A Season of Change, Part V: The Biggest Change of All

You better sit down for this one.

Comfortable?

And off we go.

With Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? not panning out, I thought another season had come to its end.  Luckily, I had things to keep me occupied.  A potentially good opportunity for my real life had dropped into my lap and I began pursuing it, though things seemed to cool off after a promising start.  Then I got a message from Sonia Keffer saying that she hoped to see me at auditions for Sabrina Fair which she would be directing for the Bellevue Little Theatre.  Since my opportunity appeared to have evaporated, I decided to audition.

Sabrina Fair will go down as one of my personal favorite auditions.  There were two roles suitable for a gentleman of my age.  One was David Larrabee, the younger son of the powerful Larrabee family who marries and divorces at the drop of a hat.  The other was Linus Larrabee, Jr., the older son and the CEO of the family business.

Of the two roles, Linus was by far the more interesting and very anti-me.  Linus is a bit insufferable, emotionless, and completely dedicated to making a profit.  He does care for his family and is concerned about doing what’s best for them, but goes about doing it in ways that make him seem a little shady.  At least, that’s what I gleaned from the character from the little bits I read.

I had a ball with the character and just let loose.  I rank it as one of my top five reads as I was engaged, moving, and just having fun.  Sonia said words which I shall always treasure after the audition.  She said, “You really surprised me up there.  You’ve got more than a little Linus in you.”

Without aiming for it, I had accomplished another goal in theatre.  I had finally convinced a director that I was capable of playing a role that was outside my real personality.  It felt really good.  That was Sunday night.

On Monday night, nothing happened.

Then came Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, I finally heard back about my personal opportunity and the other party was still quite interested in going forward.  That provided a bit of a dilemma for me as there would not be a way for me to have my cake and eat it, too.  If I were cast and did the show, I’d lose out on the opportunity.  If I pursued the opportunity, I’d have to give up the show as my weeknights would get eaten up.  What to do? What to do?

Ultimately, my real life won out.  Theatre isn’t going anywhere and there will always be another show and I had to take a chance on the other opportunity.  Having made my decision and since casting decisions had not been announced yet, I decided I would write Sonia a quick note after work letting her know that I would have to withdraw myself from consideration.

Now I had forgotten my phone that morning which would become important later.  I ended up getting home very late that Tuesday and prepared to write a little note to Sonia.  Then I checked my phone and Sonia had left me a message.  D’oh!!

At that point it was too late to return the call, so I decided to call her the next day.  But when I checked Facebook, I saw Sonia had messaged me on there as well.  I didn’t want to leave her hanging, so I wrote her a quick note letting her know what had happened and that I would call her tomorrow.

We had a good conversation the next day and she voiced the same thoughts I had that real life had to come first and theatre would always be there.  She did say that my withdrawal had broken her heart and if you think it was because she was going to offer me the role of Linus, you’d be right.  I told her that would have been nice, but thanked her for the opportunity and told her I looked forward to working with her again.  I also offered to use my website to help promote the show if she wanted to send any press releases my way. Sonia said she’d hope I would come see the show which I certainly will do so I can put the power of the pen behind it.

On Thursday I began my little B & B sojourn and on Friday morning I made a most shocking realization.

I was not upset by having had to give up the show.

If you’re standing, I bet you’re sitting.  And if you’re sitting, I bet you exploded up from your seat.

Don’t get me wrong.  I was a little disappointed by having had to give it up, but I know me and my regular readers know how ardently I’ve pursued acting for the past 20 years.  Not that long ago, having had to give up a role, not to mention a leading role, would have devastated me.  But, relatively speaking, I actually felt pretty good about the whole thing and that’s when I understood the full extent of the miracle granted to me by Leaving Iowa.

Leaving Iowa did much, much more than irrevocably restore my confidence in myself as an actor.  It also scratched my itch good and proper.  I realized that over the past 2 years, I had only auditioned 6 times.  In years gone by, I would have auditioned that many times in just one season.  I was further stunned to realize that, with the exceptions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sabrina Fair, the shows didn’t have the heft of my heart behind them.  My acting mojo simply had not been there as Leaving Iowa had satisfied me so thoroughly.

Through this website, I had managed to stay involved in theatre without having to act.  And I had, and have, been ecstatically happy serving as theatre’s champion by giving notice to shows that might otherwise have been ignored by the local papers and writing good, solid reviews for the public.

