I have a couple of performances upcoming on the calendar (which you’ll see posted here). Early in November, I’m taking on the role of King Herod in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar with the fine folks at Plant City Entertainment.
I consider PCE the “little theater that could.” The building is…well, it’s a converted warehouse on the edge of a rail line in the middle of a small town more famous for winter strawberries than anything else. Yet, somehow, they produce amazing theater in this place on less than shoestring budgets.
Thirty three years ago, when I was looking at colleges, I visited Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. At the time, the L.A. sprawl was still creeping out that way, and Cal Lutheran was a growing campus with a dynamic theater program there. So I drove the 70 miles from my home behind the Orange Curtain in Irvine (as Jess Winfield calls it) northward, and onto the gleaming campus…
…and them followed the signs around behind the campus to a pair of old 1940’s army surplus Quonset huts that would have looked more in place in an episode of McHale’s Navy or Gomer Pyle. With trepidation, I walked in, and looked on in horror. Everything looked jury rigged, cables everywhere – raw, naked equipment, none of the grandeur and majesty of theater in palaces like the Dorothy Chandler or the Shubert or the Pantages. Heck, my new high school theater at Irvine High was more modern.
The professor there greeted me warmly, and explained to me about the program, but he must have seen the look on my face. Finally he said something that has stuck with me to this day. “Look, kid. I’ll be honest. Your chances of making it as a pro in this business are slim. But you have a passion for acting – I can see it. So no matter what, you’ll act. And that means that more often than not, you’ll be in places like this – house where the guts are exposed, where the niceties are not always observed. But in places like this, the performance is king – it has to be doubly strong to overcome the distractions. And if you’re true to your art, it will.”
I didn’t attend Cal Lutheran. I instead spent one year studying under Henry Kemp-Blair and Ron Thronson at Chapman College (now Chapman University). And I’ve worked my way up from bit part to featured player to character actor to star, always remembering his words. I’ve played on those grand stages, and I’ve played in the equivalent of those Quonset huts.
PCE is more toward the latter, in some ways. Because of their circumstances, they make compromises. But ounce for ounce, they attract some of the regions’ greatest talent. And I’m grateful for the way they’ve embraced me as a performer.
Tickets at PCE are only $10 to $14, and this production will sell out. I’m a tiny, tiny piece of this production, and I can tell you, it is amazing. So I suggest you get there early. As for me, I’ll be in the second act – look for the guy dressed in pumpkin orange, taunting the Savior.
I’ll write later about artistic process and approaching this role.