The retired postmaster for Bluffton, Ohio, has made the drive several weekends a month since September for the show that opens in January, but now that the holidays are over, they will take place throughout the week. Director Thom Hofrichter has offered lodging at his home so Collier won’t have to travel back and forth every night.
He’s come a long way since his early theatre days. As a high school student he divided his time between choir and sports. This didn’t leave enough time to pursue acting as well. “I went to Shaker Heights High School outside of Cleveland,” he says, “and we had a very large theatre department. My choir director, Dr. Reginald Ellis, kept trying to get me to try out.”
He eventually did audition for the school’s production of Anything Goes where, he says, “I was happy just being in chorus.”
Nevertheless, he says, “he really pushed me [to pursue acting], but I was never interested in more than [chorus roles].” In addition to Anything Goes, he also performed in the chorus of The Boys from Syracuse and in two cabaret-style musical revues.
Later, while at Bluffton College, he found another mentor in Dr. Dale Dickey, who recognized talent in him that he never dreamed of.
“I’d always been interested in theatre,” he says, “and one of my professors, the head of speech and drama department, thought I should try it. He pushed me into it.”
The freshman auditioned for The Music Man and was given a role as one of the Barbershop Quartet members. “The professor saw me in that and wanted me for the lead in a serious show, J.B. by Archibald MacLeish,” he says. “It was based on the Book of Job. It was a very serious show to start out with. I don’t know why he thought I could [handle the role], but I did. It was a huge part.”
While at Bluffton College, Collier performed in several other shows, but mainly musicals, such as Godspell (as John the Baptist) and My Fair Lady (as Alfred Doolittle).
He graduated college in 1975 but didn’t start doing community theatre until 1981, when he was cast as Sidney, the angel in God’s Favorite.
Since then, Collier estimates he has done 40 to 50 shows, including a few original scripts. He has participated in several play fairs with the Encore Theatre in Lima, Ohio which accepts original, unproduced scripts from the community. Two or three plays are selected annually to be produced at the Civic Center as dinner theatre.
“I’ve been involved in that a few times,” says Collier. “I have a friend who has had a few plays selected. It’s fun to work on plays that have never been done before. The writer puts his two bits in, and we as actors try to formulate what he pictured when he wrote it.”
Like many longtime actors, he has also considered directing, but the right opportunity hasn’t yet presented itself. He has assistant directed high school plays in Ohio but has never been at the helm of a community show. “I’ve been approached to direct,” he says, “but I’ve never gotten around to doing it. The last directing I did was for a class in college. But I would like to.”
Although he says he doesn’t have a particular “dream role” he’d like to play, he has been trying to convince his home theaters in Ohio to produce A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and Fences by August Wilson.
Those would be two more plays he would be willing to travel to perform in. But not too far. “Sixty to 80 miles is about my limit,” he says.
Although he tries to pace himself, theatrically speaking, last year was an exception. He performed in no fewer than five shows, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Big River, Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. “That was a little [too] much!” he laughs. “I try to do one or two shows a year if something comes up I want to do.”
One role that has come up a number of times recently is Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy. It is a role he has played twice before. “There was a 20-year span between the first time and the last time I did it,” he says. The first time was in 1990 at Encore Theatre in Lima, Ohio. The most recent time was six months ago in Van Wert.”
The Van Wert cast took their production to competition at the Ohio Community Theatre Association festival this year (for which they won several awards, including an Excellence in Acting trophy for Collier). But he apparently hadn’t gotten his fill of the character.
He began researching on the Internet whether any other local groups were producing the show. “When I saw it was being done in Fort Wayne,” he says, “I thought, ‘Well, why not?’”
Collier’s wife asked him what it was about the role that keeps drawing him back. “I really enjoy the warmth that transpires from the show as this relationship grows,” he explains. “Maybe someone [in the audience] will treat someone else just a little better [after seeing the show].”
He had been to Fort Wayne before, but not to do a show. He made the long trek to the city for the first time in quite a while. “It’s been nice to see how much it’s changed since my last visit,” he says.
Not only did the city impress him, but he was pleased by First Presbyterian Theater as well. “It’s a nice theatre,” he says. “It’s been a great experience, and it’s been nice working with Thom and with Kate [Black, who plays Daisy].”
Collier appreciates Hofrichter’s directing style. “He gives suggestions and tries to come up with different insights than what I’ve been doing. It’s a work in progress to get to the finished product.”
He says there are some differences in his take on Hoke this time around, but they “aren’t monumental.”
His main challenge, he says, is to stay true to the script. “I’ve done it for so long without going back to the book,” he explains, “that I need to make sure my character’s old Southern dialect is intact. [Hoke] drops a lot of sounds at the ends of words and a lot of words at the ends of sentences. I want to make sure I get that flavor of dialect and not [unconsciously] clean [the grammar] up. I need to tighten that back up.”
After Driving Miss Daisy, Collier plans to take some time off from theatre to travel and do some cross-country biking.
“In October I rode from Tennessee through Alabama and Mississippi, to the border of Louisiana,” he says, “over four hundred miles. After the show I hope to travel to Florida and bike from Key Largo to Key West. [It will be] a nice vacation.”
After that, he will keep his eyes out for audition notices – perhaps a little closer to home. But if an appealing enough opportunity comes along in Fort Wayne, he just might make the journey again.
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