Thoughts From Behind The Scenes: An Actor Speaks

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During the production process of Dead Man’s Shoes, we’re posting a number of journal entries from folks working in different areas of the show.  Here are some thoughts from Drew Parker, who plays the lead role of Injun Bill Picote in Dead Man’s Shoes.

Dead Man’s Shoes (DMS) has become my latest obsession. As a kid, my earliest obsessions were collectibles. Usually baseball cards. I would stay up all night flipping through the sleeves in my binders of Topps, Donruss, and Upper Deck, pining for the cards I needed to complete my sets. I wasn’t just limited to sports either. In fact, the first time I was ever arrested, was for stealing Batman movie cards from my local grocery store. I could’ve saved my allowance to buy them, but my obsession had no patience. When I first read DMS, just about a year ago, I knew it would become an obsession. Bill Picote is the type of character I became an actor to play. I’m reminded of Willie Nelson singing, “My heroes have always been cowboys…”. I’ve always been attracted to the archetype of the solitary, quiet man. Add that with Bill’s; deep, dark anger; his unrelenting focus on his mission, and his dangerous and violent struggle with his personal demons; and you’ve created the perfect character in my mind. Pretty sure Joe Zettelmaier knew how I’d feel about the opportunity to play Bill when he presented me with the script.

Joe and I were working on the show The Sins of Sor Juana at Performance Network in September of 2003. During breaks at rehearsals Joe & I spent our time coming up with plays that would never be made, swapping stories about women, quoting movie lines to each other, and sharing our musical interests. The one name that always got brought up was Johnny Cash. We shared a deep admiration for Cash, the stories he told in his songs, his sense of style, and the type of man he represented. It was on the 12th of that September that Johnny Cash died. Joe didn’t know when I arrived at the theatre so I told him. He didn’t believe me at first. Rehearsal that day was a bit somber. Throughout the rehearsal process of Dead Man’s Shoes, Cash has been brought up often by Joe & I. He’s talked about how great a young Cash would’ve been in the role of Injun Bill, & even said that the West that Joe talks about in Dead Man’s Shoes is, in his words, “Johnny Cash’s west.” For my part, my own portrayal of Bill is heavily inspired by the songs of Johnny Cash because, like most of the men in Cash’s songs, Bill is capable of the most horrendous of evils and the most saintly of goods. He battles between the demons and angels inside him and, in the end, finds resolution and peace with himself. Listen to the entire catalogue of Cash’s music & that’s the story you’ll hear in DMS.

As of my writing this blog, we are in the final week of the rehearsal process. We haven’t officially opened the show yet, but I already feel the deep longing I’ll have when we close the show in April. Plays like this, and characters like this, haven’t come around that often in my career. Joe knows how much this role means to me and even teased how hard it will be for me to move on to new shows after playing Bill. He’s right though. It’ll be damn hard. Bill Picote and Dead Man’s Shoes have been my obsession. I watch 4 to 5 westerns a week and have music playlists with songs like “A good day to die”, and “Burn my Body” that I listen to everywhere I go. I don’t do it as a “method”, or simply as a way to get into character. I do it because I love this western genre and I love this show. I’m so thankful and humbled to be surrounded with actors and friends like Aral, Maggie, and Paul. This rehearsal process has been the most fun I think I’ve had in my life, in or out of theatre. I appreciate David and Rochelle giving us the freedom to play. I appreciate Tony bringing an incredibly insightful perspective and supportive word. Finally I want to thank Joe for writing this play and trusting me with his words. It means so very much to me. I hope audiences enjoy this joy and experience as much crazy fun as we’ve had bringing it to life.

-Drew Parker

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