I haven’t mentioned in this blog that I wrote, animated, and directed a short film for the FDR Presidential Library, illustrated by my long-time friend Richard Prouse, and production managed by Alex Tuller. That film, which was named a finalist in the New York Animation Awards in January, today was named a Semi-Finalist for the Flickers Rhode Island Film Festival, an Oscar-qualifying festival.
No, I have not updated this blog in ages. Yes, I need to. Good news is, I don’t have time to do that because I’m insanely busy, but I can start from the things happening today.
Will we qualify for an Oscar? No. We’re semi-finalists, not finalists, but please rub more salt on that wound.
But seriously, they had over 7000 submissions for 350 slots. I’m so incredibly honored that this little film, created for education, made it through adjudication in such a prestigious festival.
Last month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin released his new country album “These Blazing Fingers.” This month we take you behind the scenes of his music video shoot with CMT-Award winning director Wes Edwards. Featuring US Treasury spokesperson and former Fox News Commentator Monica Crowley.
This video was an experiment with my sketch partner Theresa Moriarty to see if we could film our parts entirely independently of each other and make them work as one sketch. My part was filmed by Alex Tuller. Mini is played by my nephew Rex. And Wes Edwards plays himself.…
Gotta keep busy during lock down, so I dragged Alex into shooting a comedy sketch, and my friend Theresa helped virtually. I don’t do impressions, so I can’t say my Mnuchin is spot on, but my Mark Meadows is so uncanny it’s freaking me out.…
When I’m a little kid I just want to tell funny stories like my Uncle Andy. He’s the one in the middle of the picture — below my mom and above Aunt Mika — with his tongue out.
You know someone like him. The whole space brightens when he walks in the room and everybody laughs before he leaves, whatever the situation.
Eighteen years ago at the wake for his mom, my Baba, we’re all shell shocked, the room is silent. Baba was a force of nature, a crazy, super-talented artist — emphasis on crazy — and an academic with a work ethic no one should try to live up to (I won’t bore you with the details of the 11-volume encyclopedic history of Ukrainian music she assembled). So much talent, so much ability. And wonderfully incompetent in the role of doting mother and grandmother.
But she tried hard.
Andy breaks the silence at her wake by saying, “When I quit drinking, Ma comes up to me and says, ‘I’ve been talking to Mika and she explained how important this is for you, and I want to help. So I’m going to quit drinking too.’ But Ma, I says. You don’t drink. And she says, ‘I was going to quit coffee, but that would be too difficult.’”
Andy brought Baba back into the room for me. For all of us, because we all had a story like that about her, and somewhere under the sadness we understood that she’d always be with us. Laughter heals. Andy never said that but he knew it to his core.
The day Andy dies, about a month ago, my cousin Alana and I are sitting at the kitchen table in the Toronto house where my grandparents lived, having tea and talking. This is what my family does. My Baba and Dido sat at this table having tea and talking. My mom, Alana’s mom (my Aunt Mika), and our Uncle Andy sat around this table having tea and talking. We’ve seen this our whole lives and now it’s our turn.
Sitting there with Alana, I have a revelation but don’t want to say it out loud because it feels a little self-centered. Then she says it so I don’t have to: “You and Andy have a lot in common.”
How is it just occurring to me that my Uncle Andy is my biggest influence?
I write my first song because of Andy. This is in Atlanta where my parents live. Andy’s at Oglethorpe University, I’m four, my sister Krissi’s an infant. Andy’s babysitting us. I’ve got the kitchen sink full to the top with water, soap bubbles, and my boat collection, and I’m flooding every corner of the room. Krissi is busy flooding also — diaper after diaper after diaper.
When my mom calls to check on us, Andy says, “Well, Dean wants to join the Navy, and this kid keeps shitting and shitting and shitting.”
At which point, Andy hears four-year-old Dean in the kitchen start singing, “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit,” and keep singing it til the parents get home.
I still think it’s the best song I’ve ever written, and it’s got Andy all over it.
Maybe two or three years later, I discover the stereo in the dining room at my grandparents’ house. You remember those old stereo cabinets? Big wooden furniture, you slide the door to the right, you’ve got a stereo, to the left, the record collection? Andy’s record collection.
I’m sitting at the dining room table, headphones on, stack of records in front of me, and Andy starts sorting through what I’ve missed. He hands me Taj Mahal’s Live at Fillmore East record, The Real Thing.
“You gotta listen to this one,” he says. “He’s got four tubas in his band.”
Now, six-year-old Dean is thinking the exact same thing you are: “Does anybody need to hear a band with four tubas?”
But if six year olds are experts at anything, it’s at tuning in to people’s energy, and you can’t look away from the electricity coming off Andy when he talks about music. There was no one I trusted more, and the music he played for me was raw and real and human, the type of music that heals in that same way laughter can.
To this day I still listen to The Real Thing. It’s that good. And he kept putting blues records in front of me, and then country, and then jazz. But it’s only now that I hear that early music in every song I write and perform. It’s now that I look back and understand he made that music so much a part of me that when I moved to New York City to go to college, I got cast as the blues singing plant Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors.
When I’m nine Andy catches me on the floor of his room reading through his collection of National Lampoons. “Kid, why you keep going through my stuff?” he says, but he can’t stop himself from showing me more, and it’s the same excitement he brings to music.
He hands me the Blues Brothers album Briefcase Full of Blues, and when he’s not explaining who’s in the band and where else I’ve heard them, he’s telling me about Saturday Night Live, and oh, you gotta listen to this Steve Martin record.
Nine-year-old Dean takes all that back to Atlanta and everywhere he goes. I write my first sketch comedy, a live bowling tournament broadcast by Howard Cosell where last year’s champion has a bout of diarrhea that drowns an entire city, performed into my dad’s Dictaphone. Okay that last part was stupid. Dad grounds me and I don’t get to go to Six Flags.
But that doesn’t stop Dean from taking his new love for comedy to fourth grade, which lands him in detention until he graduates from high school. In that time, Dean will only manage three days without some sort of detention or KP duty.
All thanks to my Uncle Andy.
But within a year of graduating college, I land my first regular humor column in an international magazine, go on to write for publications on five continents, and when I stop doing that, I realize that my ability to write a punch line could pay a lot of bills in advertising.
