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!

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