Actor/Musician

Processing The Surreal Physiological And Psychological Experience Of Winning An Award

I want to write about this because I want to process it and get it out of my brain and yet I’m also hesitant as I don’t want to come off as over-important or anything of the like. But maybe some of you will find this interesting or familiar. At the very least, it will be mildly amusing, I hope.

Tonight I had the great honor of winning the 2016-2017 B. Iden Payne award for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy for my performance of Magnifico in La Fenice’s Death race Inferno. From the moment I found out I was nominated to…well even still now, I find the whole experience surreal and interesting. Whenever I’m nominated for something like this, I’m always excited and honored but I try very hard not to get to hopeful. You’re up against talented people and odds are that it will not be your name that gets called. So you try to be cool. Frosty. Zen. But there’s always that part of your mind that goes, “Ah, but wouldn’t that be cool…but I mean probably not. Forget about it. It’s totally an honor just to be nominated. But wouldn’t that be cool…no, no, stop it.”

In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, your brain occasionally wanders to “So what would I say if I won? Don’t be an ass. Don’t be so presumptuous as to construct a speech or something. But I mean, you should be at least mildly prepared, just in case, right? An actor should always be prepared! Now I feel kind of douchey. Nothing wrong with getting a general idea!”

Now I also had the honor of being nominated last year for playing Orin Scrivello D.D.S. in Little Shop Of Horrors, which I didn’t win. I mean, there’s been plenty of other awards I didn’t win, but I say that to say that I was specifically acquainted with not winning a B. Iden Payne. The lead up process was pretty identical. And again, you try to let it go and not be too attached to it, but when that name isn’t yours, I firmly believe that no human is so zen as to not be at least a little bummed. Last year I at least had the extra boost of happiness that my friend, Jonathan Itchon won and I was legitimately happy for him while being a little bummed for myself. So this year, I really tried (unsuccessfully) to detach. I’m a pretty zen guy and stuff like this doesn’t ever really get to me on anything more than a shallow, very temporary level, but still, there’s always that part of you that wants to win. To be recognized for the work you create so passionately from your soul.

The night finally arrives. Thank the universe I can stop thinking about it at all after tonight. The same battles wage inside. Trying not to care. Knowing you (not so secretly) want it. My category is about half way through the night. Such…a…long…time (not really). The moment arrives. They read the nominees. My name is first on the list. “Heath Allyn as Magnifico in Death Race Inferno by La Fenice.” Silence. Not a single clap. Oh god. I’m humiliated. Everyone hates me. Oh wait…that’s right…they specifically asked that no one applaud until all the nominees were read. I’m an idiot. Oh crap, they’ve read all the nominees, I should be clapping now. Well, here goes nothing. Brace for impact. And the winner is…WHAT? THAT WAS MY NAME! I THINK. I was sitting with Aaron and Genevieve (cast mates from the show) and Aaron grabs me. Maybe says something, I don’t remember but it’s apparent that it was definitely my name they said. I get up, probably looking completely stunned and in shock, though elated (A woman would later tell me in the lobby that she was sitting behind me and could feel my energy as I got up). The applause seems like the most clamorous din I’ve ever heard. I’m humbled and a bit overwhelmed. Man that is some thunderous applause. Now, of course, I know that the applause would have been there regardless of the winner but in that moment, just as the previous silence had been deafening, so seemed this applause and I felt like I could fly.

I make my way to the stage and jabber like a speed freak for a bit and make a fool out of myself (in the absolute best possible way, i.e. being pure me). I race along worrying about taking up too much time but also knowing I’m a verbose guy who always has a lot to say and trying to remember what important things I want to say. Or what utterly silly things I want to say. Tomato, tomato. I get emotional. My voice starts shaking. I have no idea what reality was, but in my mind, at least, I finished strong and got off the stage.

I was greeted by Kate and other well wishers and I hugged and gave thanks and floated through this strange dreamlike haze, probably seeming like a shock victim. I had some photos taken. Actually drank a glass of champagne (I never drink). Sat down for a minute and collected myself. After the massive adrenaline rush, I crashed hard and had a headache and felt exhausted but I stayed for the remainder of the show and mingled with all the amazing, talented people there. Eventually I made my way home and picked up some celebratory Whataburger.

