Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fifteen Minutes of Soon-to-be-Fame

"All right.  You run IBM!" 

Famous last words.  Or should I say: "Soon-to-be-Famous last words."

Last Friday, I auditioned for the Second City Conservatory, which would cost a total of about $2,100 and one year of my life to complete.  That's right.  The first thing I've auditioned for as a resident of Chicago is the opportunity to spend over 2,000 of my sparse dollars taking more classes.  Let the race to poverty begin!

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of auditioning for the Second City Conservatory, let me draw you some pictures.*  There are fifteen of us sandwiched onto a small stage in a rehearsal room, and we are given, collectively, about fifteen minutes to prove our worth as potential beginners.  For you math geniuses, that comes to one minute each.  For those of you with a terrible working memory, yes, we're auditioning for the opportunity to be beginners. 

We each step to "center stage" and say our full name.  I try to "sell it" with "stage comfort" as I "deliver" the words that make up my name.  (Sorry to throw acting terms at you non-actors, but it makes me feel superior to you, and I need that right now.  If you're not an actor and can't make sense of those words in quotation marks, ask an actor.  It will stroke their comically fragile ego, and you'll get smarter, too.  Then one day you, too, can maybe audition for the chance to be a beginner.)

After we've "delivered" our names, we're called up in groups of three to do short, open scenes.  We're asked to play characters similar to ourselves.  No problem!  When my scene comes, I play a boss.  (Is that who I am in real life?  Bossy?  My fragile ego is in peril!)  The other two in my group play interns, and they're overambitious interns.  They delete messages.  They open memos without consent.  One of them thinks he can run the company.

At the end of the scene, I step out of my stubborn intern's way proclaiming "All right.  You run IBM!"  I swear I hear a chuckle from somewhere in the room.  Or it could have been the sound of my bank account emptying.

We play some "freeze tag" after that (though I'm pretty sure that was only to keep us occupied while the adults talked in the kitchen) and went on our merry ways.  I remember feeling good about the audition.  I give it a 9 out of 10.  Considering the circumstances and the stakes, it went about as well as it could have gone.  

I find out this week if I'm out $300. 

The next day, in preparation for my new debt, I biked back into downtown Chicago to interview / audition to be a tour guide for Chicago Chocolate Tours.  That job actually pays (a little).  And there's opportunity for advancement.  In fact, I wonder--if I'm really good--I wonder if maybe, one day, I'll be a real boss.

That would certainly help me pay for my acting career.

* Five bucks a picture, OBO

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Flaming Urge (1953)

Did you ever stop to think how many different kinds of people there are in this world? What one person would consider a thrill might not have any effect at all on another person.With the billions of humans on this planet on which we live very few people resemble each other in appearance. And within themselves, there’s no resemblance at all. Everyone reacts to a given situation in a manner all his own. And for a reason that probably even he isn’t aware of. People are funny. Emotions or lack of emotions are strange indeed. And it hard to judge what makes anybody tick.  

. . .

I can only hope and pray that someday, I'll be able to write a prologue like that.  It comes from a film called The Flaming Urge, in which a young man named Tom Smith struggles to overcome his compulsion to chase fires.  You can watch that film here.  Or, if you're wise, you'll see it next Thursday night, August 4th, at 8:00 pm.

I'll be in it.  

"What," you might exclaim.  "How did you go from volunteering to death one day to being cast in a movie you aren't actually in the next day?"  Simple!  Every year, my friend Eugenia Ionesco* produces a festival of staged readings of bad films at the Neo-Futurarium.  This year, because I live in Chicago and have a cute face^, I get to take part in that festival. 

I don't know who I'll be playing yet, but I do know that there's a role for a dog. 

It's my big break, ladies and gentlemen.  I'm going to Hollywood^^!  I'm going to be in the pictures!  

Now, if you'll excuse me, I can't finish this blog post.  There's a fire breaking out somewhere in Evanston, and I have to go chase -- ruff!  ruff!  ruff!

(You'll get that if you come to the show.)

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*name changed to protect her identity

^ That is to say, I work for free.

^^ I imagine Hollywood to be at the corner of Ashland and Foster in Chicago, Illinois.  If you correct me, you are a know-it-all. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Close, But No Cigar . . . Cigarette . . . Just a Puff of Yours?

I moved to Chicago to be close to the things I'd like to do next.  Well, I'm happy to report that I've succeeded.  I am indeed very close now to the things I'd like to do next.

Last night, I was backstage at the Neo-Futurarium, home of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.

Today, I performed improvisation on the Cabaret Stage at iO, the premier home of improvisation in Chicago. 

Tonight, I donned a Barrel of Monkeys t-shirt of my own, was present at That's Weird, Grandma, and went out for drinks with the cast and much of the production staff. 

I'm so close in space and time to everything I want to be part of!

