My Adoptee Life

In late February of 2022 I was contacted by John Flynn, the owner of Rogue Machine Theatre in Los Angeles, to see if I would contribute to the lastest edition of Rogue Machine Theatre’s spoken word event, Rant & Rave. The mother who raised me, Marianne, had passed away only two months earlier and my heart leapt at the opportunity to speak about something so important to her. It was very difficult to write, mainly because I was restricted to 1500 words; I probably wrote around 6,000 words to get down to 1,500. I wanted to include my childhood with my adopted parents, what it was like to find my biological family, and the intrigue of learning more about my biological father. That’s a lot to squeeze into 1500 words. But I did manage it by not naming any names or getting into any whys and whatnots. I’m still not satisfied with it by any measure. Some of the edits took the edge off other parts that remained in and I didn’t have time to polish it completely. But that’s okay, it’s called Rant & Rave for a reason and what I presented didn’t need to be perfect; it just needed to be.

What was truly wonderful is that my younger sister, who I met only a few years ago, came with me from New Mexico for the event. Even better, it was being held in West L.A. on Melrose, so our hotel was on Beverly, which meant The Farmer’s Market, The Grove, Pan Pacific Park and Melrose itself were all within easy reach. I lived in this area for a few years and am very fond of it, so it was a real treat to stay there and to be able to share it with my sister. The features already mentioned occupied most of our time, though we did take walks in the neighborhood and my sister was delighted by the local flowers and plants. Melrose was fun as always, but I will always miss the original Golden Apple Comics store. It was great to see how The Groundlings have expanded to the property across the intersection, also! It wasn’t open to the public as it used to be, so we couldn’t wander in and get nostalgiac looking at the lobby photos like I used to.

It was fun performing at The Matrix; I’ve been there a few times over the years as audience. The lobby photos featured a few shots of Ian McShane in some show, and my friend Will Rothhaar, and there was an old lobby poster for a show featuring Orson Bean, rest his soul, who I had known in my Venice Beach years. The stage was set for Rogue Machine’s production Happy Ending, which meant it was arranged in a long oval with seats rising all round it. The reading was done at one end of the oval, which felt a bit removed from the audience, but we were all game to work with it. The Rant & Rave series always makes use of whatever performance space it’s bastardizing, and so were we. I learned from this performance to always print what you’re reading with very, very large font, so that your eyes can connect more often with the audience.

The entire performative aspect was unexpectedly new to me. I am very accustomed to being on stage in a role, but to get up and do a testimonial felt completely foreign. As soon as I hit my mark I felt a surge of imposterism and what-the-fuckism, but then carried on. Ultimately it was a great experience which taught me the difference between acting and storytelling in terms of performance and purpose, expectation and execution. And, having got a taste of it, my thoughts about doing more of it are plentiful.

The Rant & Rave was in April but video just became available. I could pick it to pieces but you’ve been kind enough to read this far so I’ll spare you. Trust me, I’m rewriting! Anyway, here it is, and thanks for reading and watching.

After Show K&D

One of the joys of a short run is that it’s a short run. I had a wonderful time working with the director, cast and crew of KEELY AND DU with Actors Studio 66, but I will not miss Walter, the character I was playing. If ever you encounter an alternate-reality version of myself who’s as far removed from me as can be, it’s likely to be Walter. He was a real challenge, this extremist pro-life pastor, with his eloquence and self absorption. I wonder what will be next? The attendance was about what I expected for a controversial play being staged by a brand new theatre company, but I’ve never been hooked on large audiences as an actor. Dramatizations about difficult subject matter such as abortion and rape is always going to find smaller audiences; what makes me want to do them is their deeper ability to jar the senses, taking something understandable and turning it on its side. I look forward to whatever I may be cast in next, whether it be a kid’s show or a comedy, but if it’s another disturbing close-to-real story like this one was, I look forward to tackling it. That said, it’s always nice to come out from the spell of a production and relieve the mind of wondering how to promote a show that grim and whether or not Aunt Martha would come to see it. Anyway, I really did love our director, cast, crew, and production staff and look forward to next time!

Keely and Du

I’m very proud to be in the play KEELY AND DU, opening tomorrow night at the Black Cat Cultural Center’s theatre.

