I receive an e-mail. It’s the beginning of February my junior year of college. The e-mail is from one of my teachers. It’s a casting call for a new musical called Amazing Grace.
I begin to read about this new show. It’s tells the true story of John Newton, the composer of quite possibly the most famous hymn of all time, Amazing Grace. Newton grew up in the church in England, but when he lost his mother at a young age, he began to work on his father’s slave trading ship. Through his teen years and into the beginnings of adulthood, he not only turned his back on his musical talent, but on God as well. The musical itself focuses on John’s redemption and his being born again and falling back in love with God, thus writing the timeless lyrics…
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see
If you know me, and you’re a witty person, perhaps you have already noticed the seemingly coincidental similarities between John Newton and I.
First of all, let’s get it out of the way now, we share the same name. We both are reckless vagabonds who turned their backs on the Lord to pursue wild living, but, by the grace of God, were brought back home into His loving arms just before entering our twenties. Most notably perhaps, we are both described as strikingly good looking, and our humility is our best quality, obviously.
As I finished the e-mail, my heart was stirred. As an actor, you are taught to know what kind of roles you are “right” for. John Newton’s story was my story, and I had never been more confident that I was “right” for a role.
I sent in my headshot and resume, hoping but not expecting to hear anything back.
Within a few days, I was excited to see I had received an email back from the casting agency. They wanted me to send in an audition tape with a song and a few scenes from the show they had sent me.
At this point, I began to research the production a bit more carefully. I noticed a big roadblock almost immediately. Rehearsals for the show began April 24th, this would mean I would have to miss the last two weeks of school that semester, which is against Carnegie Mellon’s policy. Before sending in my tape, I spoke with a few teachers about the rehearsal starting date, and they assured me that we could worry about that if and when I actually got the role. At the moment, the possibility of actually getting the role seemed too far away to worry myself about it now. If anything, sending in the audition would be great experience, and it might be seen by some important people. So I sent in the tape.
I sent in the tape on Valentines Day, and before I even arrived at Cheesecake Factory for a Valentine’s Day lunch with my lovely girlfriend, I received a call from New York. I was receiving a callback. The directing team had apparently enjoyed my tape and wanted me to come into New York as soon as possible.
It is at this point that I would like to introduce roadblock number two. That week, and for the next three weeks following, I was in tech rehearsals and shows for Sweeney Todd at school. This commitment took up every night of the week, except for Monday. After some prayer, I decided that Monday would be the day. I would skip my classes that day, something I do not like to do normally, and I would ride an eight hour Megabus, very early in the morning into the city, have my callback, and then take the same bus back overnight, arriving back in time for class Tuesday morning.
My trip to New York went fairly smoothly, despite receiving some grief from a few teachers about missing class. But I had proved myself a good student over the last new few years and I knew they would eventually be able to forgive this one absence.
A side note: It was also a great learning experience. If you are a young performer and you get the opportunity to do a professional callback in New York, do it! It’s not only extremely informative but also inspiring to see people who are out there everyday, working as actors.
Upon returning to school I had no idea what to expect. I had felt good about what I had done, but had no idea if anything was going to come of it or not. I would have to take part in the actor’s least favorite game of waiting. Luckily, I did not have to wait very long. On Thursday of that same week I received a call. The team wanted me to come back again to read with other actors that they were considering. Not only that, but they were going to pay to fly me out this time.
Needless to say, I was flattered and extremely excited, but then I ran into roadblock number three, they wanted me to come in that next Monday. I knew right away that this was not really a possibility. I had already received grief from some faculty about missing one Monday of class, there was no way I would be able to miss two Monday’s in a row.
After some deliberation, we settled that an early morning Tuesday flight, a noon appointment, and a late afternoon return into Pittsburgh would be our best bet. Clearing my Tuesday class schedule would not be a problem but,(another roadblock) I had a show for Sweeney that Tuesday night, and I didn’t not feel comfortable going out of town without asking my director if he was okay with it.
