I had the pleasure of meeting John when I took his intro to acting essentials class. It was pure fun. He is a natural teacher and an accomplished actor and director. He is also a great person and one you can have a good laugh with.
How did you get started in acting?
I was a funeral director, an embalmer. I was living with three roommates and we were always joking around. They said ‘you should audition for something’. So I did. I went to the Ottawa Little Theatre and auditioned for a part. I didn’t get the part I auditioned for but [I did get] a part with no lines. I thought even better ‘cause then I can just sort of watch. This was in 1992. The next play I auditioned for I got the lead part and then I did about seven or eight plays in a row at various theatres in town.
You then moved to Toronto…
I realized that this was what I wanted to do so I packed up and moved to Toronto. I took a bunch of workshops. I did anything. I did some really bad studio film stuff. I started working with Al Waxman, he was a big Canadian actor and director, doing scene work for a year. He introduced me to an agent after which I started getting better work.
More opportunity for learning, taking workshops, classes and also more stuff happening. At that point I was more interested in getting involved with film and television. I did a part but while I was doing that I realized that I enjoyed stage more.
What is it about the stage that you prefer?
I like the process, the way it evolves from the read through, getting a script, reading it, rehearsals. I enjoy discovering things and having a laugh, making things work, trying it over and over again, you get so many chances to do it. I like the whole tradition of it: opening night, closing night, matinees, doing double shows on Saturday. The immediacy, you say something and you get a laugh or a reaction, you hear it. In television you don’t really know. It’s so disjointed and so rushed.
Toronto to London, England…
I was walking down the street and had an epiphany. I was doing a show for two and a half years, the same show Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding. I had a great time but I needed a new adventure, I was bored. So I thought I would move to England, be an actor, drink coffee and talk acting, very romantic. I quit the show that week, withdrew all my money, about $800 [laughs], and moved to England. I never acted but I went to the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and took classes for two years. It was a fantastic experience. It felt like you were living the life and I learned a lot.
You then came back to Canada?
I came back to Ottawa and oddly enough after that things really started to pick up for me as far as acting. You would think London, Toronto but that was where I was learning. When I got to Ottawa I fell into more opportunity. I had a history behind me that people would notice, and it meant more here. So I got involved as a writer in a TV show, I was acting for TV shows; I did a few plays at the Gladstone Theatre and won a bunch of awards. I had been given a lifetime achievement award, the Audrey Ashley Award when I was 48 and there are only 8 of them in the city. I am not really done yet. Then I started the studio with Chris three years ago.
What drew you to teaching?
It’s much like acting. I took to it very easily. I took so many workshops and studied with so many people. I took all the stuff that was good and exciting and put together a mini curriculum that worked for me and that I knew people would have fun with. I enjoy watching people evolve from the first class to the eighth. You don’t see that big leap anywhere else. Everyone is all scared at the start because they think they are going to be running around like giraffes doing stupid things like that and they are nervous, which I don’t make them do. I know that I am going to win, every class, I know that people are going to have a good time. That is what I get out it. It’s so much fun. The leap form ‘oh my god I am scared’ to ‘this is fantastic and I want to do more’.
What draws you to a part?
I know my limitations. I do a good job in the parts that I do because I don’t just do anything and everything. I haven’t done a play in a year and a half, I have had opportunities but I know hearing about it or reading the script that I wouldn’t do a good job.
So what is it that you do well?
I play the angry person quite well [laughs]. And I do that a lot. I am not a good character actor. I am a very natural actor that is good at playing the tormented person, the conflicted person, the angry person, those parts I do very well.
What is about these parts that works for you?
I can identify with it because I can do it because really I am always angry, I am almost always angry but it is covered by a thin layer of normalcy. So for acting it’s right there. It’s totally accessible.
What’s the role you have enjoyed playing the most so far?
I would say when I did David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross at the Gladstone a year and a half ago. I will tell you why, which is probably what you are hoping [laughs]. We decided to do it over a beer at the pub. I was with Steve Martin who owns the Gladstone and Chris and we were thinking about plays that we would love to do at some point and we all said Glengarry and Glen Ross, it is the ultimate guy play, phenomenal. So we are all going ‘yeah that would be amazing’ so why don’t we do it??? We have got one guy who owns a theatre, and we have three actors who all want to do it, and two of them can produce it, have rehearsal space. We literally cast it there on the spot. We were all friends doing it, we laughed our asses off back stage, we partied every night doing it, and we had a blast. We sold out every show and we won Best Production Capital Critics Awards and it was such an incredible thing. It is magic of chemistry. We swept the awards that year. We won best production against the NAC, GCTC, seven other theatres.
What’s your next gig?
I am in a show in May 2016. It’s part of the Extremely Short New Play Festival. There are ten 10-minute plays. This is the fourth year that it has been done and it is quite an honour to be in it. It has always been done at the Arts Court Theatre but this year we are doing it at the Avalon because the Arts Court is under construction. The director is very adventurous and always has a vision, whether it is colors, images or something else there is always some very cool way that it is done.
What’s the future of stage?
There is audience decline across North America. It’s really subscription decline. Established theatres depend on subscribers who buy season tickets. They get all their money in the spring when they do their big drive of renewals so they have x number of dollars to plan their season. When that is gone, they are fighting play after play for single walk in tickets.
The world is changing so theatres have to keep up with that change. A lot of theatres are closing and a lot more theatres are going to close. It is going to be a much smaller form of entertainment. People ask about the competition between theatres but it’s not the competition that is the problem. If you enjoy something you will go see lots of it. The competition is from Best Buy and Future Shop. These stores are designed to keep people indoors. Everything they sell is to tell you don’t leave your house. How do you convince someone to get out of their house in February, get into their car, drive downtown, find parking, go into a theatre and see a play that may or may not be any good? Because you don’t know. You can’t see a preview. You see a poster and a name and you hope it’s good or it could blow.
Theatre is a form of entertainment. People forget that. Theatre people sometime shove their head up their own ass when they are writing plays about tortured souls and you know blah blah. We are no different than jugglers, we are entertaining an audience, not trying to change the world, well some are, I am not.