Scott Coblio: Name one person, if you can, who influenced your decision to become an artist more than anyone else, and why.
Chris Reidy: Well, besides my mother, whose job it was to buy me crayons and paper and give me her absolute support with any artistic endeavor; I would have to say Dale Shannon. She was my seventh grade English teacher. She encouraged my writing outside of school and even after I was her student; so like, from age 12 to about 15. Her giving me that gift of mentorship (and friendship) really boosted my confidence in not just writing; but everything else, really. I haven't been in touch with her in some time; but if you're reading this Miss Shannon, thank you! Seventh grade was a long time ago; but I think the writing thing is finally starting to click.
SC: Which is the lesser of these two evils: Boring an audience or embarrassing yourself onstage?
CR: Well, I would most decidedly say that the greater of those two evils is boring an audience. The only way an actor can embarrass themselves onstage is to go unprepared: particularly regarding lines. If you start fumbling for dialogue, it's over. Sure, everyone "goes up" once in a while; but that should be a rarity. Boring an audience is torture for everyone. I'd rather see an actor give it all, to the point of overacting, even if it's awful acting, than the reverse. I've done it many a time, to try and save a play I'm in, that I know is a stinker.
SC: If an actor improvises on opening night to improve his part, at the expense of the play--but it makes him famous--did he/she do the right thing?
CR: If it's at the expense of the play (even if the actor knows it's a bad play); then it's also at the expense of his castmates. So, yes, that would be wrong. If an actor is good enough to improve his part through improvisation, then he or she will probably get "famous" anyway. With a little luck that is. I am known to improvise in parts. But only to improve a play; never at its expense. I know some actors don't like it. But if I am in a lead role, then I feel I have that luxury. However, I am often asked to cleave to the exact text by the producers and I will. I was doing the play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. I was Vanya. He has a fifteen-page speech that goes on for a long time. Well, you have to make that come to life for the audience because they're going to get bored after five minutes, even if they like what they're hearing. I never delivered that speech the same way twice. Sorry Christopher Durang.
SC: Does it matter whether the actor feels the emotion themselves, as long as they can make the audience feel it?
CR: Sometimes. I think the actor needs to feel the emotion to some extent in drama, love stories and heavier stuff. But I don't think you have to "live" it every night. You're acting. It's all pretend. I don't care how deep into the Method you are; but you were never the King of England. A friend saw me in Camelot and she said I made her cry. In the scenes she mentioned I was actually very happy; but I was emotional from the music; and I think that's what came through to her.
SC: How do you feel about "breaking to laugh" in comedy?
CR: I must confess, I love it. I'm very prone to it. If an actor finds the comedy or the person he's working with so funny that he cracks; he or she brings the audience along with them. Laughter is indeed contagious. However, consciously trying to get other actors to break because you're trying to be cute, is a bit rude.
SC: Have you ever seen a play so bad you left before it was over?
CR: No. But that's not to say I haven't been to some pretty bad plays. I find that it's usually the stuff that's trying to be "edgy" that usually goes south. I hate the snobbery in the theater world. Community theater is often scoffed at and that's a shame. I've seen some and been in some amazing local productions. I saw a friend's daughter's high school production of The Boyfriend once and it was as good as anything I've seen on Broadway.
SC: Do you think the need to perform is a method of working through some early trauma?
CR: I'm sure for some performers that is the case. Maybe the trauma of not having had your voice heard when you were growing up. But I think more often people get into performing because of shyness. It's one way to overcome it. But probably, mostly, a person does a show and they get bitten by the bug. Because it can be a blast. A kind of high. For me, a lot of it is the social element.
SC: Describe yourself using three adjectives.
CR: Wistful. Curious. Affable.
SC: Is an actor's job ever truly done until they've played a witch?
CR: We should find a crystal ball and ask Ruth Gordon.
SC: Recite the dumbest elocution exercise you know.
CR: Hmmmm. I guess "Red leather, yellow leather" is pretty goofy. But it sounds like a great outfit for New Wave karaoke night!
SC: What was the worst acting advice you've ever gotten?
CR: "Never put your hands in your pockets."
SC: What was the best advice?
CR: "Make it work for you." This was advice not given to me at a theater or acting class; but when I was trying to learn a cash register at Lord and Taylor. I have applied this advice to many areas of my life.
SC: Does anyone really like Shakespeare?
CR: Of course! I just did my first Shakespeare play about a year ago. It is much more enjoyable if you know exactly what is being said. It really is like a foreign language.
SC: If you could ask Tennessee Williams' ghost one question, what would it be?
CR: "Mr. Williams' ghost; where do you stand/float on "camp"?
SC: Do bad reviews make you want to see a play more or less?
CR: Oh more! Unless the review is complaining of boredom. I would kill to go back in time and see Carrie: the Musical.
SC: Have you ever "sympathy laughed" for an actor or show that wasn't funny?
CR: No. I would be too fearful that my sympathy laugh wouldn't be convincing enough. I had this one director who used to do that to try and get the audience to laugh and it drove me nuts.
SC: Have you ever "sympathy laughed" only to discover it wasn't SUPPOSED to be funny?
CR: No. But speaking of inappropriate laughter: I was in Hedda Gabler once as Hedda's boyfriend/lover. I'm a frustrated writer and at one point, Hedda convinces me to go and kill myself with one of her father's dueling pistols. So she goes to a desk and pulls out a pistol with a foot-long barrel. That barrel just kept coming and coming and coming out of that desk drawer. The audience broke into hysterics. It couldn't be anything less than a comedy after that. But then, the audience gave us a standing ovation...so, who knows.
SC: If you could resurrect one dead thespian and put them in every show at the same time, who would it be.
CR: 30-something Cary Grant. Or mid-1960's Elizabeth Taylor. Can I have two?
SC: You're delivering a monologue when suddenly you walk off the stage and fall into the orchestra pit. You see someone filming it on their phone. Do you:
a) Threaten them with legal action if they post it?
b) Ask them to send it to you so YOU can post it?
c) Extend the disaster as long as you can, for maximum viral effect?
CR: Well, assuming I or one of the musicians wasn't hurt or killed, I guess I'd have to say "C." Which wouldn't have been my first impulse; but now that is the only thing I'm going to do if that ever happens! Maybe I should do it on purpose and plant someone there to film it!!!
SC: What IS the chorus all saying to each other when they're supposed to be gossiping amongst themselves?
CR: Oh, just "murmur, murmur, murmur."
Check out Scott's gorgeous Doll World! portraits at the WeHo Wash @ 7757 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles CA or his Facebook page.