Saturday, December 24, 2011

Philosopher Humorist

My stepdad worked as a scenic carpenter at Indiana Repertory Theatre for the last several years of his life. They are planning to run this note in their program:

"The IRT family lost one of its beloved members just before Thanksgiving:  Michael Schiesser was a member of our scene shop staff for 6 years, but his impact in the theatre ranged far beyond these duties.  Michael was truly a philosopher humorist, whose great love of teaching—whether it was the execution of a rigging knot, or the solution to a crossword puzzle—was always generously, if wryly, offered.  We depended on Michael for a ready smile, a curiosity about others’ lives and work conditions, for his off-the-wall and wide-ranging views on the world, and for his ingenious scene shop pranks.   No one could hold a candle to him in the pranks division:  Michael could literally nail your tools to the table, hide your favorite screwdriver, or reverse the belt clip on your tape measure without detection!  Michael’s satiric reflections keep many of us afloat during hard times.  He will be deeply missed, joyfully remembered, and honored by his friends at the IRT."

Just wanted to share.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

In the Face

A couple of weeks ago I had my first performance with A Crew of Patches, a company that performs Shakespeare for high school students. I'd auditioned for them once years ago, and I like to tell myself I didn't get the gig because I had scheduling issues. Doesn't matter, because I finally got in the old fashioned way: I made friends with the people in the company.

If you have never dragged yourself out of bed at the ass-crack of dawn to perform Shakespeare for two hundred less-than-interested teenagers, then believe me, you have not lived. I am having the time of my life with this group. I have great roles to play, and every show is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation. We swoop into a new school each day, throw on some costumes, and off we go. No sets. Few sounds. Maybe a light cue or two. No intermission. Barely any rehearsal, even. Every show but one so far has been Macbeth. I play Banquo. Last Friday we did Romeo and Juliet for the first time. We'd never run the entire show before. Most scenes had only been rehearsed once or twice. I have a small part in that one and was properly stressed out by it; I can't imagine what Romeo and Juliet were feeling.

It was exhilarating.

We are on break right now - schools are wrapping things up for the winter break, so there's not much call for our services right now. In January we finally rehearse Julius Caesar, in which I will play the title role. If you aren't familiar with the play, I won't fault you for being impressed. It's a great role, but it's also kinda like Janet Leigh in Psycho: If there was an intermission, my guy wouldn't last long enough to see it. Nonetheless, I've got a few more lines to learn.

Friday, November 25, 2011


My previous blog entry was a crass attempt to avoid what has been occupying my thoughts for the past week and a half.

On the morning of Tuesday, November 15th, my stepfather took a handgun into his backyard and killed himself with it. Now, ten days later, I still have not processed this information completely.

At about 11:30 that day I received two phone calls on my cell phone. One was from a number I did not know, but I recognized the area code as being from Indianapolis, where my mom and stepdad live. The second was from my mom. I was at work and did not answer in time. She didn't leave a message, so I called back. She was able to say, "Something terrible has happened," but was too hysterical to get out more, so she handed the phone off to a woman who identified herself as police officer. May I just pay my compliments to the Indianapolis Police Department's sensitivity training: Never has a bandage been so gently ripped off. She told me what happened, and asked how quickly I could get there. I explained that I was in Chicago and it would be several hours. She gave the phone back to my mom, and I told her I was on my way. I don't know if she heard me. She asked me to call my brothers and sisters and I said of course. I called my wife and went home, then spent about fifteen minutes building up the courage to do the single most difficult thing I have ever done in my life: I called my stepbrother to tell him his father had died.

My wife came home and went into stage-manager mode. She arranged for the car rental and hotel, and off we went. (Side note: Through an odd quirk we ended up with a BMW for the week. It had built in GPS, which proved to be invaluable as we coordinated various airport and hotel pickups and dropoffs for our family. We named the GPS "Lucy.")

The rest of the week is something of a blur. My family has always dealt with difficulty through humor, so there was a lot of laughing. That helped. I met my newest nephew, 3-month-old William. I met my sister-in-law for the first time, which was awesome. She has her hands full with my stepbrother, who understandably is taking it hard. I think if anyone is up to the task, though, it is this fantastic addition to the family.

