- Chris Sizemore and Geoff Packard in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Candide. Photo by Scott Suchman.
When local actor Chris Sizemore auditioned for Mary Zimmerman’s Candide early in the summer, he was pretty sure it was a good audition. He got a callback. But he didn’t get the part.
“Everyone goes through it,” says Sizemore. “Sometimes you have an idea why you don’t get chosen, but sometimes you don’t. It’s what you have to deal with when you’re an actor. Luckily, I had another show lined up.”
Sizemore quickly put the audition out of his mind, and focused his energies on Signature Theatre’s Chess, where he played the Arbiter. Candide opened in Chicago at the Goodman Theatre in September, without him. He had landed a part in the ensemble for Olney Theater’s Annie, but the day before rehearsals were to begin, Sizemore got a call.
“Would you like to be in Candide?”
He didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“We’re going to fly you out tomorrow.”
That’s how one of the busiest weeks of Sizemore’s life began. He was joining the cast for the show’s D.C. run at the Shakespeare Theatre. Which began in exactly one week.
But before he could even think about what was ahead of him, he had to extract himself from Annie.
“They weren’t too happy,” says Sizemore. “I did get a nice email from the director [Mark Waldrop], who understood. He was like, ‘We’re sorry we’re losing you.’ I had worked with him before and was looking forward to working with him. He knew it happens all the time.”
With no time to waste, he hopped on a plane to Chicago.
“I got there at 5 p.m., was picked up and driven to the hotel and put my stuff down and went right to the theater,” says Sizemore. “The stage manager gave me a script and a score, and I watched the show that night, and then I started rehearsals next day.”
Sizemore was called in for the role at the last minute because Joseph Tokarz, the actor who had originally won the role, left the cast to join another show’s tour. He was already gone by the time that Sizemore arrived, so he was learning his part from the understudy, Ryan Lanning Waite. Sizemore had one day with the musical director to learn the songs, and two days with the dance captain to learn the choreography. Every night that week, he watched the show at the Goodman Theatre, and tracked the person whose role he’d be taking on.
“When you're an actor, you don't get to see the show that you're in,” says Sizemore. “This was interesting for me because I got to watch it. It was gorgeous. Most people don't get that opportunity.”
At the same time, coming into a role that began as someone else’s limited him in certain ways.
“I tried to keep the same flow of what was going on onstage [with Tokarz],” says Sizemore. “I didn't want to be so different to make the rest of the cast uncomfortable. But I still tried to add my touch ... I knew that my job, jumping in on such short notice, was to make sure that everything flowed.”
He also learned his way around backstage, where the quick changes and dozens of props had the potential to cause chaos.
“We call it the backstage ballet,” says Sizemore. "I had to make sure I wasn’t in anyone’s way.”
Because of Actor’s Equity rules, there were no additional rehearsals to accommodate Sizemore and his new role. All in all, he says he had about two-and-a-half run-throughs of the show before he did it on stage, in front of an audience, in D.C. There were a few minor mishaps with the choreography, but nothing important enough that anyone other than a cast member would notice.
But throughout the whirlwind, Sizemore didn’t have much of a chance to reflect on the whirlwind. Looking back, he’s happy that things worked out the way they did.
“You think, well why didn’t you cast me in the first place?” says Sizemore. “I guess I was on the top of their list, but wasn’t quite the fit. Which is fine. It is what it is, you have to have a tough skin. I got to do Chess at Signature. I couldn’t have asked for a better process. I came in after they had been up and going, so I didn’t have to deal with major tech issues. I snuck right in.”