Friday, May 30, 2014

...but my brain gets in the way

So preparing to play Ronald McCowan has probably been one of the most difficult roles I’ve ever prepped. I was going to say prepped for, but I didn’t want to end that sentence with a preposition or say “for which I’ve prepared. Anyway…I soon realized Ronnie has been so damn challenging because one: we are so different and two: like a disease, I continue to compare myself to other artists.
The first is much easier to overcome. Tom Collins (RENT) was much easier to play. And I think that’s due to the combination of us being so much alike and me molding Collins onto a new form, me. I pretty much am Collins except my immune system is a rock star. But I think I reconciled all of my and Ronald’s differences with our capacity to love. I believe we share one incredibly valuable trait our heart.
The second is not as easy to sleigh. When I accepted this role back in October even then I realized that this show would separate the men from the boys so to speak…or type. For much of the show we are standing, relatively stationary and gathered around a truck. I knew because of the limited movement and the very nature of the show that we were creating that this show would identify the seasoned actor and the novice. Once we started rehearsal, I looked around and nearly immediately placed myself as a novice. I’m pretty damn confident as a singer, but I still have SO much to learn as an actor. And knowing this about my ability is really intimidating when there are so many talented, experienced actors on stage. I know it’s not healthy nor is it productive to compare myself to other performers. They are always going to be better at being themselves than I will ever be at being them. I KNOW THIS! I learned that from mama O (Ms. Winfrey of course). That is why I play to my strengths: my voice and presence.
Through so much of this process I have been witheringly intimidated. I really wasn’t able to shake it off until a couple of weeks ago. Because I realized no matter what I was going through or felt in my comparison to others, I still needed to do my work.  So I tried my best to put away all the artistic insecurities and I think I may have finally found Ronald. I think this is going to be a role that grows from the beginning of the run to the end. I’m super interested to see Ronald at the end of this trucktacular journey.

New mantra: insecure? …perhaps, afraid? …never

Monday, April 28, 2014

My Problem Right There

So it's been a little while, huh? I just wanna say I do really miss performing RENT. I will always love that music and have a deep connection with that show. Thanks Jon. Well, now on to Hard Body as the cool kids call it. If you are wondering (not wandering), what "Hard Body" is, the full title is Hands on A Hard Body. It's a musical based on a real life competition where participants compete for a brand new Nissan, hard body truck. Players must keep at least one hand on the truck at all times. If at any time a player completely releases him/herself from the truck, that player is out. No squatting, sitting, or leaning. Apparently you can't shower's SUMMER TIME...yuck and double yuck...B.O to the MAX!

I guess when I started rehearsal for RENT, I was at an unusual advantage. I had known the music since high school so I was able to focus on other things outside of the music. So I kind of forgot that most of the time if not all of the time, I'd be learning new music for a show. Thanks for spoiling me JON! With all that said, Hard Body's music is not hard, my problem is just getting re-acquainted with consistent music rehearsal on my own. The music is a country, pop, semi-gospel, rock combo plate. Not like T. Swift though, I love story her. Needless to say (Ima say it anyway), initially the music was a problem. The music has taken quite some time to grow on me. But I do enjoy it way more than I did upon my first listen in December. I really like all of Ronald's music. Oh yeah...I play this guy named Ronald McCowan. He's quite the lady's man (just like me). He has had and does have a few different lady friends as he calls them. I really like the opening song too, Human Drama Kind of Thing. It's a real groover!

I will admit I've been having trouble "finding Ronnie". I think my problem is we are pretty different. Me and Collins were SO similar (not sim-u-lar). It was easy to discover him. It was really like finding myself, like therapy. But Ronnie...I'm kind of "Searching for Ronald McCowan" here...or Fischer rather. I'll find him. I just got some work to do...a lot of work. 

Finding Ronnie McCowan, now that's gon be my problem right there.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

It's Time to Ignite The Air

So...I feel like a super hip kid...this is my first blog from (drum roll it babe) my PHONE! Technology is b-a-n-a-n-a-s! is the first day of closing weekend and I've been "oddly emotion" (I quoted myself). But that is a story for later. 

