Studio Visit: Gary Ambler
Q: How did you prepare for the role of physicist Richard Feynman? I heard you watched YouTube videos of him.
A: I started with the script ("Q.E.D.") and sort of immersed myself in that for a while and from there decided where I wanted to go. So I looked at videos and then picked up some books by and about him. The book I found most interesting for me for this play was the second one he wrote with Ralph Leighton, who was sort of an off-stage character, "What Do You Care What Other People Think?"
Q: Did you hear from anyone in the audience who had worked, as did Feynman, on the development of the atomic bomb?
A: I heard they were in the audiences, but I have no idea. I knew there were a lot of physicists in the audiences. They were definitely informed about it, just as they were with "Copenhagen" at the Station Theatre a couple of years ago. They supported it and embraced it. I did talk to a couple of people who had seen Alan Alda do the role. It was his idea to develop a play on Feynman.
Q: "Q.E.D." was basically a one-man play. You've done a lot of those. Do you consider yourself a specialist in those?
A: No, not at all. In fact, it's not my preference. I must say I rather enjoy the challenge. I appreciate the performance aspect of it because you have to work so closely with the audience, and that's an interesting relationship. When they're behind you, that's great, and they were with me in this play.
Q: I was at the last performance when you received a standing ovation. Did you get one for every performance of "Q.E.D."?
A: I would say the majority of performances got a standing ovation.
Q: I still hear theatergoers here mention your performance in the one-man play "Chesapeake" at the Station.
A: I enjoyed performing that a great deal. I can't say I have a favorite of all the one-mans. You have to work so hard at them that you can't at the end say, "Oh, that wasn't as good as that one." "Chesapeake" is a very special one-man play, and I don't know if anybody does it anymore. It involves all the topics I love: politics, art, theater.
Q: Besides the Summer Studio Theatre production of "Blithe Spirit" (which ran through July 23), what else are you doing this summer?
A: That ends my commitments, for a while anyway. We're working on the 40th anniversary of the Station Theatre. In the fall, we'll begin a yearlong celebration. We really work to put a great season together. I hope I'll be acting in a really great play there that I can't tell you about now, and maybe directing, too.
Q: Are you still acting up in Chicago?
A: I haven't been up there to act in five years, at least. I'd like to get back up there.
Q: What made you want to act in the first place?
A: I don't know why. It's probably one of those stories you hear over and over again. I probably had a moment on the stage and felt I could do this or this is what I should be doing. Probably in grade school. I'm shy, and that idea of expressing yourself through literature or characters or something else seemed to be an easier way for me to communicate.
Q: Did you ever consider going professional?
A: Not in the pack-my-things-and-go-to-the-big-city way. A lot of that is not me. I'm not a particularly ambitious person, and I always hated the competitive aspect of the business. I came of age in the theater in the more communal, small-theater movement. We were experimenting with form. Coming here and working with the Celebration Company when I was quite young was the perfect place for me, and it continues to be. It's important to go out and do things at other places, and I do that.
Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. See Sept. 18's edition for a visit with Bonnie Switzer of Urbana.