Extra Extra 2: Games For Background Artists

Vincent Truman

Vincent Truman on set

I am certainly enjoying living out a bit of a personal fantasy by being an extra a/k/a background artist, as it is a kick to be on set and watch the well-oiled machine of directors, assistant directors, associate producers, technicians, camera folks, people wranglers, food prep artists and even actors as they do their respective things.  It’s so exciting that I occasionally roam the job listings for production assistants and the like, as I’d love to be part of that machine. On the other hand, as an extra, there is a lot of waiting and watching.

The other day, my entire eight hours was spent on an interior lot, sitting in the dark with forty other extras between a constructed mini-building and a large painting of a cityscape. Having nothing to do and a lot of time in which to perfect it, I jotted down some fun games that I played, as well as instructions:

1. The Water Game! Drink some.
2. Eyecross Mania!  Find two similar objects near each other (a window, a stack of cups) and cross your eyes until they become one.
3. Flashback! Stare at an object until one begins to naturally hallucinate (recommended for former LSD users)
4. There’s a Donut! Eat it.
5. Hey, a Tamale!  Eat it.
6. Skyline Census! Look at a painted skyline of a city and see if you can find any actual people in the windows.
7. Bathroom Break! Take one. This will usually be the time a people wrangler will show up and ask for extras, so don’t drag this one out!
8. Smirk Attack! Make eye contact with someone and smirk. Bonus points for nodding.
9. Watch Watch! Look at the time and figure out to the second how much you’re earning.
10. iWait! Look at your iPhone and wait for a notification from any of your apps to show up. This is a complex game, as you have to keep preventing your phone from going to sleep.

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Extra, Extra

Vincent Truman on set

Vincent Truman: first day on set

Performing as an extra in a TV show is very much like taking a flight to anywhere: there is much emphasis on “hurry up”, “get there on time”, “stand in this line” and “stand in that line”, but the overall order one has to comply with is “wait.”

I’ve done a couple of TV shows in a little under a week, and it’s been a cautiously exhilarating experience: it is exhilarating because it’s just fun to be on a closed set and watch the director, talent and crew scurry around; it is cautiously so because such an experience could easily not be so exhilarating if one was an extra more than a couple of times in a little under a week. The pay encourages such thinking; I figured I could earn a living as an extra if only there were sixty to seventy days in a month.

To be candid, I confess I know nothing about these TV shows, so when my extra manager urged me not to approach or engage with the talent, I was very confident in my response of “no problem.” I couldn’t recognize these folks for anything. I only knew talent was on set because they were the ones who tended to be doing things, but without headsets or untidy hair.

I could give you an itinerary of the day, but that wouldn’t really demonstrate what the experience of being an extra is all about. So what is it like?

Being an extra is like being flung back through time to the fourth grade. There we are, all restless and anxious, with various teachers (associate producers, mainly) coming in at random and saying, “listen up, people…”, “quiet please!” and “quiet please!!” The class, shushed into silence, immediately breaks into the well-worn factions we all knew and loved back in the day.

The troublemaker: “This is BULLshit. Treating artists this way. Total waste of time.”

The suck-up: this person mainly talks about every show they’ve been in since “Dragnet” and how they talked to Vince Vaughan once on Michigan Avenue. This person also calls all of the crew by name and, when the associate producer begins a “listen up, people” speech, they snap at all the others to pay attention and then turns to the associate producer. “Go ahead, Jeremy.” (insert big smile here)

The nerd: the moment this person is seated after checking in, they’re deep into reading “Life The Universe and Everything” by Douglas Adams.

The mentor: this person can spot a newbie and advises on things to avoid (on the first day on set, I was advised to avoid “pink chicken” and “anything with mayonnaise”).

The rebel: this person, despite all warnings, walks right up to the talent and requests an autograph or selfie. Moments later, they are escorted off-set and “blacklisted” from the production.

The fearful: this person darts his/her head around frantically for the duration of the day looking for a friendly face.

The boring twat: this person recounts how much he/she would be earning if he/she wasn’t stuck here all day, even though he/she is there by choice.

However, like any group of fourth-graders stuck in detention for an especially long time, the categories above begin to blur around Hour Five and the majority of people can be seen staring into space with dulled eyes and expressions, like color representations of family portraits taken in the mid-19th century.

On set, things are a bit more lively, if a bit silly. In my two shows, I’ve (a) stood, (b) stood, (c) walked, (d) stood, (e) pretended to drink campaign and (f) stood.  Still, it is pretty exciting to watch everything come together, and it makes me think, “oh, I could do any of these jobs.”  Hopefully, that bit will come to some fruition.

