Soaring, Part 2

So after a year of dramatic improvement after the awakening, I finally was sent crashing back to earth after my failure in My Three Angels.  I was disappointed, but there was no use dwelling on it.  I swallowed my heaping helping of humble pie and moved on.

I had a break of a few months before I attempted my next audition.  I pursued a role in the Playhouse production of The Underpants directed by Carl Beck.  This was my first audition for Carl since the awakening and I thought it would be a good test of my newfound powers.

I came to the Playhouse and saw I would be going toe to toe with some of the heavyweight regulars of the Playhouse.  When I got up on stage a most wondrous thing happened.

I was able to keep pace with the heavyweights.

I was on.  I was having the time of my life up there and it was funny and it was working.  No matter how this audition turned out, I knew I could leave with my head held high.  A few days later, I got the rejection slip BUT there was a twist this time.  Carl had actually taken the time to write a little note in the margins and it said:

Chris,

That was your strongest audition.  Lots of confidence.  Good work.

Not a bad second prize at all.  And it helped to rebuild the confidence that had been lost by the debacle of My Three Angels.  I rode this confidence into my next audition which was Starkweather over at the Circle Theatre.

This play was based on the infamous serial killer, Charles Starkweather, and had been written by Doug Marr, one of the Circle’s founders.  Doug had actually asked me to audition for the show and I gave a fairly good showing of myself at the audition.  I didn’t hear anything for several weeks and decided that I must have been rejected.

In the meantime, I had read a play called Biloxi Blues which was going to be the season finale in the Howard-Drew Theatre over at the Omaha Playhouse.  This was an unusual cast because, with the exception of one or two characters, the cast is comprised entirely of young people, and I mean really young.  The characters are teenagers and I was 28 at the time, so I didn’t think I had much of a chance.

On the other hand, I was unusually young looking.  Even today, I still have a babyface, even though the gray in my temples has hopefully neutralized it to an extent.  As you read in part 1, my “young look” often cost me roles that I was actually old enough to play in years, if not appearance.  At the eleventh hour, I decided, “What the heck?”  I had absolutely nothing to lose in the attempt.

The show was guest directed by Susan Clement-Toberer, the artistic director of the Blue Barn Theatre.  I had actually auditioned for her twice before, but neither audition was much to scream about.

My first audition for her had been for a show called The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and it occurred during the time frame I was suffering from depression.  It was actually one of my stronger auditions during that period, due to the fact that I was auditioning for a character nearly as depressed as I was, but it still wasn’t that great.

The second time had been for a show called Three Tall Women over at the Blue Barn and my audition bombed.  It was the only time I had ever choked during an audition.  I had brought my own monologue and when I got onstage, I grew very self-conscious and flopped on my face.

With my new confidence in my powers, I was ready to turn that around.

And what a turnaround!!

For the first, and only, time in my avocation, it was me and everybody else.  I was quite clearly in a class of my own and could not be touched.  Susan would have me read pages at a time and forget to stop me because she “got lost in what I was doing”.

When I had signed up for the audition, I had, again, limited myself to just 2 characters.  After I had read a couple of times, Susan asked me if I were willing to consider other roles.  I saw the message instantly and told her that I would be open to other roles as they were all interesting.

Shortly thereafter, I got my first proper callback.  The callback was more hotly contested, but I considered myself in the upper echelon of things.  When I finished, I thought I had a really good shot at getting cast.

While I was waiting for a response, I suddenly got a message from the Circle Theatre regarding Starkweather.  It turned out they had wanted to cast me the entire time, but forgot to offer me a role!!!  I told the theatre that I would let them know after the weekend as I had auditioned for another show and I wanted to hear how that would turn out.

On Sunday, Susan offered me the role of Don Carney, the wannabe singer, in Biloxi Blues.  I politely declined the offer from the Circle and was ready to embark on what would be a grand adventure.

To be continued. . .

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Soaring, Part 1

After the awakening and having sampled a taste of Shakespeare, I was ready to tackle what is widely considered the greatest play ever written:  Hamlet.

