Here's a great look inside Tom's life as a theatre professional and teacher. Tom's character, Murray Burns, knows how to live his life to the fullest, and we believe Tom does too! Don't forget to check out Tom and the rest of the cast on stage during A THOUSAND CLOWNS starting today and running through August 26.
Being in a show at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre is like going back to your favorite summer camp for a few weeks (without all the water sports...which is great because I am a terrible swimmer!) yup--it's THAT FUN. Our director--Jonathan West is a dear friend--and some of my favorite past memories of my work as an actor happened under his careful watch for the amazing Bialystock and Bloom Theatre Company.
Favorite past roles have included playing Barry in TALK RADIO, a wacky elf in THE SANTALAND DIARIES, and having a chance to direct FAT MEN IN SKIRTS for the same group. Beyond getting to work with Jonathan again, I simply adore having an opportunity to work with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. I think that MCT's unique mission to nurture local talent and use Milwaukee based actors in their shows--and at the same time tell really GREAT stories over the course of their season is what makes them such a special company to work for. Michael Wright is one of the kindest men I have ever met...and I really believe that his great heart translates into every shows he produces...A THOUSAND CLOWNSs certainly fits that mold. What a BEAUTIFUL show!
The first time I read the play--I was really struck by Herb Gardner's use of language. Each of the characters in the play has a unique moment that defines so clearly how they view the world, and yet none of these individuals come off as trite or contrived in any way. That comes from not only the terrific writing, but the AMAZINGLY gifted actors cast by MCT to play these roles. Working alongside Beth, Matt, Patrick, Stephen, and Thomas for the past month has been an absolute JOY. I have learned so much from watching them work, and have enjoyed all the laughs we have shared tremendously.
The role I play in the show--Murray Burns is quite a character...and he talks A LOT...so there has been a lot of language to memorize...he also never really leaves the stage...so it's a huge role--and it has been really wonderful finding all of his wit and charm--and also his tremendous vulnerability. Herb Gardner once said that "he grew up around people who lived their lives at the top of their lungs" I believe this sums up Murray Burns pretty well. Being a guy who can certainly do his fair share of talking (I am a theatre teacher at Oconomowoc High School in my "other" life)...I appreciate that side of Murray! He is also a big kid at heart...and while that certainly doesn't make him the greatest role model at times for his nephew Nick, there is something sort of appealing to me about attempting to stay young at heart the older I get. The idealism and individuality of Murray Burns is something I really find to be admirable--and in the end...his really honest love for his nephew (who is a total soul-mate!) does see him through the central problem of the show--is there anything bigger and more important to Murray Burns then Murray Burns?
I think the ending of the show can be interpreted in a lot of ways...but to me--the passage Gardner wrote about there being "all these other versions of us out there" really struck a chord. At the end of our production, Murray sees there just may be another possibility (another "clown") here to re-imagine Murray Burns. A new way of looking at himself...a re-invention of Murray Burns...a way that perhaps retains his unique charm...but also makes room for other possibilities. A relationship? A family? I don't know that he will ever stop emulating the portrait that is uniquely "Murray," but perhaps he finds room for someone else in the frame? At one point in Act I--Murray tells Sandra--"It's just that there's all these Sandra's running around out there that you've never met...it's like being at the circus...this tiny red car comes out, putters around--and out come a thousand clowns...whooping and hollering and raising hell." To me--the end of the play is Murray finding another, better version of himself to become, I see that as absolute success...not failure. In my opinion--Murray wins in the end...and I think the audience is rooting for that to happen. If we have done our jobs...then I really think they will be...I hope they will be!
Another fun aspect of this production is that I got to play an instrument on stage! The ukulele is a fierce little instrument and surprisingly addicting! Several of us in the cast now own a uke, and in our spare time we spend way too much time searching websites for tabs to our favorite songs (mine are usually by U2 or Glen Hansard) so we can strum ANYTHING other than "Yes Sir, That's My Baby," however crudely with our basic skills! We were aided tremendously in our playing by the fact that fellow cast member Matt Daniels happens to be a Uke Ninja...or as I refer to him, the "Mr. Miyagi of the ukelele." He helped us A TON, and while my poor playing doesn't do him justice as a teacher, I can only imagine what we would have sounded like had we not had Matt around!
One final fun thought; If Murray Burns came to Milwaukee...what would he spend his day doing? This was really fun to think about...so here to the best of my ability is the Murray Burns guide to Milwaukee in a one FANTASTIC day--these are in NO particular order...but all would be experienced in ONE day:
- Get doughnuts from the National Bakery & Deli--what a way to start a day!
- Take Nick and Sandra to the lakefront and pedal a boat on the lagoon, and afterwards buy a kite at "Gift of Wings" and fly the heck out of it.
- Eat deep fried pickles at Stack'd Bar.
- Join a bocce league at the Italian Community Center--play bocce with some real pros!
- Figure out who makes better custard: Kopp's or Leon's...this would be for scientific purposes only.
- Find unimaginable treasures at American Science & Surplus --pick up a few more "knick-knacks" for the apartment.
- Kick it old school with a martini at Angelo's Lounge--bring the ukeleles for karaoke later in the night.
- Explore Milwaukee's spy bar, The Safe House and convince the waiter that we are indeed a family of spies.
- Bask in the beauty of the Basilica of St. Josaphat on 6th & Lincoln--Milwaukee's own Statue of Liberty!
- Eat a corned beef sandwich at Jake's Delicatessen -- this is a must!
- Shop for vintage clothes on Brady Street, and then hop over to shop for a vintage LP at Bull's Eye Records.
- Take Sandy for a late-night Tiki Love Bowl at At Random.
- Marvel at the glory that is the Mars Cheese Castle.
- Cheer on the all-girl roller derby, the Brew City Bruisers, and then go for bowling with tiny balls at Koz's Mini Bowl.
- And finally--Close Wolski's and get a bumper sticker to prove it!