At the end of the day, it feels like a fairly uninteresting LSD trip. You feel like you’ve been someplace forever, and you can’t remember the beginning of it.  But it was still cool.



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“Mine” Field (Reflections on a Play)

Vincent Truman in "Mine"

Vincent Truman in “Mine”

“You need a win,” my fiancee Sarah observed. And, like on so many situations, she was right. Yet for a long time, it didn’t look like that would be probable.

“Mine”, my play about the life of a woman following an assault, originally came to life as part of a improvisational show in 1995 called “Razor Spirits” (there was a brief dalliance with dramatic improvisation in Chicago that year). It was a short scene I had devised, and the actors at the time grappled with the subject matter but it never really took off. It was perhaps too heavy. I was somewhat saddened by that, as I thought the idea was a worthy one.

My 2015 play, “Bully”, collapsed under its own weight – despite taking great steps to make the show unique by having two casts (one black, one white) and permitting the actors to play with the language and action to reflect their experiences/cultures, the show devolved into a series of ever-shifting alliances and factions which I couldn’t control (one actor wrote me, saying “fuck them” about the other cast, and then within weeks, shifted to saying “fuck you” to me along with the other cast; another called me racist and then sent me pictures of her tits). This led to folks showing up late for shows, sometimes not showing up at all, skipping pages of dialogue during the shows, etc. Even during the run of the show, there were angry Facebook tirades from a few of the actors, followed by blocks and deletions. I am still struggling with what went so wrong.

So when 2016 came along, I really wanted to write and perform something solid and good. I had thought about the improv scene from 1995 for years; early versions of “Mine” were written in 2013 and 2014. Knowing that at least the concept was solid and good, I focused on this script over a few months and had a workshop in the spring. It didn’t look good. In the 2016 early draft, the lead character Amber got over her assault by use of therapy, reconnecting with a loved one, and re-establishing a relationship with a guy she had a date with early in the play. One participant accused me of some form of misogyny by having a woman’s life improved by a man, and she promptly defriended me on Facebook. And I thought, fuck, I’m not going to be able to get out of this failure cycle.

I did take her – and everyone’s – thoughts on board and reworked the script so there were a few less happy endings but a lot more exploration of psychology, ultimately the core of the piece. I removed any pat explanations and other bits of tidy writing, and just let the characters bash into each other. And then it worked.

My first two executive decisions were to cast Kimmy Higginbotham in the lead role as Amber, as I needed someone I could trust in that role, and to cast myself as the voice in her head, as she needed someone she could trust in that role.

Auditions went smoothly – which made me suspicious, as I was expecting the experience to run as shakily as my last year’s experiences. Then, when the cast and I sat down, it was discovered that we were all writer/actor/directors and the show became a thinktank. Everyone chimed in with observations and criticisms, and everything was taken onboard. We all suggested edits and additions, emphasis and subtle brushstrokes. It was a goddamned team.

Suddenly (nearly), the show grew its own momentum and everyone gave their all for six intense weeks of rehearsal. And suddenly (not nearly), we were performing at the Chicago Fringe Festival and every single person we spoke to had complex things to say – there was no “way to go” or “I enjoyed it” but long paragraphs starting with “I think…”. It was beautiful! We received one review – 4 out of 5 stars – and many big houses. I got my win. And, I hope, so did everyone who saw “Mine.”

I want to thank the cast of the show for helping me – and all of us – get this win. Elliot Lerner, standup comic/charming guy/actor. Kathleen Urbanski, director/actor. Athanasia Jennifer Sawicz, dancer/actor. Mark A. Child, storyteller/actor. Kimmy Higginbotham, director/actor. If you’re in theater or film, you should find these people and find a way to work with them. Thank you, guys.

And, last but by no means least, thanks to the Chicago Fringe Festival for bringing me back to life, for helping me get to a place where I can proudly say, my name is Vincent Truman and this story is Mine.


Script: http://www.lulu.com/shop/vincent-truman/mine-a-play-in-one-act-2016/paperback/product-22830310.html

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“Mine”: A Few More Thousand Words

Kimmy Higginbotham in "Mine"

Kimmy Higginbotham in “Mine”

As we lurch towards our last of nine performances at the Chicago Fringe Festival 2016 (4pm on Sunday, September 11), I thought I would share a second collection of stills, all courtesy of my favorite cinematographer, Richard Smith. If you’re in the Chicagoland area and haven’t seen this play yet, please do. The most common comment we’ve received about “Mine”, which is all centered on surviving sexual assault, has been “important.” That means the world to me.

