Welcome to a regular, if intermittent feature: Irreverent, lighthearted question & answer sessions with some of South Florida’s best known professionals.
Unlikely but perhaps, secretly, Antonio Amadeo is actually a nasty rotten misanthrope, but no one will ever believe it. Amadeo is widely-regarded as one of the nicest guys and quietly talented members in the local theater community, eliciting comparisons to Tom Hanks and a teddy bear (although Amadeo himself reveals below that he’s Batman.) Over the decades he has built an enviable resume of acting roles, including the tortured souls in Mosaic Theatre’s The Elephant Man, GableStage’s The Pillowman and Promethean Theatre’s The Unseen. As co-founder of Naked Stage with his wife Katherine and friend John Manzelli, he has served as actor, producer and set designer, and was, as this was being edited, building the sets for Naked Stage’s return production, The Turn of the Screw, playing on the Pelican Theater at Barry University from July 20. For someone still in his 30s, Amadeo has a lengthy close-up view of South Florida theater, having been raised here, trained here and working here as far back as the inception of Actors Playhouse. What we didn’t know to ask him when we did this interview was to inquire why he fills his space in dressing rooms with a reportedly extensive collection of superhero action figures.
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Grew up in Kendall. Currently living in Boca Raton.
How long have you lived/worked in South Florida?
My family moved to Miami when I was about 2 years old. I started working backstage at Actors’ Playhouse their first year in Kendall when I was in high school (with Barbara Stein’s daughter). When I graduated from college in ’94, I went right back to working backstage with them.
What school did you graduate from/what was your major?
I graduated from the University of Miami with a BFA in performance.
What role/play are you dying to do but no one would think of you for? Hmmm. So many. Amadeus. I’m too tall. There are a lot of musicals I would love to play the lead in, but I’m not a good enough singer.
What show do you wish somebody down here would produce?
I don’t know. I think this community has done a pretty good job of producing a wide variety of plays. From new works to the classics. Nothing comes to mind. (What a horrible answer.)
What show will you be happy never to see again unless it gets you a job?
Red Light Winter. Not my favorite play. Some of the worst and most pretentious writing I’ve ever had to perform.
What do you say when someone you like is in a terrible show or does a poor job?
“Yooou. Yooooou. Look at you… up there… doing what you do. Yooooou. That CERTAINLY… was… a play. Ugh! Yoooooou, with the lines and the blocking. Yooou.”
How do you cope when there are more people on stage than in the audience?
I’m not gonna lie, it’s not easy. But the truth is, those people paid to see a good show, so I do my best to give them the best possible performance.
What is there about you that most people don’t know (and that you’ll admit publically)?
I’m terrified that one day people will figure out that I suck. Also, I hate questions that force me to give definitive answers. I’m not a confident enough person for that. So I will give 12 answers to every question on this thing. Then, when I read it again, I’ll want to change them all. I’m an idiot.
What are the upsides and downsides of being married to someone in the business?
The upside is that my wife and I understand the need to continue in this crazy profession. This isn’t just something we do; it’s who we are. It’s nice to come home and know the person you’re with knows that and supports you for it. The downside is scheduling. With two kids, it’s very difficult to work out a plan for both of us to be able to do shows.
Are you really as nice as everyone thinks?
Definitely not a question for me to answer. I don’t really think it’s something that anyone could subjectively determine about themselves. I try to be nice. I hope I’m nice.
What’s the hardest/easiest part of what you do?
The hardest is the constant struggle to keep theatre relevant for a larger audience. As an actor/producer it weighs on me constantly. The continuous feeling that our art form is struggling makes it difficult to relax and enjoy sometimes. Easiest? I don’t know. It’s all tough, in the moment, but there are people out there fighting for my right to play for a living, so really, it’s all easy.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
It depends on the show, but usually I throw on my iPod and air-guitar my way through some Prince guitar solos. Usually it’s the Purple Rain solo from the Lovesexy tour show in Osaka, Japan in ’89. (I’ll gladly burn a copy for anyone interested in hearing it. It’s killer.)
What do you do after a show?
For the most part, I go home to my wife and kids. :^)
What was the first show you were involved in and what did you do?
I started out as a stagehand for Actors’ Playhouse’s inaugural production of Man of La Mancha in ’88.
When did you know this was what you wanted to do and why?
Fifth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Felcoski, put on a play. I played Yankee Doodle Dandy and I was hooked.
What do you think has been your best work in the theater to date, and why?
In Intimate Apparel (by Lynn Nottage at GableStage) I played a character named Mr. Marks. It’s a beautifully written play and a beautifully conceived character. I think I did my best and most subtle work in that production. I’m not sure I’m the best judge, as I generally fear that I stink, but if I had to choose, that would be it.
What do you think was your worst, and why didn’t it work?
Hmmm. I’m not sure I was able to fully realize my Dead Man’s Cell Phone character . It’s a shame, because I love that play, I always like working at Mosaic Theatre and we had a great cast. Polly Noonan came down to perform the role and she was great to work with. It was just a strange process (with an out of town director) for me.
What was your best experience working in theater?