I’m still buzzing. processing. Humbled. Honored. Elated. I don’t know exactly what I said in my acceptance speech, but I do know some major themes that are important to me that I want to reiterate here. Winning this award for this show is particularly meaningful to me for so many reasons. This was a collaborative show where we all created it together. We all created our characters, our own dialogue. I had such a strong vision and mission for this character, so that makes this even more special. I’m so thankful to La Fenice for first inviting me to play with them all those years ago and continually inviting me back. And for this show, for specifically wanting me for to create role. So much so that they didn’t say “Here are the dates, are you available?” They said “You have to play this role. When are you available?” I hope I lived up to the faith you had in me and this award is definitely all of ours as Magnifico would be very little without everyone else and their brilliant characters, writing, set design, props, et al. It was truly a 7 way collaboration. A completely original, crazy, wonderful show.

I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t thank my mother who was in community theatre before I was born, and was immediately toting my bassinet to rehearsals as soon as she was able. She has always supported me in everything I did or wanted to do and never pressured me to “Go to college,” or “Get a job.” She always allowed me my own path and supported it with nothing but love.

And then there’s my standard “awards” manifesto that I’ve written on several occasions and at least paraphrased at the ceremony tonight, but I feel it’s important. Every time these (or any) awards come up, a lot of people feel hurt or left out, and that sucks. I’m certainly not anti-awards. Celebrating and recognizing excellence is not a bad thing, but I always say to let those kinds of things be the dessert and not the sustenance you need to feel full or validated. Keep you head down, do good work and let that be the reward. Let the journey, the honing of your craft be what drives you. And if you’re lucky enough to be nominated or to win, yes, enjoy the hell out of it. Be grateful. Just don’t let that be the end all be all or let the lack thereof trigger your ego into thinking you aren’t a talented, amazing being. Because for every one person up there giving an acceptance speech, there are countless unrecognized geniuses and virtuosos out there. Maybe some are your friends. Maybe you know a few in passing. Most you’ve probably never even heard of. Enjoy your dessert but let the work itself be your sustenance.

If you’ve actually read these 1400+ words, then a) I’m surprised as hell, b) That means more to me than I can say as well and is its own reward. I feel like I should give you an award for that. I hope this doesn’t seem self-important, or…

Whatever. Enough self-conscious, self-deprecating disclaimers. This is me. I have shit to say. I know this isn’t life changing, or “The Oscars” or what-not and all my troubles and problems still linger as much as they did before tonight, but this does mean something to me. And I’ll enjoy the extra dose of happiness while I eat my dessert. Thank you. To the universe, everyone I’ve ever worked with, all those who continue to repeatedly work with me, and you. Yes you. I love you.

Artificial Intelligence Christmas Carol

There are many articles such as this one and this one about The University of Toronto using something called “Neural Karaoke” to feed a computer images and then have the computer compose a song from that image. One of the results is this AI composed Christmas Carol.

I immediately knew I had to do a rendition of this wonderful song that some find incredibly creepy. So first I made some simple notation which you can download here to hand out if you want to play and sing this new perennial favorite.

Then I recorded a fully orchestrated version of the song, which can be heard here.

Happy holidays and may they be filled with lots and lots and lots of flowers.

