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.