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How I Became a Director: The Actor’s Double Bill

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Ali Hammond, Lorelei Mellon, Matt Lyles, and Allison Driskill during a break in rehearsing The Actor’s Nightmare

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<
featuring
The Actor’s Nightmare by Christopher Durang
and
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

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Posted on August 3, 2014, in comedy, theatre and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. This is really kind of, you know, sort of, breathtaking. I never knew what to make of the old line about “what I really want to do is direct.” It didn’t strike me as any kind of minimizing of the actor role… more about, someone getting the chance to be the visionary and getting other people to help with the finished product. How great is it that Daffystardust is that visionary! and it’s even more great that you are already recognizing your team. Sorry I’m not located near your venue in fact I’ll be in Canada for those dates but looking forward to hearing further updates!

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    • Thanks so much for your kind words, RB!

      I think I would react differently if those people were saying. “I’d also really love the opportunity to direct.” The way it was phrased instead says to me they somehow didn’t want to be doing what they were doing. Which seems strange to me.

      I’ll post some more pictures here as we get deeper into dress rehearsals. I hope your time in Canada is good!

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    • I assume we’ll be getting a trip report from Canada?

      Daffy has been recognizing his team on FB since the project started. I found out about it when he started posting about blocking and rehearsals. Sounds like he’s got a great cast. Wish I could be there.

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      • Theatre is a hugely collaborative artform. It is one of the things I love about it. There is a lot of room for stroking your own ego, and a healthy ego in your work is almost a necessity, but anyone who thinks they are doing it mostly by themselves is sorely mistaken. The biggest star in the world can have a performance undone by an unprepared co-star or the careless flick of a techie’s little finger. If I go onstage without knowing my lines well enough, the work I and everyone else have put in will be severely denigrated. Every person involved has a huge responsibility to every other person involved to pull off a great live theatre performance…and then you have to go back out there the next night and do it again.

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  2. HAHA Lebeau! Just remember, anyone can “blog about washed up celebrities” you are actually posing a question, that many people ask, about someone who may or may not be washed up, and then you always answer the question. I’m pretty sure what landed me here in the first place was a Google of what the hell happened to Matthew Broderick, or Meg Ryan, etc. AND, your blog served as inspiration for my blog, still under construction.
    As for Canada probably not going to be much about that to report but if we get to Florida later in the month, will do a TR. Look forward to Daffy’s updates here, especially since i have little use for FB.

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  3. I have added a fun video promo for the show to the article. Give it a look!

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  4. Funnily enough, even though I’m directing, and don’t think I’m too bad at it, it’s not what I want to do. And have no desire to do it again anytime soon once I’m finished with Brief Interviews. I just find acting so much more rewarding, and I’m actually ceding a lot of control to my assistant directors, as I’ve kind of laid the foundation and set the tone and groundwork, and now I’m kind of just serving as a guiding hand and letting them realize a lot of the ideas I had.

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    • How’s the newest project coming along?

      So many creative types around here!

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    • My experience this time around as a director has been almost exclusively a good one. That tends to happen when you get to be picky about who you work with.
      I enjoyed the heck out of the rehearsal process. Opening night was nerve wracking, though, because I’m used to having some modicum of control over what happens because there I am on stage controlling my part of the job as it happens. All I have to do is focus on my job and everything is pretty much okay. As a director, the ultimate lack of control at that point was a little maddening. Both performances went very well, though, and I think I will have relaxed a great deal by the time the lights come up this Thursday.

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      • lol

        I always feel silly talking about my theater experience because it pales in comparison to yours and DW’s. But here I go anyway. I had written a two-person play in college. As you can imagine, it was very conversational. It was essentially an extended dialogue between two characters. A friend was directing and she had cast two very green actors. Eventually, the director expressed her frustration with the lead actor. Specifically, the guy would not or could not learn his lines. The guy’s name was Kurt. I’m pretty sure I have talked about him here before. He reminded one of a young Bill Shatner, so naturally we called him Captain Kurt behind his back. From what I hear, he is now a local politician.

        The night before opening night, Kurt still doesn’t know his lines. How scary is that in a two-person play, right? So he comes over to my dorm room and we literally stay up all night long running lines. I’m explaining jokes, motivation, anything that will make the flow of the dialogue stick in his head. By morning, I’m not convinced he has it. But I know I have done all I can do. I tell him to get some rest before opening night.

        That night, we’re in the student center theater. Not in the theater building but the actual student center. I had to pull strings to get that venue, but fortunately I knew people. The show starts and I’m standing backstage with the director. We have an open script and we’re following along just incase Captain Kurt blows a line. At some point in the play, he skips ahead like five pages. Fortunately, the actress is able to bring him back on book and they cover the blunder up. I don’t think anyone in the audience noticed.

