December 2016

Stage Right/Stage Wrong: Two local actors recall epic highs and lows

Scott and Clare Haden, married co-stars of...

As anyone in the theater universe can tell you, there are times when everything on stage goes perfectly: The audience is thrilled and a unique and memorable magic is made. And then there are the times when the line gets dropped, the prop falls over or the actor suffers a Jennifer-Lawrence-at-the-Oscars-level stumble.

Most actors, directors and designers have the grace and style to appreciate and/or survive both types of moments, but it’s the really confident ones who are willing to relive and share them with us. As they prepare to play the married couple Edward and Sandra Bloom in Theatre LILA and Four Seasons Theater’s joint production of the musical "Big Fish: The Musical" (running Dec. 2-11 in the Overture Center Playhouse), married actors in real life Scott Haden and Clare Arena Haden revisited some of their highest and lowest moments in a Stage Right/Stage Wrong double-dip.

Stage Right (Scott)
Back in 2000, Scott was an aspiring/struggling actor who’d just moved to Chicago after a brief stint in New York. After several months of auditions, he and a friend agreed to trek to Colorado to star in a production of “A Tuna Christmas,” the fall production being staged by the summer-stock Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater Company. His pal was pumped for the prospect of reuniting with a female actor he’d worked with in the past, but it was Haden who was in for the life-changing event.

“It was as if we were in a movie,” Scott recalls. “We pulled up, and my colleague left to find his friend. As I walked up, the doors to the theater open up and here’s this woman in a sunflower printed dress. Somebody says to me, ‘Do you know Clare Arena?’ We shook hands and sparks flew. The rest is history.”

Well, sorta. While Clare remained in Colorado as a regular member of Rocky Mountain Rep—at this point the two were just good friends—Scott returned to Chicago after his show ended. He took a full-time job, and gradually stopped auditioning for roles. Just as he was about to forsake acting and theater altogether, he agreed to direct a four-week production of “I Do, I Do,” at—you guessed it—Rocky Mountain Rep, where one of his stars was—you guessed it again—Clare. That show led to their eventual marriage.

“In many ways, Clare has been an inspiration for me to continue pursuing this craft,” Scott says.

Stage Wrong (Scott)
Most actors clearly remember their first big paid gig. For Scott, it was a role in a Chicago production of Aaron Sorkin’s "A Few Good Men," directed by occasional American Players Theatre director Kate Buckley. He was cast as “the Sentry.”

“So the script arrives in the mail, and I’m searching for what I’m going to get to do," Scott recalls. His anticipation heightened when he arrived at the theater and heard the set designer talking about the cool things they were doing for the Sentry.

And then he got the actual details.

The set featured two dozen American flags on poles lining the back of the stage, with a 25-foot tower in the center. As the Sentry, it was Scott’s role to stand silently on that tower for the entire duration of the play, while the action took place below him.

“I’m like wait, what?” he recalls.

To make matters worse, during previews, Buckley decided that seeing Scott’s face from the audience was distracting, so she asked him to turn around and show his back instead.

"So every night, I would climb into the tower and stare at a white wall for an hour and 20 minutes, with a rifle on my shoulder,” he says. “It was such a test of endurance and patience. I would space out and meditate, but I gave it my best.”

His diligence did pay off. In the second act, he came off the tower and got to say a few lines. Patience, apparently, remains a virtue. And, Buckley ended up giving him other, more dynamic roles in other productions.

Stage Right (Clare)
You could make a legit argument that Clare's turn as Henrietta Leavitt in Forward Theatre’s 2015 production of "Silent Sky" was a moment of on-stage magic, but Clare digs a little further back to find her favorite stage moment.

She was playing the role of the stripper Mazeppa in Rocky Mountain Rep’s 1999 production of "Gypsy" when the actor playing Mama Rose unexpectedly lost her voice. As the understudy for the role, Clare had to step up and in with almost no notice or prep.

“It was probably the best performance I’ve had because I don’t remember a second of it," she laughs. “What I really remember is a fantastic moment of community among the cast. Every time I went backstage, one of the cast members was putting a script in my face, giving me water or rubbing my shoulders. It was such a rallying moment—intense and terrifying at the same time. That’s the power of theater.”

Stage Wrong (Clare)
Fun fact: Clare has a king-sized peanut allergy, which complicated things a little bit during her performance as Annie Oakley in Rocky Mountain Rep’s 2005 production of "Annie Get Your Gun." There’s a scene in which Annie mistakes another character for her true love, Frank Butler, and gives him a big kiss. During one rehearsal, the recipient of that smooch inadvertently created an unexpected problem.

“He had just had a giant peanut-butter ice cream cone over lunch,” Clare recalls. “So I kissed him, and all of a sudden I start to feel it. I look like I’ve just had a really bad Botox job. My lips swelled up to three times their normal size. I couldn’t even speak.”

Luckily, the reaction was temporary and not life-threatening, and there was time for her to recover in time for curtain call. And maybe get her co-star a different, less problematic ice cream flavor.

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