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JACOB'S BLOG

Jacob writes a lot about theatre, so here it is.

 

FINAL CURTAIN: My Thoughts On Closing Weekend of 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike' at ONSTAGE In Bedford

PART ONE
Published on Tuesday, July 25, 2016

Last week, I attended a callback for one of my favorite new contemporary plays, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. (I'll just abbreviate it as VSMS.) I have had a three-year history with this show and the material in one way or another: as an audience member, an aspiring director, a student, and (soon) as an actor officially being offered to play the role of "Spike" in the non-Equity regional premiere at ONSTAGE in Bedford.

On my first trip to New York, amidst the hubbub of Tony Awards season, I decided to catch three highly acclaimed and recognized musicals while VSMS was playing across the street at the John Golden Theatre. It received the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play and I completely regretted the decision of not seeing it, especially with that incredible original cast.

Eventually, the script had been published and I completely fell in love with it, even despite not knowing as much about Chekhov at the time besides a couple of the Doctor's plays. I have loved playwright Christopher Durang's wild and insane stories, rooted in deep realities and truths and VSMS was the first of his major plays - in a decades-long career in the theatre - to have been wildly recognized and received by audiences and critics alike.

Fast forward to myself nearly two years later, a junior prepping for his last year of undergrad studies. I was drafting a proposal to send to the faculty and staff requesting to direct a play as part of Theatre Wesleyan's 2014/15 mainstage season. Of the three plays in my proposal, VSMS was at the top; Dramatists Play Service had just released the Acting Edition and had rights applications available on their website. But alas, the rights were not yet available to non-professional companies. However, stumbled upon a play written by one of Durang's friends and colleagues, David Lindsay-Abaire, with the same farcical essence, just grounded in a dark reality.

Now, as I begin to prep character work on "Spike", I am trying to approach the material with a different set of eyes. Especially, because it was not a role I ever expected to play. Since the original production at the McCarter Theater in New Jersey, under the direction of the late great Nicholas Martin, the role of "Spike" (originally played by Billy Magnussen) has been played by chiseled and buff man-hulks... which I am obviously not. I felt intimidated after a friend suggested I audition - I was originally planning on simply attending the show - because of my body image and if I was "right" for the character. Productions following the on- and off-Broadway runs had really kept up with the original "Spike" and were often mirrored, literally, that I thought it'd be a long shot to play the role this soon after I've started working towards a physical transformation (thank you gym membership!)

After consulting with both my new director and a close friend of mine, I had neglected to consider if the actual work I had done in the audition and my love and devotion to the material was what gave them the confidence to cast me. I was so wrapped up in my own perception of the body image and masculinity debacle I had with myself that I never thought if I had even really done a good job in the audition room. It's crazy to think that men still face these things at some point on their journey; not being good-looking enough, not being fit enough, not being good enough. It's called being human and, as an actor, wanting to be the answer to a solution and wanting to portray something as authentically as possible. But to be perceived as authentic onstage, you have to be as authentic with yourself... Let the journey begin!

PART TWO
Published on November 6, 2016

I cannot believe it's been over three months since Part One of this journey with "Spike."  It's definitely been a challenge, that's for sure.  From trying to nail down the comedy, to being comfortable within myself, and understanding the utter hilarity and sheer truth in the material... VSMS has been so fun and rewarding, as well.  From the rehearsals to performance, it was a joy to return to this script every night and with such an amazing group of people working together to tell this story.

Our director Ashley White had a vision for this show and she has done such a great job of getting us where we needed to be while doing it with love, passion, and understanding. This great cast she assembled has been together for the past three months and in that time, we've laughed, had ups-and-downs, bonded, encouraged one another, and simply had a blast. Our backstage team (Kristy & Jim Scroggins, Michael Winters, Jessie Wallace, Danny Bergeron, Mike Hathaway, Rayven Harris, Kevin Brown, and a handful of others) also did a great job of putting everything together to make the show look and sound amazing, and making ONSTAGE a warm and inviting theatre to be a part of; I'd love to come back!

This has been a rewarding journey and learning experience for me as an actor.  After moving on from my concerns over physical appearance (I dropped my pants on Day #1 of rehearsal, so since then it's been cake -- which I could be eating right now, but I have shows this week!), I got to play and understand things a little differently about this guy.  I saw and found things I thought I knew in the show that I had the opportunity to reexamine, play around with, and do something new and interesting that I felt was in my truth for "Spike."  This guy needs some stability in his life; in retrospect, he does a terrible job of doing it by jumping from woman to woman, but that's his part of being human and his "trial and error"-esque nature.  He's a lovable, goofy guy who wants to be in love and be loved in return.  He's an actor (Ha!)

During Vanya's Act II monologue, I took the "Old Yeller" and Tommy Kirk portions as a way for "Spike" to realize how unfair life can be and has already been to him. He almost got cast in Entourage 2 and they simply didn't like him, so he moves on with the hope to "get another part soon." He hears about how this actor from The Mickey Mouse Club ended up owning a rug cleaning business... how a boy trying to take charge in his life loses the canine friend he loves most. As much as he dismisses the "the older generation", he sees they aren't so different after all and that and he may never end up where he wants to be in life. While trying to remain positive, Vanya blows it up in Spike's face again and Spike being upset gets the better of him, leading to the reveal of his connection with "Hootie Pie" (aka "Spawn of the Devil").  Things have gotten all messed up for him again, all "Spike" can do is just... try again... and move forward.

He may be a character, especially in the eccentric usage of the word, but he's got a journey he's trying to follow, just like everyone else.  And I hope I helped him get to that next step... where after he leaves Bucks County and returns to LA (after cavorting in Aruba), he finally books a part and maybe falls in love. This is the kind of hope that the siblings talk about at the end of the play... we can always hope for the best, new opportunities, new journeys, and new realizations.

Thanks to Ashley on ONSTAGE for giving me an opportunity I never thought I'd have. I've grown, had fun, and have loved every minute of it.  Guess "Spike" and I aren't so different after all.

Spike, OUT!

Jacob Rivera-Sanchez