OCP Announces 93rd Season

BILLY MCGUIGAN’S ROCK TWIST
Billy McGuigan and the Steve Gomez Band
By Rave On Productions
July 12 – 23, 2017 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

World Premiere

See Billy McGuigan as you’ve never seen him before. Classic rock tunes with a big band twist; big band standards with a rock and roll twist. Backed by a full horn section and an all-star lineup of Omaha’s finest musicians, Billy’s brand new show will have Playhouse audiences rocking like never before. Frank Sinatra? Check. The Beatles? Check. Harry Connick, Jr.? Check. Billy Joel? Check! Fresh re-arrangements of rock and jazz standards performed as only Billy can. It’s rock with a twist. The world premiere is coming to the Omaha Playhouse in July 2017.

EMINENT DOMAIN
By Laura Leininger-Campbell
Directed by Amy Lane
Aug. 25 – Sept. 17, 2017 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

World Premiere
Does oil run thicker than blood? Or will a pipeline splitting the prairie tear a family apart? A 2016 Eugene O’Neil National Playwrights Conference finalist, originally conceived for Shelterbelt Theatre’s Before the Boards series, Eminent Domain tells a relevant story of a Nebraska family farm threatened by the construction of an oil pipeline and the ensuing conflict that emerges within. On the surface, Eminent Domain exposes the hard-fought battle between Nebraska farmers and corporate energy. Dig deeper and the greater struggle is revealed: the fight to preserve our Heartland’s farms and the livelihood of the people who live here. Our most crucial resource is not just the land we are privileged to attend with cracked and calloused hands—it is our kin, our clan and our heritage. Join us for this world premiere of an Omaha playwright’s work. Disclaimer: Contains adult language.

MAMMA MIA!
Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and some songs with Stig Anderson | Book by Catherine Johnson | Based on the songs of ABBA
Directed by Jeff Horger
Sept. 15 – Oct. 15, 2017 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

This smash-hit musical featuring the songs of ABBA is one of the top 10 longest-running Broadway musicals. Mamma Mia! is a delightful tale of love, laughter and friendship. Donna is slowly warming up to the notion of her daughter Sophie’s impending wedding when her life is upended by the unexpected arrival of three former beaus, all possible candidates to walk Sophie down the aisle. With all your favorite ABBA hits such as “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance On Me,” “Honey, Honey” and more, find out why Mamma Mia! has become an audience favorite! Disclaimer: Contains spandex, strobe lights and disco dancing.

STUPID F@#%ING BIRD
By Aaron Posner
A sort-of adapted from The Seagull by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Suzanne Withem
Oct. 13 – Nov. 12, 2017 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

This “sort-of adaptation” of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov tells a story in which an aspiring young director battles against the art created by his mother’s generation. A young actress competes with an aging Hollywood star for the affections of a renowned novelist and everyone discovers just how complicated life, art and success can be. This irreverent, modern and very funny remix of a classic play will incite you to consider how art, love and revolution fuel your own pursuit of happiness.
Disclaimer: Contains adult language and sexuality.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Special Event)
By Charles Dickens | Adapted by Charles Jones | Musical orchestration by John J. Bennett
Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Nov. 17 – Dec. 23, 2017 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. 7:00 p.m., Thurs. – Sat. 7:30 p.m., Sun. 2:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.)

It just isn’t Christmas without A Christmas Carol. Experience Omaha’s favorite holiday tradition as Ebenezer Scrooge takes us on a life-changing journey filled with lovely costumes, exquisite music, beautifully crafted sets and special effects second to none. Perfect for the whole family!

YESTERDAY AND TODAY – 10th Anniversary (Special Event)
An Interactive Beatles Experience Featuring Billy McGuigan
©2007 By Rave On Productions

Nov. 24 – Dec. 31, 2017 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun. eve)

Billy McGuigan and his brothers are back for the 10th consecutive year at Omaha Community Playhouse! This all-request Beatles tribute show will have you dancing in the aisles and singing along to every song. Share your stories and relive your memories with your favorite Beatles songs. No two shows are the same, and every show is a guaranteed exhilarating time!

RIPCORD
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman
Jan. 19 – Feb. 11, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

Pranks and practical jokes abound when cantankerous Abby and chipper Marilyn are forced to share the nicest room at the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility. As Abby attempts to get rid of her unwanted new roommate, a series of bets soon escalates into a hilarious game of one-upmanship as the two women try every trick in the book to claim their space in the apartment and their place in the world. Ripcord is a hilarious tale with a lot of heart.
Disclaimer: Contains adult language spoken by a cantankerous old lady.

