by Lorie Lewis Ham
Since theatre on stage is still on hold right now, we are continuing to feature some local actors who have also been acting on our podcast, Mysteryrat’s Maze. This week we chatted with local actor Thomas Nance who has been the voice of several of our episodes. Mysteryrat’s Maze features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors.
KRL: Are you from the Valley?
Thomas: Valley born and bred. Born in Fresno Went to Bullard Elementary, Wawona Junior High, Bullard High, Fresno City, and CSU Fresno. Got married and moved to Kingsburg. Worked at Orosi High School and retired to Kingsburg. It’s hard to get out of the Valley.
KRL: Current day job? And other jobs you have had?
Thomas: As of June 3, 2011, I am a happily retired English teacher from Orosi High School. Thirty-five years of teaching led to exhaustion. I am almost rested up. As a child, I watered and mowed lawns, took care of pets for vacationing neighbors. When I got to high school, I worked as a busboy at the Tropicana Lodge.
In college, I worked at Marvin Koop’s Shell Station in Fresno (this job was a rite of passage for my close friends. Five of us worked there. I was the only one who knew nothing about cars. My friends were very helpful taking me though what little services I performed). My last jobs before becoming a substitute teacher were at liquor stores. The Cork and Bottle was great because I knew many of the customers. When it closed, I moved to a short stay at Olive Liquors where I was the only employee who didn’t have a handgun nearby for protection. A month or so after I quit the store was robbed. The last time I went by the place it had become a gun store.
KRL: Schools attended?
Thomas: Went to Bullard Elementary, Wawona Junior High, Bullard High, Fresno City, and CSU Fresno.
KRL: When did you first get involved in acting and why?
Thomas: This question is hard to answer in that there were two beginnings to acting. The first I really don’t remember that well, but my mother, usually with tears in her eyes from laughing, told of my first part in the 1957 Miss Karen’s Kindergarten Production of Nursery Rhymes where I played the Moon.
My mother never told me who played the cow who jumped over me, but the child must have been athletic for I even lying sideways on my elbow with my hand cupped underneath my ear, I was a large hurdle in that I weighed 85 pounds. Mother said I was so relaxed and comfortable for my first part in the theater. For some reason it took me 33 years to try out for a play again.
Our music teacher at OHS, Ed McCure was interested in doing a simple musical to bring back having theater at OHS after many, many years of hibernation. He had cast the show except for Ed Crankshaft, the mean old bus driving man. I was in my late thirties and wanting something different than teaching English, so I helped Ed out.
My short time on stage (wasn’t much of a stage actually in that we performed in front of the Elementary school cafeteria) was amazing. I had become someone else. I was singing. I was the center of attention for my two minutes of Cutler-Orosi fame. Still after the weekend run, I never expected to be on any stage again.
Then Ed called on me again to come with him to the Ice House Theater in Visalia where we might learn some crew work back stage to better prepare for our next OHS production. The play was No Sex Please, We’re British. As with so many plays, things were getting a little scary the week before opening. The male lead just couldn’t learn his lines and was replaced by Rick Lotenero. Within the week, he had learned the play solid enough to perform with no one outside of the cast knowing that he had to paraphrase through his first week.
By week two, he was word for word solid. I was impressed. Backstage as Ed and I did our best to move props, ring bells, and stay out of the way of the actors, we both could hear the laughter coming from the audience. I wanted that laughter and decided then and there that I would give being on the other side of the flats and be in a real play.
KRL: What was your first part?
Thomas: I am going to finally make a decision and call my first part, “The Moon.”
KRL: What are some of the shows you have been in, and the parts you have played & with what companies?
Thomas: For someone as old as I am I haven’t been in very many, but they have been varied. At the Ice House where I did my first not OHS Theater Production, I have been in several plays there among them were Chapter Two was my first comedy. I played Leo. My first production of Inherit the Wind as E K Hornbeck, my first production of Turn of the Screw as The Bachelor, Mrs. Grose and Miles (Both times I did this play it was with directed by Heather Parish and I shared the stage with Brooke Aiello). My first production of Grapes of Wrath I was in the ensemble, My Fair Lady I was Alfred P. Doolittle, and my first production of God’s Country I played multiple parts as everyone played multiple parts.
At COS my first musical (outside of Funky Winkerbean) was Annie , in the ensemble. My third production of Grapes of Wrath I was Pa, and The Crucible I was Giles Cory. At Dinuba High School in Fiddler on the Roof I was Tevye. At 2nd Space in Fresno–My second production of Inherit the Wind I played Mathew Harrison Brady. 12 Angry Men I was Juror 12. At Fresno City College my second production of God’s Country and second production of Grapes of Wrath as Pa, Grandpa. At the Selma Arts Center my second production of 12 Angry Men where I played Juror 12 again.
