Déjà vu: The sensation that you are doing something that you have done before.
It’s almost eerie how much this season mirrored the last one. Like last year, it ended quite early and I only was able to audition for a couple of shows.
This season actually began unusually early. Back in March, to be precise.
I had attended the Omaha Playhouse’s announcement of the 2017-18 season and they announced the season premiere would also be a world premiere as they would kick off with an original play called Eminent Domain written by local actress/playwright, Laura Leininger-Campbell. They further announced that the auditions for this show would take place the next week as the actors would be helping to refine the show.
I managed to get a PDF of the script from Laura and found it to be a fascinating read. The play explores themes of family with the framing device of a Nebraska farm family being threatened by an oil company claiming eminent domain to annex part of their property to lay a pipeline.
I was especially drawn to the character of the autistic Evan MacLeod whom I found to be a deep well of character acting. I spent the next week taking a crash course in autism in order to properly present my take on Evan.
When I went to the auditions next week, I found that Laura’s play had really struck a chord with the community. It seems as if the entire theatre community had come out to audition. Not only was I up against some of the brightest names in Omaha theatre, but I was also up against much of the original cast who had been part of the show back when it was a staged reading.
My old shipmate, Frank Insolera, was one of the hopefuls and we started catching up on old times. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Christina Rohling, whom you might remember as the director of Elephant’s Graveyard and A Heavy Rain, heading in our direction. Frank and I reached a pause in our conversation and both looked her way.
Addressing me, she said, “I just want you to know that you made my job (for Elephant’s Graveyard) very difficult. It just came down to the 2 different energy levels between you and the guy I chose.”
Once more, I felt that strange mixture of pride and melancholy as I added another story to my ever growing pile of “good” rejections. It only lasted for a moment as I thanked her for the compliment and then found out I would actually be reading with her when I made my stab at Evan.
Christina also happens to be one of the top talents in Omaha, so I was glad for the opportunity to bounce ideas of the scene as I explained to her my vision of Evan. She seemed surprised at my attention to detail as she said, “It sounds like you’ve done some serious homework.”
We walked into the conference room on the 2nd floor of the Playhouse under the scrutinizing eyes of director Amy Lane and Laura. Christina and I sat on the floor and I immediately started becoming Evan. From my research, I decided that Evan was on the more severe side of the autism spectrum and had developed physicality and vocal patterns to suit that. I adopted an awkward sitting position as I twisted my legs together and thrust my right hand between them, resting my hand on my left knee. I slightly tilted my head and avoided any eye contact with Christina. I also adopted a monotone, sing-song cadence for my speech.
I was actually extremely pleased with my take and felt as if I were hitting the right notes. It also ended up being my best bite at the apple as my second read was for a different character who didn’t have a lot to do in that side.
Intellectually, I knew that I was up against a formidable challenge, but I still hoped against hope that I mustered up enough magic for a callback.
Alas, that hope was dashed shortly afterwards.
For the first time in a long while, I really felt the bitter disappointment of defeat. I was surprised, yet not surprised at the same time. With the extra effort I had put into it and with the full power of my heart behind it, I think it would have been more of a surprise had I not felt stung by the rejection. And, of course, the lack of a callback made me wonder, “Did my efforts make any sort of an impact?”
Nowadays, I don’t dwell on those moments for long and I was quickly back to my old self.
I would next read for the staged readings of Angels in America and In the Heat of the Night, but there isn’t much of a story there. Solid reads and no casting. Que sera, sera.
Then came Ripcord.
I knew that I had to read for this show from the moment I read the synopsis. The thrust of the story is that Abby and Marilyn share a room at the nursing home. Abby had had the room to herself for a long while and wasn’t particularly keen on getting a new roommate. Even worse, Marilyn’s sunshiney nature really grates on Abby’s curmudgeonly personality. When Marilyn claims never to get angry and Abby claims never to get scared, the two women make a bet. If Abby can anger Marilyn, Marilyn will get another room so Abby can be on her own again. But if Marilyn can scare Abby, then Marilyn gets Abby’s bed because she likes it better than hers. The result is an increasingly dangerous game of one-upsmanship.
There were 3 roles for men which included the nurse, Scotty, and two character actors who would play 3 distinct characters apiece. I felt a little too old to play Scotty and relished the idea of the two character roles as I would get the rare opportunity to go completely over the top.
This play would mark my second reading for Kimberly Faith Hickman, the new artistic director of the Omaha Playhouse. The first had been Angels in America.
I was surprised when my first side was for Scotty, but figured it was because not many men showed up to that first day of auditions. Then I stepped inside the dance hall and it happened.
I felt the magic.
This was my most enjoyable audition in several years. I didn’t care about getting cast. I just wanted to go in and have some fun and I did just that. I understood Scotty from the get-go and felt strong as I read the role.
When I finished the read and went back outside, I was given a side for one of the character actors. After reading this side, I have come to the conclusion that I must project a natural aura of niceness as my side was for one of the regular roles performed by the character actors. I actually felt a twinge of disappointment as I had been hoping to sink my teeth into one of the broader sides.
Not that the side I had was dull, but it was the same type of character I often find myself reading for and I just wanted to show that I could do more than essentially play myself.
Imagine my surprise when I was asked to stick around for a third read. Once more I read as Scotty and varied my performance a bit from the first read. After this read, I was let go, but there was also only one more group to read after I had finished.
Needless to say, I had quite a bit of hope as it had been ages since I had been at an audition from start to finish. A few days later, my hope was rewarded when I got the call asking me to come to callbacks where I would be considered for the role of Scotty. I laughed at the irony as the role I thought I had the least chance for ended up being the only role I would be considered for. . .or so I thought.
At the callbacks, I was given a side for Scotty that would FINALLY allow me a chance to go over the top. I felt so giddy, I nearly broke into a soft shoe routine. I had been chomping at the bit for this for eons and I let loose for all I was worth when I read the side. I won’t spoil the scene, but I will say that I unleashed a scream not unlike the one emitted by Daniel Stern when he was mugged by the pigeons in Home Alone 2.
Immediately after finishing the read, Kimberly said, “I know I said I was only considering you for Scotty, but I want you to read this side for Benjamin.”
I was floored by the side. It was a tremendously powerful and poignant scene as Benjamin is the estranged son of Abby and this was a complete 180 from the previous side and I looked forward to performing it.
When I went back in, I gave the most honest and heartfelt read I could muster and was really feeling Benjamin’s angst and heartache. Shortly after this read, I was dismissed.
A few days later, I found an e-mail waiting for me from Kimberly. The fact of the e-mail told me I did not make it in, but the fact that it was from the director told me that it was also something more. I opened it up and read the following message:
I wanted to personally thank you for attending auditions and callbacks for RIPCORD. I really enjoyed watching you and your work throughout the process. This was a very difficult play to cast as so many talented people came to the auditions. I ended up going with another actor for the roles of Scotty/Benjamin, but I wanted to let you know of that decision from me personally rather than a general notification e-mail. I also want to encourage you to continue auditioning at OCP. You have tremendous talent and I look forward to the next opportunity we may have to work together.
I was proud of this message and moved it to my scrapbook. I had no regrets and had thoroughly enjoyed myself and I had made an impact. You can’t ask for more than that.
We’ll talk again next season.