Today I watched a little something called Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party, a highly staged evening with, you guessed it, character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. If that name doesn't ring any bells, that is okay. I needed some schooling when I was introduced to his podcast, The Tobolowsky files. You've seen him in a million films and probably haven't realized it. Such is the life of a working character actor who is, by all means, very successful, but perhaps not as famous.
Anywho, the entire film (documentary?) takes place on Stephen's birthday. You are following him around as he prepares for his birthday dinner, listening to him recount tales from his life and from behind the scenes of several films. Finally his guests arrive and the storytelling continues. It is, more or less, the same format as his podcast, only on film.
He is endlessly charming and somewhat validates character actors who tend to feel overshadowed by leading men/women; He's a charismatic gent and truly knows how to spin a lengthy, but fascinating yarn. And while the movie isn't scripted... this is how I know it was staged.
His birthday guest list includes, of course, actors- some of whom you may recognize (Amy Adams, Mena Suvari)- and other artist-types who all sit quietly in a circle in his living room while he shares story after story, letting out the occasional giggle. This is like spotting a white stag in a Walmart parking lot or finding a leprechaun in the crawl space under your house. A little eerie and Completely. Unrealistic.
I have never witnessed a real world situation where a group of actors went so long without, usually unintentionally, stealing focus. Let's face it, if you aren't onstage waiting for cues, then it is open season and witty interjections run wild. After 20+ years of cast parties (and some of those memorable beyond belief), I can say that trying to get a word in edgewise, amongst a crowd of people who all believe what they have to contribute is far more interesting/entertaining than what the other person is currently dishing out, is an exhausting endeavour.
Now, this pot shouldn't be judging the kettle, but I've discovered that while I find myself endlessly fascinating, this belief is probably not shared by all and it is pretty silly to spend an evening shouting over the top of each other just to garner a little more attention. Besides, I found a loophole where I can ramble on uninterrupted for as long as I want - thank you Blog. Whether or not anyone is reading is irrelevant, I suppose (although I really hope you are reading and enjoying), but at least I can tell myself that every misspelled word, every run on sentence, every grammatical catastrophe is pure gold and dripping with genius and, oh boy, everyone is so impressed with how smart and skinny I sound!
Wrapping up, the lesson I learned from Mr Tobolowsky's birthday shindig is this:
Look kids. You may not always be the most special person in the room, but sometimes, just sometimes, it is nice to believe you are. Do your artsy fartsy friends a favor- if it is their party, shut up. Hopefully they'll return the favor someday and all us performers can find a way to spread out the attention off stage (cause we're sure as hell not going to share it on stage if we can help it).