In a career spanning over 25 years, Bruce has appeared on Broadway in "Jane Eyre, The Musical," "The Music Man," "Anything Goes" (a benefit for Lincoln Center Theater); and currently the Broadway revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar." He has performed at the world-renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival for more than 12 seasons, where he has appeared in Shakespeare, contemporary drama, and musicals. A highlight of Bruce’s experience at Stratford was appearing in "The Tempest" with ®Academy Award Winner, Christopher Plummer. The production was filmed and shown in movie theatres across North America. His other credits with Stratford include "Cabaret," "The Comedy of Errors," "...Forum," "Guys and Dolls," "An Ideal Husband," "Into the Woods," "Man of La Mancha," and "The Merchant of Venice."
Born in Seattle, WA, and raised in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, Bruce is truly a North American performer. Having studied drama in high school, he decided to pursue acting as a career by auditioning for the University of British Columbia's BFA in Acting program. With this broad spectrum of training under his belt, Bruce decided never to act again - Oh, No! He applied and was accepted into the school's MFA in Directing Program. Upon graduation with both a BFA in Acting and an MFA in Directing, Bruce auditioned for the Original Canadian Company of "Les Miserables" - and the rest is history.
Bruce is currently starring as "King Herod" in the Broadway revival of Des McAnuff/Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of "Jesus Christ Superstar." "Herod's Song" is the comic (or sinister, as some people feel) highlight of the somber story, and Bruce makes the number his own, stopping the show every night.
For more on Bruce be sure to visit http://www.brucedow.com!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I think the desire to perform, though it may sound sad, is the same for a lot of actors and performers. For many, as for me, it comes from the desire to be "someone else." For me, it also came from the need to be accepted. One saw the exciting lives of the characters on the stage and wanted to live it with them. Not that I had some horrible and traumatizing childhood - I just never felt like I fit in. So the idea of being someone else and living an exciting and exotic life was very inviting. I always had a massive imagination. I loved playing in different worlds. Also, even though the characters in plays had problems, they seemed to belong in their worlds. I don't think I've ever really felt like I was/am on the same planet as everyone else. Still don't much.
As for being inspired by a specific actor, I would love to say that it was someone like John Gielgud, or Rex Harrison (and they DID inspire me a lot), but the first fascination came with Adam West as "Batman" in the 60's TV series. That was the first time my mother explained that "Batman isn't really 'Batman,' but a man pretending to be 'Batman'." I was hooked! My dream of living as someone else could come true...in a sort-of way.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I've done a lot of work with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, but there are a lot of people at the RSC with whom I'd love to work - both actors and directors. Also, I'd love to work with the Classic Stage Company here in NYC. I saw their award winning revival of "The Cherry Orchard" this past season and was completely blown away. The intimacy of the space and the inventiveness of the direction. Along with the incredibly brave performances.
What interests me about theatre is the process - the "how one gets there." The excitement is in the rehearsal process and in people's different approaches to "how" they work. I firmly believe that as soon as an actor has "their own process" that their work becomes very limited and stale. You have to try things a different way each time. Certainly, one will find their own short-hard or preferred approach to the work - but any actor who says "I don't/can't work that way" is in trouble. I like trying to learn a new approach. That's been the great fun of working with people from John Caird to Amanda Dehnert to Peter Hinton to Des McAnuff. There is no one correct way to approach theatre. I like to be challenged. Keeps it fresh. And, too, I think it makes the work more relevant.
As for actors/performers, I've been in the room with Patti LuPone (two weeks of rehearsal for a fundraising performance of Anything Goes for LCT), Howard McGillan, Michael McGrath, and Boyd Gaines - but I'd love to actually work WITH them. I met Michael Cerveris this season. He's another whose work I respect so very much. Heck, I'll work with anyone who's crazy enough to want to work with me! We can all learn from each other.
3. What attracted you to the revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar"? I grew up listening to this music. It was the "controversial" musical in my day. I remember hearing about people burning the "concept album" because it was "heretical." And I had friends whose parents didn't want them listening to it. It was the show that all the kids in high school wanted to do as our annual musical, but there was always some big reservation from "the powers on high" to let us do it. So instead we listened to the concept album - "brown album" - and the movie soundtrack in our friends' parents basements. We felt sooooo cool! Such rebels! Ah!
4. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? This is a tough one. I have to be honest and say that, though I have been thrilled with the audience response to JCS - and truly, I've never seen an audience go nuts for a show like this one - I hope they go away with a sense of the brilliance of the writing - both the music and the lyrics. This show is so brilliantly and cleanly constructed. It's smart and very much shows the strength of the K.I.S.S. Principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) It follows the construction of a bel canto opera (arias, chorus, recitative) and the music is every bit as intricate as any of those classical scores. The libretto must conform to the same structure, which could be limiting, and yet it is pointed, political and daring in what it says. Audiences are loving the show, but I hope they will come away with an appreciation of the quality of the work.
There can be a danger with a show based on "a book of faith." You have to know that people will come to the piece with their own preconceptions. And while our production has been deliberately directed so that you can bring your "personal point of view on the subject matter" to the evening; I sometimes wonder if some in the audience are open to the bigger questions the piece asks. All you have to do is look at the title of the show, and the title song!