I had decided to pursue the role of Laertes, the brother of Ophelia and the son of Polonius.  This character is a bit of a hothead and somewhat arrogant which made him the perfect character in my mind because his personality was so drastically different from my own.  A friend of mine suggested I would make a good Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend.  I really wanted Laertes, but decided I would take a look at Horatio.

As I prepared for the audition, I got more and more into the character of Horatio.  He was so intelligent, loyal, and deep that I thought I could really do a lot with him.  I ended up changing my focus to Horatio, but kept Laertes prepared as I would then be able to display some versatility at the audition.  I also made a fateful decision.  Prior to this audition, I had always been willing to take any role in a production.  Now I had been in theatre for nearly 10 years and many of my roles had been small or bit parts.  I felt it was time to view things from a business perspective.  If directors saw that I was only doing unchallenging roles, there was a real danger that they may begin to think I was not capable of handling anything with some heft.  So I stated that I only wanted to be considered for Horatio and Laertes.  I knew I was taking a colossal chance, but I felt it to be well worth the risk.

Audition night came and I ended up reading first and as Horatio.  And I started off very strongly.  I had a great read with Scott as Hamlet and I felt natural and believable.  When I finished my turn, I noticed a lot of people in the theatre looking impressed, but my biggest badge of honor came from my friend, David Sindelar, who smiled and nodded at me.  Dave has always told things as he sees them, so to have won him over was a well earned prize, indeed.

I did get to read as Laertes and I didn’t do too badly, but there were a few others who I thought had a better attitude for the character as well as being a better fit physically.  Still, Cathy asked us to return the next time to be read some more.  Strangely, I was not asked to read as Horatio again, but read several times as Guildenstern which I found peculiar because I was very clear on whom I wanted to play.  And I also vowed that I was going to stick to my guns.  At this point, being take seriously was more important than getting cast.

That Friday, July 15, I received a call from Cathy at 6:30pm.  I’ve always found this to be a little eerie and ironic because it was exactly three years to the minute I had stepped foot in the Playhouse for The Elephant Man three years prior.  Our conversation went as follows:

“Chris, I’d like to talk to you about Hamlet.”

“All right.”

“Before I begin, I just want you to know that I think you are tremendously talented and that you have a very bright future in theatre, but at this point I just don’t think you’re experienced enough to play Horatio.” 

“I see,” I replied as I sat on my couch and felt my heart plummet to the pits of my stomach.

“I really want you in this play, but you have such a young look and I just envision Horatio as being older and more settled than you are.”

“I understand,” I said, feeling my face flush white as a sheet.

“I just haven’t worked with you enough yet.  But I still really want you to be part of this production because it would be a tremendous loss if we didn’t have you, but I’d like to give you a different role if you’re still interested.”

(Pause)  “All right.  I’ll play somebody else,” I said in a very soft voice.

“I’m really glad to hear that.  I won’t be casting the show for a few more days because I’m holding callbacks for Polonius and Claudius, but I’ll be in touch soon.”

As I suspected, I ended up with the role of Guildenstern and I don’t regret taking the part.  For one thing, it began my acting partnership with David Sindelar who played Rosencrantz.  Although we shared a scene in Dracula, I felt this was the first time I was really working with him as my skills had now evolved dramatically and could now experiment a bit with him.

One of my fondest memories of the show actually began 2 years prior in His Girl Friday.  Cathy and Scott are very big on what they call “walla wallas” which is actors improvising dialogue in crowd scenes to make it more believable.  On the last day of the show, I asked Dave’s character where the editor of the newspaper was and he looked at me and, with a deadpan expression, said, “You go to hell.  Go straight to hell.  Don’t pass Go.  Don’t collect $200.”  I had to pull my hat over my face to cover the laugh that was threatening to bust out.

In Hamlet, I got a bit of payback.  There is a scene where a troupe of actors arrives at the castle and Hamlet tells me of a monologue he once heard and begins to recite it.  I forget the exact line, but it had to do with the color of some item.  Dave took to saying that he remembered this monologue and kept trying to remember the color.  During rehearsals, I kept supplying normal colors.  On opening night, I said the first color which popped into my head which was, “Periwinkle”.  Dave’s expression told me I caught him somewhat off guard, but he recovered with the beautiful comeback, “It’s not periwinkle”.

