my friend, Christina.

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The Call

What I’m working on now, which is really myself. Thanks to hero Dan Harmon for the story structure, to hero Joss Whedon for the mythos, and to friends who have read drafts and helped me mold.


I feel like it’s easy for people to give up on me, and I have unwittingly joined in that. I am a terror, a childish tyrant. It was always this way, probably, but I had better ways to hide it before. Better motivation to, at least.

My evils I have to let live. They are there for me to keep, like tigers in a zoo. Beautiful from a distance, but they make poor pets.

These escapes I came to love. I can keep those, too. Minimum security.

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I think I’m alone.

No one has ever said, “Don’t give up.”

I tell people I’m giving up theatre, and they just nod. I don’t expect their life to be about me, but I see this as evidence that I would not be missed. I think I would respond the same way to someone who said it sincerely if I did not think they were contributing anything worthy to the artform.

I changed my life intentionally to do this full-time. Did I waste the last six or seven years? What have I learned? Only that the people I expected to find also treading this path, the people I thought were my people, are few and far between.

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On the use of Violence in the Theatre

Theatrical violence incorporates the most important aspects of theatrical performance: objectives and commitment at the very highest stakes, physical communication and cooperation between actors, and a dual awareness at both the character and actor levels. For me, stage combat informs all of my work as a professional actor in Milwaukee, and I am proud to have served as fight director for so many shows at so many companies, bringing safety and storytelling to their scenes of violence.

I consider stage combat to be a modern martial art, focused on storytelling, rather than defense, much like many Eastern disciplines teach that, at the highest levels, violence and destruction are set aside in favor of aesthetic creation. A master becomes an artist, as the understanding of violence reminds one of their human nature (the earth, the id, the beast, etc.) but channeling that directionless passion are the creative and rational drives. As artists in the theatre, the consummation of all arts, we have the ability and responsibility to bring this violence as realistically to bear as we are able in order to confront and discuss — and perhaps, to change — the way in which we accept and cope with our natural tendency toward violence.

To that end, it is essential that we as fight directors, give our actors the tools required to tell these stories. By necessity, we begin to help with precautions against harm; after all, beyond the obvious preservation of the actor, if the actor must hesitate because of a safety concern, then we have hindered the story by whatever fraction that hesitation costs. Contrarily, when we instill in actors the knowledge and practice to free them of the constraint of fear, we not only allow that particular scene to come alive, but we bring the actors to a greater state of awareness and commitment, which can only serve them in all aspects of performance.

The responsibility is colossal for fight directors, as with any teachers, to keep this always in mind. We must understand fear, violence, and all of the darkest parts of our humanity in order to create compelling art, but we must be in command of those forces, and teach others to be in command of them, if that art is to be of value.

(from my application to the SAFD TCW 2015)

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