And so I ended up being part of Dracula and I was glad for the opportunity. It was also one of the most challenging shows with which I have ever been involved. For starters, it was a technical juggernaut. The show had well over 200 light and sound cues. On Tech Sunday, the day in which those cues are added to the show for the first time, I was at the theatre from 2pm until 2am and we did not tech the entire show.
We also did not have an entire script until a few days before we opened. Fortunately, the cast was so talented that having to finish memorizing the show near opening night did not appear to be that much of a difficulty. Finally, the show was monstrously (no pun intended) long. At nearly 3.5 hours, we knew we had to have a top flight show in order to maintain an audience’s attention for that long of a time span.
As far as my acting went I received one note repeatedly. “Chris, you’re too big!” “Chris, pull it back.” “Too big, Chris.” I had once heard that a stage actor needed to do everything three times as big for a person at the rear of the balcony could understand it. Whether the advice was bad or I was merely misapplying the advice, I still do not know, but what was important was that I finally had one of my flaws as an actor clearly defined and that was crucial to the upcoming awakening.
And the show was very successful. It drew in good crowds for the BSB. Good enough that Scott had decided to remount it the next year. More importantly, I began to feel that I had a home theatre as I formed some very strong bonds of friendships with the actors and crew at this theatre. Aside from Scott, I also formed strong friendships with Jerry Onik and David Sindelar who invited me to join their film group EFS (Exposed Film Society). The group’s purpose is to watch the worst movies in existence. I also became good friends with Daniel Dorner, whom you may remember from The Elephant Man. Dan played Renfield and is truly one of the kindest people I have ever met. This is a guy who is so sweet and lovable that he felt guilty when he found out that I had badly wanted the roles of Merrick and Renfield. And that, my friends, is a class act.
While I was rehearsing Dracula, I was offered the opportunity to get involved in a different aspect of theatre. Angela Dashner, at the time the resident stage manager of the BSB, asked if I would be willing to serve as an assistant stage manager on the BSB’s next show, You Can’t Take it With You. I was intrigued by the possibility and agreed to do it.
I found out that stage managing is, in some ways, ten times more difficult than acting. If acting were construction then stage manager is to director what foreman is to boss. Cathy had the final word, but the stage manager runs everything. The stage manager starts up rehearsals, serves as liaison between the actors and the director, checks up on actors, gives calls, sets the stage at the top of acts, and many other numerous duties. In learning how to do this, I gained a whole new appreciation of this particular job.
And then tragedy struck.
Angela’s father died shortly before the show opened. He had been sick during a great deal of the rehearsal period, so I had actually been a proper stage manager and not an assistant for a good deal of the process. Angela bravely offered to still come and run a couple weeks of the show. I told Scott and Cathy that I could run the show and to let her have the time needed to grieve.
It was grueling, but I did it and I can even say I did it well. One of the actors, John Brennan, said it was the best stage managed show he had ever been a part of. Not that there weren’t a couple of snafus along the way.
One of the actors, who shall remain nameless, liked to read when he wasn’t on stage. There’s nothing wrong with that except an actor has a duty to be where he or she can hear calls. One night, he didn’t hear me give the call for the top of act 2 and he missed his cue by about 30 seconds, so it was covered reasonably well. The next night, he missed his cue again. This time by several minutes. Of course, this was the day that every reviewer in town came to see the show. Even worse, this actor’s character introduces a character not yet seen in the show so it is absolutely vital for him to be on stage.
The cast improvised a conversation quite impressively and finally one of the actresses, Amy Kunz, looked out the door and said, “Hey , isn’t that (character’s name) that (missing character’s name) is always talking about? Let’s invite her in.” Thank heavens. I was very glad she did that as I was about ready to leave the booth and hunt this guy down myself.
A few days later, I got a letter from Cathy thanking me for all of my dedication to the theatre and my act of bravery in taking over as stage manager when I was only supposed to be an assistant. She also apologized profusely for the actor’s sloppiness. Cathy told me that she, Amy, and Scott were proud to have someone like me involved in theatre and if there were ever anything she could do to please not hesitate to ask. I was very moved and feeling pretty good after that letter.
A few months later, Scott contacted me and told me he was adapting the movie His Girl Friday for the stage and he wanted me to play a role. He cast me as Virgil Pinkus and he was a great deal of fun. Pinkus kind of saves the day for the protagonists of the story, but he is a very sweet guy. He comes off as stupid, but he is really just uber naïve and innocent. I took my own innocence and ratcheted it up about a million degrees.
I felt good about that role because it was the first time in a long time that I really felt good as an actor. Scott told me I was funny as hell. Dan told me that I took a one note character and got as much mileage out of him as I could. Cathy gushed about my shouting of her favorite line of mine, “She’s good enough for me.” I was even noticed by the critics. One of whom said I hit the right notes in a minor role and another saying that I was the dumb blonde even though I was neither blonde nor a woman and that I made the most out of Pinkus.
I made some serious strides as an actor that year and began to envision a brighter future for myself on the boards. As great as the year had been, I had no way of knowing that my next show would bring about the awakening and then things were really going to change for me.
To be concluded