The entire cast (minus the fabulous Caroyln Castiglia, who was capturing this joyous moment on her camera) of All the Way, For the Children, my big "Celine Dion" extravaganza at Mo Pitkin's, on January 28, 2007. This photo was taken backstage right after the show. (No, I don't normally wear eyeliner.) Front row (from L. to R.): Laura Mannino; Katina Corrao; Shawn Hollenbach; Alana Harrison (love that smile!); back row (L. to R.): Adira Amram (gettin' down!); Paul Case (looking very handsome and solemn, like an extra on Law and Order), me, and Eric Poindexter.
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As some of you may know, this past May, I graduated from the two-year conservatory of the Atlantic Acting School in New York, which is the theatre school affiliated with the Atlantic Theater Company, an acclaimed non-profit Off-Broadway company co-founded by Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet.
Now here’s where it gets interesting.
I just found out that there is a new production of A Life in the Theatre opening on Broadway, which was directed by Neil Pepe, the Artistic Director of the Atlantic Theatre Company, and starring Sir Patrick Stewart, famous for his role as Captain Picard in the Star Trek TV and movie franchise, and T.R. Knight, who made a big splash a couple of years ago when he came out of the closet after an unfortunate incident with a co-star on ABC's Grey's Anatomy; as you may recall, T.R. then quit the show shortly thereafter in 2009, to much media hoopla.
I'm not gay! At least you can't prove I am.
(And pay no attention to my glistening arms. They prove nothing.)
Now some critics may have predicted that T.R.'s unexpected exit from a hit show--which is still on the air and is still garnering huge ratings--would spell the end of his career--because prevailing wisdom suggests that an out gay actor can't play a straight character, since the audience supposedly won't buy it. I am happy to say, however, that this new production of A Life in the Theatre proves them wrong. It also serves as a welcome return of Patrick Stewart to the Broadway stage. The stars and the director of the play recently explained to theatermania.com how this particular production came about. (To watch those interviews, click here.)
Now the reason I think this is all very interesting is that I saw the original London production of A Life in the Theatre five and a half years ago when I was visiting London in the spring of 2005--years before I had ever thought about quitting my day job to become a full-time, working actor (which is my new daily reality). The play made a huge impression on me because I related to both of its two main characters so viscerally. The story deals with the difficult relationship that develops between an older actor and a younger one when it starts to become obvious to them, and to the world at large, that the older actor’s career is ebbing, while the younger actor’s is just beginning to take off. I think this resonated with me so much because I saw facets of both characters in myself: the sometimes naïve, but always intoxicating optimism of the young actor, who has his whole life and career ahead of him, but also the vulnerability and bitterness of the older actor, who over the years has experienced his fair share of rejection and disappointment. (And these days, now that I am truly "living the dream" full time--i.e., auditioning and then waiting for the phone to ring--my mood seems to swing back and forth wildly between the two extremes.) That said, I do believe that the play, at its heart, has a hopeful message--quite simply, carpe diem, a principle by which I strive to live my life always.
(On a side note: in the 2005 London production, the younger actor was played by the erstwhile clean-cut, but now rather scruffy Vancouver-born star of Dawson’s Creek and Fringe, Joshua Jackson. So there’s a Canadian connection there. Coincidence number one.)
I have a lot of body hair.
A couple of years later, when I was in London again in 2007, I went to see another play. This time, it was the 2007 London revival of Equus, starring Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter. And, believe me, you haven't lived until you've seen Harry Potter in full-frontal-nudity mode.
Attention: this picture had been censored by the British Office for Moral Decency. God bless the Queen.
(On an another, rather serendipitous, side note--I recently auditioned for a new production of Equus being done in Toronto at the Hart House Theatre; that play also happens to be the last piece of theatre I ever worked on as a teenager, after which I gave up acting for almost 15 years. Coincidence number two. But don't worry, if cast in this new Toronto production, I won't have to go full frontal. In fact, I offered to, but they politely declined.)
So back to London, 2007. Right before the performance began, I started thinking about the last time I had seen a play in London, and my mind traveled back to that evening in 2005 when I had seen the play with Patrick Stewart. And just as I was picturing his face in my mind, and just as the lights in the theatre were slowly going down, and just as as the gorgeous red-velvet curtain was rising, my gaze drifted over to the left for some reason. And whom should I notice sitting in one of the balcony seats, high above this opulent and cavernous, old-world London theatre house? None other than Sir Patrick Stewart himself.
