A Season Most Short

I had once planned to call this year’s story series “A Season of Renewal”, but life had other ideas as it’s actually become my shortest season in history.

Picking up from our last tale, Lost Boy Found In Whole Foods continued its critical success into that year’s Playhouse Awards.  All of my actors were nominated for acting prizes which certainly made me proud with my first dip into the directing side of things.  We ended up taking home 4 prizes (Best Featured Actor, Best Supporting Actor & Actress, and Best Cameo by an Actress).

Success followed us to that year’s TAG Awards where Lara Marsh took home the Best Director prize in a three way tie.  I’ve laid claim to the left big toe of the statuette.

Broadway World Awards were next on the list where we ended up taking Best Actor, Director, Supporting Actress & Actor, and Best Set Design (Large Theatre).  I truly was blessed to have been involved with such an astounding production.

But for my own little endeavors as a performer, it was a long wait for my next audition.  In fact, my first audition for the season took place only a month ago.  It had been a year and a half since my last audition, the longest amount of time that had ever passed between attempts.

I auditioned for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at the Omaha Playhouse under the direction of Jeff Horger.  The film version is one of my favorite westerns and it’s a powerful story of a man standing on principle against the law of the gun.

For those of you familiar with the film, the play is quite a bit different than you may expect.  The play more closely resembles the short story with which the film took quite a few liberties.  Characters have different names.  Some characters in the film aren’t present in the play.  The language is a bit stronger.  Valance is considerably more intelligent.  The play is also quite a bit talkier.

My choices were pretty limited.  Originally I had been interested in the roles of Ransome Foster (played by Jimmy Stewart under the name Ransome Stoddard in the film) and Dutton Peabody, the newspaperman (played by Edmund O’Brien in the film).  There isn’t a Peabody character in the play so that went out.  That left me with either Foster or the Marshal.  Valance didn’t enter my mind as I don’t have the look of a stone cold killer.  Foster was even a long shot as most of the characters in the show were supposed to be in their mid twenties.  While I still look younger than I am in the face, my hairline and hair color more readily reveal the truth that I am about to turn 40 in a few months.

From the start, I felt there was something off about this read.  From a technical standpoint, I was pretty solid.  But the spark of my heart simply wasn’t there.  It just felt like I was going through the motions.  For the first time in years, I walked out of an audition without the glimmer of hope that I had a chance and that ended up being the case.  Given that most of the primary cast is in their mid twenties, I take some solace in the fact that even a top flight audition might not have netted me a role.

I actually had my last audition for the season earlier this week.  I received an invitation from Christina Belford-Rohling to audition for Elephant’s Graveyard, the next reader’s theatre production of the Playhouse’s Alternative Programming series.  The play is based on the true story of the lynching of a circus elephant.

I came to the audition and was pleased to see quite a few faces, many of them new to me.  I’ve noted that the reader’s theatre productions tend to bring out quite a few people since there is a lot more flexibility in the casting.

Aside from the brief synopsis, I knew nothing about the play so I was open to any character.  When I read the character, I felt a pull towards the Ringmaster, Clown, and Preacher.

Let me tell you something.  Monday’s audition was the best type of audition.  I read the monologue for the clown and the beats just fell into place.  I walked into the room and nailed the read.  The spark was there and I was truly enjoying myself.

When I finished, Christina said, “Truly excellent.  I want you to try something for me.”

Then she brought out a music stand and had me place the monologue on it.  She then asked me to actually mime juggling and do the last half of the monologue and really make her feel like I loved that elephant at the end.  I had actually envisioned the juggling when I originally read the monologue so this worked out well.

I started juggling and the physicality of it made my read a little more nonchalant.  And I switched up the juggling as I spoke, moving from two hands to one back to two, tossing it under my leg, and catching it behind my back.  I caught my imaginary balls and delivered the love line which could have been taken a smidge farther.

Christina said, “Really excellent.  I don’t think I need to see anymore if that’s all right with you.”  I had no problems with that and went home, content with a good read.