I asked my director that night and his initial answer, understandably, was no. There was too much risk involved with a delayed flight, or traffic, or any number of things that might cause me to miss the curtain. However, coincidence coincidence, my director for Sweeney was good friends with the director of Amazing Grace, the theatre really is a small world. He assured me that he would contact the Amazing Grace team and see what he could get worked out.
That was the end of Thursday. Tired of reading yet? Don’t be, cause things are about to get crazy….
Friday morning came and I had an e-mail from my Sweeney director. He said that he felt uncomfortable telling me yes or no on the situation and that I should just talk to my department head at school.
And there it was, it was time to discuss this opportunity with the head of the acting department. No doubt she was going to ask about the beginning rehearsal date, which was too early and against the school’s policy. But maybe if they knew what a great opportunity this was, I thought, maybe they would make an exception.
At the meeting, she certainly did bring up the beginning rehearsal date, and she also assured me that they could not make an exception. We spoke about it briefly, but the rules were the rules and they could not be changed. I was disappointed, but I understood completely where the school was coming from. If they let everyone out of school every time they go an outside job, they would have no students left. This was the final roadblock, the end of the road for this audition process. I walked out of the room, called the casting agency and informed them I would not be able to come back in or do the show. They were very gracious and were kind enough to give me the director’s email so that I could contact him to let him know, and to thank him and his entire team for the opportunity. I had resigned that this was as far as God had seen fit for this venture to go.
Until two hours went by and I had a voicemail from a Pennsylvania number I did not know. It was the writer of the Amazing Grace. He was calling to talk about pursuing the show further. I figured he hadn’t heard about my inability to do the show, so I called him back to inform him. Before I could barely say ‘hello’ however, he was off and running with the story of his journey over the last couple days.
He proceeded to tell me that he used to be a youth pastor at a church, not a common profession in the theatre. He had left that job in order to pursue his writing career. Amazing Grace was his pride and joy, and he’d been working on it for nearly five years. He told me that he’s seen hundreds of people read for the role of John Newton but, and these are his words not mine, he had never seen anyone connect with the material the way I did. Now of course, you all know why I would connect with John Newton, we’ve gone over the similarities. But this writer didn’t know me at all, the only similarity he knew of was the name.
So he went and began to search for me on the web and was lead to Creators for the Creator. He found the site, and as he read the blog his heart was stirred that God was doing something special by bringing me into that audition room.
I listened to him recount this story in a small stairwell at school and by the end I had made my way down to my knees praising the Lord and just in awe of his miraculous plans. God had been orchestrating this whole thing for nearly eight whole months, from back in August when he had planted this idea about starting a website in my heart. I knelt on the ground marveling at how real God was to me in that moment, what more proof would anyone need?
From the first email I read about the show, my heart had been stirred, and every time a roadblock reared back it’s ugly head, God did something even more powerful to keep me moving forward. I find that’s often true with God. Just because a roadblock pops up doesn’t necessarily mean that roadblock was from God. Sometimes roadblocks are just roadblocks, remain prayerful, and you will see God thwart those things that get in your way. Also, take heart that he has a reason for everything he does, and a beautiful plan for your life.
Needless to say, I decided to take the risk and skip my Monday classes again and go to New York, which worked out with every single one of my teachers I might add. The experience in New York was indispensable. The lessons I learned, the fun I had, the people I met, all of it I know was for a specific reason.
As far as the show goes, and if I will be performing in it or not, I’m still not sure. It doesn’t look like it will work out for this run of Amazing Grace. And do be perfectly honest, that doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as the trust I have gained in the Lord’s plan for each and every situation of my life. I’ve come to discover that most of the time God’s plan is not so much cause and effect, but cause and cause and another cause and another cause, until you looks back and realize that all those causes were actually little effects, beautiful gifts from the Lord drawing you close to him and further down his path for your life.