Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander in Human Interest Story.
by Gil Kaan
A stalwart member of the Los Angeles Theatre community, the multi-award-winning Rob Nagle will next be appearing on The Fountain Theatre stage in the world premiere of Stephen Sachs‘ HUMAN INTEREST STORY, opening February 15, 2020. Rob essays Andy Kramer, who just having been laid off, fabricates a letter to the editor; then, has to mastermind an elaborate charade to justify it. Rob’s HUMAN INTEREST STORY onstage accomplices include: Tanya Alexander, Richard Azurdia, Aleisha Force, James Harper, Matt Kirkwood and Tarina Pouncy.
The ever-busy Rob managed to find some time to answer a few of my queries.
What criteria do you look for in taking on a new role/character?
I try to keep a very open mind when I am first looking at a new role. I read the script, trying to keep my mind a tabula rasa, a blank slate, so that I do not have any preconceptions about what I am reading, and I can simply respond to the material. I want to see if it is a story that I would like to tell, and then I more closely examine if the character says things that I would like to say. It does not matter whether or not I agree with the character’s point of view; the story and the words just need to resonate for me. Once the part and the script have passed muster for me, I then consider the people involved in the project and the place where it will be performed. After that, I take a look at the pay. But it’s never really about the pay for me, it’s about the story.
What cosmic forces of creativity first brought you together with this new world premiere by Stephen Sachs?
The cosmic forces of creativity seem to work when you stay involved in the Los Angeles theatre community. I have admired Stephen’s work for many years now, and apparently he mine, as well. In January of 2018, he invited me to take part in a one-night-only reading of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MENin the Council Chambers at Los Angeles City Hall. I believe that was our first creative foray together. In July of 2019, he asked me take part in an early read of HUMAN INTEREST STORY, then titled JANE DOE. I was reading a different role, but I loved what he was doing with this script.
If you were writing a letter of recommendation for Andy, what qualities of his would you emphasize?
His tenacity and strength of purpose. His empathy and his heart. His curiosity and searching nature. And his passion for telling stories.
What character flaws would you sugarcoat?
His pride. His ego. And the little boy who is still seeking his father’s approval.
What for you, Rob Nagle, would be the most satisfying thoughts/emotions audience leave The Fountain Theatre with after your HUMAN INTEREST STORY curtain call?
I hope all of our hearts grow a little bit while we’re all together experiencing this play. Maybe we’ll think a little differently about all those ideas we were so certain of when we walked in and sat down together, all the things we think we know about the world. I hope audiences feel an enlarged sense of compassion, greater understanding and deeper concern for their fellow human beings, no matter the color or gender or creed. We all tend to take care of our own circles of family and friends – but there are people out there who have been kicked out of their circles, or who have wandered out of them, or who have lost their connections to them. They are worthy of our care, of our attention, and even of our love. There are eight million stories in this naked city, and every homeless person you encounter can tell you one of them. I hope we start talking less, and listening a little more.
Montae Russell in “Between Riverside and Crazy” at the Fountain Theatre.
By Darlene Donloe
Montae Russell is well known throughout Los Angeles theater circles for playing meaty roles. He’s played Charlie “Bird” Parker in Bird Lives!, Memphis in Two Trains Running andElmore in a production of King Hedley II. He also played Mister on Broadway in King Hedley II opposite Viola Davis and Leslie Uggams.
Up next for the veteran thespian is a complicated, determined man named Walter “Pops” Washington who has declared war on almost everything in the Stephen Adly Guirgis 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama Between Riverside and Crazy, opening October 19 at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.
Russell, a Pittsburgh native is ready to take on the role. While talking to him about the show and “Pops”, the 50-something, married (Tonia), father of one, walked around a local park to let the imagery of the play and the character “sink in.” It’s a process, he said allows him to be “closer to where I need to be” when he hits the stage.
Russell’s first acting role came in the seventh grade when he played Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. His first professional play was in the off-Broadway production of Three Ways Home at the Astor Place Theater in New York.
Eventually he brought his talent to Los Angeles where he became a respected film, television and theater actor.
A highly sought after actor, Russell had to decide between doing August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Between Riverside and Crazy. He said it was a hard decision, but he read something in the “Pops” character that spoke to him.
