Ben Hauck: An Autobiography

In some sense, my life didn’t begin until August 3, 1999, the day I moved to New York City. I had lived in NYC for ten weeks in 1997 for an internship at a casting office set up through my college, and I remember falling in love with NYC the first day I set foot in it, eating dinner outside at Benny’s Burritos in the East Village with my friend, watching the flow of so many unusual and exciting people in such a striking and creative landscape.

It’s not surprising that the whir of NYC was so different to me. A product of suburbia, at that point in my life I had lived in non-urban areas of Ohio, Georgia, Texas, Ohio again, New York, Ohio again for college, North Carolina, Ohio again to save up money, all before taking up permanent residence in hyper-urban NYC. My mom, my dad, my brother, the occasional dog and I moved around so much as a family because of my dad’s job, which I never seemed to grasp much all those years, I could only say “my dad was in insurance,” then as I became more versed in what he did, I would tack on the phrase, “in claims, like car accidents and stuff.”

Born outside Cleveland in 1975, I don’t remember much of the place. Apparently I liked to streak a lot as a child, and my scant memories of our apartment include playing with Fiddlesticks and Lincoln Logs, sucking on mommy’s boobie, getting scared by a bee as I lay in the trunk of our car, and climbing on the tree in the front yard. Apparently I was a jealous kid when my brother was born about a year and a half after me; I understand I struck him at least once while he slept! I believe in storage somewhere I still have the stuffed animal I called Dobey–a large panda bear with one ear torn and dangling.

We moved to Atlanta when I was about 5 years into a newly-built home on something called a “cul de sac.” The area was a great place for a kid to be, as homes were still being built when we moved in, grass was still growing, plus there were woods behind our house and little creeks flowing through the area! We had a huge yard with a long driveway and a carport. The neighbor kids were Big Scott and Little Scott; Little Scott was the good kid, the “original Scott” before Big Scott moved in and forced the need for distinction. My dad painted Big Scott’s big brother’s Trans Am white with big red flames on the side. It was really cool.

I started school and went to Rockbridge Elementary, then was rezoned into Lilburn Elementary. I was an excellent student, only outdone but little Ivy Ku. Some of my memories from that time were forfeiting a prize for best drawing because my mom had helped me color it because I was up so late drawing, getting out of my chair spontaneously in second grade to announce “I’m the Incredible Hauck!” only to immediately sit back down and continue with my schoolwork, wanting to go by the name “Tiger” instead of “Ben,” and skinning my knee on the pavement around the playground. (I still have a slug-sized scar on my knee to this day from that. Belovéd.)

We moved from Atlanta to Houston on the last day of 1984, when I was in the middle of third grade. The day we moved to Houston, we were under a scary red box knowng as a Tornado Watch. I was frightened by thunderstorms and tornadoes and hurricanes as a child, perhaps because I watched The Weather Channel often in the morning before school. (Back in first grade, the teacher for some reason asked what the southernmost city in the U.S. was, and I replied “Key West.” Amazing, eh?? … Not counting Hawaii, obviously.)

My experiences in Houston were amongst my happiest ones of any of the places I lived growing up. Apart from the sheer terror I experienced when dark blue clouds came upon the horizon, I excelled at school again and developed friendships with the brighter kids in my classes. Hancock Elementary was weird for its “open-concept” classrooms; there were no walls, and you had different teachers to teach each subject–you had to rotate to different class areas every 55 minutes or so. That setup wreaked havoc on my reading skills. Despite being a good student and getting A’s in reading, my dark secret was I often had little idea what I was reading because I had to go over things again and again, and when the teacher was timing us in reading, I felt humiliated in not comprehnding a lick. My poor reading skills may have had something to do with the dislike I had of reading when I was a child (according to my mom). Whatever the case, I was a superior student who got straight A’s throughout elementary school, even touting myself, peculiarly, as a goody-goody. During elementary school I said I wanted to grow up to be President of the United States, and with that kind of goal-setting, I landed the title of Student Council President in fifth grade–the first-ever elections. My platform was “I’ll try to get us a Coke machine.”

