Adult Auditions for Nebraska Shakespeare Festival

Nebraska Shakespeare will hold auditions for the professional company of artists to perform in its 30th Anniversary Season of Shakespeare On The Green:

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW and MACBETH
Residency Dates: May 23-July 10
Performance Dates: June 23 – July 10
Audition Dates (Adult): February 13, 4:00 – 9:00 PM, by appointment.

Location:  Lied Education Center for the Arts (2500 California Plz #1, Omaha, NE)

This year’s On The Green company will consist of at least 12 men, 6 women, as well as 1-2 male youth (10-16 years of age) and 1 female youth (8-14 years of age). There are Equity and non-Equity contracts available. Those interested in auditioning for Shakespeare On The Green should prepare two contrasting monologues. One comedy and one dramatic piece are preferred. Youth auditioning should prepare one Shakespearean monologue and sides will be made available. Total audition time is 3 minutes. All actors are encouraged to audition.

To schedule an audition, contact Wesley A. Houston, Director of Production at whouston@nebraskashakespeare.com

Nebraska Shakespeare’s production of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, directed by Amy Lane, will utilize traditional practices, combining Elizabethan casting practices with Commedia performance techniques. An all male cast will explore role-playing and traditional gender perception in The Taming of the Shrew.

Available Roles Include:
Baptista 50’s-70’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Father of Kate and Bianca, and a Lord in Padua. Pompous, pedantic, and fraudulent. Inept, long-winded, and ineffectual in most situations. [Likely doubles as Duncan in Macbeth]

*Katherine 30’s. Female played by a male. Any ethnicity. The “shrew” of the title. Seemingly bold, pretentious, and swaggering. Notorious for her temper and sharp tongue. Beneath it all, Katherine is a lover at heart. [Likely doubles as Malcolm in Macbeth]

Bianca Early 30’s. Female played by a male. Any ethnicity. Sister of Kate. Innocent and wholesome. Extremely egotistic and eloquent. Having a singular focus on the one she loves, she often speaks with grand declarations of love. [Likely doubles as Banquo in Macbeth]

*Petruchio 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Suitor of Kate. A self-appointed soldier, who is seemingly bold, pretentious, and swaggering. Loud, boisterous, and quick-witted. [Likely doubles as Macduff or Mentieth in Macbeth]

*Grumio Late 30’s/Early 40’s. Male. Any ethnicity. (Asian or African-American if doubled with Macbeth). Petruchio’s servant and the fool of the play. With Petruchio he is playful, witty, childlike, and passionate. To other servants, he is Sophisticated, but arrogant, quick-witted, and opportunistic. [Likely doubles as Macbeth in Macbeth]

Nathaniel 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Petruchio’s servant. Physically adept, witty, childlike, and passionate. Doubles as Vincentio and Musician in The Taming of the Shrew. [Like doubles as Lennox in Macbeth]

Curtis 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Petruchio’s servant. Physically adept, witty, childlike, and passionate. Doubles as Officer, Widow, and Musician in The Taming of the Shrew. [Likely doubles as Seyton or Donalbain in Macbeth]

*Gremio 50’s-60’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Gentleman of Padua. Elderly suitor of Bianca. Able-bodied/athletic. Rich, retired, and miserly. Though he is in control of the money and is quite cunning, he is often deceived and disobeyed. [Likely doubles as Hecate in Macbeth]

*Hortensio Early 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Gentleman of Padua. Suitor of Bianca. Pompous, pedantic, and fraudulent. Inept, long-winded, and ineffectual in most situations. [Likely doubles as Stadlin, Seyton, or Ross in Macbeth]

Lucentio Early 20’s.. Male. Any ethnicity. Young student from Pisa. Good-natured, adventurous. Extremely egotistic and eloquent. Having a singular focus on the one he loves, he often speaks with grand declarations of love. [Likely doubles as Menteith or Macduff in Macbeth]

*Tranio Late 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Lucentio’s servant. Physically adept, witty, childlike, and passionate. [Likely doubles as Ross, Stadlin, or Seyton in Macbeth]

Biondello 10-16. Male. Any ethnicity. Lucentio’s young servant. Simpleminded, honest, young, and personable. Loves intrigue, which usually lands him in difficult situations. [Possibly doubles as Fleance in Macbeth]

Tailor 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Doubles as Merchant and Musician in The Taming of the Shrew. Simpleminded, honest, young, and personable. [Likely doubles as Donalbain in Macbeth]

MACBETH, directed by Vincent Carlson-Brown, takes place in an imagined world. Where the Thanes of Scotland reside, juxtaposed, next to the ghosts of Japan. Where the tenets of tribal warfare mix with the principles of the samurai. Where the monarchy of Shakespeare’s created history mingles its tale with Eastern mysticism. Six Sisters, led by the Priestess, Hecate, will witness Macbeth’s ambitious rise and tragic fall. Each Weyward Sister will play multiple characters throughout.

Available Roles Include:
Duncan 50’s – 70’s. Male. Any ethnicity. The King of Scotland. [Likely doubles as Baptista in The Taming of the Shrew]

*Malcolm 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Duncan’s eldest son and Prince of Cumberland. [Likely doubles as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew]

Donalbain 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Duncan’s younger son. [Likely doubles as Curtis or Tailor in Macbeth]

*Macbeth Late 30’s/Early 40’s. Male. Asian or African American. A general in Duncan’s army. Brave,powerful, and ambitious. [Likely doubles as Grumio in Shrew]

*Seyton Late 20’s/ Early 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. A porter. [Likely doubles as Hortensio, Tranio, or Curtis in The Taming of the Shrew]

Banquo Early 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. A Thane of Scotland. A brave and noble general. [Likley doubles as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew]

Fleance 10-16. Male. Any ethnicity. The son of Banquo. [Possibly doubles as Biondello in Shrew]

*Macduff 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Thane of Fife. Hostile to Macbeth’s kingship. [Likely doubles as Petruchio or Lucentio in Shrew]

Lady Macduff 30’s-40’s. Female. Any ethnicity. Macduff’s wife. Angry and prideful.

