One night in 'Arcadia'

by Guest Blogger

During his time as a Harvard College student, Jack Cutmore-Scott '10 had a varied and prolific career in undergraduate theater: he played the lead roles in Shakespeare's Henry V (2008, Loeb Ex) and Hamlet (2009, Leverett Old Library), among over a dozen other acting assignments; wrote four plays (directing two of them); and held posts on various productions as director, assistant director, dramaturg and publicity manager. In his senior year he received the Louis Sudler Prize in the Arts for "outstanding talent and achievement in the performance and composition of drama," and made his professional debut in Boston as the lead in Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane, a Publick Theater production. That performance earned him a nomination for the Elliot Norton Award, which recognizes excellence in Greater Boston theater.

Harvard Arts Beat asked Jack to check in about his life in the theater since graduation—in particular, about one special night that found him waiting in the wings for his Broadway debut.

I did not enroll at Harvard with the ambition of pursuing a career in the arts, but I graduated knowing that I could do nothing else. I have a vivid memory of a wonderful discussion with Janet Irons of the Admissions Office, during which she told me about the cultural facilities that would be at my disposal at Harvard, whatever my intended career path. It is the memory of that conversation (and, of course, to Harvard’s subsequent decision to let me in!) that inspires this post—for without them, I'm certain I wouldn't have anything to write about.

I graduated in 2010, and after playing the title role in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby at Boston's Lyric Stage, I made my way to New York in January 2011. On May 31—almost exactly a year after Commencement—I made my Broadway debut as "Septimus" in a revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1995 play Arcadia. As an understudy, or "cover," I’d already spent four months backstage before I took the stage for my first real performance. With a few hours' warning, I was summoned to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre to run through some of the trickier parts of the show—the dance at the end, setting fire to various things, sealing envelopes—and David Turner (playing "Ezra Chater") was kind enough to run through a scene with me onstage, just to get my head in the right place.

That evening's performance is something of a blur, although I do remember having one clear thought as the curtain rose. As familiar as I was with performing in the Loeb Ex (or even the Loeb Mainstage) and being able to see each and every audience member, it was something of a relief to have the curtain rise and realize that, from where I sat onstage, not a face was visible. "Oh great!" I remember thinking. "This’ll be just like in rehearsal…."

But it wasn’t, quite. This was the first time I was doing this play in full costume, with all the props and lights, and while playing only one character (in understudy rehearsals, we would bounce back and forth between the characters we were covering, creating a fun but slightly schizophrenic version of the play). But most of all, this was the first time I was doing it with these people. As weird as it was for me, it must have been even weirder for them. Suddenly—after over 3 months of consistency—Septimus sounded a little different, he looked a little different, he said things in different ways and he wasn’t wearing a wig. How incredibly unsettling that must have been.

Somehow I made it through without messing up too badly—the odd skipped line, I think, but the show was really long anyway, and Tom Stoppard wasn’t there that night to be offended—and my next clear memory is of the curtain call, seeing the couple of dozen friends who had made it to the performance scattered around the audience. The adrenalin rush wore off after a couple of days, but I’ll never forget how I felt when my cast-mates turned and applauded me onstage at the end, led by Billy Crudup, the original 1995 Broadway Septimus, who played "Bernard Nightingale" in this production.

After Arcadia closed, my next big gig was playing the role of "Ken," painter Mark Rothko's studio assistant, in John Logan's play Red at the Pittsburgh Public Theater. Directed by another Harvard alum, Pam Berlin '74, this was my first professional production in which I would play an American character —a challenge which both excited and terrified me. The show went well, and Pam was an inspiration to work with—as was my co-star, Broadway actor Jeff Still, who played Rothko.

Now back in New York, I’m looking forward to seeing what 2012 will bring!

[Caption: Playgoers at New York's Ethel Barrymore Theatre found this notice in their Playbills on the night of May 31, 2011.]

[Caption: Jack-Cutmore-Scott (left) and Jeff Still in "Red," Pittsburgh Public Theater (Michael Henniger photo).]