Work and plays
Seth Renne has portrayed everyone from a street urchin to the leading man’s best friend to the Evil Queen in a twisted version of “Snow White,” and he’s performed in every kind of venue from school cafeteria to community theater to professional stage.
“It’s nice to get a paycheck,” said Renne, who now does both paid and volunteer theater in Portland and other parts of the Willamette Valley. “But I don’t do it for that. I do it because I love it.”
It was love, not money, that brought the Yamhill County native back to McMinnville this summer. He’s been rehearsing for Gallery Theater’s “Little Shop of Horrors,” in which he plays Seymour, the flower shop employee who discovers a very unique plant.
“I’ve wanted to play Seymour,” he said.
He’ll make his debut in the part when the show opens Sept. 13 at Gallery, located at Second and Ford in downtown McMinnville. The musical will run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 5.
Seymour is one of Renne’s dream roles, along with Javert from “Les Miserables.”
“Of course, you could probably name any show and there’d be something in it I’d want to play,” he said.
Renne, 30, fell in love with theater when he did his very first play as a third-grader in Newberg.
His elementary school teacher, Janet Haugen, was the wife of the George Fox University drama director. When her husband needed some children for a show, she suggested Renne try out.
“Since then, not a year went by without me doing theater,” he said.
He started his Gallery career in the mid-1990s, when he was a seventh-grader. He played one of the kids in the chorus of “Oliver,” then was chosen for the chorus in “Silent Night.”
For a few years after that, he focused on school plays. He acted in middle school, then, as a Newberg High School student, directed middle school shows and acted in high school shows.
In 2004, he returned to Gallery in force. He played the buddy role in “Footloose,” stage managed “Anne of Avonlea,” then ended the year as a central character in “The Music Man.” He’s done numerous shows since, including several while he was studying theater at Western Oregon University.
He’s spent three summers with the Enchanted Forest theater. He was the Evil Queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dorks,” Hansel in “Hansel and Gretel,” and this summer played Geppetto in “Pinocchio.”
“The shows are slapstick, with lots of my friends in the cast,” said Renne, who works at Starbucks between shows. “When we get a good audience, there’s a lot of participation. It’s fun.”
In Portland, his first paid show was “Jungle Book” at the Broadway Rose theater. He returned to Broadway Rose for “Legally Blonde, the Musical” and “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.” This Christmas, he’ll be in the theater’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Broadway Rose is a real family to me,” he said.
In fact, he said, the overall Portland theater community is family-like, because it’s small enough for everyone to know everyone else.
“When someone needs help, there’s an immediate flood of support,” he said. “And when someone gets a part, people are happy for him.”
He didn’t realize he was joining a family when he walked into the first “Joseph” rehearsal. He knew only one person, Bobby Jackson from “Sweeney Todd” at Gallery. But by the end of their first day, Renne said, he’d made several friends.
Bonding with castmates is one of the reasons he acts and directs. He enjoys not just the show itself, but the camaraderie that builds among the cast and crew.
“It’s always a blast,” he said. “I wouldn’t do this if it was not fun.”
He has a hard time naming a favorite show. There are some roles he particularly likes because of the songs the character sings — “Mama Says” by Willard in “Footloose,” for example — or because of the dialogue and character development — such as Anthony in “Sweeney Todd” or Hysterium in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
Mostly though, he said, “Shows stick out because of people ... Some casts get very close.”
In “Footloose,” for example, most of the cast members were close to the same age and shared interests in singing and dancing. “We spent all our time together,” he recalled.
Other times, he particularly enjoys a show because he’s the director. He said he loved “Chicago,” with its incredible cast; “Tom Sawyer,” the first show he directed at Gallery; and “Steel Magnolias” because of strong storyline and because it was the first non-musical he directed.
Still, as much as he loved the version of “Steel Magnollias” he did at Gallery, he wishes he could direct it again.
“I was too young,” he said, noting that he was in his early 20s when he did the show. “There was no way I could comprehend it all.”
Renne has long wanted a role in “Little Shop,” a humorous horror show with music in a ’50s rock ‘n roll style. He was excited to be cast as Seymour, not just because of the music, but also because the role has a dramatic arc.
“There hasn’t really been a gripping dramatic role I’ve been appropriate for,” Renne said, acknowledging that his age and boy-next-door looks have kept him from playing dark characters in the past.
Seymour, though, has been through a lot of turmoil: He’s an orphan who has stuck in a dead end job. “I didn’t realize how sad his life was, how introverted, how directionless,” Renne said.
Life starts looking up for Seymour when he discovers the special plant, which he names Audrey. Fame and fortune follow, but then things go wrong.
“I want to make Seymour a real person, so audiences can really connect with him,” Renne said. “I like Seymour.
“I feel really bad for him at times, but that’s part of what will allow me to connect with him as an actor. He’s a sympathetic person caught in a bad situation.”
Renne had seen both the movie and stage versions of “Little Shop” — they’re different — before auditioning at Gallery. He had seen live productions done by the Broadway Rose and by the cast of a national touring company.
He goes to a lot of shows, because he loves theater and because he learns from watching other productions. “When you can claim ‘actor’ on your taxes, you can write off tickets as research,” he joked.
When he’s in the audience, he’s watching more than the story. He also pays attention to the way the actors perform and to the way the show is staged.
“I have binoculars so I can see where the microphones are and how the lights are set up,” he said. “That’s enjoyable to me.”
After all, he said, “As much as I enjoy acting, I’ve always enjoyed directing just a little bit more.”
Renne will direct a show at Gallery next year, “I Love You Because...” It’s a funny, adult musical, he said.
He’s also working on a proposal for a show in 2015. He’s considering Shakespeare.
This year, Renne was happy to spend much of his theater time doing production work at Broadway Rose. It also gave him a chance to move up another rung on the career ladder.
“I really love the production side, but getting a foot in the door there is harder than with acting,” he said. “With acting, you just have to audition. With production, you have to work with somebody who knows somebody.”
Once you’re in, though, there are more opportunities for steady work. The production side of acting is a bit less subject to the whims of the acting world, where a great actor may lose a role because he’s too young, too old, too short or too handsome for the part.
“I’m more the sidekick, best friend, comedic type, the song-and-dance guy,” Renne said.
Although his “type” won’t be cast in every role, he’s OK with that.
“Being the sidekick is so much fun!” he said. “I often get some of the better roles, I think.”
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.