*Ross Late 20’s/ Early 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. A Thane of Scotland. [Likely doubles as Hortensio or Tranio in Shrew]

*Menteith 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Thane of Scotland. [Likely doubles as Petruchio or Lucentio in Shrew]

Lennox 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. A Thane of Scotland. [Likely doubles as Nathaniel in The Taming of the Shrew]

*Hecate 50’s-60’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Goddess of witchcraft. Able-bodied/athletic. Participates in stage combat. Doubles as Macdonwald, Priestess, Old Man, and Doctor in Macbeth. [Likely doubles as Gremio in Shrew]

*Stadlin Late 20’s/ Early 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. One of the Weyward Sisters. Doubles as Soldier, Norway and Thane in Macbeth. [Likely doubles as Hortensio or Tranio in The Taming of the Shrew]

Puckle 20’s-40’s. Female. Any ethnicity. One of the Weyward Sisters. Doubles as Groom, Murderer, and Soldier in Macbeth.

Hellwain 20’s-40’s. Female. Any ethnicity. One of the Weyward Sisters. Doubles as Groom, Thane, Woman, and Soldier in Macbeth.

Greymalkin 20’s-40’s. Female. Any ethnicity. Stadlin’s Genius (guardian spirit). Doubles as Captain, Murderer, and Soldier in Macbeth.

Paddock 20’s-40’s. Female. Any ethnicity. Puckle’s Genius (guardian spirit). Doubles as Soldier, Cawdor, and Thane in Macbeth.

Harpier 8-14. Female. Any ethnicity. Hellwain’s Genius (guardian spirit). Doubles as Macduff ‘s daughter in Macbeth.

The role of Lady Macbeth has been cast.

*denotes potential AEA role.

2015 Theatre Arts Guild Awards

Last night, the Omaha Theatre Arts Guild held its annual awards show to celebrate the best and brightest of the Omaha theatre season at the Scott Conference Center.

And the winners are:

Outstanding drama

“Our Town,” Blue Barn Theatre

Outstanding comedy

“Calendar Girls,” SNAP Productions

Outstanding musical

“Cabaret,” Creighton University Theatre

Outstanding director, comedy or drama

Susan Clement-Toberer, “Our Town.” Blue Barn

Outstanding director, musical

Amy Lane, “Cabaret”, Creighton University Theatre

Outstanding lead actress, comedy or drama

Moira Mangiameli, “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike,” SNAP

Outstanding lead actor, comedy or drama

Daniel Dorner, “An Iliad,” Brigit St. Brigit

Outstanding lead actress, musical

Melanie Walters, “Spamalot,” Omaha Community Playhouse

Outstanding lead actor, musical

Dave Wingert, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Playhouse

Outstanding supporting actress, comedy or drama

Julie Huff, “Our Town.” Blue Barn

Outstanding supporting actor, comedy or drama

Kevin Barratt, “I Hate Hamlet,” Playhouse

Outstanding supporting actress, musical

Judy Radcliff, “Cabaret”, Creighton University Theatre

Outstanding supporting actor, musical

Mathias Jeske, “Spamalot”, Omaha Playhouse

Outstanding featured actress, comedy or drama

Stephanie Anderson, “Calendar Girls”, SNAP Productions

Outstanding featured actor, comedy or drama

Dennis Collins, “Our Town”, Blue Barn

Outstanding featured actress, musical

Jodi Vaccaro, “Mary Poppins,” The Rose Theater

Outstanding featured actor, musical

Chris Ebke, “Hands on a Hardbody,” Playhouse

Outstanding youth actress

Emma Johnson, “The Secret Garden,” The Rose

Outstanding youth actor

Danny Denenberg, “A Christmas Story,” The Rose

Outstanding music director

Stephen Sheftz, “Cabaret”, Creighton University Theatre

Outstanding choreographer

Melanie Walters, “Spamalot”, Omaha Playhouse

Outstanding sound design

Tim Burkhart & John Gibilisco, “Spamalot”, Omaha Playhouse

Outstanding props design

Amy Reiner, “American Buffalo,” Blue Barn

Outstanding set design

Matthew D. Hamel, “Cabaret”, Creighton University Theatre

Outstanding costume design

Lydia Dawson, “Spamalot”, Omaha Playhouse

Outstanding lighting design

Carol Wiser, “Our Town”, Blue Barn

Backstage achievement awards

Tim Sorenson and Denise Putnam

Bob Roberts board recognition awards

Joe Basque and CU@theART

Honorary TAG award

Bob Fischbach

Outstanding ensemble

Photo shoot, “Calendar Girls”, SNAP Productions

Outstanding special event

“Prince Max’s Trewly Awful Trip to the Desolat Interior,” Great Plains Theatre Conference

Scholarships

Max Hauze

Katie Pohlman

Theatre educator award

Jerry Gray

Outstanding new script

“The Other Sewing Circle” by Marie Amthor Schuett, Shelterbelt Theatre

Norman & Louise Filbert lifetime achievement award

Kevin Lawler

A Season of Exploration, Part I: The Writer & The Actor

I know.  I know.  You weren’t expecting another story so soon.  Well, I got an early start of things this year.  Earlier than you may think as this tale does not begin with an audition, but with a review.

In early May I went to the Playhouse to review Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and my dear friend, Sonia Keffer, was working the TAG (Theatre Arts Guild) table.  She said she needed to talk to me and asked me if I heard that Bob Fischbach (the critic for our newspaper, Omaha World-Herald) was retiring.  I replied that I had.

Sonia then said Bob had contacted her and the newspaper was not quite certain as to what they were going to do with his position.  The most popular idea was that, at least for the upcoming season, the newspaper would gather a pool of writers, send them out on reviews, and pay them by the article.  He had wanted to include her name and she agreed to be part of it.  Then he asked Sonia, “Do you know a Chris Elston?  I understand he writes reviews.”  She said, “Yes, I know him very well and he writes excellent reviews.”  Bob then asked if she could put him in touch with me and she asked me if it was all right to give him my phone number.

