Monthly Archives: May 2014

“As ecstasy surrounds you”

I am definitely in the minority on this, but I loved high school. Junior year, especially, was the best year of my life.

Until June of 2010, when I became an uncle for the first time, the greatest day of my life before that was Wednesday, October 27, 2004. On that day, the Boston Red Sox broke the long-rumored “Curse of the Bambino” and became World Champions for the first time in eighty-six years. Many baseball fans, especially Yankee fans, commented that the Red Sox would be “just another” baseball team after that, but at least to me, that’s all I ever wanted them to be. They shed the “lovable loser” label, and just became lovable.

That same year, I was able to appear in my first “mainstage” show when I was cast in The Fantasticks. Although another cast member and I would miss the first week of rehearsals because it coincided with an exchange trip to France, both events would be amongst my favorites even after almost ten years.

In a few years, the tenth anniversary of my high school graduation will come up. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I wonder: will they remember me? If I’m not doing as well, would they hold that against me? Perhaps I mistook comfort for happiness.

But still, what I did earn, I did work for. It’s something I look back on with pride, as well as anxiousness. The maroon and gold were always colors I was proud to wear.

There’s a lyric from “Beside You” by Van Morrison, which inspires this post’s title:

And you’re high on your high-flying cloud/Wrapped up in your magic shroud/As ecstasy surrounds you

I’d like to think that whatever happens, I’d be welcomed back with open arms. But I don’t know yet if I can bring myself to go back. Maybe for 20th and 25th anniversaries, but I don’t know about 10th, because we’re still in our late twenties by then. We’re still figuring it out somewhat. Who knows if we’ll be married or have kids or be in the same job?

Admittedly, this is nervousness for something that hasn’t happened yet. I’m sure it’ll be fine. But, if by chance, it doesn’t go well, at least I put my cards on the table. And what’s the worst that could happen? Could the loneliness and potential judgments be so unbearable that I never go back?

High school was four years of excitement and growth for me. I felt like I learned more about myself in high school than I did in college. Quite honestly, college got weird for me- as I became old enough to do more “adult” things, I began to question whether or not I wanted to do them. I was the “good kid,” and I wasn’t ready to let that go.

Maybe I’m still not ready.

But hey, in two years my life could be totally different from what it is now. We’ll have to see. Young adulthood is an adventure now, and perhaps this ecstasy from friends and old memories will surround me once again.

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2014 FIFA World Cup predictions

The World Cup is less than three weeks away. I’ll break down each group as best I can. When teams are listed, I will place them on how they were drawn (for example, Brazil and Croatia will be listed first because that is the first scheduled game). I will also pick the two teams from each group that I predict to advance.

Group A

Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Analysis: Brazil, being hosts, are arguably the team to beat in this group. There is also a chip on Brazil’s shoulder, which I’m not sure will help them or hurt them. Croatia and Mexico had a rough qualifying schedule, particularly Mexico. They would have been out of the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand were it not for a late United States goal against Panama (they needed a win or for the U.S. to draw with Panama to get them through). The strange part is that with players like Giovani do Santos and Javier Hernandez (a.k.a. “Chicharito,” or “little pea”), Mexico should be more dominant on paper. I believe that several Croatian players are suspended due to accumulated red or yellow cards. I watched Croatia closely, since they were in a group with Belgium, and they started strong, earning a 1-1 draw in Brussels. Arguably, the turning point for both teams was on June 7 of last year, when Belgium earned a clutch win over Serbia, the only other team within striking distance. Meanwhile, Robert Snodgrass’ first half goal gave Scotland’s Tartan Army a massive upset, in Zagreb no less. After that, the wheels came off for Croatia: a 1-1 draw with Serbia, a 2-1 loss to Belgium (which clinched Belgium’s qualifying spot in the Cup) in Zagreb, and another upset loss to Scotland, a 2-0 loss in Glasgow. In UEFA, there are nine groups, and one second-place team is left out; had Denmark scored one more point, they could have knocked Croatia out of the playoffs. What a collapse that would have been. Cameroon’s qualifying was easier, winning 4-1 on aggregate over Tunisia. Brazil should make it through, having dominated the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup; if both Mexico and Croatia struggle, Cameroon could go through, but I see Mexico’s resolve toughening.

