Meet Ty Unglebower, the world's toughest community theater coach
The voice of Ty Unglebower is a lot less intimidating than the words of Ty Unglebower. In his ShowBizRadio.net column, the Maryland actor offers advice that sounds kind of harsh: Under no circumstances, for instance, should you take his seat in the green room when he is onstage. If you are acting alongside Unglebower, and you’re tired, don’t show up at rehearsal all “Oh, poor me, I’m so tired.” And if you have been a jerk to Unglebower in the past, he will find a way to work with you, but do not expect him to socialize.
On the phone, though, Unglebower, who is 33 and lives in Brunswick, Md., is not the martinet he sometimes comes across as in print. He’s deferential. Nice, even. Unglebower works as the editorial manager for Moxy Magazine (motto: “For women with big cojones...and bigger dreams”) and writes on a freelance basis for several publications in addition to ShowBizRadio. He caught the theater bug at Marietta College in Ohio and has been grinding diligently through the community theater scene since. This past summer, he played Hamlet in Full Circle Theater Company’s production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in Shepherdstown, W.V.
Unglebower really, really believes in community theater, Equity theater’s non-flashy, often-suburban-based cousin. One of my favorite Unglebower columns is about why he loves it: “[A]ll volunteers should behave as though they are in a community,” he wrote in March. “You know the stage needs to be swept before every show. You know where the broom is. If you aren’t in costume yet, get sweeping.”
ShowBizRadio’s Mike Clark saw Unglebower audition for a community theater production in Gaithersburg in September 2008 and was impressed by his intense focus (Unglebower has written that he tries to stay loose during auditions: “any actors, especially volunteers, tend to mythologize them as some sort of religious sacrifice: make one mistake and you get hung”). He asked him to start writing down his advice, which he’s done since November 2008.
“I was always considered one of the more focused people in any given cast,” says Unglebower. His fellow actors began seeking advice from him early on. “I guess,” he says, “I was seen as some kind of guru because I was quiet.”
A determined Unglebower aficionado can crudely shoehorn most of his ShowBizRadio columns into five categories:
• PUSH YOURSELF. Pursue “A role that seems outside of one’s ‘range.’ A play one does not adore. A character that hits too close to home. Even one requiring a skill that has to be acquired cold at the start of the rehearsal process, and perfected by opening night.” (Feb. 4, 2009).
• KNOW YOURSELF. Shut up and listen to the director’s notes: “when you insist on making comments, asking a thousand questions, or defending yourself during notes, you are failing to acknowledge that there is more to a director’s job than helping you” (March 2, 2011). Don’t work with children if you hate kids: “Does my almost universal dislike of stage children under the age of 13 make me an evil person? I leave that up to the reader” (Jan. 7, 2009).
• RESPECT THE AUDIENCE. Don’t milk applause, earn it (Aug. 5, 2009). And avoid overacting! “I will allow for a bit of what I call scene nibbling here and there....But a return to balance should not be far behind such nibbles” (April 7, 2010).
• PREPARE PROPERLY. “[M]ake opening night stand out for you somehow....Wax the car the night before. Eat fancy that night. (If you can stomach food at that point. I never could)” (April 22, 2009).
• BEST PRACTICES. Buy good shoes and wear them onstage: “performers should make every effort to incorporate their own private footwear into their costumes if possible” (May 4, 2011). Don’t let anyone hit you for real, even if you think it’ll help the scene: “It removes a great deal of control from us when it happens....And you should be in 100% control of yourself every moment you are on stage” (Dec. 1, 2011). Rehearse your lines even when you’re “off-book”: “Run lines when you would consider that activity to be among the most boring you could spend your time on that day” (Nov. 3, 2010).
Getting quickly “off-book,” or knowing his lines cold, is a particular point of pride for Unglebower, who has a blog about his personal theater process called Always Off Book. This summer, Always Off Book was where Unglebower explained the problems he was having with his costume, cataloged the ways he was dealing with the show’s requirement that he move an umbrella in the dark, and vented about the “jackass” who nearly ruined Rosencrantz for him.
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