Transitions, Part 2

As we left off in Part 1, W;t marked a transition for me, but I didn’t know where the road was leading just yet.

During the rehearsal period for W;t, the audition I had been waiting for all season rapidly approached.  That was Twelve Angry Men for the Omaha Playhouse and guest directed by Susan Clement-Toberer.  This play is one of the true classics of theatre and tells the story of a jury deliberating on the guilt of a teen accused of murdering his father.  At the start of the play, eleven of the men are convinced of his guilt and one man isn’t certain.  As the play progresses, the lone standout (Juror 8) slowly convinces the others that there is a reasonable doubt of the boy’s guilt resulting in the exoneration of the accused.

I was interested in the role of Juror 8, but any of the jurors were interesting characters.  I spent a little time preparing for the show with a friend I had made during Macbeth named Doug Blackburn.  Doug would go on to play an extremely vital role in my development as an actor, but that will be a story for a future time.

Now back to the audition.  With very rare exceptions, I always prepare for a show by reading the script first and figuring out which characters catch my interest.  Once I’ve selected my characters, I spend some time polishing them a bit for the audition so I can be seen in my best light.  Needless to say, the bulk of my energies went towards preparing Juror 8.

I got to the audition and noticed there were quite a few men there.  The classics do have a tendency to bring people out of the woodwork.  I ended up being in the first group read and I was given the character of Juror 2.  Juror 2 is a very nervous, reticent man and in this particular scene, he only had 3 little lines so I couldn’t really do much more than act between the lines and listen as a very nervous, reticent man would listen.

There were a couple of more rounds of reading and then Susan said she was going to start sending people home.  I was the first person to go.  Now I had put a lot of work into Juror 8 and I was bound and determined to go down swinging so I asked Susan if I could read one time for that role.  I could hear the gears moving in her head as she cocked it back and forth a couple of times as she considered my request.  Finally, she looked at me and with a look of sympathy on her face said, “I don’t see you as Juror 8.”

Those words hit me with all the subtlety of a gauntlet punch to my stomach.  I thanked Susan for her honesty, took a moment to collect myself, and half-dazedly left the rehearsal hall.  As I stepped into the hallway, Susan tapped me with her clipboard to get my attention and said, “Hey!  Don’t feel bad because I’m sending you home so early.  I know you.  I know what you can do and I just don’t need to see a lot of you.”

I’d like to interrupt the thread of the tale for just a moment to state an important fact.  Directors never intend to make a person feel bad.  A director wants you to be the answer to his or her casting dilemma, but has a duty to the vision of the whole.  A rejection isn’t a rejection of you as a quality performer.  It’s just that you didn’t fit that particular director’s vision of that particular role in that particular play at that particular moment.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled tale.

I said I understood and gave her a hug and a kiss on the forehead and drove to finish off the rehearsal for W;t.  There was no callback and no casting. . .at least not in the usual sense.

Several weeks later I got to the Blue Barn earlier than normal because parking is such a bear down around there.  I was reading a book to pass the time and Susan came in, greeted me, and went to her office area.  A few minutes later, she came back and said, “I know I didn’t cast you in Twelve Angry Men, but I still need someone to play the guard and I’d like to offer him to you.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  This was the first time I had ever been offered a role after being formally rejected.  I was also perplexed because 90 men had auditioned for this show and I was amazed that Susan was not able to find a worthy guard in all of those people.  I thought about it for an hour, then told her I would take the role.  In addition to playing the guard, I would also be understudying for Jurors 2 and 5.  I later found out that Doug, who had been cast as Juror 3, had suggested my name to Susan, telling her that I knew how big the show was going to be and that I just wanted to be involved in it.

I was still doing W;t while rehearsals for Twelve Angry Men began and I thought the role would permit me a few days off here and there to recoup my energies.  It turns out that my appearances were spaced out in such a way that I ended up being at rehearsal every night, too.  And that was fine by me.

I got a different type of joy out of Twelve Angry Men because the privilege was just watching the show slowly come to life before my eyes.  I even got to stretch myself a bit as a performer as Susan would let me sub for other actors on nights when they couldn’t be at rehearsal.  Really the only downside, such as it was, was when we actually opened because I was the only character who left the stage.  This meant I had long periods of time by myself which I used to read a John Lennon biography.

Twelve Angry Men was a magnificent triumph.  It was a highly lauded show which earned a standing ovation each and every night.  Just like in Biloxi Blues, this show won every actor award on the non-musical side of things at the Playhouse awards.  Unlike Biloxi Blues, I was unable to recapture my momentum.

I started the next season with a Playhouse audition for a show called Almost, Maine directed by the Playhouse’s new Resident Director, Amy Lane.  This is a quirky show that features 9 vignettes which all take place at 9pm in the town of Almost, Maine.  I had another solid showing and was even asked to stay behind for an extra read.  But once more, I experienced total defeat.  No callback.  No casting.

That seemed to set the tone for the season where I would have good auditions, but just couldn’t seem to get cast.  It all built up to my audition for Mister Roberts at the Playhouse and directed by Susie Baer-Collins. 

Now this audition was a return to the way I had been used to things after the banner season.  I read twice and had stellar reads for Ensign Pulver (whom I wanted) and Mister Roberts (whom I certainly would not have objected to).  And then I got a callback which had me feeling pretty good as I naturally assumed that because I had been called back based on the strength of my reads for those 2 characters then I must be being considered for those 2 characters.

I was in for quite a surprise at the callback when I was never asked to read for either for those characters again.  Instead I spent the entire evening reading for various crew members.  I did get a very positive comment from Doug, who was gunning for the role of the ship’s captain.  He said I had shocked the s$@# out of him as that was the most animation he had ever seen out of me and he loved how I had just thrown caution to the wind.  I explained that in our previous auditions together, he had only seen me audition for more conservative characters which required less animation.

That Friday, Susie called me and offered me the role of Wiley which I accepted.  Truthfully, I did want a more challenging role, but Susie did tell me that I was one of the first people she cast, so she saw something “Wiley” about me.  So I was honored, but wanted more all at the same time.

The day after my casting, I went down to the Blue Barn to audition for their season finale, Rabbit Hole.  That was the intention, but I didn’t even get in the door.  I knew there was going to be some crossover with Mister Roberts, but I hoped it would be at the tail end so I would be able to do both.  My eyes bulged when I noticed that rehearsals would start smack in the middle of the run of Mister Roberts, resulting in the missing of 10 days of rehearsal.

Rabbit Hole was only a 4 person cast, so every person and every role would be vital.  I knew that missing that much rehearsal might be a death knell for my chances.  But, with my never say die attitude, I vowed to go down fighting.  And then I got stopped in my tracks.

Lara Marsh, a dear friend who was stage managing this show as well as Mister Roberts, suddenly materialized by my side and delivered the bad news that Susan was not going to let me audition due to the conflicts with Mister Roberts.  I was let down, but completely understood.  I trashed my audition sheet and drove for home.  Later that night, I did get an e-mail from Susan saying she was sorry that I couldn’t audition, but to push my way through next time and say hi.

Mister Roberts was another hit for the Playhouse and I once again had that sense of contribution that had somewhat eluded me in Twelve Angry Men.  During the run of the show, Doug Blackburn (who won the role of the captain) came up to me at one point and said, “Dude.  Next season.  Go out and be Felix Unger (for the production of The Odd Couple).  I’ll help you.”

I accepted his offer, but after the close of Mister Roberts, I finally found where my road was taking me and it seemed like a brick wall.