Reflecting on “Tribes” at ETC

On my day off before the final 5 performances of “Tribes” at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, it feels like a good time to reflect on my experience here. It has been an amazing ride.

I can’t say enough about the people I have met and worked with here. From the minute I got off the plane, to my accommodation, through rehearsals and during the entire run, I have witnessed nothing but the utmost in professionalism, creativity, and respect. Often, at some point during an intense, creative endeavor, you’ll see a temper flare or a side to someone you wish you hadn’t. There’s not one instance I can recall anything but the highest level of professionalism and respect.

I was greeted at the airport by a very nice gentleman who took me to my hotel, within walking distance to the theatre in downtown Cincinnati. It seemed everywhere I went, I was greeted with midwestern charm, generosity, and kindness.

This was my first ever Equity job, so I had no idea what to expect. On my way in to the first read-through, I stopped in the main office to meet the Artistic Director, Lynn Myers. They say an organization takes on the personality and character traits of the CEO, and this has been my observation at ETC. Lynn was so warm and welcoming, enthusiastic and supportive. That’s how I was greeted when I first stepped foot in ETC and how I’ve been treated every day since.

The entire company was in attendance for the first read-through. Everyone introduced themselves and their role within the production. The set designer, Brian Mehring, gave an impressive presentation of his vision for the set, with a 3-D, scaled model that was passed around so we’d have an idea of the physical space we’d eventually move into.

I met the rest of the cast, the director, stage manager, and the crew of interns who’d become my family over the next 7 weeks. What an incredible group of people!

My stage family – Kelly Mengelkoch, Jen Joplin, Amy Warner, Barry Mulholland, and Ryan Gilreath – has blown me away every single day by with their chops, skill, and creativity. Working with and watching these people do their thing has elevated my game so much. They say if you want to get better at tennis you have to play with someone better than you. I sure lucked out in that regard. My cast mates were such fierce, creative, and generous performers. I am so privileged to have worked alongside them during this run. I learned so much from them – MUCH more than I’m sure they even realize.

The director, Michael Evan Haney was awesome. A true scholar of the theater, he has acted in and directed plays with some giants of American theater. What I appreciate most about Michael is the lack of ego and his willingness to give actors room to explore and his ability to seemingly always know when to leave an actor alone in process and when to guide. It’s really easy to be the guy in charge and for the ego to take over “running the show”. Not the case here. Michael was like an expert chef knowing exactly when to stir the broth and when to raise and lower the heat.

No show goes smoothly without an top-notch stage manager, and ours was Brandon Holmes. Stage manager has to be the hardest job with the most responsibility and Brandon was flawless. Always in control, cool as a cucumber, and on top of every detail. His easy-going nature and attention to detail set the tone for the entire run.

ETC has a wonderful internship program where they take on about a dozen youngsters fresh out of school who work as understudies and stagehands. These kids were awesome. The show could never have succeeded without the interns behind the scenes doing all the hard work, day in and day out .

And, of course, sign language coach Dawn Caudill. I truly couldn’t have pulled this off without her. Dawn and I met 3 times a week for an hour and a half outside of rehearsals to learn and drill all my sign language “lines”. After the first read-through, I experienced a bit of panic when I realized how much sign language I needed to learn in such a short period of time! But Dawn would not allow me to succumb to my fear. “One little chunk at a time,” she said. And that’s what we did. I recorded each ASL phrase on my iPhone and downloaded it to my laptop and would practice morning and night and every free moment in between until opening night. I learned, firsthand, the human brain has a saturation point for retaining new information each day! But we did it, and I can’t thank her enough.

Opening night was a high like no other. This has truly been the creative highlight of my career. I am so thankful to everyone I’ve worked with on this project, as well as my support team along the way – my agent, my acting coach, my girlfriend, and the many friends and family who’ve supported me.

I can’t help but think back to that night after recording the audition tape for “Billy” last September with my acting coach. It was the hardest audition I’d ever done, and I remember feeling so defeated. I felt like I was the worst actor ever and I didn’t even want to send out the video. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that I am not the best judge of myself and my work and I’m glad to say I let my agent be the ultimate arbiter of whether to send out the tape. Good thing. My greatest creative fulfillment has come from facing the greatest challenge.