Central College News

Featured: The Life of a Working Actor

January 25, 2012

Rob Lindley ’95 is the artist-in-residence at Central Jan. 23-25, meeting with classes and student ensembles and leading master classes and career planning sessions. Watch him perform his cabaret concert LIVE Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m.


Being an actor isn’t easy. It requires talent, an endless drive for improvement, some seriously thick skin and constant determination. Oh, and you have to audition well.

“As actors, the largest and hardest part of our job is auditioning,” explains theatre grad Rob Lindley ‘95. He spends a lot of time sending out resumes, making phone calls and going to auditions. But as a standout musical theatre actor and cabaret artist in Chicago, Lindley has proved he definitely has the resolve his profession demands.

It started at Central, where he found unique ways to give himself experience and exposure. If he didn’t find a role in a Theatre Central performance, he made his own way. He used the free time to put on his own shows, reserving theatre rooms and directing one-acts or putting on a reading of a favorite play in Maytag Student Center.

During his senior year, he traveled to a unified audition in Kansas City with classmates and teachers. He’d spent the previous four years acting and was confident of his singing abilities, but the audition required he do both. Luckily, he surprised even himself. “I kind of hit it out of the park,” he says with a laugh.

On the strength of that audition, Lindley found work travelling the country as a touring actor and director. But after two years, he was ready to return to the Midwest. As an artist, Chicago was his first choice.

Lindley performing a show at the venue SPACE in Evanston, Ill.

When he got to the Windy City in 1997, he enrolled at The Second City, the school of improvisation well known for channeling alumni like John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Tina Fey into the Saturday Night Live cast. It was there he gained more of the confidence and skill he needed. “It was an almost religious experience,” he says. “It taught me to be in the moment, to be more present on stage and to listen to others. It was like developing new senses.”

With his newly-refined improv and comedy skills, Lindley hit the Chicago performance scene, working in theatre, improv and cabaret. An intimate performance style involving storytelling, singing and a dose of satire, cabaret was a popular form of entertainment in early 20th century America. When Prohibition shut down many cabarets, the performance style went with it. But a revival was occurring in cities across the country, and Lindley found it an appealing outlet. It particularly suited his skill set, and it presented the unique challenge of performing not as a character but as himself.

“There’s something very vulnerable about being yourself on stage. It’s incredibly personal,” he says. “There’s nothing to hide behind. If the audience doesn’t like you, you can only blame yourself. You can’t tell yourself it was your character they didn’t like.”

Lindley in "Oh, Coward!" at the Writers' Theatre in Chicago. He won a Jeff Award, which celebrates excellence in Chicago theatre, for the performance.

But he says cabaret has helped his career progress. Not only is he recognized among Chicago’s top cabaret artists, but the experience has given him a better presence in auditions.

And that has paid off. He’s done shows at highly-recognized Chicago venues, such as the Goodman and Court theatres.  He won a Jeff Award for best actor in a revue for his role in “Oh Coward!” and received a Jeff Award nomination as a supporting actor in “Carousel.” His cabaret performances earned him an After Dark Award for Outstanding Cabaret Artist in 2003. Lindley also performs throughout the Chicagoland area with his vocal trio Foiled Again. Their debut CD “Foiled Again: Live” is available on iTunes and at CDbaby.com.

As his career unfolds, Lindley finds his time consumed more and more by his theatre work. Though he’s performed in nearly every genre, he’s constantly drawn to musical theatre; the combination of music and acting fascinates him. “There’s this heightened emotional state,” he explains. “It feels absurd to be having a conversation with a person and suddenly burst into song. It’s surreal.

“The level of emotion is so high you have to sing. It’s really fascinating to explore the acting journey through that.”