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A long time ago I remember watching the Carole Burnett show and she had this question and answer portion. One night this little girl stood up and said “I want to be an actress what should I do?” Carol answered “Go to college and major in anything but acting.” “That way you will have a way to pay the rent while you’re waiting to become an “actor.” I guess that always stuck with me. I always did comedy skits at summer camp, but in high school I was all about sports. The summer before I went to college I got a small part in a production of “Purlie Victorious” at my local church, but in 4 1/2 years of college I auditioned for one play. I didn’t get it so I never thought about it again.
It wasn’t until one chance February night in an elevator with my schoolmate Sam Caledrino when I had asked him what he was going to do after he graduated. He said he got accepted to NYU’s Graduate Acting program and said I should try it”. I told him I always thought about it, but never really followed up. He had some brochures from some acting schools in NYC. That night changed my life.
All the brochures that Sam gave me had auditions all over the country at RADA, LAMDA and Julliard, but they all expired except for Circle in the Square. They still had an open audition date in Manhattan so the next morning I called the school and did perhaps the best acting job in my life. LOL!
Now keep in mind that I had just heard about the school the night before. I read in the brochure that they had had an audition date in Chicago that following week, but I had missed the cutoff point. The only way I would ever get in was to go to NYC for their last and final audition. This was February and applications had to be in by October. I was four months too late. But what the hell, right?
So that next morning I called the school and said the following. “Hi! I was just calling to check the status of my application.” The woman who answered the phone said “Sure, what’s your name?” I give her my name and she put me on hold. After a minute she came back on and said “could you spell your last name?” Now remember, I never filled anything out. Nada! Nothing! I said ” sure, SHERIDAN”. She put me on hold and came back again and said “Sir I am having a problem finding your application.” I said “You know what, try RONDELL? Sometimes people mix up my last name with my first name.” She was very enthusiastic and connected me with the director of the school.” I asked if there was a problem and she assured me that there wasn’t.
When the director got on the phone (now during this whole time I am reading and re-reading the brochure), I realized that I was in over my head. I needed a letter of recommendation and had to prepare two monologues. I didn’t even know what a monologue was and where the hell I was going to get a letter of recommendation from.
The director said “Mister Sheridan, there seems to be a problem, we cannot locate your application.” Now if I ever get nominated for any kind of acting award, it should be for this performance! I said “Oh Man! I knew that was a problem.” I should have called you guys months ago, but my mom…” (if you’re gonna lie always use your mom, it makes it more real. Besides when you get your first acting award who ya gonna thank anyway?) . “……my mom said you guys were just busy and you’d get back to me for the Chicago date.” The director said “I am sorry but the Chicago Audition date is already full and we can’t add anyone else.” I knew this and this is where I dropped the hammer. I say “Aww Man! What am I gonna do? I can’t wait another year to audition again. At that point he said……”Well Mr. Sheridan if you can make it to NYC we still have an audition date available. Good thing he didn’t have a video phone cause he’d see that I was grinning big time! I still had more acting to do. I said things like “what am I going to do about my letters of recommendations?” What about my applications? “How can I get to NYC? The flight has got to be expensive!” Well the director was quite kind and helpful. He agreed to send me a new application and told me to go to the teacher who gave me the first recommendation and ask him for another. He also said to try the train.
So that very afternoon I went to the head of the drama department and asked for a letter of recommendation and two monologues. When he heard it was for Circle in the Square he almost fell off his chair. I had no idea that Circle was such a bid deal. The only schools I knew about were Julliard and that damn Fame school. LOL! Well he goes on and tells me its one of the most prestigious acting schools in the country. I’m thinking my god what the hell have I gotten myself into!! We had a month before I was suppose to be in NYC, so he worked with me on my two monologues several times a week. My aunt gave me money so I could take the AMTRAK train from Milwaukee to NYC.
I didn’t sleep at all on the train. I just kept going over my audition pieces. My Train was an hour late and I had never been to NY before, but I flagged down a cab and went right to the school with my bags in my hand. I walked right into my audition and I remember them asking me if I needed a minute. I guess I looked stressed but I said no.
I did my audition piece and the funny thing was, when it was over I didn’t get the reaction I was expecting. They said “Thank very much” and showed me the door. I had never really had a formal audition before and I didn’t know what to expect. I thought we’d go out for drinks, talk about sports and just have a good ole time.
I went back on the train to stay at my friend’s house in New Jersey for the weekend. As it turned out my friend Rhonda’s (childhood friend from Chicago, she dated my best friend Stephen) little brother Daryl Bell wound up starring in the TV show “A Different World” and Spike Lee’s “School Daze” years later. Man talk about small worlds!
Anyway, that Sunday I took the train back to Milwaukee and got to my apartment Monday afternoon. My roommates had put my mail on my bed. Bills, bills and more bills. But in the middle of the pile was a letter from Circle in the Square. I couldn’t believe it. The letter had beaten me back from NYC. They didn’t waste anytime and must have mailed it the moment they said “Thank You very much!”
It was a thin letter and everybody knows the rule. Thick letter you got in, thin letter you didn’t.
Well, I thought, lets just get this over with. I opened the letter and read it. “Dear Mr. Sheridan, every year Circle in the Square receives hundreds of application to their theatre school. Unfortunately we cannot accept all of them….” that’s as far as I got. There was more but I thought why bother with the rest? At least I gave it a try. I went to the kitchen and made a sandwich. Afterwards I went back to my room and picked up the letter and read it before I was going to throw it in the trash.
Dear Mr. Sheridan, every year Circle in the Square receives hundreds of application to their theatre school. Unfortunately we cannot accept all of them…… however in your case we would like to make an exception. We would like to offer you a spot in our program this fall. OMG Wow!!! I was speechless. For some reason, on that day, a light shined down on this kid from the South Side of Chicago.
And the rest, as Paul Harvey says…. is history.