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