Wednesday, April 1, 2009

When a Working Actor Isn't

It's been less than a month since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern closed, and I am sure I will never work again. This is the ongoing neurosis of the working actor when he is not working. That may seem like an oxymoron, but I do in fact consider myself a working actor, even when I am not working. For you see, when I am not working, I'm still working. I'm working on finding some work. Which, let me assure you, is work. When a working actor is actually working (that is, when a paycheck or other remuneration is involved), the day is pretty straightforward. You wake up, you prepare to go to work, then you go to work. But when a working actor is out of work, he is working very hard to find work. And I have always found that finding work is hard work.

The family has been traveling for a while, and I took the opportunity to return to DC for a bit, just in time for several local EPAs. That's a union acronym for Equity Principle Audition, which is the audition almost all union theatres are required to provide to the local union membership. Some theatres use these auditions to scout out new talent with which they may be unaware (it was, in fact, my attendance at an EPA at the North Carolina Stage Company which led to my recent gig), but many more theatre companies simply slog through the motions in order to fulfill their contractual obligation to the actors' union.

This time of year, the world is lousy with EPAs. Instead of returning immediately to the more sane environs of Asheville, I've decided to hang around DC for a little while and attend some of these general audition calls. On Monday I popped round to the Folger Shakespeare Library to wow them with my speech from Richard III. As usual with these kinds of big calls, the lobby was filled with non-union actors hoping for some no-shows in order to slip into the audition. I had an appointment, so waited only a few minutes before entering the audition chamber. The Folger's casting department, a lovely woman named Beth, has seen my auditions several times over the years, so there was no need for any upfront pleasantries. By coincidence, the gent right before me had also performed a speech from Richard III, playing the hunchback himself, in his most famous soliloquy ("Now is the winter of our discontent...blah blah blah"). My audition was a piece pulled from the Duke of Buckingham, a co-conspirator of R3's, and a role I played quite a while ago in South Carolina.

I have finally become accustomed to the habit most auditors who watch these auditions have, which is to spend more time looking down at your resume, or writing notes, or what-have-you, than actually watching your performance. The habit no longer throws me. This particular audition, however, introduced something new into the mix: a laptop. Instead of writing her notes in longhand, Beth was tapping them out into her computer. tap tap tap. Throughout my audition, tap tap tap. A pause for dramatic effect, tap tap tap. A slow build to the climax of the speech, tap tap tap. I can only hope she was tapping notes. Who knows, perhaps she was twittering...

My EPA last week, for the Granddaddy of Regional Theatres, Arena Stage, was a bit different. Arena has a relatively new caster, a terrifically enthusiastic young guy named Daniel, and he greeted me warmly (I think, but am not sure, that he has seen me in performance somewhere). These were musical auditions, and Arena has surprised everyone by placing The Fantasticks in their upcoming season. (I appeared in a college production Way Back When, and now I'm ripe to play one of those fathers.) I had a fun time singing a little snippet of a comic song, and had a nice chat with the accompanist, who is married to a buddy. This was a nice and pain-free audition.

There are several more EPAs currently scheduled in the DC area in the next week or two, so I'm hanging around to catch them. I'm even learning a new Shakespeare speech for an audition I don't yet have. How's that for optimism? When I'm in DC, popping up to New York is quite easy, and I've submitted myself to be seen by a regional theatre doing A Midsummer Night's Dream next season. I won't hear if I have the audition until right before the day, but I am forging ahead, learning a neat little speech by Peter Quince. Don't remember Peter Quince in Midsummer? It's definitely a supporting role, but I caught Kenneth Branagh playing the part years ago in Los Angeles and saw the potential in the role. I've never seen an actor playing Peter Quince swipe those mechanicals scenes from Bottom, but in that case, it happened. (Branagh's wife at the time, Emma Thompson, was a hoot as Helena.)

It never hurts to have plenty of Shakespeare at one's command, so I don't think learning a new piece will be in vain, even if this NY audition does not come through. I consider it part of my work, to try to be prepared for all contingencies. Sadly, this work, learning new pieces and attending general auditions, is unpaid. So I was pleased to learn that a film I appeared in several years ago had been sold to broadcast television, which has generated some unexpected income for all the actors involved. Today, I received this residual in the mail from Warner Brothers:

Thanks to John Waters's Pecker, I'm four dollars richer than yesterday.