Road Scholar Training
I was born in Devon, Connecticut. A small town, nestled on the Housatonic River.
The seventh of nine children, with seven sisters. My father was a self employed carpenter, and mother was, of course, a full time mother. Due to logistics and budgetary constraints, my exposure to culture was limited to television – mainly cartoons and sitcoms. My ambition as a teenager was to operate a bulldozer and drive a dump truck because it represented power, something I didn’t feel I possessed.
In the fall of 1971, my father died of heart failure at age of 51. That fall became a major turning point in my life. I just entered my freshman year of public high school. Prior to that, I spent 8 years in a small Catholic grammar school, cloistered from the larger community. High school broadened my perspective, as did my introduction to drugs, alcohol, and uninhibited pretty girls. At the same time I became aware that up until now, I was an obedient, nice boy, for the most part. My adherence to the law and rules were motivated by my fear of my fathers wrath when provoked by disobedience. Now realizing there would be no consequence for bad behavior, the possibilities seemed unlimited. And indeed they were. Within two years, I quit school, was arrested twice for fighting, and was living on a steady diet of pot, alcohol, cocaine, and the occasional acid trip.
At 16, I ventured to Vermont to live with my sister and work at a resort as a bellman by day and a dishwasher by night. After 3 months, I was on the road hitchhiking to San Francisco to stay with another sister who was living in a boarding house in Haight Ashbury. She introduced me to Fellini, Bergman, astrology, and spiritual healing. 3 months later, I left OZ, and hitchhiked back to Kansas (Connecticut), where it only took a week to realize I could never go back. So 2 months later with a few dollars in my pocket, I hitched to Tampa, Florida to stay with a friend. After 2 weeks, I was back on the road headed to California. My first ride took me almost to the border of Alabama, where he stopped to pick up a girl hitchhiker. When I got out to pee, he decided to drive on, with the girl, and all my belongings. I stumbled back to Connecticut and worked until I made enough for a bus ticket to California to stay with yet another sister in San Mateo. After 3 months, working as a pizza cook, delivery, and dishwasher, I bussed back to Connecticut. 5 months later, 2 more arrests, I ended up in Bunnell, Florida living with a probation officer and working as a mechanics helper. Feeling like a prisoner, after 2 months, I escaped back to Connecticut where I hitched a ride back to California with my Godfather to San Mateo back to live with my sister. This time I was a Bellman, an airport shuttle driver, and a Fuller Brush man. 3 months later, I hitched to LA to live with a cousin, working as a busboy. A month later, I was living on the floor of some friends in North Hollywood, pumping gas at a car wash. 2 months later I was selling cars, driving a brand new demo, and living in a condo with 2 other salesmen, who taught me the art of used car sales. 3 months later and disillusioned, I found myself in San Francisco living in an old car. I was dreaming of leaving the country when the Circus came to town and I joined on as a roustabout. Traveling the country with a new location every 3 days, after 6 months, I was promoted to prop superintendent where I was in charge of running the floor of this 3 ring circus.
A year later, I found myself living in a Christian communal house in Portland, Oregon after having a mind altering experience. I was preaching the gospel, the end times, and waiting for Jesus to return. After 5 years with the church being drug and alcohol free, someone passed me a joint. I took a hit, went to church, and realized it was time to move on.
With a wife, and sewing machine in tow, we ended up on Cape Cod. I had an auto upholstery business in Portland, and started one in Orleans, Massachusetts. A bartender by night and an upholsterer by day, I was trying to redefine my life when I walked in to a local theater one night, and was offered a part in The Pirates Of Penzance. With no experience singing or acting, I took to it like a fish to water.
2 years later, I was divorced and living in Providence, Rhode Island attending Trinity Repertory Acting Conservatory as a full time student.
The following year I was living in San Rafael, California, driving a limousine for the Grateful Dead, among other celebrities I was auditioning for films and commercials in San Francisco, and acting in the occasional play. I landed a shoe commercial, which provided me my SAG card, which meant I could now attempt to go to Hollywood and become a movie star.