In Between Riverside and Crazy, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama by Stephen Adly Guirgis, ex-cop and recent widower Walter ‘Pops’ Washington has made a home for his newly paroled son in his sprawling, rent-controlled New York City apartment on Riverside Drive. But now the NYPD is demanding his signature to close an outstanding lawsuit, the landlord wants him out, the liquor store is closed, and the church is on his back — leaving Pops somewhere between Riverside… and crazy.
Montae Russell and Victory Anthony in “Between Riverside and Crazy”
I recently caught up with Russell to discuss his role in Between Riverside and Crazy.
DD: In your own words, describe Between Riverside and Crazy.
MR: I really can’t describe it because I’m in the midst of it. Well, from my character’s perspective, he was a cop who was shot by a white cop eight years ago. The cop overreacted when he saw black people in a bar. My character is in a battle with NYPD. He’s living in a rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive. The landlord wants him out so he can charge more rent.
But my character is dug in. He’s not backing down. His son is an ex-con. He is fighting for his son. Every father wants his son to become a man. He is also fighting a war with himself. He has war with a lot of people. He has a battle with the bottle and his body. He has stress and strife. There are external forces and an internal battle within himself. Sometimes it’s not about annihilating your opponent. Sometimes you just have to sign a truce.
DD: In what way are you like Pop and in what way are you the furthest from Pop?
MR: I’m a fighter, but I don’t have as many wars. I have a stubborn streak. I don’t have multiple wars, though. I don’t have people coming at me as he does. But, I can understand what it would be like. I respect the character. I just fight differently.
DD: Why did you want to play this part?
MR: When I read it, I cracked up. A lot of things about the character made me laugh. He is raging a war with God, or with his beliefs because of all the things that have happened. You can’t win that war. It’s a very hilarious play. Pops is pulling no punches. He doesn’t care. He is the master of his domain. He’s a very funny cat. He’s not a rabble-rouser. He’s not an activist. He’s a conservative – but not in a social way – more of an interpersonal way. He’s a traditional man, an old school man. He comes from a time when you controlled your emotions.
DD: How did you go about developing Pop?
MR: It’s a day-by-day thing. We’ll be developing until the end of the play in December. Different stuff is revealed each time you crack open the script. There is constant tweaking.
He’s not funny, Ha, Ha. He’s funny concerning his perspectives. Living like that can cause problems. You have to give a fuck at some point. You have to give a fuck about something.
DD: Have you ever been between Riverside and crazy?
MR: You would have to ask the people around me.
Montae Russell, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Marisol Miranda, Matthew Hancock.
DD: By what criteria do you decide to do a show?
MR: It has to be a challenge. I have to think I can bring something to it. It’s about what speaks to me. I was supposed to do Gem of the Ocean. I was going to play Caesar. Both shows were going up at the same time. I opted to do this instead. It’s difficult to turn down a role like Caesar. It would have also been difficult to turn down this role.
DD: You’ve played a lot of characters. What role did you nail?
MR: I try to do that all the time. I enjoyed playing Memphis in Two Trains Running. August Wilson front-loads his characters with a lot of stuff they are dealing with. The character challenged me. It felt good that I concurred it. The stuff he has to live through. His backstory – all of that comes into the show. You’re responsible for the backstory even if it doesn’t come up in the play.
DD: How do you prepare to go on stage? Any rituals?
MR: I gotta be at the theater at least 45 minutes before I’m supposed to be there. I have to have food in my stomach to power through the show. It’s just like a sporting event. You can’t keep running back to the locker room. I like to warm up my voice. I warm up my diction and I stretch. I need to be by myself and get in my space. I like to get in my zone.
DD: Why did you want to be an actor?
MR: A lot of people today don’t know what they want to do. I was blessed at 13 – that’s when I knew. From there, I got green lights all the way. One job led to another. August Wilson wrote my letter of recommendation to get into Rutgers. He reached back.
DD: What happens to you when you’re on stage?
MR: It allows you to go to another world. Your imagination has to buy it. It’s the same concept when doing a show. We are on stage being looked at by an audience. That to me is fun. It’s nice to get away from the real world and step into someone else’s shoes for a while.
