Five years ago the Royal Palm Players turned to director Tad Ingram to fill in when another artistic helmsman had to bail.
He's trod the Boca Grande Community Center Auditorium boards ever since becoming a fixture in the RPP stable of directorial talent. This year, however, Ingram believes he has the best material in Neil Simon's "California Suite" and the most talent in his 10-member cast. Here's why.
QUESTION: Why do you say this cast has the most talent assembled under your RPP direction?
ANSWER: This Neil Simon show was originally conceived as a star vehicle for four actors (Jane Fonda, Alan Alda, Maggie Smith and Michael Caine, 1978) two of whom would be in all of the scenes. The difference here is we're using 10 local actors (including Ann Fletcher, Dan Headington, Margaret Bush, Wendy Melvin, Linda Rollyson and Jim Sullivan). It's a great cast. Essentially everyone is committed to doing the best job they can.
Q: How have rehearsals been coming along with so many cast members?
A: In rehearsals, at times, we come to a complete stop because we're all laughing so hard. Our goal with RPP is for the people involved to have fun. If the actors on stage are not having fun up there, the audience cannot have fun out here.
What: Royal Palm Players "California Suite"
Who: Starring Ann Fletcher, Dan Headington, Margaret Bush, Wendy Melvin, Linda Rollyson and Jim Sullivan
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 7-9, 2 p.m. Feb. 10
Where: Boca Grande Community Center Auditorium, 131 First St.
Contact: Call (941) 964-2670, e-mail RoyalPalmPlayers@embarqmail.com or go to RoyalPalmPlayers.com or ticketturtle.com.
Feb. 7-10: California Suite
Tad Ingram at a glance
Birthdate: Sept. 11, 1948
Occupation: actor, director and teacher
Family: married since 1976 with one daughter (a professional actress)
Education: master's degrees in acting and teaching
Favorite actor: Kenneth Branagh, there's something about him, and Daniel Day-Lewis, I wouldn't have said it before, in "Lincoln."
Discovered Boca Grande: Was asked to fill in as Royal Palm Players director in 2008.
Q: How did you become connected with RPP?
A: My career is still as a professional actor but now that I'm in Florida, I'm not out there looking for work. I want to be home with my wife, who is a full-time professor in theater at the University of Central Florida. One year, another UCF professor, Lani Harris, who had been directing at RPP, couldn't come any more. She called and asked if I'd do this gig. And they've invited me back every year for the last five years.
Q: You're a pro. The RPP is all-volunteer community theater. What makes you want to work with RPP?
A: The challenge is what I enjoy. I also teach from time to time. It's just a natural progression. I challenge myself to get the best out of these actors that I can get. I challenge them to leave the experience knowing more than when they came in. That's the teacher in me. My satisfaction comes when I see the light bulb in their head go on and they see a construct of the craft acting that they've never seen before.
Q: Is there a key to actors evolving from reciting lines to really playing a role?
A: Spontaneity. You don't just sit at home and learn how you're going to say your lines. That's not acting. No! You learn your words and then come in, and if you never say the line the same way, that makes me pleased as can be. That means you're listening. It's not just a rote recitation. When they get over that hump they know they are coming much, much closer to crafting a performance. It means they really are acting, not just doing the school play and being told what to say and how to say it.
Q: What's another key?
A: Think like the character. Don't think about grandma or your husband sitting out in the audience. See the person in the scene with you and think as the character would. When they do it, that's when my satisfaction comes in.
Q: Do you have a favorite role in your acting career?
A: I've been on Broadway five times and done a bunch of national tours. Probably my favorite sentimental role was in Lanford Wilson's "Talley's Folly." I've done it three times. It's a one-act play. Just terrific.
Q: Why is this your sentimental favorite?
A: It was set in that wonderful time in post-World War II, when music was fun, big band, and here's this guy who has survived WWI and WWII, lost his parents and sister, and this guy still loves life and has a sense of humor. He's been wounded but he chooses to survive.
Q: Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon was the artistic director of the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta when you were working with him before he moved on to directing Broadway shows. Why is he your favorite director?
A: What I learned from Kenny - and I've never forgotten - is the simplicity of a director who just sits back and let's you do your stuff. His comment would be: "I didn't believe that." He wouldn't say much else. Then we would deconstruct and try to get back to these important crescendo moments and attack it from another angle. Then he would say: "OK, I believe that." What he made me aware of, it wasn't just the words, it was what we heard and what motivated us to do or say what we did.
Q: Why should people come to California Suite?
A: I have no doubt people will be entertained. How can they not with the great writing? They are going to have four different experiences in one evening with our four one-act plays.