Podcast guest Josh Lamon shares what it felt like being swung out of the performing company of Groundhog Day just after the production posted its closing notice.
It was Monday afternoon. I was nervously sitting in the waiting room of a Casting Director whom I’ve been wanting to get seen by for years. Sitting with me was every other BRILLIANT character guy in the city. Some I knew, some I didn’t but admired from afar. I was focused with my audition plotted out in my mind, my beats, my jokes and repeating to myself that I am there to make a good impression. Anything else is out of my control. I worked hard. I learned the material. I got coached on it. Nothing could stop my inner ninja now. My phone started vibrating in my pocket. Already an offer?? I haven’t even auditioned yet! It was a email from my company manger, Kate. The subject read: COMPANY MEETING AT 6:15pm.
For those of you who haven’t been through this before… nothing good comes from an e-mail that starts with "COMPANY MEETING AT 6:15." I do read English well, but the title of the e-mail might as well have said “PREPARE FOR SUDDEN DEATH AND CANCEL ALL HAPPINESS."
Next came the text messages from my buddies in the cast. It was clear that a few people were called as they had upcoming vacations, and it was the right thing to do to let them know our fate immediately and see if they wanted or needed to change their plans.
“Do you want to know…?”
Do I WANT to know? Well. Yes. I need to know. Truth is, we saw this coming. Or at least I did. There is a moment in every show's run when you look out and what was once a sold out house now has a half empty balcony during tourist season. To quote national treasure Whoopi Goldberg in the movie Ghost: "Molly….you in danger, girl."
It felt like a lifetime before my pal texted me back.
Just as I thought the word…"shit”…the door opened and I heard:
“Josh? You ready to come in?”
Am I ever….
It is no secret that show business is hard. It’s the first thing anybody tells you when you say you want to leave your hometown and move to New York or LA or any other city with an arts scene. A friend once told me that in this business you only know one thing for sure: every show opens and every show closes. Ironically, it is usually the ones you love that bite the bullet first. It can happen for a million different reasons. Maybe the marketing team was lousy. Maybe they just couldn’t tap into the tourist market. Maybe our theatre was too far away from Times Square. Perhaps if we did a different number on the Tonys. Perhaps if Andy tore BOTH his ACLs, we would’ve gotten more attention. It is so easy to get lost in the cyclone of maybes. But eventually the heavy winds stop and you are back to the reality of I need to audition, how much money can I save and how do I not punch the next person who casually says "so what’s next?"
(Professional Tip: Don’t ask someone who just lost their job "What’s next?" We just lost our job. We don’t know what’s next. As a matter of fact, it just serves as a reminder that we have no idea what is next. And then the cyclone of terror starts. And our inner voices become monsters and eat our souls. Okay, I’m exaggerating but you get the drift.)
Before the news broke, I was offered a rare opportunity to ‘swing out’ of the show so I could watch it from the audience. This is pretty usual if you understudy someone, as they want you to see the show and follow the person they cover. In my case, I don’t understudy anyone, so it was pretty unusual that our beloved PSM, the great David Lober, offered it to me. Initially, I was super excited to see our show from the front. We have so many illusions and cool puppets and five turntables… I couldn’t even imagine what it actually looked like.
I am going to be honest with you all. I got selfish for a moment and decided not to swing out. I didn’t want to miss any opportunity to perform our show and be on Broadway. After all, you never know when it will happen again. The reason this is selfish is my dear friend Jordan Grubb is my understudy, and he had this date in advance. I texted him and asked if he had any people coming to the show the night I was swinging out. He said he did have some friends coming. He was very gracious saying, "it’s your track, I’m sure we can get the tickets refunded or exchanged." I couldn’t do it. "Nope. Nope. Nope. You’re on kid." Jordan is one of our swings at the show. Not only does he cover EVERYONE, but he is also one of the hardest working actors I have ever met. He has a gorgeous voice, can dance his face off, is a brilliant actor, AND he is adorable, kind and generous. What a jerk, right?
That night there was a lot of hugging. A lot of laughing. A lot of crying. A lot of anger. A lot of disappointment. But also a lot of LOVE.
The night of my "swing out" came around. The theatre was buzzing as we had a VERY special guest that night. Chita Rivera was seeing the show and staying after to hang with the cast. CHITA RIVERA. All I wanted was to pull an Elaine Stritch and run up to Jordan and bark, "Give me your shoes!" (You have to watch Elaine Stritch: Liberty At Large to get the reference. If you did… good for you. If not, WATCH IT NOW. And then come back and finish this blog).
It was so cool walking into our theatre as a patron. I finally got to meet our front of house team. Some of them come from families who have been ushers for generations and others are actors. ALL of them are GEMS! It was so great to shake hands, give hugs and share our condolences. They were all super excited for me to see the show from out front.
I was seated fifth row center. Two rows in front of Chita! AHHHH!!!! How could I concentrate on the show? But as soon as the lights came down I was hooked. I will never forget seeing the tiny van move down stage center. I had no idea it had functional window wipers! HYSTERICAL! My eyes filled with tears as the three elders (Andrew Call, Jordan Grubb and Bill Parry) magically appeared from the back of the stage. As I normally do that, I always thought there is no way, they can’t see us. But like our choreographer promised, it is magical. Like we are appearing out of the darkness and welcoming you to our town.
The most surprising thing to me was how easy everything looks. It doesn’t look flashy, it doesn’t look difficult. It doesn’t even look like we have five turntables spinning every which way to create these remarkable pictures that our team has created. It looks effortless. There is a moment in the opening when each character passes center stage in slow motion, introducing the audience to the citizens of Punxsutawney. These people have been my family for the past six months. Everything I do, I do with them. Every hug I have has been with one of them. Every disagreement has been with them. I sat there crying. It was a mix of happy tears watching the beauty of the town come to life, but also mourning what we have created.
What I thought for sure was this was going to be a two-act pity party, but then Andy woke up for Day One in the show and I found myself giggling and even snorting with laughter watching Phil Connors, the worlds perfect asshole begin his time in arguably the happiest place on earth, Punxsutawney. The only way I can describe the experience is that it was magical. Even knowing how all of our special effects and illusions work, it was mind-blowing to see for myself.
I know my new Drag name should be “Hyper-Bole” but I have never seen anything that inventive and extraordinary. I am simply overwhelmed. This show is filled with so much joy, laughter, tears, diversity, and our stage is overflowing with national treasures. Our front of house and backstage is also filled with treasures. All of them, gems!
Yes, I saw the writing on the wall. But I am still heartbroken. I love the people I work with. I love the town we have created. And you know what? In today's political climate… we need all the laughter we can get.
This experience and show have given me a new sense of pride in who I am. That it is okay to be flawed and make mistakes. There is always an opportunity to grow, to forgive and to open yourself up to whatever our universe has in store for us. Good or bad, we adjust. Champions, adjust. I don't know what the future holds. I don't know what's next. But I do know I have been changed. And “tomorrow, there will be sun."
Three more weeks of winter. Come and visit us. I'd love to give you a hug after the show.
Listen to Josh on our episode on Shakespeare in the Park.