Another fond moment is when Hamlet was talking to the leader of the acting troupe and, in the background, Dave and I improvised a story about why we came to Denmark.  It was something about Rosencrantz losing all of our money when he bet on a horse named Sloth.  This story grew bigger and bigger every night, but the best thing is that nobody in the cast or audience knew what we were saying.  We both were skilled enough and subtle enough that we were able to do this in a way that did not distract from the primary action.

I gained a great sense of satisfaction from this role.  One actor, David Dechant, praised Dave Sindelar and myself for being able to add a third dimension to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern just through sheer strength of acting ability.  We even gained notice in the review in the Omaha World-Herald which cited us as being good.  My greatest compliment came from the mother of one of the BSB regulars.  She was an actor, herself, and when she came to the show, she walked up to me afterwards and said, “Young man, you have shot up miles.”  I felt real pride after that praise.

Unfortunately, I hit a major stumbling block after Hamlet.  Scott asked me if I would play the role of Paul Trochard in the BSB’s second production, My Three Angels.  I accepted and looked forward to playing a sort of villainous role.  The show was plagued with trouble from the start.  We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time.  We lost an actor partway through the rehearsal process due to a death in the family and he had to be replaced.  And I think Hamlet took a toll on Scott’s directing and certainly on my acting. 

Hamlet had been a grueling show.  It’s very long and we had a 2 month rehearsal process as opposed to one, plus the 4 week run of the show.  And then we jumped straight into rehearsing for My Three Angels.  Playing the title role was undoubtedly arduous for Scott and I think it dulled his creativity a smidge when directing this show, especially when he was compelled to take a role in it and have his focus split.  My acting, to be blunt, sucked. 

I simply could not get a firm grip on the role.  I had some moments that weren’t too bad, but for the most part, I just didn’t believe myself and it showed in the reviews.  Although I wasn’t mentioned by name, references were made to “wooden” and “uneven” acting and I knew the references were about me and I carried it like a weight on my shoulders.

It was my first real failure as an active performer. . .but the breakthrough was soon to follow.

To be continued. . .

Powerhouse Performances Punch Up Petty Play

“These people are monsters!” shouts Annette.  Thus sums up the play God of Carnage which kicked off the Blue Barn Theatre’s 25th season whose theme is “Over the Edge”.

God of Carnage is a dark comedy about 2 couples (Michael & Veronica and Alan & Annette) who meet in the apartment home of Michael and Veronica (an absolutely gorgeous retroesque set designed by Martin Scott Marchitto) to discuss an altercation that occurred between their sons.  An altercation that resulted in the son of Michael & Veronica getting some teeth knocked out by the son of Alan & Annette.

Although the conversation starts civilly enough, the behavior of the characters slowly devolves until they act like little more than children themselves.  Dark comedies are often tricky to pull off as the comedy usually follows a wanton act of cruelty and callousness and this play is no exception.  One such example occurs when the high strung Annette projectile vomits (quite viscerally) due to the tension of the situation and her anger with her disinterested, arrogant husband, Alan, who seems more concerned with the people on the other end of his cell phone than with his own family.

The script is somewhat weak, being one note in nature, having no real arc, and an ending that is flat as a pancake.  That said, the weakness is somewhat alleviated by the interesting psychological questions it poses.  Is civility a mask we as a society wear?  How are we any different than animals?  Are we nothing more than overgrown children?

The play is also bolstered by the nice pace director Susan Clement-Toberer cuts and the excellent performances she has coached from her actors.

As Annette, Jill Anderson undergoes the greatest devolution in the play.  She begins as a overwound socialite whose posture is so ramrod straight, one would think the rod up her back has a rod up its back and slowly transforms into a drunken, overwrought child who is unhappy with her loveless marriage to a domineering husband who only lets her do “woman” things.  Her drunken rants and despising of tulips are some of the highlights of this show.

