I read a book today your name was in the front

I thought you might fall out as I turned the page

I record audiobooks of college textbooks.  The work is flexible and I’m able to set my own schedule, which is great for an actor.  My morning routine usually includes a French press of coffee and the New York Times online, though for now the newspaper has been mostly replaced with the preparation of the day’s blog post and returning email.  By late morning I return to my desk with the remains of my coffee, attach the microphone and mixer to my laptop and place the music stand with textbook at a comfortable distance.  I warm up my voice a bit, and then sit down with my advanced copy of the text and highlighter, and get to work.

When I got back to New York from performing Picnic at Triad Stage last fall, I had a number of requested books awaiting me at the library.  Among them was Old Wicked Songs by Jon Marans.  As I turned the pages I looked down and there was the name Michael Stuhlbarg.  He had originated the character of Stephen Hoffman, a young pianist who through the course of the play must learn the Schumann song cycle Dichterliebe.  A piano prodigy who has flamed out, Hoffman has come to study accompaniment with the Viennese professor Josef Mashkan.  However, Mashkan tells him he must first learn to sing, and what he will sing is the Dichterliebe.  The play returns often to the motif of the joy and sadness inherent and coexistent in music, to the idea that we use our own lives to create our art.

(Left: Anni and I “reading” a book, Right: the title page of my play home, sweet)

Books have been an integral part of my life since even before I could read.  My sister Anni used to pretend to read to me when we were kids, before either of us knew how.  I read voraciously growing up; it seemed we were always at the library.  Eventually plays eclipsed prose, and I lost myself in a sea of writers: Shakespeare and Chekhov, August Wilson and Adam Rapp, Sara Ruhl and Chuck Mee.  As a theater actor your work is extremely ephemeral, and that impermanence can be both exhilarating and disconcerting.  Working on a world premiere however, includes a small possibility of permanence: finding your name in the front of the printed version of the play. Leafing through the early pages of Old Wicked Songs, I had suddenly found Michael in the front of the book.

The flexibility of recording textbooks allows me an ease with scheduling auditions, and when I get a theater job I simply finish the book I’m working on and leave that world behind for a while.  In that sense, its perfect.  Yet working from home, though incredibly convenient, can also be a little isolating.  All of these things found their way into the portrait I’ve written of Michael (“A Soft Spoken Serious Man”): the isolation, the books, the possibility of permanence.  I finally finished the textbook I’ve been working on this afternoon, just before my uncle arrived in New York for a few days visit.  The textbook will undoubtedly find its way onto the iPods of college students, but for me its over.  As a writer though, I’ve come to find satisfaction in the permanence of having your name printed on the front.

I read a book today my name was in the front

I finally found myself, in between the lines