Tim Cummings, Bill Brochtrup, “The Normal Heart”, Fountain Theatre, 2013.
by Tim Cummings
“Hello, you don’t know me. I hope you get this message. Sometimes, when you try to send a message to someone you’re not ‘friends’ with on Facebook, it gets blocked, or you have to ‘approve’ it. I hope you’ll approve this message if it gets to you.
I saw The Normal Heart on Saturday night, and haven’t slept well since. My father died of AIDS in 1995. I was 15. Except he didn’t die of AIDS, he died of ‘cancer.’ Except we all knew it was AIDS because he was gay and had been sleeping around with men for years. We were a Catholic family, and so shame was tantamount to pretty much everything, especially my dad’s secret life. There were a lot of years after he died where Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays and anniversaries were lonely days, hollow days where not much was said and my sister and I would sit with our mom around the table and stare at our food.
Watching you on stage, the frustration and rage, it was so palpable it cracked me open, like an egg, and I feel like I can feel again. Except now I feel a lot of rage too. I feel like the rage is taking its revenge, saying, “You ignored me for 20 years and now I own you.” I feel like you brought it into my life. It was like you were breaking barriers up there. I could feel how uncomfortable the audience was at times. Like they were afraid of you. I was too, I guess, but also relieved. I don’t know what you are doing up there, or how you manage to live the role several times a week, but I want you to know that you have changed me forever. More than the play. More than the production. YOU.
I didn’t know who Larry Kramer was before the other night, but I’ve been reading up on him and watching videos on YouTube. He wanted to change things and wake people up and he could only do it by shattering everyone around him that wouldn’t listen. He’s lucky someone like you can interpret his intentions. I will probably see the show again before it closes. For now, I’m figuring out what to do with these feelings. Like, how do I forgive my dad? How do I talk to my mom, after all these years, about what really happened? How many more people out there are just like me, waiting for something to come along and break them open? Too many innocent men died. For nothing. I think I might take boxing lessons.”
In the summer of 2013, I was 40 (and a half) years old and really taking stock of my life, as one is wont to do at 40 (and a half). I had been in Los Angeles exactly a decade at that point, and reflecting on my career as an actor: roles won, roles lost, characters deeply inhabited, their skins later shed like a snake once a show ended, reviews, awards, pounds gained and dropped again, friends made and later lost, the worry over male pattern baldness. That summer, I contemplated the possibility that the ‘acting thing’ was more of a hobby than a profession. Things had changed drastically after I moved from New York to LA. In NY, I was working on Broadway, making a living acting. I was on a good trajectory there.
Where I grew up, and in my time, theater had always felt like a great act of rebellion, a middle-finger held up high to everything normal and expected and accepted. Thespians were teased and bullied, but I prided myself on being subversive, anathema to their pack mentality and bougie normality. Theater was punk af. In LA, however, acting suddenly felt like trying to be part of the popular kids again. Clique mentality. I wanted no part of it. How will I succeed if I have no interest in playing by the rules? I’ve always hated rules. I didn’t want to be hot or muscular or skinny or alpha or tan or…commercially viable in any way. I didn’t want to do things the way they were supposed to be done. I desired to shave my head, ring my eyes with racoon-black eyeliner, cover my body in tattoos, pierce every part of me, paint like Pollock, join a band. I contemplated whomever managed to pull off “LA success” with bitter disdain and a kind of squishy envy. That’s okay—I’m not above being human. Actors are not superheroes, despite the way the media depict them and fame & fortune define them.
I happened to be perusing the labyrinthian interwebs that summer when I discovered a breakdown for The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s seminal 1985 agit-prop manifesto about AIDS in the early-to-mid 1980s and how he and his friends banded together to create GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis). The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood was set to produce, overseen by one of the theatre’s founders and Co-Artistic Director, the outstanding Stephen Sachs. The play hadn’t been done in LA in about twenty years, and though it had been given a slick, starry revival on Broadway a few years prior, it felt, perhaps, like something that sunny, surfery Southern California had no right to consider. It’s my (arguably harsh) opinion that LA has always felt too granola (read: passive) for the righteous anger of stories birthed in New York City by New Yorkers.
