Andrew Jackson’s Second Blog, or Filling the Space Between Profanities

Jackson here.

American presidents have to stick by a lot of tough goddamn decisions, and I’m often asked by my wife how I could force so much “back-asswards, xenophobic policy pigfuckery” on the Indians, the National Bank, various states and territories, the Legislative and Judicial branches of government and the American people in general. Conquering large swaths of continent ain’t always easy, folks, especially when you’re attempting to usher in a shiny new era of populism in direct opposition to a fully feckless Congress, fiscally manic Washington aristocrats and an entire race of people whose most enduring legacy to this country is leather fringe and fucking rain sticks.

Pictured here; a fucking rain stick.

Keeping America safe is about keeping America informed. Information is what puts food in our mouths, bullets in our guns and freedom in our mouths and our guns. Despite the media’s misinterpretation of the facts about me, I trust the public eye will see me for what I am. Everyone makes mistakes; everyone has a little blood on their hands, everyone feels a little guilty watching the commercial with the Indian crying because someone threw food on his moccasins.

Maybe I’ve been hasty in my decisions for the sake of this country, maybe the Trail of Tears amounts to genocide and a gross misappropriation of executive power, but the important thing is fuck youAndrew Jackson doesn’t just do the will of the people, he is the will of the people. Listen. I’m a flawed guy, admittedly, and that’s why I’m doing this whole Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson thing. Now, more than ever, the American people should understand the current politics of their nation, the politics that can be traced through the long colon of American history, all the way back to my ass, which is where I pulled them out of in the first goddamn place.

Entertainment is the key to reaching the masses, and though my usual way to the heart of a person is by shooting it with bullets, the way to the heart of a civilized people is through art, through the theatre. Because I’m also a person, a really sensitive person. Plus, Rachel is getting tired of my war stories and bedtime roleplay requests.

"Let's cut each other with my knife. Just the tip."

Really hope she doesn’t read this blog.

Essentially, the goal here is just to entertain the masses. Stuff got hella complicated when I tried to actually change this country and it looks like things aren’t getting any easier. Hate-mongering politishits have only gotten politishittier and there’s no room in the modern world for me, a man of ideas so old they predate the Democratic party. Example; I had some minor issues with the way the banking industry made its profits at the expense of the American people, so I shut it down. Really, honestly, does the idea of revamping a corrupt American banking system resonate with anyone anymore?

Thought not.

It seems like politicians have either pumped my ideas full of bovine steroids or forgot about them entirely. Every precedent I set has either been swept under the rug or expanded to the point of absolute cock-boggling absurdity. Even I didn’t see the Patriot Act coming, and I invented the idea of an uberpowered executive branch.

I’m just spitballing here, but when was the last time a new party asserted itself in this country? Come on, people. Kowtowing to the Washington elite isn’t only unpatriotic, it’s goddamn boring. Can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m starting to miss the frontier. Hell, at least you could smoke inside in 1828.

Everybody out there in cyberspace, listen up. Even if politics aren’t your thing, even if you don’t like music, even if you’re not a human, come see Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Sex, rock n’ roll, war, leather, weasels; this show is everything you never knew you always wanted. Everything and more.

How I First Met a Puppet

Roll back in time with me. It is early March 2010. I am in St. Louis attending the Midwest Theatre Auditions located on the campus of Webster College. This is not my first time at this audition conference, but I am still full of nervous excitement. However, this year was different than the past two. I knocked my audition out of the ballpark.  To change it up, I decided to do something ballsy and sing a song completely out of context. This has now has become my norm. Songs like Poker Face, Bibbidy Bobbidy Boo, Tik Tok, Total Eclipse of the Heart…you get the idea. So needless to say, I had a healthy plate of callbacks to attend. And I was planning on making it to them all. I wrote down all of my callback information, gathered my belongings, and was on my way…

So, I’m doing my little callback thing when the story really begins. I am sitting in the hallway reviewing some material when a couple of gentlemen walk by and recognize me. “Hello, MJ,” they say. “How are your callbacks this year? You had a great audition!” I greet them and thank them. These guys called me back last year for their company in Missouri. They peruse my list of callbacks as we briefly chat. Then, one of these dudes exclaims, “Oh! Madcap! Have you gone to that one yet?” I reply, “No, not yet, but I am planning on it.” The fellow continues, “The lady who is running that callback is crazy and such a good time. She sat behind us in the auditions. You will love her!!!” With my interest peaked, I headed straight for my callback with Madcap Puppets from Cincinnati, where I met the one and only, Mel Hatch Douglas.