So in between weekends I've been resting my voice on Sunday and Monday then jumping back on it on Tuesday. This week was no different except I added a little extra credit HIV/AIDS research. This is gonna sound lame but...all the while I was looking thing up, I was listening to the cast album. So damn melodramatic. As I was listening and looking I felt that damn lump rising in my throat. I think for once I was starting to realize the gravity of this opportunity. I'm Tom Collins in mutha-fludpuckin' RENT! AHHHHHHHH!!! But not only that, my attitude towards life has transformed into Collins' Act II philosophy. Not to mention we get to join the ranks of so many actors that have assumed these roles. We are a part of musical theater HISORY! (...and we kinda sold out every show too)

I was talkin to a fellow castmate and I told her realistically speaking, because of our age, this would probably be our only chance to play these characters...Revelation much?

All of these damn words or just to say that this is it. This is our last chance to effect people the way we have in past weekends as this group of actors. We owe it to ourselves, the audience and Jonathan to leave EVERYTHING on the stage this weekend. 

Let's ignite the air,
Thanks Jonathan 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Rediscovery of Life Through Death

(sigh) So life and death are two incredibly complex human conditions. Friends die, children die, parents die, long time pets die all for reasons we may be aware of or for reasons we may never know. For me the "not knowing" piece is the most difficult part to accept. I'm a person who NEEDS answers and many times I can't accept "there's no answer" as an answer. This is going to get brighter, I promise...just not right away. 

I found out last Friday evening that my godmother had past away. Her funeral was today. She had been fighting cancer for the last few years and this last year seemed to be the most aggressive battle. She had been on my mind really heavy lately so I called her last Monday. Her voice was so frail. I could hear how weak she was and yet she was still asking about me and how my life was going. That really broken my heart, but I kept it together for her as best as I could. I was still optimistic about her condition until she asked me to sing at her funeral. With her trembling voice she asked me to sing You Are So Beautiful. I think she knew she was already on borrowed time. We exchanged I love yous and that was the last time I would ever talk to her.

The last time I saw her was from the stage of Parade. She came and suffered that cold ass theater just to see me. And those of you who've seen Parade before...IT'S LONG. But she was there just for me. She and my godfather, her husband, are without flinching my biggest fans. They've been my biggest fans since even before my first high school show (Once on This Island). I knew she loved me, but now I'm starting to find out just how much. 

Random tangent: I remember one time my godparents took me out to dinner, my godfather dropped something and yell out damnit! Mind you these two are really model christians mind, body, soul and in practice. She looked at him like did you really just cuss in front of Marshall? And I looked at him like you really just cussed. I couldn't wait to get home and tell my mama. They had been together for over fifty years. Talk about seeing a partner at their worst and best...they had done and seen it all. They were truly, completely, hopelessly in love. 

You might be asking Marshall, when does this get brighter? And what does this have to do with anything. Well here you go. She will never get a chance to see who I really am. I'll never get a chance to tell her. I never told her, but she knew and I know she accepted me. It's so unfortunate that death has to encourage me to fully accept myself so that I can always be transparent and genuine. I've learned that I have to be vulnerable, accepting the possibility of love, laughter, and even hurt and pain. The words there's only now, there's only here...give in to love or live in fear have never made more sense than they do today. I've rediscovered life through death. Godmama...tonight's show is for you.

No other other way
No day but today

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Metaphysic Puzzle

So...I feel like I start every post this way...with so. Anyway, so when I was figuring out what I should initially write about and what actors generally used this platform for and I found that it could in a sense attempt to reveal the "process" of the "actor". Well I haven't done that (insert dramatic music) until now. I know that I haven't written about this so called "process" because I don't have least not yet. I've realized I'm in the process of getting a..process. I guess I should be a good teacher and define "process". For me an actor's process is the steps that actors take to create a fully developed character, a wholly imagined human being (or thing or creature...equality for all, right?). This includes research to discover everything possible about the character being portrayed, how the character would walk, talk, think, move smile even laugh. Collins does NOT have my laugh by the way. He absolutely does not have my giggle either(heh heh). 

