Faith vs Logic: War of Ideologies Expertly Waged in Freud’s Last Session

Does God exist?

This question has confounded mankind for generations and the continuing debate blossoms wonderfully in the drama, Freud’s Last Session currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

It is 1939 on the eve of World War II and Sigmund Freud (Bernie Clark), the father of psychoanalysis, has a visitor, C.S. Lewis (Nick Zadina), author of the Chronicles of Narnia.  Freud is a militant atheist and Lewis was known as the Apostle to the Skeptics and their discussion of this topic is the thrust of this play.

On the face of it, it may seem like a rather dry subject, but author, Mark St Germain, has crafted a wry, crackling debate which is only further enhanced by the stellar acting from Clark and Zadina.

As Freud, Bernie Clark sparkles as Sigmund Freud.  Aside from being nearly a dead ringer for the real Freud, Clark does an astounding job at portraying Freud’s analytical nature, logical intelligence, and his suffering.  This play occurs near the end of Freud’s life where he suffered from oral cancer and Clark absolutely nails the horrific pain Freud must have undergone with constant coughing, gravelly voice, and a scene near the end where Freud desperately tries to remove his painful prosthetic tugs at the heartstrings.

Nick Zadina is equally up to the challenge as C.S. Lewis.  Presenting Lewis as an affable professor (diametrically opposite from the gruff Freud), Zadina is up for the thrust and parry of his intellectual duel with the psychoanalyst as he is able to construct logical arguments of his own which soundly deflect the relentless logic of Freud.

Despite the fact that neither character can see eye to eye on this particular topic, both actors do an outstanding job of presenting the debate as a mere difference of opinion between two professionals.  Both men staunchly defend their ground, yet have a deep respect, even friendship, with each other during moments such as an air raid siren blaring through the night sky or when Lewis aids Freud in removing his prosthetic.

Not that the play is completely without flaw.  The play is a bit static, but is livened by the direction of Kevin Lawler who has helped his actors find the perfect beats which keeps the play moving and interesting, in spite of the minimal movement.  At this performance there was also a little bobbling of lines, stepping on cues, and a moment where one actor may have gone up on his lines.  But this did not distract from the epic storytelling.

“One of us is a fool,” says Freud near the end of the play.  But I disagree.  What we have are 2 excellent representatives for the debate of the existence of God and a play that will entertain you as well as make you think.

Freud’s Last Session continues until Nov 17 in the Howard Drew Theatre at the Omaha Community Playhouse located at 6915 Cass St.  Performances run Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Ticket prices are $35 ($21 for students).  Reservations can be made at 402-553-0800.

Viva Las Vegas, Day 3 or A Day of Relaxation

Another day has ended here in Las Vegas and, as always, it was most enjoyable.

The day started off right as the sun decided to show its face again.  Today’s agenda was a pretty simple one:  a trip to Qua Baths and Spa at Caesar’s Palace.

I love going to the spa.  Do you know what’s even better than going to the spa?  Going to the spa and having the casino pay for it.  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

For the third straight time, I used my winnings to pay for my spa day.  And Qua Baths gets my highest recommendation for a visit.  I will warn you that it’s not cheap.  But just remember that the couple hundred dollars you pay for your treatment also gets you into the spa for the entire day as well as the use of all of its facilities.  So if you make a day out of it, it becomes a bit more economical.

Qua Baths and Spa has routinely been voted the best spa in Las Vegas and is one of the best spas in the country.  Luxurious doesn’t even begin to describe this place.  From the moment you enter, you will be treated like royalty.  The spa is deceptively big.  Almost a city unto itself.

As always, I always begin my day with a brisk workout.  After using the gymnasium, I proceeded to use the Roman Rituals (traditional Roman baths (hot, cold, and moderate), Inhalation and shaving room, herbal steam bath, Jacuzzi, and Arctic Room).

Arctic room?  What the heck is that, you say?

The Arctic room is one of the hallmarks of Qua Baths.  It is a room where it snows, but don’t worry the seats are heated.

So what, you may think?

The room is actually based on the scientific principle that watching snow fall actually reduces stress and relaxes you and believe me it is the truth.  It also serves as a dandy cool down after a hard workout.

