In 1993, I was a young and very cocky theatre grad and also a new arrival in Toronto. I assumed that it might take me a few weeks, but I was certain that the parts would shortly begin to roll in and away my career would go!
Reality, she be a nasty bitch.
After months of horrendous struggling to find auditions, and even more horrendous struggling to try and make any impression at all at the auditions I did get, my confidence was getting a wee bit battered. And then I heard of auditions for the New Ideas Festival at the Alumnae Theatre.
The New Ideas Festival is basically a place where new playwrights got a chance to have their work produced. It went on for several weeks, each week having a different line-up of one-act plays. For the actors, it was unpaid, and not the highest profile gig, but it was acting. And at that point, I needed to do something. Other than serve bagels all day and go to bed in the third grungiest apartment I have ever stayed in. (Second grungiest? The apartment I lived in off the Danforth for all of two months in the summer of 1994, before I managed to escape to College Street. And the first grungiest? The boarding house room on Bathurst occupied by My Lovely Wife (To Be) when we first met.)
The audition process consisted of all of the playwrights and all of their directors gathered in the Alumnae Theatre loft space and seeing each actor one at a time. I think it was the size of the group that made this audition different for me — rather than playing to one or two people, and worrying if I was impressing those one or two people (which kills your performance deader that dead), I had a crowd. I had an actual audience. There being too many people to focus on individually, I didn’t worry about having to impress any one person — I got to just act.
I did my monologue and then a few of the directors asked me to do some readings from their pieces. One of them was for Romeo in Romeo & Rosaline.
Romeo & Rosaline (written by Andy Batten, the nicest guy in the world) was a verse comedy based on Romeo & Juliet, where the main dramatic leads were actually Benvolio and Rosaline, while Romeo and Juliet were comedic parts. Very comedic. Some scenes were new, while others were straight from the original Shakespeare. The balcony scene was verbatim… but with a wildly different slant, as this Romeo and Juliet were two raging hormones, each of them a couple of acts short of a play. Basically, they were teenagers. Horny, horny… horny teenagers.
I had a lot of fun doing the reading, just throwing myself into it whole hog. (The trick to remember with comedy is that to the character, it isn’t comedy — it’s deadly serious. Wit, on the other hand, is even harder.)
I left the audition feeling great. And then, a few days later I got a call-back for Romeo. And then I got the part.
And that part would basically set the path for the rest of my theatre career in Toronto.
We did the first act of the play in the New Ideas Festival in the winter of 1994. Then, later that winter we did Act II at the second part of the New Ideas Festival.
Then we performed the first act at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 1994.
Then we produced a full production of the play at the Tarragon Extra Space in September of 1995.
From that part, I got an agent. From that part, I directly got 3 jobs from other directors who had seen the play, one which made me an Equity actor and paid my rent for a year and a half. Indirectly, almost every other part I received was then based on this one play, as the other parts I received were either through my agent or based on relationships I had made from the parts I did get directly from Romeo & Rosaline.
From that part, I took the leap of submitting a one-man play I had written into the New Ideas Festival in 1996, seeing that play workshopped, and then performing it myself at the 1996 Atlantic Fringe Festival. (And unfortunately having to miss an audition for the Stratford Festival, which killed me, as they actually called me for the interview. Which is cool, in and of itself.)
From that one part, my life as a working actor started.
That’s the funny thing about opportunities. Some will simply be an experience, a memory, a part of your past. Others will set you on a path. They will help determine your future.
And you will never know which ones will be which.