Accolades Are The Dessert, No The Sustenance

I’ve received many congratulations on my B. Iden Payne nomination, which is absolutely wonderful and I am very grateful and honored. But I’ve also seen a lot of people bummed out by not being included.
I have a very complicated relationship with awards and such for this reason. For every person that wins (or is even nominated), there are countless great, talented people who are not. So a handful of us feel really great, and a whole lot of others feel not so great. Some people don’t care. Some take it in stride. Some are bitter. There’s a whole range.
Look, I am thrilled and honored to be recognized for what I feel may have been one of my best stage performances of my 34 year acting career, but PLEASE know that these things are the icing. The dessert. They cannot be the sustenance which you need to feel nourished and validated, They are based on opinions. You just have no way of knowing what went into these thought processes.
We are human. We have egos. Most performers are particularly sensitive and want to be loved and validated and accepted. It’s a strange field in that artists are generally vulnerable and sensitive and yet have to work in a business of rejection and often feeling overlooked or unappreciated.
As long as there have been awards there have been feelings of bias, popularity, scheming, machinations, shenanigans and chicanery, or schemachinaniganery, to quote myself from the La Fenice show, “The Sparrow of Roma.” But in the end only a drop in the ocean of artists get recognized.
If it happens to you, enjoy it! I’m not saying shun it and say “down with The Man and the system!” Enjoy your accolades! But don’t let it or the lack of it define you. It doesn’t. I guarantee you there are brilliant, talented geniuses completely unknown and unrecognized. Yet. It’s a long game. A game of persistence. And most importantly, it’s about the work. Again, we are human so don’t ignore any feelings of disappointment. Acknowledge them but keep your head down and do good work. Enjoy any fruits than come your way but don’t get lost in the chase and addiction to them. That way lies eternal bitterness and unhappiness.
Also we are a community. As hard as it can be, learn to genuinely celebrate your peers and colleagues. Share in their happiness. Let your work and the experience of doing what you love be the meal, sustenance and nourishment. And when there is dessert, savor it and enjoy the hell out of it. But know that it is fleeting and ego fattening so it should only be a treat.
We are all in this together. Keep creating. Do good work for the sake of the work. And believe me I know how hard it is. Again, for perspective, I’ve been acting for 34 years and only have had a handful of “desserts.” And I don’t think that’s because I’m not good at what I do. So I’m going to enjoy this dessert, and get back to doing the best work I can do in everything I do. And I hope to work with you.

RIP David Bowie

I had been wanting to learn “Life On Mars” for a long time but hadn’t got around to it. Last night, I hardly slept due to allergies giving me an annoying nasal drip and sore throat. I woke up today and saw that David Bowie had died last night. I thought, “Oh, too bad I never learned that song and even if I had, my allergies would prevent me from doing it justice today.”

Then I thought, “I could learn it right now. And would David Bowie let allergies stop him? Hell no, he wouldn’t.”

There are no words that can express the loss of such an artist in our world, so I’ll just let my meager cover of his amazing music speak for me. I had a weird time trying to get my (better quality external) audio to sync up and look right but after a while of staring and moving things by tiny fraction, it just starts to never look right, but you’ll get the idea.

I also picked the coat I thought Bowie would have liked best.

Hey! Butch Walker!

Here’s some words you probably already know, from a guy you don’t at all know, but sometimes they’re good to hear any way. Fuck the naysayers. You are true to you, and no matter what course of action you take, there will be some group that doesn’t like it. If you grow and change, then there’s the people who don’t like that and want you to go back to the old stuff they like. However, if you keep doing the same thing, then there’s the people who will say you are stagnant and just repeating and rehashing yourself and why don’t you do something new and original.

Music is a relationship, and like all relationships, some will work out and some won’t. There are people who will grow apart, and there are people who will grow and stay together. All you can do is be true to you and there will always be people who will fall away, and new people who will discover you and not like your old stuff and people like me who can enjoy the whole journey, old and new.

If I have one “criticism,” if you want to call it that, it’s that you don’t give old Butch enough respect. I totally understand self-deprecation as a defense mechanism (and one I use quite a lot myself), but when I hear you talk of your old music as if you are embarrassed by it or don’t think it’s as good, it makes me sad and somehow devalues something that I hold in very high regard. If you will, indulge me a little background.

One day, I heard a song on the radio that really caught my ear. I called the radio station (where I used to work, in fact) and found out it was “Sugarbuzz” by some band called Marvelous 3. I bought the single and wore it out. I started seeking out more music by this band. I sampled a few tracks via illegal download (I admit it, I wanted to try before I bought). Found “Vampires in Love,” and many others then immediately went out and bought the other two Marvelous 3 albums. This music spoke to my soul. It fucking rocked, it moved me, it existed on so many levels. It could go from fun, silly, witty rocking to soul wrenching, heart ripping depth. I felt it represented me as person. Complex. Deep, passionate, silly, fun…complex, like most people. “She took a lightsaber to my heart,” “You were cool as hell like email but still timeless like a letter.” That last quote seemed especially apropos for this music. Contemporary but classic. I was hooked. I could quote genius Butch Walker lyrics for days.