After a few hours of relaxing, it was time for my deep tissue massage.  Now I have enjoyed many a massage in my life, but this was the first time I had tried the deep tissue variety.  It truly isn’t your typical massage and, at points, was a bit intense as Sara worked me over with elbows and knuckles, but it was well worth it as after 80 minutes, you could have mopped me off the floor.

From there it was back to the Roman Rituals for another half hour and then back to the Rio.

John treated us to the Rio’s famed Seafood Buffet and it was delicious.  Expect to pay $45 per person if you want to eat here, but it is excellent.  I’d highly recommend a bowl of the Seafood Gumbo.  I’m a pretty lightweight eater, but even I indulged a little more than intended this time.

And that wrapped it up for the night.  Tomorrow is back to reality and then I will begin to plan my next adventure.

Until the next time. . .

Viva Las Vegas, Day 2 or Where Does He Get His Luck?

Another day in Las Vegas and it was actually quite chilly today.  But it’s not going to stand in the way of this adventure.

I was feeling in a particularly good mood, so I bought breakfast for my companions at the Port O’Calls Buffet at the Gold Coast Hotel & Casino.  This is a very reasonably priced buffet and the food tastes great, especially the French Toast which is the most delicious I have enjoyed.  There is actually a story behind this delicacy.

The second time I ever went to Vegas with Mat and John (and a third friend, Matt Haynie), Haynie, John, and I enjoyed the French Toast, but Mat was too full to enjoy a piece.  The three of us raved about how wonderful it was and Mat thought we were jerking his chain as this raving continued for the next year.

Mat and I returned to Vegas a year later where we again ate at Gold Coast and I asked Mat if he were going to eat the French Toast.  He said he would just to get me off his back.  I saw him slice off a bite and pop it into his mouth.  Immediately, his eyes popped open and revealed the truth of the incredible taste.  Mat’s expression said he didn’t want to admit how good it was, but he finally grunted, “D–n it!!  It is good.”

After a hearty meal, we returned to the Rio where my legendary luck surfaced again.  I am not much of a gambler, but 9 times out of 10 I am unusually lucky.  We found a Lord of the Rings slot machine where I did decently, ending $40 ahead.  Then I attempted to play a Judge Judy machine and wasn’t having much luck and I decided to take one more spin.

BOOM!  9,000 penny jackpot.

From there, with the aid of good spins and bonuses, I ran it up to being $250 ahead.

After my profitable morning, Mat and I headed over to Harrah’s where we enjoyed the Mac King Comedy Magic Show.  This has been voted the best afternoon show in Vegas for a number of years and is well deserved.  Mr. King is an excellent magician with an easygoing, likable manner.  Even better, he’s clean.  This is a very family friendly show and one of the most affordable shows in Vegas.  Top tickets only cost about $50, plus tax.

After the show, Mat and I ran to the Mirage so I could try to find the Ghostbusters machine that was so generous to me last year.  I found it and, this time, it wasn’t quite so giving and it ate some of my winnings.  A Superman machine managed to dig me out of the loss a little.  I then decided to give the other Ghostbusters machine one last chance.  KA-POW!!  Started earning some more profits.

After I felt I had bled the luck out of the machine, we returned to the Rio where Mat took a break and I proceeded to have a little bad luck and lost a portion of my winnings back to Judge Judy (and blackjack and Spider-Man).

That evening, I finally got to go to downtown Las Vegas for the first time.  It was truly a unique experience.  I enjoyed the Fremont Street Experience (a massive light show), saw a street magician, and proceeded to lose some more money on a Godzilla slot machine and a The Price is Right machine at the legendary 4 Queens Hotel & Casino.

From there, my cohorts and I traveled to Binions where Mat spied a Superman II slot machine and I felt I had to play it.  I hit a bonus where I won 3 2,000 penny jackpots in a row, so now I had recouped all the money I had lost and then some.

After a tiring, but fulfilling day, we returned to the Rio for a well deserved rest.

Viva Las Vegas, Day 1

Hello, faithful readers!!

We’re going to switch gears and move into the travel element of this blog.

As you’ve gathered from the title, this time my travels have taken me to Las Vegas.  And, as we all know, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. . .except for what goes on my blog.  Lol!

I made my way to Vegas via Frontier Airlines and I must say if you’re thinking of using this airline. . .don’t.  Nothing personal against it.  It was a comfortable flight and my record of flights arriving early now stretches to 12.  My issue with this airline is that it charges for everything.  I had packed my backpack and when I checked it online, I found that Frontier would charge me $25 to carry on my backpack, but only $20 if I checked luggage.  Into the suitcase went my stuff.