My first attempt landed me a job as lead man in an independent film, to building sets for 2 music videos, but I couldn’t get arrested as an actor. Disheartened, I went back to San Francisco where I had an agent. I moved into a hotel on Broadway in the red light district, drove a taxi at night, and learned guitar and wrote sad songs. A few months later, I was living in the meter room of a recording studio to start a band with the studio owner. We played street corners, hoping to be discovered, but all I discovered was that I was only good when I was stoned.
The following year I was back in Orleans, Massachusetts living in a theater, acting and directing and finding simple satisfaction, just doing what I enjoyed. 4 plays later, I decided to go back to the Conservatory and become a better actor. A week before I was going to start, I spent the day with an actress I met. After the day spent at the beach taking magic mushrooms, I decided to skip school and take her to California, and to support each other as actors.
We decided to start in San Francisco, because I had an agent, and was sure she would sign her, as she did. Within a month, she landed a national commercial, followed by us both being cast in a video game that employed us for 3 weeks. We were then cast together in a new play, which turned out to be too new.
With some cash and confidence, e were now preparing to venture to LA when my mother informed me she had 6 months to live. I decided before I settle in LA, I’ll fly back and spend the time with my mother. There was so much I didn’t know about her, so I asked if I could tape her and ask her about herself. She agreed, and we spent time sitting in her yard exploring her world. It was a revelation to me to see so many other sides of her. I only knew her as mom, the woman who cooked my meals and did my laundry. Her name was Marie, and like me, I learned that she had dreams, and hopes too, but unlike me, as a woman growing up in her time, her choices were limited. Compounded by the fact that she lost both parents by the age of nine, she couldn’t find anyone to love this melancholy girl enough to keep her, until her only brother was old enough to take her to live with him in a boarding house. When she came of age, all she knew was that if she had a choice, she just wanted to be happy, and marry, and have children. And that she did. Nine of them. She didn’t plan it, it was just the consequence of signing up for happiness, and accepting the fate of your choice, and she was practiced at accepting.
This made me realize I left home because I was unhappy inside. She taught me how to accept what I had, and be grateful, but not so much how to ask for what I wanted, or even know what it might look like. I started to see the similarity in our lives. Tragedy had befallen us and made us sad and confused. Our goal was to get back to happiness. To her, that goal was finding a man and raising a family. For me, it changed every time I learned something new. Remember, I thought my happiness would be to operate a bulldozer and drive a dump truck. Up until this point, I had been knocking on doors looking for happiness, hoping I would recognize it when I saw it. But like many relationships I’ve had in the past, I learned to accept and be grateful until I could sabotage my way out when I realized I was getting in too deep with someone I knew I didn’t, or couldn’t love.
So much was becoming clearer. My mom taught me to accept. My father was the enforcer in my life, so when the enforcer died, I no longer had to accept.
It was easy for me to leave home because I wasn’t as personally connected. I was part of an institution. I served a purpose of being a good boy. I was number seven. There was no development other than survival techniques. Like how to share one small bathroom with ten other people, eight of them being women, or how to isolate in a crowd or how to eat food you hate.
So now I’m out in the world moving from place to place, person to person, looking for something I’m hoping will reveal to me my purpose, coupled with the feeling of joy.
I’d like to point out there is a difference between acknowledging a new awareness and applying it to your life. I’ll acknowledge at this point in time, a seed was planted, but the harvest was some years ahead.
My mother had saved a little money,and left each of us some, so after we scattered her ashes in the Atlantic, I bought a used sports car and drove cross country to LA to resume my pursuit. I was now single again, and feeling a little disoriented, I took some acting workshops and sent out about 100 resumes. In 3 months, all I achieved was being an audience member on The Ben Stein Show.
I was then offered the lead in a play, so I hopped in my sports car, and drove cross country back to Cape Cod, where I lived in the attic of another theater. I again was happy that my life living and working in a theater was simple and satisfying. Along the way, I learned about designing and building sets, so I was able to earn some money using that talent.
