by Rose Desena
One of my favorite things about Los Angeles is our flourishing theater scene. It’s fresh and young with a rawness that reminds me of the old days in San Francisco or NYC. Equity Waiver theaters here allow more artists to produce plays without the encumbering financial obligations. A lot of actors come to LA with hopes of working in film and television. They NEED to act, so many of them look into performing at local theater companies to keep their skills sharp. It’s a great experience, and a gift to local audiences. For an actor, there is nothing like walking on stage on opening night. Although it’s hard to see past the first few rows of seats, just knowing that those bodies are sitting captive as you share your talent–it’s stressful.
Writing theater reviews has been an utter treat. During the past year, I have seen so much great talent, both in writing and in acting, I no longer pine for the “Big Apple.” The exposure here for new talent is limitless and this city offers both the actor and writer a place to be seen and heard in a comfortable and supportive environment. It’s a dream for theatergoers; tickets can be gotten for as little as $15 using some discount sites, making our theater affordable entertainment.
I could talk about all the good writing I have experienced, but I am going to save that for another article. This is about Tim Cummings, an up-and-coming actor, who hit the theater scene in LA after working on Broadway. He has been getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so. Amazed with his performance at Rogue Machine in “The New Electric Ballroom,” I wanted find out more about him. Tim sang and danced his way into all of our hearts, critics and patrons alike. He won awards from LA Weekly, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, and StageSceneLA. He not only can rock a number with his feet and a tabletop, but his voice and acting skills are utterly enchanting. He also has the most beautiful eyes, they just scream sincerity and honesty, and if you’re close enough to see them; you may fall in love.
Tim Cummings will be back in action on the stage at the Fountain Theater playing Ned Weeks, in Larry Kramer’s Tony winning play, “The Normal Heart.” This beautifully written drama will be a perfect opportunity to see Tim shine. The Normal Heart is a historical gut-wrenching story about the rise of AIDS in the early 80s and is truly a piece of art.
Excited that we will have another opportunity to see Tim Cummings on stage soon, I was curious about him and wanted a little “up close and personal” time. So here is a revealing Q and A that I would like to share. Great eyes and the guy can sing, dance, act, and write…a quintuple threat!
Rose: What lit your passion for acting?
Tim: Initially, it was books. I was an avid reader as a kid, I’d go to the library, take out as many books as I was allowed (I think it was eight) read them all and have them back at the library in a week. First play I did, a play based on the life of Benjamin Franklin, felt to me like an extension of a book; a book come to life. A living book. I like to live inside stories.
Rose: How does working in LA differ from NY…Broadway?
Tim: As far as I can tell, it’s money and transportation. The money in Los Angeles is reserved for the film and television world and seemingly not much else…although the spray-tanning trade is doing well. Soy processing factories, too, I gather.
Driving around this relentlessly vast megalopolis is also very different from being confined on an island and getting from point A to point B with relatively no hassle. Though, I’ve learned a lot about myself being alone so many thousands of hours in my car over the past ten years. Mainly, that I am an insane person.
But, suffice it to say, I’m in it for the art, for the love. I’ve yet to make a good living off of acting, even though I’ve been doing it for thirty years and I ‘work’ more than anyone I know—especially working actors. The only other person out there who ever made me any money as an actor was Joe Mantello. Oddly enough, he played this same role on Broadway in 2011.
Rose: Do you feel that coming to LA was a good career move?
Tim: Yes, definitely, but I do wonder if staying in NYC would have been a better one.
Rose: What attracted you to the part of Ned Weeks, “The Normal Heart”?
Tim: His passion. His outrage. His journey from unwilling participant to full-blown activist. His passage mirrors that of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ in a Joseph Campbell-ian way. And although the subject matter of the play is probably monochromatic, I feel strongly that the overall themes of love, friendship, and of fighting for what you believe in—no matter the cost— are universal in nature. He’s a difficult man, Ned; enigmatic and mercurial, but there’s humor in him, too, and much love.
Rose: How are you preparing for the part?
Tim: A lot of homework— I came across a book I thought I’d lost years ago, and when I found it, jammed inside some other book all these years, I took it as a sign that I was in the right place and doing the right thing. It is called ‘Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies for Rog’ by Paul Monette. They are rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness poems spat out in succession during the five months after Mr. Monette lost his life partner, Roger Horwitz, to AIDS. It is astoundingly emotional and so truthful it’s provocative. I keep it close.
