"There was a chase in 'Pippi Longstocking' the last time we did it. I built this whole thing where people are grabbing the set and rolling around, a Keystone Kops kind of chase. We were dying laughing in the rehearsal room," recalls
One problem: During preview performances, audiences did not die laughing. They didn't laugh at all.
Solution: Have Holt fix it.
"He's such a great thinker," says Brosius. "So I said to him, 'Can you come in tomorrow with a new chase?' I saw him writing down all these notes -- he had a little piece of paper with the beats of the chase on it -- and he showed it to me the next day. It was way better than what I had come up with. So I made a few adjustments and said, 'That's what we're going to do.' "
Problem-solving is second nature for Holt, who has been at CTC for 20 years -- also known as his entire professional life. Right now, he is working on a problem created by "Dr. Seuss' the Cat in the Hat." The problem is his role in the current CTC production and also the one he played in a 2012 production where he thinks he never got it right.
"It was successful. A lot of people came to see it. But, creatively, I couldn't get ahold of it," says Holt, who thinks his discomfort was at least partly based on hitting a landmark. "I had just turned 40 and it was really hard. I felt very self-judging and self-conscious as an actor and that kind of insecurity is the worst thing on stage."
Brosius attributes the actor's dissatisfaction to his perfectionism: "He really needs things to have a clarity, a foundation from which to launch, and the Cat is such an odd character. If he goads too much, he's sort of a torturer, and if he's too silly, he loses a kind of grace and dignity that Seuss put into the book."
Holt -- a rare two-time winner of the highest honor in
"The closest I have come is that he's like
PLAY AND POSSIBILITY
Play and possibility loom large in Holt's career as an actor. Originally, he intended to be a pilot but when that didn't pan out (too math-y), the
"They asked me to declare a major and the only class I really liked at
In quick succession, he snagged the lead role in
Brosius came to the theater in 1997, and he says Holt was one of the "gifts" that awaited him in the company's staff.
"He has such an incredible imagination and such an extraordinary work ethic," says Brosius. "Early in my time here, we produced Alan Ayckbourn's 'Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays.' There is an extraordinary character who also happens to be a dog and Dean made that character come to life: so alive, so vivid, so bloody rich."
Holt remembers that play well and, true to form, what he thinks of first is what he didn't quite get right.
"I would sit and watch my own dog intently for hours, trying to mimic the way he set his paws or moved his head. And I felt like I really got it. The reviews said you would swear I really was a dog," says Holt, shifting his attention to a scene in the play where Holt's dog character tumbled into the audience and the actor overheard a young audience member's reaction.
"This little kid goes, 'Mom, why is the monkey sweating so much?' A monkey? 'I'm a dog, kid!' " recalls Holt with mock-outrage. "It was a great reminder to never think you've got it down."
Not much chance of that. Holt says one of the coolest things about being in an acting company, whose members work with each over and over again, is a sense of community that brings with it the ability to be honest with each other about what is clicking and what isn't. That community includes his wife,
"None of us ever settles for, 'Oh, that was good enough.' If a show doesn't feel entirely successful to us, we're always working to make it better," Holt says. "We have a freedom with this group where we know we can always have those kinds of conversations. I can say anything to Reed (fellow company member and buddy
"There's such a comfort level when we're talking about a scene," Sigmund says. "Dean has never come across as critical. It's more brainstorming or spitballing ideas to grow things bigger and bigger: 'What if we try this?' 'Let's do it from this angle this time.' "
Brosius says he likes to create a rehearsal environment where everybody feels comfortable offering ideas. As a result, better ways of doing things can pop up at any time.
"We have startled people who come in and haven't worked here before," Brosius says. "As we start to learn things from the audience, we make radical adjustments. We re-stage scenes. We throw in new musical numbers. We make use of that week of previews and I ask the actors to move quickly with me, so that we're not leaving sections of the play un-nuanced or un-investigated. If we are trying to break their hearts, we want to make sure we are doing that. If we want to make them laugh, we make sure we're doing that, too."
REELING 'EM IN
Pretty much everyone agrees that the process has never been managed more successfully than with "Reeling," a 2006 show built around Holt's (Ivey-winning) performance as silent clown
"My favorite experience to date has been 'Reeling,' in terms of feeling confident about the work and supported. It was really something special," says Holt, noting that even a tailbone cracked during the run couldn't keep him off-stage. "It was literally all about the movement and my body telling the story. I really couldn't even use my face because Keaton was always stone-faced."
It was an inspiring performance to watch, says Sigmund, who has been inspired by his friend and co-worker since the first time he saw him on stage.
"My first assignment at the theater was to understudy him in 'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day,' " says Sigmund, who has been with CTC 14 years. "I went to rehearsal and they pointed out who he was and I said, 'Great, great.' Then, they started doing the scene and I quickly felt out of my league because I was nowhere near as talented as he was. But I learned a ton, just from that experience alone, from Dean's ability to play clean, precise comedy."
Another benefit of being in an acting company, Sigmund and Holt agree, is the opportunity to play a wide variety of roles.
"Peter believes in us all, so he casts us in a way that is surprising," says Holt, who, in addition to being a dog, a cat and a silent movie clown, has also played a wicked stepsister, a mouse, a scarecrow and Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet."
"I trust that Autumn (Sigmund's wife and fellow company member
Anyone who wants evidence that the actors enjoy each others' company need only look at the amount of time they spend with each other. Sigmund jokes that practically the only time he and Holt aren't together is when he's asleep. They will even hang out this summer, during their time off, when Holt helps Sigmund build a fence.
"He's incredibly handy with tools, which I am not. So he's teaching me," Sigmund says.
It's no surprise that Holt, who is good at solving acting problems, is also good at fixing fences. And he says he has no plans to take his problem-solving abilities anywhere but CTC.
"Peter is always coming up with new things for all of us to do. This creative environment and the way we are able to work here is something I try not to take for granted," says Holt. "The reason I don't work anywhere else, or haven't even looked anywhere else, is there's always something more for me to find here."
What: "Dr. Seuss' the Cat in the Hat"
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