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The Life of Charles

Getting Back to the Stage

In 2012, I spent so much time in front of the camera I had to take a break from the stage. I passed on some incredible productions, but, as any theater actor will tell you, a play can be a huge time commitment. There are only so many hours in the day.

As the calendar flipped to 2013, a couple opportunities presented themselves that I just couldn’t turn down: “Six Degrees of Separation” and “12 Angry Men.” This entry is posted in September of 2013. It’s amazing I haven’t written anything about these two experiences to date. So, I thought I take a few minutes and share a some thoughts.

First there was John Guare’s famous play – Six Degrees of Separation. You know the one that spawned the Kevin Bacon game? It’s always been one of my absolute favorites. The thought provoking, sometimes philosophical script just speaks my language. I connect to it. I even enjoyed the big screen adaptation starring a young Will Smith as the charismatic Paul Poitier. Plus, there’s a personal connection. Years ago, my Mom was friends with the renowned playwright. She has some stories. Of course, that could be it’s own blog post. It doesn’t end there though. Guare’s “Atlantic City,” that featured Burt Lancaster on the big screen, was influenced by my Mom’s ex-husband. Pretty cool, right?

Early in 2012, a friend told me about auditions for Six Degrees. Usually, I feel like I’m on top of the theatre scene and what opportunities are out there. This one I missed. Even though I had resigned to take a break from theatre, I thought, it’s Six Degrees of Separation. It’s one of my favorites. There’s a personal connection. I have to audition. Of course, there’s no suspense here… I went in, had a strong audition and booked a role.

Now, there are a couple of parts I’d love play. I’d love to be Paul, but I’m not a young black man. I guess I’ll have to let go of that one. I’d also love to be Flan, but I still look too young to have college-aged kids. Someday. Instead, I got offered the role of Larkin – a supporting character, but a fun one nonetheless. Additionally, it allowed a bit more flexibility. Tackling a lead role can be all-consuming. There were other things I wanted to do. One interesting wrinkle came up though, the show wasn’t going up until 2013. 2013?! I accepted the offer thinking, sure… if I’m still available.

As January 2013 hit and I was planning a lengthy trip to LA, I got an e-mail: rehearsals were about to start. I had a tough decision, but decided I wanted to be part of this experience. It turned out to be a great call.

The theatre company I worked with – Eclectic – was phenomenal. David Belew, the Director, turned out to be one my absolute favorites. He was prepared, knew what he wanted and never wasted anyone’s time. He balanced those qualities with strong communication and created a collaborative relationship with the actors – offering just the right amount of creative freedom.

The rehearsal process was smooth and fun. The cast bonded quickly and there was rarely a dull moment. All told, with rehearsals and performances, I probably watched and performed in the play around fifty times. The material never got boring. Certainly credit goes to my fellow actors, but part of the staying power is in Guare’s prose. There are layers and layers. I felt like I learned sometime new every time.

Six Degees

When it came time to perform, it came as no surprise that we had a hit. The reviews were incredible. Four stars. Three and a half stars. Four stars. The strong audiences from opening weekend never stopped. I’d say 80% of the shows were sold-out or at close to capacity. There are few feelings that are cooler than performing in front of a packed house. I’ve been lucky. That’s been a theme with most of the projects I’ve been in. Heck, even way back when at Second City… A graduation show I did there was the first (and maybe only) to sell out the mainstage (I guess it didn’t hurt that I personally had 60+ people there…).

Needless to say, Six Degrees was a huge success and a wonderful learning experience. To me, I believe the purpose of life is to learn. To grow and become the best version of yourself. I think we never truly stop going to school. As an actor, there is no greater classroom than the stage.

As Six Degrees was about to close, I began figuring out my next move. LA was still a possibility, but I hadn’t done the planning. I considered some films, but I’m typically rather picky when it comes to any project. While there were countless opportunities, I just hadn’t seen any great scripts. Commercial auditions had slowed down a bit too. What to do? What to do?

Then, I saw a casting notice for 12 Angry Men. Hmm… Another mainstream show that also I also happen to like quite bit. I was hesitant at first, because the theatre company – Actor Factor – has a website that, to put it nicely, left a bit to be desired. After asking around though, I kept hearing great things and was encouraged to reach out. I did.

I was sent sides for both the protagonist – Juror #8 – and the antagonist – Juror #3. I thought, yes, this is what I want. I’m ready to commit to a big role. I went in and did my thing. A day or two later, I got a call. I was being offered a role. Nice. Juror #12. Hmm…

Juror #12 is a supporting character. He instigates some of the key plot points and provides comic relief. In some versions of the play, his role is a bit larger. To be fair, it’s truly an ensemble piece. Every role is crucial. As they say, there are no small parts.

The quandary for me was if I wanted to devote the time. Juror #12 is an advertising exec. That’s my past. Certainly, quite familiar. Not a huge challenge or stretch as an actor. Plus, the show was out in Oak Park. It’s a bit of a trek. That commute takes its toll when it’s five plus night a week.

After weighing it all in my head, I decided to go for it. My gut said to take it and my gut has never steered me wrong. The streak continues.

12 Angry Men was another wonderful experience. All the folks who were part of the production were new faces. We all became fast friends – especially those of us on the Green Line crew, who took the train back to Chicago every night.

12 Angry Men

Like Six Degrees, the show was a nice success. It took about a week to get going, but once the audiences started coming, they kept coming. As an actor, each show was new and exciting. Part of the fun was discovering ways to mix it up and try something a little different in each performance.

Perhaps the most memorable moments though came backstage before the show and during the intermission. Simply making conversation and cracking jokes with the cast was something that I looked forward to each day. And, that’s what I missed most when the show closed.

Backstage Fun

Since then, my focus has shifted. I love the stage but being in front of the camera is where I feel at home. Chicago currently has six, count ‘em , six TV shows shooting here – Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, Crisis, Betrayal, Mind Games and Sirens. I’ve been called in and got close for Chicago Fire and know I’m on the radar. My goal right now is to book at least one (ideally, all) of these shows.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoning the stage. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. I’d like to do one more play in 2013. I’ve been auditioning. Recently, I had three callbacks at the prestigious Metropolis Theater in Arlington Heights and am looking to get in front of the folks down the street from me at Red Orchid (Michael Shannon’s company).

Additionally, I’ve been getting back to some improv doing a regular gig with my girlfriend. We go by the name of “Handsome and Beautiful.” As of this writing, we’re three shows in and it’s been some of the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. Can’t wait for show four (and show four hundred).

As I finish up here, I begin to wonder where this journey will take me next. I am reminded of an interview I read with a successful screen actress. I want to say it was Judi Dench, but I could be making that up. For sake of this writing, we’ll just give her the credit. To paraphrase, she said, no matter how successful you become, there’s always a period where you’re out-of-work and wondering where that next job will come from. For me, that’s the feeling right now. What’s next? Of course, I’ve been around the block enough to know something is coming. I can’t wait to see what it is.


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