They also don’t have complimentary snacks and drinks on their flight unless you bought the ticket directly through Frontier.  Everybody else has to pay.

But as I said, the flight was comfortable.  Upon arriving, I was met by my good friend, Mat O’Donnell, and off we went to our hotel:  The Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino. 

This is usually our hotel of choice.  It is a little long in the tooth, but maintains a certain charm and they are recently in the midst of remodeling their rooms.  We upgraded to a new Sambia Suite for an extra $20 a night and it is a very comfortable and festive room.  I’ll try to get pictures in my next update.

We met our travel companions, John Velasquez and Bob Schulte, and we all greeted each other in our time honored tradition of heckling each other.  After playing catch-up, John (who is a Diamond Club and Seven Stars companion member) took us up to the Diamond Lounge where we enjoyed some drinks, food, and conversation.

From there, Mat and I made our way to Planet Hollywood where we had dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s BURGR restaurant.  Now if you’re looking for a bite to eat in Vegas, GO HERE!!!!  It is a Ramsay restaurant, so you can expect to pay at least $30 for your meal, but it is well worth it.

Mat and I split an order of hand cut Just Fries which were hot and fresh and came with a curry ketchup and a chipotle ketchup.  Give the curry ketchup a try.

For the main course, I enjoyed the Hell’s Kitchen burger (a burger with roasted jalapenos, toasted tomato, avocado and aisi cheese).  Mat savored the Farm Burger (duck breast bacon, sharp English cheddar, and a fried egg).  This was the best burger I have ever eaten.  The presentation was absolutely sensational and it was hot, cooked to perfection, and deliciously juicy.

From there, Mat and I returned to the hotel where we rested up for today’s shenanigans.

Until the next time.

The Miracle Show

I was led to the miracle show by my good friend, David Sindelar.  He told me he was going to be auditioning for a show called Leaving Iowa over at the Bellevue Little Theatre.  Now that theatre is quite a ways from where I live, so in order for me to make the long drive out there, I really have to believe in the quality of the show.

I looked up the synopsis of the script and found it most fascinating.  The play focuses on a Boston writer named Don Browning who returns to his hometown of Winterset, IA for the baptism of his nephew.  While visiting his home, the family finds his late father’s ashes in the basement.  Don, who has reluctantly returned home to begin with, remembers his dad’s last request to have his ashes spread on the family farm in Mt Union, IA.  Don decides to fulfill his dad’s request only to find that the family farm has been turned into a grocery store.  Don spends the remainder of the play trying to find the ideal spot to spread dear old dad while reminiscing about the final family vacation to Hannibal, MO and mending the gap between him and his late father.

It was a nice slice of life play that seemed to have a little bit of everything from slapstick comedy to achingly dramatic moments and so I decided to go ahead and audition for the show myself.

I had a great audition.  I was having fun.  I was enjoying myself and what I was doing seemed to be working.  My old friend, Ron Chvala, also attended the audition and he told me that I was in rare form after the audition ended.

That Tuesday I got a call from the play’s director, Sonia Keffer, who said she would like to cast me as Don.

SAY WHAAAAAAATTTTTT??????????

Boy was I excited!!  But I tried to keep a professional tone as I accepted the offer, then got all excited on Facebook when I started off my post with SWEET SASSY MOLASSEY!!!

In a nearly dreamlike state, I attended the first readthrough.  I almost had to pinch myself.  I just couldn’t believe that the long drought had finally ended and in such spectacular fashion.  I had finally won a good and proper leading role as this was a fully published and copyrighted play.  The whole cast was just a group of wonderful people and that first readthrough was such a blast.  Yes, it seemed everything was falling into place.

And then I almost had it all jerked from my grasp.

I had been going through a bit of a difficult period and I was glad to have this show to work on.  Leaving Iowa was a lot like W;t in the sense that Don, like Vivian Bearing, not only serves as the show’s central character, but he is also the narrator of the story.  In a 2 hour play, Don is only off stage for about 3 minutes.  I had more dialogue in this show than I did with all of my other roles put together.

I wasn’t worried about learning the dialogue as I have always had a particular knack for memorization and am usually off book in a matter of days.  I was making good progress on learning my lines, but still dealing with my difficulties and one night it all crashed in on me.

