Friday, January 30, 2009
Bobo: Let's do the
bio. Leave out the boring parts, and don't slur your words the way you
usually do. Sit up and be articulate for once.
P.T.: No guarantees!
Bobo: Where did you go to elementary,
middle and high school, and who was your meanest teacher?
P.T.: The following is from a Name-Dropping bio I posted a few years ago,
under the pretense that I might be Notable, Not For What I've Done,
but for the Whoms I've Done It With.
Here is a way-watered-down excerpt for you:
I skipped kindergarten and went to Montclair
Elementary in Oakland, Calif., from 1965-71. In my first- and
second-grade classes were future L.A. Times staff writer Mark
Barabak; Michael Meese, the late son of Edwin
Meese, later U.S. Attorney General to Ronald Reagan (Reagan was
governor of California at the time, and Mike's sharing day was usually
stories about going to Sacramento and eating Ronnie's jelly beans); also
my first-grade "girlfriend", Martha
Moxley, whose tragic fame initially occurred when she was murdered in
1975, and then more fame in the late '90s, when conservative talk-show
host and infamous perjurer Mark
Fuhrman took on the case against Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel.
In 1969, my grandmother ("Gram") signed up my sister and me for
San Francisco Children's Opera (which was huge in S.F. 25-30
years prior). We rode the bus over [from Oakland] to San Francisco after
school (at 9, 10 years old), and got a ride back at night. I did a number
of shows with SFCO (8? 10?) at the high school at Arguello and Geary.
In 1972, I was living at Gram's, and attending El Dorado Intermediate in
Concord, where Gram taught Spanish. [BTW, Gram was my toughest,
possibly meanest teacher, intentionally avoiding any nepotism
accusations]. I was 12 years old, in Oh, Kay! at Oakland Civic
Theatre, and I played young Cohan in George M! at the Contra Costa
Musical Theatre, Walnut Creek, Calif.
In 1974, Gram enrolled me in American
Conservatory Theater's Young
Conservatory, which was directed by Vivian Vance's sister, Lou Ann
Graham. There I made friends with Annette Holloway, who was dubbed the
Corn Nut Princess, because her grandfather Albert invented Corn Nuts.
Also attending A.C.T. was Mary
Frances Crosby, and sometimes her Mom Kathryn
would come collect her. (Alas, no papa Bing.)
I was cast in the role of young Prince Edward
in Richard III at the Geary Theatre, directed by
A.C.T.'s artistic director William Ball.
[As a college freshperson, Bobo saw this production from the nosebleed
seats; he remembers thinking that the cast was outstanding except for this
skinny kid who played one of the princes.] Bill became a friend of sorts
for a few years before he moved to L.A. and I moved here. He wrote a
nice letter of
recommendation for me. He also wrote a well-known book on directing,
of Direction. I am unexpectedly listed on the dedication page
among some great names - actors with whom he worked, alphabetically.
So that lands me right before Cicely Tyson, (Denzel's a little
further down). This was clearly a gift to a hasn't-been.
Randall Duk Kim played
R3, and 30 years later, I found Randy's makeup techniques in Richard
Corson's Stage Makeup textbook (the makeup bible)
while I was adjunct teaching at North Idaho College. Randy Kim was
also "The Keymaker" in Matrix Reloaded (pleh! on both
sequels!). Harry Hamlin
was in that R3 and a student at the conservatory as well
— a very nice guy.
On my 15th birthday, backstage, I got a cake with two plastic War of
the Roses knights on it, painted to look like the costumes designed
by Bob Blackman,
who later designed the costumes for Star Trek TNG (and the other STs).
Klingon warriors do dress suspiciously like Richard's army.
Later that season, I played young Horatio in Horatio, about
H. Alger Jr., with the grown Horatio played by Daniel Davis
(The Nanny, Star Trek TNG, and Clarence in R3). Sydney Walker
(the old man in the film Prelude to
a Kiss) was Horatio Sr., and later my acting teacher in the 1977
Summer Conservatory. Sydney was also the doctor who gave Ryan and Ali the
"bad news" in Love Story.
Peter Donat (Robert's boy) was in Pillars of the Community in
1975, and I also met Tom Stoppard
at A.C.T. when he came to see (/advise?) the production of his play Jumpers
Bobo: What's your first theatrical memory?
