My First Acting Job – The Broadway National Tour Of Rent – How To Rescript The Past

Have you ever heard someone refer to the word “re-scripting?” 

The concept itself isn’t new to me. I’ve heard spiritual science experts talk about rescripting the past and how it shifts our future.

How I discovered acting is a fun story. But this particular job initially created within me a decade-long belief that I did not belong in musical theater. That I was not good enough.

One morning in Los Angeles, I woke up on a friend’s couch curious how I could spend my day in this shiny new city I now called home. I saw a Backstage magazine on the floor of the apartment while having my coffee. Thumbing through the pages, I put together that it was a publication of stage, film and television auditions. I knew what a cattle call was. I had never heard of this thing called Rent.

I had moved to the west coast from Nashville to be a singer/songwriter – a recording artist. At this point in my life, acting had never been on my radar. 

When I visit or relocate to a new city, I love to immerse myself in the things that the city is known for. So, being the ever curious, uninhibited creative, I decided to go on a cattle call for Rent.

I was 169th in a line that wrapped around the building. Wearing my pearl snap shirt, cowboy boots and Wrangler jeans, I was as friendly as any southern boy would be. I quickly learned that actors waiting to audition aren’t particularly fond of idol chatter. 

I finally entered the room. “You have a headshot?” 

I politely said, “No ma’am.” 

“Have you brought your book?”

Not knowing what this meant, I decided to make a joke. “No, but I hope to write one someday.”

They smile uncomfortably.

“What are you going to sing for us today?”

I walked away from the audition table towards the piano. Politely dismissed the pianist and sat down. I started the introduction to I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt.  (That link goes to my version of the song from my album Live @ Joe’s Pub.)

When they called me back to read scenes, I took the pages, found a quiet corner, and proceeded to panic. But I told myself, “In the church, I don’t sing it unless I can sing it with conviction! This has to be true for scenes too. Don’t say the lines unless you are genuinely convicted by them. If I really believe it, they will too.”

It took two months to hear anything. During that time, I had learned about the show and fell in love with the music. It had become obvious to me that they had made a mistake. My vocal range was obviously more suited to Mark, not Roger.

You can laugh at that. It was my naivety. I’m such a Roger. But the vocal range of the role of Roger was a problem. Regardless of how well I sang it in the audition.

Three call-backs and two months of waiting, they offered me the role of Roger in the Benny Company of the Broadway National Tour of Rent. Speaking of naivety, I interrupted the gentlemen on the other line to say, “Yes, thank you for the offer, but I think I’m more suited for the role of Mark. Will that be possible?”  No lie.  I’m sure everyone in the office had a big laugh over that.

I took the job. In two paychecks I would be able to get the boot off of my car. 

When rehearsals began, there were a couple of warm greetings, but mostly I remember a room full of thespians with masters degrees in theater judging my inexperience and my accent. The group dynamic was a visceral shock to my system. A community of Nashville artists and songwriters was my only reference point and these people were fundamentally different. Not down to earth. Very impressed with the business they were in. And ready to see me fail. 

Don’t say I’m being mean. We’ve all seen the television show Smash – a fictional show based on reality.

Here’s the truth. I wasn’t good. And in a situation like this, there’s no time to coddle someone. 

To the amusement of some cast mates, I was fired. Michael Greif himself pulled me over, fired me, and had me leave immediately. I’ll never forget. A room full of eyes watching my walk of shame.

Then and there, I made an agreement with the belief that...

I didn’t have the voice to make it.

I will never be a high tenor and that’s what they value from guys in theater. 

I obviously do not belong here. 

But what if I were to go back and rescript this embarrassing event?

This situation could have alternatively created the belief that…

I’m such a natural talent that people want to give me a shot despite my inexperience.

Or how about…

Musical theater is such a natural fit for me that it found me when I wasn’t looking for it.

I am leading man material ready to learn my craft!

See, we get to do this! In life, YOU and I are at choice to re-interpret painful events of the past in a way that empowers us rather than limiting our view of self.

Sure, it was mortifying. It left a mark. But the latter paradigms and beliefs would have served me much better going forward. And they feel so much better to say!

I hope you’re thinking of a time when you made an agreement with some crazy, limiting belief about yourself because something shitty happened. It’s never too late to go back and rewrite your interpretation of those events. In doing so, you are literally recalibrating the universe in your favor.

Even after my Tony Award winning performance in Million Dollar Quartet, it still took me four more years, during my performance in Broadway’s revival Violet, to put this story of being inadequate down.  I can’t imagine how much more I would have enjoyed those many years in theater had I not put myself through such nonsense!

Doesn’t it feel ridiculous? So, just know. You and I get to go back ANY time we want and rescript our life. 

Start re-scripting! 

P.S.  I was accepted into Warner Loughlin Studios for acting upon coming home from this firing. They’ve been my coaching resource and education ever since.

P.S.S. That “A flat” I couldn’t hit as Roger? I sang it eight shows a week for a year in Hadestown!

P.S.S.S. The photo album I had from this job was loaned to a friend who then passed away months after. He was the only friend who came to see me in the show. Even my family wouldn’t come because they thought it was “sinful”. Sadly, my friend’s family can’t find the photo album. So, all I have are screenshots of my friend Karma’s visit to the show. As you can see, I was Matthew then. To learn how I became Levi, go to this blog post.