After 6 months and 3 plays, I felt revived and ready yet again to head back to LA. This time a friend offered a room in Venice Beach. He was directing an independent film that he needed help with as a lead man and maybe a small acting part. The motor in my sports car had given out, so I found a van for $100 that had been sitting for a year. The fix was simple, and I thought it was practical with my lifestyle that having a home on wheels was smart. I had an artist friend paint “CAN DO” on the side, and once again hit the road.
The film work turned in to an adventure. I ended up being an all around “Can Do Man” from building sets to designing riggings for stunts. One of them involved hanging a woman between two buildings for a dream sequence. My circus experience came in handy.
It was exciting for a few weeks, but it was non-paying, and once we were done, I was close to broke, so I made up some business cards that said, “Can Do” with my pager number and passed them out wherever I could. I was down to 5 dollars when I got a call to see if I could install 2 eight foot doors in a million dollar home. Of course I said yes, even though I never installed a door.
My friend was a carpenter, so I had him act as my assistant, and he taught me how to install doors. That day, a friend from Cape Cod called and said they were casting for a new play that was being directed by a famous soap star. They thought I’d be perfect for the part, but I would have to audition. I just wanted to act. That was the bottom line. I decided I wasn’t going to make it in LA, so I gave my friend the Can Do Van, scratched up the airfare and headed east. Of course, I got the part.
While in town I auditioned for another play, and landed the part of Picasso. While studying his life, I decided to try to paint, just to see, and it turned out I had a natural inclination. When the play closed, I had nowhere to go, so I accepted the invitation to live in Jersey City with a woman I was dating on the Cape. It was a short train ride to Manhattan, so maybe I could explore New York as an avenue. I took an acting class in the city and started to explore life there when I got a phone call with an offer to play the lead in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest on Cape Cod. The only catch was it opened in 16 days. The director and lead were fired, and the new director knew I was a quick study, so that happened.
Once I was back to Jersey City, I was in introspection mode. Evaluating my options. I loved acting, but it didn’t afford me a comfortable life, nor did an uncomfortable one. At age 40, I thought maybe it’s time to consider a little stability. Maybe I can focus on a day job and know, as long as there are theaters, I can continue to act.
I met a guy who moved to Wilmington, North Carolina who raved about a great art and theater community on the coast that was also home to a movie studio. He just happened to be going out of town for 6 weeks to direct a play, and needed someone to house sit. It was the perfect opportunity to explore a new community without having to be invested.
Two weeks later, I found a $200 car, and headed south. He introduced me to a few locals, and left town. I fell for the place right away. A certain southern charm permeated the air. It seemed like the perfect place to start a new life. I went around town, handed out my Can Do cards, and within a week I was remodeling a house on the beach. Lucky for me, my friend was also a builder and had a garage full of tools, so I was able to sell myself as a carpenter. The jobs I didn’t know how to do, my friend would talk me through over the phone.
Within a few weeks I got a call from a local director who lost an actor in his production of Buried Child, which opened in 2 weeks, and heard from my friend about my quick study ability.
So within a month I was acting in a play, making good money, and settling in to a new existence. I lowered the bar a bit, and life started to seem more manageable, and certainly more comfortable. Two months later, I’m living in my own apartment downtown, remodeling another house on the beach, playing the King in Henry IV, and painting portraits. I was feeling very centered and satisfied. Life, as they say, was good.
I got a call from a friend who runs a theater on the Cape who says she’s hosting Linda Lavin, who’s doing a girls program for the week, and who happens to live in Wilmington. She mentioned me to Linda, who said I should call when she’s back in town. I knew her name from television, but wasn’t familiar with her show. Its like Miley Cyrus, I’ve heard of her, but am not familiar with her music.
After a coffee date, and 3 hours of comparing life stories, we both knew immediately, this was a friendship to be explored.
Three months later, Linda headed to New York to start rehearsal for The Tale Of The Allergists Wife, and after both agreeing to continue this relationship, I joined her.
