Kent alumnus finalist in national audition

Kate Bigam

Jack Curenton graduated from Kent State in 1975 with a degree in theater. But in July, 31 years later, he auditioned for what he hoped would be his big break.

Curenton, an Akron native living in Los Angeles, is currently the vice president of the Columbus-based collections agency TekCollect, but he’s slowly making his way into a change of career scenery.

“When you’re in sales, you have smaller audiences, but a bigger paycheck,” Curenton said. “If I go full circle and come back to my first love, I’ll be back in acting.”

A friend told Curenton about Big Break Casting Call, an open audition sponsored by myNetworkTV, formerly UPN. The new network, which features 13-week series such as “Fashion House” and “Desire,” was in search of two unknown actors to star in its next one-season series.

And although he briefly wondered if he was too old to try out, Curenton decided to give it a shot.

“I thought, ‘What the heck — I’ll go down, I’ve got nothing to lose,'” said Curenton, who has acted in 73 shows, primarily musicals, as well as a host of commercials and voice-over work. He recently played lead character Fagin in the musical Oliver for the third time.

Nearly 2,500 aspiring actors showed up for the myNetworkTV Los Angeles audition, held at a local mall. Curenton said he was easily two-to-three times older than the majority of hopefuls.

“They all looked like they just fell out of Baywatch or got expelled from Beverly Hills 90210,” Curenton said.

Undeterred, he hoped his “mature hairline” and detailed acting r‚sum‚ would ensure that he stood out from the young crowd.

Paired with a young, inexperienced actress for his audition, Curenton was asked to play the part of a cheating husband. One of his female counterpart’s lines — “You had sex in our bedroom?!” — was deemed inappropriate for the family-friendly mall, so myNetworkTV employees asked Curenton if he’d help rewrite the script.

When his “wife” performed the cleaned-up version he’d written — “You had crackers in our bed?!” — the audience and production crew erupted into applause and catcalls for Curenton.

His audition qualified him for the first round of finalists, chosen from 15 audition locations nationwide, including a casting call in Cleveland. The myNetworkTV Web site then hosted online voting, asking viewers to vote for their favorite male and female finalists. When the first round of voting closed in mid-October, Curenton had qualified as the top male finalist.

To get the word out before the second round of voting began, Curenton got in touch with everyone he could think of, from the Kent State Alumni Association to his former theater organizations.

“My grandmother used to say if you wanna get the word out, telephone, telegraph, tell a woman,” Curenton laughed.

And although he was briefly discouraged by the male finalist from Boston, whose supporters voted Curenton down to sixth place (“It’s like they lowered my GPA,” he said), he continued to seek networks through which to spread word of the contest. His vocal coach even got in touch with Peisha McPhee, mother of American Idol finalist Katharine, who promised to spread the word to friends in the industry.

Voting closed last week, and the myNetworkTV Web site now lists Curenton as fifth out of 15 male finalists, although winners and final standings have not yet been announced.

Despite his probable loss, Curenton said he is still hopeful that myNetworkTV producers and others in the acting business will be impressed by his audition.

Following the casting call, Curenton registered with Central Casting, a company that places fledgling actors in background roles of TV shows and movies. He has been cast as a background actor in four TV shows, including the upcoming Singles Table starring Alicia Silverstone.

Eager to return to acting, his true love, Curenton said he will continue to pursue roles and attend auditions.

“Not everybody can look like they just came out of Beverly Hills 90210,” Curenton insisted. “They gotta have an old guy. I’m it. I’m a character!”

Contact enterprise reporter Kate Bigam at [email protected].