Thursday, November 17, 2011

Interview with Robert Spencer

Robert returns to MCT where he previously appeared in AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, BROOKLYN BOY and A WALK IN THE WOODS. His Broadway credits include BYE BYE BIRDIE (original Broadway cast), ENTER LAUGHING, VIA GALACTICA and SEXTET. Off Broadway he was in THE FANTASTICKS, SING MUSE and THE MANHATTAN ARRANGEMENT. He has worked at many regional theatres throughout the country, including 12 seasons at American Players Theatre. Local audiences may have seen him at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Next Act Theatre, Skylight Opera Theatre, Milwaukee Shakespeare and First Stage.

To gain further insights about Robert, we asked him a few questions about himself and his upcoming performance as Henri:

1. What have been some of your most memorable moments working in theatre?

There are so many to choose from in the 56 years I've been treading the boards and directing productions, but being cast in my first Broadway show, the original company of BYE BYE BIRDIE in 1960, was certainly momentous.

Being hired at The Washington Theatre Club as a resident actor from 1966-1970, my first foray into regional theatre, where I played everything from 6-year-old boys to 60-year-old men. It was at this point that I was given the opportunity to really begin to develop as an actor and break the 'Broadway Baby' song and dance man syndrome.

Falling off the stage in a production of SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM is somewhat memorable. In the show there were a series of musical numbers that we dubbed the "silly song" section, in which we tossed a straw boater hat to one another and then we'd sing our "silly song." One night Gail Oscar tossed the hat to me and it sailed high above my head. I leapt into the air and remembered thinking, "Look how high I'm jumping." I caught the hat, turned around in mid-air and the stage. I broke the fall by bracing myself on the edge of the stage and fractured my clavicle. Ever the trooper, I crawled back onto the stage, mangled straw hat in hand, and sang my "silly song." Ignominious flight!

2. You've lived and worked in Chicago, New York and many other cities. You're now based in Milwaukee, in your opinion, what is unique about Milwaukee theatre?

That's true, I have worked at many theatre companies in cities throughout the country including a stint at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin, as a core company member for 12 years. At the end of each season we would tour one of our productions throughout the state and ended the tour at The Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. It was during these visits that I started to take in some of the local shows. I was blown away by the excellent quality of the productions and the high level of acting talent. Not to mention, the loyal, supportive audiences. During the off season from APT some Milwaukee companies started offering me work and I was amazed at how warmly I was welcomed by this extraordinary theatre community...and that is, indeed, unique. I love it here.

3. Tell us about your first reaction to the HEROES script.

I laughed. I got teary eyed. I smiled a lot.

4. What is your favorite Henri quote?

Henri doesn't indulge in pontificating. He is more reactive in nature. So a favorite quote is hard to come up with, however, there is a delightful passage that I particularly enjoy playing. It's when Philippe and Gustave are trying to convince Henri to join them on their questionable quest.

Philippe says: “What's to stop us Henri? All right, for some unknown reason you don't understand poplars, that's one thing, but what's to stop us going up there?”

Henri replies: “Nothing...nothing except you've got a piece of shrapnel in your skull, and Gustave is clearly deranged-sorry, old boy, I'm just giving you the broad strokes, all right?-apart from that, nothing, these are the only minor obstacles I can see to your little outing.”

5. What message do you hope the audience takes from this play?

I hope the audience leaves the theatre with a renewed sense of hope. After all, if these three old codgers, despite their physical, mental and emotional challenges can hope for a better life with one of adventure and the unknown. Well… there just might be hope for us all.

...And "that," as they say, "is that."

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