P.T.: 1963 — (I was 3) Peter
and the Wolf. My older brother was involved in it at Laney Park,
I think, in Oakland, Calif. Also the marionette theater at Children's
Fairyland in Oakland, same year. So grateful my grandmother took us
all to live theater when we were all very young.
What role are you best known for?
Locally, I don't think I am anymore. Nobody ever mentions a role;
they'll say, "I've seen you in stuff,"if anything. Ten years
ago, I would have said Captain Hook, Will Rogers or Huck Finn or
something I guess, but — statute of limitations and all — I haven't
really been cast in anything for the past few years to be of much
notice, let alone known, I think. (Not the best thing to say in an
interview, I know.)
Of course you know I've loved the jobs I've had the last few years over at
ARt, but no real stand-out roles there. I personally liked what I did In Humble
Boy, and Ed the drunk lawyer in Born Yesterday, for
instance, but of course I don't know what the experience of watching
them was like. Also, the numbers weren't always great at ARt, so I
don't think recent audiences really know any shows I've been in
lately, out there anyway. Even among my Spokane/CdA fellow
actors/directors, only a very few made it to some of the ARt shows
... I'm guessing (hoping) maybe the drive was too far.
Among the theatre/art community, I think I'm more known for being a prop-building,
voice-over band-aid, which is cool. I get the call if there's a need
for a severed head, a puppet, a recorded radio announcement or sound
effect in a show.
There is also the annual Cathedral and the Arts Christmas show I do with
the Spokane Youth Symphony and the Spokane Area Children's Chorus —
a lot of people go to that event at St. John's. I've been
doing that since '97 (?), so maybe that's known.
On the Internet, however, the role I'm known for is probably
the "David Bowie
zombie" (a.k.a." Jimmy D" in the credits) in The Video
Dead (VHS, 1987).
Right now, here on the Outernet
in Spokane, I'm glad I have additional ways of staying creative and making
a living — i.e., voice-overs, sculpting, carving, teaching, etc.
It's part of why I really love living here.
Best bit of acting advice you ever received?
I don't know if this counts as advice, but studying
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) without a doubt has offered me the
most as far as using what I've learned, even re-visiting it and
re-learning; and getting inside a character's head, thinking as if
someone else. NLP can be described as the study of subjective experience,
and presupposes that every experience, internal and external, has a
structure or strategy (programming) that can be mapped and or modeled.
So, even rapport between an actor and director can be described as a
strategy and modeled in NLP. I first picked it up about 20 years ago, and
it has had a huge effect in every area. I make use of it when I teach as
well — acting, improv, stage makeup, etc. It is, in my opinion, the
shortest way for anyone to acquire new info or skills. Fascinating stuff.
Worst job you ever took just to support (directly or indirectly)
your acting addiction?
As a Dancing Pop Bottle in a mall in the Tri-Cities when I
first moved here. I was really, really broke, and had to take
the bus to Pasco for one looooong afternoon of "costumiliation"
— a term I'm sure someone must have coined by now. (Thank you for
helping me to re-live that horror.) This was really to support my
food-and-water addiction, and by extension, the acting addiction.
When did you first, in a blaze of glory, burst onto the Spokane
I moved here in the late '80s, and in 1987, I auditioned at Civic
Theatre. I was cast in Bryan Harnetiaux's play Vital Statistics,
followed by the Civic's first production of Angry Housewives,
both in the Studio Theatre. For the audition for Angry Housewives,
I sang "Unforgettable," and peeled off four or five costume layers
and changed characters, as I used to do in the band I sang for in the
Bay Area shortly before moving here (P.T. & the Pleasers). The first
character was a transient old man in gray wig, large overcoat and fake
teeth and the last was a skin-tight rocker outfit, with three or four
others in between. I got a lot of mileage out of that one audition. I
didn't have to audition again until Big River in 1992.
Mary Starkey told me about recording work at Books in Motion, where
she occasionally narrated, and Civic artistic director Betty
Tomlinson gave me the audition announcement for the voice and
operation of R3U2, the recycling robot who would appear in school assembly
programs from 1988-1992, promoting the new recycling collection program
and making the new incinerator more palatable to Spokane citizens.
