1998 Sulphur Springs High School graduate John Victor Allen has been cast in the role of The Dectective in the Dallas Opera's production of George Gershwin's classic "Porgy and Bess," opening next month. Allen, a professional actor and the son of Dr. John and Carol Allen, recently moved from Dallas to Chicago to pursue new options in his career.
What goes around, comes around
A favor leads to role on Dallas opera stage for Sulphur Springs native John Victor Allen
By TERRY MATHEWS, News-Telegram Arts Editor
Jan. 24, 2008 - If you have any doubt about the old adage, "One good turn deserves another," check with Sulphur Springs native John Victor Allen.
Allen, son of Dr. John and Carol Allen, did a favor for a friend and that good turn helped him land a role in the upcoming Dallas Opera's production of "Porgy and Bess."
"Candace Evans, one of the directors from my time with Shakespeare Dallas asked me to help run lines for opera auditions earlier in the season," Allen said in an e-mail interview from his new home in Chicago. "The Dallas Opera artistic director had seen me last summer in 'Love's Labor Lost,' had liked my work and said he was impressed with my reading of the audition sides."
When it came time to cast the role of The Dectective in George Gershwin's classic opera, "Porgy and Bess," Evans immediately thought of Allen.
"I made a personal call to ask him to attend," Evans said in an e-mail interview. "As a past faculty member at Southern Methodist University, I know talent, and he has it. I was delighted to have been able to bring him forward on this job."
Although Allen lists his voice as a baritone, his role in "Porgy and Bess" doesn't require him to sing one note.
"This opera is more of a crossover into the world of musical theatre," Evans said. "A non-singing role is not unusual."
Allen has the acting chops to step into this part. He's done everything from "Macbeth" to "Somone Who'll Watch Over Me." He spent two seasons with Shakespeare Dallas, a nationally recognized theatre company.
He's done a made-for-TV movie for the Lifetime TV network, and he's been on the big screen in the film "Inspector Mom."
Allen recently relocated to Chicago, so he needed a place to stay during month-long preparation and the run of the opera.
"Several friends have opened their homes and couches to me during my month in Dallas," Allen said. "I couldn't be more blessed."
According to his former director, Allen will be able to count his blessings for a long time.
"John Victor is an exceptional young man, and his talents will take him far," Evans said.
Allen, a graduate of New Mexico Military Institute and Texas A&M University, recently took time to answer questions about his career, his family and what the future holds.
News-Telegram: How did you become involved in theater?
Victor Allen: It was kind of a foregone conclusion, I suppose. I did my first play in high school because my brother and sister did theater before me. They were so amazing at what they did, I thought I would give it a shot and see if anything was there.
NT: What was your first starring role?
VA: I was in Sulphur Springs High School Theatre Department's production of "Barefoot in the Park" in 1994.
NT: What influence did your parents have on your choice of careers?
VA: They have been a close, constant and kindly presence, trying to guide me into something I would be happy doing. I called them one night and told them I wanted to take a crack at doing this professionally, and to ask their blessing. They said, "Of course, son. You have our unconditional support." How many parents would have sighed, groaned and smacked their foreheads? I couldn't be more blessed.
NT: You spent two seasons as a principal with the Shakespeare Dallas company. What did you learn from your time there?
VA: I learned the world of theatre is as much a business as it is an art. Shakespeare Dallas is a wonderful company that provides their artists with everything possible. They employ a small army of designers and technicians who are just as committed to their craft as the actors are to theirs. As an actor, I quickly found out there is as much outside pressure to perform (and hopefully, surpass) to a standard as there is to do justice to the work itself.
NT: You recently moved from Dallas to Chicago. Why? What have you been doing since the move?
VA: The market here in Chicago is rich and vibrant. There are so many different companies who do very strong work. I moved because of the challenge of breaking into a new market, and the opportunity that exists, however nebulous, to succeed and excel in this business and then, hopefully, move to another market when the time is right.
With my contract coming up with the Dallas Opera, I have taken the time here in Chicago to adequately research the brightest areas and avenues of approach to market myself as a viable resource for new theater companies. It's a tricky business. I want to make sure my ducks are in a row before I go skipping off on misguided adventures and decisions, so to speak. I'm also trying to stay warm.
NT: Talk about your most interesting role to date.
VA: I did "The Soul Gatherer," a show that required me to be the face of one character, but appear to the other characters in the play as someone totally different - all at the same time, with everyone on stage. We had a former lover, a husband, a lost child, an angel up there. It was very demanding. I had to employ different accents, postures and movement. Plus, it was done in a theater with a seating capacity of about 50 - a very intimate space.
NT: Actors face a lot of rejection. How do you handle it?
VA: Humility and graciousness are my governing emotions. Regardless of how well I think I've done at an audition, I might not fit the part. It's not a personal affront to me, it's just the way the cookie crumbles. They say you need thick skin for these kind of things. I think you just need to be humble, say "Thank you for your time. Best of luck in casting," and be on your way.
A string of rejections can be offset by a single ovation at curtain call.Those who give up at the first "No," or"Thank you, we've seen what we need to," are missing out on a remarkable and indescribable world.
NT: Do you prefer the stage or film work? Why?
VA: That's a difficult question to answer. Each medium has its merits and unique challenges. With both, you have to create, build or excavate the character from the script, but after that, the two crafts part ways.
With stage work, you have the weeks of rehearsal leading up to opening night to get it right, to polish and present something that will touch your audience. And as the course of the run advances, you settle into a niché and really hone and perfect the work you and the other actors have created.
With film work, you may have to shoot the big climax of the movie on the second or third day of shooting. Rehearsals during a shoot may consist of a few dry runs, without the camera rolling, of that particular scene. As an actor, you have to be familiar and intimate with the character you've created so you can call up whatever emotion is necessary for that scene.
Further, with stage, if you mess up, flub a line, or forget a cue, well, the show must go on.
With film, you can call "cut" and do it again. I've done more stage work, so that's where my preference lies, but I do love film so much.
NT: Talk about the casting process for "Porgy and Bess."
VA: At the request of Candace Evans, one of my directors from Shakespeare Dallas, I helped run auditions for another opera.
A couple of months later, Candace called and told me the Dallas Opera wanted to see me for "Porgy and Bess."
The audition itself consisted of me and two other men in a massive rehearsal hall. The artistic director and the assistant director were sitting behind a table. We read for a couple different scenes and that was it. All told, it was about 25 minutes.
A couple of weeks later they called and offered me the role. I was at my parents' house where my cell phone doesn't get the greatest reception, so I ran outside to the back yard to get a better signal.
From the comfort of their home, my parents saw their 28-year-old son jumping up and down like a toddler with the good news.
NT: What's next for you?
VA: After "Porgy and Bess," I'll begin the search for professional and commercial representation here in Chicago. I really want to make my parents and my hometown proud of me.
"Porgy and Bess" runs Friday, Feb. 22, through Friday, March 1, at the State Fair Music Hall in Dallas.
The Crystal Terrace inside the Music Hall serves a beautiful buffet prior to each performance. Cost is $21.95. Reservations are not required.
"Opera Overtures," a brief history and overview of each show, is presented by Dallas Opera staff an hour prior to each performance at no charge.
Tickets start at $93.
For more information, call 214-443-1000 or visit the opera's website: www.dallasopera.org.