I also met another family member, and this just adds to dream-like quality of the past week. My mother revealed to me many years ago that when she was in high school she gave birth to a baby girl, whom she gave up for adoption. About a year and a half ago, they met for the first time. This woman, my older half-sister, came in for the funeral. There are many things about the past ten days about which I have yet to sort out my feelings. This is perhaps the strangest.

I have never been in a position to make funeral arrangements before. Our needs were basic. There would be - could be - no viewing. There would be no religious ceremony. He would be cremated. The ashes will added to his garden, so there was no need for an expensive urn. There was just a two-hour visitation, and I was happy to see how many people came. The funeral director was fantastic, and took care of everything. Even getting the obituary in the paper. All part of the package.

Considering how minimal our requirements were, I am astounded by how much it cost. If Mandy or I were to die suddenly, the surviving partner would be completely screwed.

My mom is handling things as well as can be expected - better, actually. Right now she is in Seattle, spending Thanksgiving with one of my sisters. She'll be in Phoenix with another sister for Christmas. She has already started talking about changes she wants to make to the house. My siblings an I are planning a reunion trip to Indianapolis next summer, to help fix up the place.

I don't really have much else to say about it right now. I have no appropriate eulogy for my stepfather. I knew him for almost a quarter of a century, but apparently I didn't know him that well.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Party Pooper

I have a confession to make: I hate the holidays.

I like to convince myself that I object to the holidays as a matter of principle. Thanksgiving may have become a time for family, and for reflecting on the good things in your life, and whatever. But really it's a celebration of the time when a bunch of weirdos who couldn't hack it in their home country packed up and took a boat to the New World, where the natives threw them a pity party. Which was later repaid with smallpox. And Christmas? Please. The commercial co-opting of a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of the world's most famous fictional character. A holiday which is itself a co-opted Roman holiday, which has its roots in even early Pagan traditions.

I can be kind of a dick when I want to. Because the truth is that this time of year just stresses me right out. It's expensive. I have family members from every corner of the country wanting to know why I'm not spending it with them. I put on a ton of weight every year at this time. And it's expensive. Did I mention that already?

I need to quit being a whiner and just try to enjoy myself.

But it's also cold out there.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

New Skills - Part II

And here it is: My brand-new, freshly squeezed website. I find that I cannot stop tinkering with it.

The HTML/CSS class was interesting and informative, and if this online thing ever offers a more advanced one I shall definitely check it out. I'm now deep into their introductory Javascript course, which is about a hundred times more complicated. It involves the use of words that are not currently part of my vocabulary. Words like, "concatenation." It requires the understanding of "variables" and "functions," both of which sound suspiciously math-like to my artist's brain. Fortunately, these are video lectures, so when anything doesn't sink in the first time I can just watch it again. Once I've got the hang of it I'm moving on to PHP/MySQL. I think it will help me at my current day job. Or perhaps it will help at some future day job. We shall see.

In other news, The Count of Monte Cristo has been extended for two weeks, so it now closes November 13th - just in time for me to begin work on Hunger, also for Lifeline Theatre. We're doing a special workshop/staged reading downtown this month, which will be a change from Lifeline's usual process. I'm curious to see what we'll be able to take from this once we enter the regular rehearsal process after Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New Skills

I'm taking online classes in HTML/CSS and Javascript. I'll probably be redesigning my website soon. You are forewarned.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Chicago Theatre Off Book

Katy Walsh (of The Fourth Walsh) and Joshua Volkers interviewed me for their new radio show, Chicago Theatre Off Book, on CHIRP (The Chicago Independent Radio Project). You can listen to it online by clicking here.

The interview starts just after the 10 minute mark, although before that I got to participate in one of their 60-second radio plays. (Full disclosure: I had no idea I was going to do that before I showed up for the interview. I want you to keep that in mind before you judge my performance.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

An Idea

I've got an idea for this thing. I call it the Secular Artists Alliance. I've gone so far as to register the domain name. Beyond that, however, it's just an idea. As I wrote on the placeholder page, "My hope is to turn this into a forum for artists of all disciplines who have, or have been inspired by, or are maybe just curious about, a secular worldview. I'd like this to be a place where artists can come for support, networking, feedback, and inspiration."

Now how do I do that?