Bleyl Junior High was next, and because of the way the school system was set up, about half of my class went to this junior high and the other half went somewhere else. This was a sad parting, but I made new friends as a result of the divide. Again, I was a straight-A student, and there was an abundance of competitive, intelligent kids there, too. I tend to characterize the school district where I was as “middle to upper-middle class,” but only so to describe how great the school system was and how it seemed to naturally assume all students would continue onto college.

In sixth grade, I made a critical decision that has impacted my life to this day. In sixth grade, I decided to take “speech/art/music” rather than band. I had an inkling to play the saxophone, but the desire to make up commercials and do them in front of my classmates was too powerful. A creative satirist from elementary school, I created things making fun of shows’ names in the TV guide, I mocked a baseball pitcher in creating a fake catalog for “Jerry Don Gleaton’s Royal Savings Store,” among other parodic works. The thrill of creating a skit that made other kids laugh far exceeded any thrill blowing into a saxophone might bring.

My speech class led to my taking drama class in seventh and eighth grade, and I started attending speech and drama tournaments on the weekends. I experienced sheer pleasure and excitement going to these events. While I didn’t ususually do very well at them, my smart friends did do well, but they were in the speech events like debate and impromptu speaking and I was in humorous interp and duet. Plus, they were an excuse to spend time with a girl I had a crush on from the first moment I laid eyes on her. (To this day, I don’t think I ever told her that.) By eight grade, I landed the lead in the school play, a musical that was completely lipsynched and so underrehearsed, I skipped a scene that introduced an important character, only adding the scene on after the curtain call. I had a strange phase when I wanted to die only a part of my hair blond–which I did, and oddly fit the character, only it turned orange rather than blond.

We lived in a house in Prestonwood Forest, a subdivision renowned for its Christmastime “Night of Lights” decorations, which had each of the streets in the neighborhood putting up displays on a different holiday themes. I always loved our street, whose theme I believe was “Toyland”–my dad and mom have always been crafty and creative, and we had big wooden cutouts of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and a great lights arrangement to complement as our yard’s display. Our house was a nice-sized one undergoing two paint jobs in our time there (from brown to a controversial pink then to a more conservative gray), and my parents added onto the house by building a windowed-in patio and a Martha-Stewart-would-be-impressed deck, building up into an entrance to my dad’s dear spa.

Houston was a time of great grades, a lot of weekend chores, and feeling good about myself. I qualified for State competition in high school in oral interp my freshman year, earning a coveted letterjacket. Three-quarters into my freshman year of high school, though, we moved yet again to Mansfield, Ohio. The good feelings I was building fell hard after this move.

Mansfield was the stark opposite of Houston in my mind. While Houston’s schools had so much to offer its students and so much wealth, Mansfield’s schools were nearly declared “state-minimum,” meaning they would have all extracurricular activities pulled with such a declaration by the state. I remember taking a speech class there (it was the closest thing to drama I could take) and the teacher asked of the class of twelve or so, “How many of you are going to college?,” of which about half raised their hands. My life experience was that attending college was assumed. Not only was that a disturbing revelation, but when the teacher didn’t even know what a “speech and drama tournament” was, I felt as if my life and sustenance had come to a screeching halt.

Oddly, we seemed to jump a social stratum when we moved to Mansfield. While we were by my standards very middle-class, I think people were a little envious of us when we moved into this gargantuan home. The house was unusual for the area–no other homes were like it, and it was about the size of two of these homes. I didn’t appreciate the size or beauty of the house then namely because it didn’t have air conditioning, and while Ohio was cooler than Texas, I didn’t notice the difference because everywhere you went in Houston there was A/C.I was a special case from the moment I arrived in Mansfield. Mansfield Senior High had only sophomores through seniors in it, and the freshmen were in a different building. I’d attend a couple morning classes at the freshman building, then I’d bus over to the high school to take my other classes. I was a freshman in sophomore classes, as my Houston school system was a year ahead of Mansfield’s–another frustrating blow to my world.