And in the past two years, I toured a comedy and music show around the US and UK, all that time telling funny stories like my Uncle Andy, playing music that grew out of what he played for me. But I didn’t understand that’s what I was doing.
All those years ago when my dad grounded me for being silly, I understood why. He wanted what was best for me. And thank God my Uncle Andy was there to remind me, “No. This is the good stuff.”
He was always teaching me, always supporting my interests, especially when I worked for him for two summers in his general contracting business. Andy taught me how to build and fix things. One day we’re working on my grandparents’ cottage, screening in the front porch so Baba can get some peace from the mosquitoes, and he’s showing me how to cut molding. You want them just right, so they fit tightly in place and stay there without nails or screws.
“If you’re gonna bother to do something,” he says, “you do it right.”
I hear him say that every time I work on my house, and sometimes I’d call him for help, although I try not to call too often because I don’t want to be that relative. But when Alana and I are sitting at the table at my grandparents’ old house, my Aunt Mika says, “Andy would tell me every time you called. It really meant a lot to him.”
I wish I’d known that. I have so many more things I need to fix.
But he took care of that too, by showing me that the people you love don’t really leave. They’re still in the room, and every time I pick up a tool, or sit at my desk to write my next project, I can hear Andy’s voice and the whole space brightens.
(Live on the stage of Theater 3 at Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh, image by Chris Scott.)
Let me tell you about Suicide Wednesday. As prepared as I was going to Edinburgh Fringe, I did not know about Suicide Wednesday, and it’s important to share what I learned.
Imagine you’ve spent the past two years getting your show ready for the biggest arts festival in the world, a three-and-a-half week run alongside some of the best stage performers on the planet, roughly 4000 shows every day, all competing for attention. You come to a place like this to prove yourself.
And by that first Monday, you have. Yeah, preview audiences were slow. Of course they were, nobody in Edinburgh knows who you are. But by Monday, you’ve got this beast of a festival figured out: a raucous, nearly sold-out crowd and multiple industry people in the seats. At the end of the show, one of those people isn’t just tweeting about you, he’s emailing you about a UK tour. Let’s set a meeting he says, and you email him back immediately.
This wasn’t so hard. Some people just have it and you’re one of the lucky ones. Although it gets in your head a little. A lot. By Monday evening you’re an ADD tornado of whirling joy and ego, burning enough energy to light this town for the run of the festival. But it feels good. This is fun.
You have trouble sleeping Monday night – hard to come down from that – and when you wake up Tuesday, you’re starting to feel what they call Fringe Flu. No time to stay in bed though, you need to get out into the streets and flyer for your now-successful show. So get some LEMSIP, that’ll will help with the cold, and check your email to see what industry guy has to say.
Nothing. No email yet from industry guy. Shake it off, grab your flyers, head out.
But it’s hard pitching your show to people on the street today. All that energy you had yesterday? What goes up must come down, and you realize you’re feeling the onset of depression like an addict coming off a serious bender and looking for his next score, which also describes how people are seeing you right now. You’re not selling them anything in this state, except maybe your need for rehab.
That’s okay. One day of not flyering won’t hurt. At least that’s what you think until you walk out on stage and there are five people in the audience.
So far, today is less good than yesterday. But it feels more than less good. Your emotional swing has it feeling catastrophic. Doesn’t matter, you don’t want another empty house tomorrow, so you take your sickness and depression and flyers back onto the street after your show. But now something different is happening. Everyone you approach is saying the same thing.
“I’m catching the bus home today.”
Fringe’s first audience exodus has begun, and the new people haven’t arrived yet. You check your sales for tomorrow before you go to bed. Two tickets. Note to self: don’t check sales before bed again. You check your email. Still no word from industry guy. Note to self: don’t check email before bed again.
You lie awake and stew in self loathing over Monday’s hubris and today’s inability to recapture yesterday’s brilliance.
You wake up Wednesday quite possibly the most exhausted you’ve ever felt, and you use the term “wake up” loosely since you haven’t slept. Seriously, you can barely lift your legs, this isn’t normal.
But it is. The adrenaline that’s been carrying you since opening six days ago has just run out. What did you expect? You don’t have an infinite supply of the stuff. And to top it off, you make the mistake of checking your sales and your email again, neither of which have changed since last night.
You’ve been ghosted. Twice. By the Fringe audience and by your industry guy. Why did they even show up on Monday? You hate them. Unless they turn up again, of course, in which case, they are totally awesome.
You down more LEMSIP, put on your winter layers and rain jacket – Edinburgh in August – and drag your sick, depressed, exhausted ass out into the drizzle to see if you can find anyone to hear your story today. And the few people on the streets still say the same thing.
“I’m catching the bus home today.”
Before you walk out on stage to perform, you dose on throat spray and hope you can hit the high note in the second song. You walk out, the lights come up. Five people in the seats.
Afterwards you foolishly ask the box office about tomorrow’s sales. Zero, they answer. Zero advance tickets. And you have three more weeks of this.
Suicide. Fucking. Wednesday.
The full weight of Fringe has hit you. Right in your cocky mouth.
Full disclosure, this didn’t happen to you. It happened to me, and the crazy thing is, this is the reason I went to Edinburgh. Sort of. I went to prove myself, to find out if I can hold my own on a stage at a festival with some of the best performers on the planet. To learn if I have it in me to go out there every day and find the audience to fill those seats. To somehow connect myself to 5000 years of theater history and generations of traveling performers who’ve gone somewhere and put on a show.
Proving yourself comes with trials. That’s kind of the point. And while a lot of us ask the question, “Do I have the energy to persevere,” we don’t all get the opportunity to ask it about something we really want. Edinburgh was that opportunity for me.
But when you hit dark moments like Suicide Wednesday, what you want can become clouded. You’re suffering, you’re not having fun, you’re not making money, now you get to find out if this is something you really do want.
Performing at Edinburgh is something every young performer should experience. If you can make it through this moment and still want this, it’s what you should be doing. And if you realize it’s not what you want, there’s no shame in walking away. You’ve discovered something valuable.
