BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER JULIUS CAESAR
by Peter Filichia
Remember Mark Mineart? Weeks ago, I wrote about the six-foot-five, 200-plus pound actor, who had a few walk-ons in the Denzel Washington Julius Caesar. I'd previously seen him do an amazing job as the hapless Lennie in the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's Of Mice and Men. My column was meant to show that there are plenty of proteans who could really impress if they had a chance to play a worthy role.
Mineart was grateful for the electronic ink and invited me for a drink. I accepted and was glad I did -- not just for the free drink. First, I learned that his name isn't pronounced MINNY-art, as I'd assumed, but MINE-art -- which, when you think of it, is a good name for an actor. He turned out to be an amiable fellow with a good story.
"In December," he said, "I'd already made verbal agreements to play Caliban at two different regional theaters. At one, I didn't even have a callback; the afternoon I auditioned, they called and said I had the part. But every actor in New York wanted Caesar, and my agent managed to get me an audition. I went in feeling I wouldn't get it but I'd meet Daniel Sweet, the casting director for Lincoln Center, and director Dan Sullivan." (Note how actors go to auditions not solely because they think they'll get a particular job but to meet people who might remember them next time.)
After Mineart delivered his audition scene, he was asked to do another. Days later, he was called back and given two more. Then, in mid-January, he got the call that he'd been cast -- soon before he was to leave for rehearsals for his first Caliban. What to do, what to do? "Well," he says, "even if I say I'm going to do a job with a handshake and without a contract, I feel I should do it. But to be part of a high-profile Broadway production starring one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, and the chance to stay home? I have an apartment in Queens but I work so much regionally that I'm in it only about four months a year. I talked to my agent and every actor I knew; they all said, 'You have to take the Broadway job.' I told them I didn't know what I'd be doing in Caesar but I expected it would be small stuff, and they said, 'That's great.' " (I'll bet that's exactly what they said. If you're an actor and someone asks what you're doing, "Julius Caesar with Denzel Washington" is a good answer.)
Mineart had another reason for wanting Caesar: "Colm Feore. I saw him 20 years ago in Stratford doing Petruchio, Athos in The Three Musketeers, and Hippolyus in Phaedra. I was blown away by all three performances. He was the kind of actor I wanted to be, so I thought, 'To be in a rehearsal room with him for four weeks will probably teach me as much as I learned in a year of grad school.'
"But," Mineart says, shaking his head slowly, "Caliban's a great role, too, and I'd given my word. Only on the last possible day did I make a decision -- a purely financial one. There was a substantial difference in salaries. Getting four-and-a-half weeks of rehearsals and three months of performances on Broadway, even at minimum, would allow me to pay some bills." So he stopped agonizing over the decision and faced the agony of telling both theaters that he was bolting. One understood, the other didn't -- "because," says Mineart, "they didn't have a second choice and had to come back to New York and re-audition." (I told Mineart that they'd probably forgive him, especially if they ever really need him in the future. He gave me a look that said he didn't think so.)
What the Caesar brass still hadn't told Mineart was precisely what he'd be doing. When the official offer came, it was for a non-speaking role with some understudy work. And there was another unpleasant surprise: "Though rehearsals were starting at the end of January, because I was an understudy, they wouldn't bring me in until a week before tech. So I'd lose three weeks of rehearsal pay, which meant that I'd get almost the exact same money I would have gotten with the two regional jobs, and I was doing less than I thought I'd be doing on Broadway."
Some actors would have just accepted their fate, but Mineart came up with an idea. There's stage combat in Caesar, so the production would need a fight captain. He could do that. "After I got out of college," he says, "I did a Renaissance Fair where they offered stage combat class. I took it and was certified by the Society of American Fight Directors. Then I got a scholarship for a three-week workshop where -- 10 hours a day, six days a week -- I did quarter-staff and broadsword, broadsword and shield, hand-to-hand combat, knife, rapier, dagger, single sword, and wrestling. You learn the basics of each weapon and how to use them all safely, which means taking care of yourself and your partner. I went on to the intermediate and advanced workshops, which dealt with acting and selling the fight. I learned to play injuries and how to do make-up for them, too. I passed the proficiency tests that certified me for three years, and I've kept renewing. Given my size and type, I've had a lot of on-the-job training."
Mineart discovered that Robin McFarquar was the show's fight director, and contacted him. "I figured that way I could get myself into rehearsal earlier and have some face-time with Colm Feore -- and Denzel Washington. I'd feel more like a contributing member of the company instead of just being in the background," he says, miming holding a spear. McFarquar, impressed with Mineart's credentials, gave him the job. "I got in the second week of rehearsals, which meant two-and-a-half weeks of extra work -- and extra pay."
So Mineart joined the production. "But," he sighs, "I have to admit I felt depressed that I wasn't going to have a real impact as an actor. I was working with these fabulous actors but I didn't get to do anything. It's not that they didn't view me as a peer, but I didn't feel like one." Then came the night of the first preview, when another actor was ill and couldn't go on. "That's when I finally felt that I helped," Mineart says.
Meanwhile, he started his daily fight rehearsals. "Equity requires them six times a week, a half-hour before each performance, though on Wednesdays and Saturdays you only have to do it before the first show," he tells me. "In about 20 minutes, we do all the violence. Then, once the show starts, when I'm not on stage or making a costume change, I watch the fights. You have to: Opening night, we got blood on a cashmere jacket in the front row. The costume people spot-cleaned it and then we paid for the dry-cleaning. The owner was understanding about it, but we were more careful after that."
Though the critics considered Julius Caesar to be an artistic disappointment, the run continued. "We got fight rehearsals down to about 10-12 minutes, and I did learn from just watching Colm Feore. I also picked up tips on cooking and photography, because he's a fan of both. But I haven't gotten to know him as much as I'd like, because I'm up on the fourth floor in a shared dressing room."
That was last week. Now Mineart is out of a job, for Julius Caesar ended its 112-performance limited engagement last night. Of course, he prepared for this by auditioning through the run. He recently e-mailed me with an update: "I was up to play the Beast in X-Men 3 but, alas, Kelsey Grammer got it. So I'm going to fix computers for about a month, then I'm going down to North Carolina for a month as an actor and stuntman on a low-budget SAG feature, then to the Cape Playhouse to do Don't Dress For Dinner. After that, it's all up in the air."
He'll turn 39 this Thursday. Let's all wish Mark Mineart a happy birthday and many, many more roles.