KRL: Do you have a favorite type of show to perform in?
Thomas: Working with talented people or being challenged (except dancing. I can’t dance; I can only prance.) Doing a play again with another director and cast is always enjoyable because I believe that each time I do the same play, I understand it much better and my performance improves.
KRL: What do you like best about acting?
Thomas: I actually enjoy almost everything about acting. Auditions are great because of the uncertainty. So many things can go wrong, but so many things can also go right. The director may be looking for someone totally against the actor’s type, but with just the right gesture or intonation or choice, the actor can change a director’s mind. Rehearsals (if they are not too late. I am old and fall asleep easily) are the best in that each time an actor rehearses, the actor gets a chance to see what needs to be done to make the actor’s character compelling and true.
The performance is instant gratification or disappointment. The audience tells the actor if his performance engages them. Even in the silence, one can feel if the audience is with the actor. Each performance is different because each audience is different. When everything clicks for the actor, the world is a glorious place.
KRL: What is the hardest?
Thomas: Again, since I am older (or depending on one’s reference point, just old) it gets harder to learn the lines quickly. For me it takes seemingly countless times repeating my lines before I can feel really comfortable. Being older also makes it harder to stay awake. Which sort or dovetails the traveling for me. Living in Kingsburg, unless I am fortunate enough to perform in Selma all the other places I perform are in Visalia or Fresno. I love both places but again being old sometimes makes those drives home after a late practice much longer than they were when I first started acting,
KRL: Future goals and dreams?
Thomas: Staying alive and discovering what I really want to do with whatever is left of my life.
Thomas: If I were honest, I would have a lot of people listed as my heroes, but for brevity’s sake I’ll list only one: George Orwell. He punished himself getting stories and experiences, which clarified his ideas about human kind. Honesty was his main goal. No dumbing down facts or opinions. No kowtowing to the elite or the powerful. His empathy was always towards the oppressed. His writing always thoughtful and clear. His ideas malleable in that changing sides in an argument wasn’t looked at as a weakness but as a must when the new facts come in to change the old prejudices. He fought for what he believed in and would have been a great man no matter when he lived. For he spent his life trying to make sense of the world he was born into.
KRL: Family? (including pets)
Thomas: Dalene, myself and Zane, our dog, all live together in Kingsburg. Also living in Fresno, are my oldest son, Ian, wife Emily, Grandchildren, Henry and Ingrid youngest son Adam, wife Sarah, granddaughter Sophia)
KRL: What do you feel has helped you the most in growing as an actor?
Thomas: Trial and error mostly error. Experience helps the most. The next most important thing is to be around young people. Since I’m almost 70, most of the world is made out of young people. I love that the young still have passion. I need that passion to grow and stay awake on my drives home.
KRL: What advice would you have for someone wanting to get into acting?
Thomas: Do it by all means. I have met so many wonderful people because of my acting. Almost everyone I’ve met has taught me something. Acting leads us to find out things about ourselves and others we would never be able to find without becoming the characters we portray. Actors experience all the emotions. Without acting we are imprisoned within the self we were born with.
KRL: What is your dream role?
Thomas: Comatose patient with a continuing role in a series or Thénardier in Les Misérables!
KRL: Was your first Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast the first time you ever did any voice acting?
Thomas: Yes. I had done a bit of reading for my students when I taught English, but I never counted those experiences as anything but a teaching method.
KRL: Why did you want to audition for the podcast?
Thomas: I didn’t have to memorize anything and I wanted to try something new.
KRL: How has voice acting been different from acting on stage?
Thomas: Voice acting has no immediate audience. Approval or disapproval come once the recording is completed. In acting, I have to decide if I need any physical movement to help my voice tell the story. That movement affects the way my performance is understood. No matter how many physical gestures I make in voice recording, no one listening is affected either way. Of course, one of the nice things for me is that voice acting has no memorizing.
KRL: What have you liked best about it and what has been the hardest?
Thomas: As I said, no memorizing is the nicest part of voicing acting. But since the words are there before you, not being allowed to ad lib makes for the performance all the more structured so there are few mistakes like ones has in live performances. Mistakes can lead to discoveries that improve the performance or confuse the audience. I try to improve the performance.
Thomas: Poet? Essayist? No, I wish I had hobbies.
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
Thomas: It’s not over until it’s over!
Editor’s note: All photos provided by Thomas Nance.
Check out Thomas’ podcast performances on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, mysteryratsmaze.podbean.com or listen to the players below.