I was diligently studying my lines and had 40 pages committed to memory when my hands suddenly started shaking like leaves on a tree.  I broke out in a cold sweat and nearly started hyperventilating.  I was in the throes of a panic attack.

I have since learned that in panic attacks, the mind tends to gravitate towards some sort of fear.  Unfortunately, I had been working on the play when my attack struck so my mind was afflicted with the actor’s nightmare.  I began to fear forgetting all of my lines in the middle of a performance with no means of salvation because Don was alone a lot.

I had hoped that a good night’s sleep would right everything, but I couldn’t get to sleep and my mind would not turn off.  Nothing would stick in my mind and the lines I did know, I suddenly could not recall.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t want to give up my part.  I had worked too hard for it.  But it was the only thing I felt I had any control over at that point.

That Friday afternoon, I had a long talk with Sonia and I was fully prepared to bow out of the show, even though I feared it would spell the end of all of my theatre aspirations.

Thank goodness for a person like Sonia.

She paid me a very high compliment by telling me that I was her one and only choice for Don and that she didn’t have a second choice to fall back on.  Sonia said she was a big believer in talk therapy and recommended that I talk to someone.  She wouldn’t let me give up my part and asked that I take a few days to give me time to speak to someone.  Sonia said she believed with her whole heart that I could handle the role, but would understand if my real life had to come first.

I did get in to speak to a counselor and got a lot of things off my chest that needed getting off.  I felt as if a tremendous weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.   That night I went home and immediately ran through the show from start to finish.  Even when I thought nothing was being committed to memory, my subconscious had managed to store it away and now my recall was back.

I texted Sonia on Tuesday and let her know that things were in much more balance and that I would be able to continue with the show.  Sonia was delighted.

It was a little slow going for me at first because I still felt a little nervous, but I still remember that glorious night when it all came together in my head.  We had been working the scene where young Don and his sister (sensationally played by Mary Trecek) successfully badger dear old Dad (charmingly realized by Mark Kocsis) into taking them to Ghost Caverns.  During our comically exaggerated celebration, I executed a cartwheel and found Don.

From that point, my development was exponential.  By opening night I and the entire cast were rocking and rolling.  Our reservations started off slowly, but after the word of mouth got around, our houses doubled and tripled by the second weekend and we nearly sold out a couple of performances during our last weekend.  Our producer, Mark Ferrill, said it was the best show he’d seen in his association with the theatre and I think it was the most commercially successful non-musical, the BLT had had in years.

Doug Blackburn came out and said it was the best thing he had seen me (and several other of the cast do).  He especially praised the physicality changes between the older and younger versions of our characters.

The newspaper review was glowing and I reprint it for you below:

Enjoy Trip in ‘Leaving Iowa’ by Adam Klinker—Reprinted from Bellevue Leader

In as much as Saturday evening was my very first spent at the Bellevue Little Theatre, let me first shame myself for the nearly 34 year journey it took me to get to this splendid artistic asset for Olde Towne and the metro area entire.

That said, my first reason for visiting–the theater’s production of the comedy “Leaving Iowa,” running weekends through June 16–has me greatly looking forward to a much shorter return voyage for future performances.

With “Leaving Iowa,” Sonia Keffer, herself a first-timer in the BLT director’s seat, has created a wonderful picaresque of sorts around yet another rapidly fading thread within the American social fabric:  the family vacation.

The play’s intrepid and, indeed, unpredictable Browning family of Winterset, IA (“Home of the Duke!”), are your typical middle-class Midwestern family–or what would have passed for them a decade or two ago when we were not so beholden to longer hours at the office and in front of screens and had longer attention spans for such things as overland travel.

Following two narrative paths–one a series of flashbacks to a wild summer road trip and the other set in the present and involving Don, the eldest son of the Browning clan, and a similarly mock tragicomic adventure to find a suitable resting place for his father’s ashes–the comedy is both funny and a sometimes poignant look at what we gain and lose in growing up both as a people and as a nation.

As Don, Chris Elston is spot-on as a shelled-over, middle-aged newspaper columnist now living in Boston and trying hard to keep his childhood at bay.  When he returns to Iowa somewhat grudgingly for a family get-together, he finds an excuse to get out of the house and, for once, play the dutiful son in fulfilling his father’s last wish to have his remains spread on the site of his homeplace in Mount Union, Iowa; all this transpiriing three years after his father’s death and the ashes stored unceremoniously but perhaps fittingly atop the basement fuse box.