The power of speech momentarily eluded me as I was so pleasantly shocked by this good bit of news.  “The answer is yes,” said Sonia with a smile.  “Yes.  Absolutely yes.  And thank you,” I replied.

When I started this website, I had only hoped to become a viable alternative to the reviews put out by the various papers.  But only now, in less than 2 years’ time, was I beginning to understand the impact my writings had actually had.  And that would be revealed to me even further over the next few weeks.

My review for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ended up becoming my most acclaimed to date.  It really struck a chord with people at the Playhouse as it promoted the heck out of that play with my words.  I cannot tell you what a joy it was to see my words featured when the Playhouse promoted the show on Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail marketing.  It was every bit as satisfying as enjoying a really great role on stage.  Thanks to the constant promotion, my readership doubled over the 5 week run of the show.

Aside from the review, I did speak to Mr. Fischbach who told me a little about the paper’s potential plan and asked if he could include my name in the pool he was gathering for his editor.  I agreed to be included and am still waiting for news on that end.  Even if the paper opts to go in a different direction, it was still an honor to be asked to be considered.  Though I freely admit, getting paid to write about theatre would be icing on an already delectable cake.

A few weeks after my review I attended a Playhouse even in order to meet the new Associate Artistic Director, Jeff Horger.  As I filled out my name tag, the person behind the table said, “Oh, so you’re Chris Elston” before complimenting me on my writings.  That person was the Playhouse’s Marketing/PR Director, Katie Broman, who put me onto the Playhouse’s press list as of that night.  What this means is that I’ll receive a press pass whenever I’m reviewing a show at the Playhouse.  Winning!!

At the meet and greet, I also bumped into my old friend, Lara Marsh, who is getting to direct Lost Boy Found at Whole Foods at the Playhouse next season after getting to direct it as part of their Alternative Programming season this year.  I may audition for it again this year, but I have not yet decided if I’d rather act in it or learn about directing from it.  I asked Lara about the possibility of shadowing her for it if I decided not to act and if my schedule allowed it.  While nothing is set in stone, it is definitely not out of the realm of possibility that this show may be my foot in the door of directing.

Actually, Lara became the second director I might be able to shadow next season.  The first was Amy Lane, the Playhouse’s former Resident Director now Assistant Professor of Theatre at Creighton University.  My old friend, Sherry Fletcher, recommended her to me as someone who was very big on developing talent in that field and she happens to be a close friend of Sonia’s, too.  Both of us happened to be at TAG Nite Out for Sabrina Fair and I approached her about the possibility of sitting under her learning tree for direction and she asked me to message her closer to the time that she is about to start her guest directing stint at the Playhouse for Love, Loss and What I Wore.  So I may have 2 possibilities to learn a bit about directing next season.

With all of these wonderful opportunities presenting themselves to me, I felt a semi-dormant part of me begin to awaken.  I wanted to tell a story again.

So I auditioned for the Playhouse season premiere, Mauritius, which marks the solo directorial debut of Jeff Horger.  I do not know much about the story except that it centers around 2 half-sisters who may own 2 rare Blue Mauritius stamps.  One girl wants to sell them and three thieves (a charming con artist, a crabby stamp expert, and a dangerous psychopath) want to get their hands on the stamps.  I went into the audition with nothing more than the hope of making a good impression.

It was good to keep my hopes at that level because, like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, this play has a very small cast (2f 3m).  A lot of people came out to audition.  I’d estimate that close to 90 people came out over the two nights meaning that 85 people were going to hear the dreaded “no”.  And there was some keen, heavyweight competition at the auditions.

For my part I was pleased with my work and I believe it had a positive impact.  Based off of my observations, the new style of auditions is designed to make decisions very quickly.  By that I mean, if you do not have the qualities the director is looking for, you will get one read before being dismissed.  I got to read twice so I must have been doing something right.  I read for the con artist and the psychopath.  Of the two I felt that my read for the con artist was probably the better of the two, especially since the psychopath needs a dominating physical presence that I lack.  Putting it in plain terms, I don’t look like the type of guy who would beat someone to a pulp.

I did not receive a callback, so I knew I would be out of the running, but was pleased at the new and fresh faces that did make it into the show.  Luckily, I had another audition all lined up.

The Playhouse is bringing back their Alternative Programming season in full force this season with 9 events.  Three of the shows all had auditions last week.

I had been expecting wall to wall actors for this event, but imagine my surprise when I saw maybe a dozen actors at the second night and I could not imagine the first night being of much greater volume.  I ended up reading 9 times over a 75 minute period.

The first show I read for was A Steady Rain which is a 2 man duologue (meaning that both actors are giving monologues to the audience) about best friends who are cops.  One is dirty and the other is an alcoholic.  It was being directed by Christina Rohling and I first read for the dirty cop.  It was a pretty good read, though I seemed to be fighting myself a bit for some reason.  I instinctively felt the need for physical action and was squashing it to a degree.  Still the read was on target.

After my first read, Christina said, “That was really good” before asking me a bit about my theatrical background.  I told her I had been in theatre for 20 years, but had not performed in 2 and that my past two years had been focused on my website.  When she heard about the website she said, “I think I’ve read some of your stuff”.  It was then that I was struck by the oddity that I had become better known in the  theatre community for 2 years of writing than for 20 years of acting.  Amazing where those roads can take us.

Anyway, I then read a scene as the alcoholic cop with another guy named Tony (who read brilliantly).  It was a pretty good scene, but very tricky to pull off due to not being certain when I was simply telling a story and when, or if, I was interacting with Tony.  It was my last read for that show and I knew it would be the toughest to get into due to the numbers game.