Now for those of you who don’t know Mel very well, crazy might actually be the best singular word to describe her. But Mel is not crazy in the typical sense. She is crazy in the most endearing, lovable kind of way possible. Mel is passionately fond of all kinds of diet soda, has a huge mane of curly long hair usually found in perfectly crafted braids, she wears a watch on her ankle, and has a way of showing love and compassion to almost every single person she meets. None of this means that I had a good callback…

I sucked. Let me reiterate…I SUCKED! I walk in and immediately notice all of the hand-in-mouth puppets. They seemed to be everywhere. These are the puppets that we, as Americans, are most familiar with because of shows like Sesame Street and Avenue Q. We start the audition and I, quite frankly, could not get a damn thing right. I started with a voice that was too harsh. Mel stopped me and started laughing as I began to cough. Frequently, I would speak for the puppet without moving it’s mouth. Often, I would not even look at the puppet at all as I moved it around. Mel was gracious and kind…but let me be the first to say, I wasn’t ready for puppetry yet. Or so I thought.

I arrive in Cincinnati a mere six months later as the resident actor here at Know Theatre. Eric informs me that I will be working on a show called The Dragon. He explains that this will be the last show of our season and it will be a collaboration with another company in town, Madcap Puppets. Somehow or other, I did not make the connection right away. I knew we were going to be working with puppets and having virtually no experience in the field, I was wary.

The day of the first workshop arrived. I sit upstairs patiently awaiting the work. I see what appears to be a costume rack with long wooden figures hanging from it with strings. “These must be our little puppet guys,” I think to myself. We are just about to start the workshop when none other than the good ol’ Mel Douglas comes trudging up the stairs and into the theatre. Little did I know we would be working together after all!

I have to say that though my first experience with Mel and puppets was very poor, my second one, working on The Dragon, was quite the opposite. Though the style of puppetry is very different from that of hand-in-mouth puppets, I think I have come a long way since my days of callback misery. In earnest, it is being around trained puppeteers such as Mel and John that has informed everything I have done and everything I have learned. They are brilliant artists. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn a craft that I would have never tried otherwise.

Oh the Places Know’ll Go

Not to sound like one of those hokey one liners from a fairy tale, but one of my dreams has come true…kind of. My voice is on a cast recording! Sure, it’s not a Broadway cast or even an original cast recording (that’s where the “kind of” part comes in), but it’s a cast recording. What is this cast recording I speak of? Don’t lie. I know you’re asking yourself this question right now. So here, I’ll tell you. It’s only the new super amazing all star cast recording of “Calculus: The Musical!” What?!

I got the email asking for participation in the project last November, and of course I jumped on it. For those of you who don’t know, I lived with this show on the road from Feb.-May of 2009. It holds a really special place in my heart not only because it allowed me to be multiple characters in the course of 50 minutes and let me take the best road trip of my life thus far, but mostly because of the amazing response this show gets from high school students all over the country. And, let’s be honest, these songs are just plain fun to sing.

Going into the process, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  I have never been in a recording studio other than to visit my voice instructor, and in the version of the show I was a part of, my role wasn’t really the “singing” role; it was more of the instrumentation/acting role. I honestly didn’t think I was going to get much singing material thrown my way…but I did! I don’t want to give away any juicy details, but not only did I get to belt my face off on my absolute favorite song in the show, but I also got to lay down some vocals on a bonus track that isn’t in the show. What song, you ask? Well, you’re going to have to listen to the recording to find that one out!

My favorite moment during my recording session, besides the new track and the belting my face off like a 21st century Janice Joplin for “Under the Curve,” was being able to back myself up on another one of my show favorites, “L’Hopital.” At first, this concept really freaked me out. I hate hearing myself sing, not because of my vocal ability, but because of self criticism. I always have that little voice in my head telling me a vowel placement could have been better, or that a single  note in a phrase should have had a brighter quality. You know the voice I’m talking about; we all have one for some reason. So when I was told the background track I just laid down was going to be streamed into my headphones so I could more easily lay down the lead vocal track…I’m not gonna lie, I had a one second long panic attack. Literally one second…I know. I timed it. But the second the track started, the panic was gone and I experienced the most surreal moment I’ve had in quite some time.   I was singing a duet with myself.  And the sound designer made my recorded voice sound good!  Never in my life did I think I would be able to say those words.  It was in that moment that I really realized what it was that I was becoming a part of.  Soon, my voice will forever be a part of an amazing educational tool, and I know it’s going to sound good!  If I got chills just from hearing my own voice being played back to me, I can’t wait to hear all of my other friends on the album and for all of the people around the country who already know and love this show to get a chance to hear this amazing collaboration full of new takes on “old favorites” and a brand new song thrown into the mix.