When you add that to my growing interest in directing and wanting to shadow someone for that, I realized there was something I needed to give to myself that I had not yet done.

It’s time for a break. . .at least, that was what I thought when I originally began writing this article.

I had planned to announce that I was going to take a season’s break from the acting side of things next year, but it seems that Sabrina Fair did a little magic of its own and I can feel the creative juices stirring again.  So I don’t think I’ll be taking a break, per se, but I will slow things down a bit so I can attempt to learn a thing or two about directing.

It’s a bit ironic that I called this series the “Season of Change” because the biggest changes were with me and, most assuredly, for the better.

Sadly, this story ends this season’s theatre tales.  But I’ll be back soon when I begin the “Season of Exploration”.

As always, until the next time.

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.

What Do I See?

A short while ago, I wrote an article on the power of perception which discussed the idea that how actors are seen dictates if and how they are cast.  I’ve said that an actor exerts very little control over this aspect of the business and that is certainly true.  But how an actor perceives himself or herself certainly dictates the types of roles she or he pursues.
 
Some actors only see themselves as leading characters and will only accept a role of that type.  Others may prefer the sidekick/second banana role.  Still more may be willing to accept a role of any kind.
 
When it comes to me, I always seek out the most challenging role.  In my experience, that role is usually something other than the leading role.  So, in a sense, I am probably a character actor, though I think what I pursue is something more than that and somewhat defies a description.
 
If I were to put it into words, I would call myself a storyteller.  This is why I prefer John Merrick to Frederick Treves, Billy Bibbit to Randall McMurphy, and Renfield to Count Dracula.  I really don’t have a particular taste as I will always look for the role that intrigues me, though I do seem to have a predilection for characters that exhibit great strength of spirit.
 
Since I view myself as a storyteller, the size of my part does not matter.  I just want the challenge.  If I thought the leading role in a play was the most difficult one, then that is what I would pursue.  If I thought a character with no lines was the most challenging role, then that is the role that I would want.  With the pursuit of the challenge, a wide plethora of roles is available to me.
 
Not that I will do any role that comes my way.  I have refused roles in the past because I didn’t think they had the difficulty which I seek or just didn’t think myself well suited to the role.  As my abilities as an actor have grown and evolved, I have become a little choosier in what I will do.  For example, at this point in my avocation, the odds of me taking a supernumerary role aren’t particularly high.  Just like in climbing the corporate ladder where you have to work from the bottom up, I believe a role like that needs to go to an inexperienced, untested performer to give her or him a chance to show some grace and aplomb. 
 
As to my style. . .well, I’d like to consider myself a naturalistic actor.  I try to imagine what I would do if I were to find myself in the same situation that that character does and react accordingly.  Sometimes I think I’m too realistic as I need to work a little harder at being over the top when it comes to farce since my instinct is to play things as believably as I can even when my character may be in the midst of an unbelievable situation.
 
My perception of how I’m often cast is that directors tend to cast me in characters that seem to reflect my real personality.  Though, over the past few years, I’ve managed to start obtaining roles different to myself such as the loutish drunkard, Eric Birling, in An Inspector Calls and the adult version of Don Browning in Leaving Iowa.  Rest assured, child Don was very much me and probably the most fun I’ve had being me on stage.
 
And it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed playing the characters who reflect the real me.  I’ve loved them all.  But I’m me every day so I already know I can do that.  In order to continue my growth as an actor, I have to show the sides of me that aren’t seen very much.  This is why I’ll often try a different take on a “me” character to make it a little less “me” when I’m playing that type of role.
 
When I first got started in this business, I didn’t understand what acting was all about.  I felt I had to feel like I was doing something in order to be acting and this road, unquestionably, led to being perceived as a poor performer.
 
Along the road I met those who helped me understand that I didn’t have to feel like I was doing something, I just had to do it.  That is what helped me to become a stronger actor over the years.  Learning to trust my instinct and be in the moment also helped me to achieve that truly rare feat of altering perceptions of me as a bad actor.  Mind you, I didn’t consciously set out to do this.  I just did it because I kept trying, working, practicing, and learning.  My conscious goal was simply to get roles.
 
The theatre season is fully cast and, for the first time in years, I didn’t do a show.  It wasn’t that long ago that I would consider that a failure and the frustration would be weighing on my shoulders like a ton of bricks.  But my perception of me has changed and I now accept myself as a good, capable actor. 
 