I then read for Take Me Out which tells the story of a baseball player who comes out of the closet.  This one was being directed by Noah Diaz and I first read for the team manager.  Noah asked me to do some big physical action at some point and I had the perfect spot.  I read the letter very professionally.  The thrust of the letter is how the manager admires the player for his bravery in making his revelations and how honored he’d be if he were his son’s teacher or lover.  But he finishes with the whiny cry, “But did it have to be baseball?!!!” and I collapsed to the ground in a loud babyish whine.  In fact, my only regret was that I didn’t go more over the top since I had been given carte blanche to do so.

Noah had me read it again, but told me that he felt the scene had 3 tonal shifts and he wanted me to read it again with those shifts.  I did and Doug Blackburn’s acting boot camp came back to me and I felt I shifted 5 or 6 times and I was pleased with the work.  Finally, Noah had me read it once more with Tony and we read a scene between the baseball player and his best friend.

We read the scene and I made the friend, Kippy, laid back and jokey.  It was a nice read, but I actually reversed one of the jokes since I mistakenly thought Kippy was gay and his comment about being on the same team was a reference to the 2 characters shared orientation.  Noah had us read it one more time with some adjustments and he asked me to make Kippy a bit more serious and dependable and he corrected my mistaken interpretation of Kippy so I got the team joke right on the second go around.

After that, Noah said he seen all he needed to see from me which left me one more show for which to read.

That show was Civil War Voices which is based off of actual letters, diaries, and other writings that took place during the Civil War and will be directed by Jeff Horger.  Again, I was doing something right as Jeff read me three times.  First I read a love letter from a character named Theo.  Then I read a diary entry from a military commander named Chamberlin.  Finally I read a historian, but he asked me to do it in a Presidential voice since I had expressed an interest in Abe Lincoln.  I felt I did well in all of my reads.  Then Jeff asked me a bit about my theatrical background and I gave him the same story I had given to Christina.  After those reads, I went home for the night.

A week passed which I took as a most promising sign.  The longer I avoided rejection, the better my chances, I reasoned.  But late Wednesday afternoon, I took a quick one-two combo to the ego.  I was checking my e-mail and I saw I had rejection notices for both A Steady Rain and Take Me Out waiting for me.

I was quite surprised by how much the wind had been taken out of my sails.  But in a strange way, I was also glad because it told me that my mojo had not faded as I had feared.  I had genuinely wanted to do these shows and was truly disappointed at not being selected.  But there was still hope as I had not yet had any word about Civil War Voices.

Then came Thursday afternoon.  My office phone rang and on the other end was the bright voice of Jeannine Robertson, the Playhouse’s Administrative Assistant.  She said that Jeff wanted to offer me the role of Abraham Lincoln.

That was about the last role I expected to get.  In a full production, I don’t think I would have been seriously considered for the role as I’m not a physical match for Honest Abe.  But in reader’s theatre, I thought there might be a chance.  And it worked out!  After giving one of the firmest yeses I’ve ever given, I hung up the phone with a song in my heart and a jaunty tune on my lips.

And that brings us to the end of this tale.  Rehearsals begin in August just after I get back from a theatre festival in Whitehall, MI where I’ll get to watch one of my favorite shows, Cotton Patch Gospel, and review 3 B & Bs on the long journey.  I look forward to this new adventure as well as more stories during this season of exploration.

Until we meet again. . .

Phenomenal “Phantom” Will Haunt Your Soul

Words nearly fail me as I attempt to describe the impressiveness of Phantom currently playing at Creighton University.  Simply put, this is the best play I have seen this season and this show will stand, at the very least, shoulder to shoulder with anything produced on the community theatre circuit this year.

Based off of Gaston Leroux’s novel, The Phantom of the Opera, this musical tells the story of a disfigured musical genius who falls in love with a farm girl (Christine Daee) now living in Paris.  So enthralled is he with her voice, that he trains her to become the leading performer at the Paris Opera House.  When Christine is sabotaged by a jealous rival and recoils from the hideous face of her anonymous mentor, the deformed man resorts to vengeance.

Though this play is a musical, do not confuse it with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of this tale.  This musical was written by Arthur Kopit with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston around the same time as Lloyd Webber’s take.  Once Lloyd Webber’s musical exploded onto the scene, this show lost all of its financial backing and seemed doomed never to see the light of day.  It eventually was produced in 1991 and has been steadily produced since that time.

This show takes a number of liberties with the source material, but this, in no way, weakens the power of the story.  Thanks to expert direction from Alan Klem, what we get is a show that is guaranteed to move you to the depths of your soul.

Kudos need to be given to this entire cast.  Experienced performers could take a lesson from this troupe of college students as each and every individual always plays the moment and stays involved in the action of the story.  That being said, this show also contained a number of standout performances.

Ryan Malone is exceptionally well cast as Erik, the titular Phantom.  His Phantom is far more sympathetic than ones from the novel and other versions of the tale.  Malone imbues his Erik with an almost childlike quality.  He is darkly innocent in the sense that he has known nothing, but the bowels of the Opera House and the music that has salved his soul.  But he does rule the Opera and woe to anyone who violates his rules or his desires.  Malone smoothly reveals this menace early on when he justifies his killing of an intruder into his domain with a simple, “He broke the rules.”  Malone also has mastered the fine art of body language, using it to communicate his emotions such as anguish when Christine flees from his hideous face.  Malone possesses a fine baritone voice, excelling in such numbers as “Paris is a Tomb”, “You are Music” and “You are My Own”.

Chelsey Hill is astonishingly amazing as Christine Daee.  With a crystal clear soprano voice, Ms Hill delights the crowd with such tunes as “Melodie de Paris” and “My True Love”.  Her Christine has a beautiful sweetness and innocence about her.  Ms Hill also does a tremendous job handling the conflicted feelings of love she has for both The Count de Chandon, who helps get her into the Paris Opera House and the Phantom who develops the potential of her voice.  Her reaction at seeing the unmasked Erik says more than words ever will.

