At a round table Back Stage chatted with first timers Norm Lewis, a veteran Broadway performer, playing Porgy in "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"; Tom Edden, a British actor making his Broadway debut as a demented octogenarian waiter in "One Man, Two Guvnors"; Elizabeth A. Davis, in her Main Stem debut, as a boozing seductress and ensemble member who dances and plays the violin in "Once"; and Condola Rashad, in her Broadway debut as a complex young woman in the now shuttered "Stick Fly."
Actors Michael Cumptsy and Da'Vine Joy Randolph, who were unable to attend the round table, talked with Back Stage privately about their first Tony nominations. Cumptsy is an old hand at Broadway, now playing plays Judy Garland's simpatico pal and accompanist in "End of the Rainbow," and Randolph in her first Broadway show tackling the wildly colorful medium in "Ghost the Musical."
Back Stage: How does a Tony nomination change your sense of yourself as an actor?
Rashad: It makes me feel I can do this professionally.
Edden: I think others see me differently and that I was right to stick it out.
Davis: I play the violin in the show more than I act. This nomination tells me people see me as more than an actor, which I never did.
Randolph: It's a validation, but not in a cocky way. It's humbling. And you have to continue to show what you have.
Cumptsy: It doesn't change my sense of self as an actor. Many actors I've admired have never been nominated. I'm honored but I don't think it determines how good you are as an actor.
Back Stage: Norm, as a veteran actor is this nomination bittersweet?
Lewis: No, after 20 years it's the cherry on top. The reward is that I've been working. I hope this will give me more clout and street credibility to be acknowledged for new things without an audition.
Back Stage: Have your careers as been bumpy until this point?
Randolph: No. I just graduated from Yale a year ago.
Edden: I've worked at Harrods and sight seeing tours.
Davis: I've been in New York seven years doing lots of showcases with no money. I've worked at Starbucks 4:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m., changed, ran to another job and worked from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. I've asked myself why I 'm doing this, while praying it was a means to an end.
Rashad: But you never know when life's experience comes in handy on stage. I had a period without acting work and I took a job as a cocktail server. In "Stick Fly," my character has to carry a tray and I knew how to do it because of the job.
Back Stage: Condola, as the daughter of Phylicia Rashad, do you feel that doors have been opened to you that might not have been opened otherwise? Or perhaps you feel you're under greater scrutiny?
Rashad: What I got from my mother was a work ethic. I don't know if it opened doors. When I did "Ruined" they said they didn't know who my mother was until after I was cast. I don't feel under greater pressure because of who my mother is.
Cumptsy: For many years, I went from acting job to acting job. About two years ago, celebrities started taking the roles that at one time I auditioned for. But I don't think the trend will continue. Celebrity heavy casts have not worked.
Back Stage: How did you land these roles?
Randolph: I auditioned and booked it. No callback.
Cumptsy: I auditioned.
Lewis: It was the worst audition, but they asked me to come back. I think they wanted me before I had auditioned.
Rashad: I've known [director] Kenny Leon since I was seven. Also, he saw me in "Ruined" and felt I could do this role. I did not audition.
Edden: I did one audition and that evening I got the role.
Davis: I never auditioned for the character I'm playing, though I auditioned three times, the last was a 45 minute music audition. Weeks went by before I heard.
Back Stage: What are the challenges in playing your roles?
Lewis: It's physically challenging.
Rashad: The emotional depth was challenging. In one scene I get horrible news on the phone, which means I'm doing the scene alone. And that scene takes place right after intermission. The flow has been interrupted.
Edden: I have to keep it consistent, real, and be resigned to bruises.
Davis: I'm on stage for three hours without leaving, including the prequel.
Cumpsty: I'm not a musician of any kind. Pretending I could play the piano was challenging. Now that I have it under my belt it's fun.
Randolph: The biggest mistake is trying to be funny or do it like Whoopi. If I do it like Whoopi, I'll crash and burn.
Back Stage: Where do you want to be career wise in five years?
Randolph: I'd love to do an action flick, a thriller, a straight play, and a 30 minute sitcom in front of a live audience. That's close to theater.
Cumpsty: I'd be happy to be part oft Two River Theater Company where my partner, John Dias is the artistic director and then every now and then a Shakespearean role or juicy Broadway role.
Lewis: Appearing in other mediums would be great, but this is home.
Rashad: I'll always come back to the theater, but I also want to be a singer on tour, either by myself or with a band.
Edden: Still be working in the theater and I'd love to do a film.
Davis: I want to write. For a woman it's especially important to explore other possibilities, to diversify.
Back Stage: What advice would you give to actors who are struggling?
Lewis: Make sure you want to do it and persistence.
Rashad: Even when you're not acting don't lose sight of your goals or who you are.
Davis: I struggle with that all the time. Can I call myself an actor when I'm not acting?
Randolph: Be true to yourself and stay unique. Once you try to be someone else, it won't work.
Davis: Become an interesting person and have a life. Your theatrical life will be more interesting.
-Lewis has appeared on Broadway in "Sondheim on Sondheim," "The Little Mermaid," the revival of "Les Miz," "The Wild Party," and "Sideshow," among others.
-Cumptsy's Broadway credits include "Sunday in the Park with George," "Democracy," "Enchanted April," "42nd Street," "Racing Demon," and "The Heiress," among others. Has appeared as a series regular on "King of New York," "Bob," and "L.A. Law," and has played recurring roles on "Nurse Jackie," "Star Trek Voyager," and "Boardwalk Empire."
-Randoph had roles in "The Servant of Two Masters" at Yale Repertory Theater and "Hair" at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia.
-Rashad was featured Off-Broadway in "Ruined," has filmed the TV movie, "Steel Magnolias," and guest-starred on "Smash," "L&O: Criminal Intent," and "The Good Wife."
-Edden appeared in the UK with the National Theatre's production of "One Man, Two Guvnors," and on the West End in Oliver!" Other UK productions include "Hamlet," "The Picture of Dorian Grey," and "The Importance of Being Ernest."
-Davis has performed regionally at the Cleveland Playhouse, the N.J. Shakespeare Festival, and the Midtown International Festival.