I saw an amazing play this weekend. Like a phenomenal play. The playwright is a friend of mine and he’d been nudging me to come since previews. Our mutual writer friend also began nudging me to come with her to see this play. But as everyone knows, you never know what you’re getting into, when you commit to drive across town, find parking, settle into a small space with sometimes more actors than audience members, and spend a couple of hours watching waiver theatre in LA. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t trust my friend’s abilities. Nor is it to say that I pre-judge theatre companies as well-known for doing great stuff as Theatre of NOTE is. But it is to say that it’s a pretty big investment most of the time, to see something that might only be okay. Or worse.
Well, great news. Not only did I brave the pouring rain to head to Hollywood from the beach on Friday night; I also scored a sweet loading zone spot just a block from the theatre. As I walked down the sidewalk to get to the box office, my friend the playwright (Erik Patterson, by the way) stepped out to greet me with an enthusiastic hug, so pleased I had come out to see his latest baby.
Before the show, I asked whether he’s one of those playwrights that likes to sit and watch the show, every time. (I’ve worked with folks who do that. I’ve also worked with folks who come to opening night and closing night, to see the evolution, but otherwise never watch their play being done, night after night.) Erik told me that, yes, he is. And for two very good reasons. One: He lived with this story and these characters for over three years while developing this play. So what’s a couple-dozen nights sitting in the theatre watching them living? Excellent point! Two: He likes to be able to talk about the specific experience the audience members had, in seeing any particular night’s play. Because, as a huge part of what makes live theatre so compelling and exciting, we all know every show is going to be unique. It can’t not be, by its very nature.
Okay, so Erik had already told me that the actors in his show were phenomenal. And I’ve had some experience with shows at Theatre of NOTE, so I believed that would be pretty close to true. The actors in that company are awesome. Committed and passionate and brilliantly giving. And seeing as I’m casting a half-dozen films right now (Eesh!), I’m super-happy to soak up some new experiences with actors I’ve never met before, especially if it helps me support a friend who is really proud of his show.
The thing is, I love comedy. I so love comedy that I produce an actors’ showcase that is nothing but comedy, because I just don’t believe that anyone wants to go see tragedy at the end of a long day, if they’re looking to scout actors. Sure, someone must love that stuff, because Oscars go out every year to dark, dreary films. And maybe it works better for folks who use entertainment as a form of escape, rather than as BOTH a form of escape AND a means to find actors previously not on the radar. So, knowing Erik’s play was, indeed, a tragedy, I braced myself and took a deep breath and committed to just “go on the journey.”
And wow, what a journey it was! It was funny and sexy and dirty and smart and hilarious and sad and painful and thought-provoking and amazingly moving. I had only ever seen one of the cast members previously, and I don’t know the director’s work, but I just have to say that this was one damn fine ensemble cast directed by a master! (That’d be Neil H. Weiss.) As I’d noticed about Erik’s writing in Naked Angels’ Tuesdays @9 readings, he could always take something very dark and lead it into howling laughter very skillfully. But to be able to act those words and direct those actors to make those sharp turns so very fluidly is an exceptional talent. Kudos to everyone involved; right down to the entire tech and stage crew, who made sure the visual effects, sound effects, and amazingly creative use of the stage space itself would only ever push us deeper into the world of He Asked for It, never distract us from its twists.
Regular readers know I don’t write reviews of plays or films or TV shows, except to maybe make a quick point about how an actor’s career management can be served through the object lesson therein. But I walked out of He Asked for It and into the cold rain simply thrilled with the whole experience. As I drove home, I said to myself, “This is why actors need to do really great theatre. This is why casting directors need to get their asses out there and see really great theatre.”
But how do you know it’s really great? And should you push people to come check out your work if it’s only so-so? Or if you’re the best thing in a mediocre production?
Well, being a part of — or even just witnessing — the development process is a huge indicator of whether a play is going to be worth your time. (I mean, you’re sure going to put in a lot of your time, and you’re only going to be earning like ten bucks a show, right?) For example, Erik developed He Asked for It over the course of three years through the aforementioned Naked Angels’ Tuesdays @9 cold reading series as well as the Mark Taper Forum Writers’ Workshop. From there, the play was developed through readings at the Celebration Theatre, the Gay and Lesbian Center of Los Angeles, The Blank Theatre’s Living Room Series, and even a roundtable reading at the Lark Play Development Center in New York! Okay, so as an actor, there were probably many opportunities to be exposed to this work-in-progress (or even to participate in one of these many readings over the years) so that it would be very clear to you, as a potential cast member, that you wouldn’t be wasting your time to be a part of the world premiere production at Theatre of NOTE.
Of course, Theatre of NOTE is a membership company, so it’s not like you could’ve come in off the street and auditioned for a role as a stranger! But there are many theatres at which world premiere plays are being produced right now, and they hold open auditions sometimes. Heck, even great companies like Theatre of NOTE hold company auditions to add to their membership now and then. Keep your eyes peeled for ads in the pages of Backstage and casting breakdowns on Actors Access. And if you’re involved in any of these cool staged reading groups (or any I’ve mentioned previously), buddy up to the playwrights. If they believe they’ve found their perfect star in you, they’re going to convey that to the producers and many companies will find a way for you to work with them, even as a guest artist. You just never know! So you have to keep up with what’s going on and keep yourself out there among the artists who are really doing it and not just mounting tired, old productions of the same plays you did in high school or putting up vanity projects that don’t really cause anyone to want to sit in a chair for two hours.
Now, for the harsh reality of it all, even after you do all of that work to determine that a project is worth an investment of your time…
Almost no one in the industry is going to come out and see your play until it’s getting rave reviews (if not in the trades, at least within the industry). Unfortunately, there is just not enough time for us to see all of the shows that are going on in Los Angeles every day, no matter how much we may want to. (And, sadly, many CDs and agents simply don’t want to. They don’t believe a theatre performance translates to an actor’s ability to star on a sitcom or guest-star on an episodic or to take on a supporting role in a feature film or even sell soap in a commercial. I just totally disagree. Theatre acting shows me a lot about an actor’s choices, work ethic, and the way his or her very mind works. And that’s really cool.)
I remember interviewing a casting director once (back in my Back Stage West days) who told me that she never really responds to invitations to plays from actors because she has so many friends who are either in plays or writing plays or directing plays or producing plays that she’ll always choose to see one of those before heading out to see something to which she has no attachment otherwise. And that’s pretty much what happened here. I went to see my friend’s play after weeks of hearing that it was great and also wanting to be supportive… and even so, it was “a night out” that didn’t include drinks after the show with my friends, because I had so much work to get back to this holiday weekend. Sheesh! So, the truth is, you can do a lot of really bad theatre in LA and no one will likely notice. What they will notice is that you’re out there working and keeping your career going and not waiting for something to happen. And that’s a win-win.
Okay, so what’s my point?
Aside from hoping you’ll get out and see some really great theatre (including Erik Patterson’s He Asked for It at the Theatre of NOTE now through June 8th) and be inspired by that experience, I’m hoping you’ll realize that there is a lot to be gained from participating in something groundbreaking. And while it may take years to know who it is you want to work with, and where, and on what materials, that investment of research and time and energy can really pay off in both personally-fulfilling, creative ways AND in boosts to your profile in the industry.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000876.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.