The beginning of any actor's career is full of uncertainty and anxiety, and brings up many questions that can't be answered right off the bat: Will I get the fame? Will I get the awards? Will I have a long and fulfilling career, or even get to join the union? But before those questions are answered, there's a simpler, more immediate question: will I ever get a job?
That question was answered quickly for actor Jackie Robinson, who takes to the stage in Totem Pole Playhouse's fifth offering of its summer season, Almost, Maine. A recent graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts, Robinson was tapped for her first professional job right out of the gate by Jeremy Skidmore, one of her instructors, who is also a Totem Pole veteran and director of Almost, Maine.
"It's really exciting," says Robinson. "It's a unique opportunity to be offered the chance to join the union with your first professional job." Since its inception, Totem Pole Playhouse has produced plays under an agreement with Actors’ Equity Association, the union for professional stage performers. Entry into the union is an important step in an actor's career and a goal for most.
For Robinson, though, the decision to take the job and join the union wasn't as easy as one might expect. Once an actor joins the union, she is restricted from performing in non-union productions, which can sometimes offer more opportunities to a young actor. Robinson, who is moving to New York this fall to pursue her dreams, decided that pluses of union membership outweighed the minuses. "I don't have an agent yet, so being in the union is going to give me access to auditions that I wouldn't otherwise have. Plus, being a union member adds a credibility to a new professional actor."
Totem Pole Playhouse's main function, of course, is to provide Broadway-caliber entertainment to local audiences, but regional theaters - especially ones with traditionally summer schedules - have always provided another, vital service: providing a proving grounds where future stars can cut their teeth and hone their craft. Through the years, Totem Pole has launched its fair share of illustrious careers.
Jean Stapleton, of course, was wowing audiences in Fayetteville several years before she struck it big with “All in the Family,” and John Ritter spent a summer in the resident company before he made his mark with “Three's Company.” The tradition has continued in recent years. Jayne Houdyshell, who appeared in more than 30 shows in the 1990's, has found a successful career on Broadway and this past season received her second Tony nomination. Mont Alto's own Katrina Yaukey, who practically grew up at The Playhouse, has likewise found a home on Broadway, and can currently be seen at Lincoln Center in the Tony award winning Warhorse.
Robinson is joined in the cast by Totem Pole veteran Sean Fri, who joined the union at the theater himself 16 years ago, and by Rex Daugherty, who received his own Equity card there last season. Rounding out the roster is Rebecca Gibel, who has a long list of professional credits but appeared for the first time at Totem Pole in this season's previous play, Moon Over the Brewery.
Any one of them could become a star 'overnight.' But the actual work of building a career begins for Robinson this month in the woods of Caledonia. It's the first step - a step that many others have taken - and one that she hopes leads to the success that many other Totem Pole veterans have found.
Almost, Maine is sponsored by Orrstown Bank and Main Line Broadcasting, and it runs at Totem Pole Playhouse in Fayetteville, PA from tonight, July 31st to August 12th. For tickets, call 888-805-7056 or visit www.totempoleplayhouse.org.