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Broadway actor Eric Ankrim: Home again in Village Theatre’s ‘Tutor’

Eric Ankrim as Edmund and Katie Griffith as Sweetie. The Tutor Production photo. Credit: Photo: Mark Kitaoka

“The Tutor,” Village Theatre’s newest musical, is a homecoming of sorts for local actor Eric Ankrim. He’s back in Seattle after moving his family to New York and performing on Broadway. He’s also reprising a role that he helped debut 10 years ago, when the show was part of Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals.

The musical focuses on an angst-ridden novelist (played by Ankrim) who tutors high school kids on the side in order to make a living.

Ankrim is a local favorite, both onstage as an actor (“First Date,” “Oklahoma”) and off, when he’s directing (“Elf,” “Spring Awakening”).

In a Village Theatre rehearsal room in Issaquah, the 33-year-old Ankrim talked about family and the “survival” skills it takes to work as an actor.

He also sang us a song about writer’s block.

Q: What’s it like to come back to a show that you were part of a decade ago?

A: I had an incredible experience with “The Tutor” as a young actor. I was 24, 25 when I was experiencing the show for the first time. It was the first show that ever took me to New York (as part of the New York Musical Festival). So it’s always going to have a special place in my heart.

Q: So Steve Tomkins (Village’s artistic director) says we’re bringing it back and you say, ‘I have to do it!’

A: At the time it (Village’s 2013-14 season) was announced, I was acting in a show: “First Date” on Broadway. I did that show in Spring 2012 at ACT. And they had always had New York aspirations. They [the producers] had negotiated to hire Zachary Levi to play the role I did, but I was eventually offered the standby and understudy position. My family and I went out there for 7 months. And I went to My Broadway Theater every day. I performed a total of 12 times.

The producers gave us some notice when the show would close. Once I had that date, I knew I would be available for “The Tutor.” It was definitely on my radar, I just didn’t know if I would be available.

Q: So what happened next?

A: I called Steve and asked, ‘Hey have you cast it yet?’ and they were literally in the middle of auditions. I met with David Ira Goldstein, the director. He was in New York, so we had dinner and he kind of felt me out, my energy, to see if he was interested. It ended up working out.

Q: You’re not shy when it comes to getting work.

A: Actors, directors, anyone in a business that is so based on relationships, you have to put your own personal energy out there. You can’t just sit around and wait for people to call you. We aren’t film stars. We don’t have publicists. A lot of people in Seattle don’t even have agents.

So it really rests on your shoulders to put the pieces together yourself. When a season is announced, you think, ‘Ok, I might be good for that.’ And be as proactive as possible and that’s something Seattle actors have to learn because they don’t have someone keeping tabs on opportunities and filtering them out for you.

I just try not to be offensive when I call people and start banging on their doors! (He laughs when he says this).

Q: How did you learn that?

A: My dad told me in high school, when I said, ‘Listen, I may want to quit the baseball team and do this musical.’ He said, ‘You can do whatever you want as long as it’s 100 percent.

Coming out of college, Bill Berry (the producing director at The 5th Avenue) became kind of my mentor. And he taught me a lot about how to deal with offers and how to manage yourself and keep yourself busy. How to say ‘Yes’ to as many opportunities as you can, but don’t overbook yourself. 

In 2010, I got this crazy illness (Guillain-Barre Syndrome) where I was paralyzed for 2 ½ months (Ankrim has since recovered). And after that experience, I was a whole lot less worried about what people would think if I expressed to them what I think I deserve or what I want to achieve. I’ve let go of the insecurity that has stopped me from having those conversations. I let go of the self-consciousness and the judgment that sometimes censor people’s willingness to ask for what they want.

Q: How did you know you wanted to be an actor?

A: I grew up in University Place, Tacoma. I went to Curtis High school. Julie Halpin, my drama teacher, she was a former mime-turned-drama teacher. From the first time I did “How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying” (spring of my sophomore year of high school), she and the people involved with the production were the people whom I wanted to hang out with. This was why I pursued this: Not to receive applause and not because I was desperate to be on stage, but just to keep hanging out with these people.

(Ankrim eventually quit both the baseball and golf teams in high school so he could focus on theater.)

Q: So what was it about “The Tutor?” You’re older now than when you first did it. Was there something that was really drawing you to the role?

A: He (The character Edmund) is a freelance artist. He tutors high school students on the side to support his passion. He’s writing the next great American novel. He’s passionate and he kills himself with insecurities and the voices in his head are relentless. And that process of just being in your room and beating yourself up over and over for the next great idea — I relate to that in every way, especially now as I transition into directing, staying up at night trying to solve problems.

Anyone in theater is constantly engaged in an impossible task. As a teen, I remember going to this workshop at the Oregon Shakespeare and someone said: If this is something you want to do, don’t do it. It has to be something you have to do! Because it will not lift you up enough unless you have something inside of you that is forcing you to do this.

I’m an incredibly competitive person and that competitive desire is very well fueled by the challenges of acting and directing. In theater, you never get it perfect. It’s a constant journey, which means every day you’re competing and challenging yourself.

Q: So you’ve had 8 years more of angst and fretting and anxiety to bring to Edmund.

A: And living in New York City with 3 children all under the age of 5 will really give you some nice angst to draw upon.

We’ve been on a wild journey. And this journey that Edmund goes on has a lot to do with finding a creative home. The concept of coming back to the Northwest, and getting our home in Snohomish and doing this play at the Village Theatre, one of my creative homes, was incredibly attractive.

Crosscut's arts coverage is made possible through the generous support of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

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