The shame is if you walk away because you’re afraid of doing the work. As someone who spent years (okay decades) not doing what he wanted because he was afraid to find out whether he could, this was the moment I finally got to discover the answer.
Do I belong here? Do I have it in me?
And on that Wednesday, sick, exhausted, dejected, by myself in a city I don’t know, I had to decide if I had three more weeks of this. in me This is not a moment that is exclusive to theater. It’s the dark night of the soul. The oldest stories we have talk about this moment in our lives.
I want to tell you that I dug deep, grabbed my flyers, put a smile on my face and went back out into the street. But that didn’t happen for another 20 minutes.
And let me add this: just because you throw a tantrum, email your publicist telling her you’re done, you’re not flyering another day, you’ll still perform but from now on you’re on a theater-going holiday, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel differently when you’ve calmed down. In 20 minutes.
Then you’ll remember the question your mentor asked you: “Aren’t you willing to suffer for something you want?”
Then you’ll make another batch of LEMSIP, fill your thermos, wrap a scarf around your neck, grab a stack of flyers, and discover a deeper source of energy than you knew you had. You’ll go back out into the streets and make a couple dozen people laugh hard enough that they might buy tickets to your show.
There have been other moments like this in my life, where I had to take stock of myself and ask if I had it in me to do the work even when it looked like there was no hope of success. And there are times that I didn’t have it in me. I walked away because it was clear this wasn’t something I wanted.
I feel zero shame about those moments, and those were some of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. But I’ll never be as proud of them as I was of the moment I picked my depressed, sick ass off the floor of my Edinburgh apartment and walked back out into the street with those flyers.
And two days later, my Friday house was nearly full. I have never appreciated a group of people so much in my life, never been so humbled to share my story, and so determined to keep going.
By the time my last week rolled around, just five shows left, I had …
As I rewrite Voice of Authority for its Edinburgh run, I’ve had to cut some of my favorite Zachary stories so I’m sharing them here. Zachary was my mentor, a Balanchine dancer, and the choreographer of the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. He’s also a character in my show.
For the past several months of working on my video series Big Trouble, I’ve learned that a lot of my friends have never been in trouble. They’re either too good, or too good at getting away with it.
I am not one of those people. Neither was Zachary
But there are different ways of getting into big trouble. Sometimes it happens for all the wrong reasons, like my $19 million lawsuit with the US government. I quit everything I cared about to make money instead, and I learned how fast that money can go away.
Sometimes you get into big trouble for all the right reasons. Pick any number of martyrs from history who stood up for what they believed in.
And sometimes, you get in trouble for both. This story is one of those times.
The Army is trouble from the day Zachary arrives. Or maybe Zachary, a 20-year-old ballet dancer who never stopped smiling, was the trouble. He’d just been drafted the same week that Agnes de Mille cast him in Oklahoma!, which kills me. Original cast for one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history and suddenly your drafted? Although as Zachary would point out, he didn’t know it would be a success at the time.
“I only ever wanted to be a dancer and that’s all I ever was,” he’d say to me. Often. He felt the need to drive that home because I can be very slow to process imparted wisdom.
When Zachary gets to basic training in 1943, he discovers quickly that smiling is frowned upon, a lesson he learns through peeling potatoes and cleaning toilets with a toothbrush. He also learns that doing your barre work every morning doesn’t go over so well.
“You have to do it or you lose the muscle,” he’d say. “They’d all be screaming, ‘What the hell is this sissy doing?’”
For his first six months Zachary has no friends. Then he meets his people, starts performing in shows, and all that focus on his barre work, on always being a dancer, pays off. He gets transferred to Special Services and Major Melvyn Douglas’ troop in Calcutta, India.
If you’re not familiar with Oscar-winning actor Melvyn Douglas, neither was I when Zachary said his name. He starred opposite Garbo in Ninotchka, a film I’ve never seen but I’m still impressed.
Zachary, now a sergeant, continues to do his barre work every morning, at the white picket fence outside the compound where he lives.
“One day I’m doing my barre and a servant hands me a note. It says, ‘I see you are a trained ballet dancer. So am I. Please meet me for tea.’”
That’s how he meets Kira, a former star with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which was the Who’s Who of the dance world in the 1930s. If you were a big deal, you danced or choreographed there. Kira’s husband Boris had also danced with the company, although in Calcutta he was better known as a tiger hunter and the founder of the 300 Club, the first integrated club in India. It was based on London’s famed 400 Club, although more exclusive.
By 100 people.
Kira is living dance history and still in her mid-30s. She and Zachary pick up a cabaret slot at the 300 Club, and she starts teaching him classic steps from the Ballet Russe.
Now maybe you’re asking yourself, where’s the trouble? It looked like it was going to happen in basic, but this sounds great.
The trouble happens in Kashmir, but if I’d started there, you’d be lacking context now.
It’s at this point that Kira goes to Kashmir for monsoon season – “As all the best people do,” Zachary says – and tells him he has to see it so he should get a weekend pass.
“I arrive and Boris isn’t there,” Zachary says. “I wasn’t expecting that. Then Kira goes and gets us a job dancing cabaret at one of the fanciest hotels.”
That got so complicated so quickly. On the one hand, this is a dream come true. On the other, this is your worst nightmare.
Let’s say you’re a single, 22-year-old from a poor family in Philadelphia and you’ve only ever wanted to be a dancer. Suddenly, you find yourself with the opportunity to be in one of the most beautiful places in the world, working at a luxury hotel, and learning ballet from someone who danced with the world’s greatest company.
Are you true to yourself as an artist? You’ve only ever wanted to be a dancer. Or are you true to yourself as a soldier?
What would you do?
And just to make this easier for you, a strikingly beautiful ballerina is inviting you into her bed while she’s away from her husband. Remember, you’re a 22-year-old boy.
“I go AWOL. Big time AWOL. Four months,” says Zachary.
It’s a scenario that fills me with envy and dread all at once, the fear of getting into trouble going head on with the fear of missing out.
I hate to admit it, but I’d hightail it back to Calcutta and miss out on the one thing I cared about, although probably not until after I’d slept with the married woman. And I’m mad at myself for that choice right now, even though I never actually made it.