Who goes through: Brazil, Mexico

Group B

Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Spain comes in as the defending champions, and really had no problems qualifying. That first matchup with the Netherlands will be a rematch of the 2010 final. Understandably, the Dutch will want revenge, and I could see it ending 3-3. Chile and Australia, unfortunately, will suffer as a result. Once Spain and Netherlands play each other, it should be easy pickings for them. Chile played Spain in Group H four years ago, but Spain was dominant, and Australia is probably in over their heads.

Who goes through: Spain, Netherlands

Group C

Colombia, Greece, Cote d’Ivoire, Japan

This is the most intriguing group, as well as the most wide-open. None of the four teams have played each other in the Cup (Greece and Cote d’Ivoire are still only in their third appearance). I would favor Cote d’Ivoire to win the group, because Colombia is in for the first time since France 1998, so familiarity won’t be on their side. However, Greece and Japan are probably not as talented as the other two, and Colombia did play very well in CONMEBOL qualifying.

Who goes through: Cote d’Ivoire, Colombia

Group D

Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

This is a very intriguing group; with the exception of Costa Rica, every team in this group has won at least one World Cup. Uruguay is coming off a fourth-place finish in South Africa, and they return a lot of their core players. Mario Balotelli will be the one to watch for- he should guide Italy into the final sixteen. Given England’s tendency to underperform and overestimate their potential, I think the law of averages will catch up with them, and they will not make it out of the group stage. Costa Rica is not favored in any game, and very likely will end up with one point at most.

Who goes through: Italy, Uruguay

Group E

Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

Switzerland has secured a top seed, but I’m not sure if that’s not a fluke. Ecuador has a very good side, and won in the clutch when they had to, and I think France will overcome their bickering. Coached by Didier Deschamps, France is probably the best team in terms of talent in the group. I think Switzerland’s group is easier than usual, but they may have overplayed their hand a little bit.

Who goes through: France, Ecuador

Group F

Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Argentina probably has the easiest group; Nigeria is their toughest match, and they will play each other last. Also, given that Argentina and Nigeria have played each other twice in the last twenty years, including four years ago (which Argentina won), Argentina and Lionel Messi should have a reasonably easy time. Iran is the longest shot to win the Cup at 100-1, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they lose all three games and end up as the worst team statistically. Bosnia-Herzegovina is the only newcomer this year, and given that they have to play Argentina first, it could be an uphill battle. They do have scorers, including Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko, but if they go cold, it could be a long way back.

Who goes through: Argentina, Nigeria

Group G

Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States

This is the Group of Death, i.e. the toughest group- all four teams made it to the round of sixteen in 2010. Now, for all of the doomsday predictions of the U.S. followers, it’s not like the other teams are looking forward to playing them- even if the U.S. does end up losing all three games, they should at least make it competitive. I see the U.S. earning a point against Ghana, and perhaps with Portugal, who underperformed in qualifying and need somebody else to carry the load outside of Cristiano Ronaldo. If the U.S. can contain Ronaldo, there’s a decent chance. Also, since Jurgen Klinsmann coached Germany in 2006, and many are returning, there might be some familiarity there. I still think the U.S. is in too deep, but I don’t think it should be as bad as many are predicting it to be.

Who goes through: Germany, Ghana

Group H

Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

Belgium’s second “Golden Generation” has high expectations; this is arguably their best team since 1986, when they finished fourth. Luckily, Belgium is able to avoid many big teams, although Russia and South Korea have played them well. South Korea is streaky, and I think Russia will be tough, but I see Belgium getting seven points and topping the group (wins against Algeria and South Korea, and a draw with Russia). Algeria is one of the weaker teams, and Russia have improved, so I see them taking the second spot.

