Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To Be or Not To Be...

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Well, this is it, folks. Starting tomorrow, you will see history being made. For I am stepping away from my contemporary wares and into... a professional theatrical run of “Twelfth Night” - a Shakespearean play. I’ll be romping, cajoling, and seducing my way through this comedic text with The Seeing Place Theater, March 30-April 16 in New York City. (more info here.)

By all accounts, this really shouldn’t have happened. I mean, c’mon. I specialize in contemporary storytelling, favoring the intimacy of on-camera work and small, relationship based musicals and plays. So, though I’ve been trained in the classics (and Shakespeare in particular) I have never considered spending time with Shakespeare in my professional career.

When I was approached by the artistic director of The Seeing Place (good friend and fellow actor from San Diego, Brandon Walker) I kind of thought he was joking. One look at my resume, and one would not assume that Shakespeare is something I excel at. We did a fundraiser reading of the show on January 6 (Get it? “Twelfth Night” on the actual Twelfth Night?) and I thought that would be the end of it for me. So, when the cast list was revealed for the full production and I saw my name included- I went into a bit of a cold panic. Apparently, I had gotten great feedback about my work in the reading and they felt confident that I could bring something to the table as the saucy Maria (not at all typecasting, by the way. No, seriously. I’m not being sarcastic.)

I tried to get out of it, frankly. I had a long conversation with Brandon and tried to wheedle my way out. For one thing - right now, I am focusing on building my career in film, TV and musicals. My concern has been that if I take 3 months away from these things to do Shakespeare, I wouldn’t be building my career. Further, if industry people come to the show, they might have an expectation of me as a classical actress, and judge me accordingly. My fear has been that I’ll be compared to those who “do this for real” and I won’t get the kind of response I need to build on the momentum I’ve created. To this, Brandon simply said, “Ok.” So, I pulled out the big guns - my “solution” to this problem that could make everyone happy - The Seeing Place has amazing ensemble women, several of whom specialize in Shakespeare. Wouldn’t it make more sense for one of those gals to be chosen?

When I received a blunt, “No,” as an answer, it became certain that they were trying to torture me. A slow torture, to be sure. But then Brandon said something really amazing (and I am paraphrasing, because this happened more than 3 months ago): “As you know, this is being produced under the showcase code, so if you want to look for other, more remunerative work while working on this show, that’s ok. I don’t prefer that, but I’ll understand. Heck, most of us are looking for more remunerative work. I know you think that this show won’t give audiences a taste of what they can “expect” from you as an actor, but I think that’s wrong. They’ll get a great taste of who you are, because it will be YOU up there, doing great work. Besides that, what better way to gain the industry’s attention than to be WORKING?”

And then he said... “Look, you’re really wonderful. And I want you to come out to play with us.”

And that’s what did it. I joined the production -- because my friend asked me to be a part of his artistic vision. Not because of something I was going to “get” out of it. Not because I would be a star, or agents would sign me, or good reviews would be written. But because Brandon reminded me that we are actors because we want to make art. Good art. Art that provokes, and in that good way that makes people think. Art that exposes - and makes audiences think they are peering in on private moments. Art that makes people debate its value. Art that allows actors to live through situations rather than just talking about them. That’s what actors are seeking. That’s what I’m seeking.

And thats’ what we’re offering, starting tomorrow when we open this show. I sure hope you’ll join me -- if not for the joy of seeing an intimate, rousing, modern version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, then do it to see me make a fool of myself on stage. Because I do it for all of you. And I do it for myself.

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Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

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