Brock Koonce: That Time of Year
Audiences well remember him from his roles in August: Osage County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and many more. Now Brock Koonce returns to his comedic roots in the holiday hot ticket, Christmas on the Rocks. We recently sat down with Brock and cornered him on his life at The Warehouse and all things Christmas. Here’s what transpired.
WHT: Brock, since this is the first one of these you’ve done with us, remind us again where you went to college?
Brock: University of Tennessee. I have a BS in Communications. GO VOLS!
WHT: Greenville is your hometown, right?
Brock: I was born in Greenville. But, I’ve also grown up in Columbia, Maryland, and Lenexa, Kansas. Most of my life has been here. I went to middle and high school here. Go Red Raiders.
WHT: You’ve done a lot of work for us at The Warehouse. How many shows now?
Brock: That’s a good question. Not sure. My first show was Mother Hicks when I was in the 7th grade. I am 39 now. I took a LONG break. My first show back was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Since then, I would guess about 12…maybe. The last show was August: Osage County.
WHT: What’s your favorite production with which you physically worked?
Brock: Another good question. Three Cuckolds was the best time for me. We had a blast with the comedia piece of it. I got to play with Jason Shipman, Jayce Tromsness, Ryan Bradburn, Liz Finley, Traysie Amick, and Justin Walker. It was a blast. And, if any male ever does a show at The Warehouse, if you look at the door in the dressing room, you will see three distinct glue marks where me, Jayce and Ryan put our fake noses every night. And, to Jason Shipman…”you’re a ‘no-nose’, but we love you.”
WHT: Favorite experience in a theatre? Could be as an actor, as tech, audience member, director, whatever.
Brock: I was terrified while I was playing Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof here. I was lucky enough that I trusted everyone in the show. I had the pleasure of working with Debra Capps, Anne Tromsness, Rick Connor and many others. Chip Egan directed it! We had an Equity actor come in to play Big Daddy. He ended up getting sick and had to drop out after the 2nd week of rehearsal. The Warehouse replaced him with the incredible Peter Saputo. Chip, Peter and I worked the Big Daddy and Brick scenes to catch up. We really searched to find the dynamic between Big Daddy and Brick. It was different than the “watered down” movie. I love Paul Newman, no offense. But, we felt there was a relationship that went beyond just father and son. We felt they had an understanding about “lies and liars.” Big Daddy had a secret, and he could only share that with Brick. We worked and worked. Well, one night, during a run in tech, Peter and I were in our scene, and I don’t know what happened, but something clicked with both of us. The end of the scene was Brick with his head on Big Daddy’s shoulder saying, “You told me, and I told you.” And, I walked away. I walked off stage and just burst into tears. Not sobbing, but feeling. It was strange for me. Immediately after that, Big Daddy does his “LIES AND LIARS…” walk off speech and I meet Peter backstage and we just hug and we both say to each other, “We found it. We found it!” That was something I’ll always remember.
WHT: Favorite part of being an actor or stage manager?
Brock: Rehearsal. Without a doubt. I love asking questions, finding new ways to take a character. Now, my wife, Staci? She probably hates it, because I come home and doubt everything I do and question every instinct I have. But, rehearsal is the best. What other place can you work to succeed, but know that failing could be a pretty cool way to find something original?
WHT: Is there someone’s work that you greatly enjoy?
Brock: I’m a Brando-aholic. It’s well known. His naturalness, to me, is something to aspire to. I can’t do what he did, and I know that, but I watch his work and it makes me feel that there is always a way to show truthfulness in the work we do. I admire him for his work. His actual life…well, that’s another matter.
WHT: Person you haven’t worked with yet (any capacity) that’s still on your wish list?
Brock: Matt Merritt. Matt and I have worked together before, but we’ve never had a chance to go toe to toe. I’ve always enjoyed his work. We played in Macbeth in the Park many years ago, but other than the line, “your father has been murdered,” we never got to interact. We played in Inspecting Carol at WHT also, but never really got to interact. I saw him in The Seagull years ago, and I just felt that we could really do something great. With his ability as an actor, he and I could really have fun. He’s thin and can play vulnerable or grounded, and I’m a bigger guy. True West could be fun. I might be too old, though.
WHT: Person that has influenced your acting, stage management, or process the most?
Brock: Honestly, my influences live in this town. I’ve worked with some amazing people. My step-mother, BJ, is my primary inspiration. I would LOVE to work with her someday, but I have had the pleasure of spending my youth watching her work. I’ve seen her play strong, I’ve seen her play weak, I’ve seen her play funny, and I’ve seen her play drama. I was lucky enough to be able to see her play so many different roles over so many years. Without a doubt, she is my influence, inspiration, and model.
WHT: Is there a routine that you go through before a performance?
Brock: I’m physical. Most people work vocals. Some work body. Some get mental. I just skip and move around. I want to try to be as loose as possible. Honestly, it depends on the show. When I did The 39 Steps, which had A LOT of physical comedy, I did jumping jacks, push ups, etc., just to get my body loose. I had to. With this show, it’s more about getting into a mental place where I can find my character. Basically, my answer is…it depends on the show.
