by Lorie Lewis Ham
KRL has profiled several local actors, most of which have been acting for several years. However, over the past year a talented young actor has caught my attention many times so I decided it was time to do a profile on someone I believe is on their way up, with a lot of great things ahead of him.
Benjamin McNamara moved to Fresno at a young age and had his first taste of theatre in fourth grade. “I played the Arizona Kid in Wagon Wheels West. I still remember my song, ‘Lonely Coyote,’ said Ben.
He remembers well the moment at that young age when he decided he wanted to make theatre a career. “Mr. Daly, our Music teacher, showed us a video of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute. The Queen of the Night sings an aria called ‘Der Holle Rache.’ I didn’t understand a word of it, but it chilled me to the bone (still does). I’d never thought that an actor could be a singer too, and I knew I’d end up there some day.”
After doing shows throughout elementary, middle and high school, Ben graduated from Buchanan High in 2007, and has been attending Fresno City College and Willow International on and off ever since. He hopes to begin attending Fresno State to pursue a degree in music sometime soon.
Beyond school shows, Ben has some local theatre credits working with companies such as Children’s Musical Theatreworks, Musical Theatreworks Fresno, Woodward Shakespeare Festival, StageWorks Fresno, CenterStage, and most recently in Glory Days with the Organic Theatre Factory.
“Ben is a wonderful performer who takes the craft very seriously,” said Terry Lewis who is Vocal Director for Glory Days and Ben’s voice teacher. “He is an extremely hard worker, and is always striving to better himself as an actor and singer. I’m consistently impressed by his work ethic and willingness to try new things. And he has a wicked sense of humor.”
Not only is Ben a hard worker as an actor, but he enjoys working on all aspects of putting on a show, even down to the grunt work and set-building. What he loves most though is the people he works with, and being on stage. “It’s such a rush! I never feel more alive than when I have an audience’s full attention.”
“Actors like Ben McNamara–talented, professional and an overall joy–make my job worth waking up for,” stated Laura Vogt, Managing Director of the Woodward Park Shakespeare Festival. “He steps up to help the production whenever/wherever it is needed and I look forward to working on shows that he is involved in.”
“Simply put, Ben is one of my favorite people,” said Ashley Taylor, who performed with Ben in StageWorks Fresno’s production of The Light in the Piazza. “As an actor, he’s incredibly dedicated and professional, and plays with an honesty on stage that can’t be taught. As a person and as a friend, he’s fiercely loyal, kind, and incredibly clever.”
“Ben is one of the most genuine actors I have ever met,” said another local actress, Taylor Abels, who has also worked with Ben. “Not only that, but he is one of the funniest people I have ever met. Getting to do [title of show] with him is one of my all time favorite theatre memories.”
According to Ben, what helps him grow the most as a performer is simply performing, rehearsing a lot, and learning from those he works with. “There was a poster in my Music Theory class that said; ‘When you are not practicing, remember; someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him, he will win.’ That hasn’t been far from my mind ever since.”
For others interested in acting he advises not only that you work hard, but also that you don’t take yourself too seriously and you learn to fail. “If you’re going to be in theatre, you’d better learn to handle rejection. Nine out of 10 times (unless you’re INCREDIBLY lucky), you will not get the part you want. Do not expect that because you played every lead in every show you ever auditioned for that you have it in the bag. There will come a day when someone just as talented, hard-working and physically attractive as you will get a part over you because they are two inches taller or six inches shorter or have blond hair or something else you don’t. Pick yourself up, congratulate them, and see their show. Sing and dance in the ensemble. As an understudy, learn the part even if you never get to play it. People appreciate hard work, and in the end the whole show will be much better for it.”
Hard work definitely paid off for Ben when he stepped into the role of Claude in a local production of Hair only 10 days before opening night without any knowledge of what the show was about, his character, or the songs. “I didn’t perform a miracle; I worked really hard on every song and every line and with the help of the rest of the cast and our director, I somehow managed to pull it off.”
“Rarely do I have the opportunity to work with an actor as dedicated and truly talented as Ben,” shared Joel Abels, the Artistic Director for StageWorks Fresno, with whom Ben has done two shows. This fall Ben will be in their production of Ragtime. “From the start, on both [title of show] and The Light in the Piazza, his energy and effort were always 100%++ I would ask him to make choices and take risks and without fail he would and the choices he would make were just what was needed. Big things in store for this young man!”
As to his future goals, Ben loves playing villains and his dream role is that of the Phantom, in Phantom of the Opera. “What an epic villain! I have a few years until I could even be considered for the role, but it’s well worth the wait!”
While he loves all theatre, as a musician, his favorite type of shows are musicals. However, as an actor he said what is more important to him are shows that have a message. “Something that’s not just spectacle and fluff, though there’s nothing wrong with light-hearted entertainment now and then. I prefer something deep and beautiful that will make me cry, whether with laughter, soaring harmonies, or gut-wrenching sorrow.”
Like many young performers, Ben’s ultimate goal is Broadway. “I know I haven’t done a lot yet. I’m just a college kid who’s managed to be in a few local shows that a few people saw and liked. But I hope to one day live in a tiny, run-down apartment, live on a diet of Ramen noodles and sewer rats, get paid very little at a dead end day job, and perform on Broadway.”
However, Ben shared that he is constantly inspired and encouraged by the many talented people he works with here and feels even if he never gets any further than local theatre in his hometown he will be doing something truly worthwhile in this world, “sharing my love for theatre with the people I love.”