By Nick Hawks
Sullivan Ratcliff did not put much preparation into his audition last year. He took a chance and tried to choose a song for the audition that he was not familiar with, and it showed. Not having somebody to help guide him through the flow of the song, Ratcliff was thrown off by the tempo and fumbled through his five minute performance. Director Russ Borski spoke candidly to Ratcliff at the audition’s conclusion.
“After I got through it, he looked at me for a moment and said, ‘On a scale of one to 10, how nervous are you right now?’” Ratcliff recalled.
Ratcliff admitted he was extremely nervous, and Borski helped him go through the song once more. Needless to say, Ratcliff did not get the part. It was the second time Ratcliff had auditioned for Borski, neither time landing the part.
However, Ratcliff’s fortune changed this year when he was cast as the Baker in Borski’s upcoming Cleveland State University musical, “Into the Woods.” Ratcliff, having been embarrassed by last year’s audition, came back this year with a plan to avenge that performance, fueled by rejection and determined to learn from it.
“I met with Maria DiDonato, who is the musical director, and she helped me pick out the song I would use for my audition,” Ratcliff said. “Then, we’d have lessons every week working on it.”
At the conclusion of his audition for “Into the Woods,” Ratcliff, a senior who is majoring on the acting track in the theatre program, saw that his hard work paid off.
“Oh, he remembered me,” Ratcliff said. “After I sang my audition he was like, ‘You refused to sing for me for the first three years, and then you come out here, and you give me this lovely song.’”
Ratcliff and the rest of the cast are hard at work right now, preparing for their debut at Playhouse Square on Oct. 24. The show takes place on the Allen Theatre Mainstage and runs through Nov. 3. He and the other cast members are in the process of rehearsals five days a week, each one lasting four hours. He talked about the method of preserving his voice throughout the six weeks of rehearsals, putting an emphasis on breathing techniques. To demonstrate, he puts his hand on his belly and talked through the process of belly breathing, while acknowledging that it looked a little bit funny.
“People breathe into their chest, but you want to draw your breath into your core,” Ratcliff said. Ratcliff inhaled and his belly ballooned to three times its size, indeed looking a little funny on his naturally slender build.
For Ratcliff, focusing on breathing also helps him stay in the moment, as the thought of performing live for audiences can often be nerve-racking. Ratcliff has acted before, but this will be his biggest show to date. He draws from eight years of theatre experience going back to his freshman year of high school, but even with that, he still gets jitters. On days of performances, he’ll be antsy and drink a bunch of water throughout the day to try and calm himself, but that disappears the moment the curtains open for a show.
“The moment I say my first line, the nerves go away,” he said.
Practically, it was not a challenging script for Ratcliff to memorize. He was able to memorize the show’s first act in just a couple of hours reading through the script. The biggest challenge he faces is trying to relate to the Baker, a character that helps connects the show’s numerous moving parts.
The Baker is married and has a kid, which makes getting into character a little challenging for Ratcliff. He can’t imagine having children or being married at this stage in his life. Challenges aside, this role has him affirming that he wants to do theatre for the rest of his life. He sees himself being happy if he is able to live in the Cleveland area and perform at places like Playhouse Square, but that doesn’t mean he’s unaware of the potential challenges of getting into the entertainment business.
“One thing that they’ll tell you in theatre,” Ratcliff said, “is that if you could do acting or anything else, do anything else.”