Ablan Roblin plays Annette’s husband, Alan.  Of all the characters, Alan is the only character who really does not change over the show.  His selfishness and arrogance is apparent from the start as he constantly excuses himself to speak to colleagues about a cover-up regarding the dangerous side effects of a blood pressure drug his company produces solely to reap the most profit out of it.  I don’t envy Roblin’s difficulty in playing such a non-evolving character, but he presented the coldness of Alan quite well.

Jerry Longe gives an restrained performance as  Michael.  Starting off as a laidback man trying to keep the peace between both parties, he makes a startling transformation declaring, “I’m a Neanderthal!” with a complete change in voice and body language.  On the turn of a dime, Michael removes the façade of Mr. Easygoing and reveals himself to be a hard drinking, cigar smoking, racist thug who rather enjoys digging into people with his barbed tongue.

Theresa Sindelar plays Veronica, a writer with an obsession for Africa.  Ms. Sindelar does a wonderful job foreshadowing the revelation of Veronica’s true colors.  Veronica is clearly an intellectual who delights in using fifty dollar words in her vocabulary to prove her intelligence.  At first, she seems to be trying to engineer an amiable middle ground between the two couples, but is really more interested in ripping her son’s attacker a new one, more concerned with her books than the health of her guest, and sitting on her high horse declaring, “I am better than everyone in this room!”

In the end, I believe the humor comes from the audience’s recognition of our own childish sides in these 4 pathetic people and how ridiculous we can become we when blow minor things grossly out of proportion.

God of Carnage runs through October 18 at the Blue Barn Theatre located at 614 S 11th St in Omaha, NE.  Showtimes are 7:30pm, Thursday-Sat and 6pm on Sundays.  (Note:  There is no show on Sept 29.)  Ticket prices are $25 for adults and $20 for students, TAG members, seniors (65+), and groups of ten or more.  For reservations or information, call 402-345-1576.

Awakenings, Part 4

The setting for the awakening was the remount of Dracula at the BSB in 2004.  Aside from reprising my role of Henry Watkins, I also served as an assistant stage manager.  The trigger was my habit of reading in character when I read lines in for missing actors.  I do this for 2 reasons:

  1. It helps keep my own chops up.
  2. It benefits the actors because they can play off the interpretation.

Up until this point, I had always felt that I needed to feel like I was acting.  So when I performed, I gave things a 110% effort which often led to Scott noting me on being too big.  Dracula has some long pre-recorded monologues and Scott was having me read those so the actors could work their pantomimes over it.

As I read the monologues, I only gave a 100% effort as I was only trying to aid the actors and not really perform.  After a few nights of this, Scott asked to see me in his office before rehearsal for my “spanking” as he put it.  He closed the door and then turned around with a massive grin on his face.

“You’ve been hiding from me, buddy,” said Scott.

“I have?” I said, rather quizzically.

“Yes, you have.  The last few nights I have been blown away by your readings of the monologues.  The nuance in your voice has been absolutely beautiful and it’s probably some of the very best acting I have seen out of you.  I think back to every note that I’ve given you about being too big and then I thought, ‘What the (F-bomb)?  Where has this guy been?’  And I think I’ve finally figured it out.  The second that book is out of your hands, you become self-conscious and think you’ve got to give about ten percent more that you really need to.”

“You’re right.  That’s exactly how I feel,” I replied.

“Well, you don’t.  Even on Saturday, when you were filling in for me and Hatch, everything you did was natural, confident, and perfect because it just didn’t matter to you.  It was a night and day difference.  You’re a very good actor, Chris, but you’ve been getting in your own way.  Just remember, acting is reacting.  If you’re too small, I’ll pull you up.  But I wanted you to know I have been seriously impressed.”

At that moment, the awakening occurred.

Suddenly I understood acting.  I can’t explain it.  I just got it.  It made perfect sense and I left Scott’s office, grinning from ear to ear and I was ready to roll.  Suddenly small steps became giant leaps and my improvement was immediate.  I had a fully realized performance in Henry Watkins that year and I began to feel like an actor.

