Eric Seale called Chrisena Ricci to tell her she didn't pass the audition.
It was 2007, and Seale was directing one of his first area productions: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at Studio Players. It was Seale's probably overly generous practice to call everyone who auditioned — in this case, more than 75 people — and Ricci was near the end of the list.
"Most just said, 'Thank you,' or something, and that was it," Seale said. "But she waited a second and said, 'Is there anything else I can do?'"
He offered Ricci the job of an assistant director for Cuckoo's Nest. Six years and a college career later, Ricci, 22, is again working for Seale, who is now the artistic director of Actors Guild of Lexington. She is his assistant and making her AGL directing debut with its production of Theresa Rebeck's Seminar.
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As Ricci meets new people in the job, she and Seale almost reflexively introduce her as, "Chrisena, with no T." And she is well aware that if you Google her name, the search engine forces you into a search for "Christina Ricci," the actress known for roles in The Addams Family, Monster and The Opposite of Sex.
Ricci initially thought she would make a name for herself in dance, majoring in ballet at the School for Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School. She had a bit of an epiphany in 2007 when she auditioned for the Governor's School for the Arts. She auditioned for dance and, because she could audition for two things, drama.
"When I got my acceptance letter, I realized that I had been accepted in drama and not in dance," Ricci says. "It was this eye-opening moment."
When she decided to switch her focus to theater, Ricci knew she had to make up for lost time, which is why she worked to turn Seale's rejection call around.
"It all became, 'How can I get more involved in theater?'" Ricci says. "In college, you see all those cats who have been doing theater for years and years and years, and their résumés are just huge."
So she did all she could, from playing Snoopy in Lafayette's production of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown to working with Seale at Studio to Apprentice Players, a group of area high school theater students who put up their own shows under the guidance of Seale and other area theater professionals.
After graduating from Lafayette in 2008, she went to Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., where the program was three academic years and two summers, allowing for little time to come home but giving her intense theater experiences.
After school, she spent a year in Missouri before she came home, with designs on making a move to her next big thing. She called Seale, with whom she had kept in touch, to see if he needed help. Once again, he was feeling the need for an assistant, but this time, it was a full-time job.
"I never thought that I would get offered a permanent position here," Ricci says. "And when I did, it was just kind of perfect."
Seale says, "It's one of those things Lexington needs to learn how to do. We invest so much time and treasure in young artists, and then we don't get to reap the reward, because they're gone. We don't give them opportunities to stay. That's one of those things that I want to make AGL do more."
With Seminar, Ricci is following in Seale's footsteps by taking on a big project for her local directing debut. Seale recalls being told he needed to dip his toes in the water with a small show before going big. Then he did David Mamet's weighty and complex American Buffalo at Natasha's Bistro & Bar for his bow. With Seminar, which closed on Broadway in May, Ricci is taking on a fairly complex drama about professional jealousy and romance among a group of writers.
"This script is amazing, with a really good story line and interesting characters that are intricate but relatable," says Ricci, who is prone to rolling her eyes at Seale's Mamet devotion. "When we read it, Eric said, I think this would be a good one for you to direct. It took a hot minute for me to see the 'no guts, no glory.'"
But that ethos has worked for her in the past.
IF YOU GO
What: Actors Guild of Lexington's production of Theresa Rebeck's play.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 28-March 2, 8, 9; 2 p.m. March 3, 10.
Where: Actors Guild of Lexington South Elkhorn Theatre, 4383 Old Harrodsburg Rd.
Tickets: $20 adults, $15 students and senior adults; call 1-866-811-4111 from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat., Sun. Go to Actors-guild.org.