Photo courtesy Tina Jo Wallace
By Brian Walker
Entire contents copyright © 2014, Brian Walker. All rights reserved
Tina Jo Wallace is a mainstay on the Derby Dinner Playhouse stage in addition to wearing several hats behind the scenes. Mrs. Wallace stars in their current production of Don’t Dress for Dinner, running through February 16. She took time out of her busy schedule to answer 17 of my questions.
Brian Walker: I gotta start by saying that I’m not only a big fan of Derby Dinner Playhouse, but of your work there. I’d love to do a 17 Questions with you, if you’re willing?
Tina Jo Wallace: Thanks so much, and thanks for asking! Brace yourself though, I can be long winded.
BW: I happen to like long winded! We’ll start small. Number 1. How long have you been a company member at Derby Dinner Playhouse?
TJW: It will be 11 years in February.
BW: Number 2. You’re currently starring in the current production of Don’t Dress for Dinner, what role do you play?
TJW: I play Jacqueline, the mistress of the house. It is a pretty fun romp!
BW: Number 3. Are you involved in the Children’s Theatre?
TJW: Yes, I am the Director of Children’s Theatre and Audience Development. So I design, administer, and run all of our classes and camps. I also head the Children’s Theatre series. Along with Bekki Jo and Lee, I get to pick our seasons, cast, and direct some of the shows. I also run our social media at Derby Dinner and create the web videos and promotions for that. If you add getting to act in 4 of the main stage shows, I think I have the best, most diverse job on the planet!
BW: I’ll say, what a sweet gig! Number 4. What was your background before coming to Derby Dinner Playhouse?
TJW: I got my BFA in acting and minored in education at Syracuse University. I was a free-lance actor that tended to find a theatre and stay for long periods. I worked as an actress and teacher at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte for 5 years. I worked as an actress, teacher and educational tour director for Kentucky Shakespeare for 5 years. And in between I traveled doing dinner theatre in Michigan, Shakespeare in Wisconsin and all kinds of odd jobs like waitressing and dressing up in costumes for kids’ birthday parties.
BW: Number 5. If you had to name one, what’s been a favorite role you’ve gotten to play at DDP?
TJW: That is really hard! I have had some of the best opportunities at DDP. One of my favorites was from the same author that wrote the current show. I got to play Berthe in Boeing Boeing and I loved every minute of that dry, hilarious character. But I do tend to love the shows where I am challenged to learn new things. For instance in that show, I had to learn a French accent and a little French. Over my years here I’ve gotten to learn to play the bass and the mandolin and all kinds of other dialects, and I love that.
BW: Number 6. When you’re not wowing audiences at DDP, what can you most often be found doing?
TJW: Chasing my 8 and 6 year old daughters, Elizabeth and Anna. I volunteer at their school, and am room mom for my 2nd grader. I do lots of laundry and running to dance and piano lessons and such. I also have a great garden in the summer and write plays for our Children’s Theatre series.
BW: Number 7. What is your favorite thing that DDP serves?
TJW: I love when we have beef stroganoff on the buffet. It was always my birthday dinner request when I was a little kid, so it makes me think of my mom.
BW: Number 8. Do you have a role you’ve dreamed of playing but haven’t gotten to play yet?
TJW: I have lots of dream roles that I would love to play but that I am either inappropriate for or unqualified to play, does that count? I always wanted to play Maria Von Trapp, but could never vocally do that part justice and am now, sadly, too old to play!
BW: Number 9. What advice would you give to local actors looking to get involved at DDP?
TJW: Come to one of our open calls-we have several a year-and they are on our website. Get as much experience as you can elsewhere. We put shows up very quickly so you have to come prepared and ready to make choices.
BW: Number 10. As a theatre artist, what do you think the most important lesson to learn is before jumping into the professional field?
TJW: Don’t limit yourself. Be open to learning about and working in all aspects of the theatre. You can’t be the star of every show. I have run lights, painted sets, made props, stage managed, taught theatre classes and worked administratively in addition to acting over the last 20 years. It not only helped me to pay the bills, but has given me an appreciation for the highly skilled professionals I get to work with every day.
BW: That’s good advice! Number 11. If you had to be stuck on a desert island with another member of the DDP company, who would it be and why?
TJW: Oh gosh, can I cheat and just say the Footnotes? Since taking my new position I really miss singing with some of my best friends. They make me laugh and cry and can whip up some extraordinary food!
BW: That is kind of cheating but I’ll allow it. Number 12. How do you create a character? Do you have a specific method or does it change with each character?
TJW: I start really early working on my script-at least a month before rehearsals start. I read the script a million times. I look at what my character has to do and say. I also look at what everyone else in the play says about my character. I then try to create a real person that fits in with all of that. I come to rehearsals with choices made about the physicality and voice of the character and then I play with those choices with the director and the rest of the cast. Sometimes my prep work is spot on and fits to a tee. Sometimes I open with a completely different version of what I thought I was going to be. That’s the fun!
BW: Number 13. Are you doing any more shows this season?
TJW: I direct Jungle Book next. I will also be in the May comedy, the late summer musical and the fall mystery. And I will direct the kid’s Christmas show this year. But I can’t tell you what those are yet, ‘cause our season ticket holders get to find out first.
BW: Number 14. What’s your favorite thing about working at Derby Dinner Playhouse?
TJW: It is truly like a family to me-sometimes a dysfunctional family, but a family all the same. My two daughters have been raised in that building with almost every actor having babysat them at one time or another. We have employees who have been there for 20, 25, and 30 years! And our season ticket holders treat me as a daughter or a granddaughter. We are truly blessed to have that extended family.
BW: You can feel that as soon as you walk in too, it’s one of the things I really like about going there. Number 15. What’s your favorite Broadway musical?
TJW: Les Miserables
BW: Number 16. Can you divulge any secrets about possible productions from DDP next season?
TJW: You will know very soon! We have over 8000 season subscribers and they get to know first. Their brochures are in the mail now. I will say that in my Winter Musical Theatre workshop we usually work on music from upcoming shows. This year we are working on music from Mary Poppins.
BW: Very nice!! Number 17. Who is someone who inspires you and why?
TJW: Okay-cheese alert-but I have to say my husband Matt. He is an amazingly talented actor, director, teacher, husband and father, but that is not the main reason I admire him. It is his work ethic. I strive to have the same kind of dedication. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you aren’t willing to put in the effort, you don’t deserve to succeed.