Colleen Kilcoyne sparkles in a delightfully hammy performance as Carlotta, one of the new owners of the Opera House and its leading lady.  Carlotta is a diva in every sense of the word and Ms Kilcoyne plays it to the hilt, exemplified in the song “This Place is Mine”.  She rules with an iron fist and fancies herself the world’s greatest singer when, in reality, she is a loud screecher.  She is also cold blooded and callous, cruelly sabotaging Christine to retain her bought position as the ingénue of the Opera.

Patrick Kilcoyne gives a haunting performance as Gerard Carriere, the former managing director of the Opera House who is forced out by Carlotta and her husband near the start of the play.  Carriere has a mysterious connection with the Phantom whom he has tried to protect over the years.  Blessed with a powerful and rich bass voice, Kilcoyne brilliantly essays emotions such as frustration, anger, tenderness, and love.  His duet with Erik, “You Are My Own”, nearly brought me to tears.

Also good were Matt Karasek as Philippe, the Count de Chandon and Michael Conroy as Inspector Ledoux.  Karasek has a natural charm well suited to Philippe who initially appears as a gadabout, but displays genuine love for Christine.  Conroy provided some terrific comedic moments as the chief of the Parisian police force.

Bill Van Deest is to be commended for his amazing set.  Taking us from the streets of Paris to the catacombs of the Phantom, I often forgot this was not a professional production.  Stephen Sheftz and his orchestra also deserve praise for their stellar musicianship.

Phantom plays for one more weekend at Creighton University’s Lied Education Center for the Arts (Mar 27-30).  Showtimes are 7:30 pm Mar 27-29 and 2pm on Mar 30.  Tickets are $5, $15, or $18.  Reservations can be made at boxoffice.creighton.edu or at 402-280-1448.  Creighton University is located at 2500 California Plaza, Omaha, NE  68178.

Devastation

A grand Saturday to you all.

For all of my adventures in theatre, this one has always been the hardest to share.  So you might want to go ahead and grab a hanky. . .Seriously.  I’ll wait.

Doo de doo de doo doo doo de doo.

Ready?

In “Chasing the Dream”, you learned how I got interested in theatre and pursued the dream for 4 long years before I finally managed to get cast in back to back shows.  A change came over me during the run of The Mask of Moriarty.  I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning.  I was sad a lot and life just didn’t seem as rosy as it once did.  I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I was experiencing the early symptoms of situational depression.

I had been considering going back to school for a master’s degree, but as the depression gained a greater hold, I had to put that plan on hold which only worsened my depression because I felt like a quitter and as my previous trilogy hopefully showed, “quit” is not a word in my vocabulary.  I had hoped that theatre could be the key to shaking my blues, but I was wrong.

Oh, I was so, so wrong.

Due to the depression, I had lost all confidence in myself.  And the small gains I had made in theatre crumbled to dust.  I began to perceive myself as having a lot of shortcomings as a performer.  And I began to overcompensate for these perceived shortcomings and rattled off a series of auditions so terrible, it probably made some people blush.

I hit rock bottom, acting-wise, with an audition for a show called Inspecting Carol at the Omaha Playhouse.  This was, without question, the single, worst audition I ever had. In my early days, I would often attend both nights of the audition and would get called up to read at least once or twice a night, each night for the most part.  This time around, I gave an audition that was so hideously awful that I only got to read once.  I came back the second night and was neither asked to read nor did I volunteer to read because I saw the writing on the wall and realized I could not undo the damage of that wretched first read.

Eventually I had decided that my plan for a master’s degree was in the wrong field.  I realized that my previous credits at Creighton had me not too far from a certification in HR, so I enrolled there instead.  My confidence was still virtually non-existent, but I had always been an excellent scholar, so as I fell into my studies and realized that I could still do that, my depression started to lift a bit.

I even took a gamble and decided to audition at Creighton again.  My first audition back was for a one act play called The Zoo Story by Edward Albee.  This play is about a quiet man named Peter who goes to the park to read.  While there he meets a man called Jerry who tells Peter the story about why he came to the zoo.  As Jerry’s story continues, Peter learns that Jerry is a very dangerous lunatic.  Jerry provokes a fight with Peter and gets stabbed in the struggle and all to prove his point that people are just like animals.

I really wanted to play Jerry, but ended up having an astounding read for Peter.  This was the longest flash I had in an audition because I managed to get a grip on it and ride it through to the end of the audition.  A friend of mine named Paul Thelen looked at me after my first read as Peter and said, “You have a real naturalness for that role”.

I ended up getting to the final grouping of people and ended up narrowly being edged out for the role of Peter.  There was a direction that I didn’t take far enough and Paul thought if I had done so, I would have landed the part and I think he was right.

Still it was a tremendous boost in confidence.  So much so that I auditioned for A View From the Bridge later that year at Creighton.  I had a fairly solid showing, but had a memorable moment towards the end of the audition.  Bill Hutson wanted to improvise a scene where immigration agents came to collect a couple of illegal immigrants (an important plot point in the play).  I opted to go for a very no nonsense agent and when I came to collect the character, he jerked away from to hug his cousin good-bye.  I pried him loose and snarled, “You can send her a letter.”

Immediately, I thought I had erred and that this comment was too comedic for the scene.  But I was delighted to hear the opposite reaction from the other actors.  They erupted into oohs and one person commented, “Wow!  What cruelty.”  A few days later I learned I had got into the play and I credit that moment for sealing the deal.  And it was nice that I could end my time at Creighton with a sense of peace with the theatre department.

It was a good show and I met some good people and my depression lifted a little bit more.  Then I went to the Playhouse to see a show in March of 2002 and I met a friend of mine who worked for the Playhouse’s professional touring wing, the Nebraska Theatre Caravan.  I asked him if he knew any shows that would be produced next year and he mentioned several which I mentally filed and then my brain ground to a halt when he said, The Elephant Man.