In Boston, there are United Way signs with pictures of young students raising their hands eagerly in class; captions below the pictures inquire, "Remember when volunteering was fun?"  Now that I've moved to Chicago, I can answer in the affirmative.  I'm hoping that the entire city of Chicago will adopt the same philosophy. 

See this man without a home?  Let's volunteer to build him one!  See how he is hungry?  Let's find him some volunteer pizza with volunteer vegetables!  See how he can't get from place to place or wash his clothes?  I'll volunteer to drive him and lend him a spicket!*

Because in approximately three months, I will be broke.

Now, come, come, darlings.  I'm not going to let that happen . . .

Everyone else is.   

Because there are too many damn people here competing for all of my success. 

So my new plan is this:

Since I can't get actual work with any of these companies (right now), I'm going to volunteer myself into a catatonic state.  Maybe if I nail down a volunteer opportunity at every major theater in town, I'll make myself so busy that I don't notice the nagging hunger pangs or bouts of delirium brought on by sleep deprivation.   When those persistent realities finally do catch up with me on a given day, I'll just gorge myself on leftovers from one opening night party or the other, then pass out on a stage.  (Hopefully a nice stage, like the Goodman, not a rotten one like the "cabaret."  You know what cabaret I'm talking about!)

Maybe you think that all sounds like a terrible plan, but trust me.  I'm a professional.  Or, at least, I'm geographically very close to some. 


* Don't worry, rest-of-the-country.  People here don't really wash their clothes in spickets.  At least, not in the winter.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sing It

Friday, July 15.

A theater in Chicago, Illinois.

Just after midnight.

There's a buzz in this place.  Something big is about to happen, something that's been anticipated for years.  Surprisingly, there are empty seats.  Nevertheless, the energy and enthusiasm of those present is tangible.

A young Brit is drunk.  A young Californian looks terrified.  An Australian sits between them, a big outback smile on her face.  What could bring such a diverse group of people together at such a late hour?  The answer is obvious if you're in the room.

Mr JM Manship is about to perform live improvisation for the first time in Chicago.

He hasn't set foot on the stage without a script for more than five years.  Truth be told, he hasn't more than dabbled in improvisation for more than seven.  But here he is, about to perform under the roof of an organization that birthed such geniuses as Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Egon.

After several short scenes ("previews," one could call them), Manship takes the stage.  His task: to perform a game of "Sing It" with a fellow iO student, a man he's never met before but with whom he is about to co-star in a short musical.  The suggestion of "roommates" is given.  The scene begins. 

Almost immediately, the game's host instructs Manship and his fellow performer to, as the game's name implies, "sing."  Manship, dominated by the larger, more aggressive player at first, sings nothing.  Then, with a burst of drama, he locks into a theme.  He finds his voice and, with pitch-perfect vocal agility, stands up to his fictional roommate, singing directly to the large man's face.  They tango.  They waltz.  Finally, in an act of utter victory, Manship lays a fist into his adversary's chest, and the man falls to the floor.  The song ends.  The scene ends.  The audience laughs and applauds.

The evening continues, and important and funny things happen, but there are no more games of "Sing It."

Less than an hour later, Manship and the other performers leave the theater.  An Asian man, recognizing Manship from the stage no doubt, tells him, "Dude, I bet I can ride your bike faster than you."  Manship declines the opportunity to find out and, an hour and a half later, he is asleep, his bike safely stashed in his living room. 

The next day, the reviews are out:

"[Manship] shows us the man [the roommate in this game of "Sing It" has] been forced to become. It's a real performance, layered and even moving."  -- Norman Wilner, NOW Toronto 

"["Sing It"] balances physical action and emotional development, loud moments and quiet ones, and it's that balance that makes it such a satisfying and proper finish." -- Rob Thomas, Capital Times  

"["Sing It"] ends . . . on a triumphant note. It is a memorable and moving conclusion that will leave you wishing for more."  -- Bob Bloom, Journal and Courier

"As they say, all good things must come to an end. But in this instance, you can feel solace in knowing the [Manship] can belt out one heck of a final note."  - Adam Tobias, Watertown Daily Times  

"The definition of a classic."  - Colin Covert, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
"When [Sing It] was over, a young boy sitting behind me said, 'That was great!' He was satisfied, and rightly so."  -- David Denby, The New Yorker

"This is the way The Harry Potter saga was meant to end."  -- Laremy Legel, Film.com 

I don't really understand that last one.

People who have not yet begun to climb the fame ladder, hear this final note!  The best compliments you regular folk can give us famous and soon-to-be-famous folk are still the simple ones.  Which is why the review closest to my heart comes from a kind waitress, who told me as I left the theater:

"You were funny,"

then asked,

"You were in 'Sing It,' right?"