The show will be performed at the CCJP Meeting Hall, 5320 W Giddings, Chicago, IL 60630 (steps from Lawrence/Milwaukee and the Jefferson Park Metra and CTA Blue Line Stop) at 4pm on Sunday, September 11, 2016. Tickets are $10 with a one-time $5 festival button.

Join me, Kimmy Higginbotham, Kathleen Urbanski, Athanasia Jennifer Sawicz, Mark A. Child and Elliot Lerner for our final performance in this run.  I do hope to see you.



Vincent Truman and Elliot Lerner


Mark A. Child and Athanasia Jennifer Sawicz


Kimmy Higginbotham


Vincent Truman and Kimmy Higginbotham


Vincent Truman and Kimmy Higginbotham


Mark A. Child, Athanasia Jennifer Sawicz and Vincent Truman


Kathleen Urbanski and Kimmy Higginbotham


Kathleen Urbanski and Vincent Truman


Kimmy Higginbotham


Kimmy Higginbotham and Elliot Lerner


Kimmy Higginbotham and Elliot Lerner

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“Mine”: Thousands of Words

Vincent Truman in "Mine"

Vincent Truman in “Mine”

These are a selection of production stills made by my good friend and brilliant photographer/cinematographer/mad genius, Richard Smith, during one of the early performances of “Mine” at the Chicago Fringe Festival 2016.

“Mine” tracks an assault survivor (Kimmy Higginbotham) as she attempts to get on with her life, all the while haunted and hunted by the memory of her assailant (Vincent Truman).

I love these photographs because a lot of them have little to love about them. As I glance through them, I keep thinking to myself, “this is not theater… this is life.”

Shows to go: Saturday, 9/10 at 5:30pm and 8:30pm, Sunday, 9/11 at 4:00pm.
Location: CCJP Meeting Hall, 5320 W Giddings, Chicago, IL 60630
Direct ticket link: https://dime.io/events/mine/
Web page: http://vincenttruman.net/mine/mine101.htm

"Mine": Silencing The Voice

“Mine”: Silencing The Voice

"Mine": Passing Thoughts

“Mine”: Passing Thoughts

"Mine": Pride Comes Before

“Mine”: Pride Comes Before

"Mine": Dark Heart

“Mine”: Dark Heart

"Mine": The War Within

“Mine”: The War Within

"Mine": Control Takes Time

“Mine”: Control Takes Time

"Mine": Even Memories Have Secrets

“Mine”: Even Memories Have Secrets

"Mine" Curtain Call

“Mine” Curtain Call

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What are red flags if not the waving symbol of humanity?

Vincent Truman, "Mine"

Vincent Truman, “Mine”

“Were there red flags on our third date?” asked Amber O’Donnell in the play “Mine”, recounting a romantic encounter gone bad. “Probably. But what are red flags if not the waving symbol of humanity?”

“Mine”, my 2016 play and selection of the Chicago Fringe Festival 2016, deals with the complex relationship between our own voices and the voices that we hold inside our hearts. Oftentimes, the preferred interior voices read like generic memes of encouragement, variations on the “hang in there, baby” kitten hanging from a tree branch. Those interior voices strike me as neither particularly helpful nor particularly believable.

The darker and more sinister voices of our hearts reveal much more about ourselves than the brighter, hey-guys-let’s-do-the-show-right-here proclamations of self-worth and value. Why? Because they are rooted in our yearning to find understanding, or at least the perception of understanding, in our daily victories and defeats. They are the voices of self-preservation and are often rooted in past traumas and rationalizations than they are in hope for a better day.

In “Mine“, the main character – Amber O’Donnell (Kimmy Higginbotham) – is haunted by the traumatic memory in her life, which incidentally I play. For the first few drafts, the memory character was written as a Snidely Whiplash villain. But then I remembered all the memory characters I have floating around in my head and heart – the ones who say I’m not good enough, not worth love, not worth excelling as either a writer or actor, or worse, such-and-such a person has no value to me – and it occurred to me: that voice is probably the most charming and loving of all of my interior voices.

It is the voice that, instead of discouraging from attaining my dreams, encourages me to not pursue them in the first place. Play Mario Kart, watch a movie, re-invent an avatar on Second Life, the voice says, those would all be fun. Fuck rejection, it says. Avoid rejection, it says. Stay safe, it says.

And then it hit me: red flags. What are red flags? Answer: warnings about possible futures based upon past failures. Imagine such a voice inhabiting an infant. She fails to walk at first, and such a voice would encourage her not to walk. Imagine such a voice inhabiting an ex-husband, and such a voice would encourage him not to marry again. Imagine such a voice inhabiting someone who was hurt by another person, and such a voice would encourage him or her not to risk hurt again. They can be debilitating, certainly, no matter the age or circumstance, if they are permitted greater value than they are worth.