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Plan

The time has come -- is, in fact, long overdue -- for me to find an agent. There, I said it. I have put feelers out, and several friends have given me recommendations on where to submit, and even been kind enough to offer themselves as references. Time now to put together some resumes and headshots, write me up some cover letters, maybe tack on some quotes from reviews, and see what happens.

I have, on occasion, sent my stuff in to agents before. I have encountered no success. I also sent my stuff in unsolicited. The agents had not seen me, I had no recommendations, and few reviews to speak of. I think I've got a better handle on what I'm doing this time.

I'm fast approaching a "now or never" point in my life. Without going into detail, let me say that certain aspects of my working life in which I had been comfortable have recently become distinctly un-comfortable. I was complacent; now things are shaking up and it is time for me to get my shit together.

The funny thing is, when it comes to theater, I have never been busier. The show I wrote opens in two weeks. I've been cast in a show at my home theater that workshops this fall, and performs next winter. I've just joined a company that performs Shakespeare for high school students. And I have an audition coming up about which I am very excited. If I get that, that's five plays I'll be acting in this season. That's crazy. And awesome. But also crazy.

But as busy as I am, I have bills to pay, and my old comfortable plan doesn't seem like it's going to pan out the way I'd hoped. So now it's time to step up my game. Part of me wishes that such a move could have been played out more on my own terms, but at the same time I know myself well enough to know that if circumstances hadn't dictated it, I might have been content to let things ride as they were indefinitely.

I hate to be so vague. Nobody should be worrying about my health or anything like that. It's just time for a change. And it's stressful as all hell, but in the end I think it will turn out to be a good thing.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Other Side of the Table

I stage managed a play once in college. It was a one-act. I've since directed a couple of short late-night pieces, and "directed" a solo piece my friend Joanie did several years ago. In that instance, I just met with her a couple of times, gave a couple suggestions on blocking and pacing, and had a little input on the lighting. I have also done fight choreography on a number of shows, but was never intimately involved in those productions. Usually I'd just be asked to stop by once a week or so and check in. If I was more involved, it was because I was also performing in the show. The point is, until now I've never observed the production side of a full scale theatrical production. It is fascinating.

Actors spend little time exposed to the creative processes of the designers on most shows. This isn't a knock against actors; it's just that their work and the designers' work are done in separate places and follow different schedules. Actors usually only experience the last few stages of the designers' efforts. Working as the writer on The Count of Monte Cristo, I have a whole new perspective on the kind of work that goes into building a set, or lighting it. For weeks, thoughts and images would be passed around, ideas discussed, research referenced. Discussions would revolve around, say, a photo our set designer found of a cathedral. He would point out the feel and texture of its marble floor. This would be combined with a painting our lighting designer had found, showing stark beams of light coming through a small window, illuminating and isolating a small corner of a larger, darker space. Our costume designer would discuss images from the time period we are creating, and would remove or enhance certain details depending on what best told our story.

We are in tech now, where all of these elements and many others are finally coming together onstage, to be combined with the work the actors have done in rehearsal over the last several weeks. My job is almost done. I am reminded of the time I saw Tom Robbins give a reading. He was asked about his writing process, and how he approached revisions. He said that he doesn't stop tinkering and tweaking until the publisher finally tells him it's gone to print and it's too late to change anything else. I completely understand what he meant by that. I find myself constantly wondering if it would help if I changed this line here, cut that line there, clarified this little thing here, gave this line to that character, snipped a word or two from this speech. I don't mean to be picky. It's just that I want it to be perfect.

We have our first audience in less than a week. I am giddy with excitement. I love my cast and production team, and I am so proud of this show. I can't wait for everybody to see it.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Rehearsals for The Count of Monte Cristo start tomorrow night. Or rather, tonight, if you consider that it is well past one in the morning right now. I can't sleep. I think it's nerves. Also, I took a long nap this afternoon, because I didn't get much sleep last night either. There was a reason for that, however: I was trying to sleep on an uncomfortable sofa-bed in a house that, while air-conditioned, was warmer and more humid than my delicate sensibilities normally prefer. Tonight I am back home and was back in my own bed for half an hour, and now I'm out on the couch typing at you fine people because I can't sleep.

As I said, I think it's nerves.

