The Blanch Blog
Follow Kyle's thoughts on his artistic journey
As I look back at 2019 I am overwhelmed with gratitude by the many opportunities for growth that fell in my lap throughout the year; my first official business trip to NYC, difficult career decisions, an exciting new job, (WITH BENEFITS!) and a directing gig!
I began the year by finishing a 10 month stent of performance jobs that challenged me both physically and vocally and helped me overcome old, collegiate feelings of insecurity. I welcomed a few months of rest but was eager to get back into the audition world for fear of remaining unemployed forever. My fiancé (then girlfriend), Cat McWhirter, had just moved to the city so I could no longer avoid it like the plague!
So I visited her in late February, and in ten wonderfully exhausting days we visited friends and saw sights, saw two shows (Sleep No More and Come From Away, both imaginative and inspiring masterpieces) and went to 7 auditions together. Six years out of school and I finally realized that the audition scene in New York wasn’t the scary place my professors made it out to be. I can also finally say that I’ve waited in line, freezing at 6am only to be typed-out or never seen. But I got three callbacks (not including the dance call where I completely embarrassed myself… wasn’t the first time, won’t be the last)!
One callback was a waste of time because they asked for a rap song and I chose to do a patter-song instead… because that’s all I CAN do! I’m painfully white. They hated it… but they were impressed by my knowledge of the obscure musical Bubble Boy. The second went well, but didn’t pan out. The third I BOOKED!
It was a new, gritty, limited-run, off-broadway show called “Revelation” being produced by friends-of-friends. Unfortunately they couldn’t really pay me enough to justify moving to the city for 10 weeks. Herein lies my first professional dilemma of the year: get an off-broadway credit and go into debt, or stay in Lynchburg and self-produce / direct a production of Tuck Everlasting with friends… and probably still go into debt.
Yes, at the time I was weeks into planning what was going to be a great outdoor production at a park in Virginia and quite possibly be the beginning of the theatre company I had been trying to start for years. I had solidified the venue and was finally offered the rights despite the fact that the show was restricted at the time (never take ‘no’ for an answer… the writers have more power than the licensing agencies!). Every one of my friends were onboard and were perfect to fill all the roles and we were having production meetings and designing the set. It was going to happen!
So I decided to decline Revelation in favor of finally starting my theatre company. But the very same day I turned down that opportunity, I got a call from a connection offering me a role in School House Rock at Roanoke Children's Theatre. It would be a few months of solid work, but was it worth giving up on producing Tuck Everlasting? It wasn’t going to happen without me and I felt like I was again giving up on my true dream of directing at my own theatre company. So that was hard choice number two.
The next day I was still reeling at the fact that (for the first time ever) I was offered a professional role without auditioning when I got another unexpected call, this time from Sight and Sound Theatres, saying they are looking for an immediate replacement in their Branson production of Samson. All of this while still in NYC! So much so soon! I had randomly submitted my video reel for Sight and Sound earlier that year but I had basically given up on working there after having auditioned for them at least three times.
Eventually I accepted an ensemble role in Samson and I moved to Missouri to start by March 19th! However there were a few stressful weeks of uncertainty waiting to hear if I got the job and prayerfully deciding between the three options, all with their pros and cons. My friends were very understanding and I’m sure we will produce something wonderful together someday. RCT was not quite as forgiving as I was in contract negotiations with them when I backed out. But I’m so glad I went with Sight and Sound.
The following months were full of new challenges; from learning an entire show in a week, to learning to fall off a 12 foot cliff four different ways. The large Christian company was welcoming and I found my close friends fairly quickly. Halfway through the year I had the chance to learn another role in the show after someone left for grad school. I was given the Back-up Modabiro track; he is the old man that cuts off all of Samson’s hair. I had never played an old man before so that was a fun physical and vocal challenge.
In the fall I was asked if I wanted to direct Of Mice and Men with the local community theatre run by Sight and Sound employees on their time off. I was over-the-moon excited because I haven’t been able to direct since college and I was excited to stretch those muscles again. But more on that experience in another blog.
Auditions came and went for the upcoming season and I was cast in Miracle of Christmas as Understudy Michael / Ensemble. Again I got lucky—the man who was offered primary Michael decided to move on from Sight and Sound and I found myself getting to fly everyday as the primary warrior archangel. It was so much fun… and a bit uncomfortable until I got used to the harness.
Slowly through my time here at Sight and Sound it feels like they are trusting me with more and more. Sometimes I feel unworthy to get to do what I love while proclaiming the gospel to thousands everyday on that ginormous stage, but I am reminded that throughout history the Lord has often used people who were unqualified and unworthy to do His will. I am yet another example. Trust in the Lord and your steps will fall into place. Its a lesson I have to learn over and over; it is not always easy, but reviewing this last year has been a wonderful reminder.
Never pray for something if you aren't ready to take the consequences, good or bad, with full responsibility. For instance, last January I prayed for a year to be “uncomfortable" (I can even show you the very page in my journal). And I meant what I penned because I was tired of the stale, lack-of-growth I had experienced during the previous few years. But gee, was my prayer answered with unexpected gusto! This past year has been one of exponential growth in every area of my life as a performer; I’ve not only expanded my resume, but I’ve grown in confidence, and overall skill.
