Lee Sellars discusses acting and his 11th season with CATF
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Contemporary American Theater Festival actor Lee Sellars may have scored Broadway, television, theater and movie roles throughout his career, but his success hasn’t warped his appreciation for regional theater — or his ability to play sometimes unheroic characters sympathetically.
Maybe that is why CATF Artistic Director Ed Herendeen keeps on asking Sellars to come back to CATF, whenever one of the scripts he chooses for CATF has a part ideal for Sellars’ acting skill set. As of this summer, Sellars has performed in 11 CATF seasons, performing this season as Tim in “The Cake” and Kreplev/Vasily in “Memoirs of a Forgotten Man.”
“Coming back is always exciting. I fell in love with this town when I first came here, and it’s just a wonderful place to be — it’s a working vacation,” Sellars said, as he relaxed in a chair outside of Shepherd University’s Center for Contemporary Arts Friday afternoon.
“One of the joys about coming here, is you know when you come here, you’re going to deal with quality — some of the best in the business — and that’s always a thrill. It’s not only just the fact that I have the greatest respect for Ed Herendeen, but you can also know you’ll be tested and challenged and have fun doing it,” Sellars said.
Performing for a live audience is a completely different experience from creating a recorded production, according to Sellars, who said his theater performances rely on the audience’s emotions and reactions to the play.
“The audience will tell you if they’re buying it or not, and you have to trust them,” Sellars said. “There’s a lot of trust involved, between the audience and the actor. They trust you to give them a good show, and you trust them to react honestly. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.
“Personally, in my soul, live theater is where I live,” Sellars said. “Television and film is an exercise in repetition, because you do the same scene 20 times, and do your best to make it seem real. In live theater, it’s different. If you repeat yourself, you will look too rehearsed. Every time you start a play, you don’t know where it’s going to go. There’s a life inside the scene, which is new, every night, every show.”
Although Sellars has performed in three Broadway shows, “Talk Radio” in 2007, “West Side Story” in 2008 and “A Time to Kill” in 2013, and hopes to perform on Broadway again, he said regional theaters like CATF play a vital role in the theater world.
“I think what we’re discovering in this country, now, is that the local scene is sometimes as important as New York or Los Angeles. I’ve always felt like the backbone of theater is the regional theaters, like CATF, and in New York City, like off-off-Broadway,” Sellars said, mentioning he has seen one development happening as CATF — finishing its 28th season this weekend — has gained international recognition for its production quality.
“If you can come to CATF after a season and have some success, you can pretty much go anywhere, as an actor. I’ve seen actors come down here, and get an agent out of these plays,” Sellars said. “One of the lovely things that I’ve seen over the years coming down here, is casting directors have started to recognize CATF’s sterling reputation. Not just for its new plays, but its good quality work.”