It is that voice that I’ve brought to life in “Mine” – a voice I’ve never really heard on stage before, but one which we’ve all heard in our hearts.

Have I put red flags into “Mine”?  Yes. But what are red flags if not the waving symbol of humanity?

# # #

Show details:

Location: CCJP Meeting Hall, 5320 W Giddings St, Chicago, IL 60630-3604

Friday, 9/2/2016 @ 7pm
Saturday, 9/3/2016 @ 230pm
Sunday, 9/4/2016 @ 830pm
Monday, 9/5/2016 @ 10pm
Friday, 9/9/2016 @ 7pm
Saturday, 9/10/2016 @ 530pm
Sunday, 9/11/2016 @ 400pm

TICKETS: https://dime.io/events/mine/
WEB PAGE: http://vincenttruman.net/mine/mine101.htm


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“Mine”: A Chicago Fringe Fest Travelogue

MINE / Chicago Fringe Festival 2016

MINE / Chicago Fringe Festival 2016

That creative rascal Joss Whedon has opined that he is frequently asked, “Why do you write strong women characters?” to which he replies, “Because you keep asking that question.” It’s a good retort, but I think he misses the mark just a little bit. Having written a few strong women throughout the years – my “Venus Envy”, “Killing Angela”, “The Observatory” and “The Tearful Assassin” are all led by mighty women characters – I’ve been asked variations on that question. Why do I keep writing strong women characters? My answer: what other kind are there?

I confess it was not my intention to be a “woman writer”; rather, when I’ve sat down at my clunky old PC, miraculously still running Windows XP, I’ve only gone where my imagination wanted me to go. However, in retrospect, it seems in my blood to rely on the intelligent complexities of female characters instead of men. Why? I find male characters are easily shunt into being a protagonist or antagonist, whereas I find women to be infinitely more complex than that and thus more reflective of the real world. My life is full of people who are part hero, part villain, part saint, part sinner. So it makes a logical sense that those are the people who I digest in my brain and let spill onto the printed page.

“Mine” is a play I started working on a couple of years ago, as an exercise for a possible short film to accompany a 48 hour guerilla film competition. In the film, a woman was hounded by the memory of a vicious attack, played in the film by a shadowy male character, but the memory did it’s most damage when it interacted with other memories and skewed his (their) host. As a film, I couldn’t quite explore this theme fully within the 8-10 minute range I was writing for, so another idea took its place and “Mine” went back to the shelf.

As I came off the production of  2015’s”Bully“, which inspired a great range of reviews from “love it” to “hate it” but which definitely increased the diversity of the Chicago Fringe Festival by having a dual cast (one white, one African American), the idea of “Mine” came back up due to an unlikely source: Hillary Clinton. I wanted to explore the “even memories have secrets” theme along with the systemic sexism that seemed to be lobbed at Ms. Clinton from every angle. Example: even some of my most learned friends gobbled up the Kool Aid and dubbed her a “bitch” or “cunt.” Ridiculous. Thus, I went to work on “Mine” and developed the most complex, thick, horrifying and compassionate piece I’ve written in my life.

Casting was remarkably easy. I needed an actor to portray the lead character, Amber, who not only I could trust personally but also could develop the character in full, revealing disparate but essential traits under the microscope and in panorama.  The choice was easy: Kimmy Higginbotham, with whom I’ve worked on two plays, a commercial and a short film. For her shadow memory, I knew SHE needed someone she could trust, thus I wound up casting myself. The two of us have a natural rapport onstage, and despite how horrifying the text gets, and it gets plenty horrifying, we can work together and exit every performance unscathed personally.

As I’ve mentioned to friends and family, this piece is very personal to me. I think it is a solid piece of theater, and an opening to have some difficult conversations about things women are routinely shamed about (not only the assault implied in the production, but society’s own denigrations of women in general). For perhaps the first time, I’m not at all concerned about press or reviews or adulation. I just want to communicate.

# # #

Show details:

Location: CCJP Meeting Hall, 5320 W Giddings St, Chicago, IL 60630-3604

Friday, 9/2/2016 @ 7pm
Saturday, 9/3/2016 @ 230pm
Sunday, 9/4/2016 @ 830pm
Monday, 9/5/2016 @ 10pm
Friday, 9/9/2016 @ 7pm
Saturday, 9/10/2016 @ 530pm
Sunday, 9/11/2016 @ 400pm

TICKETS: https://dime.io/events/mine/
WEB PAGE: http://vincenttruman.net/mine/mine101.htm


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