March 01, 2013
Posted By: Emer Kelly and Jonathan Courtemanche
David S. Howard On Being Himself
David S. Howard is one of Asolo Rep’s most long-standing company members and, at 84 years of age, he is still delighting Sarasota audiences in our mainstage productions. He is currently starring in You Can’t Take It With You as the eccentric Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, a performance that Sarasota Herald Tribune’s Jay Handelman describes as ‘Inspiring’.
Howard’s career spans 37 years during which he’s worked at Asolo Rep for 21 seasons. He began his first stint with us in 1976 and was a company member for 7 seasons before moving to New York in 1983. We missed him terribly, but luckily for us he wasn’t gone for good.
After spending 14 years raising a family and working on various Broadway, movie, and television productions, Howard and his wife found themselves suffering from empty-nest syndrome and the bitter cold of the New England winter. They decided to return to Florida where Howard worked on a couple of shows here with us before deciding to buy a house and stick around permanently.
If any of you have ever met him in person, you’ll know that David Howard’s energy and lust for life is almost overpowering. It’s not every 84-year old who can memorize 207 lines of dialogue, rehearse all day, and then still have the energy to bounce down the stairs at the end of the day. Most of us working here are under 50 and even we can’t manage that. He is such an interesting man that we featured him on our blog series ’10 questions with…’ last season, and simply had to feature him again this year…
How did you get started as an actor?
I got a late start. I was going to be a lawyer-in fact I passed the bar in the state of New York-but I never really wanted to be a lawyer. I had made up my mind before I was even admitted to the bar that theatre was what I really wanted to do.
It was a long, slow process, finally realizing that I had to be in theatre. A lot of it came about because as I was waiting to be admitted to the bar I was running a research project in New York, and one of my employees was a key-punch operator and also an actress. One day she told me she needed to leave early as she had an audition, and several auditions later she came in and she told me ‘I got the gig’. It was Diana Sands and the gig was Raisin in the Sun which is a play about having a dream deferred. We talked about that a lot and I said ‘You know, I have a dream to be an actor’ and she said ‘Well go ahead and do it, because a dream deferred dries up like a raisin in the sun.’ I spent five years studying at all sorts of places and got my equity card at a summer theatre in Pennsylvania.
While going to law school I spent my summers out at Nokomis working as a fisherman and I visited the Asolo in 1961 and saw a production of She Stoops to Conquer. At that point I had just gotten my equity card and my dream was to work in a regional theatre-I had no illusions of stardom. I remember telling the house manager at the intermission that day, ‘I’m going to work at this theatre someday’, and he replied ‘Yeah…right”. Fifteen years later it finally came to pass.
During the entire span of your career, is there one show that sticks out in your mind?
The show that always sticks out to me is I'm Not Rappaport which we did during the 2003-2004 season. I’ve done the show hundreds of times but there is something very special about that production that’s very close to me. I did it on Broadway, and did a wonderful national tour of it as well as 7 or 8 other productions of it all around the country but as far as I’m concerned, the Asolo Rep production was the best of all of them. It’s the time I finally got it right.
What exactly does that mean, ‘Getting it right?”
It was more full, complete, and meaningful than it had ever been. There was much more of me in it, and I wasn’t fighting the material; it was just carrying me along. The casting was excellent, Carolyn Michael played my daughter and David Downing-with whom I had worked on the national tour - played Mitch, and we just had a wonderful combination of actors that made the show very special.
Is there a role out there that you haven’t played yet, that you definitely want to tackle?
The other day I watched a little bit of Sunshine Boys on TV. I did that play years ago and I enjoyed doing it so much, even though I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was thinking that now would be the time for me to play Al Lewis. I would get a kick out of doing it.
It’s a little late for me to be thinking about things like that though-I’ll be 85 in September. I certainly don’t have the energy to do rep anymore, and a challenging role takes a lot out of me. I’ve actually been thinking about calling it a day.
What’s the biggest goof you’ve ever had to deal with onstage?
I’ve had several goofs where the set has fallen down around me. One was Sweet Charity, the musical. I had a scene with another actor in which we rode in on a wagon and so we rode on and started the scene and the whole thing toppled and fell apart. We just sat there like ‘What do we do now?’ and all we could do was keep going.
The biggest goof of my life as an actor was when I was 16 and I was in high school. I was in a play, I think it was called It Never Rains In California, and I came bouncing on stage and started the wrong scene. Everyone looked at me like ‘Are you nuts?’ and they all tried to get me back on track but in the end I just walked off the stage, came back one, and started the right scene. There are hundreds off little incidents, maybe not as bad as that one, that have happened to me over the years. For example, a common one is picking up the phone before it rings. You’re waiting for it to ring and nothing happens so you pick it up, ‘Hello?’ and it goes ‘Briiiing briing’. That happened to me during my first show as an equity actor up in Connecticut.
That show actually opened the day my first child was born. We opened at night in a barn theatre and there was a thunderstorm and all the lights blew. There we were in the middle of a musical number and the audience couldn’t see a thing, and so we found all sorts of flashlights and lanterns and people drove their cars around to the back of the theatre and threw open the doors and shined their headlights in and we continued to do the show.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Be yourself and bring that into your work. It took me a good 20 years to be brave enough to do that. I didn’t trust it until I realized that that’s what it’s all about; just being yourself.
*If you missed last season’s post featuring the inestimable David S. Howard click here!*