Hoo Boy! What a year it's been! I'm not great at updating this blog, so I'm going to keep it short. Here's what's up now:
- Understudying Birthday Candles at Northlight Theatre, open now!
- Opening Rosenberg at Open Space Arts on October 21 - November 5!
- Season 3 of my podcast You're On In Five! The Art of Understudying premieres on our Patreon on September 19, with our interview with Juan Francisco Villa! Available everywhere September 26. New episodes will be premiering over the course of the Fall!
What's been up since last time?
- Understudied and Assistant Directed I Promised Myself to Live Faster, jumped into the cast of A Fine Feathered Murder, as well as performed in a few readings with my friends at Hell in a Handbag Productions
- Performed in Dooby Dooby Moo at Lifeline Theatre
- Studied and continuing to Practice Musical Improv
- Filmed this commercial for American Place Casino - Yeah that was me :-)
- Performed in Amsterdam with Bye Bye Liver at the Boom Chicago Comedy Festival!
Thanks for checking in!
And here we are! We've released SEVEN episodes so far, and have SIX more episodes recorded and in post-production. The response from members of our community has been awesome - we're honored to be a part of the conversation regarding best practices in theatre, which has been growing louder in the last few years, and turbo-charged during our pandemic-induced sabbatical from the stage. By championing the work of the understudy, we've brought light upon the conditions of actors - what actions help to support their work, and which actions make their jobs harder. As we head into a new era of theatre, these conversations are more important than ever. We hope you'll listen!
All the links are here: https://linktr.ee/yoif
I've struggled with calling myself an Artist for most of my life. Even as an Actor, it's hard for me to embrace the idea that I am inherently creative, and therefore I am an artist, whether anyone else believes it or not (including me). I've always enjoyed graphic design, tinkering around with photoshopping images and such. In the past year, I've learned to embrace my passion and talent for art, and created lots of things I'd never created before.
In the aftermath of the early close of my solo show Here Lies Henry (among other Covid-related life changes), I turned to graphic design as a way to process through the grief (which sounds dramatic, it wasn't, but it was grief of a sort). I started making these show posters as a gift to my director and friend Elana Elyce, and I had a lot of fun designing them, playing with fonts, kaleidoscopes, colors, and layers. I have rarely had a photo shoot as warm and comfortable as the one I got from Interrobang Ensemble Member Salar Ardebili, so I had lots of great photos to choose from, in addition to the archive photos of the show taken by Emily Schwartz (not to mention the lighting, costume, everything).
So I created some art, and I'm doing that really scary thing where I share it with people. Enjoy!
I’ve been nominated for a Non-Equity Joseph Jefferson Award for Solo Performance for my work in Interrobang Theatre Project’s Here Lies Henry. (For those of you who don't know, a Jeff Award is the Chicago theater community's equivalent of Broadway's Tony Award.)
This is a great honor that I’ve wanted to achieve for decades. It’s awesome - I didn’t know if it would ever happen, and I’m extremely appreciative. Henry was definitely the most challenging performance of my life, and I put a lot of work and heart into it. I’m very proud of the show, and especially the connections I was able to create with audience members. I truly hope we are able to revisit this production as soon as things go back to normal.
I feel gratitude for every element of this experience. Firstly, was the beautiful collaboration with my director Elana Elyce - she thoughtfully curated my performance so I could deliver my most grounded and genuine expression as Henry. This nomination is truly shared with her - she inspired me to believe that I didn’t need to put any extra emotion on the lines, I didn’t need to yell to get attention - I was enough. My meticulous stage manager Shawn Galligan supported me in every way possible from the very first read-through to our final performance. My understudy Josh Kemper was tremendous - I’m so grateful to have had his counsel through this process as an actor and as a friend, as well as the challenge to match his commitment and preparation. Those of us lucky enough to have witnessed his understudy performance will never forget the kindness and humanity he brought to the role. Finally, the designers and ITP company members were so supportive and collaborative throughout the entire process - the whole way through, I was blessed to be surrounded by talented, passionate, smart people.
To be honest, this nomination is extremely bittersweet. Henry opened on March 1, ran for 8 performances (and 2 previews), and closed on Friday March 13, with the 12 remaining performances cancelled. Our strongest review (3.5 stars in the Tribune!) came out on Wednesday March 11 - the same day Tom Hanks announced he had Covid-19, and Coronavirus officially became serious. Our last two shows were sparsely attended - it seemed even if we were to stay open, the audiences wouldn’t necessarily show up. And of course, what was our moral responsibility if I, or anyone on the crew, or even one of our audience members, unknowingly had Covid, and was spreading it to others? It was a painful decision, but we resigned ourselves that we’d have to close early. With my Dad and some close friends in the audience on closing night, we said goodbye to Henry, and cheersed to a successful, shortened run.
I’ve had a lot of difficulty processing the premature end of this show. It was an entirely special and unique experience, presenting challenges I had never had to deal with before. I had no other actors to work off, or commiserate with, or to blame for my bad performance (not that I would ever do that). I struggled with my ego and my self-esteem like never before - as my ego grew bigger with positive responses, my self-esteem somehow plummeted. I was just starting to get into the groove of five performances a weekend, as it became increasingly clear we would be closing the show earlier than expected. So, as my most high profile, best reviewed show was just getting started, everything had to shut down. This has been a blow to my very profession - who’s going to sit in a theater and see a show until there’s a vaccine? And my daytime teaching gigs had all been cancelled the same day as the show. The resulting following month (or two?) all went by in a blur, and now comes a Jeff nomination for my dear cut-short show.