Nonetheless, The Fountain had a reputation for mounting plays with a social justice bend, and Kramer’s behemoth was certainly no exception. I drafted a cordial email to the casting director asking to be seen. (I’m a firm believer that if you want something done, you do it yourself, and immediately. In other words, I wasn’t going to ask the manager to ask the agent if I had been submitted and then wait around, to neither receive a response nor an appointment time.) When casting responded to my inquiry I assumed the team would want to see me for the role of Bruce Niles, the strapping gay ex-marine. At 6’2” , broad-shouldered, and north of 200lbs, I figured it was the only role they’d consider me for. Instead, they asked me to prepare the role of Ned Weeks, the play’s antagonistic protagonist. Ned is molded out of the playwright himself, the pejorative Larry Kramer. It was the true story of him and his friends, after all, and he was going to tell it his way. It’s a colossal script, with a role as immense as Hamlet, and on nearly every page it elucidates Ned’s pushiness, outspokenness, and righteous anger.
How does an audience go on a journey, and root for, a disagreeable character? Continue reading →
Camille Spirlin and Maya Lynne Robinson, “Runaway Home”
The Fountain Theatre has earned 7 Stage Raw Theater Award nominations for our world premiere production of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps, directed by Shirley Jo Finney. The Fountain production of the funny, moving, and powerful new play about community and the power of family, set in New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina, received the following Stage Raw Theater Award nominations:
Production of the Year
Ensemble – Leith Burke, Jeris Poindexter, Armando Rey, Maya Lynne Robinson, Camille Spirlin, Brian Tichnell, Karen Malina White
Playwriting – Jeremy J. Kamps
Leading Female Performance – Camille Spirlin
Supporting Female Performance – Maya Lynne Robinson, Karen Malina White
Supporting Male Performance – Jeris Poindexter
The 2018 Stage Raw Theater Awards celebrate excellence on the Los Angeles stages in venues of 99-seats or under. This fourth annual edition includes productions that opened between January 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018.
The Awards ceremony is slated for Monday night, August 20, at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles.
Director Simon Levy and actors Sam Mandel and Dor Gvirtsman enjoyed chatting about our smash hit production of The Chosen with talk radio/TV host Deborah Kobylt on Wednesday. The acclaimed sold-out run of The Chosen has been extended to June 10th.
A silent father, an ancient tradition and an unexpectedly important game of baseball forge bonds of lifelong friendship between two Jewish boys from “five blocks and a world apart” in this funny, poignant, timely and timeless father-son story about recognition and acceptance of “the other.”
“CRITIC’S CHOICE… DEEPLY EMOTIONAL… reminds us to reach across divides” — Los Angeles Times
“MAGIC… brilliantly presented… four stand-out actors… directed with visionary insight” — Broadway World
Deborah Kobylt hosts her own online radio/TV talk program, Deborah Kobylt LIVE, every Wednesday at 1pm on Universal Broadcasting Network (UBN).
After taking a brief hiatus for the Passover holidays, our smash hit production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosenrestarts its critically acclaimed run this weekend. With every performance sold-out since it opened in January, this second and final extension continues to June 10th.
We caught up with actor Dor Gvirtsman as he prepared to leap back into the role of Danny Saunders, the brilliant and troubled son of the tzaddik Reb Saunders and destined to follow in his father’s footsteps as the leader of his ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community.
Where were you born?
I was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, primarily in Mountain View. Mountain View is a delightful, quiet suburb whose flashiest and most famous resident is Google.
Where did you train as an actor?
I started acting when I was in fourth grade, but I would say my formal training began at the California State Summer School for the Arts in 2011. It was the first time I was immersed in a conservatory-style program, learning about and actively training in theatre, day in and day out. Being involved with that program the summer after my junior year of high school solidified my decision to pursue a degree in acting.
The majority of my acting training occurred at the University of Southern California. That was where I truly learned the craft of acting: breaking ideas down into techniques that I could polish and practice through exercises, scene work, analysis, and performance. My third year I spent a semester training classically at the British American Drama Academy in London. It was a delightful opportunity to build and polish my technical skills by studying and working on Greek plays, Shakespeare, and Restoration Comedy in one of the greatest theatre cities in the world.
How long have you been in Los Angeles?
Six years. I came down here to study at USC, and then I made friends, fell in love, and started working.