Let me tell you something.  Monday’s audition was the worst type of audition.  Despite an excellent read, I failed to make the cut.  But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that the reward is always in the read.  If you read well, you won.  The casting really doesn’t matter.  It’s just the icing on the cake.

Until the next season.

A Season of Exploration, Part IV: From the Other Side of the Table

Well, it’s been a while since my last theatre tale and this one will actually conclude this season of tales.

As I stated in my last entry, I was going to serve as an Assistant to the Director for Lara Marsh for the Playhouse production of Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods.  This was an interesting process from start to finish as Lara actually put me through an orientation of sorts before launching me on the project.

First and foremost, she wanted to know why this particular show because she knows how selective I am about the projects I choose to take on.  I’ve always been particularly attracted to scripts that feature great strength of spirit and this play has that in spades in the form of its two leading characters, Christine and Gabriel.  Since I had also read for the role of Michael Dolan back when the show was a staged reading, I had enough familiarity with the script to decide it would be a good project to learn the ropes of directing.

My first assignment was to do some background research for the show.  As the story centers around helping a young refugee from the Sudanese Civil War, I compiled some research about Sudan, the Sudanese Civil War, Sudanese culture and customs, and Somalia and its culture (due to one of the characters being from that region).

Lara had done a large amount of research as well.  Over the past two years Lara had become a living encyclopedia about the Sudan and the Lost Boys in her efforts to bring this show to life.  She had mastered the extremely difficult Dinka dialect, had watched a number of documentaries, and read What is the What by Dave Eggers, a very hard to read, but eye opening account of the trek of the Lost Boys through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng who lived through it.

I am a big “devil in the details” type of person and Lara is of a similar bent which is why we worked so well together during this process and saw eye to eye on 98% of things.  Some directors prefer actors to have done no prep work before beginning the creative process so they can grow organically.  Others want the actors to have read the script before auditioning.  But Lara wanted her cast to be well grounded in the history behind this play so they would be able to better develop their characters.

Then came the night of auditions where I got to formally meet Jeanne Shelton, a stage manager I had read in front of on numerous occasions.  The auditions were a little less than I hoped for in terms of size.  I had secretly hoped for a slew of actors so we could have an overwhelming selection to pick and choose from.  We had enough people show up to cast the play with just a little overage.  But the lack of quantity was, by and large, made up by the quality shown by the people who did come to audition.

I had once heard it said that a director only needs 15 seconds to determine whether or not he or she is going to cast you.  I agree with that to an extent.  We may need more than 15 seconds to decide to cast you, but it only takes about 15 seconds to decide not to cast you.  And don’t think that means that the audition was bad.  I mentally eliminated a couple of people who had great reads immediately simply because they were not suitable for any of our roles.

Fortunately, we were able to cast most of our cast from the auditions.  A couple of roles didn’t have enough people audition and those that did were not quite right, so Lara had to find people to fill those roles.

Now we had a cast and could begin the creative process.  During the process I learned that directing is a lot more than just handling the artistic side of things.  I’m used to coming early and staying late as an actor, but a director needs to be there much earlier than anyone else and must stay much later.  Countless details need to be considered like sounds, lights, props, etc.

I even learned that directing has its own political side to get the things one needs for a show to be the best that it can be.  One prominent thing I learned is that the season finale in the Playhouse’s smaller theatre is nicknamed the “death slot”.

This isn’t a bad moniker.  But this show takes place at the end of the season so a great deal of money has already been spent by this point and there is still the final musical to be produced on the Playhouse’s Main Stage which is going to need a lot of money as they are usually big, lavish affairs.  It just means that some strategy and negotiation is necessary for the shows in this slot to get what it needs.  Keep in mind that some of the Playhouse’s best shows have taken place in this slot such as Biloxi Blues, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and our little effort which has become a critical darling.

As Assistant to the Director, you may think that my job duties were relegated to getting Lara’s coffee, sharpening her pencils, and being her all around gofer.  The reality was that I was closer to an Assistant Director.  I gave ideas to Lara and took very copious acting notes for the performers.  Lara took me very seriously, often incorporating my ideas into her own notes.