Who goes through: Belgium, Russia

Round of 16

(A1) Brazil vs. (B2) Netherlands

(C1) Cote d’Ivoire vs. (D2) Uruguay

(E1) France vs. (F2) Nigeria

(G1) Germany vs. (H2) Russia

(B1) Spain vs. (A2) Mexico

(D1) Italy vs. (C2) Colombia

(F1) Argentina vs. (E2) Ecuador

(H1) Belgium vs. (G2) Ghana

Brazil over Netherlands

Cote d’Ivoire over Uruguay

Nigeria over France

Germany over Russia

Spain over Mexico

Italy over Colombia

Argentina over Ecuador

Belgium over Ghana

Quarterfinals

Brazil vs. Cote d’Ivoire

Germany vs. Nigeria

Spain vs. Italy

Argentina vs. Belgium

Brazil over Cote d’Ivoire

Germany over Nigeria

Spain over Italy

Argentina over Belgium

Semifinals

Brazil vs. Germany

Spain vs. Argentina

 

Brazil over Germany

Argentina over Spain

 

Third place

Germany vs. Spain (Spain wins third place)

Final

Brazil vs. Argentina (Brazil wins World Cup)

87th Academy Awards predictions as of May 22, 2014

Predictions

Best Actor

1. Chadwick Boseman- Get On Up

2. Pierce Brosnan- November Man

3. Steve Carell- Foxcatcher

4. Jim Caviezel- When the Game Stands Tall

5. Joaquin Phoenix- Inherent Vice

 

Best Actress

1. Amy Adams- Big Eyes

2. Laura Dern- When the Game Stands Tall

3. Anna Kendrick- Happy Christmas

4. Rosamund Pike- Gone Girl

5. Shailene Woodley- The Fault in Our Stars

 

Supporting Actor

1. Michael Chiklis- When the Game Stands Tall

2. Robert Duvall- The Judge

3. Nelsan Ellis- Get On Up

4. James Gandolfini- The Drop

5. Mark Ruffalo- Foxcatcher

 

Best Supporting Actress

1. Felicity Jones- Theory of Everything

2. Emily Ratajkowski- Gone Girl

3. Octavia Spencer- Get On Up

4. Sigourney Weaver- Exodus: Gods and Kings

5. Reese Witherspoon- Inherent Vice

 

Best Director

1. Ridley Scott- Exodus: Gods and Kings

2. Bennett Miller- Foxcatcher

3. Tate Taylor- Get On Up

4. David Fincher- Gone Girl

5. Paul Thomas Anderson- Inherent Vice

Best Picture

1. Boyhood

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel

3. Exodus: Gods and Kings

4. Foxcatcher

5. Fury

6. Get On Up

7. Gone Girl

8. Inherent Vice

9. Interstellar

10. Into the Woods

 

Strong silent type

Before getting into acting, I was the biggest baseball buff you were likely to know. I remember my friend Dave and I playing simulated games in his backyard. Depending on if the hitter was left-handed (me) or right-handed (Dave), we would alternate turns pitching. We didn’t really have a scoring system. Basically, wherever the ball landed would judge whether it was a hit or an out. I still remember those days fondly.

My first year of Little League baseball, we had a team that wasn’t necessarily that good, but I played for the love of it. Truth be told, as much as I love the thrill of film, theatre, and music, baseball always was and always will be my first love. I remember that one of the few games that we won, perhaps the only one I can remember, was against Dave’s team that year (we played on the same team four years later, but not before that). I was more competitive then than I am now, and losing was hard enough. What was worse to me was causing my team to lose.

I remember a game where we lost in which I made the final out of a game, barely getting the ball out of the infield. Even back then, I was tremendously shy, particularly among strangers and/or parents. My mom and another boy’s mom began chatting after the game; there was nothing mean or angry about it, but I was so disappointed that I just wanted to go home. The other mother asked me some questions, and roughly twenty years after the fact, I realize she was trying to be polite, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. I would turn eight that summer, but even then, I had an idea of what I meant to judge people. I was worried even then that I would say the wrong thing. So, even though in hindsight it was probably rude to do so, I stayed quiet, hiding behind my mom.