The discovery that his father’s boyhood home is now a grocery store sets Don off on a new mission–dredging up all those memories of vacations past in hopes of finding a spot to stand as a fitting final repose for the old man.

The flashbacks take us to a family trip to Hannibal, MO, boyhood home of Mark Twain.  Along the way, we are treated to marvelous performances from Danielle Smith as Mom and Mary Trecek as Sis.

Smith’s is a wonderfully performed, slyly witty go as the typical vacation mediator between both Dad and the kids and the kids themselves.  Her turn at the wheel of the station wagon is just how I remember my own mother on those rare occasions when my father relinquished the driving duties but could never quite contain his desire to remain captain of the ship.

Trecek is also hilarious as the bratty and manipulative little sister who knows just when to use her powers for good and ill.

But in this cast with lots of big lines and laughs, veteran actor but BLT rookie Mark Kocsis, in the role of Dad, is nearly perfect.  In what could easily be the stereotypical display of fatherly buffoonery, Kocsis goes just enough over the top to remind you of your own dear old dad gushing over the first seedling mile of the Lincoln Highway and for the geographically-inclined, will also have you laughing knowingly about how an expedition from Winterset to Hannibal got sidetracked all the way to Malta, IL.

At one point, Don says, “Fascinating was the family vacation F-word’ and Kocsis’ neverending and exuberant fascination is funny and endearing.

The play really does boil down to the long, strange trip involved in the father-son relationship and some of the best scenes are in Don’s humorous, sometimes rueful soliloquies while Dad hovers nearby.

Ron Chvala and Sherry Josland Fletcher, in more than half a dozen roles each as locals in the roadside stops made by Don and the Browning family, add a delightful bit of slapstick.  The Civil War bayonet demonstration between Chvala and Kocsis is some of the best physical comedy I’ve seen on the stage.

Much of the action takes place in a car and, on a stage, the dynamic of this can be tricky.  But the kinetic and comic acumen of the four actors playing the Brownings makes it truly seem, even in a stationary setting, that we’re going places.

With any voyage, there comes a point when it can seem we’re going on too long, but the moment here is kept to a minimum with a well-rendered and thoughtful conclusion for which Keffer and her actors are to be commended.

Truly, the Brownings ultimately understand the old maxim:  getting there is more than half the fun and sometimes, especially in our sped-up America, the anticipation over simply arriving at the destination can end in a letdown.

I can’t say that at all for my first tour of the BLT.  “Leaving Iowa” is a journey to take and, moreover, to savor.

Word of my performance spread throughout the theatre community.  People who hadn’t seen the show came up to me and said they had heard how fabulous I had been.  Sonia told me she was proud of me for having stuck with it and so was I.  I had faced my greatest adversity and soundly trounced it.

I even learned that I had received a number of nomination votes for Best Actor for that year’s Theatre Arts Guild Awards and the show received a nomination for Best Comedy.

But the best thing I received was the peace of mind that had long eluded me in theatre.  I had finally reached the top of the mountain and now knew once and for all that I was a good actor.  Even if I never get cast again, I can look back at Leaving Iowa and say I did that one great thing.

And that brings us up to the present day.  I hope you have enjoyed reading these anecdotes as much as I have writing them.  And I look forward to sharing my new adventures with you.

Coming Back

After 16 years, the impossible had happened.  I had actually walked away from theatre.  I was so tired.

And the break was good for me.  When I do something, I don’t do it halfway, so after 16 years of having gone full tilt, it was small wonder that something finally had to give.  During my hiatus, I didn’t give the stage a single thought and I didn’t really miss it, so I knew I had made the right choice.

My sabbatical lasted for about six months.  After that time, I got an e-mail from Doug Marr asking me if I would be a part of the Circle Theatre’s Christmas show, Which Way to the North Pole?  My confidence was still severely shaken, but I thought this might be a way to see if my interest in theatre had been restored.  I accepted the offer and began my first halting steps back to the boards.

I was going to play Gunar, a hippie, revolutionary elf.  At our first readthrough, I felt incredibly nervous, but as I started to read, it felt like I had returned to an old friend.  My imaginative powers had returned.  I felt inspired and ideas flowed like a waterfall for this character.

