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Tom Stephenson’s Bucket List

The Craig Noel Award winner shares his hopes for future roles, from Red to one that doesn't even exist — yet.

Tom Stephenson as Joe Keller in Intrepid Shakespeare Company's production of All My Sons, 2014.
Tom Stephenson as Joe Keller in Intrepid Shakespeare Company's production of All My Sons, 2014.

I’m asking veteran local actors to name five dream roles and say why. The answers not only reveal aspirations, they may put an idea in the minds of artistic directors and producers – even choices that may seem out of the box.


Tom Stephenson

Craig Noel Award-winner Tom Stephenson

“Many of the roles on my list have come to fruition: Ben Franklin in my favorite musical, 1776; Bottom, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (albeit the musical version); Claudius in Hamlet; Joe Keller in All My Sons; and Scrooge. But here are some that leap to mind, and one yet to be written.”

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1.) Mark Rothko, in Red, by John Logan. “I think my first profound encounter with art was the Rothko Room at London’s Tate Gallery. I was fourteen. I still think about sitting amid all of Rothko’s majesty. When I’m not immersed in doing theater, I retreat to sculpture, where the process is solely my own: no music, no lighting effects, no director whispering ‘try it this way’ in my ear. Some people grab a fishing pole; I take a trip to Home Depot and construct something out of unlikely parts.”

Tom Stephenson as Claudius in Intrepid Shakespeare Company's Hamlet, 2013. With Sean Yael Cox.

2.) George, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, by Edward Albee. “Anytime a script requires me to step out of the relatively simple psychological framework of my own life, it’s like a bungee jump that sweeps me into another world. The complexities of the piece are daunting and frightening. I sometimes think that 20th century American males are watered down to a few basic attributes. George is packed deep. I would love a crack at him.”

3.) Aimable, in The Baker’s Wife, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book, Joseph Stein. “It’s not uncommon for me to be cast in good-natured roles. This is one I’m hoping comes my way. It’s a beautiful musical about shades of love, abandonment, and the illusions of attraction. With my father’s influence I grew up on Gilbert and Sullivan and musical theater. It’ hasn’t been the primary focus of my work but it fills out the goal I set for myself as a young actor: never stop learning; exercise as much courage as I could muster to establish a wide spectrum of work that would be worthy of my training and all who gave it to me.”

Tom Stephenson as Dogberry in Intrepid Shakespeare Company's Much Ado About Nothing. 2014

4.) Hertel in Dog Logic, by Thomas Strelich. He’s a reclusive caretaker for an abandoned pet cemetery somewhere in the San Joaquin Valley. As urban renewal threatens to bulldoze the property, he wonders what lies under the topsoil generations, even eons ago. “Hertel appeals to me because I am acquainted with a reclusive nature and how society, the outside world, or the ‘monster’ (as Steinbeck might say) can relentlessly swallow sources of comfort and reflection.”

5.) Jackie Gleason. Unwritten. “This has been swimming around in my brain for a while. It seems like a promising one-man show. Jackie was iconic in my youth and seemingly lost now with the tsunami of entertainment, social media, and 900 channels. But for those of us who remember the small black and white TVs, he was special. He had great range as a performer and music was a huge part of his life. Maybe someday.”

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Tom Stephenson as Joe Keller in Intrepid Shakespeare Company's production of All My Sons, 2014.
Tom Stephenson as Joe Keller in Intrepid Shakespeare Company's production of All My Sons, 2014.

I’m asking veteran local actors to name five dream roles and say why. The answers not only reveal aspirations, they may put an idea in the minds of artistic directors and producers – even choices that may seem out of the box.


Tom Stephenson

Craig Noel Award-winner Tom Stephenson

“Many of the roles on my list have come to fruition: Ben Franklin in my favorite musical, 1776; Bottom, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (albeit the musical version); Claudius in Hamlet; Joe Keller in All My Sons; and Scrooge. But here are some that leap to mind, and one yet to be written.”

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1.) Mark Rothko, in Red, by John Logan. “I think my first profound encounter with art was the Rothko Room at London’s Tate Gallery. I was fourteen. I still think about sitting amid all of Rothko’s majesty. When I’m not immersed in doing theater, I retreat to sculpture, where the process is solely my own: no music, no lighting effects, no director whispering ‘try it this way’ in my ear. Some people grab a fishing pole; I take a trip to Home Depot and construct something out of unlikely parts.”

Tom Stephenson as Claudius in Intrepid Shakespeare Company's Hamlet, 2013. With Sean Yael Cox.

2.) George, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, by Edward Albee. “Anytime a script requires me to step out of the relatively simple psychological framework of my own life, it’s like a bungee jump that sweeps me into another world. The complexities of the piece are daunting and frightening. I sometimes think that 20th century American males are watered down to a few basic attributes. George is packed deep. I would love a crack at him.”

3.) Aimable, in The Baker’s Wife, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book, Joseph Stein. “It’s not uncommon for me to be cast in good-natured roles. This is one I’m hoping comes my way. It’s a beautiful musical about shades of love, abandonment, and the illusions of attraction. With my father’s influence I grew up on Gilbert and Sullivan and musical theater. It’ hasn’t been the primary focus of my work but it fills out the goal I set for myself as a young actor: never stop learning; exercise as much courage as I could muster to establish a wide spectrum of work that would be worthy of my training and all who gave it to me.”

Tom Stephenson as Dogberry in Intrepid Shakespeare Company's Much Ado About Nothing. 2014

4.) Hertel in Dog Logic, by Thomas Strelich. He’s a reclusive caretaker for an abandoned pet cemetery somewhere in the San Joaquin Valley. As urban renewal threatens to bulldoze the property, he wonders what lies under the topsoil generations, even eons ago. “Hertel appeals to me because I am acquainted with a reclusive nature and how society, the outside world, or the ‘monster’ (as Steinbeck might say) can relentlessly swallow sources of comfort and reflection.”

5.) Jackie Gleason. Unwritten. “This has been swimming around in my brain for a while. It seems like a promising one-man show. Jackie was iconic in my youth and seemingly lost now with the tsunami of entertainment, social media, and 900 channels. But for those of us who remember the small black and white TVs, he was special. He had great range as a performer and music was a huge part of his life. Maybe someday.”

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