“There’s a ton of lawyers out there who are frustrated hams,” says Danny Kastner, an employment lawyer in Toronto, partly referring to himself. And thankfully, for the past seven years, they’ve had an outlet: the annual Lawyer Show fundraiser, that sees a mostly lawyer cast put on a show by Nightwood Theatre, Canada’s oldest women’s theatre company.
In this year’s performance, held at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in the second week of June, 36 legal professionals will hit all the familiar notes in their rendition of Guys and Dolls. Kastner will be one of the night’s stars, taking part in the Lawyer Show for the sixth time. We recently sat down with him to find out how he caught the acting bug.
Why did you decide to get involved?
Acting is kind of the family business. I’m the black sheep as the only lawyer. I was involved in theatre in my undergrad, and missed it. The Nightwood Theatre put all the resources behind the show and set up rehearsals in a way that accommodated my work schedule. Rehearsals were during evenings and on Sundays, one to three times a week, for about three months. Suddenly, it seemed feasible to get back into theatre.
What are the auditions like?
It’s an open call. Any legal professional can audition. Nobody’s guaranteed any particular part. The auditions have been getting more competitive, because more and more people know about the event.
There are mostly lawyers in the cast, but there’s at least one judge, one human rights tribunal adjudicator and at least one law clerk.
What’s Guys and Dolls all about?
It’s a great old American musical that focuses on prohibition-era gangsters in New York City, who are trying to find a place to host an illegal Craps game. And it causes a lot of stress for the poor gangsters. It features a lot of star-crossed lovers, too.
One new feature this year is a brilliantly talented all-lawyer band. They’re the orchestra throughout the whole play.
Who do you play?
Nathan Detroit. He’s always been responsible for finding the spot for this underground Craps game. But for the first time, he’s not able to find anywhere. The heat is on and the cops are applying a lot more pressure to illegal gambling. It’s getting him very frustrated to have to figure out an alternative way to go about things.
Do you think lawyers are naturally good actors?
We know how to act on a stage, generally, especially if our practices are in litigation. And we know how to read and interpret a text. That helps us work with the play and figure out our characters. On the other hand, we’re used to being in a professional environment where we have to be more buttoned down.
Is it hard to let go?
Being in a show as silly as Guys and Dolls, you have to deprogram yourself to some degree. Sometimes it’s a challenge to switch over from a day in court to go to rehearsal where you’re going to be singing and dancing. But it’s a lovely change of pace.
What’s your favourite part of the experience?
All the proceeds go to Nightwood Theatre, so it’s fundraising for a good cause. And, for me, I get to be in a professional-level theatre production without being a professional actor. But my two kids figure it’s an outlet for me to get out all of my terrible dad humour, inflict that on the public, and hopefully spare them.