Yankee Tavern by Steven Dietz at Florida Stage. It was the way theater should be done always and everywhere. The theater treated us incredibly well. The director was one of the best I’d ever worked with. It was really clear that he had a vision and knew how to guide actors through that vision. But he also made it clear to us that our personal input as we explored the characters was important for his journey. So, I felt comfortable doing my craft, which led to better results. Steven Dietz was so open and generous within the process. The cast was great. Everything was just perfect. Florida Stage knew how to do it right. Also, working on productions for the Naked Stage, the company I started with my wife, Katherine Amadeo, and John Manzelli has been pretty great. Getting to create on our own terms has been very rewarding. It’s helped me realize that I am capable of more than I ever gave myself credit for.
What was your worst?
I did a show down here for a now-defunct theatre that played to near empty houses every single night. They worked so hard and were really great with us, but the audiences just didn’t come. It was brutal!
What one role/show would like to do over or just do again?
The Elephant Man. I just adored playing that character. (“Adored” is such a pretentious word to use there. Is there a better word than “adored” that won’t make me sound like a pompous windbag? Just… replace it in your heads as you read this.) Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard. It was a very heady play, and I’m not sure how the audience felt about it, but I loved performing it. Getting to play those scenes with Gordon McConnell and Laura Turnbull was just amazing. I’d love to do it again. The Cha Cha of a Camel Spider. That was a PERFECTLY written character. I didn’t have to do anything. Carter W. Lewis did all the work for me in the writing. Awesome.
What was the worst on-stage mishap you dealt with?
It was a college production of A Flea in Her Ear. My character was having a conversation with the central character of the play. Another guy was supposed to enter the scene and interrupt the conversation. He didn’t show, so the lead actor and I just stood there, waiting. Until, finally, the lead guy excused himself from the scene and left the stage in search of the missing character. There I was, all alone on stage, as lead guy could be heard stomping back toward the dressing rooms, tackling the other actor and dragging him into the scene. Upon entering, the missing actor said, “I am so sorry…” then froze, as he realized he had just broken the fourth wall and apologized to the audience as himself and not the character. Lead guy said his lines for him then shoved him back off stage and we continued with the scene. It was horrible.
What’s your day job?
What’s the weirdest/worst non-theater job you ever had?
I was a fry cook at a fast food restaurant called Chicken Plus.
Do you have unexpected special talents and skills?
None. I’m not even sure I have the expected skills.
What would you do if you couldn’t be in theater?
Take up drinking.
What’s your most unforgettable theater experience?
Honestly, there are many. Big River at Actors’ Playhouse was unforgettable. I was in the chorus and it was the most fun I’d ever had. Meeting my wife during Sound of Music at Actors’ was amazing. It marked the beginning of my true life. Also, the pre-Broadway run of Little Shop of Horrors at Actors’. I got to work with Alice Ripley, Hunter Foster, Billy Porter and Marty P. Robinson (Snuffleupagus!!!), the creator of the Audrey II plant. I was one of the puppeteers for the opening weekend of the show. Awesome! Also The Elephant Man and The Pillowman are way up there. And this year, working with Sharon Gless in A Round Heeled Woman and Ray Abruzzo in Lombardi was pretty great. (That answer makes me a name-dropping boob.)
What show or performance did you not see now or in the past that you wish you had?
I’ve missed so many. It’s hard to choose one.
What TV programs do you DVR when you’re working a show?
House, Project Runway, Top Chef, Work of Art, The Office, 30 Rock, Life’s Too Short, Face Off, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Heat games, iCarly… umm… nnn… not iCarly. I meant… I don’t watch… it’s… (sigh)
Whose music can you not live without?
Prince. If you’ve never seen him live, DO IT!
What performer would you do almost anything to see?
Why doesn’t South Florida theatre have a higher profile nationally?
We barely have a profile here in South Florida. How can we expect to have a high profile anywhere else? We live in a community that has no tradition for supporting theater, so there isn’t a core, community-wide audience of patrons that travels to all the regional theaters. Each theatre must rely on whatever small but loyal following it cultivates. This isn’t a theater kingdom; it’s a region of many small playhouse dukedoms. There’s a lot of quality work here, but few people know it exists as a legitimate theater region. There is no local government support and zero local broadcast coverage. There is no major relationship with any tourism information organization, so people coming in from out of town are not being introduced to us. If they happen to be theatergoers who enjoy exploring theater troupes on vacation, they are never presented the option by any concierge or entertainment information group. There is also very little effort made to cultivate new audiences and artists through local schools; many of which have great theater programs filled with students who are unaware that there is a local theater community to support and engage. Upon graduation, the students leave town without ever considering a return home to be a viable option. Consequently, they never spread the message that there is great theater in South Florida because they don’t know it themselves. I remember when I was in college; Actors’ Playhouse had an internship program with the University of Miami that served the theater and the students very well. MANY of the students who participated in the program have gone on to have great careers in theater. A number of them stayed here. What happened to that?!! We need way more of that. There needs to be a concerted effort by the artists and producers in this community to change all of that. I’m not sure what it will take, but we can’t sit around and wait for it to happen.
Finally, add a question (and answer) you wish I had asked.
Bill: Antonio, what was all of that crap?!
Antonio: I have no idea.