Montana native Jerry McGarity, who turns 55 on Dec. 26, and his wife, Lizanne Schader, moved to Bellingham in 2001 from Seattle. He and fellow actor Jim Lortz star in The Neighborhood Playhouse's production of "A Year with Frog and Toad."
The play runs Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 13-15, at Bellingham Theatre Guild. Details: http://www.theneighborhoodplayhouse.net.
Question: When did you first realize that you enjoyed performing?
Answer: In second grade my classmates chose me to play Johnny Appleseed's guardian angel. Full beard, Southern accent, buckskin jacket (this was Montana, remember): I stole the show! Or at least that's my memory of it! From then on, I was hooked.
Q: Then what?
A: There were countless shows, mostly musical comedy, between second grade and 1994, including touring with the Missoula Children's Theater for 31/2 years and getting cast in two episodes of "Northern Exposure."
In '94, a plum role was written for me in "Das Barbecu" by Jim Luigs and Scott Warrender. I did regional theater productions of this for years in Connecticut, Maryland and Florida until the show made it to New York. Even though the cast changed through the years, I was lucky enough to be cast every time, making it to the Minetta Lane Theatre and onto the original cast album. During this time, I earned my professional status as an Actors' Equity member.
Because of my equity status, there aren't many opportunities for me to work as an actor in Bellingham other than through The Neighborhood Playhouse. Past productions there include "Goodnight Moon" (as the tooth fairy), "Walking the Tightrope" and "A Christmas Carol" (as Scrooge).
Q: What's up with "Frog and Toad?"
A: My good friend Jim Lortz (also a fellow Montanan) is Frog and, you guessed it, I am Toad. Bellingham audiences might remember us from Mount Baker Theatre's Winter Repertory production of "The Fantasticks" earlier this year.
Huge thanks to the Bellingham Theatre Guild and Village Books for helping to sponsor this delightful show. It's the musical version based on all the Arnold Lobel books that went to Broadway, earning three Tony award nominations. Top notch!
Grandparents will love the Dixieland, jazzy flavor of the music; parents and kids will be thrilled watching their favorite books come to life; and everyone else will thoroughly enjoy the humor and talented cast of actors and musicians while they revisit their childhood.
Opening night is PJ night - it's a real event, where college kids show up in their jammies alongside the little ones. This show has a big heart and all five cast members bring so much experience, talent, wit and warmth to it. If I wasn't in it, I'd be taking my family this weekend to kick off the holidays!
Q: What have you particularly enjoyed doing?
A: My favorite jobs were at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, ACT, Tacoma Actors' Guild, the Crepe de Paris, Pioneer Square Theatre and Seattle Children's Theatre, where I met my first wife, Lizanne. (We just celebrated our 21st anniversary).
We both worked at SCT on many shows and found it to be very rewarding. You could see the lights go on in kids' eyes when they were exposed to good stories, engaging music, new ideas, different cultures and fresh ways of looking at the world. We are thrilled to bring this idea to Bellingham with TNP.
Q: What's your involvement with The Neighborhood Playhouse?
A: At TNP I am the technical director, so I design and build all of the sets for every show, including the summer drama camp productions. The mainstage shows are plays for young audiences, which means professional adult actors performing for children, their families and the community.
My favorite compliment came from an audience member walking out of a TNP show a couple years back. She found the director and burst out with, "This isn't just for kids, this is for everybody!"
Q: What's your day job?
A: For six years I have been facility operations coordinator for the Port of Bellingham. If you've ever been to an event at Squalicum Boathouse or the Cruise Terminal, you may have seen me lurking about with a P.O.B. badge and a wad of keys!
Q: What else is fun for you?
A: Sunny days in Bellingham, walking my dog, brewing my own beer ("McGarity's Bitter Housewife" is my signature ale), visiting family in Montana and playing music with my talented daughters.