My most recent theatrical project, the world premiere of local playwright Jim Moran’s “September Skies,” closed a bit less than two weeks ago. (Hence the radio silence these last few weeks here on the blog.) It was so much more of a journey and a gift than I could have anticipated at the beginning of the process, and I for one was sad to see it go. I only wish more people had come out to see it – even getting great reviews from places like the Seattle Weekly isn’t always enough.
This journey began for me in mid-July, when I got a last-minute callback for a show I hadn’t auditioned for. I remember seeing the audition post for September Skies, but it was listed as an Equity show. Equity is the union for professional actors, and I am not an Equity member, nor have I ever been offered the opportunity to work on an Equity show. I assumed that there were plenty of other blond twentysomething actresses with union cards who would be considered for the part. But when I was invited to callbacks – based on my audition at Generals last year and my work in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” – I discovered that this type of union show allows for some nonunion participation.
So the next morning I had “sides” (script excerpts), and by 7PM that day I was back in the Odd Duck Studio (home of “Where No Man”) studying the lines. Through a strange twist, we were doing callbacks in the rehearsal room while an improv audition occurred in the theatre – a very well-attended improv audition which included 2 members of the “Where No Man” cast. So strange.
I remember enjoying callbacks… there was one other woman at callbacks, so we were taking turns. The men called back for the role opposite me were attractive and talented. One of them, though… there was a definite energy between us, but I wasn’t sure what it was. Like two magnets with their north ends pointed at each other – energy at opposition.
Late that night, I got word that I’d been offered the part. I was at first a bit tentative – I had been looking forward to some time off in August, and I was frankly nervous about holding my own in a lead role in an Equity show. But I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, and I accepted. At the first rehearsal, I discovered that it was the memorable guy from callbacks who had been cast opposite me. That’s one thing many folks don’t realize about casting – accepting roles is often a leap of faith, because you have no idea who’s been cast alongside you. But we got along well, and I was a little taken aback to find out that he’d worked in my tiny hometown of Yardley, PA before. Seemed a small-world moment. But we got along well, and I was a little taken aback to find out that he’d worked in my tiny hometown of Yardley, PA before. Seemed a small-world moment, except for the fact that it’s been happening all year – another story in and of itself.
The play itself is set on September 10th, 2011 and the morning of September 11th. Our characters, Dave and Amy, were booked on a flight from Boston to LA that gets cancelled due to mechanical difficulties – but Dave recognizes Amy from a chance meeting a year prior and begins to seduce her while they wait for their rescheduled flight the next morning. (I found myself wondering what the reaction would be to the show poster at work, since it was an image of the Two Towers.) It was a very intense experience rehearsing this show, since it was just the two of us along with the director and stage manager for the majority of the rehearsal process. On big musicals, there are usually moments where the director’s attention is directed at someone else. Not so here.
At some point, the thought crossed my mind that there might be something between myself and my costar. But I was determined to be professional on my first Equity show and wasn’t going to do anything about that, so I tried my hardest to keep things chill. I may have gone so far as to insist to a girlfriend or two that I don’t date actors and that I wasn’t going to let anything happen. But those are the moments when life is most likely to throw a curveball at you, and within the span of a few weeks, things intensified on and offstage. Fate and chemistry intervened. (Very) long story short, my costar and I have been happily dating for weeks now. Yes, it’s the theatrical cliché about actors and onstage intimacy. Still, a whirlwind five weeks passed quickly – and then just two hours after our closing performance, we lived out the idea our characters had onstage by running away together on a flight to Orlando for a 5-day trip. The show may be over, but we are definitely not.
And I found that I’ve never trusted anyone onstage as much as I did Dave. I had faith that no matter what happened, we’d cover for each other if need be and the show never suffered for it. This trust is not something to be taken for granted, as can be evidenced by my experience on my other scripted premiere this year. It’s a rare thing to enjoy that kind of faith. In fact, in my opinion these were the most consistently high-quality performances I’ve done in quite a while – and everyone else from directing to lighting and sound design put in equally admirable effort.
Meanwhile, the show itself gave me a chance to do another new world premiere work (my fifth since February 2009). I finally realized that my acting “wheelhouse” has changed – I used to consider myself a musical comedy actress, but lately I seem to be a fringe-theatre-original-works kind of actress. Different challenges. I had to push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of – 80 minutes worth of text, with only a few minutes offstage and a 45-minute scene at one point. Remaining in character for that long is an exercise in extreme mental control, and it becomes all the more intense when your bond with your costar goes beyond the script.
It was also the first time in years where I’ve been in a show where my performance would be called out in reviews. All of the reviews were very complimentary about the performances (the Seattle Weekly called our work ‘sterling’) – and amusingly enough most make specific mention of how well we worked together onstage. Still, I felt rather vulnerable waiting to be judged publicly. I still marvel at the fortitude professional actors exhibit by dealing with that reality all the time.
Moran sets up two potentially melodramatic questions in September Skies: Will the two hook up? Will this never-to-be couple board American Airlines Flight 11, destined to plow into the World Trade Center the next morning? But because the writing is taut, witty, and true, and the performances sterling, what might have been a bad TV movie-of-the-week is instead a study in how desperately we flail for what we want during these few short years we call life.Kevin Phinney – Seattle Weekly – Seattle 13, 2011
Between the intensity of new love and a 20-performance run in a costarring role – plus travel and a promotion at work – I’ve lived more these past eight weeks than in some previous years of my life. I will always be grateful for my September 2011 journey – and the new journey that we find ourselves on this fall.