Monroe County Civic Theater is entering into its 32nd season as Bloomington’s only all-volunteer, amateur community theater company. First up, director Isadore James Torry brings us a gripping drama where small town diner patrons and staff are held hostage and forced to face their own mortality… and each other.
Eric Van Gucht plays Teddy, the perpetrator of these crimes in the MCCT production of Mark Medoff’s “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” the 1974 Obie Award winner for Distinguished Play. The production will be performed at Cafe Pizzaria, April 6-8, 7pm.
This is the first in a new series of MCCT actor/crew profiles. I’ve asked Eric to talk about playing Teddy, his experiences as an IU Theater graduate, and what community theater means to him.
When did you first want to be an actor? Was there a first acting experience that really made you love it and can you tell us about that?
I was in seventh grade, around age thirteen, when I started doing theater seriously. I had a neighbor who had done it for several years, and I saw him acting and thought it would be fun to try. At the time I didn’t expect my theatrical career to last as long as it has, but I’m glad it did. At my first serious audition for a middle school play I ended up getting the lead role and never looked back. It’s been a very good friendship between the craft and I.
One production that I really loved which made me really want to pursue theater beyond just a high school level was The Fantasticks as a junior at Bloomington North. I got to be on stage with my best friend, and it was the first serious show (i.e. show not written for middle school audiences) that I’d ever experienced. It remains one of my favorites to this day.
What would you say your biggest hurdles were as an actor/theater student? Did you consider other degree programs?
Good question! One of the hardest parts about theater was learning how to deal with failure. Since I had a couple of lead roles in middle school, I came in a little overconfident as a high school actor. In those four years I ended up doing two productions where I acted on stage, and two more where I worked backstage.
For beginning actors an important lesson to learn is that the nature of competing in professional theater means you’re going to get a lot more noes than yeses. I’ve done a lot of work with Monroe County Civic Theater and other local groups, and I’ve gotten involved in a few independent shows connected to IU.
I also have a B.A. in French, and between the two degrees I feel like I have a good command of words. I never really considered any other degree programs at the time, but in hindsight it might have helped me to consider other options. I love to do theater, but creativity has a lot of competition in it.
What can you tell us about your current role in “When Ya Comin Back, Red Ryder?” as Teddy, a Vietnam veteran who holds the customers and staff in a 1970s New Mexico diner hostage? How did you prepare for it and how do you think your personal and professional experience helped you learn about the character?
I’m reading Teddy as a misanthrope, someone who’s seen the worst of the world and doesn’t know how to react accordingly. He either doesn’t care anymore, or has a desire to cause pain to the very system that enabled him. At the same time, he is able to get several characters to figure out their own values, so I’d argue there is something significant in that.
The role is very psychologically and physically challenging, but I love roles that are psychologically troubled. These characters often have more life experience due to the inconsistent and chaotic nature of their world.
What are your goals as an actor in our community and beyond? What kind of roles do you think would stretch you?
In terms of stretching myself? I’d love a chance to play a romantic lead in the near future, to try to see if I can succeed. I also would love to play characters that seem to have something missing in their lives. Essentially “man vs. society” and/or “man vs. self” roles, perhaps a combination of the two whenever possible. My goal is to find the balance between art and life, and find the time to enjoy both.
There’s a hidden beauty to art, and I’d love to try to find out what that means. It might help bring back some hope in this world that we seem to be missing nowadays. Basically, I want to explore the therapeutic, healing side of art. I’ve heard a saying: “As long as you have four things – an idea, an artist, a location, and an audience – then art will always survive.” I’ve always loved that saying.
What advice would you like to give for anyone looking to get involved in community theater, or for someone who wants to study acting professionally? Any other words of wisdom?
I’m going to paraphrase something I was told by a fellow actor, which is something I try to use both on stage and in life: “Don’t do the work looking for a reward.” Let it happen naturally, and let the work itself be rewarding. Knowing yourself is very important in life, and I’d argue especially in the arts.
Last Question: who would you like to give a shout out of thanks to for their support?
I’d like to thank my dad Dirk, stepmom Linda, and late mom Ruth for coming to so many shows and fostering my love for the arts; my brother Nick, sister Dinska, and stepbrother Chris because even if they can’t make my shows they always give me words of encouragement; the cast of Red Ryder for keeping me grounded during this production; Andi Dema, a great actor and great man who I am honored to call my best friend; and to Allison Moody, a professor I had for two semesters in college who I consider my mentor.
Interview conducted by Katelin Hope Vesely, MCCT
The historic Cafe Pizzaria is partnering with MCCT for this show. We will set the stage in their back room with the authentic decor of times gone by. Cafe Pizzaria was the first to bring pizza to Bloomington in 1953, and is still housed in a building which lends itself well to the 1970s restaurant aesthetic in Red Ryder. This will be an immersive experience, with the audience sitting close as if also witness to the events taking place.
Cafe Pizzaria is located at 405 E. Kirkwood Ave.
“When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” is April 6-8 at 7pm. Mark your calendars and purchase tickets in advance through https://mcct.yapsody.com/