As a theatre professor at Plymouth State one of my duties is to direct shows. It’s as much part of my teaching as is the more traditional classroom assignment. In my second year at PSU I directed my first musical at the school. In the Fall Semester 1995 we presented Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, The Pirates of Penzance.
Perhaps the most coveted male role in The Pirates is that of the Pirate King. Many young actors, majors and non-majors, auditioned. The role went to a relatively unknown non-major. One day after a meeting of all cast members, I noticed one of our majors (very talented and accustomed to getting the lead, but who had not done so this time) standing against a wall, moping.
He was obviously disappointed in being cast as the pirate Samuel, the second in command. I decided to talk with him.
“Hi, Kevin, how’s it going?” I asked.
“Oh, you know,” he replied.
“You’re cast!” I noted with some enthusiasm.
His reply was anything but enthusiastic as he said, “Yeah, I guess.”
As a theatre specialist, I’d decided to ask him what was wrong (play dumb). I wanted him to tell me. So I did..
He replied, “I really wanted the Pirate King. You know?”
I nodded and said, “Yeah, a lot of people wanted that part.”
“I’m really bumming,” he said.
So I asked him, “Kevin, what do you want to do with your life?”
“Act,” he answered immediately.
“What are you doing in this show?”
“I’m acting,” he answered.
“And your job as an actor,” I told him, “is to do as much and learn as much as you can with whatever the role. You want to act; you’re getting the chance to act. You can get more out of Samuel than you ever could from the Pirate King.”
He nodded but I could tell my advice had fallen on deaf ears. The next six weeks were spent rehearsing the operetta. Kevin proved to be dedicated in every way, and he was a delight as Samuel.
A week after the show closed, I saw Kevin. He shyly said, “You were right.”
Playing dumb again (an encore), I asked, “What are you talking about?”
I said, “No, I have no idea.”
“I had a great time playing Samuel and I learned more about acting and the theatre than I ever thought I could.”
“I guess you do want to be an actor,” I said.
He smiled and nodded.
He would play many more roles at PSU before going on to graduate school and earning a M.F.A. in acting. By the way, the first play he auditioned for in his M.F.A. program was of all things The Pirates of Penzance. And can you imagine this time what role Kevin played? Yes, Samuel again!
Kevin is a professional actor much in demand. He teaches on the university level and has played many leads, including Hamlet.
But never the Pirate King.