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Continued: Theater: Twin Cities actors bail out for better gigs

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 21, 2014 - 3:11 PM

Occasionally, an actor will decline the Guthrie for the chance to play a larger role. Ann Michels was offered a small part in the Guthrie’s “Born Yesterday,” but stayed with a commitment to “Rancho Mirage” at Old Log.

“You don’t hear the stories about actors who stay with a show,” Michels said. “I hate to turn down or leave a show. Getting up the courage to tell someone you’re leaving or taking a different show makes for sour stomachs and sleepless nights.”

Don’t feel bad for the Guthrie, though. Last summer’s production of “Clybourne Park” took two key actors away from Ten Thousand Things as that small company was weeks away from starting rehearsals for “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Ansa Akyea, who was set to play Stanley Kowalski, was invited to audition for “Clybourne” and took the bait.

“That was on me,” he said. “I’ve had calls from the Guthrie before, but when the opportunity came up to do ‘Clybourne’ and to work with [director] Lisa Peterson, I didn’t want to pass it up.”

“Streetcar” illustrates another aspect of the revolving door. Ten Thousand Things lost three actors and its director for that project when Lear deBessonet got an opportunity at the Public Theater in New York. Yet, artistic director Michelle Hensley said the defections allowed other actors to work.

“We really did luck out,” she said. “I never make actors feel guilty if they have to leave. Everyone is trying to make a living.”

Ten Thousand Things casts its shows far in advance, so in some ways it is vulnerable. Still, Hensley will occasionally have to secure a specific pledge.

“We did that for ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ” Hensley said of a production slated for next fall. “The chemistry is so important in that show, and we asked, ‘Are you truly, truly committed to this project?’ ”

Try to make everyone happy

Richard Cook, artistic director at Park Square, said that his company also casts far in advance and that he fears cherry-picking.

“If the Guthrie calls, we can’t compete financially,” he said.

He said he wishes producers would find more flexibility in making it possible for actors to figure out a way to do both shows — because it’s often rehearsal schedules that clash.

“If an understudy offer comes from the Guthrie, the actor might not ever get on stage, but they have to leave our production,” Cook said. “That’s when I chafe.”

He told the story of an actor who was in just that situation and was required to attend tech rehearsals at the Guthrie and could not leave to do performances at Park Square.

“That drove me crazy, and there was no give,” he said. “I’m not dissing them, because there are times they’ve worked things out, but that one still feels like scar tissue.”

Which gets us back to Cat Brindisi. The punch line to her saga of leaving Mixed Blood for CTC is that she never even started rehearsals for “Shrek” because in the meantime, she was cast in “My Fair Lady” and given a chance to understudy Eliza Doolittle. She desperately wanted to do both shows, but there was a week of overlap in “Shrek” performances and “Fair Lady” rehearsals. The Guthrie made no allowances.

Brindisi talked it over with Rothstein, who is directing “Shrek,” and he encouraged her. The possibility of covering a performance in the lead role of “My Fair Lady” is just too juicy.

And what did her father, the producer/director who deals with actors leaving his productions all the time, have to say?

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