It could also be Civilization V. The video game. I got it last Christmas, but wasn't able to get the upgrades necessary to actually play it until last week. I played for several hours before trying to go to bed. So that also may have something to do with it. When I close my eyes I still see the map I slowly uncovered as my campaign grew. I pushed on until my civilization discovered gunpowder. The game usually stops being fun (read: too difficult) for me after that, so I packed it in. I certainly felt tired enough when I shut the computer down. And yet here I am.

And I've got these rehearsals starting in a few hours, and I am certain that I have forgotten to do something vital to the success of this show. I don't know what it is. Maybe I should have done more tweaking since I presented the most recent draft. That was a few weeks ago. I wanted to let the script rest until rehearsals began. But now I'm wondering, should I have looked at that one section again? Should I have tried to work that one idea in somewhere? I thought they were small enough fixes that it would be no big deal, but now there is a part of my brain yelling that we start tomorrow and THE SCRIPT ISN'T FINISHED.

Of course, this is a Lifeline show, and I've done enough of these to know that the script is not finished until opening night. I still have six weeks to get it right. And I have a fantastic team with me to help me see it through. And the script really is in decent shape, I think. I'm excited about where it's headed. I can't wait to finally start seeing this stuff up on its feet. This will be an entirely new experience for me. I wonder if the work I do in rehearsal will be as fun as the work I did on my own was.

Still not tired yet. Any other interesting news? I sent my headshot and resume to an agent a couple of weeks ago. No response yet, but I think that's normal. I'm not worried about it. If it happens, then cool. If not, oh well. I'm too old to be sweating about it.

After 1:30 now. I really should try to get some sleep. Sure, rehearsal isn't until tomorrow night, but I also have to put eight hours into the bill-paying job between now and then. And that job has been requiring stamina lately. If I am not well-rested, the day could become unbearable.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Fond Farewell to the Rabbits

It has been a long, brilliant two months.

Watership Down was a huge success, critically acclaimed, Jeff Recommended. I don't know that I have ever had such a positive experience working with an ensemble. I do know that I have never worked this hard on a show before. It was the most physically demanding project I have worked on since summer training camp for high school football. Early on, I was not sure I would be up to the challenge. I worried that the demands of the role would wear me down. I thought for certain that my knees would eventually give out. I feared that I wouldn't make it to the end of the run, and that my understudy would have to take over.

Turns out my fears were unfounded. I wore protective knee braces, was careful about warming up before shows, and followed our movement designer's advice on how best to carry myself in performance, and by the end of the run I was noticeably stronger. My knees became less and less of an issue. Halfway through the run, the whole thing became fun.

I will miss Watership Down in a way I rarely miss shows. It deserved a longer run than we were able to give it. Being a part of this production encapsulated everything I love about theater.

Eesh. That got awfully sappy. Sorry about that.

It's Friday night and I'm on my couch. No shows tonight. The first Friday off in months. At my day job, a project three months in the building finally came to fruition, so that's another weight off. And I was able to send the latest draft of The Count of Monte Cristo to my director today, so that's another goal achieved. All things considered, it's been a pretty good time for me. I have a few weeks until Monte Cristo rehearsals start, which should give me plenty of time to finally whip through the final season of Friday Night Lights, the Blu-rays of which some friends were kind enough to lend me. I am also telling myself that I will start doing some push-ups, maybe try a little running, something to maintain the activity level -- and associated benefits -- I achieved while pretending to be a rabbit for the last two months. But then I've always been good at finding reasons to avoid that sort of thing.

Basically I've got two things on my plate. I have Monte Cristo rapidly approaching. And then once that's open I have a eight-week gap before I start rehearsals on the next project. I need to find something to fill it. I was thinking maybe a class. Or some new writing project. Not sure yet. We shall see.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Tomorrow we begin tech on Watership Down. Tonight is our last free night for a while. It couldn't come at a better time. The right side of my body is covered in bruises and scrapes. I am sore everywhere, and I have some sort of unpleasant chest cold happening on top of it. Seriously, it feels like somebody dragged a rake through my lungs. To be honest, I'm not sure how much of the soreness is show-related, and how much is a result of this cold. But I can tell you for certain that my ass has never been so thoroughly kicked. I want nothing more than to go home, climb into bed, and stay there for the next thirty-six hours or so.

