A SYMPHONY FOR PORTLAND: John Stillwaggon

Whether delighting an audience of children or reciting The Bard’s soliloquies, John Stillwaggon has been gainfully employed as an actor for a decade.  You can see him in A Symphony for Portland opening on August 18th with previews beginning on the 14th.  Mr. Stillwaggon is keen to take on a challenging role. He feels the presence of a performance is a present to the audience.   “I’ve been blessed to work full-time as an actor for the past ten years. I do a fairly steady diet of TV/Film, but my main career focus is theatre, ranging from Shakespeare to children’s theatre to musicals to everything in between. I enjoy projects that challenge me and even scare me a little, ones that I’m not sure I can succeed in at the outset. I think each performance is a gift, and I especially enjoy projects that feel like a tremendous & special gift to the audience, either in the form of a rollicking good time, a poignant spur to action, or hopefully, both.”

The positive messages in A Symphony for Portland drew Mr. Stillwaggon to the show.  “At a time when the news is filled with too many examples of people using their faith to divide and exclude, this play was truly refreshing in showing a faith community that turned TO their fellow human and not against them; that chose love, inclusion, acceptance.”

Mr. Stillwaggon’s creative process entails deducing character motivation, a strong backstory and finding music that aligns with the character.  “What is my character hunting in this scene? What is in my way? What will I do to get it? What happens if I fail? This last question is often the greatest motivator, and I often use the short-cut of “What scares me in this scene?” I enjoy geeking out with elaborate backstories for characters, and musical playlists that suit the character’s spirit. But the aforementioned action questions are of paramount importance for me.”

Shows with serious subject matter sometimes carry an added sense of responsibility to the work of the cast and creatives in terms of presenting the material sensitively.  Mr. Stillwaggon sees this as a mission.  “I think the approach needs to be the same (“what is my character hunting in this scene”), and a sense of playfulness & fun should infuse every scene, even one with dour subject matter. The timely themes of this play, however, add an urgency and a sense of mission to the work, which can be seen in our Producers, Director, creative team, and cast.”

Though covid is still present, Mr. Stillwaggon is very happy about the protective measures in place so that theatre can thrive once more.  “I’ve been greatly heartened by the measures that the Producers/Directors (as well as Actors’ Equity) have taken to keep us safe (vax, boost, & regular testing for cast/crew/creative team; mask use at rehearsals; mask requirements for audience). Before the vaccine was available, I missed theatre dearly, but I also realized it was a temporary sacrifice that a compassionate society NEEDED to make. Now that the vaccine is available (and both the Union & Producers have been so conscientious in the aforementioned measures), I feel very comfortable performing indoors again. I understand that not everybody will (especially those that are high-risk), and it’s important for everyone to understand their own boundaries as an artist and/or as an audience member. But I feel exceptionally well-protected, not only by the vax/boost, but by a very conscientious union & creative team.”

Post-covid, Mr. Stillwaggon feels that theatrical productions should robustly think outside of the box.  “I appreciate theatres requiring masks & vaccinations. I think now is the time for theatre to be BOLD – theatre has been so sorely missed, that theatre-makers should seize on the audience’s deep reservoir of good will to deliver something truly different & special. This may come in the form of incisive political agitprop theatre, or in an evening totally devoid of “message” but filled with life, hilarity, creation. The audience’s minds & hearts are more open to theatremakers than ever. Let’s not Throw Away Our Shot.”

“What’s next for me?  God willing? Broadway : )”  It is safe to assume that Mr. Stillwaggon will spend many more decades sharing his artistic gifts with the world on stage, screen and television.

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