As I have mentioned in previous posts, I will be moving to Portland, ME at the end of this month. The reason for this move is that I will be acting with Portland Stage Company, playing the role of Daniel in Tribes, by Nina Raine (Wikipedia says this about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribes_%28play%29).
I am so unbelievably excited by this. Not only is this a beautifully written piece of theatre, and not only does my character have an amazing story arch and depth of soul, this is going to be my first gig as an Equity Actor. I would love to watch each of you read that last sentence, because most of my actor friends will read that and think either, “WHAT?!” or “Congrats!” whereas everyone else will probably read that and think: “Huh?” Let me explain what being an Equity Actor is. For those of you who already know, skip the next paragraph.
Actor’s Equity Association, or AEA, is the union for stage actors and stage managers. You heard of the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG)? It’s basically that, except for stage actors instead of screen actors. It serves as a protective body for actors so they are not overworked or abused in the workplace (much like any other labor union). In many ways, AEA is a huge help for the actors, but at the same time, they can be a pain in the bum-hole for theatres. It makes contracts more complicated, regulations much stiffer, and some of the rules just seem totally unnecessary or silly. But overall, it’s a good thing, in my opinion. It is, however, not easy to join. Generally, it’s a bit of a Catch-22 situation: you can’t join the Union unless you work with certain theatres, but you can’t work at those theatres unless you’re in the Union. This isn’t – strictly speaking – entirely true. Union theatres have a few roles per season that are “non-union” or “non-professional” that anyone can audition for. But there are dozens, sometimes hundreds, of actors going out for these few roles, so if you’re not in NYC, it is a difficult and long process to join the Union.
So, now that you know what the Union IS, the question remains, how did I get there? Well, in early December, I got a text message from my girlfriend, Ella, saying, “Hey. Any interest in putting yourself on tape for us?” Now, you have to understand that this text followed closely on a conversation Ella and I had had about me chaperoning a mission trip with her in April. Naturally, my first thought was that she wanted me to make a video, introducing myself to the high schoolers who were going on this here trip. So I said,
“Us. Portland stage. Video. For tribes.”
Now I was confused as all get-out. Tribes? What? Was “tribes” what they were calling the youth group now? After I expressed my confusion, Ella backed up and explained that Tribes was a play Portland Stage Company (the regional theatre where Ella is the Company Manager) was doing in the spring and that I should submit a video AUDITION (ohhh!) for the role of Daniel. Ella explained that nothing would come of this video audition: by nature, they just suck. Video auditions are just not conducive to theatrical auditions – the media are so different. And there’s the simple fact that the director can’t ask you to read the part again in a different way (“All right, that was a good read. Can we try it again as if you’re a Mongolian refugee who has just learned he’s allergic to pineapple?”).
Needless to say, the odds are against you when you’re auditioning via video, but I had two very important things going for me in this audition:
1) The role I was going for is right in my wheel-house.
2) Bryan Sullivan.
Point number one was important because the director didn’t have to stretch his imagination to picture me in this role. I’m the right age, the right build, the right look. In other words, I’m the right “type.” Point number two was equally important because Bryan is an awesome actor who brings out way better performances in me than anybody else I’ve worked with. He read opposite me in the scene I taped, and he not only gave me a solid performance to react to (they say “acting is reacting”), but he also gave me invaluable feedback on my own performance. As always, he was incredibly patient and didn’t mind that we did forty thousand takes before I was happy. (And, of course, we had the obligatory giggle-session in the middle of filming the scene. Typical.)
Once the video audition was filmed and uploaded, I sent it to Ella, who deemed it worthy of sending off to Anita, the artistic director of Portland Stage Company, and Chris, the director of Tribes. She passed it on, not mentioning my connection to her, but saying, simply: “Here’s a video audition from an actor who is not local but says he can be.” Ella’s plan was that I could be the one non-professional actor allotted by the Union for this show, and I could be local (so the theatre doesn’t have to pay my transportation or housing) because I can stay with Ella.
But once Chris saw the video audition, he asked Anita if PSC had the ability to pay me a Union wage, because (from what I understand) he wanted to save the one non-union role for a smaller character in the play. Anita said they had the budget for it, which meant that Ella gave me a call the week before Christmas, calling on her office phone. I thought this was odd, especially when she said, “This is Ella Wrenn, calling on behalf Portland Stage Company. We would like to offer you the role of Daniel in Tribes by Nina Raine. Furthermore, we would like to inform you that we will make you a part of the Actor’s Equity Union in order to cast you.”
There was a long silence, and I said, “I know you wouldn’t do this because you’re actually a nice person, but ARE YOU KIDDING?!”
I couldn’t believe it. My mind was blown. The game had changed. I am now suddenly batting in the big leagues. Whoa.
Since I decided in college that I wanted to be an actor, it has been my goal to pay the bills with acting alone. I don’t need fame, I don’t need to make $30 million per movie. I just want my full-time job to be acting. And for six-weeks, it will be.
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Matthew Stuart Jackson
Actor, writer, comedian, cat-lover, scratched-dvd-hater, and aspiring helicopter pirate.