Steve Carlisle directing TLT production of ‘The Foreigner’

Published 1:43 pm Monday, November 10, 2008

Steve Carlisle is a new face over at Tryon Little Theater. He&squo;s making his entrance not on stage, but directing &uot;The Foreigner,&uot; by Larry Shue.

Thanks to a little wrangling by Betty Brewer, I had a chance to sit down with this entertaining fellow and find out a little more about what brought him to Tryon.

Where did you come from?

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I was raised in Hendersonville. I came to Hendersonville after 1994 when there was a big earthquake out in Los Angeles. I did not know if I wanted to go back to New York, but I was scared of Los Angeles because there were earthquakes. I think the four seasons there are fire, drought, earthquake, and, I don&squo;t know, drive-by shootings or something. So I said, &dquo;Well, I&squo;ll go back to Hendersonville. My parents are there. I&squo;ll see what&squo;s going on.&dquo;

Somebody from the community college said, &dquo;Why don&squo;t you teach a class?&dquo;

I taught a class. I liked it. I stayed there, and then somebody from Western Carolina University said, &dquo;Why don&squo;t you come and teach a class up here?&dquo;

I went and taught up there, and then somebody said, &dquo;Why don&squo;t you become the Associate Dean of the Honors College?&dquo;

I said, &dquo;Well, yeah.&dquo;

That&squo;s what I do now. I&squo;m up there at Western Carolina.

Then, a good friend of mine, Charlie Hunnicutt, that I worked with at Flat Rock Playhouse, came and said, &dquo;There are some people down in Tryon that love theater as much as you do. Why don&squo;t you see if you could work with them?&dquo;

I said, &dquo;Okay.&dquo;

He talked to them and they offered me the job of directing this show. I came down here and I&squo;ve been a bee in their bonnet ever since. But I&squo;m having a good time working with them. There are good people down here. Charlie&squo;s good people and on his recommendation I came down here. They&squo;re stuck with me.

What put you out in L.A. in earthquake territory?

Well, acting. I&squo;m an actor. That&squo;s what I did. I&squo;m a member of Actor&squo;s Equity and Screen Actors Guild.

You went to the city where the work is.

Exactly, I lived in New York. I lived in L.A. I made film. I made T.V. I&squo;ve done stage, commercials, and I had a radio show.

So what are some of you favorite moments in L.A. or New York?

In 1986, a friend of mine was getting married down in Florida. I went down there and saw her get married. We were staying at her house, a big beautiful house on Key Biscayne, and it was raining. I had come from New York thinking, &dquo;I&squo;ll go to the wedding. I&squo;ll get a tan.&dquo; But it was raining. So I said, &dquo;Well, let me call the equity hotline and see if there are any auditions down here.&dquo; I liked Florida. Well, they were having one at Burt Reynolds&squo; Theater up in Jupiter.

I drove up there in the rain and they said, &dquo;We want you to come in on Monday&dquo; (it was Friday), &dquo;and audition for the part of the judge in this show called &uot;Who&squo;s Life Is It Anyway?&dquo;

I said, &dquo;Sure, I&squo;ll do that.&dquo;

I went home and studied the judge. I got there on Monday and they said, &dquo;Steve, come on in, they want to audition you and you&squo;re reading for the part of the doctor.&dquo;

I said, &dquo;No, I&squo;m not, I&squo;m reading the part of the judge.&dquo;

They said, &dquo;No, you&squo;re not, they told you to read the doctor.&dquo;

I said, &dquo;They did not tell me to read the part of the doctor.&dquo;

So, I went in to the interview with that attitude. The person that was doing the audition was a man named Charles Nelson Reilly, a wonderful man who was on &uot;Match Game&uot; and all of this stuff. I got up there and the scene was this guy saying, &dquo;Oh I&squo;m dying. I don&squo;t want to live anymore.&dquo;

I just went in there with the attitude of, &dquo;Shut up, take this shot. This is gonna make you feel better. You&squo;re just depressed.&dquo;

I had this real acerbic sort of thing, and I was mad because I had the judge down cold. I finished that and they said, &dquo;Thank you.&dquo;

I kind of stormed off the set and Charles goes, &dquo;That&squo;s a very nice suit you&squo;re wearing.&dquo;

I went, &dquo;It&squo;s rented,&dquo; and I walked on out.

I got outside and I called the people I was staying with down in Key Biscayne.

I said, &dquo;Look, I&squo;m up here in Jupiter, I think I&squo;m going to stop at a bar and have a drink or two. I really had the worst audition I&squo;ve ever had in my life.&dquo;

They said, &dquo;Yeah, you had to read for the doctor, didn&squo;t you?&dquo;

I said, &dquo;Yeah, I had to read for the doctor, I couldn&squo;t read for the judge.&dquo;

&dquo;You knew the judge, didn&squo;t you?&dquo;


&dquo;And they said something about that suit, didn&squo;t they?&dquo;

I said, &dquo;How do you know this?&dquo;

They said, &dquo;Well, they just called and offered you the part.&dquo;

I went back up there and I did ten shows for Mr. Riley at Mr. Reynolds&squo; theater. I got to meet Burt. I got to do several movies with Burt and T.V. shows and stuff like that. He&squo;s a great guy.

