Open Call: A Year in the Lives of 15 Actors Starting out in New York

By London, Todd | American Theatre, January 1997 | Go to article overview

Open Call: A Year in the Lives of 15 Actors Starting out in New York


London, Todd, American Theatre


During the 1994-95 theatre season, writer Todd London was in residence as guest literary director and lecturer at American Repertory Theatre and its Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University. At the end of that year, he began researching the following article, which is scheduled to run as a three-part series: a comprehensive look at a year in the lives of the graduating acting class of 1995, and at the no-man's-land in which they found themselves as they moved from the relative comfort and safety of their training program to the uncertainty of professional careers.

This first part of the series is an extended dramatis personae: 15 actors, 15 lives, 15 stories. In the second part, scheduled to appear in next month's issue, the cast of characters begin work, setting out for theatres across the country and abroad, braving the exhilaration and the challenges their work affords. In part three, the young actors offer a candid assessment of the spiritual rewards and materials costs of their first year as actors in America.

- The Editors

"We're actors - we're the opposite of people!"

- Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Prologue

Spring, 1995. Cambridge, Mass. I witness a rare convergence. In the studios of the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard, at the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training, I behold the formation of a true ensemble of actors. It's not something you see every day, not something you expect to find in school, but there it is: the second-year class - a company-in-the-making - about to graduate. I've been in and out of training programs as a student, then as a teacher since the mid-'70s, including at the A.R.T. (I'm guest literary director and lecturer when I stumble on this class.) I'm not prone to romanticizing student talent. Suddenly, though, I'm romanticizing full blast. I'm at the birth of something extraordinary, I think, a new constellation in the theatre. Here are 15 actors - disciplined, talented, singular - who combust on stage together, who, each in possession of a steady, unique flame, set each other on fire. Several times I catch them in the act - in a wacked-out Titus Andronicus, staged in an abandoned (dry) swimming pool, and in a showcase of scenes, that many-headed monster known among graduating classes as "Industry night." When I watch them perform - no, seize upon - Charles L. Mee Jr.'s beautiful/horrific riff on The Trojan Women and Dido & Aeneas, my fantasy crystalizes: something must be done to keep them together.

Someone should coin a word for the love of talent, this racing of the heart and mind I feel. It's a tender infatuation, nearly erotic, partly worshipful, and always - when you're in the audience - unrequited. Imagine my surprise, then - my lover's betrayal - when I discover that they (with only one or two exceptions) don't want to stay together. They know they're good together; people have been telling them so for two years; they feel it themselves. They've been sharing this intensity for long enough, though. Besides, they have other plans. They want to make their own ways.

And imagine my surprise, too, when, four decades into the alternative/regional theatre movement in America, I learn that for all 15 of them, the way begins in New York. Fifteen actors from the reaches of this continent, ranging in age from 23 to 33, finish graduate training and independently decide to assay Mount Manhattan, to make it there and to make it on their own. Some fantasies persist. New York is one.

Mine persists, too. If this young corps can't be persuaded to keep company - by starting a theatre, maybe, or through the championship of one of the directors graduating with them - at least I can keep them together in words. So I ask their permission to follow them around New York for a year, to write the story of this year, which is, for many, the start of their professional lives. They agree. (Actors must cultivate vulnerability and bravery, and a print documentary promises to be an exercise in both. …

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