Eventually, though, while I wasn’t making friends at school, I was making them doing community theater. Somehow I signed up for something called Nova at the Richland Academy for the Arts, a group of kids of all ages who were going to write and produce their own play. We put on a play called Looking through Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and I played the Mad Hatter. I rooted myself in a growing movement of child actors in the Mansfield theater scene.

I did a nice amount of shows and volunteering with the Richland Academy of the Arts. At the time, I was also playing baseball, landing a spot on the varsity baseball team as a freshman, only having moved into the town a few months prior. By junior year, I was starting shortstop on the varsity team, but something psychologically seemed to be getting in the way of my play. While I was excellent at running the field and the team’s standout hustler, I’d make errors on routine ground balls, sometimes losing the game for us. The pressure mounted on me, and I’d come home crying about baseball. The charms of working on a play with my theater friends who accepted me were ultimately more attractive than the pain of making errors in baseball with players who found me studious and odd. I made the difficult decision of quitting baseball mid-season when the opportunity to assistant-direct a show at Richland Academy arose.

The feeling was one of amazing relief. From that point, I felt more focused and excited about my life. While still a straight-A student, I was busy going to school, often rehearsing by night. I even was going to Ohio State Univeristy at Mansfield concurrently with my junior and senior years of high school! I branched out from the Richland Academy, landing a show at the locally respected Mansfield Playhouse and then scoring the lead in OSU-M’s production of Enter Laughing, all as a highschooler! Added to the experience was a girlfriend I met through theater who was also a high-achiever, and my life was really, really great.

I ended up graduating valedictorian from Mansfield Senior High in 1994. In a rebellious display, I scoffed at giving a valediction speech, refusing to give one, and was angry at the symbolic celebration of the end of education. Plus, I had to wear the stupid graduation gown, something I had been nearly mortally terrified by as a child for some weird reason. I had few friends in my graduation class as I was a year ahead of them, a year of college credits under my belt, and I socialized more with theaterfolk than my classmates. It was all for naught, though, as but a week after graduating from high school, my family moved to Albany, New York, with my dad’s job.

Albany was only a summer for me before Otterbein College, and some school breaks. The quick and sudden exit from Mansfield was somewhat awesome to me, creating a story of Taking Mansfield’s school system by storm at the beginning of high school, Claiming its top prize by the end, then Leaving like a bandit. That summer, I made a videotape of skits as I pined away for my girlfriend, still in Ohio and getting ready to attend Dartmouth. I also took my first job, working as a receptionist at my dad’s office. That was an exciting time, taking on the challenges of an archaic 10-line phone system with no voicemail!

I had decided on Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, for an asinine reason, but it turned out to be an excellent decision for the kind of acting program it provided. I’d had a recommendation from the director of Enter Laughing who had also attended Otterbein, and I knew Otterbein to be the best theater school in the state of Ohio. The reason I chose Otterbein over any other school in any other state was because I, yes,”didn’t want to have to learn the rules of another state.” This is such laughably stupid reasoning on my part in hindsight, because a) I’d moved so much in my life and “had to learn the rules of other states,” and b) I’d moved from Ohio a week after I graduated high school. Nonetheless, while the academics were subpar by my standards, Otterbein’s theater program really catered to my acting talents in a way I’ve understood only grad schools do.

Early on at Otterbein, I even tried to transfer out of it. I’d never heard of an Ivy League school, but my girlfriend was attending one and the things she was learning made what I was learning pale in comparison. She was in the film society, she was learning about philosophers from teachers who wrote their lectures like papers in great buildings of fine architecture; I was going to classes rehashing how to write an essay and even learning later on there were football players who were illiterate going there. The college population was mostly small-town Ohioans, when I wanted the experience of diversity. The chance at a better, although unaffordable education was one I had to take. In the end, I was waitlisted at Dartmouth then declined, my girlfriend and I broke up, and I had to make do at my college of choice.

The academics never really did challenge me, as again I maintained straight A’s throughout college. I did get one B, in Ed Vaughan’s acting class, which was shocking to me because that term, I think I did my best work as an actor in all of college. By about junior year, when I learned that some acting grad students were learning things we were learning at Otterbein, I started to feel much more blessed about being at my college. I learned that some programs seemed to espouse an “outside-in” approach to acting, an approach to acting I expressly despised. My acting teachers at Otterbein seemed to uphold an “inside-out” approach, meaning they uphold work on the character’s inner life and emotions before layering on the physicality and timing issues and such theatrical mechanics.

