Spotlight on Jay TilleyBy Laura & Mike Clark • Apr 25th, 2006 • Category: Interviews
Listen to our interview with Jay Tilley [MP3 24:18 7MB]; or read the transcript.
Laura: Welcome to the ShowBizRadio Spotlight. I’m Laura.
Mike: And I’m Mike and today we’re talking with Jay Tilley.
Jay: Hello, how are you all?
Mike: We’re doing well. Thanks for coming to talk with us.
Jay: Thanks for having me.
Mike: Tell us a little about yourself.
Jay: Again, my name is Jay Tilley. I’m a local actor in the Washington DC area. I’ve been acting in this area for about seven years. I made my acting debut in July 1999. It was in a production of Oklahoma with Community Alliance Supporting Theatre, which is what C.A.S.T. stands for. They perform every summer at the Alden Theatre in McLean, Virginia. I was in the ensemble as Mike, the guy with the three day belly ache. I’ve been performing ever since. I’ve performed everything from light operas and musicals to contemporary comedy and dramas, Shakespeare, as well as some tv and film work. Interestingly enough I didn’t major in theatre. I was a Journalism major at the University of South Carolina. I was a newspaper man and a reporter for a few years before I got into acting and have been acting ever since. I have worked with a lot of the community theaters in the area as well as some of the smaller professional theaters and dinner theaters.
Mike: Do you have a preference of those type of venues?
Jay: I’ve enjoyed it all. I haven’t had a chance to work with the major professional theaters yet, but I enjoy each of them for what they are. I enjoy community theater a lot. Out of all of them, community theater is the most fun. They’re all fun, but community theater is the most family like out of all of them. Everybody is there because they love theater. Most, in fact all, community theaters don’t pay any money to the actors. We’re there because we love theater, we love acting, and we want to put on the best show possible. I’ve made a lot of great friends through community theater that I still have today. I’ve met a lot of good people that I’d love to work with again. So there’s that aspect of community theater that I love.
Jay: Professional theater is nice, too because you some reward for your work with some money. It’s nice to have that air of professionalism. You’ve been hired to do a job based on your talents. You’re part of a bigger puzzle. You come in, do what you need to do and then you move on from there.
Jay: Dinner theater is kind of interesting because it combines two of my favorite things: acting and eating. It’s a different type of atmosphere. You are performing, but you also have the audience out there enjoying a good meal at the same time. When I did dinner theater I never waited tables. Some of my friends did, however. They would come out at intermission in costume and wait tables and then go back up on stage and perform. There are aspects of each I like, but they are basically all the same. I enjoy it all.
Mike: You’re not an actor full time.
Jay: No. I actually have a full time job. I work for a really nice company. They’re called the Dominion Group. They are a health care research firm in Reston, Virginia. It’s nice because it’s regular hours, eight to five with nice benefits. Good people to work with. They are supportive of me and my acting aspirations. The schedule is nice because it gives me my nights and weekends free so if I’m looking to pursue theater I have time to do that. One problem with professional theater is you sometimes have to be ready on a moments notice or during the day and have to take time off from work for rehearsals aor performances and right now that’s difficult to do that unles I use vacation time. There have been times when I’ve been able to work that out with a couple of the groups I’ve worked with. For now I do that because that’s what pays the bills and the rent. My wife and I are hoping one day to buy a house. One day I’m hoping to do this full time, but financially it’s just not possible right now. But I’m happy right now to do it as a part time job for little or no money working with groups like Castaways Repertory Theater and Vpstart Crow Productions in Manassas that I’ve worked a lot with over the last year and a half. As long as I’m acting, perfecting my craft, becoming a better actor and having fun. That’s what matters most to me.
Mike: Are you scared that if you were to do it full time as your day job it would no longer be fun because you would have to work to find work?
Jay: No, but it would be different. If you’re doing it full time it changes the face of the game a little bit. When you’re doing a performance professionally, when the show is over your job is done. So it’s up to you to find another job. If you don’t have a day job to support yourself or some type of work, you can be in big trouble. All of a sudden you have no income, no way to pay for food or rent. I don’t think it would take the fun out of it, but it would become more stressful as you’re always having to look for work. A lot of my friends in this area and up in New York who are full time actors are constantly looking for work outside the theater, even if it’s film work. Being an extra or something like that for tv or film. Or doing voice over work or books on tape for the Library of Congress. Also teaching acting or singing or working with kids. You’re constantly having to find work. That’s the challenge of being a professional actor. I think I would still have fun it would just be harder.
