Friday, July 13, 2012

Profile: Ken Webster, Hyde Park Theatre, by the B. Iden Payne Awards Council

Ken is featured artist of the month for July at the 'Artist Profile' page of the reformulated B. Iden Payne Awards Council:

B. Iden Payne Awards Council



Ken Webster, Hyde Park Theatre
Ken Webster, Hyde Park Theatre
Youthful aspirations: I wanted to be a baseball player when I was a kid, but I was a terrible  baseball player, so that wasn’t going to happen. I went to the  University of Houston, where I started out as a drama major, but then I  panicked and decided I would never be able to make a living doing  theatre, so I became a radio, television and film major.

Early career: After I graduated, I had a job offer to be a disc jockey in Baton  Rouge, but I got the itch to do theatre again, so I came to Austin, with  no job prospects. I came to Austin for a woman who I never wound up  dating. I was interested in this woman, and I thought that since I was  in the same city, we might strike up a relationship. That didn’t work  out [laughs].

Multi-talented: Some people think I’m a better actor than a director; some people might  think I’m a better director than actor. I don’t know which is true.  I’ve been acting longer than I’ve been directing. I started acting in  Austin in 1979; I started directing out of necessity in 1982. I was  producing a show and I lost my director, so I wound up directing Little Murders. Mary Louise Parker was in that cast.

Strengths: I think I have pretty good taste in scripts and pretty good taste in  actors. Even people who think I’m not the greatest director in the world  will tell you I’m pretty good at casting [laughs]. There’s a common  misperception that I cast the same people in my shows. I’ve been  directing [in Austin] now for 30 years, and I’ve cast over 200 actors,  and any time I [re]cast one of those 200 actors, people go, “Aha! You  see? He casts the same actors!” In the show I’m doing now [Tigers Be Still], there are two actors I’ve never worked with before.

What he looks for in actors: Sanity is a very valued commodity – who is the most sane and pleasant  and seemingly easy to work with. I look for people who are open to  trying different things and aren’t totally set in their ways.

Challenges: We tend to do smaller cast shows for economic reasons and space issues.  We don’t have the most luxurious or spacious dressing rooms. Middletown will be really challenging because I have 11 actors playing 23 roles.

Influential Figures: I met my wife, Katherine Catmull, at an audition at Hyde Park Theatre in 1984. I was having auditions for Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet. Katherine was the roommate of an actor who I wanted to  cast in the role of Danny Shapiro; and I mistakenly thought they were a  couple, because they were living together, and she read really well. I  thought it would be neat to cast these real-life lovers in the roles of  the lovers in the play. I came to find out they weren’t dating; they  were just platonic friends. My wife has been really supportive all these  years. She turned me on to Harold Pinter, which really changed my  professional career. Jim Fritzler, who was head of Big State  Productions, is probably the best director I’ve ever worked with and he  taught me a lot about directing. He had great instincts, was really  great at working with actors, and he also had excellent taste in  scripts. He was kind of a curmudgeon at times, but he such a sweet and  gentle man when he’s directing.

Coming up: Tigers Be Still by Kim Rosenstock – a wonderful comedy with some serious bits thrown in; Middletown by Will Eno in September and October; and the 20th anniversary of Fronterafest.

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