Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer
“I played Clifford the Big Red Dog when I was in second grade, and I never looked back.”
Stephen Spencer, a conservatory actor at Chautauqua Theater Company, knew he would study acting since that fateful year. He still owns the hat topped with big red ears his mom crafted for that first role.
He earned his place at CTC after he recited four different monologues when Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch came to audition students in his program, Case Western Reserve University Cleveland Playhouse MFA.
Now, members of the Chautauqua community can hear one of Spencer’s monologues — and the monologues of all 14 conservatory actors that earned them their places in the conservatory — in Friends of Chautauqua Theater Company’s “How I Got the Job.” Available at the door, tickets require a donation of $25, and the event is at 8 p.m. tonight in Fletcher Music Hall. All proceeds go to CTC.
“These are tremendously talented actors, and we see them in their roles throughout the season, but the audition pieces that they used at their initial interview could be something completely different,” said Gwen Tigner, chief executive officer of the Friends.
Each conservatory actor will perform at least one monologue, and some will perform two, as time permits. A reception will follow outside where actors and audience can mingle.
Both Spencer and his roommate Sathya Sridharan, who plays Alexander (Sandy) Lord in The Philadelphia Story, look forward to sharing their monologues with the Chautauqua community.
Much like Spencer, who decided to be an actor in his formative years, Sridharan spent his childhood as a clown.
“I wasn’t very tough or physically intimidating, so I always had to use my words and humor to get people to like me,” Sridharan said.
He also had a penchant for professional wrestling — not because he enjoyed the violence itself, but because of the storytelling element and the epic fighters, whom he compares to Shakespearean heroes.
“Just to see how people respond to that in a huge stadium … it’s basically performance,” Sridharan said. “It’s so silly, but it’s a spectacle.”
He studied at Washington University in St. Louis for his undergraduate education and is now entering his second year at New York University’s Graduate Acting Program.
During his audition for CTC, Sridharan was asked to perform three monologues, and for the first time in his life, he couldn’t remember the words to his final monologue. Though he assumed it would hurt his chances, he still left the room with a smile from a positive audition led by Benesch.
He is enjoying time spent in Chautauqua, a place he said fosters his acting and side passions of writing poetry and fiction.
“This is such an idyllic place to work on a craft,” he said. “It’s a great retreat for mental space.”
Spencer, 22, is the youngest conservatory actor at CTC and the first conservatory actor from Case Western. This past year was Benesch’s first trip to Case Western, and Spencer performed four monologues for her before he was accepted.
Spencer said being surrounded by such up-and-coming actors is a dream.
“It’s like being with the best of the best,” he said. “I’m humbled in that way. I’m in this conservatory with people who have huge resumes and professional credits, and I don’t have much.”
Though Spencer won’t be in the major productions, he performed in last week’s Late Night Mask Project. He will play a role in Mine as part of Directing Fellow Sash Bischoff’s side project, where he will act and play five songs on the guitar. Music is his other love.
“I have a passion for performance and the stage,” he said. “It makes my blood move correctly … It’s something that’s innate.”
Spencer has played guitar and written songs since sixth grade, but he has been acting even longer. For him, theater was his only choice of career, because it was what fulfilled him most.
Spencer will present his monologue from Miscommunications, and Sridharan will perform his monologue from A Behanding in Spokane. For this performance, no Clifford hats are required.