There’ll always be another show.  And I’ll be offering directors all of me which is the only thing I can give.  My instinct.  My effort.  My imagination.  My interpretation.  When it comes to casting me, directors may not always agree with me, but they will know that they got the best me.

The Last Night

And so my road has reached its end with the magnificent Marley men.  Friday was my last day assisting with Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol and it was a little melancholy.  I’d truly enjoyed watching the cast grow during my three week run being their safety net, line noter, and jack of all trades.  The past week had been the most impressive as they were now much more comfortable with their lines and were starting to imbue their work with some serious acting.

Friday actually marked the beginning of tech rehearsals for the show.  These account for the slowest and longest days for the cast and crew.  Traditionally, techs are a 2 day event.  Saturday is what is known as the dry tech where the lights and sounds are set up without benefit of the actors.  The next day is known as Tech Sunday and it is a very, very long day.

The cast and crew will start early in the day with what is known as a cue to cue rehearsal.  What that means is that the cast will give the line(s) that lead into the light and sound cues where adjustments are constantly made.  It’s very slow, stop and go work.  Depending on the nature of the show, it can be brutally long.  For example, when I did Dracula, we started Tech Sunday at 2pm and we called it a night at 2am without the technical work being completed.

“Marley” isn’t a very long show, but it’s technically difficult as it has numerous light and sound cues.  After 3.5 hours of work on Friday, the show still had about 50 light cues that needed to be mapped.  Those would be finished at Saturday’s dry tech and fine tuned on Sunday’s cue to cue rehearsal.

After the cue to cue ends, the cast and crew normally break for an hour to have a meal.  They then come back and run a full tech rehearsal which means doing the entire show with lines, sound, and lights.  On Monday, costumes get added to the mix and that continues until opening night.

Once the tech work started, I knew that my particular skills would no longer be needed.  The actors have to arrive early and get costumed, so no line running.  Once tech starts, actors can no longer call for lines and they no longer get line notes.  Also, I wanted to save a little bit of theatre magic for myself for opening night as I neither know all of the light cues nor any of the sound cues. 

I also know that the show will morph even more during the week.  Once teching begins, layers start being added to the show which helps aid the acting.  Lights add one layer.  Sound another.  Costumes add yet a third.  The most important layer is that of the audience.  After countless rehearsals, a show desperately needs the x factor of an audience to fuel the performances.  The addition of the audience adds something that defies description.  Often, it spurs the actors to new discoveries and makes a good show great and a great show mind blowing.

When I announced my departure on Friday, I was amazed and touched by Kevin’s response of “Really?”  Even though I wasn’t performing, I was just as much a part of this show as the cast and crew and Kevin’s disappointment at my leaving really made me feel that.  I shook his hand, told him it had been a pleasure, and he asked me if it really had been a pleasure.

It surely was.  His concern was probably that I had a lot of sitting around time.  And I did, but it was also a chance for me to sit under the learning tree.  With the way my mind had been opened by Leaving Iowa, I now saw and heard so much more than I once did.

This time around, I saw and heard beats, which I may have missed before and it added such an extra dimension to the experience as well as percolate ideas in my own head.  It got my own performance juices flowing and I really wish I could have been on stage with these guys and share this remarkable story with them.

I told Kevin I looked forward to my next audition with him and he replied, “Likewise”, though he said it may be about 5 or 6 years before he directs again.  (He’s getting ready to become a father.)  I know not what the future may bring, but, hopefully, I will get another opportunity to work with him.  For that matter, I hope to get a chance to work with these gifted storytellers on the other side of the stage one day.  As it was, I shared a round of hearty handshakes with my comrades, old and new, and faded into the evening with a promise to return on opening night.

As I wait for that magical eve, I’ve started reviewing a few scripts so the future may hold a new story for me and perhaps sooner than anyone suspects. . .

Marley Men Assemble!!

“Even if we did everything exactly the same, it would still be different.  Not only because we have Bill and Kevin, but because you’ve changed from where you were and where your hearts were a few years ago.”–Kevin Lawler

Thus marks the beginning of a brand new tale of theatre.  Nearly five months have passed since Leaving Iowa (The Miracle Show) and this marks my first foray into theatre since that time.  However, this time around I am not acting.

“Why?”, I can hear my readers ask.