5. What do you identify most with about your character "King Herod"? In discussions with director, Des McAnuff, I knew we were going down a path of more bouffon (a European approach to clown work), similar to what we did with "Trinculo" in "The Tempest," starring Christopher Plummer, the previous season. I mean we wanted something more than mere camp - although the camp elements are still front and centre - It's in the writing, after all. This meant taking the truth of the political situation in which "Herod Antipas" found himself ("Antipas" was one of the sons of "Herod the Great"..."The Great" was the factual king who built the Great Temple of Jerusalem of which only the Wailing Wall remains, and also the king of legend who ordered "the slaughter of the innocents") We wanted to place a magnifying glass on Antipas' experience to the point of the grotesque. "Identify" may not be the best word - but, rather what I "feel for" most in Herod Antipas' situation is his frustration and fear. In his eyes, he should be the "king of the jews" - after all his father was! - but his state is under Roman occupation. He should be the "king of the jews," but here comes some illiterate carpenter and company (all "Antipas" could possibly know of the situation and the characters), claiming not only the crown, but also, to be, if not the son of god, then the rabbi "anointed from on high." "Herod Anitpas" is feeling impotent. He's resentful. And he's scared.
6. You've spent over 12 seasons working with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. What initially made you want to audition for them? What has kept you wanting to continue working with them? I first auditioned for Stratford, as any actor would, to get a job. They were doing auditions, I knew it was a reputable company, and I needed the work! Ha! It was that simple. My 12 seasons have been over a period of 20 years. I've worked there and I've worked many other places in that period of time. Many people assume you just land at a place like Stratford and keep working there. Each season is a separate contract, so each season I auditioned at least four times in hope of being cast. Only for the last two was I there on "invitation." Again, people make assumptions that you are just "there."
But why keep going back? Two things. 1. The work is always interesting. Great plays, great directors, great actors, and an enthusiastic supportive audience. (The festival's patronage is around 600,000 per season). Who could ask for anything more!? and 2. Perhaps the thing I find most fascinating about the work there - Stratford is the only place outside the Metropolitan Opera where everything is made on site - from boots and shoes to wigs and jewelry. It's North America's Largest Classical Repertory Theatre. Annual budget approx. $65 Million. So, in addition to working with great directors and actors on great pieces of literature, one also gets to work with the finest craftspeople in North America. I find the work of the milliners, cutters, and props folks amazing. You handle a wig or a prop differently when you know the care and attention that has gone into its creation. Working with great craftspeople is such a thrill.
7. What was the best part about starring in "The Tempest" alongside Christopher Plummer? What did you learn from working with him? The whole cast for that Tempest was amazing. Peter Hutt, James Blendick, Dion Johnstone, Geraint Wyn Davies, John Vickery, Julyana Soelistyo, Wayne Best, Gareth Potter, Trish Lindstrom - and so many more. It was a hotbed of crazy-brilliance going on. I was so lucky to be a part of it.
But working with Chris? Watching him work? His work ethic is unparalleled. He does his homework. Before rehearsals. During rehearsals. During the run. He comes in to rehearsal so prepared, and yet so open to every idea. He is one of those actors who takes the time to do his work in rehearsal, but who is more than patient to let you do yours. He shares. He "works with." There's none of the "isolated"/"working in a bubble" thing that has become so popular of late. He's serious when he needs to be. He only gets - not angry, but "irked" - if someone isn't doing their homework or their share of the work. (Reasonable enough to me!) And he is loving and generous - and freakin' hilarious ALL the time! And come performances, he is there two hours before the show and one hour before the show he is in full costume and make-up roaming the halls getting "revved up!"
What you learn from watching someone like Chris is "what it means to be a professional." We are all taught in drama school how to be "an actor," but there is something different about being a true "professional" - to do work that you are prepared for and of which you can be proud. That's Mr. Plummer!
8. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? About myself?! EEK! I've learned that it is necessary, in art, to do more than just be "good." Anyone can give a good performance. Anyone can do a good audition - but being brave and fearless is something else. Take heed, though! Being brave and fearless does not mean being reckless! It all comes from the same preparation it takes to give a good performance. It's what I've learned watching the likes of Plummer, Brent Carver and Patti LuPone. To "act" a moment is to take things to the edge. It's why I love the world of clown/bouffon and extreme character work. It's more than just "go big or go home," but that's probably the best way to describe it. Theatre is NOT life. It's the extreme moments of life. No matter how broadly or how subtly played, they have to be played with truth - but, I mean the blood and guts and life and death and terror of truth.
Now - the danger in trying to do work that is on the edge is that you will crash and burn more often than you will fly. I've given many horrible performances and have been in many horrible productions - but the work was worth it!
I've also learned that my job as an actor is not simply to serve my character, but rather to serve my character's function in the play. Herod is a prime example of that. He must show the impotency of the Jewish government of the time. He must show the rage and fear of the Jewish aristocracy towards those who would ruffle the feathers of the Romans. - But, he's also got to be the 10 O'Clock number - the levity before the storm. ALL those things must be accomplished for the play to move forward. If I'm not doing that, then I'm not doing my job. I can play Herod's "fear" - as we discussed before - as much as I want - but it I don't accomplish those structural events, then I've missed the point entirely.
Every character has a very specific dramatic purpose. We don't learn enough about that in theatre school.
I assume, too, that you are asking on a more personal level. I've learned that the work, when it is good, is much harder on me than I ever assumed it would be. I need to be able to balance my work with my life - and I'm not very good at that so far...I'm working on it...have been for years! Ha!
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? "It's not about you." We are all told how special and individual we are. It's the wrong message. The more we learn it's about our individual experience, but in context with the experience of others, then the better a place the world will be. Also, "don't act the play - just let the play happen to you." That's so hard to describe - but it's been invaluable.
10. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? I'd love to spend an evening watching a great composer at work. Puccini; Weill; Janacek; Bach. To be inside their mind while they were working on something...creating something.
11. Favorite way to spend your day off? I tend to spend my days off in a comatose state... 8 shows, 6 days a week - while the hours may not seem long - it's a lot of intense activity emotionally and intellectually. I like to walk. I like to read. I like to write...music and words. I also knit! But, that's more often in rehearsals to deal with the nerves! Ha!
12. If you could have any super power, which one would it be? To fly. Who wouldn't want to fly?!