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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Tom Story

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Tom Story
Tom Story

Today's subject might be considered one of the hardest working guys in show business. Tom Story is currently living his theatre life on both sides of the footlights. His expertly directed production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe finishes its successful run at Adventure Theatre MTC in Glen Echo, MD this weekend. You can also see him onstage in the one-man play Fully Committed at MetroStage in Alexandria, VA through January 8th.

Tom has performed at most of the area's largest and most recognized theatre companies in everything from Shakespeare to Broadway musicals - sometimes during the same season because Tom never stops working. This current season is a prime example. He started things out with the Tony Kushner's epic, Angels in America at Round House Theatre, went straight into directing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and started rehearsals for Fully Committed for MetroStage. This is only the end of December, folks. Read on for the rest of Tom's season.

To give you an idea of Tom's versatility, a few of his many area credits include The Taming of the Shrew as well as many other classics and Shakespeare plays, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Shakespeare Theatre Company. He also performed in Next Fall and Seminar at Round House Theatre; Oliver and The Book Club Play at Arena Stage; A Christmas Carol, The Glass Menagerie, 1776 and Sabrina Fair at Ford's Theatre; Pop!, Silence! The Musical, Legends, and Moonlight at Studio Theatre. He also appeared in The Clockmaker at the Hub Theatre.

Regionally, Tom has performed at McCarter Theatre Center and Yale Repertory in Tartuffe, or the Imposter; Seattle Repertory Theatre in Romeo and Juliet; Milwaukee Repertory Theater and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in Peter and the Starcatcher; and in co- productions of The Winter's Tale and Twelfth Night at McCarter Theatre Center and Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Many actors say they want to direct and lately Tom has been able to do just that. Besides The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Tom has staged Moth and Terminus for Studio Theatre and Design for Living at Berkshire Theatre Group.

I think you'll agree that Tom Story is one of the most versatile actor/director types the area has to offer. He never turns in a bad performance and watching him onstage always gives you a memorable night in the theatre. 2017 will give you several more opportunities to see Tom Story in action so get ready for some more great theatre from one great DC artist.

Most people know you as a performer. You recently have been getting a little more into directing in addition to keeping a very busy performing schedule. Was directing something you always wanted to do?

Yes, I always thought I would have been a director much sooner, but I kept getting acting work. Michael Kahn told me when I graduated from Julliard that I should be a director, which I was offended by at first because I thought it meant that he didn't want me to be an actor. But I just think he recognized my potential to think in big-picture ideas. It took me about 15 years after school to really start directing. I took a class at Studio Theatre with my other mentor, Joy Zinoman, and she also encouraged me to direct.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Tom Story
Audrey Bertaux and Chris Dinolfo in Adventure Theatre MTC's production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Production directed by Tom Story. Photo by Michael Horan.

What was it about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that intrigued you and prompted you to say "yes" to directing it for Adventure Theatre MTC?

Well I have always loved the story of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It was one of my favorite books as a child in elementary school. I was also intrigued by the creativity involved in a two-person version of this story. I don't really watch a lot of TV. I like movies, but I don't frequent them. I love theatre; it's what I grew up doing and it's what I've devoted my life to. So, the idea of two people portraying all these characters intrigued me both for the potential for performance and the potential for creating many different locations in a short of amount of time directorially. I thought it would be a really creative thing to be a part of.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a large-scale story. In this version, all of the characters are played by two actors. Can you please talk about how decisions were masde as to who would play which part? Did the script give you any indication?

The script calls for a young man and a young woman (it's Lucy and Peter who are characters in the story and are telling the story), and it specifies the characters they play. We have moved things around a little bit in our production as it was written very specifically to be on a bare stage. We wanted to flesh it out and do a bigger holiday version of the show.

How is it different directing a show for young audiences? Do you have to make any compromises that you wouldn't have to if it were a piece for Studio Theatre or another adult company?

I've seen a lot of shows at Adventure Theatre MTC, and I've loved them, mostly directed by or starring my friends. The reason I wanted to work here is that I always thought the level of the work was so high and creative. I didn't feel like the shows pandered to children or talked down to them, but that they were really beautiful pieces of theatre that parents could enjoy as well as children. I haven't approached this story in a young audience-specific way; I'm just trying to accomplish a really beautiful version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

You were in rehearsals for the one-person play Fully Committed at MetroStage while directing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. How did you juggle rehearsing two shows at the same time?

It's probably the busiest I've ever been, and I've done many overlaps in 17 years. It's wasn't easy.

I was rehearsing the show at MetroStage in Alexandria, VA and directing a show in Glen Echo, MD, so the commute alone was pretty intense. I used my time in the car to connect with family and friends on my headset. There is a similarity in the two shows in that both shows require actors to play multiple roles, so it's been kind of fascinating directing a play and then going into a play and helping a director shape my own work. They complement each other, but it is intense.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Tom Story
Tom Story in MetroStage's production of Fully Committed. Photo by Chris Banks.

Fully Committed has undergone some rewrites from its production in New York. Is this the first time the rewrites will be seen in production, and can you please tell us a little bit about the show in general?

Yes. This is the new version of the script and the first time it has been done since Broadway. The show was written 20 years ago by two friends who worked the reservation line at a fancy restaurant. In 20 years, technology has changed, but people haven't. We follow Sam on one particularly busy day. No one else shows up for work so he has to handle everything. I play all of the people calling in and all of the personalities of the restaurant staff. It's like a one-man farce really.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Tom Story
Tom Story and Ted Van Griethuysen in Studio Theatre's 2000-2001 production of The Invention of Love. Photo by Carol Pratt.

You always have a full season of work. How do you get most of your jobs? Is it from people asking you directly or do you have a really good agent?

I still occasionally use an agent In NYC who I signed with after I graduated from Juilliard, but mostly I get work myself. Sometimes people offer me roles and other times I audition. Lining up a season can be tough. Since this is how I make a living I often have overlaps in my schedule. I'm not complaining. I get to act for a living. I'm very lucky, but sometimes it's a challenge to constantly be working on something. I think the creative process needs time to recharge and I worry that I don't give myself that time. However, I can't really do anything else so if I don't act I don't eat.

You recently finished the marathon epic Angels in America at Round House Theatre. Was that show on your bucket list to perform before you were cast? Are there any other roles you would like to play that you think will ever match Prior in Angels?

I'm not sure anything will ever match Prior in that I was so connected to it. I had always wanted to do the play and I had long deep connections to it. It was absolutely debilitating to go through every day. He is sick from the moment we meet him and just keeps getting worse. But it was also thrilling. That play is everything I love about theatre. It is full of complicated ideas and people who love language and use it to get what they want. It has so much humor, rage, and sadness. We all felt such a responsibility to the play. I've never seen a group of people care more about something.

What's in store for you the rest of the season?

As You Like It at the Folger Theatre, Blood Knot at Mosaic Theater Company, and School for Lies at Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Special thanks to Adventure Theatre MTC's Communications Director Amanda Bradley and MetroStage's Producing Artistic Director Carolyn Griffin for their assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.

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