A Season of Change, Part I: The Man in the Mirror

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror. . .Take a look at yourself and make that change.”—Michael Jackson

That’s a powerful quotation from an equally powerful song and it sums up my feelings about this season of change.  New shows.  New leadership at the Playhouse.  New possibilities.  New opportunities.

It’s very hard to believe that’s it’s been nearly a year and a half since I’ve done any acting.  Part of that has been the result of a busy schedule, but the other part has been because of changes wrought by the man in the mirror.

I’m going to share a secret with you. . .I’ve dropped three straight auditions.  And after the third loss, that demon of doubt did make a fleeting visit across my mind.  During his brief visit, I raced back through the halls of memory to that period I called “the drought” in my theatre tales and I had a realization.

“The drought” was far more than a battle to get cast.  It was a war with myself.  A duel between my confidence and my doubt and my doubt slapped my confidence silly during that time frame.  It wasn’t until Leaving Iowa that my confidence finally, and irrevocably, defeated my doubt, though it does attempt to pop back in every once in a while.  But all I do is go back to that lovely view I had as Don Browning and I remember I can act and doubt tucks its tail between its legs and runs.

Even though it no longer matters, losing does suck.  It’s a natural feeling.  Everybody wants to be noticed, to win, and to have their efforts rewarded.  The important thing is to not let yourself be defined by the loss.  Not so long ago, a run of defeats would have had me thinking, “They think I can’t act.”  Now my thoughts are, “I just don’t fit the mold they want.”  That moves it from an ability issue to a perception issue and the latter is what really carries the weight in getting cast.  That’s the biggest change that came from the man in the mirror.

Another change is that I’ve become a bit more selective about what I do.  I won’t just audition for anything under the sun.  It’s about finding just the right story and just the right character.  For the first time, I actually chose not to audition for a show.  In fact, I did it twice.

I’ve been thinking I might like to try my hand at directing, so lately I’ve found myself viewing roles through the eyes of the whole.  Do my personal qualities make me well suited to roles that catch my interest?

For example, I was interested in reading for David Mamet’s American Buffalo over at the Blue Barn.  It’s a story about three men who plot to rob an old man of a rare coin.  The play was definitely an interesting read and there was a role that did pique my interest.  His name was Teach and I was drawn to him because he was as diametrically opposed to me as possible.  This guy is jaded beyond belief, paranoid, and curses like a sailor.  It’s a very good role.  But as I read it, I found that I couldn’t get into it as an actor.  Viewing it from the perspective of a director, I felt that Teach has a blue collar quality that I lack.

There was a role for a young junkie who is also a good role and even fit my personal qualities.  But I pictured the guy as a teenager and I was far too old.  Even if I’d been the correct age, I pictured the guy as being very slightly built and I’m pretty powerfully built in the shoulders.  I just didn’t see me in the roles, so I made the decision not to audition, though I will review it.

The second audition was for a show that I was actually quite excited about.  It’s called The Whipping Man and it’s the story of a Confederate Jewish soldier who returns home after the surrender at Appomattox, finds the homestead abandoned, and finds two of his family’s former slaves who inherited the Jewish faith from their ex-masters.  It’s Passover and they have a traditional seder and secrets are revealed.

This is a tight, well balanced script and each of the three actors is given a chance to shine.  I was excited about the possibilities and then the Playhouse released the character descriptions.

The director wanted the soldier to be in his twenties and I’m starting to push 40 from the wrong end.  My hair is receding and is getting pretty silver.  Now my face is still pretty young looking, so I thought I might have a chance, provided I could get the director to see me as a young man who had seen the horrors of war which can badly age a person.

Now that I knew what was being looked for, I reread the script, but with the eyes of the director.  I was trying to understand why the soldier was supposed to be so young.  And I got it.  I really think the solider is supposed to have a sense of immaturity which I no longer exude or even look like I have.

I still strongly considered auditioning just to get my face shown.  Then an opportunity arose for me to travel which would take place during the run of the show and as I weighed my options, guaranteed trip vs. nearly non-existent chance of getting cast, the trip won out.  But my tendency to now view these roles through the eyes of a director is another change brought about by the man in the mirror.

And then fate tossed me a potential bone.  I was contacted by my old friend, Lara Marsh, stage manager extraordinaire, who would be moving into the director’s chair to helm the first 21 and Over event at the Playhouse which was a play entitled, Lost Boy at Whole Foods.  At the time, the audition had not been formally announced so Lara asked me to keep it under my hat.

I had actually been asked to audition and that’s something that hasn’t happened for a very long time.  Even better, I could do this show plus stay committed to my trip as it would only require 5 nights of rehearsal and a one night performance on September 30.  Whatever this role was, Lara already saw me in it and it sounded promising, so I said I’d audition.

Lost Boy at Whole Foods was my first audition in five months and only my third in nearly a year and a half, so I felt something I had never felt before at an audition. . .ring rust.  I really felt clunky.  In a previous theatre tale, I once talked about how my heart often boosted my auditions and I needed every bit of my heart as my theatre muscles had clearly lost their suppleness.  I felt that I hadn’t made a fool out of myself, but not one of my strongest auditions.

I must have done better than I thought, for Lara called me that Wednesday and asked me to return for a callback the next Friday.  I had a genuine feeling of pride as it was my first callback since 2010 and a callback signifies that the director believes you have the talent.  Now it’s just a matter of finding the right composition.

Another friend who was called back, Stephanie Kidd, slipped me the script so I had a chance to study it and I began to have a better idea of what Lara was looking for in the character of Michael.  I went into the callback feeling much stronger than I had at the original audition.

I, at first, thought that I might have already been cast in the play as I was the only person in the room who fit the parameters for the role of Michael.  Then, as Lara was about to begin, a third acquaintance, Karl Rohling entered the room.  Wow!  Literally a one on one callback.  There would be no question of who got the role.  It would either be Karl or me.

Unsurprisingly, both of us did well.  My heart didn’t have to do quite so much heavy lifting as the practice I had done during the week strengthened my theatrical muscles.  As I expected, neither Karl nor I could get the edge on the other.  I read well, executed all of Lara’s directions, and he did the same.  As I told a friend, “Flip a coin.  It could be either one of us.”

On Tuesday, I got a letter from Lara telling me that she did not cast me.  When I saw the telltale envelope in the mailbox, that was when doubt tried to worm its way into my head and tell me, “She thinks you’re a bad actor.”  But he didn’t stay very long.  I’m dead certain that it was a matter of composition.  I know who I would have blended the best with from a cosmetic standpoint and that person not being cast may very well have dictated my not getting cast or vice versa.  My ability to beat back doubt is another (and positive) change coming from the man in the mirror.

Odds are, it’s going to be a few months before my next audition, but it’s going to be a big one.  I don’t want to reveal it just yet, but I will say it’s for one of my big three shows.  I can already see the grin on the face of the man in the mirror.

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