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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2 Days Til 30 - My Life In Theatre: Act 2, College

August 2002, I'm now officially a college Freshman enrolled at the University of Scranton. Not long after arriving on move-in day, I learn about auditions for the first show of the year being produced by The University Players, the academic theatre program's group. The show is William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". This is perfect! I was familiar with the show since I worked on it when I was a Freshman in high school. So I went in and auditioned the first night, got a callback a couple of nights later and was finally cast as Snug/The Lion, one of the "mechanicals" who perform the play-within-the-play that happens near the end of the show. Not long after that, I was cast in the second show of the year called "The Foreigner" where I played a character named Ellard, a "slow" but kind-hearted Southern kid. I think it could easily be called my most memorable role since people would bring it up to me continuously for years afterwards. It's nice to know I made an impact.

Sophomore year was the time for me to expand my horizons. The first show that year was "The Fantasticks", a musical. And even though I still didn't consider myself much of a singer, I decided to audition all the same because it was another show I was familiar with having seen a production of it while in high school. There are two characters in the show who are aging actors and don't do a whole lot of singing, so I figured I'd be good for one of those roles. Lo and behold, I was eventually cast as Mortimer, an old actor who specialized in death scenes. It was a great comedic role. Plus I got to dress as a pirate in Act 2. So that's always nice. The next show I was cast in was "Our Country's Good", a play about a group of Royal Marines and convicts at a penal colony in New South Wales. It was the first dramatic role I had ever played and was an interesting change of pace from all the comedic character work I had done in past shows. A few months later, I would be involved in the biggest challenge I'd ever faced in theatre up to that point. Notices were posted, "Audition for The 24-Hour Musical!" What could this mean? Basically the task was to audition, cast, rehearse and perform a musical all in the span of 24 hours. And as an added wrinkle, no one outside of the people organizing the show were told what it was until casting had concluded. Eventually, I became Erronius in the one night production of "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum". It was a very interesting 24 hours with plenty of entertainment happened both on and off stage during the late night hours. The production itself was filmed along with plenty of behind the scenes and off-stage footage. Unfortunately, that footage has been lost to time but I'll always have the memories of that first night, and following morning and the performance.

Fall semester of my Junior year was a very difficult time for me. My parents had split up the week before my 21st birthday in mid-September, a few weeks later my girlfriend of two years broke up with me and about a month later was dismissed from the University for potentially being "a danger to herself and others". Yeah, heavy stuff. Thankfully, I had theatre and the University Players to help me through this tough time. Funny thing though, the shows I was involved in during this time dealt with some pretty heavy subject matter. "Dead Man Walking: The School Project" was an adaptation of the critically acclaimed book and movie of the same name produced exclusively for use in the context of academic theatre. We were actually the first University to put on the show. A high school in California performed the show first a couple weeks before we opened so they had distinction of being the first school to perform it. I was part of the ensemble playing a variety of characters, including a prison guard who yells the titular line. Right after the show closed, it was right into the next one, "The House of Bernarda Alba"; A really uplifting play about a widow who forces her five daughters to live in seclusion with her following the death of her husband and it ends with one of the daughters hanging herself. Yeah, not a lighthearted romp. For this show, I worked as the Assistant Stage Manager for the first time in my college theatre career. Spring semester rolled around and I was back on stage in "Madmen and Specialists", a play about the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war. Needless to say, the cultural context and impact was somewhat lost on us being a bunch white kids going to school in Northeast Pennsylvania. If there's anything notable to be said about this show, it's the first time I've been killed on stage. So there's that. The year closed out with "Strange Snow" and once again I was Assistant Stage Manager. So, here it was. Three-quarters of the way through my college years and I had gained plenty of experience both on stage and on production staff. What would Senior year bring? Read on.

Fall semester of Senior year ran the gamut of plays starting with Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit", followed by Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and finally Bertold Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle". A classic comedy to a classic drama to a look into the world of epic theatre. These shows came one right after the other in quick succession, so it was a very busy semester to say the least. It also was the last time I appeared onstage in a show at the Royal Theatre. My final show at the University of Scranton was a return to the position of Stage Manager for the University Players' production of "Urinetown: The Musical" in April. I felt like I had much more responsibility working on this show than I did on "...Dreamcoat" back in high school. Of course, that's seems to be a fairly obvious observation given the jump from high school to college theatre and the change in scope between the two environments.

I graduated from the University of Scranton in May of 2006 with a Bachelor's Degree in English and a minor in Theatre. I am eternally grateful for the time I spent with the University Players and the theatre program as a whole. It helped me grow as an actor, a stage manager and - most importantly - as a person.

But my story is not over yet. Come back tomorrow for the final act.

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