For the first time in a long time, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.  The Elephant Man is my favorite film and play.  I saw the play on TV when I was 9 and I was so struck by the strength of spirit of Joseph (John) Merrick that I learned all that I could about him and became an expert.  For those who don’t know, Joseph Merrick (misnamed John by Dr. Frederick Treves who shared his story) suffered from an ultrarare genetic condition called Proteus Syndrome which not only caused tumors to grow all over and in his body, but savagely disfigured him as well.  He made his living as a sideshow freak until Dr. Treves discovered him at a freak show and thought he would make a good subject for a paper.  Treves discovered the man trapped within the hideous body and ended up giving him a better life.  Despite the tragic life he had led, Merrick maintained a strong faith in God and was a witty, intelligent, artistic man who built a model of St John’s Church with his one good arm and almost entirely from his imagination.  The church remains at a museum in London to this day.

I had long felt that I was born to play this part and knew if I could have the chance that I could really show how good of an actor I could be with this role.  I rapidly completed my studies at Creighton and began to prepare for what I felt would be a momentous audition.  My knowledge of the character already gave me some decided advantages as I knew Merrick’s story intimately and was well acquainted with his physicality from photographs I had studied in the past.  Now I just needed to prepare the audition.

I even got an extra bit of good news when I learned that Kevin Lawler (of The Empty Plough audition) would be directing the show.  I remember the good showing I had given him at the previous audition and admired his philosophy of him having enough faith in his directorial prowess to get the actor out of people.  I believed I would head into this audition on absolutely equal footing with the other performers.

As I worked on my audition, I realized something wasn’t quite right so I asked my old friend, Kay McGuigan, if she would help me with my audition.  She was more than happy to and with her help I discovered the big flaw.  I made Merrick too angry.  I let the injustice I felt at his treatment influence my performance and it was wrong.  With Kay’s help, we spent 2 hours reworking and fixing my interpretation and when we were done I was ready to fly.

Then came the audition night.  Never had I been so nervous for an audition.  I brought a cane with me to help me feel more like Merrick and I wanted to be the first reader so I could set the bar to impossible heights.  After I signed in, I noticed there were only monologues available so I knew it to be a one on one audition.  However, the monologues were only for Dr. Treves and Ross, Merrick’s “owner”.  Even though, he is the title character, Merrick has no lengthy monologues due to the difficulty he had talking because of his affliction.  The first thought that sprung to mind was that all of my work had just gone up in smoke.  But I took a deep breath and told myself that I could just ask Kevin if I could read for Merrick.

I spent a few minutes studying the monologue and was called over by the stage manager.  Kevin was waiting and he took a look at me and said, “I think I remember this guy” before shaking my hand.  Another shot of confidence because it meant he had remembered my audition from The Empty Plough from four years past.  We went into the theatre and he complimented me on my cane and I explained why I had brought it and told him I was hoping I could show him my Merrick as well.  He said that might be a possibility, but let’s see how I handled the monologue first.

I was reading a monologue of Treves where he confesses to Bishop Howe that he feels he has made Merrick a freak again, albeit a high class one.  I attacked the monologue with a very earnest read, almost a sense of desperation.  I saw Treves as trying to explain how he felt, but not quite knowing how to say it, and hoping that his earnestness would explain the situation.  As I got about halfway through the monologue, Kevin stopped me and said, “I want you to try something.  Grab a chair and have a seat.  I want you to pretend that you’ve been in a bar drinking and are sharing this story.  Don’t be so earnest, but more like, ‘This is bullshit and that’s bullshit and my life is a lie’.  And I don’t want to see any anger.”

“HA!” I thought to myself.  “Here’s where I make up for The Empty Plough.”

I redid the monologue with Kevin’s suggestions and it worked very well.  The monologue was directed more towards myself and carried a lot more gravitas as a result.  When I finished, Kevin said, “That was much better.  Good changes.”  Then he allowed me to read Merrick.

He helped me read a scene where Merrick has a final meeting with his former “owner” and declares his humanity.  Immediately I fell into the role, transforming my body into Merrick, and proceeded to have what I still consider the absolute best read I have ever given.  As I finished up a little paragraph from Merrick, I waited for Kevin to feed me the next line and heard nothing.  I looked up at him and saw him staring at me, eyes shining.  To this day I still wonder what he was thinking at that moment.

“Kevin?” I stated.

That snapped him out of his reverie and he said, “Well you’ve certainly been studying photographs.  You’ve got a good grip on his infirmities.”  Then he asked me if I had read the play and I said that I had and told him why I found the character so fascinating.  You see, I was bullied a bit in my childhood which is why I connected so well with Merrick.  He had it worse than I ever did and never lost his faith and stayed a good man and I’m proud to say that I’ve done the same.  When I finished my explanation, Kevin said, “So you feel you have a strong connection with the character?” and I said, “Yes.  I guess I do.”

Kevin had one more task for me.  He wanted me to take a few minutes to study the monologue of Ross and then come back and read it.  If it helped, he told me that Ross was a very oily individual.  I went out, studied, came back and gave a decent accounting of myself.  Right intention.  Right attitude.  But the delivery seemed slightly off target.  Just slightly and in no way undid the other good work I had done.  Kevin seemed pleased and said, “That was just what I wanted to see.  Something completely different.”

I then asked Kevin what would happen next.  He said he needed to cast the play by August 1 and if I didn’t hear anything by then, it would, unfortunately, mean that I hadn’t been cast.  He thanked me for my time and clapped me on the back.  As he did, I got a terrific chill.  I suddenly had the odd sensation that I was not going to be cast.  I chalked it up to nerves and left, fully confident, that I had a real chance.

For the next 3 weeks, I dove at the phone every time it rang, hoping that it would be the call.  On July 31, I came home and found a letter waiting for me from the Playhouse.  All the feeling drained from my body.  I opened up the envelope, removed the card, and read the all too familiar words thanking me for my time, but I was not going to be cast in The Elephant Man.  I went to my bedroom and buried my face in my hands.

