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!

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