The simple truth is that I had an engagement in October and have another in December and the precise placement of those engagements made me unable to take any acting gigs until 2014.  Needless to say, I didn’t want to wait that long between auditions and lose the strength of my acting chops.  So when I found out the Blue Barn would be remounting Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol this year, I contacted Kevin and asked if he could use me as a consulting thespian for the show.

What’s a consulting thespian?  Essentially, I come in early to help actors run their lines, run them when they’re not needed on stage, and substitute for them if they cannot be at rehearsal so the others performers don’t lose anything in the absence.  It’s also a great way for me to keep my own skills sharp and honed for that next audition and it lets me be involved.

So I’ve decided to bring you along on my journey and view the creation of a show.  Marley will be a very different beast due to the compressed amount of time we have in getting it ready.  Tonight was the first rehearsal and the show will open in just 4 weeks.  Fortunately, the show was pre-cast with 4 superior actors (Nils Haaland, Kevin Barratt, Bill Grennan, and Scott Working) who have had the benefit of studying a script for the last month or so.  This was crucial as their first assignment was to be off book by tonight because the acting needed to begin right away.

This show is unlike any I have ever been involved with before.  It has a very mysterious, ethereal quality to it.  There will be very little in the way of set and costumes.  What we have is a play that very much relies on the actors’ abilities to paint pictures with words.  They’re going to need to infect the audience with their imagination, so the audience will be able to “see” the events, characters, and props.  It’s almost like pantomime with the benefit of speech.

A good way to describe my previous sentence is by telling you about some of the discoveries Nils (who plays Jacob Marley) made tonight.  When Marley arrives in hell and receives his sentence from the Record Keeper (Scott Working), he has a monologue about how chains suddenly appeared on his wrists, ankles, and neck.  Nils twisted and shifted his body as he described the manifestation of these chains and through that beautiful combination of physicality and description, I could “see” the chains on him and even make note of the ledgers, cashboxes, and locks engulfing his body.

Another discovery Nils made was when the Record Keeper blows Marley into the abyss.  As Nils twirled and whirled on stage, he spoke of Marley “howling in anguish” and he made the word “howling” an actual howl.  It sent chills down my spine and really made me believe in the suffering and torment of Marley.

I think Bill, who is appearing in his 4th straight Blue Barn Christmas show, hit the nail on the head when he said, “The last Christmas shows I’ve done have either been far out and wacky or internal and in my head.  This show has none of that.”  Or perhaps it is all of that.  It depends on one’s point of view.

Shortly before rehearsal wrapped for the night, Kevin made the statement that I quoted at the opening of this tale.  And it got me thinking about my own journey in theatre.  My heart and mind are definitely in a different place than they were a year ago at this time.  I now enjoy the peace of mind that Leaving Iowa has brought me and that, of course, will influence my own future endeavors in theatre.  I’m not the man I was and even now I know I will be approaching and viewing this play very differently than I did several years ago due to those changes and events I’ve undergone in recent years.

And that is an adventure of its own.

The Miracle Show

I was led to the miracle show by my good friend, David Sindelar.  He told me he was going to be auditioning for a show called Leaving Iowa over at the Bellevue Little Theatre.  Now that theatre is quite a ways from where I live, so in order for me to make the long drive out there, I really have to believe in the quality of the show.

I looked up the synopsis of the script and found it most fascinating.  The play focuses on a Boston writer named Don Browning who returns to his hometown of Winterset, IA for the baptism of his nephew.  While visiting his home, the family finds his late father’s ashes in the basement.  Don, who has reluctantly returned home to begin with, remembers his dad’s last request to have his ashes spread on the family farm in Mt Union, IA.  Don decides to fulfill his dad’s request only to find that the family farm has been turned into a grocery store.  Don spends the remainder of the play trying to find the ideal spot to spread dear old dad while reminiscing about the final family vacation to Hannibal, MO and mending the gap between him and his late father.

It was a nice slice of life play that seemed to have a little bit of everything from slapstick comedy to achingly dramatic moments and so I decided to go ahead and audition for the show myself.

I had a great audition.  I was having fun.  I was enjoying myself and what I was doing seemed to be working.  My old friend, Ron Chvala, also attended the audition and he told me that I was in rare form after the audition ended.

That Tuesday I got a call from the play’s director, Sonia Keffer, who said she would like to cast me as Don.

SAY WHAAAAAAATTTTTT??????????