I learned a great deal about directing under Lara’s learning tree.  Like acting, directing is also an art because it’s about a lot more than telling actors how to perform.  It’s about working with all types of learning curves, temperaments, and experience levels.  It’s about knowing where, when, and why to give a note.

As a details guy, I was ready to get into the grit and gristle of things right away.  Lara taught me that you have to let the actors experiment at first.  Early notes are simple as the performers build the frame of the house.  Directors gently guide it so the proper foundation is built.  As that confidence grows, the notes become more detailed and nuanced to refine and shape the story.

I would have to say that my favorite directing moment came when I was working on a scene with our lead actress, Julie Fitzgerald Ryan, and Victoria Luther, who was playing her daughter.  They were having an argument and Julie’s character has a line where she says, “We’re supposed to be living in circles.  Concentric circles.  Circles within circles.”

When I heard that line, I said, “Do I dare?  Yes, I dare.”  Then I asked Victoria to mouth the words along with Julie as I felt her character had heard this speech about a million times.  It’s hit the mark every single time.

One thing I’ve noticed about working in this slot is that the rehearsal period seems to be a bit reduced.  There’s only about 4 weeks of rehearsal as opposed to the 5 or 6 weeks I’m used to.  That means rehearsals almost every day for 4 to 5 hours at a clip to get where we need to be.

So fast forward to preview night.  I hadn’t been so nervous for a show since my first one.  What will the audience think?  Will they love it?  Will they hate it?  Will they ride me out of town on a rail?

I wait with baited breath until the end of the show and the audience rose to its feet for a standing ovation.  I breathe a sigh of relief.  One hurdle crossed.

Now it’s opening night.  The extra real deal, as it were.  The cast came out all guns a blazing and just nailed it to the floor.  Every review (5 of them at this point) has been glowing making Lost Boys Found at Whole Foods one of the most critically well received shows of the season.  And I had helped make it happen.

I rank this event as one of my prouder accomplishments in theatre and something more remarkable happened.  As I helped to guide this cast, my own skills as an actor were reinforced and, for the first time in a long while, I good and truly felt the itch to perform again.  So now I’m looking to tell a story again and found at least one promising show next year.

Well, that wraps up this season of tales.  I will return with a new season that I like to call “A Season of Renewal”.  We’ll see you then.

Breaking News: Opening Night Tickets for OCP’s ‘Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods’ Only $10

OPENING NIGHT TICKETS ARE ONLY $10!!!

Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods

May 6 – June 5, 2016
Howard Drew Theatre (Omaha Playhouse, 6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)

Showtimes:  Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm.  Sundays at 2pm.

For tickets:  Visit www.ticketomaha.com or call 402-553-0800

By Tammy Ryan
Director: Lara Marsh

Gabriel, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, has started a new life in America. While working in Whole Foods, he meets Christine, a middle-aged, single mother. Their connection, and Christine’s quest to help him, changes both of their lives. Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods is an impactful and heartbreaking play that spotlights social responsibility and compassion for humanity.

Contains strong language and explores challenging subject matter.

The Cast

Justice Jamal Jones–Gabriel

Julie Fitzgerald Ryan–Christine

Victoria Luther–Alex

Anthony Jones–Panther

Mark Kocsis–Michael Dolan

Rusheaa Smith-Turner–Segel Mohammed

OCP Auditions for “Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods”

LOST BOY FOUND IN WHOLE FOODS
Production Dates: May 6-June 5, 2016
Performs in: Howard Drew Theatre (Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)
Director:  Lara Marsh
Synopsis: Gabriel, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, has started a new life in America. While working in Whole Foods, he meets Christine, a middle-aged, single mother. Christine is drawn to the positivity that Gabriel radiates and his unbreakable spirit. On her eye-opening quest to help Gabriel, Christine finds a broken system and many unanswered questions. Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods is an impactful and heartbreaking play that spotlights social responsibility and compassion for humanity.

