Monday, October 26, 2015

What Has Four Legs and Chases Cats?

"Mrs. Katz and her attorney."

Hear more old-school jokes from a lady whose family probably had tea with some of the people who invented them, in my memoir and now stageplay The Accidental Caregiver: How I Met, Loved, and Lost Legendary Holocaust Refugee Maria Altmann.

I'm in rehearsals next week for my short play Pentonville, which will be going up at the Manhattan Repertory Theater on November 11 at 9pm, and November 13 at 9pm. I'm pretty proud of this little piece so I hope to see you there!

Have a great week, Everyone.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Hell or High Water

I made a pact with myself I'd keep up this series every Monday, come hell or high water, so here I am. This morning - as far as I can tell - I'm not in hell and the water is at a manageable level, so admittedly I have not been truly put to the test yet.

It's been a crazy last week so I haven't really had time to write a post one can sink teeth into, so I'm just going rogue this morning with a State of the Union: My new play Pentonville was accepted into the Manhattan Repertory Theater 10-Minute-Play Festival, and we had a brilliant casting session yesterday in which we found some real gems we hope will say "yes" to my casting director's email this morning that says: "we want you." I've always been obsessed with taking real-life historical figures and tossing them into modern-day culture, so we're all very excited about this play and possibly expanding it into a full-length down the road. I'm also producing a non-fiction TV show for the History Channel, as well as organizing an evening of short plays I hope will develop into a series - a revolving door, as it were, of writers from all different walks of life. If you're a playwright, actor, director, producer, etc, please get in touch, as I'm looking for creative doers who can help realize this vision.

New York continues to bring love, collaboration, and promise. Even if on some days that means just not getting into an argument with a stingy hotdog vendor. See you next week.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Rest in Peace, Ruth Altmann...

A very dear person in my life died Sunday morning.

When I was caring for Maria Altmann in 2010 I told her I wanted to visit New York to see her Aunt Adele immortalized in the Gold Portrait. Her eyes, as they always did for even the slightest sliver of good news, widened with zeal: "I want you to stay with my cousin Ruth." She got right on her old wall phone from the 1970's that somehow still worked perfectly, and five minutes later I had a place to stay smack dab in the middle of Manhattan where the lights are bright and it all seems right.

Ruth was 92 at the time, and we had an incredible weekend of tea, food shopping, and museum-ing. After that visit, every time I would come to New York I would stay with Ruth, and we would go on our little walks to Bryant Park and talk about everything from her father-in-law Bernhard Altmann of Bernhard Altmann Cashmere Sweaters, to her biological father Arnold Karplus, to her monthly travels to the Hamptons to paint. Both Maria and Ruth fled Austria in 1938, just days after the Anschluss. Maria eventually landed in Los Angeles, Ruth in New York.

On Sunday, October 11, at 97 years old, Ruth Rogers-Altmann passed peacefully, fitting for a lady who spent her whole life bringing peace to others... through her elegant congeniality and her uniquely vibrant paintings.

I'm so fortunate to have known you, Ruth, and will never forget our times together in the greatest city on earth. All my love. -G

Monday, October 5, 2015

Live Long and Proper

Is there a proper and an improper way to live?

Yes, I propose, and I'll go so far as to say that there is one overarching wrong way to live and one overarching right way to live. Before I tell you what they are let’s hear what some average humans have to say about the subject:

Eleanor Roosevelt: “The purpose of life is to live it… to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

George Bernard Shaw: “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.”

William Shakespeare: “This life… is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Oscar Wilde: “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.”

Albert Einstein: “There are two ways to live your life: One is as though nothing is a miracle, and the other as though everything is a miracle.”

Johann Wolfgang Goethe: “As soon as you trust yourself you will know how to live.”

Helen Keller: “Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”

Lao Tzu: “Don't resist… let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

Socrates: “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

The way I see it none of the above can make any sense unless you live your life in total surrender to the need to live in the known. Those who convince themselves that around every corner they are in complete knowledge of what lies in front of them, and that they have it all under control, are precisely the ones who never do.

Those who admit uncertainty—and in their uncertainty fervently and relentlessly seek certainty—are the ones who are living properly.

As Alan Watts puts it: “In giving away the control, you’ve got it.”

Monday, September 28, 2015

I Got Mugged Last Night

So I got mugged last night. Hit square over the head with a mug—one of those Worlds Greatest Dads mugs.

Clearly he assumed I didn't hold that title, otherwise a knife or a brick would have sufficed, or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing and he just couldn't handle another great dad in his midst. Well that’s not how the world works, Man. You can’t suddenly become the WGD simply by hitting someone over the head with a mug.

I’m not even a dad. It’s not that I feel any pressure to be, I mean, I’ve never lived as if I had to be what the world tells me I have to be, but at the same time I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit scared shitless of reaching the end of my life not having anyone to carry on my legacy.

I like kids, that’s the thing, and I’m good with them, because I have a childlike curiosity, but finding someone to have kids with? Now that’s… that just feels all kinds of impossible. Anyway. We all have our crap. I figure if I give and receive love fearlessly, I’m comfortable in the throes of the unknown, and I try and squeeze the enjoyment out of each moment—even when I’m doing my taxes or sitting next to someone on a plane who thinks the entire armrest is theirs—I’ll always, at the end of the day, find some way to be at peace with what I do have, not what I don't.

Life really is that impossibly simple... if it's not simply impossible.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Whoa is Me

Dear Readers:

I had the sort of week that had me knocking shoulders with people on the street without apologizing, throwing the don’t-you-even-think-about-being-friendly-to-me stares at my doorman, and losing my patience with stores displaying products without prices—admittedly a pet peeve even when I’m in a good mood. Having both this sour mood and my guilt about being in this sour mood, and by the end of the week eternally confounded at how I can be living perfectly comfortably one moment, and the next moment—because some absurd thought raises its hand and I just have to call on it—suddenly decide I have nothing good in my life… I lay in bed Friday night with my miserable self pity, bouncing around YouTube listening to Alan Watts, someone with whom I visit from time to time.

