Studio Visit: David Barkley
Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, Melissa Merli chats with David Barkley, who plays Anatoly Sergievsky in the Celebration Company's production of the musical "Chess."
Q: I haven't seen "Chess" yet at the Station. Do you adopt a Russian accent?
A: A mild Russian accent. I speak a little bit of a Russian accent in the show.
Q: You're really a veteran of the local stage. How many plays have you been in anyway?
A: Close to 100, not counting the ones I did when I did five years of professional dinner theater. I've been on every stage in town except Studio Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Q: How did you get started?
A: I got started in college. I was a voice major. I did operas and eventually started doing plays at the Station while I was still in college.
Q: What's your vocal range and with whom did you study at the University of Illinois?
A: I'm a baritone. I studied with Ronald Hedlund and William Warfield and with William Miller after school.
Q: Did you finish your degree?
A: Yes, I have a bachelor's degree in vocal performance. My first job the day after graduating was at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. My dance partner in my first show there is now on Broadway and was in the national tour of "Mamma Mia." I did dinner theater full time for five years in Virginia, Alabama, Michigan, Alaska.
Q: Why did you major in vocal performance?
A: I started as a piano major and in vocal and choral music education. Piano was my major, and I just don't have the talent to make that legitimate, so I switched to voice.
Q: Where did you grow up? Did you do theater in high school?
A: In Urbana. I went to Urbana High (class of '78). I did only one play in high school, my senior year. I was Schroeder in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."
Q: What did you do after you quit professional theater?
A: After that, I came back here, got married and we had a daughter, so I stopped traveling. Our daughter now goes to the UI. She's an English major. She'll be 21 in January.
I stopped doing professional theater because there was none here in town after the Sunshine Dinner Theatre closed. It was just too much traveling and not enough money.
Q: Did you enjoy it?
A: Yeah. I really loved doing it. I just love theater. I've had a lot of other jobs, and I would rather work in theater than anything else.
Q: Where do you work now?
A: I work at Wal-Mart in Savoy. I am a dry grocery associate.
Q: Do you think there's a difference between professional and nonprofessional theater?
A: Yes. In professional theater, the level of responsibility and the expectations are higher that you're able to learn a show in a short amount of time and perform it consistently, for up to six months.
Q: What's the longest-running show you've been in?
A: I think it was the "King and I" at the Sunshine Dinner Theatre. That was there for 10 weeks — so 60 shows. The most performances of a single show would have been "La Festa Italiana" at Busch Gardens. We did 31 shows a week for 12 weeks — 372 shows. I was one of the Italian singers in that show.
Q: What do you like most about doing theater?
A: I like the challenge of learning a new show, the process of rehearsals and then the performances are a new level of challenges. There's a little fear and trepidation. It's all or nothing, you know.
It's also my social outlet. I think everyone should have something to do outside of work. You might call it good, clean fun, and you get to interact with every age group. You work with a diverse group of people, not just people from one area.
Q: What kind of roles do you like doing best?
A: I like most roles, but I really prefer being the bad guy. I like being the villain because you get to do things that are socially unacceptable.
Editor's note: "Chess, the Musical," will run through Dec. 21 at the Station Theatre in Urbana. Call 384-4000 for reservations.