At 28, he auditioned for some roles in New York City to gain experience, then signed up for Louisiana State University’s three-year intensive conservatory program.
A family blossomed during these years. In 2000, Smith married the woman he met while at Clemson and the couple had their first child. After grad school, they moved to Chicago. Jen Smith worked office jobs while R.W. (who is called Smitty by his friends) found acting opportunities.
“Being a starving artist with a kid just was not that cool,” he said. So in 2004 they moved to South Carolina, their native state, where they had family support. Smith worked part-time for his father on lawn care projects and read about Pure Theatre, a new company mounting “Mercy Street” by Neil LaBute.
“Their views on theater, their preferences for gritty, contemporary works, was the same as mine,” Smith said. So he auditioned and was offered a role in the first play of the second season, “Jesus Hopped the A Train.”
That led to a production of “True West” in which he switched roles with colleague David Mandel every other night. He has been part of Pure’s core ensemble since then, and active also at Theatre 99 doing improv comedy. He has taught theater at Gregg Middle School in Summerville and at the College of Charleston.
When the family budget got tight during the Great Recession, he took a job in Atlanta, commuting to work the graveyard shift for Nationwide Hospitality. He was the liaison between airlines and hotels, helping secure rooms for stranded travelers overseas.
“That’s when my wife helped me find the job (at the College),” he said. “The theme through all of that is my wife is amazing.”
The academic adviser post suits Smith, he said. He works 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. then goes straight to rehearsal. Sometimes he auditions for a TV or film part. The biggest challenge is balancing family obligations (he has two young daughters) with everything else, he said. Then again, he and his wife both are accustomed to long hours.
“Our last name is Smith,” he said. “We work.”
After all is said and done, Smith considers himself lucky to have two careers at once.
“Lots of people have two jobs,” he said. “Mine just happens to feed my soul, feed my passion.”
Forging a path
Smith’s colleague at Pure Theatre, Laurens Wilson, is a manager at Trader Joe’s. Actor David Mandel runs a small photography and web design company. Painter Colin Quashie recently became a nurse. Local musician Bill Carson teaches in an elementary school Montessori classroom. There are many more, of course, whose art and work don’t always jibe.
O’Malley said he knew he was serious about cello by the time he got to high school in Albany, N.Y. He was practicing two hours a day. He went to summer music festivals, then attended Oberlin conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music. He joined the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in 1997 but lost his full-time position in 2010 when the orchestra was forced to downsize due to budgetary constraints.
His activities with Chamber Music Charleston continued, however, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of his wife, bassoonist Sandra Nikolajevs, who is the group’s president and artistic director.
The next year, on a late-night whim, O’Malley submitted an application for a job at Boeing. It wasn’t until March 2013 that he received a reply, an email out of the blue asking if he was still interested in the job.
After four weeks of training arranged through “readySC,” a program administered by The Center for Accelerated Technology Training, part of the S.C. Technical College System, O’Malley extended his preparations at Boeing’s Ladson plant, the Interior Responsibilities Center, learning all about industrial safety, aviation processes and tooling. He manufactures emergency equipment parts, he said.
“As a cello player, nothing ever ends,” O’Malley said. “You work on things, and when you’re away you still think about it.” Indeed, he often thinks about music while performing his tasks at Boeing. But he doesn’t think much about his Boeing tasks when he’s making music, he said.
The music-making continues apace. Chamber Music Charleston rehearsals are scheduled in the late afternoons or evenings, and his teaching schedule also follows his Boeing work hours. He maintains a studio of 10 private students.
The change has been significant, O’Malley said. Music is very much fundamental to who he is. Will he make Boeing a long-term career? It’s not out of the question.
“I’m taking it step by step,” he said.