I was talking to one of my kiddos' parents last week about same sex marriage and she told me a story about a friend of the family that died of HIV/AIDS. So we got to talking and of course RENT came up (this is going somewhere I promise). So long story short she has a friend at the health department that she snatched some HIV/AIDS info from to give me. So!'s the point of this all. One of my co-workers said (after hearing about what that parent had given me) "is that a part of your lines? you're going to read that too"? ...I'm sure I looked a little confused at first, but then I answered "yep". And she looked pretty shocked. After that I realized the existence of the actor's "process" is not common knowledge. There are some that just assume a stellar performance is that actor delivering lines or singing lyrics ultra well. And that perception is completely understandable. When I was on the other side of the stage, I remember thinking damn...these people are so incredibly talented, but I never thought about how they got there either. But when you think about it it's actually a great thing, the audience forgetting to consider an actor's preparation. It should seems like what's on stage is just happening. It should look effortless. And I think this is more important with RENT than any other show I've done. Because we're creating a brief glimpse into the lives of real people, with real relationships, real addictions, real empty wallets and real tragedy and joy.

Honestly, I generally refer to myself the performer as a singer who acts as opposed to the opposite. I know that my gift of music far out weighs my gift of acting. With that said, this show really marks the first time that I've attempted to make a living, breathing character that actually exists in "his world". 

Even though I feel like I've been preparing for this role since high school, Tom Collins is proving to be one of the most challenging characters I've ever played. (deep, reluctant breath) Truth be told, Collins is becoming increasingly difficult to play because of our similarities. (SPOILER ALERT, kind of) When we meet Tom he is at his rock bottom: no job, no money, no love, perhaps no family either. I really think at Tom's introduction he pretty much just has the clothes on his back. This is why he gets so pissed about his coat. It's kind or a metaphor for his present situation. We really meet Collins at what is probably the lowest point of his life. He feels utterly hopeless and then to rub pepper in those wounds he gets the hell beat out of him AND they take his coat... in the dead of winter, on CHRISTMAS EVE, pre global warming. Not to mention the fact that he lies on the ground for at least an hour. He had truly given up.

At the end of last year I, like Tom, had arrived at my rock bottom. I started to think about all the time I had wasted beginning at high school graduation spanning all the way to the present. Most of us realize how youth is an asset in this industry, almost a resume builder. So I was dealing with that, working at a job that paid with smiles and sunshine, living in my mama's house, accepting myself, being single, not having the courage to chase my purpose, in addition to having an over $90,000 degree that I would never use. I thought about all of that everyday almost all day. So needless to say I fell into a spirally depression. I felt hopeless, empty, worthless. Ironically enough, I accepted a couple of years prior that my purpose was to change people's lives, make them feel something, think, react, then move them into action. For me this meant performance. But how would I do that if I didn't do it. This is an aspiration I've felt since I was ten, but never had a glimmer of courage nor the confidence to pursue it. 

These likenesses are why I've been finding it so hard to commit to Tom. I know how it feels to give up and to remain in that dark space. So I've really been fighting my connection with Tom. I'm just so afraid of visiting that mind set even for a moment even though I think it's necessary in order to present a real person. (sigh of relief) last rehearsal I started to make a shift in my approach to Tom. I think I'm really starting to be open to his struggle, to his humanity. (SPOILER ALERT) For the first time I really started to connect with the I'll Cover You (Reprise). I was able to quite literally step into Collins shoes. And the content and context of that piece was really turbulent inside me. I had to work for the song not to emotionally destroy me. I've been labeling that night's rehearsal as my "break through". It was what I had been waiting for. All I had to do was surrender to Collins and his experience. Which I've found is of course easier said than done.

Through college I didn't do any shows. Then in 2011 I did my first show in like three years, the start of my one show a year routine. I just hadn't committed to my purpose or the possibility of reaching it. Once a year was just enough for me to say that I wasn't good enough to do it professionally in my then very dark mind. I really only recently jumped back into theater last year. A friend told me I should audition for, Parade, a show I had never heard of, just to see what happens. I was certain that I wouldn't audition. I had really subconsciously accepted that my then reality was how it was going to be...always wondering what if. But for some reason I went to the audition...and got the role. This is how I know there is an all knowing force at work in our world with our greatest interest in mind. Because if I was just in control, I would have never made it to that audition or here.


