You’re a young actor appearing in your first major role, in one of the acknowledged classic plays of the past half-century. Your fellow actors are largely theater veterans, including Chris Kayser, a.k.a. Atlanta Acting Royalty. If that’s not enough of a challenge, you spend a sizable chunk of the second act completely naked.
Kyle Brumley, 23, turned heads in the spring as Alan Strang, the young man accused of blinding horses in “Equus,” Peter Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning play, at Actor’s Express. It was a standout performance in a production full of impressive acting.
Even though it was Brumley’s first lead role, it got the local theater community’s full attention. He not only took on a challenging part, but he stood toe to toe with some Atlanta theatrical heavyweights.
Brumley grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky, and attended Oglethorpe University, winning a full scholarship and acting internship there. As part of the scholarship, he was able to appear in a number of Georgia Shakespeare shows, among them “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Julius Caesar,” The Tempest” and “The Jungle Book,” which also allowed him to put his background in choral music to use. Before he stepped onstage in “Caesar,” his first professional job, Brumley says, he was shaking like a leaf.
After graduating last year, he became an intern at Actor’s Express for its 2012-13 season. “That’s very competitive — Freddie [Ashley, Actor's Express artistic director] gets in hundreds of applications a year,” Brumley says. As part of the intern program, he got to try out for all the Express productions. When he saw that “Equus” was on the schedule, his eyes lit up. He had no idea he would actually get the lead role — friends suggested that Actor’s Express wouldn’t announce such a show unless it already had a decent idea of who would play it — but he felt compelled to go after it. After a rigorous series of auditions, Brumley won the part. “It was awesome and terrifying at the same time,” he says.
He prepared by working with director David Crowe and the show’s dramaturg, Michael Evenden, to understand what Alan goes through as he reluctantly works with psychiatrist Martin Dysart, played by Kayser. Crowe was impressed by Brumley during the casting process. “We saw a lot of people; there were three rounds of auditions,” he says. “In the end, there were four actors we were looking at [for Alan]. Kyle might not have been as well known as some of the others, but he was very prepared. He wanted it. I think he realized it was an opportunity to come out of the gate and launch his career, and he took advantage of that. He was fearless.”
The role requires some heavy lifting. “Besides all the lines to learn, there’s so much practical stuff: being prepared, doing the homework and dealing with the emotional range,” Crowe explains. “It’s daunting, but Kyle came in prepared. He’s attentive, eager to learn and just a nice kid.”
Although Brumley’s time at Georgia Shakespeare involved mostly ensemble work, getting to work with and observe the likes of Kayser, Tess Malis Kincaid and Carolyn Cook while there was beneficial. He and Kayser were both in “Antony and Cleopatra.” But it wasn’t as if they shared scenes onstage. “He played Antony and I was Spear Carrier Three,” laughs Brumley. But it broke the ice. He says he would have been a lot more intimidated had he not met Kayser beforehand.
Besides being part of the ensemble of the Express musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” earlier this year, Brumley has been seen locally in two Capitol City Opera productions and the Atlanta Fringe Festival’s “Uffizi” in 2012.
He had a brief nude scene in that play, but nothing compared with the seven minutes sans clothes that are intrinsic to “Equus.” “When I took the role, the nudity wasn’t a concern,” he says. “I did it before at a New York performance of ‘Uffizi.’ Granted, it was a small New York production around people I did not know. Still, the day before I had to do it here, I had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. But after you do it the first time, you don’t really think about it.”
Brumley will be in the cast of the upcoming “Spring Pacific” concert sponsored by Aurora Theatre and then will be in 7 Stages’ “The Navigator” in the fall. And he’ll be auditioning. “Equus” helped to open doors. He was specifically asked to audition for “The Navigator” by Heidi S. Howard, artistic director of 7 Stages, after she saw him in “Equus.”
As he finishes up a summertime administrative job at the Alliance Theatre, he’s looking for a day job, a flexible one that allows him evenings free to take on theater. And he’s in no hurry to leave Atlanta for the likes of New York; he plans on staying here at least four or five years. “People ask if I wanna go to New York and I say no. Why go to New York and throw so many hurdles up? ‘Equus’ went too well to leave now. I can go [to New York] and be one of a thousand people who look just like me or stay here and be one of four people who look like me.”