Don’t mistake this awakening for my suddenly getting roles left and right.  But now that I understood the game, I was able to continually refine my technique.  I actually did not get cast in another show that season by virtue of an audition.  However, on Easter Sunday, I did get a phone call from Cathy Kurz who said she needed someone funny and dependable to play the roles of the Haberdasher and the Tailor in The Taming of the Shrew and that I fit the bill perfectly.

I was very flattered at the compliment and accepted the roles.  To prepare myself for the role, I began listening to iambic pentameter so I could speak in that fashion. . .and learned at my first rehearsal that it was unnecessary.  Cathy wanted the actors to speak in a normal, conversational manner.  Fortunately, I had a few nights off of rehearsal so I could unlearn the beat of iambic pentameter.

I genuinely enjoyed playing this little role.  I had a truly funny scene including a ridiculous fight with the character of Grumio which had them rolling in the aisles.  When I watched myself on the recording, I actually enjoyed watching me.  At that moment, in gratitude to Scott and the BSB, I vowed that I would give the theatre first crack at me every season so I could perform great roles for them.

I would get that opportunity very soon as Cathy had decided to mount Hamlet as the season opener for the 2005-2006 season.  After my taste of Shakespeare, I was willing to take a stab at what is historically considered the greatest play in history.

And I began to prepare. . .

NEXT TIME:  In a new tale entitled Soaring our hero has a banner year in which he lands a breakthrough role.

Awakenings, Part 3

And so I ended up being part of Dracula and I was glad for the opportunity.  It was also one of the most challenging shows with which I have ever been involved.  For starters, it was a technical juggernaut.  The show had well over 200 light and sound cues.  On Tech Sunday, the day in which those cues are added to the show for the first time, I was at the theatre from 2pm until 2am and we did not tech the entire show.

We also did not have an entire script until a few days before we opened.  Fortunately, the cast was so talented that having to finish memorizing the show near opening night did not appear to be that much of a difficulty.  Finally, the show was monstrously (no pun intended) long.  At nearly 3.5 hours, we knew we had to have a top flight show in order to maintain an audience’s attention for that long of a time span.

As far as my acting went I received one note repeatedly.  “Chris, you’re too big!”  “Chris, pull it back.”  “Too big, Chris.”  I had once heard that a stage actor needed to do everything three times as big for a person at the rear of the balcony could understand it.  Whether the advice was bad or I was merely misapplying the advice, I still do not know, but what was important was that I finally had one of my flaws as an actor clearly defined and that was crucial to the upcoming awakening.

And the show was very successful.  It drew in good crowds for the BSB.  Good enough that Scott had decided to remount it the next year.  More importantly, I began to feel that I had a home theatre as I formed some very strong bonds of friendships with the actors and crew at this theatre.  Aside from Scott, I also formed strong friendships with Jerry Onik and David Sindelar who invited me to join their film group EFS (Exposed Film Society).  The group’s purpose is to watch the worst movies in existence.  I also became good friends with Daniel Dorner, whom you may remember from The Elephant Man.  Dan played Renfield and is truly one of the kindest people I have ever met.  This is a guy who is so sweet and lovable that he felt guilty when he found out that I had badly wanted the roles of Merrick and Renfield.  And that, my friends, is a class act.

While I was rehearsing Dracula, I was offered the opportunity to get involved in a different aspect of theatre.  Angela Dashner, at the time the resident stage manager of the BSB, asked if I would be willing to serve as an assistant stage manager on the BSB’s next show, You Can’t Take it With You.  I was intrigued by the possibility and agreed to do it.

I found out that stage managing is, in some ways, ten times more difficult than acting.  If acting were construction then stage manager is to director what foreman is to boss.  Cathy had the final word, but the stage manager runs everything.  The stage manager starts up rehearsals, serves as liaison between the actors and the director, checks up on actors, gives calls, sets the stage at the top of acts, and many other numerous duties.  In learning how to do this, I gained a whole new appreciation of this particular job.

And then tragedy struck.

Angela’s father died shortly before the show opened.  He had been sick during a great deal of the rehearsal period, so I had actually been a proper stage manager and not an assistant for a good deal of the process.  Angela bravely offered to still come and run a couple weeks of the show.  I told Scott and Cathy that I could run the show and to let her have the time needed to grieve.

