Newsflash: John Poole is not actually bat-shit insane! The rangy, super-animated actor, writer, and founder of the scrappy, unpretentious Overtime Theater is earning a local actorly rep as something of a crazypants: He’s oft-described as “zany,” “kooky,” and “kinetic.” The Current’s Kyle Gillette described Poole’s Fool in Lear as “a powerful and scary presence that’s more grotesque and frightening than funny.” Nicolette Good described him in Current pages thusly in ’07: “If the Overtime Theater were a cult, John Poole would be its charismatic prophet.” And of his role as retro-emcee at the adorably risque “Naughty List” Christmastime burlesque, I had this to say: “something akin to Kermit the Frog’s arm-waving, beside-himself enthusiasm in announcing each act, with a little World War II-era Bob Hope shtick thrown in.”
After starting the Overtime “in a closet next to a morgue” more than two years ago (its location has since moved), Poole’s launched a prolific and diverse output as actor, writer, and impresario. But in an ad-hoc interview a day before he was set to star in a 12-hour improv marathon, Poole came across as intense, for sure, but also thoughtful, community-minded, and surprisingly meticulous in his approach to San Anto’s theater scene.
In watching some of your performances, your style seems to incorporate a lot of really classical comedy underpinnings, almost like Commedia del’Arte. Where’d you get that training?
In the mean streets of San Antonio! Really it comes out of street performing, although I did two years at Incarnate Word, and two Shakespeare festivals. But in terms of professional training, it’s a matter of just doing a lot of local and regional theater.
But `you have` this physical facility; it seems almost Buster Keatonish.
Oh, sure, well, I think I’ve seen every single one of Buster Keaton’s films, and I imagine that I took in some of his freneticism, subconsciously. I’ve taken in aspects of other actors, subconsciously. Or sometimes consciously.
Seeing you as the Fool in Lear, that seemed like a very conscious performance.
Well, with the Fool, really I just threw everything I could possibly come up with at Dave `Robb, the director of Lear`. In the rehearsal process, I threw everything at him like he was a wall and I was spaghetti, and we developed the performance that way. In terms of Shakespeare, though, hmm … well, when I’m doing Shakespeare, I’m probably most influenced by Kenneth Branagh. That’s very conscious; I’ve watched Branagh in Shakespeare ever since I was a high-school student at MacArthur, you know, in the ’80s. And while I’m on the subject of school, my two theater instructors there had a huge impact on me — Luis Muñoz and Charles Jeffries … Luis Muñoz has gone on to be the State Theatre Director for the UIL One-Act Play festival. Frankly, I probably had a much better theater education at the high-school level than I had at the university level.
Do you think it’s possible that San Antonio could experience the kind of creative explosion `in theater` that we’ve had in visual arts? It seems like there’s beginning to be some traction, what with the Overtime, the AtticRep, Jump-Start…
`Sighs.` Well, I’ve been working in theater in San Antonio a long time, and I”ve seen moments like this before, where there’s a lot of creative stuff going on. In terms of some kind of notion of success … I’m not getting my hopes up. Wait `laughs`. I don’t wanna sound that negative. What I mean is, with theater, in this city, it’s very difficult to do, and the different theater companies are working towards different ends. Which is good, actually; I think it’s good. What the Overtime is trying to do with theater is very different than what the
AtticRep is doing.
The AtticRep is bringing in stuff from the coasts, it’s bringing in stuff that’s for the 10 percent of people who already go see theater. Now, this is great stuff, but it’s just completely different `at the Overtime`, where we’re putting on shows for the 90 percent of San Antonio who don’t already go to the theater. That’s why we do stuff like `the upcoming` Pirates vs. Ninjas — campy, non-academic stuff — as well as some kid-friendly, family-friendly stuff. I want to get people in here, get them interested in theater as a live experience, especially if it’s not something they’ve really been interested in before.
Right, not the typical “highbrow” ...
Exactly, although I love that stuff, I do. Love the dead white guys. My two favorite writers are Shakespeare and Molière. Which is why I divide the repertoire of the Overtime into emphasizing two `areas`: classics and original stuff.
Right, like you do the local playwright’s festivals, developing local work.
Absolutely. My mission, if you wanna call it that, is to produce local work by local writers, as much of it as frequently as possible. Local playwrights, most of them emerging playwrights. I’m always open to and looking for new work, new one-acts. Absolutely. And then the classics we do, the Shakespeare, they’re reimagined.
You’re a writer, a playwright, as well as an actor. You wrote the prologue verses at the beginning of Lear, setting up this post-apocalypic version of Shakespeare.
Yeah. In terms of doing the classics, the Shakespeare and Molière, I really enjoy interacting with them. Like I’ve written this prequel to As You Like It that’s opening on June 12.
`Laughs.` A prequel to As You Like It?
`Deadly serious.` Yes.
`Still laughing.` What’s it called?
`Still deadly serious.` It’s entitled What Will Happen. I also did a sequel to Taming of the Shrew called Return of the Shrew … and in each case the sequel or prequel is a little different, but still follows that touchstone character … you know, in What Will Happen we follow the Duke, who’s been kicked out and is in the forest. Poor ol’ Old Man Duke … and I’m doing some different things, like having actresses play male roles and vice versa.
Is that something you’ve done a lot of?
Yeah, and here’s the thing: There are more talented female actors out there than male actors.
In San Antonio?
Anywhere. Really, I’m serious about this, and it’s something I’ve observed. There are more talented actresses out there, in terms of sheer numbers.
More actresses than actors, or more actresses than parts?
Both! And it’s ridiculous; no, it’s criminal, that there’s this shortage of interesting and challenging female roles being written. Are playwrights just not paying attention? And it’s not … it’s not, for me, a “feminist” issue or a gender issue ... it’s a common damn sense issue! And you can definitely quote me on that.
Where’d you get the idea, even, to do 12 hours of stage performance?
From my early years as a working actor in San Antonio, in, say, ’93-’94, when you’d start out the day performing at a theme park, or at Magik Children’s Theatre, for example, and then you’d go on to do a regular, mainstage production in the evening, and then after that you might do improv somewhere, or a different role in an entirely different show. It wasn’t unusual, over the course of a week, to do 40 or 50 hours of actual performance … and towards the end of any given day, your brain would `perform` differently …
As in, more warmed up?
`Pauses` Well … or crazier? `Laughs.` You’re in a different place; things open up for you as a performer with just that sheer length of stage time … I don’t know, exactly. But I wanted to see what 12 hours would do to me, see what it’s like. •
Scott McDowell’s Pirates vs. Ninjas (co-starring John Poole as Cpt. Lyons, Pirate King) opens May 8 at the Overtime. Get the schedule at theovertimetheater.net.