July 1, 2008

Acting Comes Full Circle

By Dan England, Greeley Tribune, Colo.

Jul. 1--Ken Womble longed for the stage, even as he performed on the basketball court in front of cheering fans, the kind of adulation actors rarely receive.

He always wanted to be in plays, but growing up, sports were emphasized, not the arts, and that was OK with Womble, as stagefright lurked deep in the bowels of his belly.

Once he got to Florida State University as an underclassman, however, he gave himself permission to try it. Universities tend to be more liberal about those things. You wanna try the arts? Try it. He did, and by his junior year, he got a lead role in "Bus Stop."

Before the first show he paced around backstage, trying to shed the shyness that had haunted him throughout his life. But once he took the stage, with Sandy, who would eventually become his wife, it melted, and Womble was in love.

The love affair led to a career, and now Womble teaches others how to make their own careers out of acting at the University of Northern Colorado.

You might recognize Womble. Just look at those baby blues. They're just made for a soap opera, aren't they?

Womble landed his first national tour, for "The Taming of the Shrew," soon after graduating from Southern Methodist University with a master's degree. He straighten up and flew right after that, ditching smoking, eating right, and whipped himself into the kind of shape you need to be in to make housewives' hearts throb.

"Guiding Light" soon came calling, and he did his first "Under 5," playing a cop who had five lines or less. He played a lot of cops, but as the sands through the hourglass fell, he got larger roles on other soaps, including "All My Children,""One Life to Live" and "General Hospital." He got to play a "seedy" justice of the peace for six years. He also played a "devious" Dutch colonel who turned out to be a spy.

He loved the work. He loved playing all sorts of characters, and given that he was in soap operas, they really were characters, like his devious Dutch. But eventually, the work grew stale.

"I initially was thrilled with the work," Womble said. "It was tongue-in-cheek and a real kick. But at some point you have to sit up and think, 'This Ain't Shakespeare.'"

And so Womble went from not doing Shakespeare to actually doing Shakespeare. He got an invitation to teach at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute in Los Angeles, and that's where he fell in love with teaching.

He loved it so much, in fact, he retired from acting in the mid-1990s and moved around at various colleges and did some acting classes. As a part of his directing and teaching, he adapted two Shakespeare classics, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Romeo and Juliet." He didn't change them. He just shortened them, and they've been done more than 60 times as a result.

In 2005, he got the job at UNC as an assistant professor of theater, and as a part of that, he wrote and directed a short documentary on James Michener. He screened it as a part of UNC's Michener celebrations and still has hopes to turn it into a full documentary.

He gave up acting to teach, but as a part of his teaching, he finds himself acting more than he has in years. He has a large role in "Picnic," written by the same guy who wrote "Bus Stop."

It's almost a full circle.

In fact, it could be. Part of the reason he loves teaching is getting to teach classes like Intro to Acting. The class normally would be a groaner for someone who spent his whole life acting professionally and who teaches some of the highest upper-level classes at a university.

But Womble loves it.

Sure, there are many in Intro to Acting who took the class because they thought it was an easy grade, or they wanted to relax before, say, Calculus.

But Womble also believes there are students in there who are curious about acting, and maybe they're a little shy about it. Maybe there's someone like him, in other words.

Maybe he can teach that one person that it's OK to take a chance and become a different person on stage, whether on TV, in theater or in life.

WHERE TO GO Ken Womble will appear in the Little Theatre of the Rockies' production of "Picnic" at 7:30 p.m. July 11, 16-17, 26 and at 2 p.m. on July 27 at the Norton Theater in Greeley. Call 351-2200 for tickets.

-- Staff writer Dan England covers the outdoors, entertainment and Fort Lupton for The Tribune. His column runs on Tuesday. If you have an idea for a column, call (970) 392-4418 or write [email protected]

Where To Go

Ken Womble will appear in the Little Theatre of the Rockies' production of "Picnic" at 7:30 p.m. July 11, 16-17, 26 and at 2 p.m. on July 27 at the Norton Theater in Greeley. Call 351-2200 for tickets.


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