I found office work through a temp agency. After seeing an estimate to reupholster some of her furniture, I suggested it would be cheaper for me to buy a used sewing machine and do it myself. I set up shop in the living room, and recovered an eight piece sectional, a sofa bed, 4 Alvar Alto chairs, and designed an ottoman that could accommodate feet and food. I also replastered and painted the walls in the living room.
The play opened off Broadway and was a hit. It ended up moving to Broadway that fall. We had the summer off, so we took a cruise from Venice, Italy, down through Greece, and planned 3 more weeks in Italy. Linda wanted to book hotels for the entire trip, but I encouraged her that if we just rented a car and explored the country with no definite plan, it might be more fun. I thought it allowed us to be more in the moment and seeing we only knew each other for 7 months, it gave us room for adjustment. With a slight pause and a buckling of her seat belt, she agreed. She had booked 4 days at a Villa in Tuscany, so we planned around that. We explored Bologna, and while there, saw a poster for a Jazz Festival in Verona and ventured there. We then drove to the coast to Porto San Giorgio, and found a great place on the beach. Later we traveled to Gubbio, Sienna, Lucca, Florence, and a little town called Tuoro.
Once Linda started rehearsal, I was cast in an off, off, off, Broadway play, which just happened to be playing 2 blocks from her play at The Barrymore. So each night when the limo would come to pick her up for the show, I would hitch a ride. The driver would drop her off and take me around the corner for my play. The highlight of that experience was the limo ride. I believed it was about paying dues.
Linda was nominated for a Tony, and as her date, I found myself on the red carpet. I think I was too self conscious at the time to really enjoy the moment. My level of self confidence was low. After being in a play with an average audience of 8, and now standing in the company of the best of Broadway, I felt small. Of course it was all in my head. Everyone was so generous, and respectful.
Linda left the play after a year and we moved back down to Wilmington. She wanted to direct The Man Who Came To Dinner for a local company, and cast me as the love interest. The play was a success.
During the run of the show, Linda was offered a part in Carol Burnett’s new play, Hollywood Arms, directed by Hal Prince. A week later, I get a call from Hal’s office, asking me to come to New York to read for a part. Hal was a friend of Linda’s, and we had dinner together, but Linda assured me she did not solicit on my behalf. Hal had never seen me act, so here was my chance to show him. It was for a cop with 1 scene and 2 lines. So when I was at the auditions, I knew my 2 lines and was good to go. When my turn came up, I walked in to the room, and there was Hal, and Carol, and the casting director at the table. I had never met Carol, so I did leave my body for a minute. I then found my feet, all ready to deliver my 2 lines, when Hal asked me to read for the male lead. I asked him, “I thought I was reading for the cop?” to which he replied,”I know you can do him. Let’s see how you do with Bill.”
I had read the play, but I just focused on my part, so I only had a general idea. I needed a script so I read with his assistant cold, and I found for the first time, I used my fear for my benefit. I felt I’d done pretty well.
2 days later, I got the call. I was cop number 2. The show was to try out at the Goodman Theater in Chicago. If it was successful, it would get a run on Broadway.
During this play, though I was never diagnosed, I felt that I might have a slight case of ADD. I’m not good at sitting still, unless I’m doing something. My scene in the play was maybe 6 minutes, so once the excitement wore off, I started to get bored waiting in between.
I had been painting at the time, so I set up my easel in my dressing room and painted before and after my scene. After a few weeks, I had about a dozen paintings hanging on my wall. On opening night, Hal came to visit everyone in their dressing rooms, and when he came to mine, he marveled at my work and asked if he could commission me to do a portrait of his family. The only catch was he wanted everyone to be painted as 6 year olds. Now, I had only been painting for myself. It was a talent I didn’t know I had, so I was just enjoying the exploration. He said he liked my style. I didn’t even know I had a style. For some reason, I accepted his offer and asked him to provide me with pictures of all of his family as six years old. He did, and I was obliged.