PARADE
Book by Alfred Uhry  |  Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown  |  Co-Conceived and Directed on Broadway by Harold Prince
Directed by Jeff Horger
Feb. 9 – March 11, 2018 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

Parade is the Tony Award-winning musical based around the trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish man wrongfully accused of murder in Marietta, Georgia in 1913. Religious intolerance, political injustice and racial tensions are already prevalent in this small Southern town, and when reporters begin to sensationalize the case, the likelihood of a fair trial is put in jeopardy. With a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and music by Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, The Bridges Of Madison County), this true story reveals the beauty of the human condition, even when faced with tragedy. Disclaimer: Contains language and situations related to racial tension and mob violence.

Roald Dahl’s JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
Words and Music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul | Book by Timothy Allen McDonald | Based
on the book by Roald Dahl
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman
March 2 – March 25, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

James and the Giant Peach is a brand-new musical guaranteed to mesmerize theatregoers of all ages. A compelling story by beloved author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda) and music composed by the award-winning team of Pasek & Paul (La La Land, A Christmas Story, television’s Smash), a young orphan named James accidentally drops magic crystals by an old peach tree. Strange things start to happen and James soon discovers a world of magic and adventure full of friendly insects and learns that love and family can be found in unexpected places.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
Based on the Screenplay by Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard  |  Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall  |  Music by Paddy Cunneen  |  Based on the Academy Award-winning film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes
Directed by Jeff Horger
April 13 – May 6, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

Based on the Academy Award-winning film by Tom Stoppard and adapted by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), Shakespeare in Love is a love letter to the stage and a celebration of theatre, music and human connection. While the government threatens to close all theaters, young Will Shakespeare suffers from writer’s block, as his muse Viola disguises herself as a man to pursue her dreams of being an actor. Amidst mistaken identities, ruthless scheming, backstage theatrics and a misbehaving dog, Will’s love for Viola quickly blossoms and inspires him to write his greatest masterpiece.
Disclaimer: Contains scenes of sexuality.

THE MOUNTAINTOP
By Katori Hall
Directed by Denise Chapman
May 4 – May 27, 2018 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

An Olivier Award-winning play of historical fiction, The Mountaintop imagines the final night in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After giving his speech, “The Mountaintop,” Dr. King returns to his room at the Lorraine Motel. When a mysterious woman with a secret agenda pays a visit to Dr. King, the resulting confrontation imaginatively explores destiny, legacy and mortality.
Disclaimer: Contains dialogue related to racial tension and adult language.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green | Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed | By special arrangement with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Inc. | Music published by EMI, all rights administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC | Based on the Academy Award-nominated MGM film starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman
June 1 – June 24, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

The beloved movie musical Singin’ in the Rain comes to life on stage with charm, humor and stormy weather that has made it an enduring classic. This tale of a famous on-screen couple from the silent films who prepare to transition to the age of “talking pictures” combines the best of Hollywood and Broadway with music that will keep you smiling, dances that will keep your toes tapping and special effects that will take your breath away. Songs such as “Make ‘Em Laugh,” “Fit as a Fiddle,” “Good Mornin’” and of course “Singin’ in the Rain” will whisk you away to a simpler time.

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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 II: Lessons Learned

If I were to retire from theatre today, I could look back on my career with a certain degree of satisfaction.  Not only do I have nearly 30 shows to my credit, but I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the best directors in the city, have worked in every major theatre in the city, have been a part of shows that have been listed as Omaha’s finest, enjoyed some great roles, and have even garnered some critical praise from the public and my theatre brethren.

And no, for those who may be wondering, I’m not planning on hanging things up just yet.  I’m still very much a work in progress and I still marvel at just how much my thinking has changed over the past few years.  For the longest time, I felt like I had something to prove each and every time I auditioned.  And then I finally proved it to myself, which is what I was really trying to do the whole time.  Now I just have something to show and let the chips fall where they may after that.  A big part of showing that something is to not be afraid to dive off the cliff.  That’s the lesson I recently learned.

In part I, I mentioned that I was prepping for an audition for one of my big 3 shows.  Then something came along the way that interrupted that preparation.  I read the script for Bad Jews which will be performed at the Blue Barn this spring and I found it to be one of the strongest scripts that I had read in quite a while.  I really wanted to read for this show, even though I was a good decade older than the oldest character in the show.  That hurdle was actually the least of my problems as I was also going to be out of town for both days of the audition.  What to do?  What to do?