In The Chosen, which aspect of Danny’s character do you identify with most?
Danny and I share a desire to understand people. Danny is raised in an absolute, fundamentalist world. The Biblical texts provide astounding analytical insight into law, sociology, and even general insights into the human condition, but provide fewer answers about detailed interpersonal dynamics. Those who are closest to Danny are a mystery. His father is revered by his friends and neighbors, yet provides Danny with no direct guidance or advice on how he is to fill his large shoes. Freud provides Danny with the tools to start understanding how and why people do what they do, in more absolute, specific terms than the Golden Rule.
One of the reasons I love acting is because it gives me the opportunity to think like, behave as, and understand people different than I am. A character I play may make choices I would never make, but in order to play those choices truthfully on stage or on screen, I must learn to understand why they are being made. What Danny sees in Freud, I see in acting: The opportunity to make sense of the people and the world around me, to embrace the complexity of a world that is far from absolute.
Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel
The difficult relationship between Danny and his father is key to the The Chosen. What’s it like acting opposite a partner who rarely speaks or looks at you?
The onstage life between Danny and Reb Saunders is a delicate balancing act. When we do interact, we each need to respond to what the other is doing in as thoughtful, specific, and vulnerable a manner as possible. This is not only for the audience’s benefit, but also for each other. It’s how we can communicate: If I know exactly what Steve means by his action, it is easier to respond, and vice versa. The rest is built on the trust that when we aren’t interacting, we are each forwarding our story in our own way. This is developed through conversations between the actors and with the guidance of our director, Simon. Simon’s eye it vital when we actors can’t see each other.
When we do finally get to look at each other, I find many of the denser ideas in the play give way to the human story: A relationship between a father and a son who love each other. Danny defends his father throughout the play, even through his confusion and fury. When Red Saunders and Danny finally speak at the end of the play (spoilers!), the complexities in their relationship seem to give way to one of the most basic things adolescents hope to hear from their parents: I love you, and I am proud of the adult you have become. Having only recently come into an age where I could share moments like that with my own parents, its tremendously emotional experiencing that on stage.
The play served as important trigger in your artistic life.
The Chosen was the first professional stage play I ever saw. I had seen, and performed in, school plays, but seeing The Chosen was the first time I saw theatre in the real world. They were using the medium not only to entertain, as school shows primarily do, but to ask real questions that pertained to my Jewish life and my prescient adolescence. It helped me regain confidence in my desire to act at a time when I was almost dead-set on giving it up because “that’s not what kids with actual friends do” in the mind of a young teenager. The Chosen was the right play at the right time, and it helped set me on my path to where I am today.
What’s it like being part of such a hit production?
It is a humbling, extraordinary privilege. I am touched and amazed by the fact that audiences continue to want to share their afternoons and evenings with us.
Deep into our run, we still have the pleasure to perform for sold-out houses. The jokes still land, the energy still changes in the room when we arrive at an emotional moment, and the role and the show provide new layers and moments to be uncovered. As we head into our extension, I’m starting to realize it may be a good long while until I have the pleasure of being a part of a show like this again. I’m thankful for every bite I get. It’s a little hard to not get sentimental about it.
What’s the most memorable thing an audience member has said to you after a performance?
I have gotten a few Brooklynites who come up to me after then show and told me they have seen and met some Williamsburg Hasids, and that I could pass for one. That is not only a fun premise for an Ocean’s Eleven style heist, but a profoundly moving comment to hear.
Even as a Reform Jew, the Orthodox world seems distant, and at times even foreign. It is often hard to reconcile the fact that people who are part of the same Jewish community as I am could see the world so differently than I do. Knowing that someone who is more intimately connected to the New York Hassidic community sees truth in Danny Saunders makes me feel like I have learned a little about a world I am not a part of. To me, that’s beautiful.
What’s it like working at the Fountain Theatre?
Oh, it’s tremendous. To me, working at the Fountain is a gift for a young actor. To get to work on a play of substance with people of substance who care about this art form is special. I recognize that. We had the luxury of a long rehearsal process, so we had time to play with this show and experiment with our characters and relationships. We had the extraordinary privilege to work with our director, Simon Levy. He is an artist as passionate as he is compassionate, a patient and specific director with a beautiful vision. I always felt listened to and cared for, as a person and as a professional. Atmospherically, it was great getting to work at a theater where the staff like each other and enjoy working together. It’s not obvious. Artists don’t always get along, and that warmth goes a long way in making the artistic process feel safe and supported. I absolutely understand how the Fountain has cultivated its excellent reputation.
