Delaney Faile made a splash with her unexpected Spoleto debut | photo by Ruta Smith

“I think the principle that ‘the show must go on’ is a really important one that people cleave to,” said Anne Clarke, founder of Landmark Productions. After two years of that adage being proven wrong because of the effect of Covid-19 on the performing arts, this year’s Spoleto Festival USA has worked hard to ensure that each show does, in fact, go on. 

Whether it was Omar’s blocking being minimized following an injury to lead Jamez McCorkle or the entire Ballet Encore program being reworked because of a dancer injury, the 2022 festival worked hard and quickly to ensure audiences saw a performance instead of a cancellation. For The Approach, which ran from May 30-June 12 at the Dock Street Theatre, that meant bringing in a surprising substitution to fill a role: College of Charleston student Delaney Faile.

Mark O’Rowe’s The Approach follows three women from Dublin as they have conversations that reveal their connections, their truths, and the history they’ve been hiding from each other. It’s an intricate dance of storytelling and character, told in exceptionally well-written scenes between two actors at a time. However, the Tuesday before opening night, Catherine Walker (who plays Cora) tested positive for Covid-19. Without an understudy, this meant the first three performances were necessarily canceled. But when Walker continued to test positive on Sunday, decisions needed to be made about what to do for the rest of the week’s shows.

“How on Earth can we avoid canceling?” Clarke asked. “Because I’m conscious that people travel for the festival and they book tickets in advance.” Landmark Productions, founded in 2003, has had to bring in replacement actors a handful of times in their 19 year history. Sending someone on to read the script so that the performance happens is industry standard in emergency situations, and the decision was made to do this until Walker tested negative and could go on.

Because Spoleto shows at the Dock Street Theatre run in rep (when a theater runs several different productions at the same time, switching between them each day), The Approach needed to keep its original tech rehearsal dates despite the opening night cancellations. For this tech rehearsal, they turned to Delaney Faile, a Charleston native currently studying arts management and theatre performance. Faile was also a Spoleto Artist Services apprentice, providing everything from transportation services to Covid tests. She had met O’Rowe and the team earlier in the week at an event with other CofC students.

Clarke had no idea that Faile was an actor when the student stood-in for the initial tech rehearsal. “She read in during the day, and read wonderfully,” Clarke said.

Faile did more than just stand-in for lighting queues — she acted. “I didn’t want to stand there and be a blank wall for the actresses to play off of,” Faile said. “I wanted the rehearsal to be good.”

Faile impressed the team enough to be asked to play the role until Walker’s return. The student never once second-guessed the decision. “Okay, this is an incredible opportunity,” Faile said. “This isn’t real. This stuff only happens in movies. If somebody’s gonna pinch me, I’m gonna wake up. This is a crazy opportunity and I kind of didn’t hesitate.”

Faile was given very little rehearsal. She rehearsed with writer/director O’Rowe on Monday morning, then an afternoon tech run-through, and then performed that evening for an audience that effectively constituted The Approach’s opening night.

Clarke was incredibly impressed with Faile’s fearlessness for taking on the challenge. “Unshakable confidence of extreme youth, because Delaney is only 19, but she said yes immediately,” she said. But because The Approach follows three women with the same backgrounds, all from Dublin, all in their 40s, having a 19-year-old American doesn’t tell quite the same story.

“Even going into the tech rehearsal I was like ‘we’re not doing the accent,’ ” Faile said. “I don’t have an Irish accent. I’m not even gonna try.” Recognizing that she’s easily 23 years too young for the role, Faile instead tried to focus on the relationships between the women rather than the character specifics.

“The play is about the relationships of these women,” Faile said. “So it was just kind of focusing on connecting with Aisling (O’Sullivan, who played Anna) and Derbhle (Crotty, who played Denise) when I was onstage with them and rehearsing with them.”

Faile joins Johnnie Felder, from nearby Vance, S.C., as South Carolina locals who have taken the stage suddenly during this Spoleto Festival USA. Felder replaced Metropolitan Opera tenor Paul Groves in the Chamber Music Series on June 7 and 8. It is both rare and exciting to see local talents take the big stages for the acclaimed international festival.

From the moment the performance began, Faile carried herself with poise. The Approach featured minimal blocking: simple, straightforward entrances and exits to simple scenes of the women having conversations across a small table. Nothing had to be restaged to accommodate Faile taking on the role. The only difference was that she was reading from a notebook on the table. A pre-show announcement put things in context for audiences who may have otherwise been confused by the young actress’ presence.

“It’s not just terrifying for the actor that goes on but also for the actors onstage,” Clarke said. Crotty and O’Sullivan had done the show in its run in Ireland, and Walker was a new addition for this Spoleto production. “All of those safety nets that have been honed by weeks and weeks of rehearsal are suddenly out the window. So it’s really a high wire act.”

Faile echoed this sentiment, praising the professionalism and grace under fire of her co-stars. “Derbhle and Aisling, they are such amazing and beautiful people,” she said. “I really feel like they took me under their wing during this process.” 

Faile said she learned a lot from watching her established co-stars work. “There are such subtleties to the way they act. It was so interesting to get to watch them and watch their process.”

There’s much on the horizon for the young student with a Spoleto show now under her belt. Faile will be in the ensemble of the College of Charleston musical Violet this September. She’s also playing the understudy for the title role.

“I said to her not to forget her debut with Landmark when she’s off making waves somewhere else,” Clarke said. “Because she’s hugely talented. I think there’s a very bright future ahead of her.”

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