“So, you’re the strong silent type, huh?” Again, I could have come back with a remark, but I didn’t say anything, because I couldn’t think of anything.

When I started doing theatre seriously in seventh grade, I was thirteen years old: soft-spoken, well-meaning, perhaps a little quirky. I was considered “smart,” so they put me in honors classes. However, I was not prepared for the dreaded “transition period” that was to accompany most middle school kids; suddenly, the intelligence I had wasn’t cutting it anymore. The work was so advanced for me, and I wasn’t ready for the workload. Playing baseball competitively was fading away from me, because I realized that I wasn’t all that good at it, and my reserved nature and tendency to be a compulsive stickler to the rules didn’t sit well with my teammates. (In fact,my teenage rebellion was somewhat late-  I don’t even think I was a teenager the first time I really pushed back against my parents. I was almost twenty-one, just after sophomore year of college, when I first had my big moment of rebellion; it wasn’t even anything as severe as staying out late or anything; it was an election year that year, and I didn’t do it because I didn’t feel ready and felt that the pressure was too great).

Because my neighbor had been acting for a few years, I decided to try it and see what it was about. I had been in one show before that, but there was never really a formal audition process for it. This was the first time reading with other people, playing motivations, etc. Against all odds, I ended up getting the lead role. Taking my dad’s advice too literally, as is my AS way, I memorized the entire play in two and a half weeks (it helped that I got the part right before winter break). As I went through the show, I kind of kept to myself backstage, not really interacting with a lot of people. But I wasn’t looked down on. In fact, certain people embraced it.

In a way, getting that first show saved my life. I was thinking a lot of bad thoughts at the time, and after a while, after-school rehearsals became the only thing to look forward to.

In the thirteen years since I first played that role, I have fallen in love with the craft. Doing this has been very good to me over the years, even if I was and still am still the shy, quiet guy in the corner.

As I got older, though, fewer and fewer people asked questions about it. I don’t know if they were worried about upsetting me, or if they let me do my thing, but I think that’s why I got so good at it- my stage persona is its own character.

Occasionally, I’ve had people tell me that they loved my energy, and they told me I have a presence. I don’t know how true the latter is, but the former is a contrast to my off-stage life. The opportunity to step out of my shoes, to be able to play somebody else, to be forced to take another’s perspective, is quite an exhilarating feeling. The butterflies are still there, sure. But when I am on stage or in front of a camera, I feel strong. Not only is being “weird” tolerated, it’s encouraged to a certain degree.

When the scene or show ends, I usually go home, reflect on what I did that day, and try (usually unsuccessfully) to fall asleep. I’ve met those same people who see the “real” me when shows are not going on- introverted, more cerebral, quietly determined to do what needs to be done. Some are surprised to see this side, but I often tell them it’s the other side they should be surprised to see; I tend to be aloof about most things outside of a creative environment.

I guess this post kind of strayed from where I wanted to go. Basically, over the years, I’ve learned to be myself, even if it is a quiet, more reserved man. I guess I know now why they call it the strong silent type- there is a certain sense of strength that I gain from the reserved lifestyle. It gives me a chance to recharge my batteries.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” The big stick for me is a set or stage. There, I can break free of my constraints. I am free.

I am slowly trying to become more active, see more friends from high school to catch up. I wasn’t as good of a friend as I should have been. Please don’t be offended if I come across as aloof or quiet in real life. The adventurous side of me is there, but it’s situational.

Writing has become my strength, in many ways- there’s a certain feeling of relief in writing this. It allows a person to say something that they can’t say aloud.

Salaam namaste, everybody. Keep searching for the source of inner peace.

Best always.

12 Angry Jurors- the passion behind the project

This is the longer version of a “director’s note,” I guess.

I’m sure I’m bound to get the question, What made you decide to do this project?

It’s a complicated answer. In the shortest way possible, here goes:

Justice, like love, is blind sometimes.