I was struck numb.  If I could have cried, I may have felt better, but I couldn’t even do that.  I just felt nothing.  “How?”  I asked myself.  And it rattled in my head like a mantra.  This had been my very best audition.  And it failed.  What did that mean about every other audition I had done or might do?

I didn’t know what to do.  There is an unwritten rule in theatre that says you never ask why you don’t get cast.  And it’s a good rule.  As I’ve stated in a previous blog, there are so many uncontrollable factors outside an actor’s control that dictate whether he or she gets cast.  And I didn’t need to know why I didn’t get cast.  I just needed to know that my audition meant something.  I struggled with the decision for a few hours, but finally sat down and wrote Kevin an e-mail where I simply asked if I had been in the running and what he thought of the audition.

A month later, I got the following response:

Dear Chris,

Yes, you were in the running.  I was moved by the preparation you had done.  I also thought you had done some good work in your preparations, but it worried me that you had done so much work on it.  I wasn’t quite sure where the breathing room would be.  It was almost as if you had worked so hard that there might be little room for change or to begin from scratch even if that’s what was called for.  What I was more concerned about seeing was how versatile an actor you were.  Where your qualities lay in the cold readings.  Having said all that, I must tell you that it was one of the most wonderful displays of heart and care that I have ever come across from an actor in an audition.  I thank you for that.

I am sorry that it didn’t work out this time, but I think you should, and will, keep auditioning if you love theatre as much as it seems you do.

Many thanks, Chris,

Kevin

What mixed feelings I had.  I was deeply touched by the letter, but that was countered by the horror that the things I did to give myself the best possible chance destroyed my chances.  Even worse was the knowledge I had that I had not worked as hard as Kevin had thought.  Remember, most of my knowledge had been acquired over the years.  And he didn’t know that I had reworked the entire audition the previous day and was quite directable.  And never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would not have been cast at all.

This audition haunted me for a long time.  And it wasn’t until a long time later that I saw the good that came out of it.

Most importantly, I believe God sent me the audition because preparing for it was what finally pulled me out of the depression I had been suffering from once and for all.

It was inspiring.  Instead of telling myself that I never could do better, I vowed to get my auditions up to that level on a regular basis.

I did get close.  Perhaps even the second choice.

Finally, Kevin made the right call.  In the sense that if I couldn’t play Merrick, it was best not to be in the show at that stage in my life.  Although I was free of the depression, my acting confidence was still incredibly low.  And Daniel Dorner, who won the role, did a magnificent job and won every major acting award for it.  Had I been cast and watched him work his magic, I would not be an actor today because I would have convinced myself that I could never have matched it and quit.

Nowadays I look back and I take great pride in what I did accomplish with that read.  And there was much to be proud of.

NEXT TIME:  The Awakening.  Our hero’s sleeping powers finally awaken.

Chasing the Dream, Part 2

The Empty Plough really rocked me, but, like the mighty phoenix, I rose again.

With my senior year at Creighton fast approaching, I vowed to do everything within my power to get cast.  The first audition of that year was Children of a Lesser god.  This play had an added level of difficulty due to the use of sign language throughout the entirety of the play.  I decided this would be a good way to help me stand out from the crowd, so, in addition to preparing one of the roles, I also taught myself the ASL alphabet.

I was the first reader of the night and I met Alan Klem, who would eventually become responsible for a key moment in my avocation.  Alan seemed impressed that I had learned the ASL alphabet already and gave me a monologue to read.  And I gave a fairly good showing in the read.  I must have read well enough because Alan moved me to the next phase of the audition which was to do the same scene again, but do it with no words and still get the meaning across to a deaf audience.

I was caught flat footed by that request.

However, I decided to go down swinging.  I gave a Herculean effort, but I knew it wasn’t working.  I looked at Alan and I knew he knew I knew it wasn’t working.  When I finished, I was dismissed with a brief, “Thank you.”  I knew I didn’t need to examine the cast list later that week, but I did anyway.  And, to no surprise, I was not cast.

The one act festival made its return this year, only this time (and ever since) it was directed by theatre students.  I mostly read for a show called Carwash and I had another solid showing.  This time I even lasted until the bitter end as I was asked to stay for a final examination as the director, Brent Tierney, kept several actors just to examine our appearances against one another.  Again, it was another defeat as I failed to find my name on the cast list.

Needless to say, I was really starting to get frustrated with the whole process.  There are very few things that match the colossal risk of the audition.  If you audition properly (even if you don’t do it well), you open yourself up and leave it all hang out.  And to be that open and to get denied again and again can take a tremendous toll because it feels so personal, yet is not.  It is never a director’s intent to make you feel bad.  A director wants you to be the answer to his or her casting problem, but he or she looks for a lot more than just the acting.  It’s how you look, how you sound, how you look compared to others, etc.  The director is looking for the whole.  An actor can only control his or her acting and that counts for a very small part of the casting process.

But I digress.  I had one final chance to get cast.  Creighton was going to produce a play called Death of a Blind, Old Man and it was a modern day interpretation of Oedipus at Colonus.  As I went through the audition, I had another flash.  I noticed that everyone auditioning for the role of Oedipus played him like Superman.  I knew that the only thing super about Oedipus at this point was his ability to suffer.  When I got the chance to read for him, I jerked the rug right out from under his feet.  I made him a truly pitiable, tragic figure and I noted that several people I was reading with really got into this take on the character.

The director, Bill Hutson, stopped the read with a booming, “Good.”  I felt really proud of my work that night and as I sat down, I was congratulated by a friend of mine for an awesome read.  A short while later, Bill asked a few people to stay and dismissed the rest of us, but said, “Just because I’m asking you to leave doesn’t mean you haven’t been cast.”

That Friday, I rushed over to the Performing Arts Center as soon as I got on the campus.  I was tingling with anticipation as I approached the cast line.  Nervously I ran my finger down the list and saw that my name was nowhere to be found. 

