MARQUETTE - Joe Raymone remembers being involved in the theater at Northern Michigan University when a successful alumnus returned to be part of a production.
"Paul Truckey was here as a guest artist. That affected the student actors," Rayome said. "It showed us what was possible, to have someone like him come in and knock us for a loop."
Now it's Rayome who is the guest artist. The 1999 graduate of Negaunee High School and 2004 NMU grad is starring as George in the production of "Of Mice and Men" that debuts at the university's Forest Roberts Theatre Wednesday.
Joe Rayome, left, as George, and Kris Krempien as Lennie in a scene from John Steinbeck’s classic play, ”Of Mice and Men.” (NMU photo)
When first out of high school, Rayome wasn't thinking about theater as an option.
"I had a couple of baseball scholarship offers, but they didn't feel right," he said. "I was here (at NMU) for two years before I got involved in the theater. I had never acted before.
"But in my third year here at Northern, I got involved," Rayome said. "I had always been curious about acting. I remember watching the production of 'Harvey' at Negaunee High School. I watched it all by myself. I had an underlying curiosity. There was just something about acting.
OF MICE AND MEN
The play, based on the classic John Steinbeck novella, will be performed Wednesday through Nov. 20 at Northern Michigan University's Forest Roberts Theatre.
- Showtime is 7:30 p.m. each day, with an additional 1 p.m. matinee Nov. 20.
- Tickets cost $8 for students and $12 for the general public, and may be purchased at all NMU EZ Ticket outlets.
"Chris Martinson was in the play as the main character and I remember seeing him on the street after the show and saying how great I thought it was," Rayome said. "His family lived right by my family and that was probably the last time I spoke to him. He has no idea what that interaction did. It led me to where I am today."
Rayome, now a member of Actors Equity who has appeared in several Off-Broadway productions, was asked by former teacher Shelly Russell if he'd return for the play.
"Shelly got me the script and since the first or second week of October, it was me alone with my girlfriend in my apartment in New York City, working to memorize the lines," he said. "I wanted to come in ready. When you are here (at NMU) as a student, the play is one thing out of 50 you're doing.
"Those interested in taking things to the next level, being professional, will find things different in New York than say a theater like this," Rayome said. "New York is so much about the business, casting directors, agents, managers, producers... A lot of people there enjoy the business but there's a lot of money being made. For some people there, it's not as much about art as it is about making a living. I accept that. I love it and I roll with it.
"When you're here, you're creating a part. When you're there, it's an expected part of the job that you're ready to go."
Rayome flew in Oct. 31 and started rehearsals Nov. 1.
"It has been going by FAST," he said with a smile. "Shelly and I have been working on parts of the script, which is an adaptation of the (John Steinbeck) novella, to make it acceptable to the palate of the modern audience. We need to keep the audience with us."
The first time Rayome read "Of Mice and Men" was in high school.
"I don't remember what grade I was in but I remember it was Mrs. (Connie) Heinlein's class," he said. "I remember reading it and being affected by it.... It resonated with me long before I was an actor."
The relationship between the characters of George and Lennie attracted him to the work, Rayome said.
"What has to be there (in the production) is the kinetic relationship between George and Lennie," he said. "It feels like these characters are people who existed."
Rayome is pleased with how the production has turned out.
"We've got a good show," he said Wednesday. "We are doing a run through (Thursday) and before you know it, we will be up there."
As for his career goals, Rayome said he's struck by how different his planning is from his sister's.
"My sister's a doctor. She's amazing and she has worked really hard and we are all proud of her," he said. "She's always known what tasks were ahead of her, residency, boards, that sort of thing.
"With me as an artist, those steps aren't necessarily set," Rayome said. "But it's very important to set goals. This is a fast-paced business and it's easy to be left behind."
Rayome said he doesn't know day by day what acting jobs might be headed his way, be it a commercial callback or an audition for a movie role.
"I never set out for it to be about me talking about me. I want my work to speak for me," he said. "But this is a celebrity-driven business, I realize. That's part of the deal. It's part of the package."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.