“Kira had worked with all of the greats in Paris, but she wasn’t just teaching me the great Russian ballets,” he tells me. “She’d been studying Indian dance so I was learning that too,” Zachary says. “Every so often I’d see someone I knew and they’d say, ‘Shouldn’t you be in Calcutta with Major Douglas?’ I’d say something like, oh I have dysentery, I couldn’t possibly go back.”
He defies the Army and he’s true to himself, and what he learns influences his life as a dancer in New York and as the choreographer of the Met. But it shapes his life in India first.
“We stayed on a houseboat called the Star, and every morning the servants would wake us with fruit and hot coffee and sprinkle lotus petals over our heads,” he continues.
That’s something that only happens in movies.
When he gets back to Calcutta, Boris points a tiger rifle at his chest and says, “I never want to see you again.”
Also, something that only happens in movies.
And Major Douglas says, “Not a word, Private Solov. You’re losing all of your stripes.”
Again, feels like a movie, but it’s Melvyn Douglas this time so that makes sense.
You know that feeling when you just want to get out of town? For Zachary it happens just when he’s got back into town. So he says to Douglas, “I want to see China, I want to see Burma. I’m putting together a touring show!”
“Good riddance,” says Douglas.
Zachary’s tour does fifty shows in fifty nights for soldiers who are away from home, living in a tropical jungle with bugs, and storms, and bombs dropping out of the sky. And now, they don’t mind so much that he does his barre work in the morning. They’re grateful to have the chance to relax, maybe even to laugh instead of fear for their lives. This is what Zachary can do for people and will continue to do for people for the rest of his life.
And everything he’s learned, from Kira, from Special Services, from touring, all of that serves as part of his foundation when he choreographs for the Met, then his own company, then the companies in Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, San Francisco, and a list that goes on.
When Zachary returns to Calcutta from his tour, Major Douglas says, “Great job, Zach,” and gives him his stripes back. That is the right kind of trouble. But he doesn’t see Boris or Kira in India again, and that’s the kind of trouble that breaks your heart.
Dean Temple’s comedy solo show Voice of Authority, a true story about getting sued by the US Dept of Justice for $19 million and saved by his mentor Zachary Solov, will be at the Phoenicia Playhouse Jul 5, 59E59 Theaters in NYC Jul 17–21, and at theSpace@ Surgeon’s Hall at Edinburgh Fringe Aug 2–24. Follow him on Twitter @deantemple, Instagram @thatdeantemple, and follow the show on facebook.com/deantemplevoa…
In this episode, Mary can compete with me when it come to getting in big trouble. Her story is about heroin dealing at age 13. All I did that year was set a toilet on fire. I’ll tell that story another time. Mary Goggin is a New York based actor born to Irish Emigrants and raised in the Bronx. Her solo show Runaway Princess, a hopeful tale of heroin, hooking and happiness, is currently touring the fringe circuit. marygoggin.com…
“Hellooooooo!“ Zachary says before he’s even opened his door. You know how your dog greets you when you come home, tail wagging so hard it looks about to break off? Zachary greets you with just as much verve, but more Ethel Merman than Labrador.
And today, he’s even dressed to go, so I don’t have my typical 45 minute wait while he gets ready. It’s the first real day of spring and he wants out of his dark little cave of an apartment.
His 81-year-old legs have trapped him inside during the cold weather. Zachary needs to be around people and inspiring things he can absorb and talk about. He needs connection, and he finds that everywhere he goes, sometimes to my great embarrassment.
But I also like that feeling of connection, I just often don’t know how to open myself up to it. So I put up with embarrassing moments to live vicariously through Zach.
Outside we blink in the sunlight like the other million vitamin D deficient New Yorkers emerging from hibernation. I have at least two winter layers I need to shed before bikini season. No I don’t own a bikini, and I probably won’t shed the layers either.
“Let’s take the M2 bus up Madison,” Zachary says.
I’ve spent most of my life in New York in a monogamous relationship with the subway. I don’t do buses. They stop every other block. You feel like you’re getting nowhere. But the bus is right outside his 58th Street building and the subway is three blocks away.
I think the exercise would do him good. Zach’s a retired dancer, used to have calves like oak trees, all this gnarled muscle. These days they look like twigs, and how do you get that muscle back if you’re not going to walk?
We get on the bus at 58th and as Zach pays his fare he asks the driver, “Does this bus stop at 103rd?”
“101st,” the driver answers.
I want to be grumpy about losing the bus-subway battle, but right away I notice how nice it is. There’s daylight on the bus, almost feels airy. Might have to have an affair with the bus.
We’ve only gone 10 blocks when Zachary shouts up to the driver, “Can you stop at 103rd Street?”
“This bus stops at 101st.” Not even a smile from the guy.
Zachary starts to sing. I’d say the bus is 70 percent full, and 50 percent can hear him, and I’m looking around to see who’s amused and who’s annoyed.
Then this older woman with white hair and soft, smiling eyes leans in, “My husband used to sing that song to me. He loved going to the Loews movie palace on 175th St.”
“That song was a big hit with the German and Jewish vaudeville crowd in the 1930s,” Zachary says. We reach 90th St.
“Can you stop at 103rd?” Zachary shouts up to the driver, and you can see the driver shift his focus forward.
“Come on, driver, stop at 103rd,” someone else shouts, but the driver is having none of this.
The older woman stands and puts her hand on Zachary’s shoulder, “I wish you all the best, even though I haven’t figured out who you are.”
I don’t tell her Zachary used to dance for Balanchine, that he used to be the choreographer of the Metropolitan Opera House, that in the 1930s he was a childhood radio star on the Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour. I don’t say anything, I just watch and wonder how he does it.
When we reach 100th St., Zachary asks one last time, “Do you stop at 103rd?”
This time the driver turns around and stares. “This bus doesn’t stop there.”
We get out at 101st and walk the rest of the way to the Museum of the City of New York. We’re going to see the Automat exhibit, Horn and Hardart, the restaurant that used to sponsor the radio show Zachary did.
You know that feeling when you step off the street and into a museum? All the chaos and the noise disappears and everything is quieter and cooler. The exhibit is right on the first floor and you can see people moving through it. They’re silent, isolated even though there’s a crowd, each one trying to take it all in without disturbing anyone else. One step in Zachary plants his feet, takes a deep breath and belts out a song:
Less work for mother And she’ll understand Less work for mother Just lend her a hand She’s your greatest treasure Just make her life a pleasure Less work for mother dear
“I used to sing that on the radio!” he declares, standing a bit taller, planting his foot.
