The drama before opening night

Recasting a central character late in the game makes rehearsing ‘Madmen and Specialists’ even crazier

Tatum Fjerstad

People quit their jobs all the time, with or without two weeks’ notice. But, when you quit your job as an actor in a production, the replacement process is a little more Ö dramatic.

Such is the case this month at Nimbus Theatre, where two weeks before opening night, an actor left the set of “Madmen and Specialists” and needed to be recast.

David Schneider, originally from Chicago, auditioned two months ago for “Madmen,” made callbacks, but wasn’t offered the role. When the first actor dropped out he was called in to take over, a first-time experience for him.

And Schneider’s character isn’t a small part, either. As Aafaa, the ringleader of the mendicants (or beggars), he has the most lines of all the characters and must be on stage for most of the show.

Rehearsals work on a week-by-week goal system, and Schneider has to cram five weeks of results into two weeks. He’s memorizing lines, blocking and trying to develop his character to match the world of the play.

“Everyone else is tweaking and here I come in and I have to start from scratch,” Schneider said. “If we don’t get me up to speed then the show can’t go up, and everyone is focused on the show.”

But, it’s not all bad nerves, Schneider said. “There’s a nervous energy you can feed on and mix with excitement to do a good show.”

“Madmen and Specialists” isn’t an easy play to be thrown into last minute. The plots and themes could weigh heavily on the audience.

“It takes a lot for someone to get their head around,” said Josh Cragun, artistic director for Nimbus and director of the production. “The play takes a lot of dedication and time, and people like David, who are willing to step in.”

The play deals with absurd politics. It’s an allegorical fairy tale, and it casts people who pursue power as cannibals who devour their countrymen, Cragun said.

Wole Soyinka wrote the play in 1970 in Nigeria, in the same year he was released from prison. The play celebrates Nigeria’s independence at a time when it was filled with optimism.

The plot itself is symbolic ‘ a sister represents goodness, a brother stands for the power-hungry and a father signifies religion.

Introducing a new person into the cast ‘ and these themes ‘two weeks before curtain presents excitement. And challenges. Time frame and character development are two of the biggest production challenges, Cragun said.

“When you introduce someone new, you disrupt the time frame because you have to focus on integrating them into the show,” he said.

In terms of character development, “other cast members are developing in tandem with the play and when you introduce someone new it makes it difficult for both them and the other people around them,” Cragun said.

And directors aren’t the only ones who need to have patience. Those sharing the stage with Schneider also must practice the virtue.

Ryan Grimes, who graduated from the University theatre department in 2003, plays Goyi, one of the mendicants, and feels the pain and the gain of welcoming an actor to the rehearsal process late in the game.

“We should be really fine-tuning at this point and not doing this broad work,” Grimes said.

But, helping the newbie take on a character has refined Grimes’ own acting.

“It forces me to be the best that I can be so the director can focus on (Schneider) to get him up to speed,” Grimes said. “I have found new things with my own character because I’m trying that much harder.”