How I Became a Director: The Actor’s Double Bill
“Well, what I really want to do is direct!”
This is an old stand-by proclamation you used to hear during interviews with actors to the point that it became a joke. The implication is that the work of an actor is limited in its seriousness, authority, skill, and intellectualism. The actor in question appeared to be attempting to assert that he possessed these qualities, and if someone would just trust him to head up a project everyone would see what a great artist he was and how much he had to say.
It is an attitude that is certainly more prevalent in film than in theatre. It may also be motivated by a wish to have a turn telling other people where to stand and what to do rather than constantly being the one pushed from place to place and forced to fit your artistic expression into somebody else’s vision. It is not a phrase anyone has ever heard pass my lips, mostly because I have too much respect for the work of acting.
As an undergraduate, I spent two semesters learning the craft of directing theatre, and in the process was required to direct a variety of different pieces, including individual scenes, original monologues provided by the members of our playwriting course (of which I was one), and finally a full one-act play. During my time in school I also produced and directed a pair of shows on my own steam, including an original play of my own called “Train in Vain” and the Larry Larson/Levi Lee piece “Some Things You Need to Know Before the World Ends (A Final Evening with the Illuminati).” During my time in Chicago, I co-produced and acted in a show I wrote named “All Chicks Go to Florida.” All of these experiences were rewarding and enjoyable, but for whatever reason once I relocated back to North Carolina almost 20 years ago my thirst for playwriting, producing, and directing waned and I focused simply on my love for acting.
Back in April, a good friend of mine named Kevin Ferguson approached me with a long fermenting idea about starting up our own theatre project here in the Triangle. Kevin was already the artistic director for theatre at the private Catholic school Cardinal Gibbons, which is located right across the street from PNC Arena here in Raleigh, where the Carolina Hurricanes play. The school had recently built a beautiful new studio theater as part of a massive expansion and refurbishment, and the space had been mostly sitting empty during evening summer hours. His idea was to make use of the space by integrating young graduates of his program there at Gibbons with veteran members of the local theatre scene to see how the two groups could instruct and inspire one another. It sounded like a great idea to me.
Kevin and I have been doing theatre (and having drinks and watching sports) together since we met on a production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” back in 1996. With the valuable addition of Allison Driskill, an actress and costumer who also works in local arts marketing, we decided on the moniker >GASP< (Gibbons Alum Summer Project). We were soon digging through piles of scripts looking for the right initial idea to attract the best performers and our target audience. After lots of reading and discussing the merits of various plays, we landed on the concept of a double bill, featuring two classics of modern comedic theatre.
The first act of our show will be Christopher Durang’s wacky fish-out-of-water dream comedy “The Actor’s Nightmare,” while our longer second act will feature Tom Stoppard’s super-meta “The Real Inspector Hound.” With Kevin already committed to another project this summer, it was decided that I would brush off my directing rust and head up this double bill. Our target dates for production were looming fast, so we had to act quick to secure the performers we would need to pull off these challenging pieces. Invitations and general calls were put out for auditions, and I have to say we fared very well.
Susannah Hough is a very busy local actress with a long resume which includes the independent films “Endings” and “Two Simple Men,” plenty of commercial work, and of course lots of local theatre. I’ve acted with Susannah a couple of times previously and was impressed and entertained both times. She will be playing Lady Cynthia Muldoon in “The Real Inspector Hound” for us.
Rob Jenkins, contrary to the above picture, is a hard-working and award-winning actor and director on the local scene who I had to bribe with baseball tickets to get on board. I have a long history of work with Rob, as he has acted with me, directed me, and co-produced with me. His versatility and brilliant feel for comedy have been an enormous gift to the production in his role as Birdboot in “The Real Inspector Hound.”
Another local award-winner is David Klionsky, who will be appearing in both halves of our double bill, requiring more than one piece of character work, and he is pulling the trick off very nicely. David has appeared in a myriad of theatre productions in the area, including roles in “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Jude the Obscure,” “Bus Stop,” and “Lost in Yonkers.” This is my first real opportunity to work with David, and I am very happy for it.
Other talented veteran members of the Triangle theatre community involved include Jenny Anglum, David Godshall, Matthew Lubin, and Lorelei Mellon. Each one has been fantastic to watch and to work with.
As I have stated previously, one of the purposes of >GASP< is to put these sorts of experienced performers onstage with young graduates of the Gibbons program, and we have been blessed with four very talented young actors who fit this description. Our co-founder Allison Driskill is a Gibbons and UNC grad and will be appearing in both shows. Josh Teder is the most recent Gibbons grad involved as an actor, and will be playing Simon Gascoyne in “The Real Inspector Hound.” Matt Lyles will have a very unique role in our double bill – you’ll just have to come see it. No spoilers here. We are also very pleased to have Ali Hammond back in North Carolina for the summer. She has been living in Los Angeles, pursuing acting out there. I have been delighted by the talent and know-how that each of these youthful performers has displayed.
A couple of weeks ago, Alex Matsuo of Triangle On Stage recorded an interview with Kevin, Allison, and me about this new project and you can hear it through her podcast at- Triangle On Stage
I think audiences will find that these comedies by two of the masters of modern drama fit together extraordinarily well. They share similar themes, as well as senses of humor and reality. I hope anyone who is nearby the Triangle area of North Carolina will drop in for a good laugh. It only costs your time, as donations to >GASP< are voluntary. But make no mistake, you will be getting a professional level entertainment. My cast and crew have seen to that.
The Actor’s Double Bill presented by >GASP<
The Actor’s Nightmare by Christopher Durang
The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard
7:30pm August 8, 9, 14, 15, & 16
in the studio theater at Cardinal Gibbons High School
1401 Edwards Mill Rd, Raleigh, NC
Posted on August 3, 2014, in comedy, theatre and tagged >GASP<, Ali Hammond, Allison Driskill, Cardinal Gibbons High School, Christopher Durang, David Godshall, David Klionsky, Jenny Anglum, Josh Teder, Lorelei Mellon, Matt Lyles, Matthew Lubin, Rob Jenkins, Susannah Hough, The Actor's Nightmare, The Real Inspector Hound, Tom Stoppard. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.