I’m grateful, this is amazing, but at the same time, it’s kinda trivial given our reality at the moment, isn't it? So, I’m as proud as is appropriate, and not a bit more. My best wishes to my "competitors" Scott Gryder and Megan Wells, and all of the other awesome Chicago non-equity theatre artists recognized this year (BERNER! MICHELLE! BRITTANY! YASKO AND SMITH! REW! KEITH THE WIG GUY!). I have some quibbles about some artists that I feel were wrongly looked over - but I will leave those to private Facebook messages, like a professional.
I don’t know when we’ll be able to see Henry again. Hopefully soon.
Thank you to everybody. I love all of you.
Let's have some music! Let's have some fun!
The Cast and Crew of Here Lies Henry:
(top row, from L) Shawn Galligan, Josh Kemper, me, costume designer LaVisa Williams, production manager Richie Vavrina, sound designer Tim McNulty;
(bottom row, from L) Elana Elyce, lighting designer Michelle Benda
All photos by Emily Schwartz
Cabaret is my very favorite play of all time, and Cliff Bradshaw is a role I never imagined I'd get to play. I drew from all of my acting skill and all of my life experience up to this point to create this character. Famously, the character of Cliff is a bit of a cypher - things seem to happen to him, rather than him choosing his destiny. I decided for my performance that Cliff chooses everything - he chooses to submit to the seductive nature of Berlin, he chooses to fall in love with Sally, he chooses to indulge his fantasy of starting a family. These choices are all doomed from the start, but he pursues them full-heartedly all the way to the bitter end.
I was able to draw from my natural chemistry with my Sally Bowles, Caitlin Jackson, to create a lived-in and believable relationship. My fabulous castmates on and off the stage infused all their energy into the show - I wasn't in any of the large musical numbers, but it always felt like we were working together to tell the same story. Staged in the upstairs pub of an Irish restaurant, we could see the whites in the eyes of our audience. It was an incredibly intimate experience which allowed us as actors to make very subtle choices that the audience would pick up on.
This Cabaret was one of the best productions I've ever done, and maybe the performance I'm proudest of in my career so far. I spoke to so many audience members who said Cliff is usually their least favorite character, but that they loved my take on it and I became one of their favorite characters. I took a big risk in this show, in that I didn't try to "play" a character, I used my own personality and just played the character's objectives. For the sake of the story, I became different versions of myself - naive dreamer, suggestible seducee, politically anxious citizen, disillusioned would-be father. It felt like the most honest and raw performance I've ever given.
I am most grateful to everybody at Cowardly Scarecrow, particularly our directors Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts, for trusting me with this role. Of course, I'm so thankful that I was driving Caitlin to rehearsals for Poseidon last spring when she told me they were doing Cabaret, and I begged for an audition. I'm grateful to Maiko for always bringing sweets, to Brittny for her hysterical grunting noises, to Sydney for her va-va-voom AND her brilliant make-up design. To Aaron for his Fraulein Schneider notes that tried to make me break, to Kevin for his casual superstar quality, to Mandy for her heartbreaking take on "What Would You Do?". The whole ensemble worked together to tell this story, which is so dang relevant to our times. It's taken me a month or so to process and fully accept the end of this project, but I will hold out hope that I'll be able to do Cabaret again.
This Saturday, I have the honor and privilege to join the cast for one performance of Pride Films and Plays’ magnificent production of Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina. It has been an awesome experience watching this cast and creative team construct this beautiful and rich and timely story. I had the benefit of having worked with the director and nearly the entire cast, particularly my overstudy Patrick Byrnes - who I’ve known for almost half my life! His performance as George/Valentina is so layered and vibrant and moving. I have quite the challenge to match his excellence, but I also have the support of this brilliant cast, stage manager, Assistant Director, and the incomparable multi-hyphenate Robert-Eric West, who have taken time out of their schedules to help me prepare for the role. It’s comforting to know they’ve all got my back.
A month or so ago, a friend posted on Facebook a Barbara Walters interview with Harvey Fierstein from 1985, shortly after La Cage Aux Folles premiered on Broadway, along with his hit Torch Song Trilogy. Barbara (or BaBa WaWa, as she was known in my house growing up) was asking Harvey questions that to my 2019 ears sounded absurd - “Is it possible for homosexuals to be monogamous?”, “How do you live publicly as a gay man? - and Harvey answered them as generously and kindly as possible. Being gay was just as natural as the air he breathed, and he explained that most gays he knew were monogamous, as normal as any straight couple. And this was shocking - SHOCKING - to Barbara, and presumably to the millions of Americans who were watching that telecast.
So now to be doing one of this icon's plays is a great honor, and although I only get one shot at it, I’m going to make the most of it. I’ve been running the lines for months, I’ve had my make-up test and costume fitting, I’ve run through the show on the stage in heels. George is one of the most morally complex characters I’ve ever played - his compartmentalization of Valentina, and the ensuing disintegration of that has been one of the most awesome challenges in my acting career. And that I get to do it seven days before I open Cabaret adds extra difficulty and pressure - which would be absolutely crushing if I didn’t have an squad of actors and artists, family and friends, who have been unquestionably there for me if I had questions, or if I needed to run lines, or if I just needed to relax and destress.
So I’m dedicating this one to Harvey, to Mom (always), and to everybody who has believed in me and helped me get to this point in my career - most especially, Casa’s brilliant director Michael Graham. I’m so lucky to have gotten cast with him in a 2012 production of The Cherry Orchard, and since then he’s entrusted me with roles in readings and plays, particularly the amazing experience that was Ten Dollar House. He’s always given me wide breadth to create my characters, offering thoughtful direction that nudged me towards subtle and truthful choices, without telling or showing me how to get there. I’m so grateful to have had his friendship and his artistic partnership. I hope to do justice for him, and Harvey, and Mom, on Saturday night.
CASA VALENTINA by Harvey Fierstein
at Pride Films and Plays - Broadway Stage
Understudy George/Valentina - Performing Sept 28!