“I don’t know that (performing) interested me beforehand,” he said. “It was one of those things they make you do at that age. But I remember it very vividly, and I must have enjoyed it because I kept seeking out opportunities to perform.”
Although he’s the only actor in his family, he does come from an artistic background.
“My parents are both pretty good at sketching,” he said. “My mom and both of her parents are singers, mostly the gather-around-the-piano-after-dinner type, and sang in church choirs. I have a brother who writes in his spare time and another who is an aspiring tattoo artist.”
Plohr can’t cite a specific theatrical production that sparked that urge to perform, unless it was his visit Disney World when he was 9.
“Pretty much everything that happens there is a show,” he said. “Many theater practitioners have (a certain) show that awed and inspired them and drove them into the pursuit of theater. For me, it’s been a sort of subtle urge always pulling me back to the theater.”
He attended Unity Lutheran School until halfway through third grade, when he was homeschooled. He went on to attend Elmhurst High School.
“I double lettered in speech and theater,” he says. “So that’s the kind of kid I was.”
Plohr got his first taste of “real” theater when he was on floor crew for their production of Once Upon a Mattress, but his first performance onstage since childhood was in Tintypes.
“My role was called ‘curtain warmer,’” he said. “I was under the impression at the time that my role was invented by the director as a kind of bit. Another fellow and I sang a couple songs and did some Vaudeville-type skits and schtick. I enjoy the comedic sensibilities of the vaudevillians. I think a lot of my own comic stylings come out of that style.”
He graduated from Wabash College in 2012 with a degree in theater and a minor in creative writing. With only four theater majors graduating during his senior year, it was a small program. This gave the students an unusual level of access and connection to the faculty, both in class and out.
“I had to take a theater history midterm on my 21st birthday,” he said. “The professor bought me a drink at the bar that night, and we had a really stimulating conversation about theater: its history, its future, the fine details of practicing the art of theater. It is one of my favorite moments in my college career. It demonstrates the nature of the department I was a part of. I learned just as much, if not more, by spending time with my professors in this kind of community, as I did in the classroom or just working on a show.”
In class, the students were constantly working on one production or another.
“I worked in the scene shop for my work study job, had theater classes every semester, and (performed in) shows,” he said. “It was a life in the theater.”
His appreciation for the art of theater carried over in Plohr’s life long after graduation from Wabash
“The process of producing a show is fascinating and a little mystifying,” he said. “A director reads a book, then hands copies to a bunch of strangers in a room. Those strangers become friends, brothers, mothers, weird uncles, and in the span of weeks bring the people in those books to life. Meanwhile, some sketches on paper get passed around, and someone turns a pile of wood into an apartment, or a hair salon, or a castle. Then lights and sound and costumes. In a few weeks, we go from nothing to a complete world with structure, a population, relationships, and problems.”
But the magic of theater doesn’t stop there. The audience also brings with them their own experiences to a performance.
“A show can point at the ills of a society,” he said, “but it can also let you escape those ills for a couple hours. It can heal or it can harm. If one person walks out after the show having learned something, or felt something, or just forgotten their own stresses and troubles for a while, I think that’s a success.”
Theater is also, he points out, ephemeral.
“It’s only there for a moment. Every show has an expiration date. The shows close, the sets get torn down, costumes and props go back to storage, the lines and songs get forgotten. Then we begin again, because we believe in what we do. I think there’s an important lesson there.
“And I know all that sounds like a load of pretentious bull----, but I mean every word.”
Plohr is currently starring in the Arena Dinner Theatre production of Star-Spangled Girl, one of Neil Simon’s early plays, written in 1966. He plays Norman, a writer for a radical liberal magazine whose obsession with the girl next door threatens his friendship with the magazine publisher.
“The real meat of the show for me is in the relationships,” he said. “Justin (Dirig, who plays Norman’s best friend Andy) and I have been fast friends since we were in Failure: A Love Story two seasons ago, and we get together for drinks at least once a week. I get to hang out with some of my favorite people every night and make a fun, hilarious show in the process.”
Plohr also enjoys working with director Brian Wagner.
“Brian’s style as a director is very organic,” Plohr said. “He’s given us the freedom to really play around and find some great moments and bits throughout the show. Some directors are very controlling, and it’s difficult in those situations to try things out and find what works.”
Typically mild-mannered, Plohr appreciates another aspect of this role: the shouting.
“It’s fun to do a show with a lot of shouting now and then,” he explained. “You might be surprised at how good you feel after taking all the stress and frustration from a long day at work and shouting it at someone all night.”
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