Aidan Doran, a smiley, spiky-haired 14-year-old, and Frank Rossi, his real-talking, dude-you-can-do-this acting coach, had a lot to accomplish, and only an hour to get it done.
During a session last month, their one-on-one rehearsal time was ticking away, leaving Aidan and Rossi with a choice: Practice his lines for the Hamburg High School play tryouts or rehearse audition material for a recurring role in the TVLand series “The Jim Gaffigan Show.”
“Would you rather get a good part in your school play or be on national television?” Rossi asked.
“I’d rather get the part in the school play,” Aidan said.
He’s a freshman at Hamburg High School but figured he might have a small shot at a big role.
“You can get the TV show, too,” Rossi said.
Rossi was right.
Aidan has been chosen to play a younger version of the main character in flashback scenes on Gaffigan’s show, which was a hit last summer in a limited run on TVLand.
The call he had been hoping for came after a year and a half of auditioning for Broadway and on-camera roles in New York, but not landing a single one.
Two summers ago, Aidan trained at the Cheektowaga modeling and talent school Susan Makai’s Personal Best to compete in the International Modeling & Talent Association’s annual showcase in New York City. At the IMTAs, where hundreds of kids and teens from around the world compete to impress agents and managers, Aidan was a star. He won three awards, including top honors in his age group for singing and acting.
Some 18 industry executives tried to sign him to their agencies, including the well-known manager Shirley Grant, who sent a car to the IMTAs to take Aidan and his family to her office. Aidan signed with Grant’s agency. Since then, he’s traveled to New York for auditions at least 20 times with his mom, Michelle, who works in pharmaceutical sales for Pfizer, or dad Sean, a manager for National Air Cargo in Orchard Park.
The routine became predictable.
“You’re so excited, you’re driving to New York, and the audition is over in 10 minutes,” Michelle said. “You ask, ‘How did it go?’ ”
The typical answer from Aidan: “I don’t know. I thought it went good.”
The typical result for Aidan: Nothing.
He took weekly classes with Rossi. He performed with Makai’s school and Bello Voice Studio in Orchard Park, took weekly piano lessons at Eastman School of Music in Rochester and voice lessons via Skype with a well-connected New York singing coach. But Aidan didn’t book a single job.
And people knew it. His 17-year-old brother Owen asked. His friends asked. His teachers asked. Everybody asked.
“It was always really sad and bad when I wouldn’t get something,” Aidan said. “I had to be like, ‘You’re going to get something eventually.’ I kept saying that to myself, and kept doing it.”
Rossi, the acting coach, wasn’t discouraged. A Buffalo native who’s spent three decades teaching, writing and acting (including a 15-year stint in Los Angeles), he knows the timeline for show-biz success is dauntingly open. It can take several dozen auditions spread over multiple years to land even a single role.
“You never know who’s going to book what,” Rossi said. “It’s impossible to know. The only thing any of us can do is go there, blow them away and then walk away.”
Shortly after a rehearsal last month, Aidan earned himself a callback in New York for the role of young Jim Gaffigan. He competed against about a half-dozen finalists, reading lines and acting out emotions (“Do something that shows you’re bored!”) at the direction of Gaffigan and his wife and co-writer, Jeannie Gaffigan.After the audition, Aidan and his mom, Michelle, drove back to Hamburg. They know this routine intimately; they’ve done it for the last 20 months.
For Aidan, it worked. A couple of weeks ago, he received the offer. Shortly after, Aidan and his dad traveled to New York for a wardrobe fitting and to get Aidan’s hair dyed a sun-drenched, Gaffigan-esque blond. He was in New York again last Thursday to begin shooting his first episode, which will air this summer.
“Back a few weeks ago, I was always thinking, ‘Man, this is just another part I’m not going to get,’ ” Aidan said.
But he was wrong. Mostly wrong at least. While he did nail the Gaffigan role, he didn’t land a lead in the school play.
In that show, Aidan is an extra.