Lucky Robert Winstead found the job he was just born to do
Robert Winstead could be called an accidental actor: He didn't take singing and dancing lessons as a child, and he wasn't a theater geek in high school, although he sang in school choirs and performed in a musical revue in eighth grade.
Because the acting bug hadn't bitten him by the time he graduated from high school, Winstead went to college preparing to be a teacher.
Yet Winstead is now an Equity actor based in Portland and starring in the upcoming Broadway Rose Theatre Company production of "Lucky Stiff," in which he plays English shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon, who is forced to take the embalmed body of his recently murdered uncle on a vacation to Monte Carlo. If Harry succeeds in the ruse, he stands to inherit $6 million.
Fortunately, Winsteads own life is not nearly so melodramatic.
Born in Louisville, Winstead's family moved to the Southwest when he was 10 and ended up in El Paso, Texas, where he graduated from high school before going to New Mexico State University to major in education.
"I studied music education in college but got interested in performing," Winstead said. "They had a very accessible opera program and I ended up doing a lot of performing - light opera during the school year and summer musicals - and getting a bachelor of music in voice. I had a notion to see what else I could do before becoming a teacher, but an education degree was my backup plan."
Winstead started picking up acting jobs in commercials, film and television, and on the stage.
"I felt comfortable and felt I was doing well acting," he said. "I felt I had a good eye for utilizing my strengths, and it was fun. I traveled around a bit. I spent a few months in LA during pilot season and got work. I wanted to learn, and I had friends there."
Winstead did a couple of shows at the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts in Santa Maria, moved to Seattle to do improv and storytelling at Playback Theater Northwest and then returned to LA, although he found it expensive to live there.
"I had a couple of friends from doing plays living in Kansas City, and I could afford to live there," he said. "When I went there, I didn't know how long I'd stay, but there is a good variety of theater there, like Portland.
"It worked out great for me. I worked pretty steadily for about five years. It was definitely a valuable time for me."
But eventually Winstead, who got his Actors Equity Association card just before leaving Kansas City, felt it was time to move on and ended up in Flagstaff, Ariz., "where I did different things," he said.
He wasn't kidding: He became a guide at the Grand Canyon and was able to apply his acting skills to the job.
"There were long days, but it was rewarding," Winstead said. "I learned a lot, and in a way, it was like acting in a role and doing improv. You learn your lines, put on your hat and step into your role. I loved being in the park talking to people.
"I had 12-hour days and drove 200 miles, but it was a great job for a while. I started doing day hikes, where you hike down into the canyon for a couple hours and have a destination picnic spot for lunch. You had to be sure people stayed on the trail and drank lots of water. There were people from all different places who don't hike partway down the Grand Canyon every day, so it was exciting for them."
Eventually, Winstead decided to return to acting.
"I had been through Portland before and had friends here," he said. "I came to housesit for a couple months in the winter and stayed. It has now been about six years. I got a job as a waiter and started getting acting jobs. I was in a Northwest Natural commercial and in a Portland Pilots spot where I was hired to be a bad basketball player."
Broadway Rose's fall 2011 production of "I Love You Because" was Winstead's first full-scale show in Portland.
"I did readings for a work in progress, and Broadway Rose hosted one of them," Winstead said. "I got to know (general manager) Dan Murphy. I worked with him shortly before I was cast in 'I Love You Because,' and it was a good introduction here."
Now just a couple of years later, Winstead has the lead role in another Broadway Rose show, making "Lucky Stiff" a lucky break for him.
"I do a lot of auditioning and hear 'no' more than 'yes,' he said. Auditioning is almost a separate skill from performing. There is a whole different way of preparing, and there is no set or support - just you on your own. It can be nerve-wracking, like going on a first date over and over.
"When Broadway Rose called me in, I was really excited."
Winstead said the play, directed by Murphy, "is already cracking me up." He added, "There are about 10 in the cast, and it is a great group."
Winstead said he loves being back on the boards at Broadway Rose: "I'm super excited," Winstead said. "I'm glad to be back working with Dan. And I love working at Broadway Rose. They care about the people they hire, and they care about the people in their audience."
Show is musical farce with a little death included
The Broadway Rose Theatre Company continues its 2013 season of memories with the musical farce "Lucky Stiff" at the Broadway Rose New Stage.
From the Tony Award-winning musical team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty ("Ragtime," "Seussical"), "Lucky Stiff" is a zany murder mystery musical farce based on the novel, "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo," by Michael Butterworth.
Staring in the musical are Robert Winstead as Harry Witherspoon, Amy Jo Halliday as Rita La Porta, the high-strung lover of the dead uncle, and Ecaterina Lynn as Annabel Glick, the no-nonsense representative of the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn.
Broadway Rose General Manager Dan Murphy is directing the choreographing the show with musical direction by Alan D. Lytle.
Preview performance is Thursday, Sept. 19, with opening night Friday, Sept. 20, and performances continuing through Oct. 13. Evening performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; matinees are at 2 p.m. on Sundays and on the following Saturdays - Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 and 12.
Tickets start at $30 for adults, with discounts available for groups and youth. For a full listing of show performances or to order tickets, visit www.broadwayrose.org or call the box office at 503-620-5262.
The New Stage is located at 12850 S.W. Grant Ave. in Tigard.