By my junior year, I was cast in the personally coveted “new play,” the last show in Otterbein’s season which is a commission from a well-known playwright. The show was Joan Ackermann’s Marcus Is Walking: Scenes from the Road, an ensemble play that is like A.R. Gurney’s The Dining Room except all of the scenes are around a car. My passion in acting is to actually create a new role in a new production, and this show was a dream come true since each of us got to create about five different roles. The icing on the cake from this experience was that I landed a New York City talent agent’s interest in a rather roundabout manner from the production, plus I ended up having my name printed in the published version of the play!

In my senior year, I spent the fall in New York City at the casting office called Ortlip & Filderman. The two casting directors cast play, musicals, and independent films for the most part. The internship was a remarkable learning experience, as I got to learn about the business side of the theater business–all I had known was that I wanted to act, and from the internship I learned what it takes to have and maintain a professional acting career.

I returned to Otterbein from my internship with an amazing amount of creative energy and ambition. I produced, directed, and acted in an evening of my plays, The Bomb Holding Co. and After Class, produced and acted with a girlfriend in a staged reading of my favorite play, David Mamet’s Oleanna, directed a workshop production of David Mamet’s challenging piece All Men Are Whores, all the while trying to learn piano and keeping my grades just as strong. When I finally graduated Otterbein (shafting the whole graduation ceremony altogether by going to my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary), I earned a BFA in Acting, summa cum laude, straight A’s except for an errant B, and a whole lotta excitement about my future as an actor.

I decided to stay near my college after I graduated in order to save money for the relocation to NYC to “start” my life. With some remarkable fortune, I landed a well-paying job at a great company called Ohio Distinctive Software, which primarily sold software for children at amazingly inexpensive prices. Staying in the Westerville area also allowed me to be near the theater life of Otterbein and near my college girlfriend, whom I directed in her one-woman show there. A year after graduating, I decided I finally had enough money to move, and with a good friend of my girlfriend’s, I rented a Ryder truck and drove to NYC.

The trip was frightening. I literally thought I would die in a car accident. I had rented a Ryder truck three months in advance to get the best deal, but when it came to picking up the truck, they didn’t have the 15-foot one I had rented and in which I had confidence in driving from past experience. They didn’t even have a 19-foot truck. They had a 25-foot truck, which is only a little shorter than a tractor trailer! I was to drive it overnight, 10 hours, unassisted, with my future roommate and his possessions in tow.

We did do it, arriving in Astoria on August 3, 1999, but the night was spent with my foot nearly standing on the pedal to make the truck go 55mph up hills, and stopping every half-hour to go to the bathroom. The caffeine pills and soft drinks I used helped keep me awake, but the constant, continous bouncing and shaking of the truck would make us have to pee only ten minutes after leaving a rest stop. Whatever the case, we survived and moved in.

Soon after moving to NYC, I got my headshots taken with Jinsey Dauk and was out auditioning. I also landed a sweet temp job I hold to this day (I decided to go perm after 4+ years there), where my boss allows me the freedom to pursue my acting endeavors as a priority. It wasn’t long after auditioning that I was getting callbacks, but for shows I didn’t want to do. I even landed a children’s theater tour in Wisconsin, but I turned them down because I decided I didn’t train at college to do children’s theater tours in my acting career. Rather, I was in NYC in search of acting in new plays.

About four months after arriving, I landed the lead in the New York premiere of Rick Vorndran’s Control Freaks in Love, and then other things really started to happen to me. While subbing for a casting assistant at Lynn Kressel Casting, I landed a principal role on Law & Order, qualifying me for the Screen Actors Guild. A friend of mine and I then produced a private workshop presentation of a famous two-person play, and when I wrapped that project, I found myself a member of the Actors’ Equity Association. Not by producing my own play, though–I joined the union through a business theater contract via a strange promotion I landed with Yahoo!. Yahoo! was building the home for “The World’s La-Z-iest Shopper” in Rockefeller Center and I landed the job to play that guy, affectionately known was “Willis.”