Boy was I excited!!  But I tried to keep a professional tone as I accepted the offer, then got all excited on Facebook when I started off my post with SWEET SASSY MOLASSEY!!!

In a nearly dreamlike state, I attended the first readthrough.  I almost had to pinch myself.  I just couldn’t believe that the long drought had finally ended and in such spectacular fashion.  I had finally won a good and proper leading role as this was a fully published and copyrighted play.  The whole cast was just a group of wonderful people and that first readthrough was such a blast.  Yes, it seemed everything was falling into place.

And then I almost had it all jerked from my grasp.

I had been going through a bit of a difficult period and I was glad to have this show to work on.  Leaving Iowa was a lot like W;t in the sense that Don, like Vivian Bearing, not only serves as the show’s central character, but he is also the narrator of the story.  In a 2 hour play, Don is only off stage for about 3 minutes.  I had more dialogue in this show than I did with all of my other roles put together.

I wasn’t worried about learning the dialogue as I have always had a particular knack for memorization and am usually off book in a matter of days.  I was making good progress on learning my lines, but still dealing with my difficulties and one night it all crashed in on me.

I was diligently studying my lines and had 40 pages committed to memory when my hands suddenly started shaking like leaves on a tree.  I broke out in a cold sweat and nearly started hyperventilating.  I was in the throes of a panic attack.

I have since learned that in panic attacks, the mind tends to gravitate towards some sort of fear.  Unfortunately, I had been working on the play when my attack struck so my mind was afflicted with the actor’s nightmare.  I began to fear forgetting all of my lines in the middle of a performance with no means of salvation because Don was alone a lot.

I had hoped that a good night’s sleep would right everything, but I couldn’t get to sleep and my mind would not turn off.  Nothing would stick in my mind and the lines I did know, I suddenly could not recall.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t want to give up my part.  I had worked too hard for it.  But it was the only thing I felt I had any control over at that point.

That Friday afternoon, I had a long talk with Sonia and I was fully prepared to bow out of the show, even though I feared it would spell the end of all of my theatre aspirations.

Thank goodness for a person like Sonia.

She paid me a very high compliment by telling me that I was her one and only choice for Don and that she didn’t have a second choice to fall back on.  Sonia said she was a big believer in talk therapy and recommended that I talk to someone.  She wouldn’t let me give up my part and asked that I take a few days to give me time to speak to someone.  Sonia said she believed with her whole heart that I could handle the role, but would understand if my real life had to come first.

I did get in to speak to a counselor and got a lot of things off my chest that needed getting off.  I felt as if a tremendous weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.   That night I went home and immediately ran through the show from start to finish.  Even when I thought nothing was being committed to memory, my subconscious had managed to store it away and now my recall was back.

I texted Sonia on Tuesday and let her know that things were in much more balance and that I would be able to continue with the show.  Sonia was delighted.

It was a little slow going for me at first because I still felt a little nervous, but I still remember that glorious night when it all came together in my head.  We had been working the scene where young Don and his sister (sensationally played by Mary Trecek) successfully badger dear old Dad (charmingly realized by Mark Kocsis) into taking them to Ghost Caverns.  During our comically exaggerated celebration, I executed a cartwheel and found Don.

From that point, my development was exponential.  By opening night I and the entire cast were rocking and rolling.  Our reservations started off slowly, but after the word of mouth got around, our houses doubled and tripled by the second weekend and we nearly sold out a couple of performances during our last weekend.  Our producer, Mark Ferrill, said it was the best show he’d seen in his association with the theatre and I think it was the most commercially successful non-musical, the BLT had had in years.

Doug Blackburn came out and said it was the best thing he had seen me (and several other of the cast do).  He especially praised the physicality changes between the older and younger versions of our characters.

The newspaper review was glowing and I reprint it for you below:

Enjoy Trip in ‘Leaving Iowa’ by Adam Klinker—Reprinted from Bellevue Leader

In as much as Saturday evening was my very first spent at the Bellevue Little Theatre, let me first shame myself for the nearly 34 year journey it took me to get to this splendid artistic asset for Olde Towne and the metro area entire.

That said, my first reason for visiting–the theater’s production of the comedy “Leaving Iowa,” running weekends through June 16–has me greatly looking forward to a much shorter return voyage for future performances.

With “Leaving Iowa,” Sonia Keffer, herself a first-timer in the BLT director’s seat, has created a wonderful picaresque of sorts around yet another rapidly fading thread within the American social fabric:  the family vacation.

