APAC, WORKSHOPS, PARTIES AND HOT DOGS!
BY JOHNNY HELLER
CHICAGO, IL MAY 2016….
First, I apologize for not having written in quite some time. I’ve been busy – sure – but who hasn’t? If I’m going to write a blog then I need to write a blog! No more dilly-dallying.
Well that’s enough for today…
NO! It isn’t. Here’s the meat of today’s For the Hell of It. Some of you were in Chicago the week of May 9th to participate in the APA’s convention (APAC), the AUDIES (Audies), the Naudies (Naudies) and, of course, my very own Johnny Heller’s 2n Annual Splendiferous Narrator Workshop (blah blah…)
The point of the whole APAC week experience – whether it’s in New York, LA or Chicago – is to celebrate the world of audiobooks. It’s a chance to meet and greet fellow narrators, editors, producers and fans. It’s a chance to meet authors and to learn new things. It’s an opportunity to dress up and hob nob at the Audies where the year’s best are honored for being the best of the year. It’s a great damn time.
Let’s break down the week as it happened for me and Jo Anna Perrin.
MAY 8TH SUNDAY NIGHT:
We landed at O’Hare after a swell flight where I watched The Man From Uncle which I still feel is an underrated film. A fine fun action film that is way better than lots of films that got better press – like the newest Star Wars which I still think was awful. Anyway – it was free because Delta said it was. We grabbed a taxi from O’Hare even though I know the el is faster and better but I didn’t want to lug all of our bags on the train.
We got our keys for our very first ever AirBnB. And our last ever.
The location was fantastic. Erie and Dearborn – 2 blocks from the APA Monday night mixer. AS to the actual space….well …the location was fantastic. Remember your first apartment when you were in college and still hadn’t declared your major and you couldn’t afford much and most of your furniture was stuff you found and everything was held together by duct tape and you weren’t really too particular about things like dust, dirt, grime and scuzz? This place is that place. The small room featured a large bed surrounded by fans which should have clued us in to a problem. The bed had all of the support one could hope for – assuming one was only hoping for the same support offered by a box of wet shredded wheat. The heater was on. Really on. Really really really on. And it could not be shut off. Hence the fans. The fans did an excellent job of moving the warm air around the room ensuring that there was no place to escape the heat. It was very much like spending the evening trying to sleep in a bikram yoga studio. Downward barking dog in heat pose.
There was a sign saying we could help ourselves to whatever was in the fridge. Of course there was nothing in the fridge and it is very unlikely that anyone would ever want anything that was or ever had been in that fridge – even the ice cubes were dirty. We touched as few things as possible.
We might have moved into a hotel immediately but we met Simon Vance and Hilary Huber for cocktails before we really checked things out. So there’s one important thing to remember – that I imagine comes up for many of you when travelling – hold off on going for drinks with Simon Vance and Hillary Huber until you have thoroughly vetted your AirBnB.
We passed the evening lying on top of the bed – hot, sweaty, sleepless – wondering what lesson we were meant to learn from this particular experience. We both seemed instinctively to know that floating in a pool of sweat was not something we needed to understand on a deeper level. It was, and we both felt this keenly, a thing to be avoided at all costs.
MAY 9TH, MONDAY- THE SPENDIFEROUS WORKSHOP:
So the next day dawned- as days will -and we greeted it as best we could. It was Monday, May 9th – a day I had worked to make perfect for almost 8 months. We slithered off the bed like wet otters, showered, dressed and left as fast as possible. And things improved the moment we stepped out the door. Of course that would have been true had we left the apartment and stepped into a Chechen mine field or a radiation filled chamber on 3 Mile Island. The place was really bad.
The Johnny Heller 2nd Annual Splendiferous Workshop took place at East West University on South Wabash. Everyone was waiting for us in the entrance foyer. And it turned out to be one of the finest days I’ve ever had. Granted I had to put up with the likes of Scott Brick, PJ Ochlan, Simon Vance, Andi Arndt, Tavia Gilbert, Hillary Huber, Amy Rubinate, Jeffrey Kafer and Paul Alan Ruben …but still.
We had over 100 actors and the above mentioned coaches and we spent the day in sharing and learning and working – each of us – to be better at the craft of storytelling. There was brilliant discussion, deep insights and lots of laughter.
It was, simply put, magnificent. I am already working on the 3rd Annual Splendiferous Workshop for May 30th in New York!