I leaned my head against the call board and heaved a heavy sigh.  I just wanted to crumple to the floor and vanish.  For four years, I had given my all and I couldn’t even land a bit part.  I thought my theatre days were over.

But I still wanted to be involved.  So I signed up for an Oral Interpretation of Literature class in the spring semester of my senior year.  As I went through the class, I learned that I slowly won my teacher, Alan Klem, over.  Many of my performances were well received and Alan dubbed me the master of dialects as I seemed to have a knack for mimicking various accents.  Towards the end of the term, Alan stopped me before class and said he had just received the graduating seniors list and saw that my name was on it.  I admitted that I was graduating and he said, “I’m really sorry to hear that.  I wish you had about 2 years left to go because I can see you going a long way in plays.”

With that statement, I found the strength to go on for a little longer.  I had recently discovered community theatre and I decided that I would give theatre one more year and if I could not get cast in that time, then I would call it quits.

And that’s when things took a turn. . .

To be continued

Chasing the Dream

So now I had a goal and my first attempt at reaching that goal was to audition for the One Act Festival during my freshman year at Creighton University.

I auditioned for a show called The Actor’s Nightmare which was a comedy about an ordinary man who suddenly finds himself going through a series of clichéd performance pieces and he is completely out of place.  Secretly, I hoped that I was a natural and that I would blow away the director with my audition and nab the leading part.  I got up on stage, took a deep breath, and made an amazing discovery. . .

I was NOT a natural.

Don’t get me wrong.  My audition wasn’t terrible.  It just wasn’t that great either.  For a first audition, it was OK.  Later that week, I was walking around campus with a friend who had also auditioned for the festival when our theatre instructor, Michael McCandless, approached from the opposite direction and gave my friend the great news that he had just cast him as the lead in the other play at the festival, Riders to the Sea.  Naturally, in all the excitement, I thought that Michael was going to tell me that I, too, had been cast in the festival.  My excitement evaporated in the blink of an eye when I saw Michael look at me with a glint of pity in his eyes.

“Chris, I’m sorry, but you didn’t make it in this time,” he said.

So went my first audition and my first taste of rejection, which would become an all too common taste over the next few years.

Due to my heavy class schedule, I was not able to audition again until my sophomore year.  Carrying another heavy class schedule, I only managed one audition and it followed the same path as the first.  An OK audition, but I was clearly outclassed.  During the summer break, I vowed to go into future auditions with a much higher level of preparation to overcome my inexperience and to get out to more auditions.

Enter my junior year of college.  I was able to audition immediately for The Importance of Being Ernest.  I knew the play well and attempted to perfect each and every male role in the show which was a colossal error in judgment because no character got any special attention and all were underdeveloped as a result.

Adding to my error was the fact that I got a bit overlooked at the audition.  Everyone got to read multiple times before I ever got to read.  A few people actually got up there 5 times before I got to read once.  Even then, I was never actually called up to read.  The director finally asked if there was anyone who had not had an opportunity to read and I sheepishly raised my hand.  With my confidence dead in the water, I proceeded to get up and gave an absolutely wretched audition.  I vowed to return the next night and give a better showing.

And that didn’t happen.  When I returned the second night, I was not asked to read again.  I did ask if I could read a couple roles at the end of the night and was granted the opportunity, but it was a failure and I knew it.  To make my defeat total, when I left for the night, the director, Bill Hutson, said, “Thanks, Mike.”  Ouch.

For the first time, I would audition a second time during the school year.  An original play called The Empty Plough was going to be guest directed by its writer, Kevin Lawler, one of the founders of the famed Blue Barn Theatre in Omaha.  This time around, focusing on characters was easy as it was a small cast and there were only 2 male roles.  I was especially attracted to the character of Vern.

This play takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where 3 characters (Vern, Fern, and Fran) barely survive.  Vern is an angry, bitter man, though he has deep love for Fern and Fran which is hidden behind his bluster.  The three meet Lillian, an angel figure sent by the godlike Joseph, who tells them to build a plough which will bring them to a better place.  Near the end of the play, Fern gets sick and dies and is taken to Heaven by Lillian.  Vern finally drops his façade and pleads with Fern to come back and his monologue crescendos to him having a heart attack which ultimately kills him.  Such a powerful piece of writing.

I got to the audition and Kevin discussed the show and told us he would be bringing us in one at a time to read a monologue.  I was handed Vern’s monologue from the end and I got really excited because I had a lot of ideas as to what to do with this reading.  My confidence received a further boost when Kevin said, “I don’t care whether you think you’re an actor or not because I have enough faith in my abilities to bring the actor out of you.”  It just made me feel like I had a real chance.

Out into the hallway I went and read and waited.  I ended up being the final reader of the night.  I went into that theatre, shook Kevin’s hand, and he got to know me a little.  Then he asked me how many shows I had done.  Timidly, I replied that I had not done any.  Kevin quickly assured me that was all right and he just wanted me to take the monologue and have some fun with it.

This reading was the first flash of what I could really do as a performer.  Even today, the read still stands out as a great one as I portrayed Vern as a broken, haunted individual who would give anything not to lose a member of his “family”.  When I finished, Kevin was really excited and said, “Excellent!  I loved the vulnerability you showed with the character.  Now let’s see you do it angry.”

What happened next can only be described as if I had gone to a rifle range, carefully lined the target up in my sight, then turned the gun around and went, “BANG!!!”  The flash I had with the first reading vanished.  I knew Vern was angry, but didn’t think he needed to be angry here, so I wasn’t prepared to make the transition.  My second reading was very awkward and I sounded mocking and mean instead of angry.  When I finished, Kevin told me that the cast would be called by Sunday night.

I left and still felt pretty good because of the strength of the first read.  My head was so high in the clouds, I was starting all of my prayers with, “Lord, as long as I’m in the neighborhood. . .”  I was jumping on the phone every time it rang, especially Sunday.

Sunday ended and I did not receive a call.

And I was devastated.

And I wept. . .

To be continued