"Kris, why don't you stick around and read anyways?"
Those were the words my director spoke to me that led to me being cast in Aurora Players' production of Jon Robin Baitz' "Other Desert Cities," which as I'm writing this, officially goes up tomorrow (Feb. 24th). But let's back it up for a second. Theatre had been a part of my world since high school, when I was first cast in a tiny role in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." I worked my up through bigger roles until college, where I really got to flex my thespian muscles. I became addicted to the thrill of it all; the fact that I was on full display for everyone to see and that I could really let out feelings that I didn't often let show. It was a great escape for me, as well as a great way to make new friends. Cast members form a bond. However, when the "how the hell am I going to afford to live" train hit me full force halfway through college, I switched my theatre major to what I thought was a much more practical path: communications. Theatre became a hobby I could escape into when needed.
The previous summer I had been cast in a show with the same director as "Other Desert Cites," and I had a wonderful experience in that production of David Auburn's "Proof." But age was a factor. I'm 23 and I was playing a 28 year old, which I thought was pushing it. This time around, I came into the auditions with the mindset of solely being an observer. The process is thrilling, watching everyone give their best in an attempt to win parts is a nail-biting experience. I had been told that the only male character that I could realistically portray was about 30 years old, so I immediately disqualified myself and was content just to watch others. Sure enough, I had a blast watching each actor give their all, and things were beginning to wind down.
"Kris, why don't you stick around and read anyways?"
Huh? Me? How could I possibly pull off 30? I laughed and said, "Sure, why not?" I did what I always do at these things, I read it how I thought it would sound in the real world. "Other Desert Cities" is a play firmly rooted in reality, and it was important to me to anchor myself there and keep it subdued. I thought the other two gentlemen who read for the role had done a phenomenal job and I was sure that either one would be a great fit.
I got the role.
I'm going to skip over the "I can't believe this happened" phase of this story. Because, to put it succinctly, I couldn't. But once I read the script for the first time with my cast, I found myself impressed with this play and its subject matter and dialogue. "Other Desert Cities" is a sharp, often humorous, and certainly emotionally revealing play about secret-keeping within a family, and how the past and present collide in those family relationships. It felt so live and so real to me. Every bit of dialogue felt totally rooted in how we actually speak, which is so, so important in helping me get into character. The more realistic the character, the more I can relate and go where I need to to give my best performance.
My cast was wonderfully chosen, and as we dug into the rehearsal process, I really got to see us all transform. The stage slowly became an upper class living room in a Southern California home, and as we chewed up the words on the page, our bodies followed, slowly adopting the mannerisms and shorthand of a real family. When I'm in any role, it's always about doing what feels right. When I speak, it's how I personally would speak in that situation, or how I would personally move. I draw on myself, because that's the only human experience I know. The emotions come from within.
My director is the sort of man who has ideas about what he's looking for, but he never forces them. He is totally about facilitating what feels natural to the actors. That made working so much easier, and his gentle demeanor helped me thrive. I've worked with harsh directors in the past, and although I don't think it detracted from my overall performance, they certainly made my nights more stressful. But this director has more than 50 years of experience, so I trusted his every move.
There are moments in this play that, no matter how many times we run them, stick with me. There's a beautiful tenderness in the words of the father, and a tragic hardness in the mother, and such a sadness within the main character, the daughter. The words are so poignant at times, and I could feel myself attempting to raise my own game around the other actors. I did my best to keep up.
As we entered the final stretch, things were going perhaps too smoothly. There was bound to be a bump. Sure enough, I experienced a mortifying moment just last night. After all, no stage experience is complete without a disaster. In this play, my character is supposed to roll and smoke a joint on stage (yeah, I know). Usually I come on stage in the beginning of Act 2 with a bag of weed (parsley), a lighter, and rolling papers in my pocket. I walked on, sat down, felt my pocket and...nothing. There was nothing but air in that pocket. I had forgetten my props, and worse yet, this was our final dress performance and there was an audience of about 35 in the house.
I knew I had to give my best performance to-date if I was going to make up for this. The time came for me to roll. Usually I swap out my props for a pre-rolled joint on stage, but last night I unrolled and rerolled, making it look as convincing as I could. By the time I walked off stage, I had not missed a single line and my breathing was heavy from pouring all the passion I could into the final scene (when you see it you'll understand). But I was beating myself up unnecessarily. By the end of the night, no one save for one of my co-stars and an assistant director) had noticed. I don't care to feel like I have let everyone down ever again. So from here on out, I will be 100 percent weed-ready, all the time.
Joking aside, I'm truly excited to see this show go up. It's wonderfully directed, and the cast is incredible. It's a play that's both incredibly salient from a political standpoint, as well as being shockingly real from a familial one. It's this kind of theatre that deserves to be seen. I'm sad that I will never get to see it as an audience member. But beyond that, every time the process ends there's a pang of sadness. Like the mandalas of the Buddhist monks, we spend our time and our emotions crafting something beautiful and true, only for it to disappear into nothing but memories by the time the last curtain falls and the last bow is taken.
But those are the memories that feed my love of the craft of acting, and what I suspect will propel me to continue pursuing it in the future.