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Epilogue:

Friday, July 15, almost exactly twelve hours later.  Mr JM Manship calls the Second City training center and schedules an audition for their conservatory.  The audition:  Friday, July 29, 2:00 pm.  That's right.  'Sing It' was not the end.  Two weeks and fourteen hours after the end of his now-legendary debut, Manship will pen the first words of another chapter.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Seventh Omen: The T Pays Off

Somebody tell the dot-coms that the dot-com bubble burst.  Facebook, LinkedIn, Groupon.  They're all going / trying to go public.  Why, in this age of crazy markets and unpredictable economic turns?  Easy.  Now that I have a hit show, they want to be like me, and that desire has driven them to test even the deepest waters with no looking back.  

. . .

By "like me," I mean "like google." 

But wait!  This is not pure facetiousness!  Google and I are truly, intimately "linked-in."  Less than two weeks ago, I was at google's home!  How many people can say that?* 

. . .

At least 72,000. 

But wait!  I'm also part of an elite social google-club.  That's right.  I, John Michael Manship, got a personal invitation to google + . . . right after T: An MBTA Musical blew up. 

Try to tell me this is coincidence.  Tell me that google, with all of their knowledge, has no idea about T: An MBTA Musical's twelve sold-out shows.  (I know they know, because when I google "Does google know about T: An MBTA Musical's twelve sold-out shows," I get this.) 

Omen #7, ladies and gentlemen!  This train is going express to the top!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to have e-drinks with my co-writer, Melissa Carubia, who I'm sure got an invitation as well.  And with google creators Larry Page and Sergey Brin.  And Biz Stone.  And Mark Zuckerberg.

Actually, Mark Zuckerberg probably won't be there.  He's so "pre-T."

The omens so far:

1. My Zeitgeist Stage check
2. I Burned My Face
3. A Book
4. I'm on National Television!
5. I'm an inspiration to the young!
6. Prophecy!
7.The T Pays Off
8. ??
9. ??
10. ??
11. ??
12. ??
13. probably a giant check

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An Open Apology to My Fellow Mature Theatergoers

Dear fellow mature theatergoers:

It is best that you don't read the following blog post.  You are likely to find it increasingly irritating and gauche.  However, if you must read it, please read this first.  It will inoculate you to the perversions that lie ahead.

Done?  Good.  

Permit me then to inaugurate the fuselage of this missive by defining the terms I will use herein.  A "mature theatergoer" -- you, one presumes -- is someone who is no longer a "twentysomething," but rather has shed the exoskeleton of his jejunity and emerged an enlightened gentleperson, no longer gladdened by mention of body cavities, feces, or porking.  A "twentysomething," however, is an unintelligent suckling, a stripling, a teenybopper whose tastes are yet to surmount that of a mere nursling.  The distinction, I have no doubt, is clear to anyone of taste; therefore, I shall advance beyond the mere definition of terms and issue a proper apology.*

I have recently undertaken a reckless endeavor.  In an invidious attempt to satirize one prized polis' public portage, I resorted to raw wordplay, malpropisms, visual gags, double entendre, and the occasional cunnilingus joke.  At my most fallacious, I even employed a pun or two.  It is for this peccability that I beg your clemency.**  My role models, the Oscar Wildes, Shakespeares, and Mark Twains of this world, would never sink to such kink. I shall never endeavor to "go there" again.

Now, if you'll pardon me, I have to go back to listening to myself fart and planning my next show: The Hyperbolic Adventures of Ms Tweenyurlegs-Armpitare. 

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*Truth be told, I only included this paragraph to scare away any twentysomethings who might dare visit my blog.  It's safe to assume we're alone in proper company now.^

**Be thankful we didn't get the boob and penis map models to work out.  That would have wrecked us all!

^ Seriously, people in your twenties -- grow up!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Dear Chicago:

Dear Chicago:

What can I say?  I'm overwhelmed.  You've made my first full day here as a resident a spectacular event, something I will not soon forget.  I expected a marvelous reception, but I didn't expect this.

All day, people have been celebrating my arrival in the streets.  And they're everywhere.  It's as if the whole city took the day off from work in my honor.  One woman wished me a "happy fourth" as I came out of the grocery store.  How she knew that this is the fourth city in which I have chosen to reside, I do not know.  But I imagine she also had something to do with the coordinated fireworks all over this place that are still raging as I write this sentence.

Chicago, it's too much.  Really, it's too much.  You found me on the beautiful moonlit beach, and your people exploded things in my honor.  You found me in the park, and your people exploded things in my honor.  Even as I walked down the streets, people were throwing firecrackers at my feet. 

You sent a rock star and a poet to entertain me and drive me from place to place.  You sent me a roommate to sing to me while he showered.  You sent a con artist to try to swindle me on a bench. 

It's.  Just.  Too.  Much. 

Keep it coming.

Dear Boston:

You've made a valiant effort by sending your people to embrace my work, but you're too late.  Chicago has embraced me harder. 

Dear the rest of you cities in the world:

Get cracking!  It's me time! 

Dear Chicago:

I just wanted to write you one more time.  I think you're cute.  See you in the morning, and goodnight.  Kisses!