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Blog Less Traveled: An interview with Tim Newell

This week: a talk with Tim Newell, star of The Jewish Wife and Duck Variations.

blog by Scott Behrend  • 

This week I chat with actor Tim Newell—he is one of the most recognizable faces in the Western New York acting community and the owner of one of Buffalo’s most illustrious acting careers. In just the past 10 years or so, Tim has essayed Iago, Cassius, Polonius, Dogberry and both Lear’s Fool and Feste (and that’s even leaving out a few major Shakespearean credits). He also managed to make time to play Bilbo Baggins, Adolph Hitler and Jack Benny (twice). Tim is also one of the rare local performers who is able to predominantly support himself solely through acting – which makes him a true success story of note.

I might also add that Tim starred in the very first Road Less Traveled Production—the world premiere of Jon Elston’s ProJect, all the way back in January 2003.

Blog Less Traveled: Tim Newell! You just opened a new dual production of The Jewish Wife and David Mamet’s The Duck Variations at Jewish Repertory Theater! Obviously this excites me, as you previously essayed the highly Mametian early dialogue of Jon Elston in ProJect. How has your experience with Mamet been so far?

Tim Newell: Challenging, to say the least. Talk about the ‘art of listening!’ Talk about the ‘art of concentration!’ If anything, it’s the random “yes,” “uh, huh,” “darn tootin’” and the “sure as shootin’” that’ll kill you. However, once you get into the groove and the rhythm, the musicality is gorgeous. And then, after awhile, it starts to feel like a comfy shoe. Learning this piece has empowered my abilities to memorize, that’s for damn sure! P.S.—my work in ProJect was excellent preparation. Thanks, Jon Elston, you SOB!

BLT: Coming this summer, you’ll continue your march through the great tragedies of William Shakespeare as you tackle the juicy villain Richard III in Delaware Park. In what ways do you plan to distinguish your Richard from your other Shakespearean master schemers—Othello’s Iago and Julius Caesar’s Cassius?

TN: The hump will help. I plan to tap into the actor that Richard is, as well as fine-tune his humor. It’s a goal to fool everyone: is he being himself, or is he wearing a mask? You have to decide. Richard is out there! You know right from his first soliloquy what his intentions are, and that he’ll allow no one to get in his way. Cassius’ motives were steeped in fear, whereas Iago’s motives were manufactured out of sheer envy. Those factors and/or characteristics alone are distinguishable enough.

BLT: Despite your prolific dramatic credits, you’re just as popular for your memorable musical comedy work—most recently in your Artie-nominated turn as the lovably deluded Budd Davenport in last season’s Gutenberg! The Musical. If you were forced at gunpoint to choose only one genre to devote the rest of your career to—plays or musicals—which would you choose and why?

TN: Plays. Why? Musicals are taxing—it’s like being shot out of a cannon! You gotta act, you gotta sing and you gotta be able to move. Plays are by no means easier, they simply come easier to me. In truth, I don’t consider myself to be a true blue musical theater actor. I truly admire those who are, and how they make it look so damn easy. I’m that actor who can “sing and move well,” and with that said, I’ve loved the roles I’ve played in musicals—most of which have been extensions of myself. Bud Davenport (Gutenberg!).  Dr. Parker (Bat Boy). The myriad characters I played in the JRT’s Hello, Muddah! Hello, Fadduh! All were “bits of Tim Newell.” 

BLT: For an actor of your relatively recent vintage, you’ve really managed to establish a formidable resume and be a full-time actor. What advice might you offer an even younger actor who strives to enjoy a Newell-esque career?

TN: First of all: always have a backup plan. Secondly: listen, watch and learn. As I’ve said in other interviews, I am not a trained actor. I didn’t go to a university to learn what it is that I am able to do. So, my directors are my professors. My cast mates are my classmates and the rehearsal hall and theater is the classroom. I’m still learning, and I love it.

BLT: I hear that you’ll be making your Chicago stage debut this spring—tell us all about it.

TN: That’s right! I’m packing up my “Newell-ness” and taking it on the road. I met Roger Smart, the artistic director of The Shattered Globe Theatre, back last March and with him I left my photo and resume. Then, this past June, I went to audition and was cast in two productions—one of which had to be postponed. The one I’ll be doing is Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s, “Her Naked Skin.” In it, I play William Cain, a husband whose wife is part of the women’s suffragette movement. It’s a beautifully written piece, and I’m looking very forward to working on it, as well as with a cast of unknowns—with the exception of Buffalo’s own, Kate LoConti! Yeah, baby!

I’ve been wanting to peddle my goods elsewhere for a good four or five years now, but the question had always been where, and when? Upon seeing Chicago, and having spent ample time there, I immediately found the “where.” The “when” found its way,and that will be a month from now. It was all just a matter of time, and a lot of patience.

I’m at a good age now, and with much gratitude to every director who has directed me, and every company who has given me so many wonderful roles, I feel like I’m ready to advance not only my career, but my life as well.

I made a jump to New York back when I was just 19, maybe 20. Though it was certainly an education in life, I didn’t accomplish all that I’d set out to do as an actor—again, without any formal training, a crappy resume and a shoddy headshot. Happily, my career in Buffalo has certainly helped to hone my talents enough to afford me the opportunity to make a mark in Chicago with The Shattered Globe Theatre.  Who knows what else may come?

I’m ready.

The Jewish Wife and Duck Variations will run through March 4 at the Jewish Repertory Theater (2640 N. Forest Road, Getzville).

TAGGED: blog less traveled, jewish repertory theatre, road less traveled productions, scott behrend, the jewish wife and duck variations, tim newell

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