And now everyone in the exhibit is looking at me like I can’t control my toddler. They don’t understand, no one can stop Zachary from doing stuff like this.
Besides, for him, Horn and Hardart was all about making a racket. One of his acts was tap dancing. On the radio. In roller skates. Here’s a recoding to prove it:
As you can hear, it’s just as bad an idea as it sounded when you read it. Complain about the internet all you want, but this was what they had for entertainment in the 1930s.
And slowly, every person in that exhibit, except for one, lone, cranky woman off in a corner, has formed a circle around Zachary. One of them is even crying because she hasn’t heard that song since she was a little girl. And now Zachary has an audience. They want to know all about the Automat first hand.
They called the Automat because you got your food through an Art Deco, coin-operated wall, glass panels with little knobs you turn to open.
“After the radio show, they’d give you a stack of nickels and you could go get whatever you wanted,” Zachary says as they slowly walk through. “You’d walk right up, put your nickel in, and get your pumpkin pie. That’s helluva treat for a kid.”
But those 81-year-old legs start to fail him and he shoos people away, which never happens. Zachary loves his audiences, needs that connection that comes from telling his story.
Age wins this time so we sit on a bench until he feels better. He’s just not ready to go home yet. Not to the dark. Not to being alone.
“We should go to that famous coffee shop,” he says.
I can’t think of a famous coffee shop on the Upper East Side, but I’m excited at the idea of discovering some old New York treasure I’ve never known about. “What coffee shop?” I ask.
In this episode of Big Trouble, Clare Solly thinks her height makes her impervious to weed only to take a trip down paranoia lane. Clare is a confessed seltzer addict and is a California writer/actress/singer living in NYC, has a couple of Off-Broadway credits and is the author of the novel The Time Turner. She is also now the Apprentice Director of The Bechdel Group (thebechdelgroup.com). Her website actinglikeclare.wixsite.com.…
In this episode of Big Trouble, Simon knocks a guy out cold on the subway for getting in his face, and you don’t get in a face this pretty without consequences. Simon Rogers is an actor, model, and founder/owner of three NY-based talent agencies, now living and working in LA.
I’m six years old, first grade, PE. We’re trying softball for the first time and I want to swing that bat so badly I can barely stand it. I’m obsessed, like some mouth-breathing drunk across the room who can’t stop staring. But I’ve never swung a bat, and even at six, I don’t want to look like I don’t know how, so I quietly blend into the background. I don’t even try.
Why would admitting you don’t know how to do something feel like failure? To a six year old? It’s not like you’re born knowing how to swing a bat.
This is something I end up doing, over and over, for most of my life. I don’t want to admit I don’t know how to do something because I can’t stand the thought of making myself that vulnerable. And for most of my life I let that get in the way of doing some of the things I want to do most.
Maybe it’s the family of artists who raised you to believe that you’re either born with it or you’re not – although they’re talking about talent. And they never do clue you in as to whether you were, in fact, born with it.
Maybe it’s the hyper-competitive schools where admitting you don’t know how to do something is a ticket to eye rolls and ostracization.
“You don’t know how to do that? What are you, a baby?” You might as well be the kid who wet yourself in home room.
Or, maybe it’s your first work environment where if you don’t know how to do something some other intern gunning for a salary is willing to lie and say they do.
“Me? I know how to do everything. I was born that way.”
I was not born that way, but I’m only just willing to admit that now. And this is between us, so keep it to yourself.
Although, lately I’ve had to admit not knowing how to do things because I need help from my friends who do. And I’m sure you’re thinking, if you can’t be vulnerable with your friends, who can you be?
No one. I can be vulnerable with no one. Unless I’m on stage, and that’s an entirely different thing, and the subject of this story [LINK].
So what’s bringing on this sudden and masochistic thirst for knowledge?
Getting your first show ready for Edinburgh Fringe has that effect. You encounter a litany of things you don’t know how to do, at least if you’re me. You’re on very real deadlines to produce very good work or you have the potential to fail in a very big way. It’s unsettling in a way that encourages you to try new things.
Like real world vulnerability.
So you don’t ask yourself, how could I have reached middle age and not know how to do these things? You already know the answer to that question.
But just as an example, when I’m 20 years old, I’m in a play in New York City. I’ve made my way in with the cool crowd, which is both awesome and high maintenance. You know them: the hot theater girl with legs from floor to ceiling, the super-talented, triple-threat guy, the cool, British, my-dad-is-a-West-End-producer guy.
Then there’s the other crowd, who is really just one person: the enthusiastic, wants-to-learn-everything-about-theater geeky guy.
Geeky guy says, “I can’t wait to graduate and go to a really good acting school.”
Triple-threat guy and hot theater girl whisper in unison – and out of earshot of geeky guy – ”Ugh, acting school. You’re either born with it or you’re not.”
Twenty-year-old Dean quietly makes note to self: “Acting school = not born with it.”
And 23-year-old Dean gives up on acting because he has no idea how to make something like that work in the real world, but he isn’t going to admit that out loud. So he doesn’t go to class and he doesn’t learn those things that would probably be extremely valuable when getting a show ready for Edinburgh.
That much-younger Dean has a luxury that I do not. Time. So I get over myself and ask my friends for help. Help with writing. Help with acting. Help with promotion. Help with all of it because I basically know nothing.
This week I ask a friend to help me understand why I’m doing this. Why this show? Why now? Why Edinburgh?
I aim high because I think that will push me that much harder. This friend is a reporter who has interviewed some of the most prominent artists of the past 100 years. Household names, assuming yours is a house with an interest in art. She’s reluctant because she knows what this means, how hard she’ll have to be on me. She’s one of the toughest people I know, so I won’t get away with any bullshit.
As someone who never wanted to admit not knowing how to do something, bullshit became my greatest skill. And I am very good at it. As someone who reads my work, you might already know this about me.
But no one is good enough to bullshit an old school, tough-as-balls reporter with no patience for it like my friend. That’s apparent from the moment we sit down.