        So I know that feeling of watching on helpless. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have a vested interest in the show. I was mostly a bemused observer.

        Since I am telling the story, I might as well tell the rest of it. A few months later, I’m putting on another play I have written. It had a larger cast. Eight actors in total I think. I cast myself in the lead because the character is basically me. And I cast Kurt’s sister as my girlfriend because while I knew people at the student center, I didn’t know all that many actresses. Kurt was busy participating in some theater competition with a partner who was even hammier than he was if such a thing was possible. We were all highly amused by their ambitious presentation. Most of the cast was filled with friends of mine. We did get one legit theater student. For some stupid reason, I cast her as a little old lady. In retrospect, she definitely should have played my girlfriend.

        In this respect, Kurt was much smarter than me. As soon as we finished that production, Kurt asked me if he could put on the two-person show again. That show involved the male and female lead making out in their underwear. Something Captain Kurt was rather fond of. I said “sure”. What did I care? I wasn’t going to be involved. The one thing I asked was that I should be allowed to clean up the script a little. After watching it the first time, I wasn’t happy with some transitions.

        So I did a clean-up job and gave the new script to Kurt. I didn’t hear anything for a little while. Eventually, I come to find out that Kurt has enlisted one of my friends to direct. He has also cast the hot blonde in the role that requires her to strip down to her underwear and make out with him. Say what you want about Kurt, but he was no dummy. I chuckled and thought I looked forward to seeing how this turns out.

        A few weeks later I get a call from my friend who is directing the new presentation. Once again, the new director and new co-star are very frustrated with the Captain. What do you know? The guy can’t remember his lines. Turns out the changes I made are really tripping him up. So they ask me to come in and coach him like I did the first time. I had an interest in learning stage lighting, so I came in pretending like that was my reason for being there. And in fact, I did learn how to run the stage lights and I was quite proud of my lighting for the show. But really, I was there to “manage” Kurt.

        Poor Michelle – I think that was her name – was so fed up with Kurt. She liked the show and wanted to be in it. But she was beginning to suspect that Kurt’s primary motivation for putting the show together was heavy petting. I don’t think there was any doubt she was right. Michelle, Joe (the director) and I bonded over our mutual frustration with the bungling leading man. But still, I have to admit, I liked Kurt. He was a “fun” guy. So somehow I was able to remain patient with him.

        This time, the show opened in the theater department. It was part of a festival. Kurt was trying to get noticed in the theater department hoping it would lead to more roles. As I suspect is the case in a lot of theaters departments, the UK theater department was rather cliquey. Or at least political. Michelle was also interested in impressing the department in hopes of landing more and better roles. I personally had no such ambitions. But I wanted the show to go well for them. Especially Michelle who I think all three of us were crushing on just a little. If I hadn’t had a girlfriend at the time, I would have had a full blown crush. Such wasted opportunities.

        The show opens and people seem impressed. We were all outsiders in the theater department. Actually, I specifically had pulled a bit of a Val Kilmer and made a bad name for myself as a freshman. So perhaps I was less than an outsider. Theater students were required to attend the festival so we had a captive audience. I think some people showed up to see us fall on our faces. Afterwards, a lot of people stopped to tell me how impressed they were. And not just by Michelle in her undies.

        All of Kurt’s family was there. They were an extremely supportive bunch. After the show, they got me, Kurt, Joe and Michelle together for a picture. Kurt’s dad asks, “If you two were to meet again twenty years later, would you remember your lines.” Michelle replied very dryly, “One of us would.” I fell in love with her just a little bit in that moment. It was perfect. And the best part is that neither Kurt nor his family realized it was a slam.

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  5. Live from “cottage country” Ontario, where I’ve probably had more internet time than at home (although the connections can be up’ n ‘down)

    Happy to read Daffy’s show is going well. And yes that is a fun story Leb. Kept expecting Ashley Judd to appear in your play 🙂

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    • According to drama dept rumors, Judd only auditioned for one play at UK. She didn’t get a part. She never set foot in the building again. Not sure if it’s true or not, but so the story was told to me. I half suspect it is true. I wouldn’t have put it past the faculty to turn Judd away on principle. At the time she was the daughter of a famous singer. I could definitely see certain professors trying to make her earn her place. And if true, I can’t blame Judd for deciding she didn’t need the UK drama dept. She was already working on TV shows.

      During the brief time Judd and I were dating, she refused to discus the subject. 😉

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