Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Story Behind The Characters

Justin Berry is a familiar face at Desert Star Playhouse.  In fact, since 2006, he's appeared in every Desert Star show but ONE!   His first appearance on the Desert Star stage was in the 2003 production of Jekyll and Hyde.   Justin frequently acts as emcee to announce the birthdays and anniversaries, and the audience members enjoy his personality and wit.  He is currently playing the role of Prince Diaredes in Hunk-cules: I’m Too Sexy For My Toga.  With his over-the-top energy, he's bringing laughs galore to our audiences.  Justin also played the role of Dax (the boyfriend) in Desert Star's original production of My Big Fat Utah Wedding, from 2004 to 2005.  This show has the distinction of being Utah’s longest running show, and Justin played the part of Dax longer than any other actor.  By day, Justin works as the Graphic Designer for the theater.  He designs the playbill for each show, the website, and all the print advertising you see for the theater.  He's an important member of the Desert Star family.  

After seeing his latest character in Hunk-cules: I’m Too Sexy For My Toga, we wanted to get some insight into how he works as an actor, so we asked Justin to share his process for creating crazy characters.  He explained that, as part of his actor training in college, he learned to develop an extensive backstory for his characters.  A backstory is a tool that actors use to help define and build characters, including family history, major events that happened in their lives, and other information the audience never really sees, but which helps the character come alive.  Justin follows this practice for every role. While in rehearsals, he develops an extensive backstory for the character to help shape what the audience sees onstage.

Here are four of his favorite backstories:

Prince Diaredes in Hunk-cules (2011)
••• For this villainous role, I wanted to create something different from other villains I've played. So I set out to create a story that would explain why the prince would do the things he does. I decided he was nothing more than an overgrown, spoiled child.  He was one of those kids who were bullied at school and developed a Napoleon complex as a defense. He did not have  a strong father figure, but was raised by his mother, who gave him everything he ever wanted. He was an only child and used that to his advantage at every opportunity. From his mother he also got a keen sense of style and love for all things garish. His hobbies include torturing insects, accessorizing, craft projects, pottery and making faces at himself in the mirror.

Tin Man in Wizard of Odd (2008)
••• This was one of my favorite roles to play. We took the Tin Man and mashed him up with Simon Cowell of American Idol fame. What was really fun to explore with this character was what made him so jaded, yet lovable at the same time. Again, I went back to his school days and realized that though he was not picked on, he was just not accepted. He was a boy made of tin and this made him different. The other kids in Oz were scared of him and basically avoided him. He fell in love with a girl who would reject him and break his heart. It was this tragic event that drove him to become the hollow shell of a man that he did. The real fun then came when I started to layer on the attitudes and caustic nature that is Simon Cowell. This show was running during American Idol season, and every week I would watch the show and write down all of Simon's over-the-top, mean or crazy comments. I would then work them into the show. The other actors really had no idea what was coming next.

Colonel Flanders in My Valley Fair Lady (2008)
••• As far as backstories go, this is probably my favorite one. His life started in the deep South where he was raised with his sister. Soon the family moved to Utah so his father could buy a honey production company. After his parents died in a tragic bee accident (don't ask), he and his sister were set for life financially. They sold the honey business and decided to live a perfect Southern Utah. But boredom soon set in for this Southern gentleman. So what to do? It was on one of his many outings to the zoo, that he realized he could start his own fast food chain, and Kamas Fried Moose was born. When he failed to find a market he also tried Kamas Fried Steer, Kamas Fried Deer and Kamas Fried Badger. It was not until he discovered pigeons while walking through the park that Kamas Fried Pigeon was hatched and he had a winner! But even that was not enough for this socialite. So he would take trips to the mall or other public places to be able to see how everyone else lived. He also fancied himself a bit of a spy, and while on a "stake out" would put on his trench coat over his white suit, add dark glasses, and a white fedora.  He would then drive his white Rolls Royce (complete with a gold-plated pigeon as a hood ornament) to his destination, where he would park across the street and watch his target, feeling he was perfectly inconspicuous and sly!

Deadeye Dawson in Butch Cassidy and the Sunburnt Kid (2007)
••• Here was another great villain that I was gifted to play. His life did not start in the Old West, but rather across the great pond. England. He was a bully and a cheat while he growing up, but never a very good one. He often got beaten down by the people he was trying to bully. Such was his lot in life. He tried to make money in a series of failed business and ventures (some honest, some not so honest). But all of these things failed. He wanted to be rich and famous and he wanted to be revered if not feared for his power. He also loved the dime novels about the American West and wanted to be a cowboy. But it soon became very clear that he would never have these things if he stayed in his homeland. So he decided it was time to face a new frontier and he charted a course for America. It was on his long boat ride that he came up with the plan to take the Old West by storm. He named himself Deadeye Dawson in order to strike fear in the hearts of those he would meet. The wannabe cowboy was born. He lost his sight in one eye when he lost a bet on a train and got poked in the eye (a stupid bet to make for sure.) So he became a two-bit gambler and part owner of a saloon. But he really never did amount to much!

So, what was the one Desert Star show Justin hasn't performed in since 2006?  Star Wars Episode MDCCLXXXIV.  After performing in My Big Fat Utah Wedding for 18 months, he wanted to take a well-deserved break.  But after one show, he was ready to get back on the stage again.

To purchase tickets to Hunk-cules: I’m Too Sexy For My Toga, click here.

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