BWW Interviews: Actor and Author Arthur Wooten
There are times when artists cross over onto different artistic paths. Actors become authors. Dancers become directors. That has occurred with New York actor Arthur Wooten who began authoring novels seven years ago. With several under his belt, his latest DIZZY: A FICTIONAL MEMOIR shares stories of the New York acting world along with a truly inspirational story based on the author’s actual life. BroadwayWorld talked to the actor turned author about his latest work that uses Broadway as the backdrop for the book.
BWW: Arthur, I’m so glad to talk to you about this book that I absolutely loved! First, tell the readers a little about your background as an actor.
Arthur Wooten: I was a child actor and describe a bit more of that later on. But while attending UMass at Amherst and majoring in pre-veterinarian medicine, I was cast in Dames At Sea. And I didn’t catch the acting bug; I was knocked out by the virus. This had to be my life. So I switched my major to theatre and communications and was cast in several other musicals while studying there. Some were comedies/satires like Adaptation/Next others quite dramatic like playing Queenie in Fortune In Men’s Eyes.
On weekend evenings I was a singing waiter at the Jolly Bull restaurant. Thank GOD I could sing and entertain because I was the world’s worst waiter. We did concert style versions of shows like Cabaret, Godspell and Brigadoon. And each summer while still in college I went off and did summer stock. In DIZZY there is a flashback where Angie talks about her summer stock gig at the Off-Broadway Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine. And I really did survive doing thirteen musicals in repertory within a ten-week period. It was mind-boggling. Honestly, if it was Tuesday, it was Call Me Madam. But what a learning experience. I also spent a summer at Penn State with the American Theatre Festival doing Wonderful Town and Girl Crazy. Not only were they great productions but I met two of my longtime, best friends – Broadway press agent Sam Rudy and actress Mia Dillon.
Once moving to New York City I was first cast in the children’s musical Dirty Ferdie Comes Clean playing Lester The Laundry Bag down at the Provincetown Playhouse and then a slew of dinner theatre jobs came my way. I also worked in regional theatre and of course, the infamous bus and truck tours. One of those productions, The Sound of Music, ended up in the book. Then I segued into commercials, soap operas and small bits of film work. Then I retired from acting back in 1985. I never did make it to Broadway but am proud that I never stopped working. Then I discovered a love for writing and my first TV pilot, A New Leash on Life – about a NYC dogwalker, was optioned by Dick Cavett of all people. Next, I found myself at William Morris – and the rest is, as they say, history.
You have such a knack for translating some wonderful backstage stories into your novel. Did you have to change names to protect the innocent?
I hope I did. Minor changes. Some people will clearly pick up on whom I’m really dishing about. But some things like the schools and theatres – like HB Studios, the Off-Broadway Theatre or Production-Center Studios are real places. Like in my novel ON PICKING FRUIT and its sequel FRUIT COCKTAIL, my lawyer suggested I change the names and the dates I “fictionally” wrote about. Actually, I wanted to keep their real names in and convict the guilty. Just kidding. Kinda.
Smart that you did! Did you know you always wanted to be a performer?
I’m not quite sure I knew I wanted to be a performer – I just performed! The first show I remember doing I must have been about eight and it was Rumpelstiltskin. Staged in my garage, I produced, directed, and acted in it demanding that everyone involved, including myself, perform the show on roller skates. I guess I was thinking outside of the box even then. (I also charged kids in the neighborhood to watch me ride my unicycle.) But growing up in Andover, MA, we had a fantastic theatre department in school, which also did full scale productions in the summer. I was cast in quite a few shows where they did lavish productions with full orchestras and exact replicas of the Broadway sets. I remember doing Mame, Funny Girl, The King And I, The Music Man, to name a few. They were really top-notch productions.
As a writer and theater person myself, I’ve always said that writing novels is just another way in which I can tell stories: same as if I’m on stage performing or directing a show. Do you agree?
Oh totally. And as writers we get to wear all the hats. We’re the director, casting agent, costume designer, set designer, etc. I studied at HB Studios and worked with Bob Elston and Uta Hagen. It was her book, RESPECT FOR ACTING that strongly influenced not only my acting but eventually my writing too. When I write a character, I know everything about them. Often mannerisms or habits they have never make it into the books. But when I know my characters that well, I can put them into any scene and the material almost writes itself. And because you and I are actors, Gregory, I think it’s easier to slip ourselves into other people’s shoes. I owe so much of my writing success to my acting background.
Why did you choose to fictionalize this book instead of creating it as a real memoir about yourself?
Simple answer – my life is too boring. I say that half-seriously. I love my life and some exciting things have happened but when I was diagnosed with the same disease that Angie, our lead character has, I had a writing career that I could continue doing. Granted, I have to take breaks from the computer because it makes my symptoms pretty scary but I didn’t have to give it up. In the book, the lead character is an actress, singer, and dancer. You can’t do that when you have symptoms as extreme as mine. I think it makes for a much more exciting if not heartbreaking story. Angie has to completely reinvent herself.