Gunar became one of my favorite characters and I truly had a lot of fun playing the part and it went a long way towards restoring my depleted confidence.  After our opening night performance, one of my fellow castmates told me I had been the favorite character of her father and that reminded me that I am pretty good at this acting thing after all.

While I was breathing life into Gunar, I decided that maybe it was time to try an audition.  I set my sights on Deathtrap over at the Playhouse which would be guest directed by Matthew Pyle.  As soon as I got to the audition, I saw that fate was going to try to poke me in the eye.

I had hoped that rehearsals were going to start in December, resulting in the missing of only a few days of rehearsal.  Instead I saw that rehearsals were going to start the Monday after Thanksgiving.  This meant that in a 42 day rehearsal period, I would have missed 24 days of rehearsal.  I was beaten before I had a chance to begin.

Fortunately, Matthew let me read anyway.  Since I knew that getting cast was impossible, I just let it all hang out on stage.  I enjoyed myself immensely and ended up carving out a fine audition.  My favorite moment was when I got to improvise a scene with my old friend, Ron Chvala (from Twelve Angry Men and Mister Roberts). 

In this scene, we were supposed to be the 2 murderers planning the show’s central crime.  The other actors felt the need to take the planning into a comedic direction.  As I watched the others perform, I turned to look at Ron and we made a knowing nod to each other.  Clearly what was needed was a more realistic, dramatic approach.

Ron and I played the scene with deadly intentions.  I was particularly pleased with the sinister attitude I was able to give to the younger man (who was the more dangerous of the two).  Ron and I developed a nice scene and any laughter we got was the result of natural, dark humor that grew organically from our improvisation as opposed to any attempt to be funny.

The rejection was a foregone conclusion, but I was pleased that I had hopefully made a good impression on a new director and, again, I had fun.

I actually had 5 more auditions that year and 3 of them carried very interesting tales.

The first was for the drama, Clybourne Park for SNAP Productions.  M Michele Phillips was directing this one and it was fitting as she had given me my first opportunity and now she was about to give me a rebirth of sorts.

To date, Clybourne Park has been the most grueling audition I have undertaken.  I was on stage for nearly 3 ½ hours reading one role or another and nearly the entire show was read during that time frame.  It was one of two auditions I had been part of where nearly every actor was operating on an equal level.  Nobody was really able to get the edge on anybody as nearly all had given viable interpretations.  When I finished the marathon session, Michele took a moment to shake my hand and said, “Masterful reading.”

Thus began the waiting game. 

One thing I have always appreciated about auditioning for SNAP or Shelterbelt is that they always call to let you know that you have not been cast as opposed to a form letter.  Well, I waited a few weeks and didn’t hear anything.  Then one of my friends posted on Facebook that he had been cast in the show.  I asked another friend of mine if he had heard anything and he said he had been contacted shortly after Christmas and had been told he would not be cast.

What did this mean?  Was I still in the running?  Had they forgotten to contact me?  I had some possibilities on the horizon, but I didn’t want to lock anything in place on the chance that I might still be under consideration.  I really didn’t see any other choice, but to contact Michele directly and ask if I was still being considered for anything in the show.

A few days later, I got this response:

Dear Chris,

I cannot tell you how unhappy I am that you did not receive a call.  I divided the calling list up purposefully so that we could get word out quickly to everyone.

I did not cast you, but I was totally blown away by your commitment and understanding of the characters.  You were amazing!

Don’t know when I’ve ever had so many great reads or so many truly workable combinations of folks at an audition.

The one good thing about the process was getting new insight into the people I didn’t think could surprise me.  You stunned me.

While I despise disappointing people, I am grateful for what these auditions revealed and that you gave of your time and talent to them.

Chris, you have grown immeasurably.  Truly, you are not just a thespian, you are a past master.

One thousand apologies that you did not receive word before now.  Please feel that you can always ask in a case like this.  I am so glad you did.

–Michele

This letter truly made me feel like a worthy actor again.  If I had had more defeats like that over the previous 3 ½ years, I may not have felt the need for a sabbatical.

Feeling much better about theatre, I auditioned for the world premiere play, A Night with the Family over at the Playhouse and directed by Carl Beck.

Now I was starting to feel sharp again and it showed as I set a new record with getting read by Carl as I was up on stage a whopping 4 times, one more than any other performer.  And I only point that out because it shows I was meriting serious consideration.

