Updated: Oct 8
"A group of regional theater actors perform a production of "Much Ado About Nothing" while
engaging in a Shakespearian comedy of their own backstage – one filled with love triangles,
mistaken identities, betrayals and triumphs."
"Sigh No More" a new play by Tess McGuinness directed by Emma Dorfman raises questions about the relevance of theater and the people who put it on.
Don't worry. There are no spoilers.
Previously on Jason's Journey...
It's been four years since I took the stage for real, not counting a staged reading with Radio COTE and a featured performance of El Barrio's first open mic at Q.E.D.
When I left Florida and a rigorous internship, the first thing I did when I got to New York was audition... and I literally got laughed out of the room. I didn't think my rendition of Frank Sinatra was that bad, but my nerves. Oh man. My nerves.
I probably would have laughed at me too.
New York Wasn't Easy on Me
Long story short, I was not blessed with the linear path to success that my character has. I moved to NYC on my own dime at 22 with the intent of using acting to create a path to success... whatever that meant.
When it came to roles, I was ready to do just about anything, from wearing a dress up and down 5th Avenue to be a featured extra on Billy on The Street, sweating through my best suit to be a featured extra in the movie Pledge, or agreeing to perform on a "wooden OSHA violation" for a Lenovo commercial which involved a jackhammer and a concrete slab on a wooden platform.
(I promise the Lenovo commercial was more cool than it was dangerous, but part of me feels like young non-union people tell themselves that kind of stuff way too often. Whatever. They had lox and bagels on set. I was very happy.)
But those featured roles were few and far between, and I had to start turning everything else down because I knew I couldn't sustain myself on sets that paid as little as $50-$75 per day for background work (this was before the $15 minimum wage took effect.)
Despite my best efforts and resorting to $20 or $30 per week on groceries, I ran through my savings in less than six months despite juggling multiple jobs. The icing came on the cake when I panicked about losing healthcare to the results of the 2016 election, and dropped everything to get a full-time job in March of 2017.
After a miserable year of that, I took what ended up becoming another year to figure out how to sustain myself freelancing, eventually replaced unemployment income with part-time gigs, and cashed in on my promise that I would start auditioning again.
This time with the intention of doing acting because I love it.
Acting, Take Two
So before I went ahead and bought a backstage membership all over again, I checked Playbill (where you can see casting calls for free) and saw a show called "Sigh No More." I don't remember how they talked about it or the roles in the ad, but I remember thinking it looked cool.
I thought this would be a good first audition that would be fun and accessible enough to get back in the game. I didn't expect much of myself--it had literally been three and a half years since I had auditioned--I had sent in a good amount of recordings for VO and audiobook gigs, but this would be the first one in person. The first "real" one in a very long time.
Remarkably I was able to go in with a newfound, unprecedented confidence and comfort. I went in there telling myself whatever happened, I would read with people for practice and fun.
As campy as this sounds, it feels good just to be a part of something that I feel is truly something that's created, presented, and about millennials. I'm not just saying that because of how I brand my podcast, I'm saying it because I really do think this is a play that captures my generation really well and in a way that I haven't seen in a lot of other plays that have tried to do that.
I'm comparing Sigh No More to the hundreds of developing plays I read and reviewed during my internship. Literally hundreds.
During my internship in Florida, I read a lot of plays from well-established playwrights that tried to tackle millennial themes and characters but something felt very off, for example the high school hierarchy of Teenage Dick would have worked well in the 1980s. A lot of other plays feature early 20 somethings that say textspeak acronyms like OMG or LOL out loud, force social media into awkward plot devices, and make millennials comically self-aware of their generational uniqueness based on the fact that they grew up with google.
To their credit, those playwrights know their audiences, and those jokes landed among the older crowds, but if we want theater to have a place in the future we need to give fresh voices a platform. And if young people could afford theater this is the kind of stuff we would see and appreciate... then again, maybe you have to be a theater kid (or theater kid's parent) to really get it but I also think it's just good for everyone to see Sigh No More because it's so genuine.
One of my favorite things about Sigh No More is that the characters all have distinct voices and they speak like real people our age. In a way that makes memorizing challenging--there's a lot of No, yeah's and yeah, no's and a good amount of overlapping, cursing, but not for the sake of cursing.
The characters in Sigh No More don't need twitter to spread gossip. They don't need to compare themselves to other generations, they don't need to go out of their way to use internet lingo, and yet they express very real concerns, perspectives, and attitudes that I think might be more or less unique to millennials.
I love how Sigh No More presents different perspectives and raises different questions about theater as an art, pursuing acting as a career, the relevance of it all while really letting the audience draw its own conclusions.
My Character - Alex
I promise I don't love Sigh No More just because I'm in it. My character has a lot of lines but he doesn't have the knockout monologues or huge laugh moments. Interestingly, the all-American leading man type is pretty much a plot device to serve his love interests, who have much more interesting character arcs than he could ever hope for.
Alex is a Northwestern University grad who gives up investment banking for acting and finds himself on a linear path to success, and struggling to realize why his cast mates are taking this regional theater rendition of Much Ado so seriously when they could be after or could be doing... bigger things.
As the actor it's hard to judge him for his flaws, but I think the audience will be able to make an easy time of that, and if you don't know me and don't like me after the show I'll take that as a sign I did a good job with the role.
As the actor I'm dying to know what really happens to Alex after the play, but as the audience I think you'll be moved by what you see in Lucy, surprised in what you see in how Sadie changes, and inspired by some points raised by Dean, Meghan and Olivia.
If nothing else, you'll get a good laugh, assuming we all get the timing and our lines right!