Laura: How do you chose a play?
Jay: It depends on different things. Sometimes I choose to do a show based on a director that I like or have worked with before. Or a director that I have never worked with before and would like to work with. Last year I was not planning to go out for Bell, Book, and Candle at Vpstart Productions. I was looking to do something somewhere else because I had already done three or four shows in a row with them. But my friend Don Peterson was directing. I had worked with him before. He had directed me in a production of Children of Eden at The Prince William Little Theatre back in January 2004. I loved working with him. I loved his style. He had a vision and basic things he wanted you to do as an actor, but he also gave me a lot of freedom to explore the character and come up with my own solutions. I chose to go out for that show and ended up getting cast because of him. Other times I’ll keep an eye out in the Post or various places on line. I’ll audition because I really want to do the show. Another example is Vpstart Crow was doing a production Of Mice and Men last sunmmer. That’s a play I’ve wanted to do for years and years. I’ve wanted to play Lennie for a long time. So I knew I was going to try out for that and was fortunate enough to get cast in that. So those are the two main criteria. Sometimes, too if there is a certain theater group I want to work with. I may not know much about the show or the director, but I see a certain theater company is holding open auditions I’ll go. Especially if it’s a really well known professional theater or a well known community theater that will look good on the resume. I may try to audition to get my foot in the door there. Even if I don’t get it, they see my name, they see my face and they see what I can do. That may work out for something later on down the road.
Mike: So what’s the next show you’re going to be in?
Jay: The one I’m rehearsing for now, and actually I’ve got two shows coming up. So it will be nice to know over the next couple of months what I will be doing. The first one will be The Man Who Came to Dinner. I will be playing the role of Sheridan Whiteside. That’s being done with Castaways Repertory Theatre in Woodbridge. It will be performing May 5-20th. A good friend of mine, Zina Bleck is directing that. That’s an example of wanting to work with the director and that’s the main reason I went out for that show. My friend Harry Kantrovich, the assistant director, is also playing Banjo. They started talking to me about this show about a year ago and wanting me to come out and audition. I didn’t know much about it. I had heard about the character and a lot of my acting friends told me I should try out for it. I mainly came out for them. I had also seen a couple shows at Castaways and I really liked what they were doing. So that’s my next performance. We have been rehearsing for a few weeks now and things are going well. We are in the process of getting all the blocking down and getting all our lines memorized. After that I’m going to start rehearsing in early May for Anne of a Thousand Days. I’m going to be playing Henry the VIII. That’s going to be with Vpstart Crow Productions in Manassas at the Cramer Center. That will run July 14 – 30th. That’s another show I’m excited about. That’s a situation where being on the Vpstart Board has it’s perks. I proposed the show to the board. It’s one I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s a play I actually did back in the Fall 2000 with the British Embassy Players, now known as the Empassy Players. That’s the one I was mentioning Carlos Scopoletos directed that. I was Mark Sweetin in that production. Henry the VIII has always been a character I’ve wanted to play. He’s such a great historical character and such an intriguing man to play. My friend Christine Lang and I proposed it. She is an actress and director in the area that I’m good friends with that I have a lot of admiration for. So I proposed that she direct it and I play Henry. We were fortunate enough to get it approved. We will have open auditions for it May 7th and 8th at the Cramer Center for all the other roles. I’m really excited about both of those.
Laura: What have been some of your favorite roles that you’ve played?
Jay: That’s a good question and a tough question, too. The first one that leaps to mind is Lennie in Of Mice and Men. That was with Vpstart Crow last July 2005. That role meant a lot to me personally because I grew up with a cousin who was mentally and physically handicapped. A lot of what I put into Lennie were thing I picked up from my cousin, Keith who sadly died when I was in high school. He passed away when I was a senior in high school. That was also sort of a personal tribute to him. That role meant a lot to me. I remember after one of the performances the guy who was playing the Boss, Bob Lavery, who is also a really well known actor in the area. One of his daughters works with mentally handicapped kids. She came up to me after the show and said, “You were fabulous. You nailed it. The way you played that character is exactly the way my kids are that I work with. I really believed you.” That coming from someone who works with those types of children really meant a lot to me. That’s probably one of my most favorite ones. More recently Brutus in Julius Caesar with Vpstart Crow. That was very challenging. It was Shakespeare so there were a lot of lines. It was very physical. I would also say Pertruccio in The Taming of the Shrew was another one.