I was only seven years old when the O.J. Simpson trial began. I guess I didn’t pay that much attention at the time; I was seven, after all. Plus, after my dad took a sabbatical to see his family, we were living in Belgium at the time. What I do know is that on June 17 of this year, it will mark the twentieth anniversary of the fateful chase in the white Bronco.  June 17, 1994: one day after my seventh birthday (I remember it being not so good that year, because I couldn’t see my friends and I got really, *really* sick that day; with the baseball strike happening later that year, it was a weird year for me).

For a long time, I wanted to believe O.J. was innocent. I probably did believe him, as unbelievable as the stories got to be. In my case, it was the bias of the professional athlete. “Somebody that high-profile wouldn’t have been that reckless” was likely my thinking. As I got older, and entered college, I started to realize that I was probably an idiot. All the evidence was there. But there it was- the not guilty verdict. I still remember the reactions of both the white and black communities when the verdict was read. Unfortunately, because of the way the media portrays things sometimes, it was as if one crowd was meant to be happy, and one was meant to be upset. Almost nothing in this world is mutually exclusive, and yet sometimes our “black-white” outlook on the world, metaphorical and literal, emerges more often than not.

I bring up the O.J. case because there is still a lingering question of doubt as to the motives of the jury- did Mark Fuhrman’s comments sour them? Was it a case of celebrity? Were the “dream team” of O.J.’s lawyers really all that good, or was the prosecution just lousy? In any case, the civil courts found O.J. liable, and after his arrest in 2008, many people believe that justice is done, albeit belatedly.

Say what you want about the tactics in the O.J. case, but his lawyers were good. But what do you say about a case when the defense attorney wins but is mediocre at best? That case happened, not even five years ago.

July 5, 2011: This time, I was twenty-four years old, working my first job after college. Perhaps it was because the lingering of the Fourth of July was still ringing in my ears. Perhaps I just lost track of the days. Perhaps it’s because I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. But there were none of those “where were you when x happened?” questions, or if there were, I missed them. I didn’t even watch the verdict live; I figured that whatever happened, happened. Of course, I refer to the verdict in the Casey Anthony murder case. After the verdict was announced, I didn’t jump for joy. I did, however, play Devil’s advocate against my better judgment. I still believe this to this day, and I’ll say it as best I can:

I do think Casey Anthony was guilty. I did not, however, expect a guilty verdict. It was almost a farce- defense attorney Jose Baez was nowhere on the same level as Shapiro or Cochran, or even Mark Geragos, who defended both Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson. And yet, I had a feeling that a perverse “miracle” would happen for Casey.

I have watched footage of various crowds’ reaction leading up to and after the verdict. Several claimed that the source material was incorrect, others sat in stunned silence, unable to move. The one I’ll remember the most is the woman in an Orlando cafe who crossed herself before the verdict was read; after each subsequent count was read off, she and most of the other patrons shrieked in horror and disbelief, each shriek becoming louder and more painful.

In one of my criminal justice classes, I had a professor who wanted to be on jury duty. This was a mild-mannered man with a New Jersey accent (who also looks like a complete doppelganger for Steve Carell), who, unlike most of us, wanted to do his duty and serve on a jury. But because of his association with the law (he is not only a professor of criminal justice, but also obtained a J.D.), they will never have him on there.

Which brings up the question: what exactly is a “jury of our peers,” and does it work? In the truest definition of “peers,” most of us would probably be found not guilty, based on biased associations we would more than likely have with the jury. Oftentimes, a blue-collar defendant is placed in front of a white-collar jury, and they convict faster. Hardly seems like his “peers.” Either way, you could argue the system failed.

In the aftermath of the verdict, several jurors in the Anthony trial understandably asked that their privacy be respected. Many in the blogosphere and Internet chat rooms condemned the jury more than they condemned the defendant, saying some vile things about people placed in a very tricky situation. I, however, was not one of them, and what I will say next may be a cause for contention, but I maintain this opinion, even three years later.

The jury did exactly what they were supposed to do- interpret the evidence as it were presented, and make a judgment call based on the information provided.

