2013 comes to wildly unexpected end for me. I’ve been cast in the Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s production of “Tribes” in the role of Billy, a deaf young man who grows up in a hearing family. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and it comes so out-of-the-blue it just doesn’t make sense.
In October 2012, I auditioned for the understudy of “Billy” in the Los Angeles production at the Mark Taper Forum. I didn’t get it and I was not called back. I found this to be one of the most challenging auditions I’d ever had. Billy is profoundly deaf (I have about a 60% hearing loss that is corrected with today’s amazing digital hearing aid technology) and British. So, I need a British accent, a speech impediment, and I need to know some sign language!
From the very first read of the play, I felt they’d be looking for a fully deaf actor. I have lived in this sort of auditory purgatory my whole life – not quite deaf, but certainly not able to hear normally. I could really relate to Billy’s being raised in a family who hears and who wants him to grow up believing he is completely normal (that’s why he didn’t learn sign language as a child). I have lived my life in the “hearing” world. I may say “what?” a lot, but I function in the world as a hearing person. I kind of wrote this off as just not deaf enough for this one.
After the play’s New York and LA runs, other regional theaters began casting productions of the play. Almost a year after my first audition at the Taper, my agent called and said the Studio Theater in Washington D.C. was “very interested” in me for Billy. What? How could they be very interested? They don’t know me. She said I had been recommended by the casting director at the Taper here in LA and would I put together an audition tape and get it out to them. And it had to move very quickly. Ok…
I worked with my acting coach Caryn West, and we put two of the audition scenes on tape. For my first audition a year earlier, I used a very “deaf” voice in my portrayal of Billy. This time, I thought I would just give them me (with a British accent) but not much in the way of a speech impediment. They seemed to be interested in me because of my life experience so, I thought, I’d just give them me.
And I HATED it. I came home from that coaching session completely defeated, having all these thoughts about how terrible I am. I am usually not one to comment on my work, but I found it so difficult and so challenging. I felt I came up short. I sent my agent an email saying that I do not want to send out bad work. I acknowledged that I’m not the fairest judge of myself and would she look at it and give me her HONEST assessment. If it sucks, we don’t send it.
She loved it. She thought it was great and I’m thinking she’s just being a really encouraging agent trying assuage her client’s wounded ego. But her opinion, along with my acting coach’s, outweighed mine and we sent the tape. The theater in D.C. and the casting director (who works out of New York) thought I was great. I’m like, “really?” Are these people shitting me? The director in D.C. asked if I would go on tape one more time with more of a speech impediment, so we put together another tape. Ultimately, I ended up not getting the part in D.C. My agent (bless her heart) told me the casting directors in New York were pulling for me, thought I was great, but they decided to go with a local, deaf actor in DC.
Of course, I thought. It goes back to my original feeling when I first read the play. This needs to be a deaf guy. Oh, well. I’d stepped up to the plate, I showed up for some challenging work. A few more casting directors are aware I exist. My agent got to see more of my work and got to know me better, personally. All good stuff.
Then she called me 2 days before Christmas. Remember that play “Tribes”? There’s this theater in Cincinnati that seems to be in a casting emergency for the role of Billy, would I be interested. She said they’re VERY interested in me after hearing about me from the people at the Mark Taper Forum. Here we go again, I thought. Now? Right before Christmas? Yeah, sure, I’m interested, but I’m not getting my hopes up.
She called me the next day, Christmas eve, while I’m scrubbing the bathroom for a dinner party I was having that night. It seems like this is going to happen, she said, and wanted to let me know now so I could get my affairs in order since I’d have to leave town right after the holidays. I’m like, there’s NO WAY they’re just going to hire me to do this new play at an Equity theater without ever having met me and auditioned me live. Come on.
Well, the offer came through and I’m going to Cincinnati for the winter. Unbelievable. Lot of lessons here for me. First, trust the people you have asked to look out for your best interests. I wanted to pull myself from consideration after the first taping because I didn’t like my work. Fortunately, I’ve been around long enough to know I have unrealistic expectations of myself. You HAVE to trust the teacher and representative you’ve asked to help. Otherwise, what’s the point? Second, keep showing up and doing the work that is asked of me. Just because I didn’t get the part the first time, didn’t mean I sucked. I treated each audition and taping as an opportunity to work on my craft. For long stretches of time, that may be all we have as actors. Third, if you do good work, people will remember and recommend you. And lastly, lucky breaks happen! But you have to be in position to receive a lucky break.
Wow. So, I got the part. Now I have to go and be GOOD!