Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Kiss Me, Kate" Cast Spotlight: Steven Turner

We caught up with Steven Turner, a terrific actor who's returning to ACT for his third show this season as Baptista in Kiss Me, Kate.  From a past role playing an aging rocker to his truly awesome summer job (as the official county magician - did Leslie Knope run that Parks & Rec department?) to sharing a link that moved him during his research on the Wounded Knee Massacre, Steven's interview will take you to a lot of intriguing places. And we'll be crossing our fingers that he'll audition for an upcoming variety show after honing his magic skills in Vegas later this summer!

What propelled you to audition for Kiss Me, Kate
Because Vatican II discouraged self-flagellation. No, really - I usually don’t audition well - I get nervous, my hands shake, my mouth dries up. Those are unnerving physiological states. But other times I do fine. It interests me why I’m so inconsistent. Of course, I also wanted to be part of the show. Musical theater’s presentational mode of performance is much different than the straight drama or comedy that I’ve mostly done and it’s a skill I’m interested in developing.  

What shows might people have seen you in before (and not just at ACT)?
In Asheville you might have seen me (but probably didn’t – BeBe Theatre only seats 65 folks or so) in Dreamland Motel. It was a locally written/produced play based loosely on the Asheville band Flatrock that flirted with national fame back in the 70’s. I played an aging Rocker who’s fallen on hard times and returns to his roots for a hometown pick-me-up. His erstwhile bandmates aren’t happy to see him and sparks fly. I played guitar and sang “Smoke on the Water” in a sort of a flashback scene. I felt like a regular Asheville gigging musician as I strolled back to my car every night with my guitar strapped to my back.

And you probably didn’t see me in the original musical The Dream of Camelot at the Masonic Temple either – we only ran for just one weekend at the Masonic Temple, but we packed the house for four nights. I sang the Role of King Arthur. I started taking singing lessons with Gary Mitchell to help with a particular song that was giving me fits – one of these songs with multiple-measure high E’s and F’s in harmony with a soaring Soprano.  Gary helped me with that song and others in the show – I still take lessons with him.   

And then there are my two previous shows at ACT – Inspecting Carol and The Grapes of Wrath. Silly farce to Important Literary Drama. Both were tons of fun working with wonderful actors and thoughtful directors. At HART you might have seen me in La Cage aux Folles, The Pillowman, Deathtrap, Shipwrecked! and The Little Foxes.  After Kiss Me, Kate closes, I head up the road to SART to appear in Gypsy, which opens July 4.

You're onstage quite a bit.  What's your offstage life like?
Here's a typical day: First Charlotte (my wife) and I get our daughter off to Reynolds High School and then we sit down to one of Charlotte’s sumptuous breakfasts and read the morning papers together. She usually drifts off to read in bed before starting her day and I settle down in my home office (a converted garage that I tricked out that doubles as my man cave) and market a few properties we’re selling from our real estate investment portfolio. I’m also studying US Western history from 1860 to 1890, the year of the Wounded Knee Massacre at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. My wife and I are gearing up to tour the Northern Plains states visiting battlefield and National Historic Sites related to that era.

Learn more about Wounded Knee at
Scroll down to view the photo vignette “Voices from Wounded Knee – Past and Present” to see the images set to the song “Timshel” by Mumford and Sons. You won’t be disappointed. 

What has been your favorite moment from rehearsals for Kiss Me, Kate?
I have enjoyed watching the dance numbers take shape. “Too Darn Hot” is one smokin’ number.