The play’s intrepid and, indeed, unpredictable Browning family of Winterset, IA (“Home of the Duke!”), are your typical middle-class Midwestern family–or what would have passed for them a decade or two ago when we were not so beholden to longer hours at the office and in front of screens and had longer attention spans for such things as overland travel.

Following two narrative paths–one a series of flashbacks to a wild summer road trip and the other set in the present and involving Don, the eldest son of the Browning clan, and a similarly mock tragicomic adventure to find a suitable resting place for his father’s ashes–the comedy is both funny and a sometimes poignant look at what we gain and lose in growing up both as a people and as a nation.

As Don, Chris Elston is spot-on as a shelled-over, middle-aged newspaper columnist now living in Boston and trying hard to keep his childhood at bay.  When he returns to Iowa somewhat grudgingly for a family get-together, he finds an excuse to get out of the house and, for once, play the dutiful son in fulfilling his father’s last wish to have his remains spread on the site of his homeplace in Mount Union, Iowa; all this transpiriing three years after his father’s death and the ashes stored unceremoniously but perhaps fittingly atop the basement fuse box.

The discovery that his father’s boyhood home is now a grocery store sets Don off on a new mission–dredging up all those memories of vacations past in hopes of finding a spot to stand as a fitting final repose for the old man.

The flashbacks take us to a family trip to Hannibal, MO, boyhood home of Mark Twain.  Along the way, we are treated to marvelous performances from Danielle Smith as Mom and Mary Trecek as Sis.

Smith’s is a wonderfully performed, slyly witty go as the typical vacation mediator between both Dad and the kids and the kids themselves.  Her turn at the wheel of the station wagon is just how I remember my own mother on those rare occasions when my father relinquished the driving duties but could never quite contain his desire to remain captain of the ship.

Trecek is also hilarious as the bratty and manipulative little sister who knows just when to use her powers for good and ill.

But in this cast with lots of big lines and laughs, veteran actor but BLT rookie Mark Kocsis, in the role of Dad, is nearly perfect.  In what could easily be the stereotypical display of fatherly buffoonery, Kocsis goes just enough over the top to remind you of your own dear old dad gushing over the first seedling mile of the Lincoln Highway and for the geographically-inclined, will also have you laughing knowingly about how an expedition from Winterset to Hannibal got sidetracked all the way to Malta, IL.

At one point, Don says, “Fascinating was the family vacation F-word’ and Kocsis’ neverending and exuberant fascination is funny and endearing.

The play really does boil down to the long, strange trip involved in the father-son relationship and some of the best scenes are in Don’s humorous, sometimes rueful soliloquies while Dad hovers nearby.

Ron Chvala and Sherry Josland Fletcher, in more than half a dozen roles each as locals in the roadside stops made by Don and the Browning family, add a delightful bit of slapstick.  The Civil War bayonet demonstration between Chvala and Kocsis is some of the best physical comedy I’ve seen on the stage.

Much of the action takes place in a car and, on a stage, the dynamic of this can be tricky.  But the kinetic and comic acumen of the four actors playing the Brownings makes it truly seem, even in a stationary setting, that we’re going places.

With any voyage, there comes a point when it can seem we’re going on too long, but the moment here is kept to a minimum with a well-rendered and thoughtful conclusion for which Keffer and her actors are to be commended.

Truly, the Brownings ultimately understand the old maxim:  getting there is more than half the fun and sometimes, especially in our sped-up America, the anticipation over simply arriving at the destination can end in a letdown.

I can’t say that at all for my first tour of the BLT.  “Leaving Iowa” is a journey to take and, moreover, to savor.

Word of my performance spread throughout the theatre community.  People who hadn’t seen the show came up to me and said they had heard how fabulous I had been.  Sonia told me she was proud of me for having stuck with it and so was I.  I had faced my greatest adversity and soundly trounced it.

I even learned that I had received a number of nomination votes for Best Actor for that year’s Theatre Arts Guild Awards and the show received a nomination for Best Comedy.

But the best thing I received was the peace of mind that had long eluded me in theatre.  I had finally reached the top of the mountain and now knew once and for all that I was a good actor.  Even if I never get cast again, I can look back at Leaving Iowa and say I did that one great thing.

And that brings us up to the present day.  I hope you have enjoyed reading these anecdotes as much as I have writing them.  And I look forward to sharing my new adventures with you.