So that rainy day in Key Biscayne and that one play introduced me to a lot of people and did a lot for my career.

Even a bad day can turn out to be a good day.

You never know what to expect in this business. I absolutely loved it. I had things like that happen all through my career. You can train for things. You can learn to say lines, how to dance, how to carry a tune, but it&squo;s those little unexpected quirks where they say it&squo;s &dquo;luck.&dquo; Just being in the right place at the right time, even if you&squo;re acting like an ass, it might be beneficial to your career.

Now here&squo;s the thing, I have people ask me, &dquo;Well what do you tell a young actor or actress with no talent, who can&squo;t sing, who can&squo;t dance? Should they give up trying to be in theater?&dquo;

I said, &dquo;Do you know how much money Paris Hilton made last year? She made eight million dollars. She doesn&squo;t sing, she doesn&squo;t dance, she doesn&squo;t act, but she made eight million dollars. So when you tell me how you can make eight million dollars and not act, then I&squo;ll tell you that you can tell a kid not to be in theater.&dquo;

You never know. I think that&squo;s the attitude you have to go at it with ‐ you never know. You roll with it. You try to do the best you can. You try to stay focused. You try to keep that discipline, that energy. Maybe at the end of 30 years you will have had a story or two to tell somebody.

I may have one or two more.

What led you from acting to directing shows and teaching?

I think all actors want to direct at some time. That it&squo;s easy. That they just sit back and they make people move around on stage and say, &dquo;Well, here, build this out of towels, and build this.&dquo;

That&squo;s not what it is. When you start into a career of theater, you are really the only person who believes in you, you and your grandmother. Having a career is like you own a company and you are the product of that company. You&squo;re also the treasurer of that company, the advertising executive. You do all those different parts and you have to organize yourself to that, and you have to look at yourself as a product.

When you finally take on the mantle of director, I think it&squo;s a natural progression, you realize that theater&squo;s not just done by an actor up there saying a bunch of lines. There are costumers, lighting designers, set designers, publicity, props, stage managers, assistant directors, producers, board of directors. There are a whole lot of different components of the theater that you have to satisfy as a director. You don&squo;t just get to &dquo;move people around on stage.&dquo;

You&squo;ve got to be an administrator, and a teacher. That appeals to me for some warped reason. I like people. I like watching people laugh. I like making people laugh, and have the power of having actors, sets, lights, and costumes all work together to give that audience a laugh or two. I like it. It&squo;s good.

Kind of addictive, isn&squo;t it?

Yeah, but the night we open and I sit in the back and I hear people laugh will be the night I know I&squo;ve done it, or I haven&squo;t, and we&squo;ll see.

Do you remember the first show you directed either in college or public?

I&squo;ll tell you a show that I did. I took a show called, &dquo;The Diary of Anne Frank,&dquo; not the old one, but this new one that they had written with voice over and all this kind of stuff. I did it up at the college.

I love working on a college campus. Let me tell you something, you get to work with some people who are exceptional in their field. I mean these are the people who are writing the textbooks about how to do stuff. There&squo;s a man up there who&squo;s a distinguished professor of music named Bruce Frasier who used to underscore the music for &uot;JAG&uot; and &uot;Quantum Leap.&uot;

Well, he is now up at Western, and I told him what I was doing. I said, &dquo;Look, I&squo;d like for you to, you know, work with me on this.&dquo;

He wrote an entire score for the play. He wrote a thing called &dquo;Anne&squo;s Theme&dquo; that played under her talking. This bowled them over up at the school. I mean it just blew them away.

The man who did the sound effects for me is a man who&squo;s written the textbooks after working with Clear Channel for 30 years and they do sound effects for commercials and all. He had a ball doing it.

I would never have been able to afford these people any other way but on the college campus, and what came out was a production that we did seven years ago that they&squo;re still talking about. That&squo;s the kind of ones I really want to remember.

Now I can talk to you about the ones I like to forget, where I didn&squo;t have the people, but the thing about it is this, it shows that in directing you&squo;ve got to have good people with you. I tell you it is an ensemble thing. I&squo;m not just saying that.

I&squo;m sure you have to wash your own clothes, clean your own house, buy your own groceries, do your own income tax, take care of your dog, make sure you make your appointment with the doctor, go to work, cash your check&ellip;. You&squo;re multi-faceted, aren&squo;t you?