The Betty Tomlinson/Jack Phillips administrations at Civic Theatre
were hugely instrumental in starting any Spokane career I may have
ever had. When I was looking for work while acting in Civic shows,
neither artistic director could pay me as an actor, but both hired
me as a teacher, puppeteer, etc. and helped me land other creative jobs in other
venues. And when my house burnt down in 1992, Jack anonymously left bags
of groceries for me at the theater. I'm greatly indebted to them both.
[The house was in Peaceful Valley, where Treadway still lives. A
house-sitter left a candle lit upstairs. Treadway was in California at the
time — and came home to a gutted house.]
Why is it that you never send me flowers anymore?
I am so sorry — I didn't realize that the court order had been
lifted and that it was OK again!
On an unrelated topic, why didn't you mention me in Humble Boy?
Wait, I played a gardener. It is related.
photo: P.T. with Patty Duke and Carter J. Davis in Humble
Boy, Actors Rep, April 200
What book are you most embarrassed about having never read?
I cannot finish An Actor Prepares to save my life. I have
tried, out of acting-teaching guilt, more times than I can count. It
just can't be done, the content is so obvious now, other
writers have since explained his method so much more clearly ... and
that's true of his other books too. But what's more, I don't think
anyone has ever read any Stanislavski. They all just probably
lie about it.
It's like A Brief History of Time: a fly-off-the-shelf,
record-breaking best-seller that no one has ever actually read. (OK,
I did "read" Hawking's book, but I understood maybe 2
What play are you most embarrassed about having never read?
There are probably so many I should have
read and haven't. But I guess I'm more embarrassed that I'm not embarrassed
about not having read them. J These modern times we live in, any play is available
pretty much at a moment's notice should it be needed for something.
Not like that flammable Alexandrian Library. What a bummer that was,
remember? The only
possible upside to that fire was the resulting amnesty on overdue fines.
What cast (that you were part of) was most fun during rehearsals and
the run of the show?
No doubt there are any number from my childhood/teen years that I could
mention here, but those are almost as if they happened to an entirely
different person now.
So if I may pick from the recent ones, it was great fun to go with
Children's Theatre to competition in Harrisburg, Pa., in Kathie Doyle
Lipe's Pinocchio; and of course during the Tuna
shows, Michael Weaver and Bill Marlowe and I laughed til we almost puked
at least once every day; but I think Moonlight and Magnolias might
be a pretty good candidate. We, the cast and crew, were all already good
friends, with the exception of newcomer Wonder Russell, who
immediately won everyone over anyway, of course — but for instance, the slapping
scene and the peanut fight rehearsals were a really effective playground-type
bonding experience. Immediate emotional access to that during the
performances. That was a really great combination of really good
friends — Weaver, John Oswald, Wonder, Tralen Doler and I.
Why aren't you acting in a bigger city?
I suppose the brutally honest answer is that it's so affordable to
live here, and even when the acting roles are few (like now), I'm
still able to work as an artist in other mediums here.
Also, I have two dogs and two cats and I'm buying my house here. That's
totally advancing up a level, maybe two, in the Arts Video Game.
You're such a gentle spirit, kind and funny. Now describe the last time
you flew into a blind rage.
Aw, that's sweet. You know, since I got these two dogs, my behavior has
changed. I used to freely shout the F word at vanishing TV remotes and sitch,
but these dogs have been previously conditioned (not by me) to respond
with great anxiety to that word, so those rages are kept to a
However ... ONCE, some guy wrote that it was embarrassing to see Troy
and me wasting our talents in drivel like The Fantasticks! If I
ever find out who that f'in' &%$* was....
I once wrote that it was embarrassing
to see you and Troy Nickerson
wasting your talents in drivel like The Fantasticks.
photo: P.T. and Troy Nickerson in The
Fantasticks, Interplayers, December 2005
Well ... The important thing is you think we have talent to
waste. Thanks! J.
You know of course that cardinal rule — that we can't blame any
audience for their response, whether it was the response we intended
or not. Naturally, an embarrassment response wasn't intended, but
there ya go — I was just glad for the work that month. Oldest profession
and all that.
Audience relationships with The Fantasticks are not unlike
those with the Grateful Dead, in a sense: Any article on the
topic and review of any particular performances are only useful and
understandable when they are by and for Deadheads. Non-Deadheads won't even
read the piece.