The show was headed to Broadway the coming fall, and I had the summer to paint it. Many a day was spent staring at that blank canvas. Until now, I never had that problem. I had a file of pictures I wanted to paint, and when I would feel inspired, I would spend the day with a sense of wonder,and ease pushing colors around the canvas until I captured the image I was chasing. Painting was always for myself, and with nothing at stake, I was fearless. Now I seemed paralyzed. I didn’t know what I was doing. I wanted to call Hal and tell him it was by accident that I painted all those paintings, because I really didn’t know what I was doing. It was all guess work. This was such a familiar place I found myself in. Offering to do things I didn’t really know a lot about. In the past, it was for survival, but now, maybe it was about trying to show someone I admired and respected that I had substance. Both of my grandfathers were gone by the time I arrived and my father left early, so maybe I was looking for an attaboy from a father figure and hoped not to disappoint. Whatever it was, it was driving me crazy.
I procrastinated all summer, and when we started rehearsing that fall, I set up my easel in my dressing room and started. After living in two theaters, and feeling the most content, I found the inspiration came easily.
A month after we opened, I handed Hal the painting. He said he loved it and paid me twice what we agreed upon. Of course I didn’t believe him. I’ve been to his home, and seen his art collection from around the world.
We went to his home a few weeks later for his annual Christmas party. When we arrived, the first thing he did was take us upstairs to see my painting hanging on his bedroom wall. What was amazing to me was all the other paintings in the room were very similar to mine, in terms of style. My artist friend pointed out that Hal, being a director, knew how to get from me what he wanted. I was thinking I wasn’t good enough, because I was comparing myself with other painters, but here was the realization that if I did paint like someone else, I wouldn’t have given Hal what he was asking for. It was another seed planted. If I just be myself, I won’t need to try to be anything more. And all the resources I need, will already be with me. It was my attaboy moment. It was the beginning of a love relationship with myself. It made sense that as an actor, I hadn’t succeeded more. I had talent, but not enough love or trust in myself to bring me to the game. I always made safe choices at auditions and tried to give people what I thought they might want. Again, a planted seed with the harvest at a future date.
Linda was great at nurturing the seed. Up until this point, I saw my life as a series of failed ventures, with not much to show. But Linda saw me as a renaissance man.
When the show closed, we went back to Wilmington to resume our life there. Linda started working on a Cabaret act to take on the road. She started as a singer. She did her first show in the Poconos a few months later. She had a musical director, and hired a local drummer and bassist. She started booking more shows, and the more I saw, the more I thought that I could learn the drum parts. Instead of hiring local drummers, as long as I would be there to support her, why not play?
I played rock for a few years, but had no jazz experience. I found a good teacher, and worked hard. After 2 months, I auditioned and was now the official drummer. I basically memorized the songs. I couldn’t read music, but I approached it like an acting job. I memorized my part. My first outing was two weeks at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach Florida. She started booking jobs around the east coast. We played up in Queens, and our friend Billy Stritch came to see us. A few months later he became the musical director and pianist.
All the while I continued to paint. Wherever we would go I would bring my easel.
At this point, I had about 50 paintings piled in the basement. One day, a fellow came over to pick up some furniture to consign, and saw the pile of paintings, and asked who represented me, and I told him no one, I just paint for fun. He said he liked my work, and believed he could sell them at his store, and offered to give me a show. Long story short, I sold 9 paintings. Now, in addition to being an actor, drummer, I was now able to add painter to my résumé.
That summer Hal Prince invited us to join him and a few friends on a private yacht to explore the Dalmatian Coast. Croatia, they said, was becoming the new Riviera.
Linda took a job acting in Arthur Miller’s last play, Finishing The Picture in Chicago.
I stayed in Wilmington, designing and building the set and acting in a production of A Christmas Carol. While we were apart, I reflected on how much I realized that I never loved, or trusted anyone more than Linda, and after being together for 5 years, it was time to let her know I was willing to make a lifetime commitment. My next visit to her opening in Chicago, I brought a ring with me. We married the following Valentine’s Day at a luncheon with 20 local friends and their mates.
That spring I bought an abandoned house for $30,000 to remodel into a studio where I could paint in.