I’ve been in a few fluffy, entertaining plays, and those are great fun to do, but my heart is really in difficult plays like this one. KEELY AND DU deftly combines and tackles two very touchy topics, abortion and rape, and turns them into a tale of suspense akin to Stephen King’s MISERY. In a political landscape where a woman’s sovereignty over her own body is actually considered negotiable by some, is it really possible to force a woman to not get an abortion? The character I play, Walter, believes it is not only possible, but necessary; he is the quintessential man who thinks he’s a good guy but is clearly the bad guy because of the lines he’s crossed. He’s a crusader who oversteps boundaries and laws on his quest for what he believes would be a better world. I love portraying characters that reveal the dividing line between right and wrong because by God they are going to try the wrong thing which they think is right. Walter is eloquent and knowledgable, providing very challenging lines to memorize and understand, and often speaking facts and allowing them to carry the weight of his argument.

I’m not sure how many people will turn out to see this sort of mature, intensely intimate and disturbing story, but it’s the perfect vehicle to demonstrate theatre’s ability to showcase a divisive topic and turn it into a genuinely thought-provoking evening of entertainment. We are blessed with a wonderful cast, including Alexandra Empey as Keely, Ramona King as Du (understudied by Gurudarshan), and Jeff Dolececk bending his talent to portray a truly stunning moment in the story. Our Director, Herman Johansen, has been an actor’s dream as a director: focusing tightly on the story while allowing his cast to color it in with our gifts.

The board, staff, and crew of Actors Studio 66 have been completely professional from day one; small theatre can be hit-and-miss in that regard, but this theatre has set a new bar in my experience in terms of competence, skill, and actual practices. I am very thankful for that, and hope Actors Studio 66 sees many more seasons to come.

Other than my appearance for Rogue Machine in Los Angeles in April, this will be my first time on stage as an actor in ten years! More over, it will be the first time any of my New Mexico family and friends have seen me in a role. For those reasons and more, this production will always hold a very special place in my heart. I am a happy actor, and glad to invite folks to our discounted preview evening tonight. The play officially opens tomorrow, Friday June 24, and runs through July 10; 7:30pm show time, 2:00pm on Sundays. Hope to see you there!

At the Black Cat Cultural Center
3011 Monte Vista Blvd NE
Albuquerque, NM 87106

And a last, best thank you to all our crew: Stage Manager Ricky Fox, Costumer Shaina Hovrud, Sound Designer Casey Mraz, Lighting Designer Tim Wilkins, Set & Props Designer Linda Wilson, and our main man Jeff Jung who handles everything the actors need help with during performance. THANK YOU, EVERYONE.

Ticketing info:

with Ed Asner

I once had the privilege of working on stage with Ed Asner, who passed away yesterday. It was a brief experience and limited, but as an actor I learned something very important that weekend which I’ve never forgotten, and which is worth sharing.

Mr. Asner was touring a courtroom drama called “A Nation Divided” which was performing for one weekend in Los Angeles. It was a production developed in New Mexico (Tone Forrest, Director) and needed a local actor to play the Bailiff and as luck would have it, I ended up getting the part. There would be a full rehearsal, then three performances over the weekend. Of course, the Bailiff had few lines and very predictable ones, mostly consisting of the words “All rise,” so it made sense for the tour to use a local actor who could basically speak upon entering and just before exiting, and otherwise remain silent and professionally present for the duration of the play. The only other characters were the Judge, three high-power defense attorneys, and a Nameless Man (Shh: his name was “Ed Asner”) who was prosecuting his own case. The attorneys each represented then-President George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney, and the Nameless Man was charging them with invading Iraq under false pretenses, knowing in advance that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction there.

For the purposes of this writing, I will not debate the merits of the play or of the United States invasion of Iraq, but to anyone familiar with Ed Asner, it should be obvious why he was passionate about this production and touring it around the country. He was a true artist, the kind that uses his position and creativity to produce meaningful messages, and his opinions on just about anything were never cloaked.

When I was introduced to Mr. Asner on the day of rehearsal, he greeted me warmly and shook my hand and took an actual moment to be real and get acquainted. I entered rehearsal knowing I was playing a very minor role, but I was inspired by this great actor to bend every lesson I’d ever taken toward making this character real.