You became one of the only contemporary artists making music that I followed and bought every album as soon as it came out. You became a part of my DNA as a musician and song writer in the same way The Beatles were and to this day remain probably my biggest influence alongside them. So to hear you dismiss a lot of that past, I feel is such a disservice not only to those like me who carry it as part of who we are, but more importantly, to yourself as an artist. That shit is not just good, it’s great. As is your new stuff. It doesn’t have to be either/or (despite some trolls who may want to make you feel that way). I know you have especially bad feeling about “My Way,” but I still find it a fun, rocking great song. It may not be as “deep” or “meaningful” as some of your other songs but that doesn’t devalue it as an awesome song in its own right.

I’m pretty sure I’m a fan for life as I doubt any direction you would go would ever be somewhere I wouldn’t want to explore as well. You are kind of my musical “spirit animal” as I feel my own songs and live performance come from a similar place. When I see you live (the best live shows I’ve seen), I can see myself in that performance. I know you’re human and sometimes your position can be a tough one with people ready to criticize no matter what you do, but just know that there’s plenty of us out there who have been on the whole journey and love it all. So don’t be such a bully to old Butch, because he’s still fucking awesome as well. You do what you do for yourself, and those who can appreciate it can enjoy the journey as well and know that you’re not some performing monkey to cater to their own personal wants and whims. You will lose fans and gain new ones. And through it all there will be those who will be there for the entire show, start to finish, singing at the top of our lungs as part of collective music. You’ve changed me as a person and an artist. Continue to stay true to your own personal journey. Don’t stop believing.

(See what I did there?)

(Sorry.)

(Not sorry.)

Tom Cruisin’

I recently had the idea to make a rap/hip-hop song using every Tom Cruise movie title to date, in case he ever decides he has mastered acting and wants to go into hip-hop. Call me, Tom. I need you to record your vocals and then we can shoot a video.

Here’s the song.

And here’s a simple video I made to go along with it.

The Longest Day

Yesterday and today I find myself more wiped out than I have been in quite some time. Last week was tech week before opening weekend for Cyrano De Bergerac (I play Le Comte De Guiche) so it had been a pretty long week not to mention the previous 5 weeks of rehearsing 4 times a week. I had also come down with some kind of minor cold or something.

Friday I had an audition for a commercial. The next day I got word they wanted to book me for Sunday. I reminded my agent that since it was in Dallas, I would have to leave by 2pm to get back to Austin just in time for our Sunday matinee. My agent relayed this information, and was told that my call time in Dallas would be 9am and I would be released no later than 2pm. I got a call from the Wardrobe department to talk to me about wardrobe options and I reminded her that I had to leave by 2pm. She didn’t particularly care since that wasn’t really her department. I got a call from the casting office to get some information and they said they weren’t sure I was booked or not because I had some sort of conflict. I relayed that I had been told my call time was 9am and I would be released by 2pm.

So we opened Cyrano on Friday night, and then after our Saturday night performance, I went home and got about 3 hours of sleep, maximum before having to leave for Dallas. I got to set a little early in Dallas, and as I checked in, I reiterated that I wanted to make sure everyone knew I had to leave by 2pm. The 2nd Assistant Director said he was not aware of that, but that was fine and he would relay the message along. Another friend of mine was on the call sheet but apparently had not shown up and they had been trying to call and find her all morning. I found out from her that she had to decline the day before due to timing issues and that the message had somehow not made it to production.

There was a short song we had to sing along to for the spot, and they had it playing on loop in the waiting area because the director wanted to make sure we knew all the words so he could concentrate on performance and directing. Time ticked on and I knew my scene was scheduled for 11:30-12:30 but it was looking less and less like that was going to happen. The 2nd A.D. again reiterated that they knew I had to be our at 2 so we would see what happened. At 12:30pm they broke for lunch for an hour.

