– The following is a rare interview with actor Bruce Alan Rauscher by John Glass, editor of Drama Urge, who granted us permission to re-post it here. –
Bruce Alan Rauscher first came on my radar in a big way with The American Century Theater’s production of Visit to a Small Planet by Gore Vidal. Mr. Rauscher had the starring role there as a cockeyed alien who comes to Earth to sample our history, only to land in the wrong century.
I had seen him in other shows in the past, usually as a member of the ensemble or as a character actor. But he’s also emerged as a strong lead: he’s been nominated by The Helen Hayes as best actor for his performance in The Andersonville Trial and received a Mary Goldwater Award for acting. I started to follow him going forward with Six Characters in Search of An Author (WSC Avant Bard); and Marathon ’33, J.B, On the Waterfront, and now The Seven Year Itch at TACT, where he plays a home-alone husband with a girl upstairs.
His empathy for his characters and facile delivery may stem in part from his training; he started out performing as a magician and producing short film comedies. I interviewed Bruce as the entertaining classic enters the third week of its run [it closes Saturday, October 11].
DramaUrge: You’re on stage the entire show, almost two hours not counting intermissions. Short of Hamlet, I don’t recall such a physically and vocally demanding role for an actor. How did you prepare for the part at the start and prior to each performance?
Bruce Alan Rauscher: ‘Hamlet’ would have been a breeze compared to this role! I jest, of course. But it is a pretty demanding part. However, I have to say that the physicality of the role wasn’t a consideration for me actually. I was more concerned with making the character believable and “real,” without taking anything away from the numerous comedic moments throughout the play. The size of the role was a bit daunting, though, I have to admit. I’ve had roles in the past with just as many lines, but the way my character’s mind works is a bit erratic and it was a challenge to maintain any kind of consistency because of his sometimes illogical thought patterns.
I’ve never been one to “prepare” before a performance because after 4 or 5 weeks of rehearsals, I feel at that point I’m totally and completely in the mind of my character. I know a lot of actors like to “get in the zone” before a performance but I’ve just never felt that need. Once I hit the stage, I’m in total character mode and the minute I leave it, it’s back to being Bruce.
DU: What did director Rip Claassen, with whom you worked on Visit, tell you and the cast about his vision of the play during casting and the first day of rehearsal?
BAR: At the beginning of the rehearsal process, Rip set aside several days to do “table work” to discuss his vision of the play and to get our feedback as well. Rip felt, as we all did, that the play shouldn’t be played too broadly and to let the comedy come through naturally with regard to my character’s predicament. Having said that, Rip also has a background in slapstick comedy and let us know that we would be finding moments where that type of humor would be incorporated. The “dream sequences” in the play were the perfect vehicles for this type of comedy and we could really let loose during those scenes.
DU: I found the play funny and current, particularly the references to publishing, role-playing, psychiatry, and show biz, and your hapless character kind of endearing, but then I’m also of a certain age. Others viewed it differently. How do you see the show and your character?
BAR: To put it simply, my character is just your garden variety human being. He has his weaknesses and his strengths (although we don’t get to see too much of the latter trait!) and he makes mistakes. But he’s also a compassionate person and it was important for me to try and bring that to the forefront whenever possible because you certainly don’t want the audience disliking this guy. Although I don’t think I completely succeeded with some audience members, that’s to be expected considering the subject matter. Many of us have experienced that moment of weakness that Richard comes face-to-face with and although he does screw up (no pun intended), I feel he comes away a better person for having gone through it. And while I’m certainly not implying that what he did was right, I can’t completely condemn him either.
The show has been called “dated” (and everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion) although I don’t exactly know what that means to be honest. Shakespeare is “dated,” Cave drawings from 10,000 years ago are “dated.” Silent movies are “dated.” Does that mean we trash them because they come from a time before the Internet? This show is timeless in that it deals with issues that men and women have confronted since we first arrived on this planet. The American Century Theater’s main mission is to resurrect rarely seen plays from the first half of the 20th Century (and some are real classics in my opinion) and to present them to a modern audience. And if that’s not your thing, there are about 8 million other theater companies in the area that might have what you’re looking for.
DU: I saw Itch the opening weekend. Did you or the cast make any adjustments as you became more familiar with your characters and the unique stage movements required?
BAR: I’ve made a fair amount of adjustments to my character since opening weekend. I’d been battling the flu when we opened so I was definitely not firing on all cylinders. Once I started feeling better, I felt more at ease and was able to once again just have fun with the part. For me, the creative process never ends and so I try and keep evolving throughout the entire production. You never want to become stagnant when performing a role but you also have to be careful not to interfere with the performance of one of your co-actors when you’re “doing your thing.”
DU: You and Carolyn Kashner (The Girl) worked together in Marathon ’33 and here in Itch there’s an obvious affection and respect. Did you and she together discover things in your characters, outside of the script or direction, which you were able to include in your performances?
BAR: Working with Carolyn has been a blessing! She’s awesome and brings so much to the role of The Girl. I felt a real chemistry between us from day one. She’s extremely talented and commands the stage when she’s on, but she’s also a very giving actor and that’s something I really appreciate. Along with talking with the director, she and I had several one-on-one discussions about the characters which I think helped us feel more comfortable during the more “intimate” scenes we have. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with her and I’d be honored to share the stage with her again.
DU: Do you find the intricate sound and lighting cues, not to mention the numerous dream sequences, an aid or challenge to your performance?
BAR: To be honest, the lighting and sound wasn’t too much of a hindrance because it’s all just a part of the rehearsal process. Having said that, unlike blocking or line rehearsals, lights and sound don’t usually come into play until “tech week” (the week before opening) so you don’t have the luxury of spending as much time rehearsing those cues as you’d like. And this show does have more light and sound cues than most. I always feel for the tech crew because they barely have a week to get things set up and performance ready unlike the rest of us who have been rehearsing for weeks. It’s amazing what they accomplish with the little amount of time they’re given.
THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH
Must close October 11, 2014
American Century Theater
at Gunston Arts Center
2700 S. Lang Street
2 hours, 30 minutes with 2 intermissions
Tickets: $32 – $40
Tuesdays thru Sundays
BAR: As I mentioned earlier, Richard isn’t perfect and definitely has his “dark side.” But who doesn’t? As an actor, I actually prefer exploring the darker side of our personalities as I find it to be a much more fascinating characteristic of all those little things that make us human. It’s a side we sometimes wish we could ignore, but it’s a part of who we are. The thing that happens between Richard and The Girl isn’t meant to be malicious or to hurt anyone. It’s an intimate moment between two people who, for a variety of reasons, decide to connect in this particular way. It’s something that’s really hard to defend in some ways because of the way we as a society view certain things, but the moment between them is pure and as I said earlier, I can’t really condemn them.
DU: What’s up next for you in theater? Any interest in directing or plans for work in other media?
BAR: I’ll be doing a production of A Man for All Seasons next spring with NextStop Theater Company in the role of Thomas Cromwell. I’ll also be a part of TACT’s last production, Twelve Angry Men, which is the show that kicked off TACT’s very first season. It’ll be a reunion of sorts and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve directed some very small scale projects but actually prefer to be on a stage (or in front of a camera) and am happy to leave the directing chores to someone else.
Thanks Bruce and much success on the rest of your run!
© John F. Glass, October 4, 2014
View the original interview on Drama Urge