MAY 9TH MONDAY NIGHT – MIXER and PARTIES
This season’s APA Mixer was a huge success! A great bar space and plenty of room and convivial chatter. Granted, it rained very hard and everyone who left the Mixer to head to the Bee party at the Billy Goat were treated to a torrential downpour creating an unplanned wet tee shirt night which was won, I think, by Steven Jay Cohen. It also gave out-of-towners a chance to visit the famous Billy Goat Tavern – a place known from the SNL Days of John Belushi as the “cheezburger cheezburger no pepsi” place. Most native Chicagoans know it as a crowded little place that sells really inexpensive burgers and beer. It’s not your sit down and be served kind of place. It’s your stagger in and belly up to the bar and do some serious drinking kind of place – hence it is a favorite of the Chicago newspaper reporters. The shortcomings of the locale –small space/too many narrators — were more than made up for by the warmth and charm of Bee Audio’s Jackie Rosenfeld. She’s just such a sweet person! So all in all, it was a fine time. And it was swell seeing all the wet sweaty narrators enjoying a quick shot from a plastic cup.
And, as a side note, it was fun to watch Bill Lord and Joya Colucci Lord just relax, drink and enjoy. Jo and I had at least 3 meals with them and I can’t say enough good things about Joya. (I can’t think of any about Bill.)
MAY 10TH, TUESDAY -APAC
APAC – the granddaddy event of the Spring is a difficult thing to pull together. Tavia Gilbert deserves a medal for her hard work in helping pull it all together. It’s a thankless task. I know this for a fact because Caitlin Garing of Harper and I helped with it and we didn’t get a thank you.
So my part of the day starts really early because Robin Ray Eller keeps getting me to say okay to being a part of Directors Diagnostics – an excellent event, but, 8am? Not for me. Yet I did get to work with two fine narrators – Claton Butcher and Pearl Hewitt. So that was nice.
In spite of my early arrival, I was able to continue my uninterrupted string of missing the keynote address at APAC. Instead Simon Vance and I spent the morning sitting in comfy chairs and wondering if people would come to see us or if we’d be forced to get off our asses and make the move. We won! Dan Zitt from Penguin Random House stopped by for a great lengthy chat – it would have been even longer but newer narrators – many like crazed blood hounds on the trail of prey – smelled out Zitt -and surrounded him. This, by the way, is okay – producers know that they will be chatted up and expect it and welcome it. Just remember when hunting the elusive producer at APAC that they can be surprisingly quick and furtive. Producers are a suspicious breed so it’s important to approach them from the front – hands outstretched in a sign of peace of friendliness. Do not sneak up on them or try to jump the line they are in to get their coffee. It’s okay to feed them and some, like Zitt, may actually eat jelly donuts out of your hand. Paul Ruben, on the other hand, may well take your fingers off with a single bite. Just use common sense here.
Actually, the producers at APAC are happy to meet and greet. Just be professional. They will meet many people throughout the day and they likely want to meet as many as they have time for. Don’t bogart their time and don’t be a dolt. If there’s someone you would like to meet, ask for a colleague to introduce you or just go up to whomever it is and tell them “Hi”! If they are deep in a conversation and you hear things like –“I dunno. I shook him like 3 times but he didn’t move. I mean I didn’t mean to park my Lexus on his head – I assumed he’d move – like a pigeon! Pigeons move. How was I to know this guy lacked the brain power of pigeon?” – you may not want to choose that moment to interject with a friendly “Hello! Wanna hear my demo?”
The APAC day is divided into a publishers track where stuff is scheduled that may be of more interest to publishers than to actors and an actors track which is the opposite. You can go to either or bounce to and fro to both.
Except for the panels I was actually on, I was beat from the day before and spent almost my entire day sitting around telling jokes and stories with Patrick Fraley. I didn’t want to but the guy would not leave me alone! I finally had to say – “Patrick! I have other people here I simply must speak to!” And he said – “Great! I’ll join you!” So that worked out well.
(note: I love Patrick Fraley so don’t go sending letters and saying bad things about me or him…well, you can about him)
My favorite event of the day, besides lunch – which I ate with Paul Alan Ruben – who weighs a little less than the sandwich I put together, is the Listeners Lounge. The Listeners Lounge used to be 90 minutes and everyone loved it. Out of the respect for the many survey respondents who listed it as their favorite event, the organizers decided to cut it down to 45 minutes. Nice. And the event in the room that preceded the Lounge went overtime because the person running it didn’t care about schedules and courtesy. So we started late and I was under strict instruction to end on time as there were early Audies to be handed out. My Lounge guests got to read and they were just phenomenal. Sadly, there wasn’t time for my reading which in my mind was likely going to be the best thing that human ears ever got to hear and would likely have changed our entire universe for the better by curing the heretofore incurable – taxi driver BO – but no. No time. I didn’t even have time to make up bios for the actors. I was unable to share the tale of Scott Brick and his early years herding salmon. Very sad.
