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2016-07-12 - 7:45 a.m.

So a long time ago, almost exactly 13 years ago to the day, I played Kolenkhov, an eccentric Russian ballet instructor, in “You Can’t Take It With You”. Tomorrow night I’ll be participating in a reading of the same show and, as luck would have it, I’ve been cast as the same character.
I’ve played a lot of roles over the years and, while he is not my most favorite, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Kolenkhov, for two reasons
1. This show was the first show I was ever paid to be involved in, at a summerstock theatre that was my first job straight out of college. In fact, I didn’t attend my own college commencement because of it. I booked the job while I was still finishing up school, and rather than have my family come to watch my commencement, I preferred that they come to see this show as to me it represented a much more real “graduation” from school into the real world. Guy gets theatre degree, guy books theatre job, guy gets paid to do theatre. I don’t regret that decision at all, despite this job turning out to be more of a lucky start than anything else. Totally worth it. “You Can’t Take It With You” was the first of 3 shows I was in during that summer, and in fact closed on July 20, 2003 (so the dates don’t 100% line up but if I wait till next Wednesday to write that I just won’t do it, knowing me.)
2. As mentioned previously, Kolenkhov is a Russian character. During the audition for the show, I went up to read, and, because I was a stupid college kid, hadn’t done any of the things you might do to prepare for an audition, such as, oh, I dunno, reading the play, researching the character, or, and this was most important, realizing that the character might require an accent and planning accordingly. No, idiot 22-year old Ken just went up and started reading his lines in his own voice, and I got about halfway through the first sentence when the director stopped me.
“Can you do that in a Russian accent?”
“SURE!” was my immediate response. Because one thing I had absorbed during one of the auditioning classes I had actually attended was that, just like in improv, you never say no to questions like that. Just say yes and see what happens. I even said it with a smile, while internally I was in panic mode. See, I had never in my life studied or even attempted to speak in a Russian accent for any prolonged length of time. At this stage in my life I hadn’t studied any accents enough to really be comfortable with them and as a result, I thought I was bad with them. (Turns out the opposite is true, I’m actually rather good at accents. Once I start studying one I pick it up really fast).
So while my soul was despairing that I was not going to end up booking this gig (I had already royally messed up the audition for that summer’s musical, “State Fair” and you had to get parts in a certain # of the shows to get a paid contract for that summer), my brain dredged up every episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle I’d ever seen in my life, which was a few since I was a fan of the show, and immediately dumped them into my conscious memory and told my mouth “there you go, make those noises”
And I did. By which I mean, I began reading the lines in a fairly decent Russian accent. I’m not going to say it was perfect, but for a first attempt at something I’d never studied or practiced and basically taught myself from aural memory in the 1.5 secconds between saying “Sure” and starting in on the lines again, it was surprisingly good. Good enough, anyway.
I practiced all through the rehearsal period, although it was still largely self-taught, but there was another Russian character in the show so I at least had another actor to practice with. It never got perfect, but it was still surprisingly good, enough that I had confidence in that aspect of the character. My grandmother’s review was that there were some vowel sounds I needed to work on but the accent was “Good enough for summerstock”
I learned a valuable lesson that day about how you can surprise even yourself with what you are capable if you just jump in with both feet and go for it. A lesson I would ignore many, many, many times over the intervening 13 years.
Tomorrow night I get a chance to try on the old character again for a bit. I wonder if I should practice a bit this time.

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