Which scene are you most excited about performing?
Most of my scenes are in The Taming of the Shrew portion of the show and are designed to set up or react to the musical numbers. My favorite scene is when as Baptista, the father of Katherine, I negotiate her dowry with her suitor Petruchio. It’s a rapid-fire comedic scene requiring precise comedic timing. Comedy, particularly verbal repartee, is maddening in that one night you’re the funniest guy on stage and the next you can’t buy a laugh. You can beat your brains out trying to figure that out or just trust your instincts and don’t get caught up in chasing what happened the night before. The great thing about comedy is you know, as a performer, if you’re effective. It they don’t laugh something’s wrong but at least you know it and then can go about fixing it. With drama that immediate auditory feedback is often lacking.
Steven as Uncle John in ACT's
production of The Grapes of Wrath
Are there people in your life who have never seen you on stage? What do you think will surprise them?
All of my immediate family has seen me on stage. My son left for college just before I started to act locally and has seen only one show - Deathtrap at HART. Just last week I spent time with an old Army friend and we both discovered that each of us is fond of theater and that he was a thespian in college. A sort of coming out, if you will. He’s now planning to travel to Asheville from DC to see the show and throw in some hiking and rafting to boot - my own little arts-driven economic multiplier.   

At what age did you first know you wanted to act or sing or dance?
I started performing magic when I was 8 years old and performed my first paid magic show at age 12. I still have the original manila envelope stuffed with copies of checks from all those shows. I took magic lessons from Wilford the Great who had toured the country doing magic in depression-era Civilian Conservation Camps and took the business side of show business very seriously. During my turbulent youth he was the primary governing conscience of my actions. He died suddenly as he stepped up on a stool to get a dove from a cage to get ready for a show. He founded the local magic club that carried his name for years but people who knew him died themselves or moved away. Eventually the club changed its name to a local dentist and amateur magician.

As a teenager I had the best summer job one could possibly have - I was the official Salt Lake County Magician for three wonderful years and would go around to all the city and county parks and perform magic for the kids. Whatever improvisation skills I might have were honed doing three shows a day all summer long.

If you could appear onstage with any actor or actress, who would it be and why?
Chris Cooper (A Time to Kill, Lonesome Dove, American Beauty, Bourne Identity, etc) He’s a Stanislavski guy through and through and learned early to be disciplined and respectful of all aspects of the acting craft. He paid his dues working in NYC theatre for many years before tackling film. You can’t watch the courtroom scene in A Time to Kill where he testifies against his childhood friend (Samuel L. Jackson) and be the same person afterwards. The undertones of that scene address interracial relations better than symposiums and Chamber luncheons ever could.

Anything else that you’d like people to know about you?
I’m heading to Las Vegas in August to take magic performance classes with Jeff McBride, one of the world’s leading magicians.

Kiss Me, Kate opens June 7 and runs through June 30. Don't miss Steven - buy your tickets before they disappear!

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Kiss Me, Kate" Cast Spotlight: Ruth Planey

Ruth Planey has been involved at Asheville Community Theatre both onstage and backstage since moving to town in 2003.  She's helped to build or paint almost every Mainstage set over the past decade, but has recently stepped into the spotlight.  Ruth is also out and about performing around the area: from harmonizing on a bluegrass tune at the Fletcher Feed and Seed to singing the National Anthem at an Asheville Tourists baseball game, Ruth loves an opportunity to let her voice ring! Plus, she's pretty darn funny -  

Why did you audition for Kiss Me, Kate?
Two reasons: I love to sing and wanted the chance to wear a pretty medieval costume. Since I’ve been typecast as the old lady or bag woman I’m hoping that as the Wardrobe Lady in Kiss Me, Kate, I’ll get to wear something other than a raggedy, old dress and support hose.

Which shows have you done at ACT? 
Diva*licious in 2010, and back to back shows in 2011: Guys & Dolls and Dashing through the Snow

Three's Company: Ruth with her husband Steve
 and trusty dog, Scout
But you've been involved at ACT for much longer, right?
Yes! My husband and I answered ACT’s ad in the Mountain Xpress when we first moved to Asheville in 2003. We’ve volunteered with the set build crew and formed strong, lasting friendships that I treasure. We love it when the actors come and help build the set. It gives us a chance to get to know them a wee bit and it’s always nice to be able to say HI. Since I’m usually dressed in paint splattered clothes and ugly hair, a lot of people don’t recognize me when I clean up but – they always remember our dog, Scout. If you come join us for set build, she’ll be the furry one laying in a pile of sawdust in the middle of the stage.