At 1:30pm we finally got in the van and made the drive to set a couple of minutes away (good thing I got only 3 hours of sleep to arrive by 9:00am). They immediately pulled one of the other actors in to film him (and the wardrobe person mistakenly gave him one of my shirts to change into for the shot) and so I pulled the Assistant Director aside and just reiterated that I wanted to make sure they knew I had be gone at 2pm. Somehow, despite me telling every single person along the way as emphatically as I could, he was not aware of this nor was the producer. The producer pulled me aside to talk about it and I again told the story of how this had all been discussed and clarified before I was ever booked and that I had made sure to hammer it home ever step of the way with every person I spoke to. He went and made a call and then came back and asked if I could possibly give them until 2:15pm, to which I said that would be really pushing it, but I was willing to do it.

Somewhere around 1:45 or so they started setting up to film me against a wall but the director didn’t like the shot and went to look at other possible locations. There was a last minute call to change my shirt. Then we changed location and they had me throw on a different shirt. It was determined that since I was in the same location as 2 of the other actors I needed to have the same shirt as them (as we were all playing workers at the same business) so I quickly changed back into the original shirt I had started in. They had just pulled these work shirts from the back of the business and it was now an issue that there were two “Joel” shirts and two “Donnie” shirts and with three of us, someone was going to share a name. For no logical reason, They changed me from Joel to Donnie (which didn’t alleviate the name problem…now there would just be 2 Donnies instead of 2 Joels). Finally we were ready to shoot.

The director told me to “leave it all on the floor” and just really go for it. I could tell he was really frustrated by a lot of the previous actors not knowing the words (thus why we had the song on loop in the room all morning like some kind of psychological torture) and just being behind schedule and such. Take one, I nailed it, they loved it and were ready to move on to getting a small hand held GoPro for me to shoot myself with but it wasn’t ready yet so they got another take. One small line flub but the rest was perfect and since they would only be using a few seconds of me at most that wasn’t an issue. 2 takes with me shooting myself with the GoPro as if it were my cell phone (the first take I was still moving around wildly as I had been for the first shots, but that was too shaky and disorienting with the GoPro in my hand). 2:15pm, we were done and everyone seemed genuinely happy and complimentary.

I got a ride back and jumped in my car as fast as humanly possible. As it stood, my GPS said I would be getting back about 5:50pm when my show was supposed to start at 5:30pm. I relayed word and shared my drive via the Waze navigation app which allowed them to actually keep up with my drive and ETA in real time.

Not very far into my drive I got a “traffic delay warning” and my ETA was readjusted to 6:05pm. The app altered my route slightly and got it back to around 5:50pm. I hit a spot where I-35 was a parking lot and luckily, the app had me get on the feeder road which was still sluggish but at least moving. Eventually I got past what looked like a Semi-truck that had been part of an accident or maybe cuaght fire or something and cause the backup and traffic cleared. ETA 6:00pm.

Now, I am someone who never speeds. I always drive the speed limit. Let’s just say that this day, I was not myself. At one point my ETA was down to 4:43pm, but my need to urinate finally won. for the first time in my life, I seriously considered trying to pee into an empty bottle in my car (I was eyeing a nice, wide-mouthed juice bottle) but the logistics were just too much. I stopped. I was going to grab a quick bite to eat as well but realized my money and wallet were in the car and I didn’t have time to get them and come back and all that so I just got back on the road.

Normally, I wouldn’t fret too much about holding the beginning of the show a bit, but the play I am in is already 3 hours long so tacking another 20+ minutes of delay is not inconsequential. I rolled up to the theatre at 4:45 and they had just started the show. They had a made a few contingency plan alterations in case I wasn’t there for my first appearance. I got dressed as quickly as possible and while I did miss my actual entrance, I walked on stage literally just in time for my first line, which kind of croaked out of since, between my cold and no sleep, my voice was barely present. My hair and makeup weren’t done, my sleeves weren’t tied and one of my boot straps was undone and dragging behind me. As I sat down on stage, I discreetly tucked it into my boot.

