Waiting for Broszko

Student-actor Steven Broszko prepares for opening night of Rumors

Editor's Update: Steven Broszko has won the 2010 Tommie Award. The award is presented to a St. Thomas senior who best represents the ideals of scholarship, leadership and campus involvement. “Steven represents the essence of the Tommie Award as an outstanding student who was selected for his commitment to scholarship, leadership and campus involvement,” commented Amanda Niskode-Dossett, director of student engagement and Tommie Award coordinator. Read the Feb. 22, 2010 Bulletin Today announcement here.

As Foley Theater fills with patrons on a Wednesday night in November, Steven Broszko sits backstage drinking Mountain Dew and applying gel to an unruly head of hair. This is opening night for the joint St. Thomas-St. Catherine Theater Department’s production of Neil Simon’s comedy Rumors, and Broszko, along with his fellow cast-mates, are in the final moments of preparation. In a few minutes, Broszko will appear as a high-strung attorney attempting to cover for his best friend’s attempted suicide. But this moment is about focusing.

Broszko already has had a full day. He worked for a few hours at his job in University Relations, where he used his downtime to cram for a theology test later that afternoon. In addition to the test, he also had Spanish III and Writing Poetry and Fiction until 4 p.m. His call for the show is at 5:30, and in the meantime he needs to pick up hair gel (for his character) and shampoo (for himself - he’s out). He also plans to visit McDonald’s for a cup of hot chocolate, his pre-performance ritual since his junior year of high school. Between classes, work and the play, Broszko has been a busy guy.

Even as a sophomore, Broszko is a veteran of the Theater Department. He acted throughout high school at St. Bernard’s in St. Paul, and was cast in The Dining Room and Our Town during his freshman year at St. Thomas. He’s also the public relations officer for the Theater Club and serves on a play selection committee, which was pushing for a well-known comedy and was excited when Rumors was chosen.

“To have a play where you read it and you laugh out loud – that’s rare,” Broszko said. “It’s got some really great comedic moments.”

The Theater Department allows students to openly audition for all roles in a play, but Broszko wanted the role of Ken Gorman, the attorney who anchors much of Rumors.

“Steve, as an individual brings his personality to the role, and I thought that he would bring a really delightful quality to Ken that we as an audience appreciate and like,” said Rumors director Teresa Lyons Hegdahl. “Ken’s a tough role, and you want to like him and be rooting for him. And if you don’t like that character because of the actor who’s playing him, it’s going to be a long couple of hours.”

Being a sophomore as opposed to a freshman made accepting a pivotal role in a production easier for Broszko. He has a confidence that he doesn’t believe was as apparent last year.

“There’s less adjustment this year,” he said. “Transitioning is always kind of tough. I feel a little more relaxed in this environment. I know what’s expected now, or what to expect. But this play does feels like a step up. It requires more dedication and time.”

That dedication began on Sept. 18, when the cast met for its first read through of the play. But before any reading begins, the logistics of scheduling 10 students for rehearsals has to be dealt with. The cast of Rumors is a mixture of students – from three freshmen to a first-year law student – and for most of them, this is their first time on the St. Thomas/St. Kate’s stage. All of them have different scheduling conflicts, but somehow it works.

Lyons Hegdahl sets the rehearsals for every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6:30 to 10 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. When students have zero conflicts, the director promises to include them in her will. With this cast, the biggest problem is a student who has a late class across campus that slightly overlaps with the weekday rehearsals.

“So you’ll just run,” Lyons Hegdahl tells her.

During the first meeting, Lyons Hegdahl hands out scripts and notebooks to the cast, along with additional homework. She charges them to read the play five times before rehearsal begins on Oct. 2, highlighting and defining every unknown word. She also asks them to schedule three meetings with their “spouse,” telling them that familiarity with the actor leads to familiarity with the character.

Broszko and his “spouse,” Chris, played by sophomore Molly O’Gara, are the only couple to meet the assigned three times. It was easier for them, Broszko says, because they have class together two times a week. O’Gara and Broszko also have worked in The Dining Room and Our Town together, and have a camaraderie that makes figuring out their characters’ relationship a smoother process.