Dor Gvirtsman is an unusual name for an actor. Why did you revert back to it after first changing professionally it to Dorian Tayler? What led to that decision?
Backstage at ‘The Chosen’
Dor Gvirtsman is the name on my birth certificate. It’s the original. Unfortunately, it’s not a typical “show business name”. People would ask me: What kind of a name is Dor? Dor, like a door? For years, people told me I would likely need to change my name if I want to be an actor. Gvirtsman has lots of consonants in a row; It wasn’t marketable. And I want to be an actor, so I ran with it.
People meeting me for the first time thought Dor might be short for Dorian. I’m a big Oscar Wilde fan, and I love the name Dorian, so that part was easy. Tayler came about as the result of my working at a summer theater program. The kids took one look at me and decided my name was Taylor. I thought it was odd, but interesting that the pure eyes of children decided this name was right for me. I liked the flow of Dorian Tayler: it sounded akin to the names of the English celebrities that I admired and were popular at the time.
However, in the past few years, the world has begun to change. We seem to be seeking a popular culture that reflects more of the population that consumes it. As a result, being your authentic self is becoming more celebrated. I thought, “If Saoirse Ronan could use her guest segment on Stephen Colbert’s show to explain how to pronounce her name, then there is a future for Dor Gvirtsman”. As more people in my professional acting life found out my real name, and didn’t run away in disgust and terror, I became more comfortable with the idea of using my real name in my acting career. When I was cast in The Chosen, I had the opportunity to join Equity. The application asked me what I wanted my professional name to be – I chose my authentic one.
It seems you guys in the cast get along well. What’s the backstage life like?
We get along fantastically well. It’s quite remarkable. We trust each other and love each other as artists and people. It made rehearsing this play a safe, special artistic experience, and it makes for a wonderful long run. This is a group of people I am excited to come in and work with every week.
On another note, we are a cast comprised of men spanning generations. John and Steve have had more experience in the industry than Sam and I. They will sometimes tell us stories about shows they’ve done and experiences they’ve had over the years, and it is delightful to hear and learn from their experience. We are all quite silly and irreverent for a cast of a show so full of ideas and tenderness.
Any plans after this long run of The Chosen finally ends?
I’m traveling back home to Israel to see my family and celebrate with them at my aunt’s wedding! After that, I want to dive right in to a new project. Any takers?
Side hustle: Chief operating officer of the Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles
Years acting: 13
Favorite acting credits/opportunities: I had a blast working with Chris Rock as recurring guest star Fisher on “Everybody Hates Chris.” My favorite would have to be the role I’m performing right now, making my stage debut as the lead in the west coast premiere of a newly revised version of The Chosen at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. We opened Jan. 20 and it’s been a life-changing experience for me; by far my most challenging and fulfilling role to date.
What do you do when an audition or shoot comes up?
I let my team at the clinic know that I’m going to be out and to plan accordingly. I have a staff of seven; they’re great! They work hard and are very supportive of my acting career. I move meetings and conference calls with outside companies to different days. I catch up on work from home. It’s not always easy, but I give people as much advanced notice as possible and put in the work before and after filming to meet my responsibilities at the office, even if that means catching up on emails at 2 a.m.
Have you ever felt like your side hustle was in jeopardy because of acting? How long did it take you to feel like you had security at this side hustle, even if you took time off for an acting project?
I don’t think I ever felt like my side hustle was in jeopardy, but I have felt that my acting hustle was suffering. Managing both has been very intense and stressful at times. I am fully committed to both. Acting is my life, my career, my passion, and it means more to me than anything.
On the other hand, I started a business that now has many people counting on me. Not only is it how I eat and pay my bills, but I’ve invested substantial time and money into it. Our patients come to us deeply depressed, some even suicidal. The treatment we offer is the last hope for many of them. It’s literally life and death. That’s a big responsibility and one I don’t take lightly.