That weekend, I had the unwelcome surprise of learning again via Facebook that I was not going to be cast in the show.  That same day, I got my rejection slip in the mail, but for the third straight time, Carl had added a personal message to me which read, “You have grown so much as an auditioner—Nice work!”

I thought that would be it for me for the season.  Although, I was feeling much better about theatre, the truth was that the drought was still ongoing.  I would end up stumbling upon that third and final audition.

And then the miracle happened!

Drought, Part 2

I must admit things were starting to get very bleak for me in theatre.  For those of you who have read my anecdotes from the beginning, you know that I spent my first 4 years in theatre just trying to get cast once and that the difficulties and frustrations of that time often weighed on me.  Let me assure you that the period I have dubbed “the drought” made those first 4 years seem like a trip to the amusement park.

I auditioned 10 times during my first 4 years in theatre and failed to get called back or cast.  During the nearly 3 ½ year drought, I auditioned nearly 20 times without getting cast and was only called back twice.  During the first bad period, I didn’t know if I could act or not.  Now I was giving some of the best auditions of my life and I still couldn’t get cast.  The flurry of rejections I had received truly became an unbearable burden.

Becky’s New Car was my first audition for the new theatre season and the first since The Odd Couple that I was able to apply the skills that Doug had taught me.  Again, I had a really great audition.  I found the beats and gave a seamless performance.  However, this time, I was up against a guy (Matthew Pyle) who gave an even better audition for the role I wanted.  It was amazing.  When he finished reading, I wanted to stand up and say, “We have a winner.”

Unsurprisingly, I was neither cast nor called back and Matthew did eventually win the role I wanted.  That audition did not bother me because I have never minded losing a fair fight.  It was all the auditions that I seemed to lose based on factors separate from my performances that sapped my vitality.

Then I finally caught a break of a kind.  The Circle Theatre was having auditions for An Inspector Calls and I decided to show up to them.  As soon as I finished reading, Doug Marr asked me which of the two young men I wanted to play and I immediately picked Eric Birling, the loutish, drunkard son.  And that’s why I really cannot count this play as an end to my streak.  I knew I’d be in the play just be showing up because that theatre likes to use me a lot. 

This is a very political business and I’ve benefitted from it and suffered because of it.  I don’t mind being pre-cast once in a while, but it’s not the same as the thrill I get from winning a role.  Still, Eric Birling did temporarily boost my waning confidence in myself as an actor.

I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to get cast in roles that reflect my real personality.  But I usually aim for roles that are different from my real personality or at least emphasize aspects of my personality that aren’t always seen.  With Eric, I finally got the chance to really do that.  Aside from being a drunk, Eric was rude, arrogant, lazy, and insulting.  And I enjoyed every moment of doing that.  However, by the end of the play, Eric actually becomes penitent for the sins he’s committed, so it’s a good role for versatility.  The difficulty lies in the fact that the transformation occurs offstage.  Eric leaves as a lout in Act I and enters as remorseful in Act II.

Using Doug’s lessons, I created a story behind the scenes for Eric to explain his transformation and I ran through it each and every time to make the change.  Eric is well dressed in a tuxedo when he leaves, but when I came back on, I had lost the jacket and tie and had loosened my collar.  I also dipped into my emotional wells, so I could enter Act II crying.  The first time I tried this, one of the actresses, Erin Moran, thought I was genuinely upset about something.

In many ways, the show was a great personal triumph as I showed I could handle some very complex acting.  A friend of mine, Don Harris, said it was the best thing he had ever seen me do.  My crowning moment was that my best friend drove 3 ½ hours to see me act for the very first time.  After the show, he said, “You know, you were a real a$$hole.”  My other friend, Reed, said, “Yeah, that was my favorite part.”

In the midst of rehearsing for An Inspector Calls, I found myself auditioning for the Blue Barn Christmas show once again.  This time around it was Every Christmas Story Ever Told. . .And Then Some.  Once more it was a truly funny script and I knew there was a lot I could do with it.  One role in particular was right up my alley as the characterization was of a clueless, naïve, but sweet, man-child. 

I arrived at the theatre and wound up having a huge shock when I was the one and only person who showed up at the audition.