I ended up talking the matter over with Randall Stevens, the Blue Barn’s new associate artistic director, and he allowed me the opportunity to come in and read early.  I saw this as a very positive sign so I prepared diligently.  I was also lucky enough to be able to work with Kaitlyn McClincy and Noah Diaz at my read which gave me some strong performers to play with.

My reads were OK.  I know they could have been better.  One telling direction that Randall gave to Kaitlyn and myself was to be flinging knives at each other as we argued.  Ten minutes after I left the audition, I knew what I should have done.  That’s why I know the reads could have been better.  If you audition right, you leave the audition with the feeling that you could have done no better.  Whether you get cast or not is irrelevant, it’s simply the knowledge that you left everything on stage.  And I did not do that.

Recently, Susan Clement posted a wonderful quotation from John Cleese that said, “Nothing will stop you from being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”  That’s exactly what happened to me.  Not only did this happen at this audition, but it also happened in my previous audition, detailed in Part I.  I went out to try to prove something instead of trying to show something.  Because of that, I held back because I didn’t want to muck up my chances.  I compare it to running towards the end of a cliff and, instead of diving off to see if I’d soar or crash, I put the brakes on at the very edge of the cliff and said, “Lovely view”.

As I thought of that metaphor, I began to reflect on my past work and auditions.  I realized that my absolute best work came when I went out and just did it.  When I went out and tried to prove a point, that’s when I’d usually trip and fall.  Mind you, going out and just doing it didn’t mean I always got cast or even the role I wanted.  But it did mean I always left the theatre feeling satisfied and that’s the feeling I plan to have from here on out.

I’ve also got to be honest and admit that I might not have been cast in Bad Jews even if my audition had been of a Tony Award winning caliber.  I had my photo taken not too long after the audition and, son of a gun, my hair is really silver.  If I’d been directing and saw me audition, I would have thought I looked too old for the part from the start.  So I’ve also got to keep those little realities in my mind when selecting roles from here on out.

So now I’m back on track to audition for one of my big 3.  I’ve learned the lesson to always dive off the cliff and I’ve also learned to be aware of my look.  The latter will play a big role in that audition as I may have to admit that the role I really want may now be past my age range.  I’ll still keep the hope that there’s a chance I can land it, but I’m also preparing for an equally good character that may now be within my age range.

Until the next time. . .

How Do I Say Good-Bye?

This Sunday marks the end of an era at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  When the curtain falls after the final production of Young Frankenstein, it not only marks the end of another Playhouse season, it will also be the end of the tenure of the Playhouse’s creative leads, Carl Beck and Susie Baer-Collins.

I’ve had the benefit and pleasure of knowing Carl and Susie for the better part of 15 years.  During that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to grow as a performer under their tutelage and as a person under their friendship.  It’s hard to put into words the impact they’ve had on my life.  How do I say good-bye?

Let’s start with how I said hello. . .

Carl Beck

I met Carl Beck in 1999.  It was my very first audition for the Playhouse and the show was Dracula.  I entered the Playhouse and was hopelessly lost for I had entered through the front door and had no clue where to go.  Fortunately, a kindly person found me walking within the darkened area and led me to Carl.

I said that I was there to audition and Carl responded with an enthusiastic, “Wonderful!”  I was truly struck by the enthusiasm and the sincerity of that greeting.  He was truly glad that I was there to audition.  

I’d like to say I repaid that enthusiasm with a 5 star stellar audition, but that would be a bald faced lie.  It was a pretty poor audition.  Even so, a seed had definitely been planted.

In 2000, I was cast by Carl for the first time when I auditioned for the Sherlock Holmes dramedy, The Mask of Moriarty.  What’s important to note is that Carl cast me in spite of my audition, not because of it.  He gave me a chance at a point where I badly needed one and I’ve always appreciated it.  Later I found out that he cast me that he cast me simply because he thought I was a nice guy and seemed genuinely interested in the show.  Think about that.  Carl could have cast a vastly superior and promising performer, but he gave me the opportunity.

Though it didn’t seem so at the time, I would end up growing a great deal as a performer as I sat under Carl’s learning tree during the run of that show.  Carl even gave me one of my favorite bits as a performer when he gave me a classic trap door bit that I relished doing each and every night.  Truly, it had been a grand experience.

Carl cast me for the second time in 2003 in the farce, No Sex Please, We’re British.  What was more interesting is that I had not even auditioned for this show.  I had planned to audition for the show, but a blizzard bombarded Omaha on the first night and a prior commitment had kept me from auditioning the second night.  I asked Carl if there might still be a chance to read for the show, but he said auditions had been held during the blizzard and that he was able to cast the show from those who had auditioned.  However, there was a supernumerary role of a deliveryman if I wanted it.  I took it.