I opened up my restaurant in Santa Fe

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It's Gonna Be A Happy New Year


So lately I've been battling with MY idea of RENT Vs what we are actually creating. I've discovered that it is quite dangerous to have a completely formed, preconceived construct of a show before you even begin the communal journey. Like I've said before, RENT has been on my theater bucket list since high school so of course I've cast voices, staged it and even hear the music in a certain way. This can be ultra destructive to the way I interact with/approach our group. I thought I was over this when I gave myself a "call to Jesus" during the very first rehearsal. I guess I fooled me...RENT just means so much to me on a personal level and I wanted everyone to connect with the text and the story and the message just as I have. But that is not even a little bit realistic. Everyone has to have their own process inside of a show. 

RENT is really the quintessential cherry on the sundae of my life experience. In a word, it's the icing on my cake of self acceptance... "warts and all". But they're not actually warts at all...they're kind of the salt of my life. Bringin' da flavuh! They are what make me who I am. So...with all THAT said, I'm really starting to see how fortunate I am to be a part of this very unique ride.  Last night's rehearsal showed me the potential that I saw at the very first rehearsal. I think most would agree that last night showed us our potential to create something really poignant and profound. Look! ...your potential's showing. The talent in our group is really sick and ridiculous. We have the ability to take our audience on a crazy roller coaster ride that will leave them crying "more", "more", "more", "more" (<<sorry for that). All and all, I realized I had to leave my preconceptions at the door in order to create something original. Last night was when I accepted that more than ever. Now, as they say, onward and upward.

Thanks Jon

Wednesday, February 5, 2014!? Yeah you FOO!

(sigh of hesitation), I was suppose to start writing this maybe...mmm...three weeks ago. Don't judge me: procrastinator code. Journey with me back to the end of October 2013. I had finished my audition and was waiting for the decree. It actually only took a week for New Line to contact me. Then I got the call, "we want to offer you the role of TOM COLLINS". Don't cry on the phone Marshall be "professional", whatever that means. So...what? In all seriousness, I was so at peace with the very real possibility of not being offered any part in the show. My audition was really like an American Idol blooper...ok maybe not that bad, but it was nowhere near a great audition. So needless to say I accepted the role. At the risk of sounding like a corny Ms. Universe pageant winner, I'm going to say it anyway, I've been dreaming of this moment since I was a little boy...well since I was in high school. RENT was like the second musical I had ever listened to (Once on This Island being the first) and it instantly "Lit My Candle". So that little (actually rather plump) high school sophomore in me was freaking the hell out. After I accepted the role, I had the typical Marshall Jennings reaction I've coined as IAD (Inadequate Actor Disorder). After I called mi hermana favorita (Anna) and the joy wave had settled on shore, I FUH-REAKED! What had I done? I would have to fill the leather coat originated by Jesse L. Martin and curtained called by Michael McElroy. AH! Oh, sorry...didn't mean to scare you. How could I play such an iconic musical theater role?

Honestly, with help from a friend (not's Anna), I JUST accepted that I could play this role, that I was capable, that I was worthy, that I was enough about a week ago. Before, I would say things like "I don't believe I've been given this opportunity"...why me?... This is like a dream I'm waiting to wake up from. But through a lot of self searching and conversation, I soon started to hear what I was really saying: "I don't think I'm good enough so how on Earth could I be playing this role"? This kind of thought is SO toxic. You know during the first rehearsal I was STILL unsure if I was even playing Collins, if all of that had happened at joke when I started singing, I was kind of waiting for Scott (the director) to say "why do you keep singing Collin's part? ...Stop it"! CRAZY?!? (Like Monica) I KNOW! When I became aware of what I was actually internalizing, I really worked to throw all those thoughts away. And of course I'm not perfect; bad habits are hard to break. But now when they creep in, I go Power Ranger on that ass. White Ranger ALL DAY! So now it's onward and upward as "they" say. I'm more confident in my ability than ever before. This is the power of RENT and what I want to transmit to our audience.

Thanks Jonathan
Rest in peace