A Conversation with Bruce Collier

By Chris Manson


You took a little break from the stage, but now it seems you’re back for the long haul.

My last show at the REP at Seaside was A Beach Home Companion, which I co-wrote and which was produced in fall of 2014. In 2015, I played Claudius in Hamlet at Northwest Florida State College. Then I performed two short scenes at various venues as Winston Churchill and FDR in playwright Nancy Hasty’s play We Were Soldiers Too.


That was about it until last fall, when Producing Artistic Director Nathanael Fisher cast me in Bakersfield Mist at Emerald Coast Theatre Company, with my good friend and theatre comrade Teance Blackburn. That show was performed this past January and February, and I’m told we set a record for ticket sales.


The day I started rehearsals for Bakersfield, I got a text from Brook Stetler, Executive Director of the REP at Seaside, asking if I wanted to be in Big Boys. I have something else lined up for after that, but I’m not at liberty to discuss it right now.


Big Boys, opening April 20 at the Seaside REP, is your second two-actor play following Emerald Coast Theatre Company’s Bakersfield Mist earlier this year. The ECTC show pretty much required you to be on stage for the duration of the play. Is Big Boys similar in that respect?

I am onstage the entire play. The other character in the play (played by Brook Stetler, who also directs) gets a few seconds off stage here and there.


Tell us a little about the play.

Victor Burlington (me) is the Big Boss of a large, prosperous and mysteriously malevolent company. Victor hires Norman Waterbury (Brook) as an executive, then puts him through a psychological boot camp in an effort to mold Norman into his own image as a “Big Boy” of the corporate world. It’s theatre of the absurd, and it gets pretty absurd.


Big Boys is also the title of the late Chuck Berry’s new single.

I expect that Rich Orloff (author of Big Boys and many other plays) and Mr. Berry worked that out between them. As somebody-or-other said, there are no coincidences.


How long have you been performing locally, and what was the first play you did here?

After 14 years off the stage, I started doing some local and community theatre in this area in the late 1990s –acting and a little directing. My first paying gig hereabouts was in 2001, The Fantasticks, at the newly founded Seaside Repertory Theatre (Craige Hoover, Artistic Director, and Jennifer Steele, Managing Director). I have been performing pretty regularly, at the REP and sometimes Northwest Florida State College, since then.


What have been some of the highlights of your stage career?

I will always remember how it felt the first time I got paid for acting—right after my sophomore year in college, when I got $75 a week to act in summer stock at Wright State University. I received my undergraduate degree in theatre there.


I also worked two seasons at Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF) in Anniston, Alabama—1979 and 1981. I toured the Southeastern United States with ASF—52 performances of Twelfth Night, a play I used to like.


My biggest thrill was acting in New York (Courtyard Playhouse, Grove Street, Greenwich Village) in Tarts, a play that I wrote. I can remember opening night—the weather, what I ate for dinner, and staying up all night closing every bar in lower Manhattan.


Who are some of the actors and playwrights that inspired you?

Playwrights—Harold Pinter really gave me a sense of possibilities with his quirky, ambiguous language and characters. I also love Tom Stoppard, and have acquired a taste for David Mamet. I’d love to do something by Aaron Sorkin. Like George Bernard Shaw, he writes for actors who love language and ideas.


I have a lot of favorite “name” actors, but the real inspirations were people I acted with in summer stock and at Alabama Shakespeare Festival. There was a Philadelphia actor I worked with named Charlie Antaloski, who was brilliant at both comedy and drama. I once complained to him about how boring rehearsals could be. “I love rehearsal,” he said. “You can try things out, make mistakes, have fun. Once the show is set, you can’t do that.” So I shut up and started observing really good actors in rehearsal, and learning from them. Every example is useful—good or bad.


You’re married with a young daughter, you write for Beachcomber, and you’re the editor of the DeFuniak Herald newspaper. When do you sleep?

Whenever possible I try to be in bed by 10 p.m. Since my daughter goes to bed around 8, that gives me a few hours to talk with my wife. She has a theatre degree herself, so she understands.


What do you like to do on those rare occasions when you get some down time?

I like to go to movies, listen to jazz, and read. I love history, biography, and books about liquor. I also kind of like restaurants. My family and I enjoy weekend getaways.


Has your daughter Grace shown any interest in theater? Does she help you run lines—for the new play, I mean, not Bakersfield Mist, in which your co-star let the F-bombs fly.

She takes ballet, and has done some recitals. So far she’s not done theatre, but I think that might change. I take her to children’s plays, and she’s getting curious. I generally run lines by myself. Big Boys is too adult for Grace.


We joined Beachcomber at around the same time. I pretty much begged them to let me write stuff. How did you come on board?

The late Ritch Brinkley was writing his movie column then, and told me that Beachcomber was looking for a restaurant reviewer. I contacted then-editor Leah Stratmann, who gave me a tryout. Jim Patricelli hired me, and I’ve been eating and writing happily ever since.


You’ve been doing the occasional liquor columns for us, and I always learn something. Most of the time, I find a new favorite, too. What’s your latest discovery of note?

I’m always on the trail of cheap-but-good ryes and bourbons, and have come to love George Dickel’s Tennessee Rye and Kinsey Pennsylvania Rye. I think Timber Creek and Peaden Brothers distilleries are a true blessing to this area. When Lent ends, I have two new whiskeys to try—Koval Rye from Chicago and Belle Meade Bourbon from Nashville.


For our readers coming to see Big Boys, are there any restaurants around Seaside that you’d recommend as Beachcomber’s longtime food critic?

Before the show, have a drink at Great Southern Cafe or Bud & Alley’s or 45 Central Wine Bar. Repeat after the show. If they are open, hit any of the eateries on Airstream Row, in whatever order you like. If you are seeing one of the two matinees, go to Seagrove Village Market Cafe for lunch. Bring me an oyster po’ boy—dressed, no mayo.


Big Boys opens Thursday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m. and performances will be April 21, 26, 27, 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m., and April 22 and 30 at 2 p.m. All performances will be at the Seaside Meeting Hall Theatre, located at 216 Quincy Circle. For more information or to order tickets, go to www.lovetherep.com or call 850-231-0733.


Spread the love

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

  • camilles-ad.jpg
  • dewey-destin-ad.jpg
  • camilles2-ad2.jpg

  • Local Guides

    Art Galleries

    Your guide to Art Galleries in Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, Niceville, and Watersound.

    Happy Hours

    It’s happy hour in Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Rosemary Beach, and Shalimar!


    Services on the Beach. Destin, Fort Walton, Miramar Beach, and 30A / South Walton