This experience has served to highlight a cold hard truth, one that I have struggled to ignore for the past few years: I am getting older. I am no longer able to fling myself about the stage with reckless abandon - or any kind of abandon, really. Last night was our most successful run of the show yet, and I am happy to report that my energy level stayed up enough to get me through it, but the moment we were done I could barely walk. I am genuinely afraid of Saturdays, when we have to perform this beast twice. I'll make it through. I don't really have a choice. But it won't be pretty.

Now that I'm done whining, I can report that I think this show will be something special. It is unlike anything I've ever done before. It is intensely physical (obviously), but it's also a great story with characters unlike anything most actors ever get to play. I mean come on. They're rabbits. But this ain't no kids' show. These are some bad-ass, hardcore, tough-as-nails wild animals in a battle for survival. You haven't seen anything quite like it. I promise.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Count of Monte Cristo

I've been sitting on this for about six weeks, but the news finally broke today. Lifeline Theatre has announced its 2011-2012 season, and the first mainstage show will be an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo written by Yours Truly. The show will be directed by my friend and fellow Lifeline ensemble member Paul Holmquist. I am excited and terrified. Mostly excited. Usually.

We had a reading of an early draft a couple of weeks ago. It was the strangest experience, hearing words I'd written read aloud for the first time. It was very difficult to be objective, and mostly I found myself watching and listening to everyone else's reactions. Fortunately, the development process at Lifeline involves a great deal of helpful feedback from the rest of the ensemble, giving me some useful starting points as I dove into the next draft. And now that the initial shock has worn off, I hope I'll be able to listen to future readings with a more critical ear.

There's still some time before rehearsals begin. I'm acting in one show closing this weekend, with another in rehearsal and opening in a little over a month. But soon enough there will be another reading or two, and production meetings, and eventually we'll be ready to start rehearsing at the end of July.


The Count of Monte Cristo

September 9 - October 30, 2011

Based on the legendary thriller by Alexandre Dumas
Adapted by Christopher M. Walsh
Directed by Paul S. Holmquist

"Fool that I am, that I did not tear out my heart the day I resolved to avenge myself..."

Framed by a conspiracy of three terrible enemies, Edmond Dantès is torn from the woman he loves and wrongly imprisoned for fourteen years. After escaping captivity, he enters the upper reaches of Parisian society under a new name: the Count of Monte Cristo. With the aid of Albert de Morcerf, son of his former fiancée, the Count insinuates himself into the lives of his three tormentors and, one by one, seeks to use their own secrets to destroy them. A dark tale of intrigue and vengeance, in a world premiere adaptation.

Based on the 1844 classic by French novelist Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Back On the Wagon

As of yesterday I am back on Weight Watchers. For the last couple of months I told myself I was not really off WW, just taking a break for the holidays. But as the scale informed me on Sunday morning, that was a complete lie. I am pretty much back where I started. So it is time to knuckle down and get this thing done.

I should have known it would go this way. Ten years ago I tried the Atkins Diet. I started in the fall and lost a ton of weight. Then Thanksgiving approached and I figured I could take it easy between Thanksgiving and New Years, and then pick up where I left off. I was mistaken. Why I thought it would be different this time I have no idea. I will strive not to make the same mistake again.

Rehearsals for Watership Down start a week from today. I had planned to be in MUCH better shape for this. Now it's gonna be a hell of a lot of work. Yikes.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

An Honor Just to be Nominated

No, seriously. It really is.

The ChicagoNow theatre blog, The Fourth Walsh (no relation), has opened voting for the 2010 Honor Awards, "presented to 10 winners in 10 categories for his/her exceptional contribution to the Chicago theatre experience last year." Yours Truly has been nominated in the category of Best Supporting Actor for my work in Neverwhere at Lifeline Theatre last summer.

This is the first time I've ever been nominated for a theatre award, and I promise you I am completely letting it go to my head. As thrilling as the nomination is, however, I would still really like to win. And you can help! Just follow this link to vote. Voting closes February 21st.

And I have still more exciting news to come!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Coming Soon...

I have an exciting thing coming up. I can't tell you what it is yet. But I completed a big step the other day, and I'm very excited about it. It's a whole new thing for me. Theater-related. You'll see. Soon. I promise.