Don't you just hate critics?
Heck, no. Such an extreme emotion as hate should be reserved for
monsters like Hitler and drivel like The Fantasticks!
What's your worst personality trait?
I would say I'm too strict with myself, but ... I can't
allow myself to answer this question.
What virtue do you consider overrated?
Of the seven? I think Chastity ought to be consolidated with
Temperance and called simply "Self-control," thus freeing
up a spot for something more modern, like "Netiquette."
Directors can range from dictatorial to laissez-faire, from detail-obsesssed to
big-picture-visualizing, from demeaning to encouraging, from well-prepared
but rigid to casually prepared but flexible. Which do you prefer?
I prefer the director who has learned how to effectively
communicate her/his creative idea(s) to the other teammates and
artists who will bring it into abject existence. Having a Grand Vision
is nice, but if it can't be communicated to the others who will physically
realize it, it becomes some other product entirely separate from that
original Vision, for good or bad. (Sometimes for really good.)
Assuming that ability to effectively communicate is in place, then of
those choices provided in your question, I think flexibility
combined with any number of the other traits could be
BTW, I've never experienced nor can I imagine a case where demeaning
me, or any actor, would be a healthy directing technique — for the
show or for the director or for the director's
unattended car in the parking lot. J
What's the production you most regret never having seen?
Ian McKellen was doing Richard III at the Curran as I was relocating
to the S.F. Bay Area briefly in '92. So sorry I missed that.
Now, don't just laugh off the following: If you could change one
thing about the way Michael Bowen writes his reviews, it would
I wouldn't ever laugh that off. But it does presuppose that I'm
familiar with your work. I'll have to start reading them. Who are you
Really — even if I did want to change something about the way you
write reviews, it would still necessarily be from the viewpoint of an
actor, a demo which, let's face it, is not ultimately
for whom these reviews are written; they are intended for the theater-going
demo, right? And I am not as much in that category as I'd like to be.
Plus, I would feel terribly under-qualified to dare to give advice to
a professional writer anyway.
Are your inmost secrets kept in boxes, on computer disks, or in
that's gotta be in mind,
right? Since "sealed behind drywall" and "buried in the
back yard" weren't on the list.
a woman's role that you'd love to play.
I've never really thought about that!
Predictably, Cruella DeVil, or some other pointy villainess.
What do you notice about plays in
performance that you wouldn't if you weren't an actor?
It's impossible to know that of course, but I think if I hadn't
both acted and directed, I wouldn't notice or be able to discern the
differences between a directorial decision and an acting choice.
Sometimes it's difficult to turn off that internal observer
Acting, even if it's great and pleasurable, ultimately is sad because
it's evanescent, transient — the people go away, the show will never
be done in just that way ever again.
Yep ... almost like a microcosm of (a) life itself ... people do
go away, this life will never be done just this way again....
I think a lot of the fun of playing the life microcosm in theatre is
that it seems to especially model that reality of life's transience,
only this time with some little bit of control. Every
stage-life is really like playing at Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey.
Man, if someone in literature could just hook up "the stage" to
"all the world" as a metaphor....
Don't you find yourself dwelling on the sad aspects inordinately? How
do you get yourself to remember the happy parts?
If and when a group of us gather to create a really fun and
temporary theatrical experience, then the carrot is to do it again,
to reach that level of joy, or even more, only this
time, let's do it with THIS story ... and that's that famous "theatre
bug" what makes ya come back. Maybe that metaphor spreads
out into incarnations, who knows?
I know that same theatre bug phenomenon makes a few performers
terribly sad, but nonetheless, the bug wins and gets the same outcome
... those sad performers often immediately take on another show as a
way of dealing with (or not dealing with) that pain. Me, I don't get
sad about shows ending. Reminiscent sometimes later, perhaps. But I'm
almost always working on some next project backstage once a show opens.
Useful A.D.D., I call it.
It's not theater unless ...
... there is a perceiving audience.
If an actor falls in the forest, and there is no one else to see
and/or hear and react to it (internally or externally — even if the
reaction is, meh), then there
ain't no theater going on.
I believe that archetypal theater
is ever the broadcaster, and of course a broadcast is meaningless and
useless without a receiver.
Or, more efficiently:
Without an audience, it's just rehearsal.