When my scene was over, I finished my hair and makeup and got myself more in order. I sucked down cough drops, sprayed “Singer’s Saving Grace” spray, drank some tea with lemon and honey and limped through the rest of the show, squeezing my voice out as best as I could but being probably half volume and very croaky sounding. Not my best performance, but hopefully it was at least adequate.

After the show, though I was more exhausted than I could remember being in a long time, I was also starving so I joined some of the cast at a bar that also has great food. I wolfed down a burger and fries and tried my best to croak out some conversation. Then, finally, I crawled into bed and passed out hard.

I did as little as I could yesterday and today. Lots of laundry, picking up some checks, napping, TV, just trying to recover. Band practice tonight, Voiceover and photo shoot tomorrow as well as a dentist appointment and then the show kicks back up Thursday night through Sunday night.

Sure, I could use some serious rest, but I am very grateful to be so busy doing the things I love. That being said, I do also love sleep and rest and TV and food.

The Value of Entertainment

Today I was listening to a podcast with a studio head and he said something that I often hear people in the entertainment industry say. Basically that we are just making entertainment and we aren’t as important or noble as doctors, firemen, soldiers, teachers, etc. Now, I am guilty of saying this as well and a part of me agrees but then I started thinking deeper and I was uncomfortable with this devaluation and dismissal of entertainment. While I don’t believe it’s a competition and I don’t feel there’s any need to compare one profession to another, I think entertainment is very important. The problem is that we humans are not good with amorphous and intangible things. We want everything to be quantifiable.

A doctor’s job, for instance, is very tangible and quantifiable. He sews up your wound. She transplants hearts! They fix brains! Entertainment is much less tangible. It makes you happy. It makes you feel things. It makes you think.

Many people seem to view entertainment as “fluff” or just pure leisure and luxury, but I don’t believe that. I believe there’s a reason that entertainment has been around in some form or another since the earliest recorded history. There’s something to be said for something that can affect your spirit. Make you laugh. Make you cry. Make you think. Manipulate your emotions. I believe it is a vital part of a healthy brain and soul.It feeds you in so many ways you probably don’t realize. Inspires you. Relieves stress. Puts things deep into your DNA that you don’t even realize.

I also experience this on a more microscopic level. As an actor, I love what I do. It doesn’t feel like “work.” It feel easy and effortless (not that it isn’t sometimes hard and challenging) and just like what I do. I’ve often found myself saying what many others say in that actors have it so easy! We play pretend and get trailers while other crew member haul around heavy equipment and get there before us and leave after us, etc. But then on certain occasion, a crew member has said to me “Man, I don’t know how you do that. I could never do what you do,” and expressed a real appreciation for the work an actor puts in and it re-framed everything for me.

There is great value, skill and work in what I do. As there is in whatever you do. As with most things in life, it’s all about perspective. It’s not about comparisons.

Whatever you do, don’t devalue yourself. Entertainment is as important and noble a profession as any and a very important part of life. It may not be as easily quantifiable, but I promise you it not meaningless fluff. It changes lives. It is magic. It is not merely an extraneous luxury. It is a vital nutrient.

My Biggest Acting Challenge Yet

I was recently contacted about being in a short about 2 German immigrants. They asked to just read the English with a German accent for the audition. Luckily I’ve always been really intrigued with accents and tend to pick them up quickly and do fairly decent job. They liked my audition and signed me on. The director then wanted to meet to see how well I might be able to handle the actual German dialogue. I’ve never spoken German in my life, but I have a very intuitive and natural understanding for languages. This was the first time it had ever been put to the test though. He literally just had me read the German script, totally cold (which I found an exciting challenge). He actually was very pleased with my reading and said he felt confident that I could do it and therefore was going to leave the script as it was instead of paring down the German and making it more English with a German accent.

Also lucky for me, my co-star is actually German and from the specific region of Germany as our characters. She was kind enough to send me a recording of all my lines so I had an authentic reference to refer to.

So now I just have to memorize the entire German script and understand what it is I’m saying as well, and act while doing it. I am terribly excited to take this on.