If I blame anybody in this case, it’s the prosecution. In 12 Angry Men, Juror #8 says, “The burden of proof is on the prosecution. The defendant doesn’t even have to open his mouth.” And Casey never did open hers. The prosecution was substandard at best, and I’m being polite. That was one of the worst jobs I’ve seen done by prosecutors and police alike. Since double jeopardy laws applied in this case, what police found next infuriated me, and I’m sure infuriated millions of other people. They found the evidence that could convict Casey (the “foolproof suffocation” search on Google), but they were foolish enough to only search one browser- Internet Explorer. They finally found the information- on Firefox. The search of Firefox also revealed activity on MySpace, which George Anthony did not use. This information was finally found in November 2012, sixteen months after the verdict had been announced.

In the O.J. trial, the prosecutors had the evidence, had the witnesses, and had the motive, but the defense attorneys were better. In this case, they didn’t have any of that- motive, perhaps, but motive alone is not enough to convict. And all because the police didn’t know how to properly run a search engine. If this evidence had been available, it’s very likely Casey Anthony would be behind bars, perhaps even on death row.

Was I upset about the verdict? Undoubtedly. Was I surprised at the verdict? No. In fact, I almost came to expect it.

I re-read the script of 12 Angry Men, and I thought back to the Anthony case, and started asking myself questions- what does it mean to be on a jury? It is, in large part, a thankless job- you get blamed if the defendant is acquitted, and credit goes to the prosecution if there is a conviction. Perhaps this is a reason why people try to avoid it- losing income and time with family is one thing, but it can be overwhelming having to decide not only if a person committed a crime, but if that person must pay with their life for committing it.

I was always a fan of the show and film, ever since the first time I saw it on DVD during my senior year of high school for a government class. But it didn’t become a passion project of mine until a few years later, when the Anthony trial made national headlines, and the jurors were put front and center into the public eye.

To tell you the truth, I’m still not so sure about the defendant’s innocence in the play. There are a few lingering questions to me. I’d like to think that the stakes are lower- it is, after all, only a work of fiction. But it’s inspired by cases similar to Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman and O.J. Simpson- trials that are all too real. There is something at stake in terms of telling it right, even if this is the closest any of us in the cast and crew come to serving on a jury.

It is my duty to tell it right, and hopefully, with the benefit of three years and the help a brilliant co-director, I want to do justice to the story- no pun intended.

It’s a relevant tale to be told, and with any luck, I’ll tell it right.

Would you like to be a traveler?

Traveling has always been one of my main interests. Unfortunately, with no car, and a lack of finances, this is not always a reality. It is still possible to work around this- carpooling, public transit, etc. This is what I really like about the world- we have people who want to help us chase the dream, occasionally for as little as a “thank you” or lunch at a later date. Politics aside, this is what I wish the legislators in the world would understand- not everybody has a chance to experience the beauty of going to exotic places. I’ve been to various places in the United States- Cincinnati; Chicago; New York City; St. Louis; Tampa/St. Pete; Texas; Tennessee; North Carolina; I still want (NEED) to see Boston and Los Angeles. Internationally, I’ve been fortunate enough to see my family in Belgium; I was privileged to see France, both on an exchange trip in high school and with my family. I’ll tell you, words cannot describe how small and honored you feel when you stand on Omaha Beach. We missed the 60th anniversary dedication by a mere two months. Most recently, I was able to see England, from London to Windsor Castle to Stonehenge.

I challenge my friends to see as much of the world as they can; I’m still trying to obtain my transcript so I can apply for the Peace Corps, but that’s a story for another day (my passport needs to be renewed anyway). In any sense, I hope that I will have a chance to take my own vacation soon, by train, bus, plain, car, in whatever way possible.

The title of this blog is inspired by the final lines of the poem “Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman. It ends like this:

“Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged.
Missing me one place, search another.
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

Whatever it is we are chasing in this world, this is a note of encouragement: every dream is worth chasing, no matter how long it takes or what that dream is. That’s why I love being an actor- it’s a profession of dreamers. I’d say it’s a dream worth pursuing.

Here’s to the journey, and to you, all the beautiful dreamers of beautiful dreams.