Amanda Charney, Patrick Heusinger and Michael Nelson (Courtesy Amanda Charney)
Imagine: you walk into a theater. Onstage there are only five microphones on their stands, and six black chairs in a row behind them. A large white screen hangs behind it all, and to the right there sits a man with a microphone of his own, surrounded by a random assortment of objects--keys, a cellphone, a pill bottle, a jacket.
This is the setting of Next Fall, a show produced by the company LA Theater Works, which turns works of theater into audio plays by recording dramatic readings with top actors from both stage and screen, and broadcasting them on public radio. Well-known actors perform live onstage with no costumes, sets, or props, with a Foley artist contributing the occasional door slam or jangle of keys.
I had the fortune to see their production of Next Fall, a reading that included three of the actors from the original Broadway cast (Patrick Heusinger, Patrick Breen and Maddie Corman). The play revolves around the long-term relationship of a gay couple, and is one of the most moving, thought-provoking works I have ever seen, even though it was not fully staged.
After the show, I spoke with Heusinger, whom you might recognize from his TV roles on Gossip Girl and Royal Pains.
AC: How did you get your start in acting?
PH: The first play I ever did, I was 13. Some teachers noticed I was comfortable doing public speaking, and some teacher said, "Hey, you should go try and do the summer musical, see if you like it." And so, that was it. And I literally told my mom after the first show, "This is crazy, this is weird. I think I'm going to do this for the rest of my life."
AC: What would you say was your "big break"?
PH: A couple years later, at that school, I did a play called Orphans by Lyle Kessler. That was the first time that I felt like I'd become somebody else. It was also the first time I could tell that I was deeply affecting audiences, and I could see the reaction that storytelling can provide. And that was very exciting to me, and I wanted to participate in that more.
AC: What has been your greatest challenge as an actor?
PH: I think the challenge for every actor--you know, we're out of work more than we are in work, right? So the big challenge is staying focused and really believing that employment is going to come. It's stupid, but it's real. Because you get told no more often than you get told yes. And how do you sustain being positive, genuine, kind to people, and not become calloused, while at the same time trying to build a callous for the rejection? I think that's the toughest thing.
AC: So what's next for you?
PH: I booked my first pilot ever, which I'm really excited about. It's called Beautiful People, and it's on NBC. It's still in pre-production; I'm going in and meeting with the director and writer and kind of fleshing out this character and getting ready to shoot. They'll shoot it in February, I won't find out if it gets picked up 'til May. And that would be nice if that happened!
AC: Last question: do you have just one piece of advice you'd like to give aspiring actors?
PH: I've got to speak from my experience. I was just talking about being told "No" and rejection from auditions and things like that, but there's going to be even more people around you, whether it be family, parents, loved ones, who you hope will support you, and they're going to tell you "No." In those dark moments, you have to fight through them. A buddy of mine--when we graduated college, there were a lot of people who came out and were very successful very quickly, and he said to me, "You know, it's not a race. The career as an actor in this industry is an endurance competition, not a sprint." I always liked that.
I also spoke with Michael Nelson, the live show marketing and audience services manager for LA Theater Works, about their work and their upcoming season. "We have projects where teachers sign onto our website from all across the country, and they can sign up for a program called 'Alive and Aloud' and we send them five free audio recordings with study guides. Because this is the age where they're cutting the arts and they don't have anything to teach from. So we supply that to teachers from all around the country. "
"In March, we're doing Look Back In Anger, which is a British play by John Osborne, and in April we're doing Frost/Nixon. We're doing that with James Marsters, who was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In May, we're doing Opus with Jesse Tyler Ferguson from Modern Family. And these people have just been great."
To buy tickets for one of LATW's upcoming productions, or to check out their calendar for the next year, go to: http://www.latw.org.