I cannot express how grateful I was for this chance.  I was recovering from a battle with situational depression and had recently had what precious little confidence I had remaining sorely battered in a particularly devastating audition.  The chance Carl gave me in this show helped keep me in the game at a point when walking away was nearly a dangerous reality.

Regrettably, that was the last time I ever got to work with Carl as a performer.  But in a wonderful twist of irony, I actually gained more from future “defeats”.  In fact, one instance in particular stands out.

Starting in 2006, Carl had taken to writing little inspirational notes on my rejection slips which made me feel like a worthy actor, even though I had “lost”.  But the last inspirational note I ever received came during a period when I needed it the most.

Towards the end of the period I dubbed “the drought” in my blog, I auditioned for A Night with the Family.  It was a very strong audition and I had a lot of hope for it.  Unfortunately, I found out through Facebook that I had not been cast before I received my formal notification.  But when I did get the rejection slip, Carl had written, “You have grown so much as an auditioner—Nice work.”  That note moved me so deeply that I’ve retained it in my scrapbook.  It was so inspiring that I finally managed to end the drought two months later.

Thank you, Carl.  The things you did for me may have seemed small, but they had a massive impact on me as both a person and an actor.

Susie Baer-Collins

I met Susie on opening night of The Mask of Moriarty when I sat with her and her husband, Dennis Collins, at Mama’s Pizza after the show.  At the time, she struck me as a very warm, friendly person.  And while that was true, she was also a wonderful teacher to me as well.

I took an audition workshop offered by Susie in the early 2000s.  At the time, I was at the height of my battle with situational depression and I was trying to do anything to salvage my seemingly dying prospects in theatre.  I learned a great deal from Susie, although it didn’t seem like it at that time.  Due to my depression, I felt like I was screwing up everything she tried to teach me.  To her credit, she was very patient with me.  Susie even gave me a little post-class critique by pointing out the things I did well and the things which needed work.  As I recovered from the depression, Susie’s lessons gained a greater hold in my mind and helped to evolve me into the actor I am today.  Again, it seems so small, but her not giving up on me helped me to not give up on myself.

Although it wasn’t my first audition for Susie, my audition for The Talented Mr. Ripley was certainly my most memorable audition as well as a personal favorite of mine.  I was starting to come into my own as an actor and I credit this audition as a moment that really started to add fuel to the fire.

After I finished the audition, Susie stopped me and told me, “Excellent audition, Chris”.  At the time, it was a rare piece of praise for an audition and I treasured it highly.  Imagine winning the lottery after finding a treasure.  That sums up my feelings when Susie called me two nights later and told me that she wanted to bring me in for a callback, capped off with her line, “I’m considering you for the roles of Tom Ripley and Freddie Miles”.  The title role!!  I wouldn’t have believed such a thing was possible.  The callback was a hard fought night of performances and I came up a little short.  But Susie topped off my treasure and my lottery with a little slice of heaven with a novella of a rejection slip that read:

Dear Chris,

Thank you so much for your truly excellent audition for The Talented Mr. Ripley.  You read extremely well and had strong characterizations throughout.  I regret to inform you that I was unable to include you in this cast.  Please know how much I appreciate your time and dedication to this project.

Well done, Chris.

Sincerely,

Susie

That was almost as good as being cast because I felt accepted as a performer and it was a massive boost to my confidence and helped me to make greater strides as a performer.

I finally got to work with Susie when she cast me in Mister Roberts in 2010.  After 2 rounds of auditions, Susie called me on Friday night and told me I was one of the first people she was casting in the show.  That made me feel proud and continued to build my ever growing confidence.  Not only did I grow immensely under Susie’s directing, but she also told me how proud she was for how far I had come as a performer after the show closed.

Thank you, Susie.  Your faith in me nurtured my faith in myself and helped shape me into an actor.

This is the effect that Carl and Susie had on one person.  Over the past 30 years, they’ve touched the lives of countless others.  The theatre community is losing more than two great creative forces.  We’re losing two great people.  We’re all richer for their presence and will be a little poorer for their absence.

Thank you Carl and Susie.

Good-bye. . .

 

Bonding

Sometimes it’s just the little moments away from the stage that one appreciates the most.

Last night had been a long rehearsal for me.  I do a hard workout 5-6 days a week and last night was the day for my absolute hardest workout.  Combine that with a long day at the office and just enough time to shower and eat a salad after the workout and you’ve got yourself one weary consulting thespian.