The best cries are: The ones that suddenly explode out of you, and the ones that fill you with excruciating wonder.

What a gift this man was to our world, and to my soul, on this cool Friday evening in September...

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Craziest Theater Story You Will Ever Hear

Disclaimer: I use no real names in this account, in fact no names at all aside from the playwright, not out of respect for those involved, but because I, in all honesty, don’t remember any of them.

This actually happened, as God is my witness. But there’s no way God would ever admit to seeing it.

It was summer, 2005. Being a struggling actor I was, naturally, poking around the “gigs” section of Craigslist for acting work, when I stumbled on an audition for a stage production of a play called Making Porn by Ronnie Larsen. The ad was urgent—the lead actor had just dropped out and they needed another one ASAP for a 6-week run in St. Louis that would open in two weeks. “There is nudity involved,” it indicated at the end. I was interested. There was no overthinking. As an actor—even a working one—you inevitably end up spending more time mucking around rooms and offices than dancing around stages and sets, so I was itching to just work. Plus, catering at the Music Center was barely paying the bills, and the job was paying $600 a week—an unheard of sum for non-union theater.

I emailed them my phone number and my headshot (no, the other headshot), and they called me within the hour. I drove to the valley, to a small theatre around Magnolia and Vineland, and read from the script in front of a male casting director and a female producer. When I finished they asked me to take my shirt off. I did. “We’ll let you know,” came the four grating words you learn to take with a grain of salt.

On my drive home to Hollywood my phone rang. It was the producer. “You got the part,” she said, rather excitedly. “We leave for St. Louis next week.”

She explained to me the general storyline—my character, a straight, unemployed actor, in order to support himself and his wife, does gay porn, which she cheekily referred to as “Gay For Pay.” She said they typically cast a gay porn star to play the lead but since their gay porn star cancelled, and I, a straight guy, walked through the door, the audience would now be much more likely to buy that a character played by an actual straight guy would be conflicted doing gay porn than they would watching a famous gay porn star “attempting” to be “conflicted.” And apparently there was a quote-un-quote celebrity in the cast—Dan Renzi from Real World Miami (Okay, that’s the only name I remember).

“One more thing,” the producer said before hanging up. “We just want to make sure you’re… that you’re, you know... doing okay down there.” I chuckled, I mean how could I not? “We’ll be okay.” She sounded relieved, and I couldn't stop smiling.

But when I pushed “end” on my flip phone sudden pangs of a kind of anxiety I had never felt before consumed me from head to toe. What did I just say yes to? I started to seriously consider backing out—deleting their number, the email correspondences, and going into some serious Walter Palmer caliber hiding. Fuck. The entire play was resting on my shoulders. I needed to learn 40 pages of lines in two weeks, we didn’t even have time to rehearse before opening night, and, oh yeah, the being-butt-naked-for-85%-of-the-play part of it—that’s what I didn't want to face in a million years.

Our cast of six flew to St. Louis the following week, and miraculously got through opening night without a hitch. The audience, packed with mostly boisterous, middle-aged gay men, had a blast. During one scene I had to sing while I was wearing a thong. I hadn’t sung since 5th grade chorus (Hi, Ms. Gregoryk), and had never worn a thong.

Before I tell you what makes this the craziest theater story you will ever hear, I'll say this about being naked for the first time in front of an audience—the first 30 seconds were the most frightening, the most humiliating, and the most uncomfortable 30 seconds I’ve ever experienced in my life. Thirty-one seconds into it, though, and I'd forgotten I was naked until I walked off stage. I knew I had reached a milestone as an actor—no more was I scared of anything. I was also never more thankful for my mom not happening to be in St. Louis and inadvertently stumbling into a show featuring her butt naked son.

We were midway through the show when all hell broke loose. I was waiting in the wings for my cue to go on stage, when the stage manager busted through a side door: “We’re being arrested.” At first me and the couple other actors who weren’t on stage thought he was kidding, I mean, c’mon, this wasn’t just a mindless strip tease, it was a legitimate play with one might even say a touching narrative, but when he b-lined for the audience we knew he meant business. “Sorry, Folks,” his voice wavering as he faced them, “the show is officially cancelled tonight.” The audience laughed and cheered, figuring it was all part of the act. The confused actors on stage followed him back to the dressing room, and before you knew it naked and half-naked men too aghast to question the validity of anything were making a mad dash for their belongings, throwing on whoever's clothes they could find, fleeing through a back door, sprinting to a fence and scaling it, being careful that nothing hanging out, if you know what I mean, got caught on anything sharp. I’d found a pair of shorts. Others weren’t so lucky.

Three of us made it over the fence, and with our half-open suitcases and duffel bags—shirts and underwear hanging and falling out the sides—we ran three or four blocks to an alley down the street. We all stood there completely vexed and out of breath, too shocked to utter a word. After a few minutes we wordlessly crept back to the theater like we were in an episode of Walking Dead, and noticed the stage manager and the rest of the cast huddled near the front door with pieces of paper in their hands. The actors had been cited for “Public Nudity,” and the stage manager for orchestrating it. Because the theater was connected to a bar, it was “illegal” to be naked anywhere on the premises... and being in the Bible Belt of all places didn't help. Everyone had the same burning question: “Why was this not known/not worked out before we got here?”

The question never really got answered. After 1.5 performances, Making Porn St. Louis was shut down forever. The next evening I was back at the Music Center, fully-clothed, passing out fancy hors d'oeuvres to rich people who didn’t appreciate it.