There is a lot of turnover in the cast. That’s mostly because the majority of the characters, and therefore the majority of the actors, are young people in their early to mid-20s. At that age, you don’t tend to stay in one spot for very long. At this point, there are only 3 actors who’ve been there longer than I have. The all-time record belongs to the fellow who originated the role of Father Mark in Chicago. He stayed with the show for 9 years (!), and I was essentially hired to fill the hole created by his departure. I should mention that a recurring problem with the show is that actors frequently overstay their time there. They stay in the show long after they have become utterly bored or desensitized, which leads to all sorts of problems, including sloppiness, lethargy, and setting a really poor example for newer cast members. Those people tend to develop a sixth sense for knowing when the director is in the room, at which point they instantly revert to the sort of outward behavior that the director would want to see. I’m happy to report that I am still having fun doing the show, and I take a lot of pride in what I do there. Frankly, I consider that approach to be a refined utilization of my own basic hedonism -– I am a great believer in adding pleasure to my life, and I’ve learned that the higher I make my standards, and the more honest effort I bring to bear on doing my job well, the more pleasure I derive from the whole process. Conversely, if I slack off and just go through the motions, I stop having fun. If that should ever become my approach to doing TnT, I wouldn’t be long for the show. Well, for the sake of the show and myself, I certainly hope I wouldn’t be long for it!
So what’s the fun here? What’s the attraction? Well, there are two levels to the answer. The first is more general -– I’ve been a performer all my life. I love playing a character, entertaining people, helping them to feel or think something that wouldn’t have been in their head if I hadn’t come along, making them laugh, and on a good day, maybe even showing them a larger world than the one they’ve been living in – yeah, I’m either a cynical idealist or an idealistic cynic, if you want to put a name to it! The second level of attraction for me has to do with this show in particular. It’s the audience interaction part of it. I have a lifelong fascination with humanity and its endless assortment of characters, thoughts, passions, styles, blind spots, and brilliance. For someone like myself, bedeviled all my life by bouts of shyness and inconsistent self-confidence, it’s a delightful opportunity to reach out to people under cover of a character. And I’ve come to learn that this sort of “role-playing” if you will, can actually help one’s communication and confidence off the stage as well. So you see, acting began for me as nothing more than a jolt of adrenaline and unanalyzed good feelings, but it has evolved over the years into my own tool for growth and communication.
But let me return from that tangent back to a few more things about TnT. After all that lofty talk of the preceding paragraph, let me share with you a bit of fun I had with some patrons just last night. There were two women at the table. I, as Father Mark, approached them during dinner. The exchange went something like this:
“Good evening, ladies. Where are the men tonight? Don’t they like weddings?”
“Oh, they’re off deer hunting, Father. You know, the two of us are actually married to two brothers. They go deer hunting together every year.”
“Do they ever catch anything?”
“No, they hardly ever do.”
“Well it seems to me,” I say, putting a sympathetic hand on their shoulders,” that they’ve both caught a couple of dears.”
The ladies giggle and blush.
Cheesy? Oh my god yes! But it was the right line for the right audience. And goodness knows, the types of conversations I have with patrons can vary all over the map. Take, for example, the night that Father Mark, after having one too many drinks, staggered up to a perhaps 80-year old woman and asked her if she’d like to dance. “Oh no,” she said, “I’m much too old for that. Why don’t you ask her?” she said, pointing to her much younger friend across the table, “She’s 45.” I looked at her friend and asked, with slurred speech, “Is that 45 C or D?” And everyone, I am happy to report, laughed heartily. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should report that in my first few months of playing Father Mark, I had a few drinks thrown in my face by offended patrons. I had to become a lot more perceptive and had to learn how to size up people quickly. But understand, as Father Mark might say, that God is in the details. It’s not just the general reaction that rewards and sustains me; it’s the range of reactions to a given situation that I see around a table, or around a room.
So the TnT experience is a win for me on many levels. It’s an enhancement to my income (though it doesn’t pay anything close to a living wage by itself); it’s an ongoing outlet for my needs as a performer; and it’s a growth opportunity in ways that I can only discover as they arise. Now for you, the potential audience member, I can only say that I recommend it to you highly if you’re ever in town! You can visit http://www.tonyntina.com if you’d like more info, or if you’d just like to see some pix of me as Father Mark!
Oh and by the way - that picture of me with the stained glass window of Jesus looking over my shoulder? That's me as Vinnie Black, standing on the altar of the TnT chapel. In the original photo, I am shaking hands with Frankie Avalon - yes that Frankie Avalon - who is a part of our show for one week every July.