Things had come together very fast for me, that spring of 2000. Being eligible for SAG and AEA in the same month, plus getting all this national attention in landing a TV role and doing a well-publicized promotion, was exciting beyond compare. After the World’s La-Z-iest Shopper promotion ended, my life started to slow down in the first summer as an actor in NYC. I booked a show in the NY Fringe Festival that summer, and new realities in being a union actor started to hit as so many performing opportunities were taken away from me since I could no longer work jobs that were for only non-union actors.

But I was incredibly fortunate. To join the unions, an actor can work for years and years with potentially no reward or guarantee of the getting into the union. After all, acting was what I wanted to do, and joining the unions afforded me the opportunity to compete with the best actors for respectable, paid acting work.Since joining the unions in 2000, I’ve been building my experience and reputation often doing open-call auditions at the union known as EPA’s, and doing the background work on a films and commercial sets–the equivalent of temp work for an NYC actor. Joining the union has also increased the stakes and my need for solid representation, for agents are the people who receive most of the breakdowns for projects being cast, and they are the people casting directors turn to for their supply of castable actors. I have freelanced with several agents in NYC, and I’m eager to find that agent relationship that is mutually rewarding.

As an actor in NYC, I pride myself on my marketing savvy. I am a frequent postcarder and I craft mailings in hopes of being more eye-catching and bold than the next actor. I owe it to myself, because I feel my talents are expansive as an actor and are a rewarding addition to any theater company, play, or film. My aims are primarily new Off-Broadway works, so the stakes are especially high when I have an appointment for a new play as they are what I live to do.

On a simultaneous track, in June of 2000, just after finishing as the World’s La-Z-iest Shopper, a friend of mine took me to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre to see some long-form improvisation. That one evening of improv changed my life. It led to my taking classes in long-form improv, performing it, even coaching it with some friends from Otterbein, as well as now writing a book on it! Finding the improv world in NYC has provided an exciting scene for me with abundant creativity and socializing where the acting and theater scene seems to lack in that department.

On another simultaneous track, a year after finding improv, I also found marathon running. I trained for my first-ever NYC marathon in 2001. My dad had run a couple in his life, but never under four hours, and I completed both the 2001 and 2003 NYC Marathons in under 4 hours. Those accomplishments are very dear to me because of the amount of time investment they require to do well, with potentially no reward but pain and damage to your body. I was to run it in 2002, but during a softball game with the Broadway Show League, I tore cartilage in my right knee, making for a summer of getting to auditions via cane and Razor scooter eventually leading to surgery to remove the cartilage and a bone chip, and no marathon. The 2003 Marathon was all the more important to me, to prove to myself that I could still run long-distance, and even outdo my previous record. My 2003 Marathon was a little faster than my 2001 one; my knee injury didn’t take me down. Chances are, if you’ve come to this part of the bio, you’re a most patient reader. I am patient as well when it comes to my life. I have abundant energy and creativity so waiting for the payoff can be aggravating sometimes, but I’m in this acting career for the long haul. I haven’t cured cancer, nor do I hope to in my life, but I do hope to make a significant impact on the lives of many people in my lifetime with my performance abilities. I’m looking to garner more success, to continue my childhood successes far into the future. I know there are more successes to come, it’s just a matter of time.

I’m writing this section in on January 2, 2013. It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated my bio. Since then, I’ve taught long-form improv in different countries, had a book published, run quite a few more marathons and run them considerably faster, worked on a number television shows and films, founded a website on standing in, and ended up on boards for a couple organizations related to general semantics. I’m forgetting lots more.

I’m still in New York City, and as you can tell from my website more than likely, I continue to output a lot of stuff and then some. That’s about it for now. I wonder when the larger success will happen. It can be a bit frustrating at times, and it can feel as if I’m spinning my wheels, but I believe at some point something will happen and I’ll be catapulted. Hopefully in that trajectory I’ll get snagged by a Ferris wheel or a cloud. It might be nice to ride some lightning. God knows I’ve been waiting to do so!