With no other actors to work with, I ended up reading with Susan Clement-Toberer and had what I like to call a “sound bite” audition.  I read a brief scene that just didn’t feel like it had enough length to really demonstrate the character’s personality.  Enough to give one a taste, but that’s about it. 

When I finished, Susan looked at the script, cocked her head back and forth a couple of times, and said, “I think that’s all I need for now.  I’m planning to call in some actors to read for this and I may call you in to read with them.  On the other hand, I also know what you can do.”  And that was the end.

I found out a few weeks later via Facebook that I had not been cast when one member of the cast talked about looking forward to starting a grand adventure with two of the best performers he knew.  Really, it’s not the best way to find out you’ve lost.

Again, it was a pretty bitter pill to swallow.  And that was because previous experience has taught me that most people come to the first night of auditions which is when I attended.  That means there was a very strong possibility that I was the only person who showed up either night.  If true, this means that I lost, quite literally, to nobody.

Does this mean that my audition was truly that foul?  No.  I think it was just the reverse lesson of my audition for the previous year’s Christmas show at the Blue Barn.  If someone can show up and be deemed perfect for a role from the word go, then the opposite must also be true.  Someone can show up and give a good audition, but just be perceived as not having the right qualities for the director’s vision from the word go.

I ended up being asked to do the Circle Theatre’s Christmas show as well which was an original play by Doug Marr called The Yuletide Phantom.  This show was a bit of a mixed bag as the script was rushed a bit.  I thought the story lacked a needed centrality and changes were made to it up until the night before we opened which slightly frustrated me.  On the other hand, it did allow me a wonderful pantomime moment when the nearly vegetative soldier I was playing gets possessed and gets forced into writing a message.

Several months would pass before I attempted another audition and it was for Lend Me a Tenor at the Omaha Playhouse.  This would be my first audition for Carl Beck in six years as he had primarily been directing musicals which is a genre I stay away from due to my limited singing range.  And I was ready to show him just how much stronger I’d become.

Once more, I had another fabulous audition.  Without question, it was the strongest I’d ever had with Carl and it showed as he asked me to read three times.  Given that only 2 other men were accorded the same honor, I think it is safe to say that we were the cream of that night’s crop.

I was gleefully looking forward to the callback which I thought was sure to come.  Then I got a rather rude awakening a few days later.  For the first time in my experience, Carl did not hold callbacks.  He cast the show based on the original auditions.  I ended up getting a rejection slip, but Carl did write, “Very nice read, Chris” on the bottom of it.  So I did find a small measure of comfort in the defeat.

By this point, it had been nearly 3 years since I had earned my way into a show by virtue of an audition and my spirits were paying a heavy toll.  What good had it done me to have struggled so hard to become a good performer if nobody wanted to use me?  It seemed as if I had enjoyed more success when I was weaker and less experienced.

The axe finally fell when I auditioned for the season premiere of last year’s Playhouse season.  The show was called August:  Osage County and would be directed by Amy Lane.  This show had actually been done as part of a new Playhouse series called the 21 and Over Alternative series.  The one night only performance had been a huge success and I was more than a bit surprised that open auditions were occurring as it seemed to make more sense just to utilize the people who had been in the original production.  Ultimately, that’s what happened for the most part.

For the first time in a long while, I was in an auditioning frame of mind.  Even better, I was the strongest young actor on the night I had gone to audition.  I didn’t quite know what was going to happen next as I knew I could not attend a callback due to my being out of town when they were held.  I had to hope that I had been strong enough to merit consideration based on my one bite of the apple or hope that Amy would want me for an extra read after I returned.

It was another defeat.  I returned home to a rejection slip.  In an unusual reversal, more people must have gone to the second night of auditions instead of the first because I heard that the callbacks had been the most talent laden affair in Omaha history.  Of course, that meant I would have had to have been in town for a callback to have had a chance, assuming I would have received one.

It was too much for me.  I finally realized that I had lost the one thing that differentiates me from other actors and that was my heart.  My unconquerable heart had finally been conquered.  Theatre no longer made me happy.  It made me miserable.  Even with a weakened heart, I had managed good auditions and performances.  How much mightier might they have been if my heart had been fully into them?

That Saturday morning, I made the fateful decision to step away from theatre for a while.  I felt so strongly about it that I actually posted the announcement on Facebook in one of my (at the time) rare, serious posts.

How long I would stay away was anybody’s guess.