John DuVall is one of the founders of Actors Collaborative Toledo and has been an active member of the Toledo-area theater community as an actor and director. He’s leaving the Toledo area to become artistic managing director of the Lakeland Cultural Arts Centre in Littleton, N.C. He talks with The Blade about his career and the local theater scene.
John DuVall has performed in about 60 productions locally and is a founding member of Actors Collaborative Toledo. He soon will become artistic managing director of the Lakeland Cultural Arts Centre in Littleton, N.C.
Q: When did you get your start in theater?
A: My first play was at the Maumee Summer Civic Theater in 1982, in a children’s theater program. Then I did theater all through high school in Maumee High School. I’ve directed Actors Collaborative Toledo productions primarily.
Q: What caught your interest back then?
A: I loved the spectacle of theater. I think as a younger person I craved the applause, more than I do now. Now it is more the process and the camaraderie of rehearsal that culminates in the production, and the words of theater, the vocabulary, and the characters. I guess I’ve been an avid reader since childhood, I was drawn to the characters in books, so the idea of bringing those characters to life, and becoming characters, was intriguing to me — the idea of being able to lose yourself onstage.
Q: How many shows have you appeared in locally?
A: I would say probably about 60, between fully staged shows and readings. I started doing theater at the Toledo Rep in the late 1980s. Paul Causman, Barbara Barkan, and Jeff Albright are the three directors I’ve learned the most from.
In the fall, the Lakeland Cultural Arts Centre [where DuVall will be the new artistic managing director] is marking the 100th anniversary of the building and there will be a big celebration, and that will include a piece by me; I can’t give it up yet.
Q: Which roles have you enjoyed the most?
A: The roles I’ve enjoyed the most are the ones that challenged me the most. One that sticks out is Reggie in Quartet. I played a 75-year-old British tenor. That is one of the first roles that took me out of the ingenue role, the nice guy, the pretty guy, the love interest, and it allowed me to be something I’ve never been. And in Hosanna I played an aging Canadian drag queen. She was not as pretty as she once was, and is treated cruelly; she realizes she’s not what she was. Lately it’s been about accepting I’m aging and what has taken me to this next level of roles. It makes me realize my own mortality, but on the other hand all these wonderful roles are opening up. The dream role I want to play is George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Q: Was there ever any stage fright? Could you tell pretty quickly that you were a good actor?
A: Oh, there was definitely stage fright. I think every actor should be nervous before a show; it gives that rush of adrenaline, I think it keeps people on their toes. I still get nervous before a performance and I try to tell students and people new to theater that that’s a good thing, that you want to use that energy for a better performance.
As for the second part of the question, I don’t think I was particularly good when I started out. Like any craft, you get better at acting the more you do it. You have to listen to your directors and learn from their expertise. Nobody knows everything, so listen to people, watch people, learn from people.
Q: Why did you decide to help start Actors Collaborative Toledo? Its website notes it was formed in August, 2013, with the staged reading of Walter Cronkite is Dead by Joe Calarco at the historic Mansion View Inn.
A: We [DuVall, Barkan, and Albright] were doing the readings and getting a lot of great feedback that there was no other theater in town doing contemporary shows and challenging shows. As our audiences grew at the Mansion View, and, especially when it was sold, we realized it was too important to let go.
We really liked the idea of having “Collaborative” in the title. We realized it was about different theaters collaborating with us, and us collaborating with other nonprofits, that we could all benefit. We have collaborations coming up with the Village Players, [presenting Realistic Joneses, fully staged in July, and with Cutting Edge Theatre Company. Cutting Edge is presenting The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged, also in July, with Albright directing. ACT is collaborating with the Valentine Theatre’s Studio A production of Crumbs from the Table of Joy, in performances Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.]
Q: What are the strengths of the Toledo area theater scene, and what could be improved?
A: The arts community in general ... there’s a great music scene, art, glass-blowing is really strong, people are drawn to the visual arts. And there’s a really strong theater scene; that is proven by the fact that there are so many theater groups starting. But I don’t feel that live theater gets the same respect, maybe [it’s] even taken for granted. Toledo theater does some really great stuff, and I’d like to see the local scene get the attention and respect it deserves. The weakness I see is that there are too many [groups], it’s going to weaken the talent pool. There’s already so much to do in Toledo.
Q: What play or musical would you always go to see?
A: A Sondheim [work], or Sweeney Todd, or Sunday in the Park with George, and I would always go to see Shakespeare. And I’ve always been drawn to contemporary works.
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