Griffin Osborne '14 details his experience and challenges that can come along with acting on Broadway.
Griffin Osborne ’14 made his Broadway debut as the understudy for three lead roles—Oisin Carney, Diarmaid Corcoran and Shane Corcoran—in The Ferryman. The Broadway production tells the story of family, love and hope during a time of political turmoil in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. It earned a 2019 Tony Award for Best Play, among other awards. Below, Osborne shares his experience.
Being an Understudy
It’s a tough gig. The preparation you have to do is in some ways greater than if you were the onstage performer. You have to build and calculate into your performance every per- mutation of what could potentially occur so that you’re never thrown off-balance should you go on. We have limited rehearsal on stage with props, so there’s a lot of preparation through imagination and observation, as well as diligent homework.
For someone like me, who covered multiple parts, there are often pieces of the play where your characters are interacting with each other, and you have to be able to compart- mentalize so you don’t get up there and start saying someone else’s lines. There’s also an emotional journey you are taking with each character, but you have to balance that with thinking about the mechanical business of where a prop goes or which part of the dance you’re in.
Covering the Lead Roles
I was lucky to go up for almost a quarter of all our performances and performed all the roles I cover.
Acting on Stage vs. Screen
It’s most similar to the difference between watercolors and oils or ballet and jazz. If you’re proficient in one, you have the tools to hypothetically understand the other, but the medium is different. Theater is an art form that ends with the actor. A writer can write it and a director can direct it a certain way, but at the end of the day, it’s my body and voice and interpretation through which the audience is receiving the story. In film, the actor’s performance is at the mercy of the director, cinematographer, gaffer and, especially, editor.
Every lesson I’ve learned as an actor I’ve learned as a person; remarkably (and perhaps pretentiously) the two are genuinely intertwined. The power of listening is one lesson. There’s a difference between waiting for someone to finish their line so you can say yours and putting all your focus and intent into listening to understand.
Certain teachers, including Scott Feldsher, Sarah Golden, Cindy Bravo, Gary Peritz and other members of the English department, were incredibly supportive of not just my acting but also my play- writing. The student plays equipped me, above all else, to go into what I want to do. Equally, the material that Scott chose was dangerous, challenging, morally complicated and controversial. Engaging with material like that is something you don’t often find in a high school environ- ment. The conversations that came from handling such material put me 10 steps ahead of most of my contemporaries. Education in the arts does not work well when censored. Stepping into what is potentially controversial and having an open and challenging conversation is the best way to equip young people.
I am starring in Lifespan of a Fact with the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. It’s a comedy that deals with truth and journal- ism and feels like a fantastic counterpoint after Ferryman.