A Disgruntled Elf Lightens Up
By Joel Markowitz
He’s a two-time Helen Hayes Award Winner and one of Joel’s favorite actors, so what better way to deck the halls than to schmooze with the ever moving, energy-filled Santa’s helper extraordinaire Bruce Nelson, who finishes his reprise starring role in The Santaland Diaries Sunday, Dec 23rd.
Joel: What is it about The Santaland Diaries that made you do the show again this year at Rep Stage?
Bruce: Certainly audience interest and making this a Rep tradition. The chance to work with Michael is always a plus. Rep Stage is like a home for me…15 productions over 10 years, I feel like I have grown up there as a person and as an actor. And Kasi Campbell (Helen Hayes Award Winner for directing The Dazzle at Rep Stage)kept handing me delicious roles and kept saying, “Yes.”
Joel: How much of your own personality in this disgruntled elf and the way you play him?
Bruce: Well, I love to entertain an audience and I love the dark humor of Sedaris, but when David lets loose and becomes so angry at the Christmas rush…those are the kinds of emotions that Bruce keeps safely tucked away.
Joel: Have you ever worked in retail or worked at Macy’s?
Bruce: Never, but have spent my time in a busy office at Johns Hopkins.
Joel: What role or roles were your favorite(s)at Rep Stage?
Bruce: Surprisingly, it was Teddy in Faith Healer. Not a particularly showy role, simple story-telling and laughter right up against tears.
Joel: Which role at Rep Stage do you wish you never took and why?
Bruce: No regrets…I’m pretty happy wherever I go and can manage to find value in all of the roles. It’s the actor’s job to fall in love with his characters, no matter what.
Joel: How did you decide on theatre as a career?
Bruce: I ended up in theatre as a result of a rocky family life like so many actors I would imagine. It was my island of misfit toys and over the years I found I loved the attention and was developing skills to bring to the stage and life. Along the way I have realized what a joy teaching theatre can be…bringing these techniques to young people and helping to send them on their way in life as performers and people.
Joel: Where did you grow up and how old were you when you realized that the stage was beckoning you?
Bruce: It clicked into place as a sophomore in high school (‘82) with a production of Grease, I played Rump who drops his pants and moons the audience. Ironically, I have become known in theatre circles for dropping my pants at a moments notice…at parties, in rehearsals, in the green room. I love being in my underwear.
Joel: What kind of theatre training have you had?
Bruce: I majored in theatre at Towson and then did my “graduate” work on the road for three years with the National Players out of Olney. All the rest has come from over a 100 plays over the years.
Joel: When did you first arrive on the DC theatre scene and what was your first show and role?
Bruce: I started out big. In 1992 I played John Merrick in The Elephant Man at Olney…and will be back there in a production of The Underpants next fall.
Joel: You have won two Helen Hayes Awards for The Dazzle and The Violet Hour. What was it like when they opened the envelope twice and you heard your name?
Bruce: Surreal, like so may say it is. You spend the next several minutes not believing it’s happening, your life flashes before your eyes…all the roles leading up to this. It isn’t until days after, when it has had time to sink in, that the recognition and pleasure of it all hit.
Joel: You have also performed at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore.
Bruce: I am a company member at Everyman and it is another home for me, where I relax into my roles. I will be there in January in Turn of the Screw.
Joel: Are there any roles you would love to play that you haven’t yet performed?
Bruce: None yet…I don’t go out looking for roles, I let them come to me.
Joel: You have so much energy when you perform. How do you keep the energy up during a run?
Bruce: It’s like running a marathon. You have to psych yourself up and then pace yourself throughout.
Joel: Talk about the ever growing DC Theatre scene.
Bruce: Interesting, I was just talking to a friend about Baltimore 75 years ago and there were 26 professional theatres in the city…it was the place to play before heading to NYC. In DC, the scene is remarkable and continues to shift and grow.
Joel: If that elf you play was actually nice, what would he wish for during this holiday season?
Bruce: Peace in the Middle East (where Jesus was born for Heaven’s sake!), no kids with cancer, the removal of that tiny roll of fat around the waist that refuses to go away (Joel heartily concurs), no matter how many crunches, 20/20 vision for everybody.
Joel: What does Bruce Nelson wish for this holiday season?
Bruce: Exactly what is happening…lots of reality.