The same thing is true in theater. You have to cover all those bases and the thing is, there have to be people who do that. Being a director is almost like being a community organizer in some ways. Being able to see what components are needed and being able to pull them together for this image that you have.

So, some I have succeeded on because I&squo;ve had good people around me. Some I have failed on because those people have not been talented in what they are doing. I mean that, because if you let down on buying the groceries, you don&squo;t have good food to eat for the next week and that affects you all the way across the board.

If I don&squo;t have a good stage manager, I really don&squo;t have that good of a show. If I don&squo;t have a good set designer, lighting designer, or producer who back up what I say and help me to get what I want to get done then it&squo;s going to hurt. It&squo;s a group of people doing it, not just one person. It&squo;s not just me. I&squo;m lucky enough when I have the good people around me. I&squo;m unfortunate enough when I don&squo;t.

For your directing debut here you have &uot;The Foreigner,&uot; what about that play made you want to direct it here?

Well, this has turned out to be the worst mistake in my life (laughs).

No, no, most of the time directors do not choose the show. Here I&squo;m fortunate enough to choose the cast and get to have the audition. But, a lot of times the director doesn&squo;t even get to choose the cast ‐ that&squo;s already done. When you come in, they say, &dquo;Here&squo;s the theater, here&squo;s your budget, here&squo;s the cast, here&squo;s the show, now do it.&dquo;

Here the company chose the show, they said, &dquo;This is the season we want.&dquo; The company chose who they wanted to direct and they threw me in here, which is nice of them to do because I don&squo;t know if any of them have ever seen my work, but they probably went off of Charlie Hunnicutt&squo;s recommendation. I pay Charlie a lot of money to say nice things about me. But, they took a shot with me, and we&squo;ll see at the end of this first run if they like what I do.

We are interrupted by a costume check as Harry Grymes enters in knickers with costume designer Carol Browning.

Steve: That&squo;s perfect! That is so sweet. Don&squo;t you like that?

Harry: I am ecstatic.

Steve: Don&squo;t you want to go learn to yodel now?

Harry: Something like that.

Steve: That&squo;s wonderful, Carol.

Carol: I thought we could just change his vest through the course of the show. You&squo;re only here for three days, so you probably only brought two outfits.

Steve: Very good, excellent. Would they wear a bowtie with that?

Carol: Yes, I&squo;m going to get a bowtie and we can get some socks to go all the way up and he&squo;s got wingtip shoes.

Steve: There goes your reputation, young man.

Harry: I&squo;m reputation-less.

Steve: By the way, did we have those knickers?

Carol: Yep.

Steve: I don&squo;t even want to ask where they came from.

Carol: They were made out of a pair of pants. We have a bunch of knickers because the kids have worn knickers a lot.

Steve: And he fits into them?

Carol: He does.

Steve: That was good casting, wasn&squo;t it. That&squo;s the way you get parts around here, make sure you fit your costume. (laughter)

Carol: We actually did used to costume the Nutcracker with 150 people in it by costume size.

Steve: Exactly ‐ welcome to community theater. If you fit in the costume you&squo;ve got the part. That&squo;s how we cast things. We brought in the costumes we had, &dquo;All right, what part would you like to audition for? What do you think you would fit into?&dquo;

That&squo;s cute, isn&squo;t it?

That&squo;s funny.

And it will be. I think it&squo;s going to be a nice little show. Betty Brewer and I were just talking about this; we&squo;re getting ready to go through some tough times in this country. I think everybody realizes that up around Christmas and Thanksgiving it&squo;s going to be tough.

The theater has planned to do a play the weekend before Thanksgiving, and people might be a little scared to fork out that kind of money to go see a play. People should be looking at how to cut things.

But, you have to ask do we need to cut back on something like this? Do we need a good laugh? We&squo;ve been through some tough times, and we&squo;re still going to go through them, and having a couple of hours where you can get away and just go off with another story. Something to take you away and let you laugh and have a good time. What would that be worth to you? I think people ought to think a little bit about that.

That&squo;s what this play is going to do. It&squo;s going to take you away and put you with some very zany people for a couple of hours, and you&squo;re going to laugh. I guarantee you&squo;re going to laugh.

We have good production people. We&squo;ve got a good cast. We&squo;ve got a good play written by a man named Larry Shue. If you&squo;ve seen &uot;The Foreigner&uot; at another theater; you will not have seen this one. This is a different take on it. I think the cast is having a good time. When you can let your cast have a good time, then your audience is going to join in with them and have as much fun. So if you want to laugh&ellip;

Catch part two of the interview with Steve Carlisle in an upcoming issue of the Tryon Daily Bulletin. &uot;The Foreigner&uot; will run Thursday, Nov. 20, Friday, Nov. 21 and Saturday, Nov. 22 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 23 at 3 p.m. at the Tryon Fine Arts Center on Melrose Avenue in Tryon.