Sitting at a table in a Fort Collins coffee shop, Megan Guidarelli primly corrected her posture, placed her folded hands on the table and beamed a Stepford wife-worthy smile at her good friend Luke Karn while gushing over her beautiful new silverware.
Karn responded that back home on his crocodile wrangling farm, his wife owns a very similar collection.
The two young actors didn’t bat an eye at this spontaneous exchange in which they assumed outrageous personalities, even as other coffee shop patrons shot them puzzled looks.
“We feel like everyone is listening, so we try to make ourselves interesting,” said Guidarelli after her and Karn’s impromptu performance. “We pretend to be other people a lot. It’s an actor thing.”
Only several hours before this display, Karn arranged his 6-foot-6-inch frame into a too-small armchair, hands folded in his lap.
Comedy seems to be a switch in Karn’s brain, one that he can toggle on and off at will. In a one-on-one conversation with him, his sarcastic brand of hilarity is practically unnoticeable.
The actor seems laid-back, refined and well spoken.
“Sometimes being more serious and candid with people will get you farther than making them laugh all the time,” Karn said of his apparent dual personality.
But the energy Karn radiates on stage is anything but soft and sophisticated.
Parading across the stage earlier this month as a con man named Subtle who uses a number of different disguises, Karn’s voice suddenly pitched into the higher registers of a crotchety old man, he stooped, shuffled around and screwed his face up into a quirky semblance of what it had been the second before.
He had become the Monk, which is only one of many facets in Subtle’s personality.
Subtle is the lead character in Shakespearian contemporary Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist.” The play is a farce, in which conmen trick many unsuspecting victims into parting with their belongings.
“It’s really cool to see him in a lead role,” Guidarelli said from her chair before performing the silverware charade with Karn. “He’s flourishing in it. He sets the tone for the whole play.”
Karn soon hopes to parlay the skills he exhibits for CSU’s performing arts program into a career at the National Theater Conservatory after he graduates in spring.
“I’ve just always been able to make people laugh and enjoy themselves,” Karn said with a shrug.
The road to the stage
His first foray into the business of making people laugh came in an elementary school musical at The McClelland School in Pueblo.
This experience spurred him to join Destination Imagination, a creativity challenge competition for children.
In his first year there, he took third in the state competition.
At Pueblo Centennial high school, Karn competed in the humorous interpretation section of his debate team, taking the title of second all-time champion, as well as appearing in five plays and several improv shows.
At the end of his senior year, Karn made the decision to keep up with acting in his college years.
“The only thing I could come up with to do was acting. I can move from one project to the next and not get bored,” Karn said. “What would scare me most would be to get 40 or 50 years down the road and know I messed up my one chance to do what I love.”
As a college freshman, Karn engaged in behind-the-scenes work on plays before landing his first role in the play “33 Swoons,” directed by Walt Jones, a CSU theater professor.
“I first cast him because of his size,” Jones joked. “I mean, he was a good actor too. But I really wanted to make a height joke.”
After being involved in several plays at CSU, Karn decided it was time for a change of scene, and joined the cast of The Second City, a prestigious acting troupe in Chicago that has churned out many renowned comedians.
“I couldn’t have picked a better way to spend a semester than at The Second City,” Karn said.
Guidarelli said Karn “flourished in Chicago” and expressed her own reverence for the program.
“The first time I visited The Second City, I didn’t know whether I should kneel or kiss the floor or something,” she said. “It was practically holy.”
When he returned to CSU last spring, Karn participated in three more plays before landing his first lead role of Subtle in this week’s performances of “The Alchemist,” which is also directed by Jones.
“He’s ready for it,” Jones said of his pick. “He’s a great actor who rolls with the punches and is willing to try anything, which is an admirable quality.”
His fellow actors, including Guidarelli who plays Tribulation, one of Subtle’s victims, agreed Karn is wonderful in his starring role.
“He’s a complete natural. The stuff that comes out of him is just brilliant,” Guidarelli said of his acting ability. “And he’s very laid back, which is a good quality to have because acting is full of rejection.”
Karn didn’t seem too worried about his future in a business that fosters a culture of dismissal.
“Acting is an environment where it’s safe to fail,” he said, adding later, “… that’s where actors and actresses freeze up: When they let their fear of failure get to them.”
And for Karn, acting is what he knows he wants to do for the rest of his life.
“It’s a blast. It’s tiring,” Karn said. “But it’s worth it.”
Staff writer Savannah King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.