Q: What are your earliest memories of live theater?
A: My first real memory of real theater was my “audition” for “The King and I” at Memorial Hall in 1959 when I was 10. The lobby was full of moms and kids and one-at-a time we were called into a large room. At one end of the room — far, far away — was a table with several men and women.
I was instructed to stand at the other end and give my name and a couple of other things — maybe age or phone number. That gave the table at the other end a chance to determine if we were outgoing enough and smart enough.
I wish auditions were still that easy
Q: What about theater first attracted you?
A: I liked being on stage; I liked getting approval from an audience. It felt like something that maybe I could do better than catch or hit a ball. It was just a natural fit.
Q: Where did you learn to act?
A: Early on I didn’t have much formal training — it really wasn’t available in Dayton. But I learned a great deal from the few children’s theater groups I began working with and in the early ’60s I spent three summers as an apprentice at Memorial Hall with James Alex and Paul Shawan Summer Theatres, one-week stock seasons with a resident company and the big star coming in. That was incredible training in professionalism and backstage decorum.
I was a theater major at the University of Akron, and spent time in the theater department at Wright State. I also attended Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Clown College and got incredible training which I still use every day.
Q: What makes a good director?
A: I think a good director is also a teacher and a good teacher allows for experimentation and self-discovery. A lot of folks think of a director as a puppet-master, pulling all the strings. I like to think of a director more as a kite-flyer who allows the actor the freedom to go off in some different directions but who still has the control to keep the actor from flying off into the stratosphere.
Q: What have been some of your favorite parts and why?
A: Almost anything by Neil Simon – I find my natural rhythms and deliveries mesh very nicely with his particular writing style. I’ve also had great times with Moonface Martin in multiple productions of ” Anything Goes,” and I loved doing Robert Sloane in “A Case of Libel,” and of course Bialystock in “The Producers.”
Q: What can be done to develop new audiences for live theater?
A: In spite of all the electronic entertainment out there, people of all ages enjoy live performances. I think the children’s theater piece is a very big part of it — not just in allowing kids to participate but in developing kids as audience members. If kids see that live theatre is something their parents do and enjoy, they’re more likely to see it as a viable entertainment options.
Q: What advice would you give to parents whose children are interested in acting?
A: Let them; encourage them. But don’t push. Try to hook them up with a group that will teach them the right, basic fundamentals. If you were signing your child up for little league, you’d want her to work with a coach who knew his stuff. You’d want your child to take piano or dance lessons from a qualified teacher. Give the same consideration to their early theater teachers.
Q: What’s special about community theater?
A: We all began in theatre because it was fun. That was our motivation. And that’s what community theater is: fun. And it’s so collaborative — everyone is helping out in many capacities. We rehearse a show for four or five weeks, maybe four nights a week for three or more hours a night. We all have jobs and pulls on our time but come opening night, we put on stuff that’s pretty darn good.