Yet is was a success!
Later that evening, Teri Schnaubelt put together a fabulous party that Jo Anna and I did not attend because we were tired and in need of a different hotel. We did find a new place to sleep and it was very weird but at least it was clean and cool.
MAY 11TH WEDNESDAY – AUDIES/NAUDIES
The Audies were held at the Adler Planetarium – a place I used to go to on field trips. I heard they were wonderful. I didn’t attend as I was somehow overlooked by the judging committees and was not nominated. A very sad day in the Heller household. I would have gone to support my friends but it’s kinda steep and I still can’t tie a bow tie. If you’ve never attended, it’s a really special event and it’s quite wonderful. So go.
A number of years ago, there was an Audies After Party but that event ceased one year so Jeffrey Kafer, Melissa Exelberth and I started the Naudies. It’s a party for actors who are in town for APAC but not attending the Audies and it’s an Audies after party. It is in no way an alternative to the Audies. It’s a great damn party that celebrates the art, the artists and camaraderie. I think this last one was our 5th…or our 9th…I dunno. We do a lot of drinking. This year, I found us an amazing place in the South Loop and I think it may have been our best Naudies yet.
I would report on the Audies, but as I wasn’t there, I think you should ask someone who was. And that would be a large list.
A WORD ON HOT DOGS
Those of you who have followed my various posts on Facebook and….well that’s really where I post so that’s it….will know that I advocated eating only Chicago Hot Dogs as no others are worthy of eating. In truth, every hot dog will take about 5 minutes off your life but with luck that will be the 5 minutes you might otherwise have spent with Jeffrey Kafer so it’s kind of a win. I never eat hot dogs unless I’m in Chicago and I never allow anyone to put ketchup on their Chicago hot dog in my presence.
Many of you went to Portillos Hot Dogs on my suggestion and most reported enjoying a hot dog and I am heartily glad to hear it. Don’t have many of them and don’t make eating them a regular thing but once in a while – you simply must.
Let me share a short story:
The posh Englishman bounced amiably along Ontario on a relatively cool Chicago night. He regarded his companions – or at least one of them – with guarded suspicion. Jo Anna Perrin was blameless in the enterprise. As a vegetarian, she adamantly refused to even consider trying this strange delicacy that her partner – the height challenged Johnny Heller – pronounced as “the best damn thing ever”.
The trio made a right at Clark Street and entered Portillos – home of the Chicago Hot Dog. A clean, neat place with pleasant servers and an easy to understand menu. To his delight, Heller offered to buy him his first Chicago Hot Dog. As a one-time and long-time meat eater, the Brit, who had, over the last few years eaten only grass and sticks found on organic compost heaps, thought the very idea of eating a hot dog was unpleasant at best and horrific at worst.
He regarded the menu – filled with fried everything and meat dipped in various lard based juices and smiled as he watched Jo Anna search for something that might not kill her if she ate it. Perrin settled on the Wedge salad. Heller ordered the hot dogs: “Two with everything except peppers. You are gonna love this!” The Brit, knowing that he was going against everything he held dear for some reason, smiled in hesitant anticipation — wondering what spell this evil Chicago Mick had him under that he would even consider this absurd assault to his system.
The three met at a vacant table and sat down to eat. Heller held back – watching the Brit. Heller watched as the cultured Englishman delicately unwrapped his hot dog. Heller smiled as the man got his first scent of the meal. “Oh my god!” thought the Brit. “This smells…this smells …heavenly! My mouth is actually watering. Could this be?”
He picked up his hot dog and eyed it. Heller continued to stare – his ever present smile growing larger. Finally, the Brit took the hot dog and brought it forward and took a bite.
His eyes grew large and while he wished to comment on the taste, he found he could not. He could only eat! And in seconds, the hot dog had vanished – stuffed deep inside him to do battle with his veggie based blood cells for inner body supremacy. He looked up, mustard on the edge of his lips and exclaimed: “Holy Shit! That is amazing! Let’s get 3 more each!”
And thus was Simon Vance turned to the dark side.