I felt I couldn’t fully pursue acting like I wanted to for the first three years of starting my company. I still auditioned and booked work occasionally—a commercial here, co-star spot there—but wasn’t hustling like I wanted for my acting because I was grinding for the clinic. In the last 12 months, I’ve finally started to turn up the heat on the acting and it feels great. That’s largely a result of dedication, patience, and persistence to establish a strong foundation for the company. It took time, but I now have a wonderful team in place. They say, “good help is hard to find” and no aphorism could be truer! No matter how hard you work you need teamwork to create exceptional outcomes. I’m very grateful to my team at the clinic and my team who represent me for my acting.
What skills or talents did you need for this side hustle? How long did it take you to qualify or complete training for your side hustle?
My role is very expansive. I create policies and procedures, I’m HR and do hiring and training of staff, marketing, advertising, social media, press, website design, establish and maintain relationships with vendors, budgeting and profit and loss, patient satisfaction, and more. If I had to narrow it all down, I’d say the top three skills needed are to be very detail oriented, creative, and relentless.
As far as qualifying for this job or completing training, I’ve used skills and knowledge from every job I’ve ever had since I was a little kid walking my neighbor’s dogs. I draw a lot from the service industries I’ve worked in and my restaurant experience, which I have a lot of. Naturally, as an actor, I’ve held every position in the restaurant at over a dozen places. I focus heavily on the patient experience from our website to the moment they arrive at the clinic, to continuing care from afar long after they’ve completed their treatment. I grow every day in my ability to do my job more efficiently and successfully and lead others to do the same.
How does this side hustle fulfill you? Do you feel like you’re helping people/society/humanity in a tangible way?
I truly love my side hustle. It’s very fulfilling. I get to help people who are suffering and be part of a team that provides them measurable relief. I get to offer an innovative solution, something new and different. Applying a wide variety of skills and knowledge in my job helps keep it interesting. New challenges and opportunities come up all the time. I love my team. They’re great people with a strong work ethic and they inspire me to keep reaching higher. The creative control and flexible schedule are nice perks too!
Has your side hustle made you better at acting or achieving your acting goals?
Absolutely. I’ve grown as a person in so many ways through the experience of starting a company. Much of what I have learned I’ve applied to my acting career and the business side of “the industry”. I don’t overthink my acting choices and preparation for roles as much as I used to. I get to it, give it my all, and move on. Less dwelling on “shoulda, coulda, woulda…” after auditions and performances. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still there, but there simply isn’t time; I gotta get back to the other work!
Why did you choose to do this side hustle instead of more stereotypical acting side hustles like serving?
I got tired of serving. I’ve done every job in the restaurant industry more than once. I also worked in retail, drove for Uber, was a Task Rabbit, dog walker, babysitter, sold stuff on Craigslist, and all the other stereotypical gigs artists do to get by. I’ve done em’ all. I also worked at less stereotypical jobs for an actor like at a bank, other financial companies, real estate, and more. I wanted to make decent money and not stress about the rent while also enjoying some freedom and flexibility. Acting classes and good headshots aren’t cheap! I got a unique opportunity to be part of something great and I jumped on it. I threw every ounce of my being into it, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
If you produce your own work, do you feel like this current side hustle allows you the freedom/resources to do that?
Yes and no. My sketch comedy channel on YouTube, Gamer Guy and the Guardians (soon to be renamed The Jungle), is very flexible. My partners Michael Tomasetti, DB Wilson, and I usually shoot on the weekends. We can shoot a whole sketch in eight hours, sometimes two sketches if they’re short or improvised. Bigger projects like a music video I wrote, produced and directed have been tougher. It took significant planning in pre-production, filming, and post-production. That project had some unique challenges and it was my first go at it. I’ve learned a lot from that experience and my clinic is in a totally different place then it was then, so I think taking on a bigger self-produced project would be different today. I plan on creating a short film to direct and act in this year and it will be interesting to see how that goes. I have flexibility within my schedule and financial cushion, but the pressure of keeping things going at the clinic, which is rapidly growing, while also giving all my creative energy to a film is no small task.
Do you have any advice for actors that aren’t sure what path to take while they are waiting for acting to pay all the bills?