Aside from that, well, I watched 5 documentaries this past weekend, of which ‘How To Survive A Plague’ and ‘VITO’ were the most touching, harrowing, and useful.
I watched the films ‘As Is’, ‘Longtime Companion’, ‘And The Band Played On’, Philadelphia’, ‘Angles In America.’ Up next are ‘An Early Frost’, and ‘Cruising.’
I read Larry Kramer’s ‘Faggots’ (1978 novel), then his sequel to ‘The Normal Heart’, called ‘The Destiny Of Me’ (1992 play), then studied a gay seethe he delivered at Cooper Union in November of 2004, ‘The Tragedy of Today’s Gays’, and then absorbed his initial article around which a lot of ‘The Normal Heart’ is based, called ‘1,112 And Counting’ (published in The Native, 1983).
I am watching lots of video of him. Interviews, rants, appearances, Q&A sessions. Just letting him soak in. Watching, listening. Just observing. Grist for the mill. I do love doing research. I’m a nerdy actor that way. Eventually, however, I’ll let all of it go and trust my instincts.
The only thing I think I will not let go of is ‘Love Alone.’
Rose: Why is it the perfect role for you?
Tim: I like to yell at people and I play a lot of Jewish men. No but seriously: It’s my ‘Meryl-Streep-in-Sophie’s-Choice’ role.
No but in all seriousness (I swear this time!): the last several roles I have played on the Los Angeles stages (‘Reunion’ [a reading for South Coast Rep’s Pacific Playwrights Festival], ‘The Firebird’ at Disney Hall, ‘The New Electric Ballroom’, ‘The Walworth Farce’) have garnered me greater and greater prospects, not just in the critical realm, but on a personal level, opening up the community, and it’s all about the community. It takes a village, after all. Case in point: Abigail Williams couldn’t do it alone, after all. She roped in all those many poor sweet screaming girls to bring utter ruin and damnation upon Salem.
I’ve become increasingly emboldened about going after what I want. When the Breakdown for this project came down the pike, I contacted the Casting Director outright and said, ‘Hey, look, if you are willing to think outside the box a little bit, I am the person you need to see for this.’ At first they wanted to see me for Bruce, and I said, ‘Well, okay, I guess if they see me as the gorgeous closeted straight-acting Green Beret type, then that’s what I’ll give them.’ A few days later they came back with: ‘Actually, we want to see you for Ned.’ When I went in for the callbacks, I made sure that no one else was an option.
So, it’s the logical next step: go after what you want. It’s fitting for the play, too, as that is exactly what the character does. And as an actor, there is no better modus operandi: acting is all about intentions. And showmances. 😉
Rose: What is the next step in your career?
Tim: I adore Tracy Letts, so I shall work to keep seamlessly integrating my writing and my acting. Mr. Letts is a hero of mine—he writes astounding plays, he’s an amazing actor, and he’s just like the Honey Badger: he doesn’t give a shit.
Rose: Anything you would like to add before we say good bye?
Tim: Thank you for the opportunity, and for picking me as your Actor of the Year.
Rose: Oh! One last thing, who gave you those eyes, Mom or Dad?
Tim: They are almond-shaped like my mom’s eyes were, but I think I got the green from my dad. He had deep, bright, cerulean eyes.
I am looking forward to seeing Tim Cummings tackle this role in The Normal Heart. The Fountain Theater is one of Los Angeles’ treasures. They have far too many awards to mention; their production quality is marvelous and their play choices are often cutting-edge. I loved In the Red and Brown Water and their last production, On the Spectrum, explored the love of two people, one afflicted with Autism, the other with Asperger’s Syndrome.
I am going to suggest you give The Normal Heart a shot, and check out my actor pick of the year, Tim Cummings. Although a bit risky on my part to recommend something I have not seen, I feel confident you won’t be disappointed. Get tickets early it’s sure to sell out. “The Normal Heart” opens September 21, 2013 http://www.fountaintheater.com.
Please check out all my reviews @ www.thelosangelespost.org and I welcome your comments.