Dallas — Chances are, if you’ve seen a musical or play with Andy Baldwin in it— at Casa Mañana, Theatre Three, Dallas Children’s Theater, Theatre Arlington or most recently in a string of roles at Lyric Stage—you know him as the guy who typically steals the show.
Critics are running out of ways to refer to his physical comedy skills as “rubber-faced” and “loose-limbed.” But that’s what makes him rise above the rest, and amazingly, it’s never hammy or over-the-top. See: His funny and sensitive portrait of Otto in Grand Hotel at Lyric last year.
Local audiences who want to see those skills in action have just one more weekend to do so, in the final four performances of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes at Lyric Stage, in which he plays Moonface Martin and is again up to his thieving ways. After the show closes, he and his girlfriend Stephanie Fischer, a SAG actress who focuses on TV and commercial work, are moving to New York.
As in next week.
But this isn’t one of those typical stories of a fresh-faced actor arriving in the Big Apple with a few bucks and big dreams. For one thing, he no longer falls into the “fresh-faced” category. At 33, Baldwin has taken a few test-the-waters trips to NYC for another reason: training. Most notably he studied at Circle in the Square school, where he loved his physical theater training. He seeks more of that.
“We’re looking for training that we’re not getting, or that isn’t available or that we’ve exhausted here,” Baldwin says.
In his 15 or so years as an actor and director, Fort Worth native Baldwin has studied under some local luminaries, including J. Brent Alford and T.J. Walsh, and cut his teeth in eight years in the resident company at Casa Mañana Children’s Theatre, performing in every show of each season of theater for young audiences, plus the occasional gig in the subscription musicals. He’s worked with some of the area’s best directors and performers, and there have been some rumors about his temperament—one piece of gossip had him throwing a chair backstage at one theater, which he says is not true—but now it’s time for something different.
Smartly, he has planned for it. He and Fischer have an apartment set up in Hamilton Heights (in North Manhattan, in the 130s) and have enough saved to last about a year, he says, provided they don’t get any work at all. And that, of course, is not the plan.
Foremost on the frontburner is to find the training he seeks.
And if an audition does lead to something big, he'd join a plethora of actors who came from the North Texas theater scene and are now regulars on Broadway and beyond, including Brian Gonzales (currently Babkak in Aladdin, James Corden's understudy in One Man, Two Guvnors), Major Attaway (Genie understudy in Aladdin), Akron Watson (ensemble in the revival of The Color Purple), and Cedric Neal, who went from The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess to now playing Berry Gordy in the London production of Motown—to name a few.
Don’t worry, local Baldwin lovers. He will still be involved locally, perhaps accepting an occasional role at Lyric Stage and becoming Partner/Vice President of Production and Development for Plano’s Fun House Theatre and Film, the acclaimed youth theater for which he has directed a few times. Those credits include Jeff Swearingen’s Laughter in the Stars, an adaptation of The Little Prince, and the recently closed House of Bard’s—a staggeringly clever mashup of text from several Shakespeare plays with a current political plotline inspired by HBO’s House of Cards, written by Swearingen.
TheaterJones chatted with Baldwin about his future plans.
TheaterJones: How did you fall in love with theater?
Andy Baldwin: I did theater in high school [Boswell High School in northwest Fort Worth]. The musicals they did were giant; they would rent big tour set. The theater department there was huge, but the school was surrounded by cow pastures and football was everything. I feel like I learned to the wrong kind of thing, for me. I went to Tarrant County College [Northwest Campus] after that, and auditioned for the Casa resident company on a whim. I started when I was 20.
What’s different about the training opportunities in New York?
For one, there’s a lot more of them. I look at people who I want to train with here, and they’re running the same rat race I am, people like Joel Ferrell, people I would aspire to learn from. They’re going from job to job and making ends meet themselves [Ferrell, the Associate Artistic Director at Dallas Theater Center and a busy director in town and regionally, is currently directing DTC’s Dreamgirls]. In New York, there are people who just do that, who want to invest in your career. If you connect with someone who’s a mentor here, it’s great, but that’s what you get. I have very limited access to people who invest in me here. In New York I could pay someone to do that—seriously.
Who are some of the people you’ve worked with here who have contributed to your growth as an actor and director?
J. Brent Alford. Valerie Galloway. Todd Hart. In several comedy roles at Lyric Stage, I’ve learned more from [music director] Jay Dias than from anyone. He has opened a whole other door in terms of style and taste.
It’s not just about mentoring and learning “on the job,” it’s about studying, right?
You grow in different ways when you’re in a classroom setting. There are great places here to study, like Terry Martin’s Meisner class. It’s just that the opportunities multiply in New York.
You’re known as a sharp physical theater performer. Is that natural to you?
It is, it’s self-taught but has been honed in years of onstage experience. I had a physical acting teacher at Circle in the Square, and now he’s started a studio group. It’s really important for me to get back in touch with him. It’s not one technique, and he’s able to see one individual artist and actor. He gave me encouragement. He was able to pinpoint and explain why my body is reacting to [certain] things. He’s the main reason I went there.
Do you and Stephanie plan to hit the cattle calls and audition circuit?
It will be different for both of us. Her résumé in the commercial/TV business, she’ll have a smoother transition. For me it will be all about training, getting into classes and growing. The plan was also to go up there and focus on our careers for a while. The struggle most people face with having to juggle a job and paying rent is not as big a worry for us, at least for a while.
And you’re going to keep local ties?
I’ll have something keeping me motivated with Fun House. They’ve received so much attention here, and it’s all warranted. The rest of the theater world needs to know about it. The way Jeff [Swearingen] works with those kids, it’s nurturing, but it’s raw and rugged, these kids know what’s expected of them. The way he uses his original pieces with these kids is incredible. Working with Jeff, it’s nuanced. You have to crawl into his mind. We are trying to do something with Fun House there in 2017, perhaps with a festival.
Are you nervous about the move and new challenges?
Yes, but why do theater if you’re not taking these big chances? It’s about continuing to grow as an artist wherever you are. Any great actor you idolize or follow, they would say the same thing. They’re always learning and growing and training. I feel like this is the right step for me.