Never give up and work your ass off. Work hard and work smart. Be creative about how to make ends meet until you “make it.” I don’t say this as someone who has “made it” yet, but I feel I am well on my way. I have a long road ahead; one I’m enjoying traveling on. While staying open-minded, I urge actors to explore all work opportunities outside of the clichés with caution. A lot of less-than-savory characters prey on actors for our outgoing personalities and big hearts. If you end up sticking to a restaurant, that’s okay too! There are many advantages to restaurant work, that’s why so many of us do it.
Most importantly, never let go of your identity as an actor and your vision of where you want to go. Whether one week or five years go by without an audition or acting gig, if you are truly an actor in heart and mind, and you stay training and honing your skills, you can come back to it with passion and purpose and create a new rendition even better than where you left off.
When director Simon Levy was casting our west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll back in April, finding the right actor to play Archie Lee Meighan was a challenge. Levy sifted through hundreds of submissions and auditioned dozens of actors yet he struggled to spot what he was looking for. He needed an actor who could authentically evoke the crude, raw good ol’ boy Southern brutality of the cotton gin owner yet also reveal the character’s fear and vulnerability. Finding that actor seemed impossible.
Then, one afternoon, actor Daniel Bess, already cast in the play, made a suggestion. Did Simon know John Prosky? Daniel’s friend and fellow-member at Antaeus Theatre Company? A meeting was scheduled. And from the first moment that Prosky began his audition it was clear to Levy and everyone present that the hunt for Archie Lee Meighan was over.
“I’m strangely drawn to Archie’s desperation,” Prosky now says. “It’s not always easy or fun to play but I get that part of Archie Lee on a visceral level. I’m certainly no racist, or a cuckold nor am I married to a 20 year old — although my wife does look so much younger than me that it is sometimes assumed. But Archie’s place on “the edge” is something I commune with at this point in my life. Not completely sure why but I sometimes feel like I’m going to loose everything. Maybe it’s just because I have so much to lose.”
Prosky indeed has many blessings. He is married and a father. His son just started 8th grade. In addition to a busy acting career, he teaches. Like Archie Lee in Baby Doll, he sometimes worries that what he values most might all be taken from him. “I sometimes have this fear that I will fuck it all up or it will all somehow slide into oblivion,” he admits. “The good actor’s first job is to bring himself to the work and that part of Archie Lee I get.”
Not every aspect of Archie Lee came easy.
“His physical abuse of Baby Doll I find a stretch for me” he concedes. “And the shotgun. I hate guns. I am always using a gun in something I’m acting in but this is my first shotgun. And a shotgun in the hands of a white male in Mississippi in the 1950s should look as comfortable as an iphone in the hands of a hipster today. So that took some work.”
The Fountain Theatre production — and Prosky’s performance — has earned widespread critical acclaim. But it’s the audience response that pleases him most.
“It’s the reason theater is my first love,” he says. “That immediate communication of actor as storyteller is the whole point of theater and so much more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done on film or TV. “
And his first-time experience working at the Fountain Theatre?
“The Fountain and this production have made me feel respected, welcomed, supported, challenged and fulfilled. Very few theaters can do all that.”
Michigan State students with cast on ‘Baby Doll’ set.
by James Bennett
Monday night, we were granted the opportunity to host teacher Mark Colson and his fabulous group of intrepid theatre students from Michigan State University, who after a breathtaking performance of our critically acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Dollengaged in an inquisitive, inspiring, and heartfelt talkback with our amazing cast and director Simon Levy.
Director Simon Levy fielded a very good question: What’s the audition process like? Did you know we had over 600 submissions for the titular role of Baby Doll?
Actor John Prosky spoke about his artistic journey in manifesting the unchained, violent, and maddened Archie Lee, a character so far from his natural state he didn’t think he’d ever get the part. But when he came into the room to audition with Lindsay LaVanchy, something magic happened which brought the character to life.
The incredible Lindsay LaVanchy talked about her process of finding Baby Doll inside her. She spoke about how she had to open herself to being childlike, a quest she had undertaken many years ago but was unable to complete until preparing for this role. A typically reserved and precise woman, it took the innocence of Baby Doll to “crack her open”.
It is one of our greatest pleasures to share with and mentor the next generation of great theatre artists. What an incredible night!
This event was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making theatre accessible to students and young people.