“That’s bullshit,” is the very first thing she says. “You’re telling me the same tired thing that everyone says. I hear that and I’m moving on to the next person because there’s nothing to see here. What makes you worth my time?”
Up to this point of my life, I haven’t been able or willing to answer tough questions about who I am or what I want. It’s too vulnerable, and I’ve been too afraid to discover once and for all whether I was born with it.
Going there hurts, but I’m realizing that hurt is a growing pain. And while I didn’t expect growing pains in middle age, the urgency of time passing me by makes them a lot more tolerable.
I’m also realizing that when you admit you don’t know something, people who do become surprisingly generous with their knowledge. To think of all the things I could have learned in all those years. But this piece isn’t about regrets. It’s about avoiding them.
Why this show? Why now? Why Edinburgh?
Because if I don’t do this now, then I never will. Because I created this show to take to Edinburgh. Because, this show isn’t an end, it’s the start of what I wanted but gave up at 23. Because Edinburgh is the greatest performing arts festival in the world and I need to prove myself there.
And because I couldn’t tell this story when it happened. I would have been humiliated and ostracized. But telling it now isn’t embarrassing for me. I’m over it. Although it might just be embarrassing for the US Department of Justice.
So I’m coming out of the closet as someone who doesn’t know how to do this. And I’m learning that’s how you get it done.
Dean Temple’s comedy solo show Voice of Authority, a true story about getting sued by the US Dept of Justice for $19 million and saved by
the choreographer of the Metropolitan Opera, will be at 59E59 Theaters
in NYC Jul 17–21, and at Surgeon’s Hall at Edinburgh Fringe Aug 2–24.
Follow him on Twitter @deantemple, Instagram @thatdeantemple, and follow the show on facebook.com/deantemplevoa…
In this episode of Big Trouble, actor/playwright/storyteller Octavia Chavez-Richmond gets kicked out of a theater company for letting out her frustrations, and she learns a thing about empathy and always trying your best in the process.
Brought to you by Voice of Authority, my comedy solo show about having the US govt come after you for $19 million you don’t have, at 59E59 Theaters, NYC, July 17-21 and Surgeon’s Hall, Edinburgh Fringe, Aug 2-24.
Octavia’s work has been featured at international film festivals and regional theaters. She holds an MFA in acting from Brown University/Trinity Repertory where she received the David Wickham Playwriting Award. Trinity Repertory awarded Octavia with the Margo Skinner Memorial Fellowship for 2018.
Still images credits in order shown: Chalef Photography, Dean Temple, Mark Turek
My show, Voice of Authority, is about a string of those days when the US Department of Justice comes after me for $19 million. True story. And the song that serves as the core theme of the show is: No damn luck today.
On opening night at the FRIGID New York Festival, the plan is to interrupt that song at the top of the show with a ringing telephone, because there is always someone in the audience who doesn’t turn off their phone despite the announcement, right?
In an ideal world, I’m interrupted during the first verse. I stop, accuse the audience of making things very awkward, and then realize the ringing phone is mine.
Oh! That’s my lawyer, I have to take this. Sorry.
In the real world of opening night, however, the sound cue never comes and I get to the end of the song, which is a surprise I didn’t see coming. I find myself thinking, “I’m gonna have to improv my way around this plot point.”
Which is what I start to do. I’m almost there and boom, there’s my sound cue – classic iPhone ringtone. And it’s loud enough to drown out a jet.
WHOSE PHONE IS THAT?!!
So what do I do now? That is literally what I’m thinking as it happens.
It also happens to be what I’m thinking when I get hit with the $19 million lawsuit. So in a way, I guess theater is a lot like real life. Something goes very wrong, what were your priorities suddenly seem a lot less pressing, and this newfound crisis owns all of your focus.
Sounds awful, right? Except for one thing: You are now 100 percent present.
Some people pay their gurus a lot of money to get that way, and some people pay their lawyers.
When you get it into your head to do something like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Fringe staff is pretty good about getting you to ask yourself, why are you doing this? If you can’t answer the question, you’re not ready.
Aside from the various ways I want to advance my career and my work, my reason for doing this is to become a better artist. A better actor. A better performer. A better writer. Doing a show for 22 days (with only one day off) in front of people who don’t know you will do that and more.
My five shows at FRIGID are just the beginning of that road, and it’s one that has started off bumpy. But we live for moments like this whether we like it or not, because now we have to make a choice, and if we can find the courage to make a bold one, it might take us somewhere we’ve never been before.
I’m in the FRIGID audience at the Kraine Theater watching David Carl and Katie Hartman in their hysterically funny David and Katie Get Remarried. Katie — whose character is needy, narcissist, and biting — is singing a song she wrote about David after a breakup so she can forget him forever. She’s at the emotional peak, about to break free, and David’s keyboard stand collapses, crashing to the floor. Katie stops dead, robbed of her climax, and stares at the audience. David looks her direction with what I read as genuine fear.
In the seats we hold our breath and the tension is excruciating. We’re mostly certain this is a real problem and not a staged one, and now we can’t look away. What are they going to do?
What they do is never leave character. They grab this moment and milk it for all it’s worth. David is on the floor with his keyboard looking like a naughty five year old caught with a broken heirloom. Katie is forcing a smile that burns like the fires of hell.
And we’re still holding our breath.
Until she slowly turns her head his way. We see the fear on his face grow and we’re witnessing theatrical perfection. This stage relationship has become so real and we are all invested in it. All Katie has to do now is throw away line about ruining the climax of the song and the audience comes to pieces.
People on the street could probably hear the laughter outside the building.
So what did I do when my sound cue went wrong? Did I get through it? Absolutely. Did I stay in character? Mostly, but I’ll admit to letting my frustration with tech throw me off my game. Did I handle it as well as Katie and David? Absolutely not. But that’s what I’m working toward, and it’s why I’m taking this show to Edinburgh.
To learn. From what others do. From what I do. To embrace the unknown. To remember to have fun. To go somewhere I’ve never been.
