Dallas — Bill Bolender, an actor with more than 50 film and TV credits, was in the Dallas Theater Center’s repertory company in the late 1980s and early ’90s during the tenures of artistic directors Adrian Hall and Ken Bryant. The actor’s many TV and film roles have included appearances in RoboCop 2, JFK, Dante’s Peak, and The Shawshank Redemption, in which he has a short but memorable scene as Elmo Blatch, the inmate who tells another convict of the crime he committed, the one for which Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) was found guilty and wrongly imprisoned (see video above). Bolender, who now lives in Brooklyn, returns to Dallas this month to costar in the world premiere of Matthew Posey’s Mrs. Haggardly, opening Feb. 8 at Ochre House Theater, the company Posey founded which produces original works mostly written by himself and his lively ensemble of stage artists.
The new work, according to the advance press, is a fable about a “home for wayward children” that “conjures opera and spectacle, in which a trio of wily old women protect their hapless orphans and resist the fascists pillaging the village in The Great Brutal War. All this in a magical storefront theater in Exposition Park.
Bolender grew up in Chicago, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and San Francisco School of Fine Arts and pursued a long and successful acting career, never mind all that high-end training in visual arts. He’s painting again, he says, and you can look at his work at www.billbolender.com.
We talked with Bolender about his time in Dallas and the new play he’s rehearsing.
TheaterJones: Welcome back to town. You’ve worked in Los Angeles and New York for many years. What roles do you remember most from your years in Dallas theater?
Bill Bolender: My first play in Dallas was Brecht’s Life of Galileo, directed by Adrian Hall at the Kalita Humphreys Theater. I also remember doing All the King’s Men at the Dallas Theater Center’s big warehouse-style theater [the Arts District Theatre] in the Dallas Arts District where Adrian directed so many productions. I loved working in live theater, and I loved all the people I worked with in Dallas.
What brought you back to Dallas?
I was offered a chance to come out and work with Matt. I’m in Mrs. Haggardly, his new play. I’m an old hack actor, and I jumped at the chance to play a 102-year-old woman named Madame Pigslips running an orphanage with two other old women. [Posey directs the show and plays the title role. Will Acker plays Mrs. Busybottom.]
How is that working out?
I came out of retirement, as we say in theater, to act in this show. I’ve never been involved in a theater like Matthew’s company. I’ve known him pretty much forever and admired his work at the Theatre Garage back when I lived in Dallas. Let me just say that Posey is to the art of storytelling what Thelonious Monk is to music. His group is always exploring new ways to tell a story. That appeals to the artist in me. This play is about love in a time of war, told through the eyes of various strays and freaks and misfits, all people who do not have the experience of love.
What’s different for you in the Dallas theater scene?
I’ve been here rehearsing for two weeks, and I’ve seen the neighborhood around Exposition for the first time. The city is bigger, but I recognize the skyline and the street names. I’ve been focused on working ut hope to get out and see some other theater later.
What are some memorable roles in the work you’ve done over the years?
I’ve always appreciated all the jobs, and all had something I enjoyed. I loved the travel, like going to Mexico to do a film about nurses and doctors. Another job took me to Idaho. I went to a prison in Ohio to shoot a scene for The Shawshank Redemption. All the acting experiences have been important to me.
You’re a formally trained artist. I browsed through your work on your website, and I’m fascinated by your style and subjects. Can you comment on your painting?
I am painting again. That’s what old people do [laughs]. I paint in oils on gesso-covered boards. I don’t show anywhere. A friend told me to set up a website and helped me do it. The subjects, as you saw, are mostly street people. They’re poor, but the people I paint haven’t given up. They’re not junkies. I paint them because I find them courageous. I work from sketches, and I sneak around with a little camera. Sometimes I talk with the people I paint; they have wonderful stories.
The colors are hopeful and vivid, and I can imagine a story just from looking at the pictures. What painters have influenced your work?
The old masters are great for their depiction of the human form. I’m also interested in painters like Hopper whose paintings have a narrative. Of course, that’s the reason I like theater, too.