Thursday, September 8, 2011

Amy Lee's Hello Opens Israel's Career

In grade school and high school, I was in several plays. I experienced the excitement and anxiety of Opening Night. Five years ago on September 8, I experienced an Opening Night unlike any other. That is because it was "real." All the other times I was in a school play or musical. I was simply another cast member. Even in the shows where I was the star, they were one time performances for family and friends. I was merely memorizing classic pieces previously performed by many others written by established amazing writers. In this case, I was the star expected to carry a show and production for two months for a theater piece written by previously unproduced playwright, Israel Antonio. I was performing at the famed Prop THTR in Chicago in a show directed by one of Prop's co-founders and artistic Directors, Scott Vehill. Not only would friends and family see me, but so would complete strangers. Well respected individuals from all levels of the theater world. From small storefront theater group representatives to influential people at the world famous Steppenwolf Theatre Company would all see me perform words and scenes written by me. On top of that, media members, theater critics, and reporters would check out this show which unbeknownst to me was receiving plenty of attention within the theater world. Word had been spreading since the show's successful appearance in Prop THTR'S New Play Fest a year prior.

I arrived at Prop about an hour before show time. As my luck would have it, I had started to come down with a cold. Clearly, the pressure of expectations and a desire to fully shine had begun to break my body down. A young woman came up to me. It was my dear friend, Lisa, who I knew from college, but whom I had not seen in a very long time. The next person to walk up to me was the lovely, Sunshine. A former college classmate who had finished her work day and immediately jumped in her car and stepped on the gas to make the four hour drive to Chicago to watch me. I was then introduced to Nina Metz who was there to review my play for the Chicago Tribune. At this time, HizZoner, a play about Richard J. Daley written by and starring Neil Giuntoli was the smash hit of Prop and Chicago. As the talented cast finished another awe inspiring performance, I waited for people to strike the set and prepare the stage for my show. A long line had formed in the lobby and there was a buzz in there air. Ivan Ortega and the lovely, Madelon Guinazzo were along side ready to begin this two month journey of performances with me. I was scared. I tried remembering all my lines. Of course, ever the writer, I had been rewriting and trying out new lines as late as that afternoon's run-through. At one point, Madelon had to tell me, "You need to stop being the playwright and start focusing on being the actor." The great Neil Giuntoli, a man whose television and film work I had enjoyed and respected for years, approached me and gave me a wonderfully big embrace. He could see how scared I was and he assured me all would be fine. He offered some words of encouragement and a prayer. He told me how much he believed in me and how I too could go as far as he had in his Hollywood career. It was a great thrill to not only receive these kind words from him, but then, he decided to stick around and watch the show!

People filed in. A final announcement was made to the crowd. The opening music began. As this was my debut as a produced playwright and professional actor, I wanted the opening song to be one which captured my feelings about life. After all, the piece people had paid to watch was my autobiographical theater piece so I wanted to set the mood immediately. I selected a song written by Amy Lee in memory of her little sister who died at a very young age. Amy's lyrics, the piano, and the overall tone of the song spoke to me. I hoped it would speak too the audience. Based on the feedback I would receive, the song accomplished what I had wanted as there was not a dry eye in the house by the time it ends and I walk out to deliver the opening lines of my play and career.

The play and now screenplay have changed over the years. I have changed both as an actor and a playwright. I wanted to ensure that this five year anniversary did not pass by without me thanking all the wonderful people who made the show and experience a spectacular one for me.

For anyone interested, I am including a link to the song entitled HELLO by Evanescence so you may listen to the song which played at the start of my career:

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