Audition Dates: Monday, February 22, 2016 at 7:00 PM and Tuesday, February 23, 2016 at 7:00 PM

Character Descriptions:
GABRIEL: Male, early to mid 20’s
Sudanese refugee, member of the Dinka of Southern Sudan, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” he attends community college part-time and works full-time at Whole Foods. Need to audition with a Sudanese, or African dialect.

CHRISTINE: Female, mid to late 40’s
Recently divorced, at a turning point.

ALEX: Female, age 16
Christine’s daughter, a sophomore at Pittsburgh Catholic School for Girls.

PANTHER: Male, age 30
Gabriel’s roommate, also a Sudanese refugee. Works various minimum wage jobs although he seems to carry around a lot of cash, and a cell phone that rings continuously. Need to audition with a Sudanese, or African dialect.

MICHAEL DOLAN: Dolan; mid to late 30’s
Stay at home dad, Catholic activist. Works for different local causes. He used to work for Catholic Charities, now looking for a new job.

SEGEL MOHAMMED: Female, late 30’s
Director and Founder of the Pittsburgh Center for Refugee Relief, Somali born, Arab raised, single mother. Need to audition with a Somali, or African dialect.

What to Bring:
• You will be asked to fill out an audition form, please have all necessary contact information and personal schedules handy in order to complete the form.

• A recent photo if you have one available. Please note, photos will not be returned.

• Those auditioning for a play will be asked to read sections from the script.

A Season of Exploration, Part III: Still, Still, Still Looking At My Porchyard

Well, it’s been quite a while since I’ve had a story to share.  A big reason for that is how little auditioning I’ve done this year.  This has been due to a combination of this being such a musical heavy season and because I have a major project beginning in February that will keep me from even thinking about acting until next season.

With that being said, I just finished my last audition for the year.  Several years back, Amy Lane, then the Resident Director of the Omaha Community Playhouse, created the 21 and Over series for the Playhouse.  This was a series of one night only reader’s theatre productions that dealt with more mature subject matter.  The series was quite a hit and has remained a mainstay at the Playhouse, though now it is called the Alternative Programming series and covers all types of subject matter.

This past year, Amy brought the 21 and over series over to the Blue Barn where it is now known as the Porchyard Readings and is part of the Blue Barn’s “Out of the Blue” series.  I auditioned for these shows primarily to keep my chops up as circumstances placed the odds against me for both sets of auditions.

There are a total of 4 readings and each set of auditions covered two of them.  For both sets of auditions, I could only be considered for one show due to conflicts so my opportunities were halved from the start.  This limited my possibility of roles to possibly two for the first set of readings and only one for the second set of readings.  Very slim odds, indeed.

Normally at this point in the story, I’d go into an analysis of the shows and what I tried to bring to the role, but that actually isn’t important for this tale.

I’ll go ahead and answer the burning questions first.  Did I get cast?  No.  Did I enjoy myself?  Yes.

And it’s that second question that is the more important of the two.  I’ve long talked about the change that Leaving Iowa wrought within me and I think I noticed that change more with this pair of auditions than I have with any other since that show.  My auditions have become much more relaxed and at ease since the Miracle Show.  I enjoy auditioning again.  My acting between the lines and my animation has become much, much stronger and that ease and confidence has, I hope, been read by directors and enhanced my chances.  With this pair of auditions, I actually shrugged off the defeats instead of their feeling like punches to the gut.  Outside of a brief, “darn it”, they just didn’t weigh much upon me and that is a very wonderful feeling to have.

The only downside, as it were, is that, with the auditions I just finished, I might have had a better shot at the show I could not perform in.  I’m not saying I would have been cast.  It’s just that I feel I might have had a really good shot.

But let me share the exciting project with you.  As I stated in the first part of this series, I was looking into the possibility of shadowing a director to see if that is a branch of theatre I may want to try in the future.  I’m proud to say that has come to fruition.  I will be shadowing Lara Marsh when she guest directs Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods at the Omaha Playhouse later this season.  Auditions will be February 22 and 23 at 7pm at the Playhouse located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.  You can find character information here.

And stayed tuned as I document this new journey.