By Donovan Whitney
Why HELLO! I’m Donovan Whitney, one of the Acting & Production Apprentices here at American Stage. In addition to being an apprentice here, I am also acting in the theatre’s first 2018-2019 mainstage production, BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY by Stephen Adly Guirgis, a 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning play! I am playing the role of Oswaldo, and this marks my professional debut as an actor! As I write, we are in our fourth week of our five week run, yet each performance feels new. The cast is always seeking to earn our audience’s engagement and reaction. This play has surpassed every expectation I had coming into it. What has made it easy is this tenacious group of apprentices (no bias here!), this stellar cast, and this phenomenal theater. With this being my first professional play, it comes with A LOT of perks that I’d like to share with you all, in this behind the scenes look from an apprentice’s perspective.
The rehearsal process for this show was somewhat short given we only had four weeks to rehearse before going up for this five week run. Despite this seemingly short amount of time, everyone involved in this play stepped right into the thick of it. Our director, Benjamin T. Ismail, was our fearless leader in this endeavor. I honestly can’t think of a lot of directors who could take ownership of this project and act as the “glue” for all of us actors as Ben did. He is so wise and talented in many things, especially theatre! He is definitely an actor-director, a director that approaches directing from an actor’s standpoint. Because of this double-life he lives as actor and director, his directing style helped me grow as an actor in several ways. In one short example, Ben pulled me aside and worked with me one-on-one with my character in one rehearsal, during our time he asked me to put a No. 2 pencil in between my lips and say my lines!! He was teaching me about how to play with rhythm while also improving my diction and enunciation with the text. It was a new exercise for me but a worthwhile one, an activity I will take with me for other productions down the road. Thank You Ben!
Another perk with being in this play is to be able to do media appearances! I never thought I would wind up on a TV and radio stations in Florida (I’m originally from Indiana) but I did, and in the same week. The TV interview was in Sarasota, a little south of St. Petersburg, whereas the radio interview was around the Tampa Bay area, a little north of St. Pete. For both media appearances, I was never by myself (Thank You American Stage!), I was always with a fellow actor from the show or American Stage staff. These stations made me feel like a true professional, to be able to promote the show I am in and this really cool company I work for. It was so awesome to see my face on the TV right next to the lead of the show, L. Peter Callender, and the head honcho of American Stage, Stephanie Gularte.
(L-R) Donovan Whitney, Colleen Cherry, Patrick Jackson on WMNF’S ART IN YOUR EAR
The last perk I would to share with you all is simply being onstage here! I have heard from many people that it is rare for an American Stage apprentice to have a key role in a mainstage production. When I interviewed for American Stage and got to the final round of interviews, I was also asked to prepare audition material for the role of Oswaldo in RIVERSIDE. At the time I was elated to have gotten so far in the interview process for American Stage, and then to potentially have the opportunity to be on the mainstage too was so exciting. When I got the news, needless to say, I was bouncing off the walls in my Indiana home! Now that I am here and almost done with the run of this show, I have to say that that feeling has never left me and I don’t think it will. I am acting with some of the finest actors this country has to offer, and I am learning so much from them, in many aspects of life. They are all delightful people and are rich with knowledge about acting and the industry. I have often asked them questions about the theatre industry, as it is my plan to remain a professional actor after my time here at American Stage. In terms of range of talent, NONE of these actors lack in that area and they come from all over: Film/TV actors, Shakespearean actors, and different conservatories including the renowned Juilliard School. These actors are so BIG but somehow they don’t make me feel small. Whether it is on or off stage, they have all embraced me and I am ever grateful to work with them.
Be sure to check out BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY running through November 4th!