Hello Again and Again// By Alexandra Silber
Actor Alexandra Silber turns sex in front of strangers into lifelong friendships.
When I arrived on the “shores” of New York City in the winter of 2011, I was what can only be described as a “total disaster human”—faking adulthood and literally living on Tyne Daly’s sofa. Don’t get me wrong—there are worse places to be lost, heartbroken, poorly dressed, couch-surfing, and unfamiliar with such adult concepts as a credit score, the cost of milk, or how to get a mobile telephone despite being twenty-six years old and having had, prior to this moment, modest artistic success in London.
I feel like we’ve all been there: at the burnt-out cigarette butt of a chapter of our lives, wondering if we’ll make it through until morning.
I’d arrived in America the previous year in need of a resurrection, (and absolutely acknowledge that I was privileged enough to be able to “start in the middle” of this circus called showbiz with representation and some British experience under my hideous and poorly fitting belt) and began auditioning. I didn’t know where the hell I was because I was managing to get lost (on a grid system—a grid system!), and despite every effort to sabotage my life and reputation, I managed to book a few jobs as I wandered around North America zombie-sobbing between high notes.
It was during this era of my life that I met Jack Cummings III, Artistic Director of Transport Group Theatre Company, and auditioned for Michael John LaChiusa’s masterwork, Hello Again.
And when I say I auditioned? I mean I hurricaned into Whatever Studios on Somewhere Street, New York, New York, holding 47-ish pages of sides and music as the team (with incredible actor, Transport Group alum, and high school classmate, Nick Westrate reading) watched me give them every. single. female-identifying. character. in. the. play.
With (sensible) outfit changes.
It was the second-most preposterous audition* I’d ever offered (to date**), and I was certain after an hour or so of insanity, I had solidified my reputation as a genuine eccentric.
But by the end of the day, I’d received what I would soon come to learn was a characteristic e-mail from Jack—effervescent, inspired, hilarious, and perhaps most important for me at that moment in time: galvanizing. Someone had seen me in all my eccentricity and wanted me to be a part of something. Something deep and rich and strange and beautiful. And to be a part of it with a collection of human beings so talented, so singular, so epic in their giftedness and generosity, that they didn’t mind That Weirdo From London tagging along, singing “Tom” in my underpants, and giving me my first New York City family right when I needed it the most.
A few weeks later, I was introducing myself to those glorious artists. They were Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Max von Essen, Elizabeth Stanley, Bob Lenzi, Bob Stillman, Blake Daniel, Jonathan Hammond, Rachel Bay Jones, and Alan Campbell—and that was just the cast. Every Edison lightbulb, every corset, stage manager, musical arrangement, choreography, and design—the team was a crucible of talent and the World of the Theatre I longed to be a part of. Before I knew it, I was taking my clothes off in a loft (with consent! with consent!) in the middle of SoHo, singing the most glorious music one can imagine, learning the true meaning of platonic intimacy and oh, that’s right: getting my Equity card.
We made memories that included Nikka (who played The Whore) and Cody Renard Richard (a very young PA) being stuck in a service elevator, Alan Campbell (who played The Senator) graciously buying me lunch on the first day of rehearsal when my British debit card was rejected from a local diner, a midnight photocall, 3 a.m. tech-rehearsal taxi rides home with Elizabeth Stanley (who played The Nurse) , pretend-drowning on the Titanic, engaging in simulated acts of intimacy inches from the audience, the presence of a pet parrot, quick changes more impressive than NATO negotiations, the welcoming of members of the original 1993 cast at Lincoln Center; not to mention endless laughter, joy, belting, tears, pathos, sorrow, and community.
All for $245 a week.
All of it shared…with human beings that started as strangers.
Where you goin’ soldier?
Isn’t that the miracle of the theatre?
The people. The chance meetings. The new arrivals to our day-to-day that deeply and irrevocably touch our lives for a moment, then poof: off it all goes into the ephemera like so much mist. Artists open their chest cavities to these emotional foreigners, and we sew them up just as deftly once the curtain has fallen.
Ten years later, the cast is still on a text thread. Some of those cast members and creatives are some of the closest relationships I have enjoyed in my adult life on and off stage. The group has shared it all from birthdays to silly inside jokes to huge career and life milestones.
And really, at the end of the day, at the end of all of this, isn’t that the medicine we all craved so desperately during the darkest days of our quarantines? The prescription we still crave: to bear witness, to be seen, to share intimacies, to sing in harmony, to create and collaborate.
To be together.
And to be changed because of that togetherness.
Back in the days of Hello Again, I had so much to prove. Mostly to myself.
Because I didn’t realize that the only requirement was to simply Be. We are all worthy of love and belonging because we are human, and for no other reason. And there I was—like so many of us have been and will be: emotionally poverty-stricken and in the wrong outfit. But a group of strangers took me in and said Hello. Again and again and again. And when human beings do that for one another, it is a transformative, deeply miraculous thing.
These days, we are starting to gather and greet one another in person once more. We meet through face coverings and vaccine screenings, scarred from the unutterable experience of what we have all been through collectively, but also, not truly shared.
I picture The Whore and The Soldier meeting by the Hudson River now. Masked. Broken. But alive at the end of 2021 and starving for connection.
It rings differently now:
Don’t you know my face?
Come and tell your sweetheart
Where you’ve been
It doesn’t matter
*The first most preposterous audition is a now-infamous story of me being late for an audition for Terrence McNally’s Master Class at The Kennedy Center because I accidentally locked myself in the utility closet. Incidentally, I booked the job and the play transferred to Broadway. Because sometimes life is ridiculous.
**At least by 2010—I’m pretty sure Casting Director Rachel Hoffman can attest I’ve been a huge weirdo in audition rooms since this story…
About the author:
Alexandra Silber is an actor and author based in NYC. She recently completed a run of Rebecca Taichman’s production of Indecent by Paula Vogel in London. Her NYC credits include Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway as Tzeitel, Master Class opposite Tyne Daly, Arlington (Outer Critics Circle Award nomination), Hello Again (Drama League Award nomination), and Einstein’s Dreams. UK credits include Indecent, Kiss Me, Kate (BBC Proms), Carousel (TMA Award), Fiddler on the Roof, and The Woman In White. TV/Film credits include Elementary, Mysteries of Laura, three Law & Orders, 1408. Alexandra is a Grammy-nominee for her portrayal of Maria in the symphonic recording of West Side Story with the San Francisco Symphony. Her debut novel After Anatevka, and memoir White Hot Grief Parade are both published by Pegasus Books and also available on Audible.com.