David Sitler: The Greenville Debut

David Sitler is making his Greenville debut in Christmas on the Rocks, but he’s been around the theatre and film world for over thirty years.  Having made appearances on television in shows like Law and Order – SVU and Zero Hour, on Broadway in An Inspector Calls, and in the National Tour of Frost/Nixon, this marks his second time working with our show’s director, Chip Egan.  We recently caught up with David to talk about his experience in Greenville, his work on stage, and his favorite Christmas memories.

WHT:  David, where did you attend school and study acting?
David:  I have a BA in English and Drama from Franklin and Marshall College and a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from Catholic University.

WHT:  You are just joining us for the first time.  Where’s your hometown?
David:  Hometown is Millersville, Pennsylvania, but now I live in Jersey City, New Jersey.

WHT:  While this is your first show at The Warehouse, you’ve worked with our director Chip Egan before, right?
David:  Yes.  I was directed by Chip Egan in Red at South Carolina Rep Company.

WHT:  Do you have a favorite experience in a theatre?
David:  A couple…I had just arrived at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC to start tech for The Grapes of Wrath and though I had been in the theatre to see plays before, the momentousness of being on that stage as an actor really hit me quite strongly.  The other times are when I get to share the stage with my wife, Carolyn Popp, which we have done many times.

WHT:  What’s your favorite part of being an actor?
David:  I love storytelling and the fact that I have been doing this pretty much since college as my living.  I learned pretty quickly as Gene says in the play Side Man, “You keep your nut small you get to play your horn.”  This is something I share with younger actors when I talk with them.  Most of your time as an actor is spent auditioning and looking for work and there is something exciting in the possibilities of what might be next, though as is well advertised, that road is full of bumps and some dead ends.  But when you have the job and are working with other artists that road and journey is the only one I want to be on.

WHT:  Who is the person that has influenced your acting the most?
David:  My professors at Franklin and Marshall.  High Evans, Gordan Wickstrom and Ed Brubaker taught me respect for the work and the importance as Woody Allen says of showing up and being on time.  Lloyd Williamson and his physical work was key to my growth and I still use a warm up of his before I go onstage and vocal work with Robert Neff Williams from Julliard.

WHT:  Is there a routine that you go through before a performance?
David:  I always like to be onstage before half hour and do a physical and vocal warm up and tune into the space and the work and play…literally and figuratively ahead.

WHT:  What’s been your favorite part so far about being in the arts in Greenville?
 Being so welcomed to play here in The Warehouse Theatre sand box with such great people.

WHT:  Do you have any other jobs outside of acting?
David:  Sort of.  I played Spider-Man for Marvel Comics for 29 years around the world and RoboCop promoting the RoboCop franchise.  And also doing an anti drug program for the Boys and Girls Club and the FBI where I got to choke Regis Philbin on his show.

WHT:  What’s your favorite Christmas-time show or film?
David:  A tie here…A Wonderful Life.  I got to play George to my wife Carolyn’s Mary and the three times I got to play Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

WHT:  What is your favorite Christmas memory?
David:  Again a couple of them.  I was doing a USO show for our troops in Germany in 1981 on Christmas Day we had two shows at border camps.  The first stop did not expect us, but welcomed us and treated us like royalty.  The second stop…well, the First Sergeant got on our bus and said, “I been drinking JB and 7 since 7 o’clock this morning and I don’ t give a hoot-n-holler about seeing your show but I will try to keep the boys under control.”   We started the show to cat calls and complaints because bar service had to stop during the show.  We thought this might be a short performance, but the magic of these stories about an Eastern Kentucky coal mining town transported our audience and by the end of the evening, we were given company mugs and the First Sergeant wished us a Merry Christmas with tears in his eyes.  The power of theatre.  I also played Santa one year for Macy’s in NYC and had some memorable moments there as well.  I come from a large family and every Christmas that we are able to get together is packed with great memories.

WHT:  How did your research for this show affect your performance?
David:  Watching the videos of the stories and knowing the source material, even though the Bartender does not know each of the stories himself, was helpful.  Also learning some bar technique from Mat our Technical Director (and former bartender) was helpful.

WHT:  Did your own feelings towards this time of year…whether good, bad, sorrowful, happy… affect your character choices in any way?
David:  I really like working this time of year and leaving the audience with the gift of laughter and hope that this play leaves them with.  Much like the USO tour for me, we get to be the bearers of the glad tidings of Christmas.

WHT:  Was there anything in the costume, lighting, sound or scenic design that shaped anything you are doing on stage?
David:  The first time I read the script, I so enjoyed discovering the way each playwright used the story we know and love and incorporated that into what we play onstage.  The amazing set by Genesis really helps a lot along with Kevin’s lights, Jim’s sound design, and Allie’s costumes.  This is a bar with history that has fallen on some hard times, but is going to make history tonight.

WHT:  Moment in the show that has changed the most for you from the beginning of rehearsal until now?
David:  A couple of moments have deepened mainly from the great work that Anne, Amanda, Matt and Brock are doing and Chip’s collaborative direction.  The audience will change things even more.  When I worked with Phil Bosco in An Inspector Calls, he said you never really understand a play until you have been in front of an audience 30 times.  That is a luxury Broadway has for most shows, but one you rarely get in a run of a show.  Each night will be a learning experience for us and that is what makes theatre so exciting for us and the audience.

WHT:  Given that a different playwright wrote each of the scenes, did this give you any advantages or hurdles in creating the bartender’s consistent world throughout?
David:  The writing is so good that I really did not have a problem of finding the thru line or arc for the Bartender.  There was a consistency to my story and I filled in my back story with the clues each playwright gave me.  I think there must have been some collaboration when this evening was put together by Rob Ruggiero.

WHT:  This show is coming directly on the heels of your last show.  How do you handle that change of pace and having two roles (completely different roles at that) slammed together back to back? Do you like it when this happens between roles or do you really prefer more time?
David:  I love going from one show to another and along the same lines I love to keep working.  So going from one play to another is not a problem.  This is my fifth play this year with other projects thrown in.

WHT:  What was your favorite part about this rehearsal process or the show’s progress?
David:  Moving into the theatre and into Nick’s Place and making the space my own.  The actor housing here is also great.

What:  Next production is?
David: Just before I arrived in Greenville I shot a short film in Savannah called Tupelo Roar that I am excited about.  I also shot Season Two of the hilarious web series Plant that will be coming to a small screen soon.  But after we close here, back to NYC and looking for the next project to fill my time till mid June when a play I premiered at New Jersey Rep called Butler will move Off Broadway.  I’ll have to grow my mutton chops back again for that.

You can see David Sitler playing the Bartender in our Christmas on the Rocks now through December 20th!