In rehearsal, I quickly realized that it could potentially be a long day. Any actor’s hope while working with an industry giant like Mr. Asner is to contribute to the production in an appreciable way. Inhabiting a mechanical role such as a Bailiff can make one feel disconnected and uninvolved from the core of the play; after all, the Bailiff would no doubt be serving in the same court tomorrow, perhaps even with a different judge. So, what is the difference between a character and set dressing? For me, the day passed much like a tech rehearsal, so it was a question I had time to explore.

The play consisted of back-and-forths between the Nameless Man and the three government attorneys, with the Judge occasionally asking a question, and various witnesses taking the stage long enough to testify before exiting again. The basic goal of just about every character was to sway the judge, who would ultimately render a verdict. Every character had a position staked, which they brilliantly argued. The Judge was not impartial; she was obligated by law to find for the Defense if guilt could not be proven by the Nameless Man. And so, my character was the only one on stage with no argument and no stake in the verdict according to the text of the play; he basically just stood there.

I had a very busy rehearsal that day, within my own thoughts. In a role like this, the Director is very happy with an actor who can do it without falling on his face; the schedule is tight, and their focus is on the primary performances. I entered, exited, and otherwise observed our Director and Mr. Asner and the other primary actors getting everything polished, while I played the Bailiff… who stood there.

But as rehearsal progressed, I realized something about the Bailiff: he was the only character on stage who was free to make up his own mind. With the Judge obligated to presume innocence and everyone else arguing for one side or the other, only the Bailiff was truly in neutral territory. He had perfunctory lines, and any expression on his face would be professionally guarded, but he would be a person with a background and a life, and so I quietly created that life while holding my place on stage between the “All rise” and the “Court is adjourned.” Like myself, the Bailiff had multiple family members in the military and in the health care industry; he would be a person who was drawn to a career in public service, who practiced orderly routines and had a little fun on the weekends with his family. He had two kids in school, including a teenage son still years away from graduation who imagined himself someday joining the Marines.

By the end of rehearsal, I had decided that the Bailiff was the only character present whose fate hung in the balance. Other than the mysterious Nameless Man, mine was the only “little guy” in the story. The Bailiff’s life, his kids, his family, all of them would be affected by what was being decided here today. Who in the tale was more voiceless and vulnerable than the Bailiff? Not the government attorneys or the Judge, or even the witnesses in the story, who at least had something to testify about.

Even after rehearsal was over, I pondered on it, and slept on it.

I don’t remember anything about the next day other than the performance. “All rise!” I declared, and the company took the stage. In character as the trial began, I considered it unremarkable; a rather plain old man airing some grievance against the government; I was just there to get paid. But as the case progressed, it tugged at my inner life. Was this invasion staged on false premises? Did the injury which my brother suffered while in Iraq have nothing to do with protecting us from WMDs? Would we still be entrenched there when my son became a Marine, and why? My character entered the play with a complacency and a routine to him, but by the time court adjourned (for intermission) he could not dismiss the doubts he was experiencing behind his stoic professionalism. As the first act ended, the Judge announced when the trial would resume and I gave the “All rise.” The attorneys filed off into the wings as the Judge exited upstage, and as I followed her I could not help glancing back at this gruff, grizzled, Nameless Man who was here to take the most powerful men in the world to task. Was he right?

Ed’s eyes were ready for me, and he locked my gaze with an urgent expression which read to me as, “You know damn well I’m right.” It was not improvisation; he knew I wouldn’t be able to leave without looking back at him. The Bailiff then had to consciously look away again to take his exit, and the lights went down on the Nameless Man, alone in the courtroom.

The next time I interacted with Ed Asner was the following day as I arrived for our second performance. I went to shake his hand but he grinned and spread his arms open wide and bear-hugged me and clapped my shoulder. It was such a moment for me that all I recall is his effusive praise, like a proud granddad who just watched you score a goal, and a bit of joyous conversation about how there really are no small roles.

Ed Asner elevated the game of everybody he ever worked with. I will be forever grateful for that one weekend I played a Bailiff.

© Andy Wickham, August 30 2021