It was grueling, but I did it and I can even say I did it well.  One of the actors, John Brennan, said it was the best stage managed show he had ever been a part of.  Not that there weren’t a couple of snafus along the way.

One of the actors, who shall remain nameless, liked to read when he wasn’t on stage.  There’s nothing wrong with that except an actor has a duty to be where he or she can hear calls.  One night, he didn’t hear me give the call for the top of act 2 and he missed his cue by about 30 seconds, so it was covered reasonably well.  The next night, he missed his cue again.  This time by several minutes.  Of course, this was the day that every reviewer in town came to see the show.  Even worse, this actor’s character introduces a character not yet seen in the show so it is absolutely vital for him to be on stage.

The cast improvised a conversation quite impressively and finally one of the actresses, Amy Kunz, looked out the door and said, “Hey , isn’t that (character’s name) that (missing character’s name) is always talking about?  Let’s invite her in.”  Thank heavens.  I was very glad she did that as I was about ready to leave the booth and hunt this guy down myself.

A few days later, I got a letter from Cathy thanking me for all of my dedication to the theatre and my act of bravery in taking over as stage manager when I was only supposed to be an assistant.  She also apologized profusely for the actor’s sloppiness.  Cathy told me that she, Amy, and Scott were proud to have someone like me involved in theatre and if there were ever anything she could do to please not hesitate to ask.  I was very moved and feeling pretty good after that letter.

A few months later, Scott contacted me and told me he was adapting the movie His Girl Friday for the stage and he wanted me to play a role.  He cast me as Virgil Pinkus and he was a great deal of fun.  Pinkus kind of saves the day for the protagonists of the story, but he is a very sweet guy.  He comes off as stupid, but he is really just uber naïve and innocent.  I took my own innocence and ratcheted it up about a million degrees.

I felt good about that role because it was the first time in a long time that I really felt good as an actor.  Scott told me I was funny as hell.  Dan told me that I took a one note character and got as much mileage out of him as I could.  Cathy gushed about my shouting of her favorite line of mine, “She’s good enough for me.”  I was even noticed by the critics.  One of whom said I hit the right notes in a minor role and another saying that I was the dumb blonde even though I was neither blonde nor a woman and that I made the most out of Pinkus.

I made some serious strides as an actor that year and began to envision a brighter future for myself on the boards.  As great as the year had been, I had no way of knowing that my next show would bring about the awakening and then things were really going to change for me.

To be concluded

Awakenings, Part 2

As we saw in Part 1, I was so excited about the upcoming production of Dracula at the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company, or BSB, that I didn’t want to wait for announcements.  So I wrote a letter of introduction to Cathy Kurz, the owner of the theatre and asked when the auditions were going to be held.

I received a response the next day, but it wasn’t very promising.  Cathy informed me that her husband, Scott (and author of the adaptation), was casting the play as he wrote it, but that she would pass my information along to him in case he had any roles he needed to fill.  I was very disappointed, but it was Scott’s original work and he had every right to do whatever he saw fit with it.

My spirits perked up the next day when Scott wrote me an e-mail.  He said that he was casting the show as he wrote it, but that he would like me to come by the theatre for an audition.  FANTASTIC!!!  A few years later, I found out that Cathy asked Scott why he was auditioning me when he had not planned to hold any auditions for the show.  And he told her that he had been impressed with my courage.  As he said, I didn’t know him from spit and took the chance to ask about being involved with the show and he wanted to reward that forthrightness.

Scott had wanted me to come to the auditions of Othello, but said he would understand if I were uncomfortable reading for a Shakespeare play.  As an English major, I was quite comfortable reading Shakespeare, but I had no experience speaking Shakespeare.  His plays are written in a format known as iambic pentameter, which is commonly used in poetry, so I told him that I didn’t have any performance experience with Shakespeare.  Scott understood and he planned to have me read some scenes from Cyrano de Bergerac.