Have you met new friends in the cast?
It’s good to see familiar faces, but even better to meet new folks. I love the fact that ACT brings in new blood for each production. It keeps the theater vibrant, alive and exciting. 

Plus, I have to say the female ensemble is amazing.  These women have such strong, beautiful voices and have way more stage experience than I do that I'm in awe of them.  We've jelled as a group, support each other, and get together in the dressing room when we're not needed on stage to run over our parts which has been a great help. 

Which number in the show are you most excited about performing? "Bianca" Why? I’m so used to singing the melody or a third above that finding my note in four part harmony way below the melody line has been a real challenge. Besides we get to lust after Bill, Bianca’s boyfriend. 

Are there people in your life who have never seen you on stage? What do you think will surprise them?
I wish my parents had lived long enough to see me perform. Lesson learned - don’t put things off. My hat is off to the fabulous young people I’ve met at ACT who have the guts and passion to go for it – whatever IT might be. 

At what age did you first know you wanted to act or sing or dance?
I always said I wanted to sing and dance on Broadway so when I was reincarnated I’d come back as Shirley MacLaine. Wellll – at age 60 I finally got to appear – off Broadway in ACT’s Diva*licious fundraiser. Now I might decide to come back as Megan Hilty – that girl can sell a song! - except I’ll keep my dark hair. Unlike my two sisters, I’ve never wanted to be a blonde. 

If you could appear onstage with any classic actor or actress, who would it be and why? 
This isn’t the answer you were looking for, but Cheryl Burke from Dancing with the Stars. The woman is amazing! I’d give anything to make my body move like hers, and she always gets into the character of the music. She becomes the song and is believable. Let’s hope I can do just a smidge of that on stage.

Kiss Me, Kate opens June 7 - and from what we've seen of the choreography, we think Cheryl Burke would be pretty proud of Ruth! Don't miss the show - get your tickets

Friday, May 17, 2013

"Kiss Me, Kate" Cast Spotlight: Dwight Chiles

Kiss Me, Kate has a huge cast (28!) consisting of newcomers and veterans to the ACT stage. We wanted to get to know everyone a little better, so we're planning to feature each of them in our "Cast Spotlight" feature here on the blog!

Here's looking at you, Dwight!
We're starting with Dwight Chiles, who has appeared on stages across town in productions for the Montford Park Players (recently as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest) and Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collective (in this spring's Vesta). After Kiss Me, Kate, he'll be journeying up the road to Burnsville to appear in Parkway Playhouse's The Mystery of Edwin Drood. We are beyond thrilled that Kiss Me, Kate came at just the right time for this busy actor!

How did Kiss Me, Kate hook you? 
I used to do musicals all the time but I had not done one in about a year so I was kind of going through withdrawals.  That is why I auditioned.  Most people I have worked with on stage have not heard me sing, so I am excited for them all to hear me.

You've done so much theatre around town and know a lot of people.  Have you met new friends in this cast? I have met a ton of new people!  The last show I did with ACT was three years ago so everyone I met was new for the most part.

"Were Thine That Special Face": Dwight as Lady
Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest 
You're a huge Shakespeare fan - do you have a favorite quote? "To thine own self be true" - Hamlet.  And if given the choice to work with any actor, I would choose Patrick Stewart in King Lear at the Globe Theatre just so I could learn from one of the best.

What has been your favorite moment from rehearsals? Probably when I asked the director if I could pretend to be looking at a dirty magazine during "Too Darn Hot" and she said that is exactly what I am doing!  It was awesome.  

Which number in the show are you most excited about performing? "Were Thine That Special Face" - I love the song and I get to sing it with my good friend Adam, who is a great singer.

What's the #1 reason to see Kiss Me, Kate? It is HILARIOUS!!!  Also the cast is incredibly talented...if I do say so myself. I have really enjoyed working with this cast and crew and it is going to be a wonderful show!  Come see for yourself!

Kiss Me, Kate opens June 7 - don't miss Dwight as Riley/Hortensio! Get your tickets here!