Today I’m concluding my interview with Thomas Ward, an actor, playwright, screenwriter, and teacher currently teaching acting and stage combat at Baylor University. His play Keeping Watch won the 2005 Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA) national playwriting competition before receiving its world premiere by Theatrical Outfit (Atlanta, GA) under the direction of Tom Key. It was quickly hailed as the "season's finest new work" by Curt Holman of Creative Loafing and has since been produced at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston SC.
As an actor, Thomas has performed with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Georgia Shakespeare, Theatre in the Square (Atlanta), WaterTower Theatre (Dallas) and the Cumberland County Playhouse, among others. He holds a BA in Theatre from Abilene Christian University and an MFA in Acting from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival/U. of Alabama Professional Actor Training Program. He is a member of Actors' Equity and the Dramatist's Guild of America. He is married to Sherry Ward and they have a son named Christopher.
LeAnne: In addition to acting and writing, you also teach acting at Baylor University. What are three things you try to pass on to your students?
Thomas: Hmmm. That’s a good and tough question. I want to really try for three important things here. 1) Be a pro. That means be on time, prepared, and pleasant to work with. I don’t care how much talent you have, if you’re a pain to work with, it won’t matter. 2) Understand the story that’s being told and your role in it. Resist ego. Resist the urge to make it just about you. 3) Listen. For real.
LM: What has been a highlight of your acting career so far?
TW: A couple years ago I got to play the role of Felix Humble in a play called Humble Boy. There were a few ‘firsts’ in that experience. It was the first time I was really playing a character my own age, my own size, etc. I was really playing a British version of myself. It was also the first time I was playing the lead role in something professionally, and that was very challenging. As a character actor, I’d gotten used to being in the background, coming on stage every now and then to keep the plot rolling along, and I was very comfortable with that. There’s a lot of work out there for male character actors, especially in Shakespeare. Humble Boy was challenging because I was on stage the whole time and really had to carry the momentum of the play. It was also very timely. My father had passed away a few months earlier, and the play is a modern, very loose re-telling of Hamlet. So I was playing a guy who is coming home for his father’s funeral. It was very cathartic for me at the time.
LM: How does your faith inform your acting, writing, and teaching?
TW: I have to be perfectly honest and say I don’t really know. I have some hunches, but I never sit down to write with a theme in mind. It always starts with character and situation. It’s always a discovery. It’s like the story is there and I’m just gradually unearthing it. Once it’s done, I can look and see all sorts of things or have them pointed out to me. The intersection of spirituality and religion crops up a lot in my writing. I grew up in the Church of Christ and I think I’m sorting out what that means to me, especially when it comes to scripture, ritual, etc.
As for my acting, I think it really depends on the role, doesn’t it? Context is everything to me so I just try to do plays that are making the world a better place. And I happen to believe that most plays are, in some way. Whether my worldview lines up with that of the playwright, I believe that most plays are written to tackle the same questions that I might think I have different answers to. So it keeps me on my toes, spiritually.
In my teaching of acting, I think the most important thing that I carry from my faith into it is the resistance of self. It’s a beautiful irony. You’re on stage being watched, and I’m asking you not to be aware of yourself. To listen. To respond. To be in the moment.
Coming soon: a photographer, a painter, and more