Fort Worth — Fort Worth actor Zak Reynolds has received acclaim on area stages, from Stage West and Casa Mañana to WaterTower Theatre and Dallas Children’s Theater. The grandson of Fort Worth theatrical royalty Mel Dacus, who was general manager of Casa Mañana from 1958 to 1975, Reynolds takes on his most challenging role to date in Circle Theatre’s area premiere of Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe’s one-actor (but not solo) play Every Brilliant Thing, which involves a different kind of audience participation.
TheaterJones talked to Reynolds about preparing for this role, and the rewarding experience of performing it. It runs through July 14. You can read our review here.
TheaterJones: This show is unique for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the interactive aspects of the show. How did you prepare for this with director Harry Parker?
Zak Reynolds: My preparation started back in January when Harry and I had a coffee date to discuss how it was all gonna work out. At that time, I had watched the original off-Broadway documentary on HBO so I kind of got the gist of what was going to happen but couldn’t really grasp the idea completely until I got into the rehearsal room. It was a lot of time spent with my good friend “repetition.” The way I learn plays with such weight to them, i.e. this show, is that I compartmentalize the certain beats within the script with different color highlighters. My script is a wreck after six months of just turning the pages constantly, back and forth, and notes on every bit of blank space I could find.
On the same note, did not having the "other half of your cast" present for much of the rehearsal pose any unexpected challenges?
I would say the challenge really came to fruition when we started having the test audiences arrived; once we got farther into the process. After having my AD [assistant director Jacob Oderberg] and ASM [assistant stage manager Madison Acuna Taylor] participate as the audience members for weeks at a time, I had to remind myself that they knew the show almost as much as I did by the end of it. When we added the fresh audiences, that’s where my brain had to switch gears and I had to be more aware of what I was either about to say or not to say.
Why do you feel that this show is important for audiences in DFW to see right now?
The show is very timely. It revolves the realization of things getting better in life and trying to find what makes you, YOU, happy. What is worth living for. Life can be a difficult path for most of us, no matter what kind of problems you may dealing with. I believe this show helps people feel hopeful about what is to come next in life because “things may not always get brilliant, but they get better.”
Since you've had audiences in and you're in the middle of the run, have there been any surprises for you in performance or in audience response?
Well I have definitely had some interesting characters join me onstage in the past couple weekends. I can’t say too much because I don’t want to give too much away…but there was this one older gentleman who decided to take his own spin for the show and it kind of took people out of the moment that we were having on stage. He wanted attention, but it wasn’t very amusing for anyone in the audience, especially myself. The best responses are when people are engaged with me the entire time and, if you’re picked to join me on stage, it can be a really heartfelt moment between myself, the audience member, and the rest of us enjoying the show. It’s really a crapshoot sometimes so it’s always interesting to see what happens.
Even though the audience is part of the show, with a solo show like this you are out there without a net. Was your preparation for this role any different than the ways you usually rehearse or prepare?
Being without a “safety net” or other cast members to back me up if a line is dropped, it scared the living hell out of me...initially. Ever since I got the call that I was cast, my mindset changed into realizing that I have to be completely focused and engaged at all times, not that that’s different than any other show I do. My preparation stayed the same with the type of memorization skills I spoke of in the first question but I had this overdrive type of sensation when Harry, at the beginning of rehearsals, said to me, “This is your show. You are the only one on stage. You are in control.” That statement terrified me. I guess I like being terrified. Ha!
What has the highlight of the show been for you?
The highlights from every performance is that I can see the audience. I can see how they are reacting or not reacting. If they feel the emotion as much as I’d like to convey to them. Since it does change every night, I think the magic of the spontaneity is the biggest highlight I have. It’s fun to be doing something new every night and experiencing with different people, some who may have never even been to the theater. I will say, as an actor and just doing the research I have on mental health, this show may not change your life but the one thing I want people to walk out thinking is that we can all be there for each other, no matter how silly, sad, happy, mad you feel. You can make a difference in your life and others in a good way, but you have to keep moving forward.