“He’s very easy to work with,” O’Gara says of Broszko. “[It] is important to work with someone who will cooperate with you and not someone who says, ‘Well, this is my character. Deal with it.’ That’s never fun. It’s nice to have someone who is willing to take a suggestion if something doesn’t work. He doesn’t have that huge actor ego to deal with.”

One of Broszko and O’Gara’s meetings is at a coffee shop near campus on one of the last sunny Friday afternoons in September. They flip through their highlighted scripts and scribble-filled notebooks, deciding how their characters met, how long they have been married and how the couple communicates. They also name their child, arguing whether Ken and Chris would choose a conservative name. They finally settle on James.

“I think I would call him Jimmy,” O’Gara interjects. “But you would call him James.”

As October progresses, the weather turns rainy for several weeks. The cast comes into Foley Theater shaking off coats and umbrellas. Broszko comes running up the steps two at a time.

“You always got to get up the same way,” he says with a smile. “It’s tradition. You change things up and something terrible happens.”

After the first few meetings, the cast has formed a strong bond, and rehearsals are peppered with laughter and inside jokes. Broszko’s script is almost torn in two, its edges bent and frayed from study. Lyons Hegdahl and the cast work through blocking the play and determining characters’ motivations. Lyons Hegdahl often listens to input from the cast and tries to incorporate their ideas into the show. At a one-to-one practice between Broszko and Lyons Hegdahl, the two lightly banter back and forth, finally coming to a mutual decision of how a certain scene should play.

“He really studies,” Lyons Hegdahl said. “I never feel like I have to say, ‘Remember, keep working on this. We’re not done yet.’ He’s very self-motivated, and that’s great because he comes into rehearsal with ideas and questions and we’re off and running.”

By the beginning of November, Broszko feels that the play and his character are coming along well. They’ve been “off book” for a few weeks, and Broszko believes the play is right on track. He’s also pleased with his own work, feeling that all the effort has been paying off.

“One thing that I try to do is listen well and react to what is given opposed to how I’m supposed to react,” he said. “You can’t premeditate your reactions on stage because you never know how things will change. Suppose a cast person gives you something different or something goes wrong. It happens. I just try to make sure I’m listening and paying attention, and really trying to ‘live’ in that particular moment.”

Some of Broszko’s hard work happens late at night, or very early in the morning. A few weeks before the show, Broszko stayed up till 2 a.m. working through all of his character’s parts, ensuring he understands what’s running though Ken’s head in every scene. He admits that his time becomes more valuable as the show approaches.

“It’s just a matter of trying to find time to do it all,” he says. “Rehearsal is a thing I look forward to. Trying to keep up with classes – it’s tough sometimes. But it’s just a matter of finding time to do it.”

Even with all the time constraints, Broszko says he can’t imagine not doing theater. He hopes to continue acting during his time at St. Thomas, and wants to participate in community or other local theater after graduation. Acting gives him a creative, energizing outlet.

“It’s really contagious,” he said. “I like pretending I’m someone else, doing things I wouldn’t normally do.”

Broszko’s energy is palpable as he arrives on opening night in a white T-shirt and blue gym shorts,

with hair gel and hot chocolate in hand. He slips into the men’s dressing room backstage, immediately joking with his castmates. One of them puts in a mixed CD, and everything from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” to Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” bursts out into the empty auditorium. The cast meets onstage for warm ups, and Broszko leads them in tongue twisters such as “Unique, New York” and something called “Mother Pheasant Plucker,” that they say with and without the use of their tongue. When Lyons Hegdahl interrupts to inquire about their energy level, Broszko starts jumping up and down, and two others break into the chicken dance.

“Okay,” Lyons Hegdahl laughs. “Time to focus.”

Broszko heads to the dressing room to apply hair gel and take his final swigs of Mountain Dew, planning to take a few moments to think over his character and what he wants from his performance.

“This has given me a sense that I’m a part of something big, a part of something important,” he said. “There’s nothing in the world like standing in front of an audience and making them laugh.”

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