Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Prince for a Day

For most of the 1980s, I worked with a touring theater company in Michigan called Crossroads Productions. The shows I performed with them covered a lot of stylistic ground, from dramas about substance abuse to American folk tales to traditional fairy tales. These shows rarely had casts of more than half a dozen or so, and they were designed to travel to schools and community centers with all of their sets, props, costumes and actors either riding inside a car or tied to the roof. There are a lot of stories to be told about my work with them, but today I’ll focus on one particular show – our production of Cinderella.

I played a supporting role. I don’t recall his exact name or title, but he was something like the officious Lord Chamberlain to The Prince. So you can see that in my youth, as now, as ever, I tended to be cast in the role of the older authority figure.

I don’t recall the name of the actor who played The Prince, as it was the only show I ever did with him. I can report, though, that the qualities he brought to the role included being thin, speaking clearly, and possessing very little charisma. But he was young, so if he’s still in the business, I sincerely hope he has continued to learn and grow.

We had only performed the show a few times when a moment of crisis arrived. I don’t remember the specifics since they didn’t involve me personally, but it all culminated in our Prince announcing at a rehearsal that he would be leaving the show, effective immediately. The parting did not go smoothly. His final words as he exited the room were, “Good luck trying to replace me!” The line was delivered with all the snootiness and superiority he could muster. It was intended not only as a statement of his own wonderfulness, but as an indictment of the overall quality of our theatrical enterprise.

Within days – maybe even hours – of this bit of unpleasantness, a solution was arrived at. Our director determined that the best move would be to shift my humble self into the role of The Prince while he stepped into the role of the Lord Chamberlain. This was a great moment for me. I’m not one of those guys who started out playing the male ingénue roles, switching to character roles in middle age. No, I was playing character roles right from the start. In my first play ever, a high school production of The Music Man, I played Mayor Shinn. In my second play, a high school production of Oliver!, I played Mr. Bumble, head of the workhouse. A pattern had been established, and while I relished many of these roles, the opportunity to play an actual romantic lead was a moment to be cherished.

So what was the result of this remarkable casting switch? Well, it’s impossible for me to report on that with any sort of objectivity. There were no print reviews published from which I might quote, so I have only the words of my fellow company members and my own memory. Certainly, they all told me very nice things – that I could act circles around the fellow I replaced, and that we finally had a Cinderella/Prince pairing with some actual chemistry. To be honest, those statements were in complete accord with my own perception of the situation. I made a point to hurl myself into that role with all the commitment I could muster, for I was pretty sure it would be one of my rare opportunities to play such a role. The passing of time and the dozens of roles I have played since then have borne me out on that suspicion. It is worth adding, I think, that my goal as an actor has always been to portray a wide variety of characters. I wouldn’t want to play the romantic lead every time out any more than I’d want to play the heavy, or the quirky neighbor every time out, but it’s been nice to find that every once in a while, a director does manage to see my potential in an area off the beaten path.

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