Theater and Film; they’re two different worlds for both fans and the actors who take part in each type of production. The most appropriate analogy might be Mac and PC. Both are vaild and have their merits but personal and artistic tastes lean to each depending on those involved. For certain, there are skills that cross over to each, much in the same way that software is available on both platforms. It’s also a fact that knowing how to properly implement the benefits of each method makes for a more well equipped and thus stronger user…er, performer. Actor Avi Agarwal has been a highly present cast me
mber in many films & TV productions (“Loose Ends”, “Lucky Cat”, “Evil Stranger”, and countless others), and yet has never lost his connection with the theater. Every actor will tell you that the more abilities and experiences you are able to bring to your career, the more equipped you are to bring depth to your character. Avi clearly agrees that this includes the differences that performing in the theater offers. As a member of the cast in the play “The Crossover” (also starring the notable stage & screen actor Michael Cavanaugh) performed at The Actors Forum Theater in North Hollywood as an Equity Waiver production, Agarwal performed two roles in this dark comedy about the afterlife.
The play is the story of Johnny Jackson, Jr., a twenty-something man who is emotionally unable to handle all that life throws at him. Between an absentee father, a narcissistic and bipolar mother, divorce, and being the victim of childhood bullying, he is emotionally stunted and socially inept. His inability to handle life's challenges and disappointments leads him to take his own life. After committing suicide, Johnny wakes in another dimension amidst a forest full of wailing and weeping trees. A gentleman named Charlie Cool introduces himself to Johnny as his personal guide through the afterlife. Cool convinces the newly departed to follow him through the vast expanse of the “other side” by informing Johnny that in order to completely “cross over”, he must review his entire existence as a series of vignettes, which Charlie will cast using members of a perpetual and eternal Suicide Anonymous meeting (SAM) taking place. This meeting is comprised of individuals who, like Jackson Jr., have taken their own lives and ultimately portray the various cast of colorful characters in Johnny's past; characters including his mother, father, best friend, the twin girls who provided Johnny's first sexual experience, teachers and principals, employers, and his ex-wife. After reviewing his past, Johnny realizes that Charlie Cool was the man who sold him the firearm he used to end his life, and that although “you can’t choose your own way in, sometimes you can choose your way out.” This realization facilitates Johnny’s complete “cross over”, and allows him to take his place among his peers as a fellow member of the eternal Suicide Anonymous meeting as Charlie Cool Saunters off into the proverbial sunset.
Each of the cast members in the play performed two roles. Agarwal appeared as Mr. Late (Johnny’s principal) and Marc Anthony (famed Roman soldier and leader). Mr. Late is a loathsome character who blames the students for the school’s poor performance results and ranking as well as conducting lewd carnal relationships with his own staff. Mr. Late’s lack of respect for others is conveyed in his inappropriate remarks about parents and students as well as the lack of connection in his voice. As Marc Anthony however, Avi presents an emotional and sympathetic character. In order to present this man of battle who is still forlorn as he searches for his love Cleopatra, the actor did immense preparation. Agarwal explains, “Marcus was a soldier so I started building muscle as much as I could to get into the shoes of my character. Our director, Eugene H. Butler, has directed more than 60 plays all over the states and is always trying different things during the rehearsals; he does not settle for anything but the best so I knew I’d best acclimate. I presented Marcus as having a scratchy, deep voice. He always walked proudly and was always very aware of the surroundings reason. Shakespeare’s Marcus A had committed suicide because was not able to get Cleopatra in real life, so my presentation of him was a romantic soldier who is still searching his love for Cleopatra.”
Eugene H. Butler notes, “I had the pleasure of directing Mr. Agarwal in 'The Cross Over'. In that full-length play he had multiple roles and each was portrayed completely different and equally wonderful. Among the cast of sixteen actors he stood out as being the example of hard work and dedication, as well as being an extremely gifted talent. He was a leader among the group and also lead the vocal and physical warm-up exercises before every rehearsal and every show. I have directed over a hundred different stage productions and a thousand different actors, and if all the actors I've directed were as much fun, and as easy, to work with as Mr. Agarwal, I'd gladly direct at least a hundred more.”
Residing in LA gives Avi more opportunities to perform in film and TV but he is adamant about his pursuit of theater roles as well in this cinema centric capital. The duality of performing on both stage and soundstage is something which he feels increases his potential for growth as a professional actor. He informs, “I believe when I do theater it increases my ability to stay in the moment while I am on screen as well. It complements. For example, you know it’s a live performance and you can’t take for granted what the other actor is going to say. Actors forget their lines, or change them; then it becomes your job to be an active listener and react as if this is what the other actor meant to say. When an actor is actually listening and reacting some beautiful moments can come out. The Meisner technique instructs that you can never expect how your scene partner is going to behave during the performance, regardless of the rehearsal. On camera I do the same no matter the number of takes, but I’m always listening and reacting in that moment as if I heard it for the first time…which leads to more natural reactions. In this way, theater work helps me keep up with the reality on camera, increasing my confidence level and the ability to take risks as an actor.”
A skilled and aware performer learns from each opportunity they are given. Johnny, the protagonist of “The Crossover” only understands how to deal with problems after it is too late to fix things. In contrast, Avi Agarwal is continually thinking ahead and seeking out ways to strengthen his talent so that he will be able to handle any challenge to his performances before they even appear.