It feels as if every time a curtain opens on a city stage this season, actor Eric Blais is standing there.

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This article was published 23/4/2015 (2464 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

From left, Daria Puttaert as Jane, Maria Ricossa as Alice, John Bourgeois as Billy Sr. and Eric Blais as Billy in RMTC's season-ender, Clever Little Lies.

BORIS MINKEVICH/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

From left, Daria Puttaert as Jane, Maria Ricossa as Alice, John Bourgeois as Billy Sr. and Eric Blais as Billy in RMTC's season-ender, Clever Little Lies.

It feels as if every time a curtain opens on a city stage this season, actor Eric Blais is standing there.

In January and February, he was seen as the suave Elyot Chase in No´l Coward's Private Lives at the RMTC Warehouse, followed by the spooky two-hander Woman in Black at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in March and April and then RMTC's contemporary comedy Clever Little Lies, which opens Thursday, April 23, and runs to May 16.

Blais as Kipps in The Woman in Black.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Blais as Kipps in The Woman in Black.

If you add in Good People at RMTC a year ago and Proud in November for Theatre Projects Manitoba, that's five mainstage appearances in one calendar year. No one can remember the last time one actor booked three shows at RMTC in one season.

"I've never had a better year," says Blais, the 41-year-old leading man. "Why we get work is what an actor is always trying to figure out and you never know. We aren't privy to the conversations of what happens behind the scene."

Feast or famine is the actor's life. To quote the American film and stage actor Frances McDormand (Fargo), "They work and they don't work and then they work again."

"That's really the way it is," says Blais. "The year before, I had one stage show."

Between principal roles in Angels in America: Perestroika at Winnipeg Jewish Theatre in 2013 and Good People a year later, the University of Winnipeg graduate had no stage jobs.

"How do you budget for that?" says Blais, who has a nine-month old baby with his wife, Johanna. "The work itself is very rewarding, but it is a challenge to fit that work into a life, a life that has mortgages and children. Actors always have to keep other jobs in the wings to fill time.

"It's not just money. You also need something to do."

In the RMTC season-ender Clever Little Lies, by American playwright Joe DiPietro (Over the River and Through the Woods), Blais plays Billy, a married lawyer in his mid-30s who confides to his father that he is having an affair with his personal trainer. When his mother learns what's going on, she invites the whole family over in the hopes of saving the marriage.

Winnipeg's Daria Puttaert is cast as Billy's wife, Jane, while husband-and-wife actors John Bourgeois and Maria Ricossa play his parents. Director Steven Schipper cast Blais for the second time, the first being the solo Warehouse show Looking Back -- West in 2010.

"Eric can play younger and older, and is easy on the eyes, as women like to say," says Schipper. "He is really able to play a wide range of roles. As long as there's a need for that man in a show, Eric has a good chance of getting the part."

Being such a casting favourite has meant an unprecedented memorization challenge for Blais. During the fall, he tried to read one script in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. That helped when he was playing Kipps in The Woman in Black, delivering huge swaths of text every night, while by day he was rehearsing Clever Little Lies.

"I had this (Clever Little Lies) memorized in January," says Blais. "I have a good memory. It's like any muscle -- the more you use it the better it gets.

"I'm not one of those people who can recite lines from previous shows. When I'm using them, they're there and when I'm not, they go."

It's not only his memory muscle that he must exercise in Clever Little Lies. Billy appears bare-chested in the opening locker-room scene. The character has been spending a lot of time with his personal trainer, so his torso has to look it. As part of his RMTC contract, Blais was given money to hire a trainer to develop a personalized workout regime.

It wasn't the first time this season RMTC helped a cast member look buff. In the mainstage production Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the latter character, a hunky aspiring actor, spent much of the play in his underwear, showing off his impressive six-pack. RMTC kicked in for actor Luke Humphrey's gym membership.

"I asked for that because if you take your shirt off, people might say, 'You don't look like I want you to look like,'" Blais says. "I'm really uncomfortable with the whole personal-trainer and body-image thing. I can only look like someone who is tall and thin. I can't look like anyone else. I've done my pushups and that's all I can do."

Women's bodies have been objectified forever, but the physiques of male actors are also having to measure up, Blais says. It's no longer about your acting, but your abs.

He has been reading about the aggressive training guys have to undertake, and mentions Game of Thrones actor Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo), whose weekly diet included 56 chicken breasts to maintain his massive pecs and buff body.

"Is that not the ideal for the guy going to the gym?" asks Blais. "Isn't that the measuring stick with which I will be judged?"

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

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