What A Difference 33 Months Make
I'm going to just come right out and say it from the jump... no knock against director Jerome Arthur John, but I was a better Troy Maxson this time around.
Hell, I better have been.
In 2016, I was only near three years in as an actor, and not even a year and a half in performing on stage. I had six productions under my belt at this time and I was still feeling the ropes. However, I must have been impressing. Backtrack a little further to October of 2014. When I auditioned for So You Think You're Godd. Jeffrey Milstein said he knew he was going to cast me the moment I spoke. In on the auditons with him was Katie Downey, an actress that was part of the show. She apparently liked what she saw then and was impressed with me throughout our production, because she recommended me for The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, where she was the fight coordinator. This came about through a series of crazy inbox messages while I was wrapping up Uniform Justice in Cleveland. We were heading home the next day and I was looking forward to the rest, but four hours after I landed I was headed to Somerset, NJ for and audition and got the role. This would be the start of my current New Jersey run.
I landed Fences through MCM1940. While I'm just doing what I'm supposed to be doing for director Judi Parish, Producers Howard Gross and Emily Russoniello took notice. They went to Jerome John and said, "I think we found your Troy Maxson." I remember the day Howard suggested that I audition. We were doing a dress rehearsal for MCM, and during it I got an email casting me in Dyme-A-Duzin's That Chicken music video. The cast and crew went to dinner afterwards, and I'm trying to work out the logistics of going to Brooklyn for a midnight shoot while rehearsing my lines for the video. My mind is in a haze and Howard says, "So Arthur, we're doing Fences here in January. Would you be interested in auditioning?" Only half-listening I gave the "Yeah, sure..." reply before it registered about ten seconds later. "I'm sorry, what? FENCES?!?!?" Big laugh at the table because they knew where my mind was at the time. A month after MCM I auditioned for Jerome. The rest, as they say is history.
Considering where I was as an actor, I was proud of 2016 Troy. Jerome gave me a lot of room to create and explore. I hadn't seen either Broadway productions with James Earl Jones or Denzel Washington, and now I didn't want to. I did look at one clip of Denzel because I was stuck on a certain transition during one of his monologues, but that was it. While I wanted to create my own Troy, I was also consumed with all of his lines and wanted to get them down as close to a tee as I could get. I didn't want the added pressure of trying to be like the two giants. People that saw both Broadway productions say that Jones and Washington were two different Troys; Jones being more gruff, while you could see more of a human side of what made Troy the way he is in Denzel's. Those who saw me in 2016 say my Troy resembled Jones. The audience despised me, but they loved what I brought to the role. While I thought 2016 Troy had his fair share of light-hearted moments, I never viewed him as pure evil. I have no problem being the villain though, I got the same thing when I was Sgt. Waters in A Soldier's Story.
Fast forward to 2018. Now five years the actor, four years in theatre, ten productions since 2016 Troy. Gwen Ricks-Spencer came to see Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and saw the Fences credit in my bio (along with that of Diane L. Parker, director of Guess Who). Connections were made through mutual friends and we were asked to audition for Gwen's production... in Burlington, NJ. 87 miles from home. I always considered doing Fences again (closer to home) just to see my maturation as an actor since 2016. I suppose things happen the way they do for a reason; I quit my job at Dunkin in February, and decided Independent Contractor (Lyft) was the was to go to have the flexibility for acting gigs. I couldn't have made that trek on my Dunkin salary.
Every individual is different (hence the word individual), thus, every director is different. As James Earl Jones was different from Denzel, Gwen's Troy was a polar opposite of Jerome John's. Add to that who I am now as an actor, and you can honestly say that these are two different characters. Gwen and I did butt heads a couple of times during rehearsals, not that I was reluctant to change, but there were some creative differences rehearsing in a sweltering heat that made Do The Right Thing look like Ice Age. There was only one time that I got in my car heading 87 miles north that I had to take a long, hard look at what I had gotten myself into (never considered quitting, not in my DNA). In the end, I loved the Troy she created. A true tragic hero (albeit he created his own misery), complex, lovable, but flawed. Darlene C. Ellis (who played Tilly in Guess Who) saw both productions. said she hated me in 2016, but loved this Troy. I give full credit to Mrs. Spencer for 2018 Troy than I do in my growth.
The 2016 production of Fences garnered eleven NJACT Perry Award nominations (didn't win a single one), the most ever for one theatre season.
I did not receive a best actor nomination.
At the time I felt I should have.
21 months later, I realized I probably shouldn't have.
Thank you Gwen... it was worth the trip.
Top (l to r) Ian Thomas, Darryl S. Thompson Jr., Diane L. Parker, yours truly.
Bottom (l to r) Director Gwen Ricks-Spencer, Antwan Timbers Veronica James, Quincy Stallworth.
Photos courtesy of Rich Kowalski