So I went to the theatre and met Scott who seemed a most friendly and gregarious guy.  He was also the most skilled actor I had ever seen.  He was going to be playing Iago in Othello and he spoke Shakespeare as naturally as I spoke English.  His timing and phrasing were unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  I remember thinking that I could learn a lot from this guy.

Scott and I shot the breeze a bit and I told him about what a great novel it was and how I was so thrilled that a proper adaptation was going to be done.  Scott told me some of his ideas for the show, some of which were quite ambitious such as a swordfight between Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing where Van Helsing would fight off Dracula with a sword and crucifix.  He asked me what character I was interested in.  Without hesitation, I picked Renfield.  He said he had already cast the role.  I said that was OK because all of the principals were interesting.

Then he had me read some of Cyrano de Bergerac.  I tackled the read and when I finished Scott told me I read very well.  He adjusted my intensity level and had me read it again.  Then Scott said I had taken a big step with the second reading and wanted to see if I could take another.  He then threw a series of changes at me and asked me if we were moving too fast.  I said I thought I was getting it and he agreed saying I took direction very well.  I went through the scene again.  Finally Scott had me read with another actor.  Then he said, “I don’t think I need to see any more.  I really see you as Seward, possibly Harker.  I’m not sure yet.”  Then he said he would be in touch.

Needless to say I was beyond excited because I thought I was going to be playing one of those two roles.  While I waited, I found out that Cathy still needed to fill some supernumerary roles in the BSB season opener, Inherit the Wind.  I auditioned for it and she cast me as the hot dog vendor, Mr. Bannister.  There wasn’t anything flashy about the role, but what was important was that I met Jeremy Earl at my first rehearsal and we chatted a bit and I told him I was going to be in Dracula.  Jeremy, who would be playing Quincey Morris, responded, “Oh!  So you missed our first readthrough?”

To say I was surprised would be an understatement.  I was still dead certain that I was going to be playing Seward or Harker, so the logical explanation was that I must have missed an e-mail or call.  I felt terrible.  Scott had given me this extra consideration and I had somehow missed the first readthrough.  To be frank, I felt like an idiot.  I wrote Scott a letter apologizing for missing the first readthrough and asking if there were going to be a second one.

The next day at the theatre, I found Scott working with his Count Dracula, David Mainelli, and I sat down to watch them and Scott noticed me and said, “Hey.”  A few minutes later, he finished working with David and then came up to me and said, “Can we talk?”  I said we could and we stepped outside.  Scott looked a little worried which worried me and then he finally said, “Chris, the last time we talked, did you think you had been offered a role?”

I felt my heart leap into my throat and I said yes and Scott asked me why I thought that.  I told him what he had said at the audition and he didn’t quite remember saying that, but I knew that he had.  Then I realized how it could be the same line, but with 2 different meanings.  I had taken his statement as one entire thought, meaning that he wasn’t certain if he wanted me to play Seward or Harker.  His statement was actually 2 separate thoughts.  “I’m not sure yet” referred to his not being sure if he was going to cast me yet.  Scott thought I had sounded upset in the e-mail and I suppose some people might have been.  I had just been confused and felt bad about missing the first readthrough and letting him down.

Scott explained that he wasn’t certain if I was going to fit in the cast, but was planning on having auditions for the role of Jonathan Harker in the near future.  We shook hands and left the matter at that.  Later that night, he wrote me an e-mail and apologized for the misunderstanding and said he was glad we talked and that he would be in touch soon.

As tech week began for Inherit the Wind, Scott approached me one night and said he had a Dracula script for me and that he wanted me to look at an original role for a character named Watkins, a trustee at the asylum.  Just to be certain, I asked him if this was a role he wanted me to read for or play.  Scott said that he had written the role with me in mind and that it was mine if I wanted it.  I feared he felt bad because of the misunderstanding and threw in this role to make me feel better.  I didn’t want to see the story compromised, so I told him I didn’t want the role if it was added because of the misunderstanding.   I wanted to earn my way into the show.  He assured me I had earned it.