Dean Temple’s comedy solo show Voice of Authority, a true story about getting sued by the US Dept of Justice for $19 million and saved by the choreographer of the Metropolitan Opera, will be at 59E59 Theaters in NYC Jul 17–21, and at Surgeon’s Hall at Edinburgh Fringe Aug 2–24. Follow him on Twitter @deantemple, Instagram @thatdeantemple, and follow the show on facebook.com/deantemplevoa…
Your Edinburgh Fringe show opens an NYC run later this week, but it’s morning, the windows are still dark, your bed is warm and you have no intention of getting out of it. Putting your feet on the floor will put you back in touch with the stress of the show, and you have so few moments where you can feel relaxed, where you don’t feel quite so vulnerable.
And you can’t stand feeling vulnerable. That’s what your show is about.
But you don’t feel vulnerable now, in these last moments of the early morning before the light comes up, and your stress creeps out of the shadows. What you do feel is the rice and beans you had for dinner. They are ready to re-enter the world any second and you have to determine whether they’re going to do that like a loving whisper or an angry tuba.
Because, even though you just celebrated your nineteenth wedding anniversary, you’re still not comfortable with the idea of farting in bed with your wife there. Like I said, you can’t stand feeling vulnerable. At least not in the real world.
Which gets you thinking about your acting coach. She’s constantly pushing you to reach greater levels of vulnerability on stage. Weird thing is, you don’t have a problem with it there. It’s still scary, but more like roller coaster scary. You look out into all that open space, and your stomach drops just as you start to fall. In a theater, when you let yourself go like that, the audience catches you and that connection is thrilling.
And when you fake that vulnerability, you don’t get that. What you get is a ding from your acting coach’s triangle and her saying, “I’m not believing you.”
When you hear that ding this time, your eyes open and it’s light out. You notice two things. You no longer feel the need to fart. And your wife is no longer in bed with you. Did the need just pass? Did something horrible happen in your sleep and now she’s out on the couch? Something like that happened the other day while you were visiting your parents in Florida. You farted so loudly in your sleep it woke both of you up and your wife lustily proclaimed, “Whoa!”
It was a vulnerable moment and you’re still feeling that vulnerability weeks later.
Not that she cares. She comes from a family of world-class crack flappers. It’s an art form in her family. They practically use spotlights for that stuff.
Like that time in Idaho at the Pioneer, waiting two hours for a table. Her brother has been sick out the backside for several days, with devastating effect on your condo. In an attempt to get a table faster by clearing out the restaurant, he does a long controlled crop dusting of the entire bar area. You watch the heads turn as he walks past and one kid whose face is ass-height starts crying, “Mommy it stinks in here.”
You appreciate the art, admire the execution, respect the mastery, but it will never be your medium. You realize you’re the kind of person who’d rather be naked on stage than fart in bed.
You look at the time. It’s 10am. Your wife has been up for hours now, and you just lost the four you were going to use to push ticket sales and organize the rack cards, programs, and posters you need for your opening. You just slept your way into greater vulnerability. Your day just got more stressful.
“Ding,” goes the triangle. “Too much drama. I’m not believing you,” says your acting coach.…
(Pictured, left to right, my grandfather, Baba, great grandfather, and great aunt, and me, center, the disappointing, lazy three year old who has yet to compose his first opera)
It’s a two-hour long train ride into the city to perform for five minutes, and after you’ve finished your dinner – a much-too-salty bag of cashews from the Rite Aid because it’s the only place open at Grand Central at midnight – you hop the train home and become the guy sleeping across three seats of some stranger’s Instagram, generating outrage from a couple hundred of their followers over all that privilege you have.
It’s probably not the right time to ask them to buy tickets to your show, although at the moment I’ll try anything because I have hundreds of seats to fill, and nobody else knows who I am.
If you know me, I’ve already let you know how each one of those seats is generating another layer of panic, and that’s why a friend texts me: “It’s hard to be a star.”
It just so happens to be my birthday when she does, and the magic of Facebook’s database has me on one of those social-media-induced narcissist spin cycles.
So many people remembering my birthday? I am a star!
That lasts a blissful 15, maybe 20 seconds. Then I start to come down and the voice in my head kicks in, the one I named my show after, the voice of authority: you are in no way a star.
That’s why you’re on the train at 2am, you schmuck.
No social-media ego fix can change that reality. And my friend’s text takes on another layer. It’s hard to be a star. I feel that acutely in this moment. Maybe you know that feeling of being confounded by finding, and keeping, an audience. It’s hardly exclusive to acting, every business has to do the same thing, and it’s fundamental to success. There is no stardom without an audience. And no cash flow either.
Maybe that’s obvious, maybe I’m just thick, but at no point in my life as a developing artist has anyone ever explained this to me. Not in the arts in high school. Not at Columbia. Not in any of the study I’ve done since I graduated.
But my friend, she just got her MFA from Brown. Maybe they taught her something no one taught me. Not even my family. I grew up in a family of artists. No one mentioned this. The only thing they ever talked about was that I should do something else because I didn’t have the work ethic to make it in this business.
I work 14-hour days. Often. Often four of them are on the train.
To my family the development of craft is everything. My Ukrainian grandmother, Baba, for instance, was a concert pianist who studied at the Vienna Conservatory. In my childhood she’s at the piano from the time I wake in the morning until the end of the day. And what she sees in me she calls лінивий, the Ukie word for lazy. Give me a break, Baba, I’m six years old and it’s summer vacation.
Baba may have been intense, but I miss her every day.
She comes to see me in a play in NYC when I’m 20. Afterwards she takes me aside and says: “Everything else that you’re doing is the wrong thing. This is what you’re meant to do.”
As an influential member of the Ukrainian diaspora, Baba had a ready-made audience. If she did something, the Ukrainian community showed up. In droves.
I never really thought about it, but I suppose Baba built that audience. She contributed to that community enormously. She taught lessons, organized a festival that just passed its 50th year, fought to preserve the Ukrainian culture and language, and helped create an 11-volume encyclopedia on Ukrainian music defined by region. She gave, and they gave back.
I’ve never found a community like that for myself. Maybe my grandmother is right, maybe I don’t work hard enough. Or rather, I haven’t worked hard enough at some things because I’ve never understood until now how important they are.