I have yet to hear any other vocal tracks other than my own, so even I don’t know what the finished product is going to sound like.  All I know is with the list of people who contributed to this recording, it’s going to be a great finished product.  The thing I’m most curious about is hearing all of our voices together.  I was all alone in my recording session, so it’s going to be a treat for my ears to hear a track with all of these other voices that were recorded at different times all mixed together to create a great song.  You know there will be more from me when that epic day arrives!  But until then…

Cheers!

-b

The Little Isaac Chronicles: Second Semester

Our audiences can smell summer vacation, but before they get to lay out in the sun or play video games, they have a little thing called the AP test to get through. It’s a drastic change from where our high school students were two months ago in their understanding of Calculus. Every show more and more people are understanding and reacting to the math jokes with more ease. No longer is there a delay where the audience is getting a joke after the fact, they are becoming more familiar with the material. I love talking with the audience after the shows, and finding students who are so excited that we have shown them a musical that is meant for them.

In the last week I’ve met three students in particular, who have been so eager to thank us for coming, all three of them were quite a bit younger than their peers. The youngest was in the 8th grade and I could tell that this student may not always be accepted for his intellect and love of calculus. It’s so exciting to provide an alternate expression for their passion, and open up eyes to a whole other medium. We are ready for the rest of this busy and fast semester, and hope to spread the love of Calculus to hearts all across the country.

The Little Isaac Chronicles: Calculus Characters

So today instead of talking about all of our experiences on the road, I thought I would rewind a little bit and talk about how my characters in the show came to be.

We had about three and a half weeks of rehearsals until we began the touring process of the show. In actors terms,  I think that’s a pretty good amount of time, especially when you are not just acting, but also accompanying and teching the show.

The rehearsal process is always different depending on the theatres and directors you work with. I found this rehearsal process to be extremely encouraging and open. This kind of environment is the perfect atmosphere to develop and bring new ideas to the table.

After reading through the script it was decided that my role in the show would be mostly a multicharacter and Sean would play Issac Newton. I determined that I play about ten characters including myself, so I had quite the work cut out for me.

To be honest, I was so excited to play a multicharacter role. During our honeymoon, Sean took me to the west end production of The 39 Steps, in which four characters play out a murder mystery as multiple roles. This show was absolutely amazing and really helped me with preparation for Calculus. I found that it is a paradigm that a small cast show must have big and radically different characters in order to capture an audience. Usually the mantra of musical theatre is bigger, faster, funnier so I know that I’m not making some life altering discovery, however I did realize that each of my characters had to be drastically different from one another.

I also had a little added pressure because we watched a former tour’s performance of the show, which was extremely helpful in viewing the overall flow and concept of the show, but created this little voice in my head telling me “don’t copy another actor.” I am living with these characters for the next 8 months and I have to love them!

So I proceeded to start bringing these characters to life. Usually in my development process, I start with my characters voices. I think my strength is voice so therefore I do the easy stuff first and then work on the physicality. I tried to add females into the show wherever possible, since most of the historical characters in the show are male. Sometimes when you are developing characters, the character just comes to you on the first try. You just have this mental picture of
what the character should be. Other characters are more difficult to discover. I found my most difficult character to form was Archimedes. I was just confused as to how this guy should sound, what his attitude was?  So I worked on three different choices for him and just took in my first choice to rehearsal. Luckily, that was the winner!

Something that has really changed my acting life, is a piece of advice my senior acting teacher gave me in college. She said, “always make three big choices for your character in the rehearsal process.”. The theory is that your director might love some or all of your choices and the worst case senario is that they hate them all, but at least you are doing the work. I find myself to be a very analytical and focused personality type when in the rehearsal process, so making three big decisions for my characters really helps me get out of my head as an actor because I’m no longer thinking about what others are thinking of my performance, but instead I am focused on my choices and sticking to them.

So that’s how my characters came to fruition. I find that during the show, I get so excited when I changing costumes from one character to another. It’s also really great to see which characters the audience really reacts to. I love to play up my characters even more when I know the audience is captivated by them. It’s just fun.

So that’s how I did it. I’ll let Sean tell you about his process when he wakes up:)