So I couldn't help myself: during intermission, I approached him to tell him how excited I was to see him and to let him know just how much I had enjoyed his performance in A Life in the Theatre in 2005, which was the very last time I had been to the theatre in London, and what marvelous synchronicity I thought it all was. Unfortunately, I guess my enthusiasm came across as mental instability; as a result, in a valiant effort to protect her friend from potential physical harm (or so she thought), the older, slightly frumpy woman (aka “beard”) with whom Sir Patrick was attending the theatre that evening (think Susan Boyle, except less attractive) leapt to the conclusion that I was one of those crazy-stalker people and therefore proceeded to literally elbow me out of the way and do just about everything she could to get rid of me, short of actually calling for security. Super awkward.
Not Patrick Stewart’s girlfriend.
Anyway, as it turns out, I now know that the play in which Sir Patrick had appeared two years earlier was written by David Mamet, the founder of my school’s theatre company, and the creator, along with William H. Macy, of Practical Aesthetics, the acting technique that is taught at my school and which emerged from workshops that Mamet and Macy held at NYU back in the early 80's, when they were adjunct professors there.
(One last side note: Mamet and Macy met while attending university at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, but folklore has it that they also both studied under Sanford Meisner at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse, which still exists today. According to the tales I have heard, while Macy successfully graduated from the Playhouse's highly selective two-year program, Mamet was not asked back for his second year and, probably as a result of that, turned his back on acting forever, to focus exclusively on writing. However, I couldn't verify any of those last few facts, despite extensive research--and by extensive research, I mean I just checked the Wikipedia entries for "David Mamet" and "William H. Macy"--so, basically, don't quote me on the Neighborhood Playhouse stuff. But what is undeniable is that the basic tenets of Practical Aesthetics clearly rely on principles of Meisner’s acting technique, although they deviate from them in certain important respects. For more on that, see this interesting article about Mamet from an April 1984 edition of New York Magazine.)
So back to the present. Even though I had seen A Life in the Theatre in 2005, I simply didn't know as much about theatre back then, and thus it never dawned on me that David Mamet was the author of that play; or, if I did know that at the time, it just wouldn’t have meant that much to me because I didn’t know anything about David Mamet, so I didn't remember it. But here we are in 2010, and I am now a graduate of a theatre school in which Mr. Mamet is still involved today: he came to speak to the students twice during my two years at the Atlantic, and in the fall of 2009, he was often seen walking the halls during the several weeks of rehearsals for his latest play Race, which he also directed, and which he and his cast, including James Spader, David Alan Grier, and Kerry Washington, rehearsed right inside our school, in what we knew as Studio 4--the largest studio-slash-classroom in the Atlantic’s space. (In fact, that’s how I got to meet Mr. Mamet briefly last year--I cornered him in the hallway one afternoon and peppered him with questions about Race, which opened on Broadway shortly thereafter to great acclaim--and deservedly so, in my opinion. And for the record, he was way nicer than his public persona would suggest.)
I am not an a%&hole!
(For an example of a classic Mamet-style intellectual throw-down, check out this fascniating, but cringe-inducing interview he did with Charlie Rose back in July.)
Needless to say, I now know a lot more about David Mamet and his work, but I never realized until today that the play I had seen with Patrick Stewart in 2005 in London was one that Mr. Mamet had written. And knowing what I know now, that fact suddenly takes on a great deal of significance for me.
But, in addition, it also turns out that the new Broadway production of this play is being directed by Neil Pepe, Artistic Director of the Atlantic Theater Company. (Remember him?) And guess where they rehearsed it? That's right, good ol' Studio 4, right inside the Atlantic. (I know this because I recognized the space from those theatermania.com interviews. Coincidence number 3.)
Perhaps these coincidences don’t seem all that coincidental to someone objective looking at this from the outside. But to me, it all just feels vaguely synchronicitous. The best way I can explain it is like this: when I think back on all of these experiences that I have had in and around the theatre, it almost feels like I have been groping my way through the dark towards this amazing destination, all the while getting closer and closer; and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get there some day soon, if I just keep groping. (Of course, I need to make sure I don’t grope Patrick Stewart in the process, ‘cause his “girlfriend” is one mean, aggressive b%$#@.)