Situated in an alley, surrounded by a crack house and 3 other abandoned houses, it occurred to me that there was a reason it was only $30,000. After getting all my tools stolen twice and 4 stitches over my eye from confronting a thief, I thought the only way I can survive here would be to take over. So I researched all the properties, through the tax office, found the owners, and made offers. Everyone was more than happy to sell, at bargain prices, except for one, but it evened out in the end. We bought 8 houses, and a repair garage that anchored the block. We tore down one house that was on the opposite corner and gave the lot to the city in exchange for building a park. The crack house in the middle of the alley was torn down. We built a large deck and cleared a space for a community garden. The other 6 houses we gutted, and completely remodeled. I redesigned the structures, and Linda designed all the color schemes. We gutted the repair garage and designed and built a 50 seat theater to which Linda named it “The Red Barn Studio”.
We ultimately took over the block, and brought it back to a family friendly place. With a group of friends, one by one, we transformed a rejected part of the community. There was never an original plan. It just evolved. It was again, the fate of choice. The whole project took a year and a half.
During that time, we took a few weeks in Europe. On the plane, I read the play Doubt and told Linda I wanted to do it. I thought it would be a great opening for The Red Barn. She offered to direct me, but after she read the play on our way to Paris, she wanted to act in it. So we found a director. I designed and built the set and we were off.
People called for tickets and asked if the neighborhood was safe. The community embraced us, and we had to extend the run for 4 weeks.
After a cruise up the Baltic Sea to Russia, and a trip to Vilnius, Lithuania, where coincidently, Linda’s and my grandfathers were from, we came back, and I would direct Linda in Collected Stories. I also designed the set. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to direct a world class actress. It provided a great learning curve for both of us personally and professionally. Linda was asked the following year to do the same play on Broadway for Manhattan Theater Club and got a Tony nomination. It was a wonderful production. Lynn Meadow, the director, generously invited me to sit in at rehearsals. Both experiences broadened my directing vocabulary, and encouraged me to keep at it.
The following spring, Linda was doing The New Century by Paul Rudnick, directed by Nicky Martin, at Lincoln Center. I was at the Barn acting in GlenGarry, followed by Four Dogs And a Bone, which I also designed both sets. I continued to paint, as well woodcarve. Back when I lived in Oregon, I started carving faces in driftwood, another thing I stumbled in to and discovered I had a knack for. A few different theaters I worked in would let me sell my carvings in their lobbies. It turned out my grandfather from Lithuania used to carve wood. It made me wonder if the talent was passed on through his genes, because one day I just picked up a piece of driftwood I had, and took a knife and chipped away to discover a face. I had no training or experience. I was as surprised as anyone.
Linda returned to Wilmington, and we took the summer off and spent 2 weeks exploring Ireland. I brought my easel and did 6 paintings. Next we met Hal and Judy Prince in Italy where Hal hosted us at the Villa Deste for a week. We returned to do a concert with the Wilmington Symphony.
That fall, we both acted together in a production of Rabbit Hole at the Barn.
Wook a trip to New Zealand for the holidays. That spring Linda did Driving Miss Daisy at the Barn, and following that, she directed me in Speed the Plow.
That fall, I was cast in a movie with Renee Zellweger called “My Own Love Song.” Linda was cast in “The Back Up Plan” with Jennifer Lopez.
We did the Cabaret act a few times out of town and then went to Africa for the holidays.
The story pretty much continues along these lines. I directed 5 more plays at the Barn. Linda was getting more work in NY, so we decided to move there full time. We donated the Barn to a local theater company and sold our home. We bought a house upstate that I gutted, and redesigned. Just when I finished it, Linda was cast in the new NBC series, Sean Saves The World.
We currently live in West Hollywood. We continue to do the Cabaret act. I’m continuing acting classes, drum lessons, and painting, and have started a memoir.
EMDR therapy, has helped me to appreciate that a life I saw as a series of mistakes, turned out to be the perfect path for me to discover self, love, and fulfillment.