WHT: Favorite part about being in the arts in Greenville?
Brock: The time! I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with The Warehouse since I was 5 maybe. My sisters and I spent our Saturdays and Sundays playing in sawdust in the loft of the old space (now the Bon Secours Wellness Arena). We saw great actors, directors, and artists in our formative years. Now, as an “adult” I get to see how the arts scene has grown. Greenville is a destination for arts and culture. It is wonderful to see! It is wonderful to be a part of.
WHT: What’s your favorite Christmas-time show or film?
Brock: My wife, Staci, and I love It’s a Wonderful Life. BUT, I will always remember a movie named A Dog Named Christmas. My father-in-law can be a sentimental man…even though he may not admit it. One year he kept mentioning this movie on TV while we were over at his house on Christmas Eve. We ended up watching it, and Staci and I talk about A Dog Named Christmas every year. It was a cute movie and he really wanted to watch it.
WHT: What is your favorite Christmas memory?
Brock: My father. His favorite Holiday is Christmas. Each year, we get a new “tradition.” He decorates the house from top to bottom. Not Clark Griswold-ish, but very classy. He makes his own wreaths, his own Christmas trees, his own everything. He definitely holds Christmas in his heart more than anyone I know. It makes the entire family happy and he loves that.
WHT: How did your research for this show affect your performance?
Brock: We talked a lot about this. I watched movies/shows of the characters I was portraying. But, we also knew these characters were older, and have had new life experiences. So, we worked to find the root of the character, then explore where we felt the character goes from there.
WHT: How much did the iconic movie portrayals of the characters mean to or affect your choices on stage?
Brock: Obviously, the portrayals are going to affect some choices, because they are all so iconic. But, we are playing versions that have gotten older, made mistakes, and have experienced life as adults. So, I think we’ve all paid attention to the portrayals, but have put our own life to each character.
WHT: Did your own feelings towards this time of year…whether good, bad, sorrowful, happy…affect your character choices in any way?
Brock: Without giving away my character, I will say yes. I am a sucker for a Christmas movie. I get lost in the nostalgia, season, love, sentiment, etc. It’s hard not to feel good at Christmas.
WHT: Due to its limited run thus far in the theatre world, this script is not well known. What was the greatest challenge or favorite thing about working on this script for the first time?
Brock: We are telling the audience a story of beloved characters from beloved Christmas movies. We are telling them what happened. Not everything is great. It’s like the second act of Into the Woods. The movies end with hope and promise. But, these people grow up. It’s a very funny show, yes, but there is truth in this show about growing up. It’s not easy. It is a challenge to present real world problems for characters that have always been so hopeful and happy.
WHT: Was there anything in the costume, lighting, sound or scenic design that shaped anything you are doing on stage?
Brock: All I know is…everything I wear is heavy, thick and hot. It should be, because it is cold outside, but as a hot natured person, it’s hot!
WHT: Moment in the show that has changed the most for you from the beginning of rehearsal until now?
Brock: My second scene. I play a character who can easily be portrayed as depressed, but Chip helped me realize that he’s not depressed, he’s confused. He’s confused by the fact that nothing seems to work out for him. Once I realized that, the characterization was complete.
WHT: Given that there were seven different authors giving voice to each of the scenes, did this create any advantages or challenges in your process?
Brock: Challenge and advantage. Each scene has a new voice. A distinct voice. David Sitler, our Bartender, has the toughest job trying to manage all of us. But, it’s a brilliant concept. New Christmas shows are few and far between. This is really a breath of fresh air.
WHT: The space is set up in a configuration that I’ve never experienced at The Warehouse. Even though it is the same theatre, does it feel like a totally different experience working in a different configuration than last time you were on stage here?
Brock: Absolutely. We worked against the loading dock for A Midsummer Night’s Dream a few years ago, but we worked on the floor and we made our set as we went along. The only other show I’ve seen against this wall was Matthew Earnest’s Julius Caesar years ago. This is why I love this place. We get to work in so many dimensions. Any person wanting to do theatre in Greenville has a great opportunity to experience all types of stages. Centre Stage has a thrust. Greenville Little Theater has a proscenium. Upstate Shakes has outdoor. And The Warehouse has the black box. We have it all in Greenville.
WHT: What was your favorite part about this rehearsal process or the show’s progress?
Brock: I’ve worked with Anne, Matt, Louise, Chip, and Kevin (Lighting Designer). But, everyone else is new to me. I have really loved getting to know everyone. It’s a great new experience in a place I love.
WHT: One thing you learned during this process or something you rediscovered about yourself, others, or acting in general.
Brock: I love rehearsal. The last show I did was over a year ago. I am really happy in the theater. I enjoy experiencing other discover things, talking to directors about character arcs, finding new ways of doing ordinary things. I just really enjoy it all. It’s been refreshing to be back.
We’re sold out! But come down and get on the waiting list at show time and hope that you catch Brock Koonce’s return in our Christmas on the Rocks now through December 20th!