When you look at people who succeed today, who build these massive social media followings, it’s easy to dismiss what they do. You can call it dumb, or shallow, or pandering to the masses, but then you’re selling them short for how hard it is to be star. Each one of those people has found and kept an audience. They’ve learned how to communicate in a way that makes people feel like they are a part of something, like my grandmother’s Ukrainian community. And they do the work required to sustain that on a daily basis.
That’s really hard. Now that I’m struggling to learn that myself, I’m awed by how hard it is. But I can find solace in my friend’s text, because I can hear in it how much she believes in me. And I can hear my grandmother’s voice through her, pushing me to work harder because this is what I was meant to do.
Dean Temple’s comedy solo show Voice of Authority, a true story
about getting sued by the US Dept of Justice for $19 million and saved
by the choreographer of the Metropolitan Opera, will be at the Kraine
Theater in NYC Feb 21-Mar 9 (Tickets»), at 59E59 Theaters in NYC Jul 17-21, and at Surgeon’s Hall at Edinburgh Fringe Aug 2-24. Follow him on Twitter @deantemple and follow the show on facebook.com/deantemplevoa…
Dean dressed like a bum and Little Dog* in her stylish down jacket, walking across the pond. Image credit Alex Tuller.
I’m looking for ways to avoid the things I don’t want to do. There’s this long list of practical, business-side things looming over my show, Voice of Authority, before it opens in NYC in February, and then goes to Edinburgh Fringe in August. PR and publicity. Promotion. Audience development.
Just having those things on my to do list stresses me out and my ADD kicks in. The deadlines approach and pass by unmet, and it feels like failure. It feels like empty seats, and the show doesn’t open for a month. Every performer wants there to be someone that handles this for them. But so few of us are at a point in our careers where we can afford that.
This is where I am the moment a friend texts me: “I booked a job in Boston, can you dog sit for me?”
“Sure,” I text back. Dogs are good for stress. I have my own dog, but this other dog is what I need for my stress.
Then I text her, “Hold on one second,” and I text my wife to tell her a friend is asking if we could dog sit over the weekend.
“Okay,” came the response. I read that with the “OK” inflection and not the “okaaaaaay?” inflection she might have intended.
“No problem,” I text back to my friend.
Then my wife texts, “Is it house trained?”
I didn’t ask. Can you imagine having a dog in the city that’s not house trained? What a nightmare.
Also, my wife should text faster.
“It’ll be fine” I text back. “I’ll take care of it.”
I meet my friend and collect her five-month-old, three-pound-max Little Dog*, who shows up sporting a miniature t-shirt and down jacket. Her mom hands me a stack of wee pads. Okay great, I’m all set.
Although Little Dog* is a little disoriented and she misses that wee pad entirely the first night at 1am. I clean up discretely. Puppies make mistakes. No need for the wife to know about it.
And at 4am, Little Dog* misses the wee pad again. Apparently Little Dog* has no idea what a wee pad is. And she has a digestive system the size of peanut.
Have you ever been around a dog that relieves itself every two-and-a-half hours? Because I have not. Not until now.
My dog, Odi, a 40-pound Icelandic Sheepdog, can hold it in forever. We drive to Atlanta from New York with him one time and he was freaked out by the drive and the highway. He doesn’t go once until we get there. Fourteen hours. To me, that’s a dog.
But no worries, Little Dog*. We’ll walk it off.
The first two days we spend hours walking, hours I don’t have to think about PR or audience development, and Little Dog* takes care of business outside. So far, so good.
“There’s an ice storm coming,” my wife says, which sounds like nonsense to me because the sky is crystal clear.
But five hours later, we are covered in a rock hard layer of ice three inches deep, and I’ve learned something new about Little Dog*. Three pound dogs can’t walk on ice or they turn into three pound popsicles pretty quickly.
And you remember what I said about Little Dog* going to the bathroom every two-and-a-half hours? I was so naive back then.
The first crap hits the floor at 4am. The second, while I’m making breakfast for the dogs because I’m up now and I might as well.
“Really? You just went,” I say to Little Dog*. She stares me down and squats. Two feet from the wee pad.
The third time I walk into the bathroom and there she is with another crap. Honestly, I admire the thinking, I come here for this too.
And now she’s eating it.
We find the fourth at noon on the bottom of my wife’s shoe, and she’s starting to suspect that Little Dog* might not be all that house trained. And the 12 paper towels distributed all over the floor, soaking up pee, are reinforcing this idea.
But I’m taking care of it. I have actively chosen to play chamber maid to a three-pound shitting machine who keeps me up all night instead of working on PR and audience development for my show. And now, I have to figure out how to clean the treads of my wife’s shoe while everything outside is frozen solid.
At least I’m not working on PR, right?
In Voice of Authority one of the principle questions is: Are you willing to suffer for something you want? Just as a big a question is: Why are we so often willing to suffer for something we don’t want?
I don’t know how to do PR. Or promotion. Or audience development. So they’re scary. You don’t know where to begin. You don’t know if you sound or look like an idiot. That doesn’t just make those things daunting. It makes me question whether I can even do this show.
If you try and fail, the seats are empty.
If you don’t try, the seats are empty, and you’ve failed.
It’s so incredibly easy to get distracted from the task at hand by the shit in your life, literally in my case. But who wouldn’t rather fail the first way than the second?
If you’re going to have the privilege of being on stage and sharing that experience with an audience, then I suppose there’s a price you’re going to have to pay for that. You can tell yourself it would be more meaningful if you could focus on the performance and someone else would handle the business, but it probably wouldn’t be. At least not until you’d earned it.
And with that in mind, I pull out my computer and start contacting the press about my show, stopping only when I hear my wife scream that, once again, Little Dog* is doing what she does best.
*The dog’s name has been changed at her mom’s request, although true story, I called her Little Dog for her entire visit. That, or LD! It just fit her.
Dean Temple’s comedy solo show Voice of Authority, a true story about getting sued by the US Dept of Justice for $19 million and saved by the choreographer of the Metropolitan Opera, will be at the Kraine Theater in NYC Feb 21-Mar 9 (Tickets»), at 59E59 Theaters in NYC Jul 17-21, and at Surgeon’s Hall at Edinburgh Fringe Aug 2-24. Follow him on Twitter @deantemple and follow the show on facebook.com/deantemplevoa…