He said he had been having trouble with a scene in the show.  It was too flat and, try as he might, he could not fix it.  Then he finally gave up and pondered about where or if, I might fit in the show.  Scott said that’s when he realized if he added a second character to the problem scene, it would spice it up.  Based on that I accepted the role.

With Dracula, a new road began for me in theatre.  But it wasn’t quite time for the awakening yet.

To be continued

Awakenings, Part 1

With time, I managed to find the silver lining of The Elephant Man, but at the time, I thought I was kaput as a performer.

I attempted several auditions after that crushing blow, but my heart simply wasn’t into any of them.  But that changed when I auditioned for Arsenic and Old Lace at the Playhouse.  I have made several references to “flashes” I would sometimes get at an audition when I would have a sudden burst of inspiration and have an exceptionally good read.  I think the effort I put into preparing John Merrick began to unlock the secret of acting in my mind.  The door was only open a crack, but my “flashes” happened more frequently and with greater duration and then I auditioned for that show.

From the beginning till the end of that audition, I was simply red hot.  I had great reads all night and I was having a high old time.  When the night was over, Judith Hart, the director, took the time to shake my hand and tell me that I had truly funny reads and even another auditioner told me how funny I was.  Judith even told me she was going to call me back and I found the beginnings of my theatre confidence once more.

I did go to the callbacks, but now I have to make a confession.  I may have erred in doing so.  You see, I never was formally called back.  Since Judith told me she was going to call me back, I figured that was the notification so I went.  Nobody looked at me funny or asked me what I was doing there, so maybe I was right to come, but sometimes I wonder.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  The callback.  Again, I had fairly strong reads, but I took a long look around and noticed I was about 15 years younger than anybody else there and I had a sneaking suspicion that an older cast was going to be selected.  And that is exactly what happened.

Still, I was feeling better about theatre and then fate seemed to hand me a huge chance to redeem myself when I read that the Circle Theatre was going to have auditions for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  While John Merrick is my dream role, the role of Billy Bibbitt (the young, stuttering, dominated by his mother patient) was a close second.  (Charly Gordon in Flowers for Algernon is #3 for those who may be wondering.)

I went to the auditions and again had a solid first night reading various roles.  I went again the second night and found myself on stage reading for Billy the entire time.  Again, I allowed myself the hope that I might have landed a great role just due to the quality and quantity of time that I had spent on stage.

A week later I received a letter in the mail from the Circle and I felt my spirits plummet as a letter in the mail could only mean one thing:  rejection.  “How could this have happened again?” I thought.  I ripped open the envelope and snapped out the letter and, to my shock, I discovered that the entire show had been canceled because the theatre had been unable to cast the key role of Chief Bromden.  Eleven years later, I found out that I would have played Billy had the show been produced.

I finally caught a little bit of a break when the Playhouse produced the comedy, No Sex Please, We’re British.  I had hoped to audition for it, but a monster blizzard buried the city on the first night of auditions and I was unable to make the second night of auditions.  I wrote Carl Beck to find out if I might still be able to audition, but discovered that auditions had occurred on the night of the blizzard and that Carl had enough actors show to be able to cast the production.  However, he did say there was a supernumerary role of a deliveryman if I were interested.

I accepted.

It was a tiny step back into the world.  Looking back now, the role was good for my confidence, if not exactly a stellar performance.  I began to regain my confidence.  About May of 2002, I wrote the Circle Theatre and asked if “Cuckoo” was going to be mounted in the summertime.  Instead, I found out from that the theatre was going to mount Our Town instead and was floored when the theatre owner, Doug Marr, offered me the role of Doc Gibbs without virtue of an audition.

Now that was a much needed jolt of confidence.

And I had a good run as Doc Gibbs.  I was even mentioned in the review of the play as being in good voice, if a little young for the role.  Still I had really started to believe in myself again as an actor.

While rehearsing for the play, most of the theatres announced their seasons and I saw that a theatre called the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company was going to mount an original production of Dracula based on the novel.  A truthful adaptation of this story had never been done on stage or screen and I REALLY wanted to be part of it.

I wrote a letter to the theatre owner, Cathy Kurz, not knowing that this  decision was going to one day lead to the awakening.

To be continued