I’m a very active person.  On a physical level, I’m on the go a lot and I like to do things and have adventures (hence, my love of travel).  My mental activity probably outstrips my physical activity because I am almost constantly thinking (which has its highs and its lows).  Like Sherlock Holmes, doing nothing wears me out more than doing something.

As my friends will gladly testify, I am usually not much of a night owl.  They usually know when I’m working on a show because I will sometimes doze off because I work sunup to sundown.  It also happens when I’m doing a passive activity like watching TV.  As long as my brain is engaged, I can be capable of staying up into the wee hours of the morning.  If I’m doing nothing, my body’s response is, “Ah, to heck with this.  Lights out!!!”

After the heavy workout and then just sitting and observing the cast work, I was starting to feel a little sleepy towards the end of rehearsal.  Then the actors decided they wanted to run the act from the top which meant I had to leap into action as one of our actors was not called last night.  It was like a switch had turned on in my mind and I instantly became alert.  But I was so stiff from my workout that I simply read the lines from where I sat.

When we finished for the night, I was ready to head for home and read a little before turning in, but our Bogle (Bill Grennan) decided he wanted a glass of wine and asked me if I’d join him.  I decided, “Why not?” 

And I was glad I made the choice because it’s the little moments spent away from the stage with your acting family that really builds the camaraderie, friendships, and, dare I say, a stronger show.

I’ve been friends with Bill since that wonderful experience with Biloxi Blues, but I think this is the first time we’ve ever really been able to talk and I was amazed to discover just how much we had in common.

Bill and I actually have similar ideas when it comes to acting and interpretation.  We actually share nearly identical views on the characterization of the Bogle, although Bill admits that he hasn’t quite found him yet.  I think he’s a lot closer than he realizes as he’s made some really great discoveries.  But I do understand the challenge in discovering the character.  There is nothing quite as sweet as the moment when the character reveals himself to me and that’s when the real excitement of acting begins.

We discussed our experiences in The 39 Steps for him and Leaving Iowa for me and I was able to share what a transformative and relieving experience that show was for me.  I was surprised to discover that Bill related a bit better than I thought.  Like myself, he had experienced a long drought at the beginning of his career.

Bill began auditioning at the age of 14 and did not get cast until he finally gained a bit part towards the end of his high school career.  From there he finally graduated to better roles in college and then to the success he’s enjoyed on the community theatre circuit in recent years.  Both of us also credit Susan Clement-Toberer with giving us that first really big breakthrough role.

He also managed to make me feel better about my audition for Every Christmas Story Ever Told a few years back.  As my regular readers know, I was the only person to audition for that show on the first night of auditions and I had long feared that I had literally lost to nobody.  Bill told me he had auditioned with a few other people on the second night and I felt immensely better because I had at least lost to flesh and blood opponents.

Bill did think losing to air was hilarious and encouraged me to write a comedic monologue about that idea because it would be “comedic gold” as he stated.  I just may accept that challenge.

But it’s really the simple moments like those that add to the magic of the theatre experience.  Rediscovering that last night has made this whole experience as the show’s consulting thespian worthwhile indeed.

Organic Acting

We’re about a week into the rehearsal period for Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol and the magic is already taking place.  Each night new discoveries are made as these master storytellers delve deeper and deeper into these characters.

Rehearsals are a very interesting beast.  They are very laborious and, at the beginning, repetitive.  And I don’t mean that negatively.  When actors first work on a script, it is done in very small chunks.  Actors need to learn where to enter and exit and execute those movements numerous times so it looks smooth.  There is also the experimentation with the character.  In the early goings, I always have an idea of what my character is, but I constantly throw stuff against the wall to see what sticks and often gain new insights in doing so.

Of course, good directing is needed to harness all of this creativity and guide it to the whole.  Some directors come in and they have every jot and tittle of the show mapped out.  They know where each and every character enters and exits and they know how they want the actors to say each and every word.

Then you have directors like Kevin.  Kevin is a very staunch believer in the organic nature of acting and trusting in his actors to make the discoveries.  His role is more of a facilitator where he tweaks things here and there and serves as counsel to the actors.  Kevin believes in this so strongly that he would prefer actors not to have read a script before an audition just to see the discoveries that they make at the auditions and the natural qualities they possess. 

I didn’t really understand this ideology until I worked with him in W;t.  At our first readthrough, one of the performers gave an impressive read on a line and Kevin said that was great, but not to get committed to that read as we were just on the beginning of this journey and then I understood it.

This week, I’ll actually get to work onstage a little with the actors and I look forward to actually being able to perform again, even if just for a night.  More importantly, I look forward to that next audition.

But, most importantly, I look forward to that next rehearsal to see what new treasures these Marley men unearth.

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.