Mike: How about a least favorite role?
Jay: I don’t really have any least favoite role. I don’t really have any characters that I’ve played that I didn’t like. Honestly I’ve enjoyed them all in different ways. Some I’m sure I’m more successful at than others. Some came fairly easily and I did well with them. Some were more interesting than others. Probably the most interesting characters I’ve played was Mr. Vanaslaw in a play called Betty’s Summer Vacation, by Christopher Durang. That pretty much says it all, “by Christopher Durang”. He was an old perverted alcholic flasher. Going back to favorite roles was Topison a samuri warrior turned priest in a musical called Ride the Winds. That was an interesting experience because I got to work with a guy named John Driver who is a well known New York actor and writer. He’s written and directed for shows on Broadway as well as written for Law & Order, and for Law & Order SVU and has been on both of those shows. It was a samuri musical. I got to learn samuri combat and got to play a samuri. It was really interesting.
Mike: Tell us about the GreenRoomDC mailing list that you operate.
Jay: That’s something I started a couple years ago. There are a lot of resources out there to advertise your auditions, workshops, shows, and staged readings. Over the years I’ve made a lot of contacts in the DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia area. I started it with my friends and I mostly to keep each other informed of what we were doing and have one central location to go to to see that. So I set that up on yahoo. It started out with 20 – 30 members and has grown to 130 some. I also belong to a lot of different groups that advertise auditions, rehearsals, staged readings and that type of thing. Film shoots and tv shoots. things like that. I’ve just started filtering that into the greenroom and more and more people have started to join. It was just something neat for me to do. One central loction to show who was doing what, what shows and auditions were coming up and things like thta.
Laura: How do you see the future of theater vs. movies?
Jay: I think that the future of theaters is bright. I think that there is always going to be a need as well as a desire for live theater. I’m a child of the movies. I love going to the movies. I love renting DVDs. I know a lot of my friends and family do too, as well as people in general. I think people are always going to have that need to see a live performance. As great as movies are, there’s just something about seeing a live show. Seeing actors in the flesh right in front of you, right on top of you. In some cases like in Julius Caesar, right within the audience with you. There’s something really special about that. I think there is always going to be a need for that. The future of live theater looks bright. Despite what happens with movies I think there will always be a need for both. In some cases, especially for community theater, it’s a cheaper outing for families than going to a movie.
Mike: So for someone who wants to start doing shows, be a star. How do they do it? Should they take classes, read books, just show up or what?
Jay: First thing I would say is don’t try to be a star. I think that’s the worst mistake anyone can make. A lot of people go into it with that mind set. Don’t go in wanting to be a star, go in wanting to be the best actor you can be. That’s the first thing I would say. Also I would give the the same advice that I heard Richard Chamberlain, another classically trained well known actor. i saw him in an interview a few years ago when I was living out in Arizona. The man asked what advice do you have do you have for any aspiring actor. He said simply just do it. Just get out there and start doing it. Check your local paper, check online for different theater websites or any open auditions and just start auditioning. The first thing I did when I moved here was to get a voice coach. I didn’t start acting until I was 25, I’d been singing all my life. I never really had any formal singing training. I decided to start out in musical theater and then get into light opera. I found a voice teacher through my sister who used to live up in this area. She was a teacher in the Fairfax County School system. She recommended me to a drama teacher who recommended me to a voice coach. Through her I was able to make some contacts, but also did some research online. The web is a wonderful tool for actors. That’s my main advice. Just start auditioning. I have not had any formal training. I’ve had some vocal coaching on the side. I’ve had some acting coaching on the side. I do highly recommend classes if you have the time and the money to go to some place like Little Theatre of Alexandria, the Studio Theatre, the Shakespeare Theatre or any of those places. Even to try out for a conservatory like the National Conservatory for the Dramatic Arts. Or even go to school and get a theater degree. if you have the time and the money that’s great. if you don’t, which I didn’t and a lot of people don’t, community theater is a great way to get started. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had a lot of on the job training the last few years. I’ve learned a lot working with a lot of different people over the years. The more shows yoou do, the more people you get to meet and work with, the more you learn what to do and what not to do. I guess that’s my best advice. Keep an open mind. There are a lot of good books out there to read. I would read different books on different styles of acting from Stanislovsky to Mamet to Meisner is also a really good one. There’s a lot of different ways to get where you want to go. Mainly as Richard Chamberlain says, just do it. And be willing to accept constructive criticism.
