Yes, she really did that. Yes, it was exciting growing up in my house. …
Yes, she really did that. Yes, it was exciting growing up in my house. …
(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…
Big Trouble asks you to tell your small stories of big trouble, since my show, Voice of Authority, is about getting into trouble with the Dept of Justice to the tune of $19 million.
Mike Hnatyshyn is an active member of the Ukrainian community in New York and the author of Road to Rus, an historic fiction adventure story about the birth of Kyivan Rus.…
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 …
(Pictured above, my mom, my baby sister, mom’s ’68 Mustang, and me with the mop of black hair.)
You have this ambitious project that you need to take on, the kind of project that most of the world around you sees as utterly impractical. And while you can’t imagine how you could survive without this, the rest of your world can’t imagine how you’re going to pay your bills and do this at the same time.
For me that’s the moment I decide to write Voice of Authority and take it to Edinburgh Fringe.
So my question to you is, how do you know if you can trust your mom enough to tell her about it?
If you’re an artist, or even just a human being, I suspect you understand my thinking here. Moms can get acutely curious about what their kids are doing, particularly when they’ve become accustomed over time to questioning your judgment, as mine has.
My show is a true story about landing in a $19 million lawsuit with the Department of Justice. There’s no track record of good judgment my part. For all she knows, this is one more thing I’m doing that’s going to cost her money.
And she’s right, it is.
But that’s not the point. No one’s judgment strikes you as hard or as deep as Mom’s. Sorry Dad, that’s just how the world works. And if you’re going to tell her about it, you’re going to have to accept a couple of things:
The first two are brutal, yes, but that last one is the killer. That’s the divide between the amateur and the professional, the trophy hunter and the provider. And dammit, sometimes as much as I hate to admit it, Mom is pretty insightful.
I’m going because I want to get better as a performer and a writer, and 21 days of performing on the road in front of strangers will do that. I’m going to meet the sort of people I want to work with in the future. I’m going to develop this story into a bigger show or another medium altogether. And I’m going because it puts me in a spot where I have to prove myself, and I seem to have reached a point in my life where that matters.
But that’s enough about me. Back to the question. How do you know if you can trust your mom enough to tell her about this project? That might depend on whether you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. And she might surprise you, because no one gets as excited to see you driven and focused as your mom does.
Dean’s comedy solo show Voice of Authority runs at FRIGID New York Feb 21, 28, and March 5, 8, and 9 (Tickets»). He takes it to Surgeon’s Hall at Edinburgh Fringe from Aug 2-24.…
In earlier performances of Voice of Authority I’ve had sometimes as much as a half hour before the show on stage, so I’ve played my own pre-show music and greeted the audience on their way in.
As much as I love doing that, I get the impression I won’t have that time this year, so I’m doing the pre-show music in advance and posting it online. Starting now.
In Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking, she puts into words something that I’ve slowly, very, very slowly been discovering over the past five years or so. Probably even longer.
Professionals know they’re winging it. Amateurs pretend they’re not.
At David Lawson’s Astoria Bookshop Storytelling Show the other day, I told a story about setting a toilet on fire in middle school. And just as I paint a picture of sitting in the principal’s office, I blank. Completely. It’s almost like I forget I’m telling a story. I’m just looking out at the people in the chairs.
I start to see the concern in their faces.
I get it. Everyone has this fear of blanking in front of an audience. Forgetting your lines. Getting it wrong, or worse, not getting it perfect.
When I’m younger, I’m on stage a lot, and I do worry about being perfect, and since we’re being honest here, I judge the people who aren’t. It’s even possible I make a less than charitable comment or two behind their backs.
But when I go back on stage after 15-year hiatus, I notice something I never did before. Those foibles, the mistakes, the unpredictable moments? They’re amazing.
If you learn to embrace them, that is. And yes, that’s scary, but it can be so cool.
I’m on stage for Bye Bye Birdie nine years ago, playing Albert Peterson, and I’m on the phone with Henry Luce. The prop phone falls off the wall to the ground. “I’m sorry about that Mr. Peterson,” says Mrs. MacAfee (my brilliant actor friend Lisa Lynds). Without thinking, just being me, I say, “It’s okay, I’m pretty sure he’ll call back.”
That laughter from the audience was so real. And in the second act, I walk out for a scene where I sing Talk to Me over a prop pay phone and it crashes to the floor. I look at it for a second, turn out to the world and ponder: “What’s up with the phones in this town?”
Those are the two clearest memories I have of that show, and they get me the job that gets me into Equity.
I guess it’s living in the moment, not hiding anything from the audience, just allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Here we go, and we have no idea what’s gonna happen. Or in Palmer’s words, we’re winging it. Together.
And in Astoria, when I see the looks of concern, I know you’re all on my side. You want me to get this because you can feel this moment a little too acutely. And it feels vulnerable.
How about that, I say. Completely forgot where I was for a moment, a 13-year-old boy at the Georgia State Latin Convention with a pack of matches and a toilet to burn.…