The Empty Plough really rocked me, but, like the mighty phoenix, I rose again.
With my senior year at Creighton fast approaching, I vowed to do everything within my power to get cast. The first audition of that year was Children of a Lesser god. This play had an added level of difficulty due to the use of sign language throughout the entirety of the play. I decided this would be a good way to help me stand out from the crowd, so, in addition to preparing one of the roles, I also taught myself the ASL alphabet.
I was the first reader of the night and I met Alan Klem, who would eventually become responsible for a key moment in my avocation. Alan seemed impressed that I had learned the ASL alphabet already and gave me a monologue to read. And I gave a fairly good showing in the read. I must have read well enough because Alan moved me to the next phase of the audition which was to do the same scene again, but do it with no words and still get the meaning across to a deaf audience.
I was caught flat footed by that request.
However, I decided to go down swinging. I gave a Herculean effort, but I knew it wasn’t working. I looked at Alan and I knew he knew I knew it wasn’t working. When I finished, I was dismissed with a brief, “Thank you.” I knew I didn’t need to examine the cast list later that week, but I did anyway. And, to no surprise, I was not cast.
The one act festival made its return this year, only this time (and ever since) it was directed by theatre students. I mostly read for a show called Carwash and I had another solid showing. This time I even lasted until the bitter end as I was asked to stay for a final examination as the director, Brent Tierney, kept several actors just to examine our appearances against one another. Again, it was another defeat as I failed to find my name on the cast list.
Needless to say, I was really starting to get frustrated with the whole process. There are very few things that match the colossal risk of the audition. If you audition properly (even if you don’t do it well), you open yourself up and leave it all hang out. And to be that open and to get denied again and again can take a tremendous toll because it feels so personal, yet is not. It is never a director’s intent to make you feel bad. A director wants you to be the answer to his or her casting problem, but he or she looks for a lot more than just the acting. It’s how you look, how you sound, how you look compared to others, etc. The director is looking for the whole. An actor can only control his or her acting and that counts for a very small part of the casting process.
But I digress. I had one final chance to get cast. Creighton was going to produce a play called Death of a Blind, Old Man and it was a modern day interpretation of Oedipus at Colonus. As I went through the audition, I had another flash. I noticed that everyone auditioning for the role of Oedipus played him like Superman. I knew that the only thing super about Oedipus at this point was his ability to suffer. When I got the chance to read for him, I jerked the rug right out from under his feet. I made him a truly pitiable, tragic figure and I noted that several people I was reading with really got into this take on the character.
The director, Bill Hutson, stopped the read with a booming, “Good.” I felt really proud of my work that night and as I sat down, I was congratulated by a friend of mine for an awesome read. A short while later, Bill asked a few people to stay and dismissed the rest of us, but said, “Just because I’m asking you to leave doesn’t mean you haven’t been cast.”
That Friday, I rushed over to the Performing Arts Center as soon as I got on the campus. I was tingling with anticipation as I approached the cast line. Nervously I ran my finger down the list and saw that my name was nowhere to be found.
I leaned my head against the call board and heaved a heavy sigh. I just wanted to crumple to the floor and vanish. For four years, I had given my all and I couldn’t even land a bit part. I thought my theatre days were over.
But I still wanted to be involved. So I signed up for an Oral Interpretation of Literature class in the spring semester of my senior year. As I went through the class, I learned that I slowly won my teacher, Alan Klem, over. Many of my performances were well received and Alan dubbed me the master of dialects as I seemed to have a knack for mimicking various accents. Towards the end of the term, Alan stopped me before class and said he had just received the graduating seniors list and saw that my name was on it. I admitted that I was graduating and he said, “I’m really sorry to hear that. I wish you had about 2 years left to go because I can see you going a long way in plays.”
With that statement, I found the strength to go on for a little longer. I had recently discovered community theatre and I decided that I would give theatre one more year and if I could not get cast in that time, then I would call it quits.
And that’s when things took a turn. . .
To be continued