Laura: So what are your future plans?
Jay: Of course I’ve already mentioned The Man Who Came To Dinner and Anne of a Thousand Days. After that I’m not sure. I would love to work with some of the more major professional theaters like The Shakespeare Theater, The Signature Theater, Heritage Theatre, Arena Stage, places like that. I’ll probably start auditioning for them, sending them a head shot, going to the League of Washington Theatre Auditions, things like that. In case that doesn’t happen I’m still going to be doing something. Whether it be with the local community theaters or summer stuff with Vpstart Crow. I serve on the Vpstart Crow board of directors and serve as their PR guy. That’s something I’ll keep doing because that’s something I enjoy doing. Vpstart Crow’s been great. For the last year and a half Vpstart Crow has sort of been like my own conservatory. I’ve had a lot of good training there including doing Shakespeare for the first time. I’ll definitely keep involved with them. I won’t be able to go out for every show they do, but I plan to continue serving on their board and doing their PR. Also plan to continue auditioning for other local community and professional theaters in the area. Just see what happens. See what kind of opportunities come my way. I’m trying to have a goal and a direction, but also keep an open mind to other possibilities. One thing I would like to do since I’ve only done a little bit of tv work is to get into some more tv and film work. Get more experience in front of the camera. One of the reasons I started working with Vpstart Crow was I wanted to do Shakespeare. I’ve done musical theater. I’ve done contemporary drama and comedy, but I really need some classical experience. To me Shakespeare is the right of passage for anyone who wants to be a true student of acting. I would like to continue acting and broaden my resume and repertoire so to speak. I’d like to keep perfecting my craft. I’d like to do some greek stuff and other types of classical things. Maybe at some point when I can find the time get back with a voice coach and do some opera at some point. I just want to be the most well rounded performer I can be.
Laura: Is it harder to get into tv and film work as opposed to the theater?
Jay: I’m not sure I really qualified to answer that. In my own experience it is easier to get into theater. But then again, i haven’t tried to get into tv and film nearly as much. The few times I’ve tried out for tv, I’ve gotten cast in something whether it be a small role or in the ensemble or something. I think it kind of depends on the area. I think in this area it would be easier to get involved in theater whereas out west in Los Angeles it would be easier to get film work.
Laura: In the role that you’re doing now in The Man Who Came to Dinner. How do you practice your lines? Do you and your wife go home at night and she reads to you? I know you have to keep a schedule and be off book by a certain time. How do you reach that goal?
Jay: That’s an excellent question. What’s funny is my wife doesn’t help me with my lines as much as you would think. I should probably have her practice with me more out loud. Even if you study study study, until you practice out loud you’re really not going to get it. What I tend to do especially with a role like Whiteside when I have a lot of lines, any kind of down time at work or at lunch or nights I don’t have rehearsal, I sit down and study my lines as much as possible. And then after I’ve studied it for a while I try to do it with the book out of my hand and see how much I get right without looking at it until I finally get it down. I’m one of those visual people. I memorize my lines the way they look on the page. So I know what’s coming up and see the page in my head. And then more and more I try to do it with the book out of my hand out loud. I find that what helps me is once I have a better idea about what the blocking will be I memorize things easier. It’s funny because now that I’ve done Shakespeare and regular plays, it seems like learning Shakespeare was easier because it had more of a musical feel to it. I tend to memorize songs a lot easier.
Mike: Well we’ve been talking to Jay Tilley. This is Mike.
Laura: And this is Laura.
Mike: And thanks for listening to the ShowBizRadio Spotlight.
Laura: And now, on with the show.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/1595.
Laura & Mike Clark started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.