I started the year living in my hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. I worked my part-time muggle job and submitted auditions in the hopes of booking a few gigs while I considered applying to grad schools for a Master’s in Directing. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I wanted out of my year; I guess I didn’t want to set my hopes too high.
I tech-ed a show at the local opera (Opera on the James), and booked a short film with a local company (Hello Studios). Both are fairly typical gigs I book while I am living in-town; easily acquired from a mutual friend or referral, or a rehire. But these gigs are so short and so few-and-far-between that I get antsy if I stay at home for more than a few months. I find that to be happiest I need to either be leading administratively or staying artistically stimulated. I do try to keep busy through constant brainstorming of ideas for future theatrical and entrepreneurial endeavors, but that road is one I’m ready to walk… I need more business experience, networking exposure, and social esteem before I start a company—or at least a partner with some of those things—I learned that the hard way a few years back.
Clearly, my mind has a way of getting off task and trying to pursue too many things at once. Luckily, at the new year of 2018, I started dating a wonderful, talented, beautiful girl who helps keep me focused on achievable goals and cheers me on with confidence I didn’t think (and still sometimes don’t think) I deserve. Seriously, if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have even submitted for two of the four gigs I booked this year, and I certainly could not have dieted and gotten in as good a shape as I did for my summer stock gig. She’s also a performer, and happens to be a personal trainer, so that helped me a lot. Her name is Cat McWhirter, or “Meow” as I affectionately call her. I owe her a lot for my growth this year. (Shameless plug: go check out her website blog here.)
So I continued auditioning for lack of a better idea. And I hate auditioning. At least I did; this year has slowly changed that. (It’s a wonder what a good pair of LaDucas, Lulu Lemons, and confidence will do!)
And what do you know? I BOOKED!
By March 17th (...my birthday of all days. Luck of the Irish?) I had booked:
I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had never been booked this far in advance and for this length of time. On top of that, little did I know I would also later book a gig at Busch Gardens Williamsburg as a vocal track in one of their Christmastown shows: Deck the Halls! That makes for almost 10 months of straight work with less than a week between each contract!
Could I actually have what it takes to be a consistently working performer?
So I began Big Fish. I was performing at the professional company linked to my Alma mater University: a place where I felt constantly inadequate and insecure. It’s interesting how our bodies instinctively respond to poisonous environments. I found, even after six contracts with this company, and no matter how hard I tried, I would lose about 40% of my talent whenever I returned. But this time was different. This time I asked myself to rise above the insecurities, the caring what others thought, the fear of authority.
Literally, I rise above it...I stood nine feet tall….
I had, for once, a skill that no one could not deny was talent, nor could they afford to lose: I performed on stilts… full dance numbers….while singing base notes… In a cumbersome costume… standing over an orchestra pit (very dangerous)…and I did it WELL. It’s huge that I can say this. For the first time since going to college (that would be about nine years) I was 100% confident in my skills. I stood up for what I needed (stilt insurance), completed the contract with confidence, and moved on without any new scars. I conquered the giant, and now I could move on to the promised land.
The day after Big Fish closed, I flew to Utah and began rehearsals for Tarzan and Juanito Bandito. This contract equipped me with countless practical skills for performing in the future; Tarzan was a very challenging physical role outside of my comfortable singing range. It was my first professional lead, and talk about vulnerability, being mostly naked the whole show.
Then came the most challenging dance show I’ve ever done. At the end of my summer contract, I road tripped back east to Roanoke, Virginia for West Side Story! The whole first week I wanted to quit. I was so overwhelmed by the dancers and the fact that we were doing the original Jerome Robbins choreography. This contract taught me to remember that people in the cast are on my team. They want me to succeed and are willing to help, even if I’m slightly behind the learning curve. I was cast for a reason, so I deserved to be there; and confidence, regardless of whether or not it’s justified, helps. The show turned out great, and my hard work paid off.
Finally, I finished off the year with one of those easy-but-looooooooooong-workdays kind of gigs: Deck the Halls at Busch Gardens Christmastown. Luckily it payed hourly. Singing 20 minutes straight up to 5 times a day can be rough, especially when you’re one of only four singers vocally carrying the whole show. I learned vocal endurance. Boy did I!
Before I finished the last contract, I was ready for a break. But now that it’s over, I am already inspired to continue with my discipline and growth. Let’s just hope that 2019 is as productive as 2018 was: filled with challenging roles at exciting new venues.
Then again, when it rains, it pours. It’s either feast or famine. Such is the life of an artist. Whatever happens, I have learned this lesson: The gigs I book (or don’t book), do not reflect my worth as a human or my value as a creative. I’m sure I’ll deal with feelings of insecurity and lack again, but this year taught me that I am indeed capable and competent in my craft. It gave me practical and encouraging examples to remind myself of in the future. I did it! I hope this blog post can be an encouragement to someone else out there who is going through a rough patch of self-doubt and insecurity.
This is a safe zone for me to record artistic growth. This may include: character research, behind the scenes peeks, expounding on the places I travel, interesting interactions with other humans, lessons I've learned, advice for other artists, or anything that strikes me as inspiring on any given day!