From an early age, Gavin Drew was aware of the power of entertainment.
“I think that performing was just in my DNA. Whenever I found someone who was sad, I would put on a show for them,” he says. “I wanted to make them happy.”
In fact, he says, in addition to his “weird obsession with puppets” (that persists to this day), he was constantly putting on his own shows—“any kind of show I could put on for anyone who would listen or watch.”
As a boy in Conway, Arkansas, he taught himself ventriloquism (“it took hours and hours of standing in front of a mirror and watching my mouth”) and he says he made up for his lack of siblings by amassing a collection of over a hundred puppets over the years.
Drew wasn’t an anomaly in his family when it came to entertaining. “My parents did some high school theater, and my grandfather was a party magician,” he says. His father has several musicians in the family.
He was first bitten by the theater bug at the age of five after his family had moved to Wisconsin. He saw his live musical, a high school production of Fiddler on the Roof.
“I remember loving it and being so jealous of them getting to have that opportunity,” he says. “I expressed this to my mom, and she found an audition for me.”
The audition was at The Good Company Too, a Wisconsin children’s theater, for a production of The Wizard of Oz, the film of which had been a huge influence on his performance ambitions. “I was auditioning for any role I could get,” he says. “I was nervous, but my parents were more nervous.”
He sang the requisite “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the stage, and afterward the director said to the teenage auditioners, “Shame on you. This five-year-old can project louder than all of you combined. That’s how it’s done!”
“I’ve never had an inside voice,” Drew says now. “I’m a loud mouth.”
He was cast as the Mayor of Munchkin City, and it was the last time he was ever nervous at an audition.
“The Good Company Too laid the foundation for my love for the theater,” he says. “They held Saturday classes before the beginning of rehearsals to teach us children about the different aspects of theater – makeup, sound, lights, scenic design. It was a fantastic program.”
When he was eight, his family moved to Ossian, Indiana.
“We moved around a lot because of my dad’s work,” he explains. His first major community theatre audition was for Oliver! at Wells Community Theatre in Bluffton. He also performed with and took classes at the Fort Wayne Youtheatre when he was in seventh grade.
While attending Norwell High School (he graduated this spring) he was more involved in show choir than with theater. “Show choir and theater are very different animals,” he says. “In show choir it’s all about being uniform with the other performers. That is not applicable to theater. Instead of blending in, you want to stand out.” However, he says that theater gave him the basis for learning to “tell a story with your face,” which helped him in show choir.
Even without formal theater training in high school, Drew has gotten plenty of theater experience outside of school.
“I am crazy busy with community theater,” he says. “My life and schedule revolve around it.”
He says community theater has helped him mature as an actor.
“I think that I have a better understanding of why we perform now than I did as a child,” he says. “I used to do it just to have fun. But I now understand that we act because it fulfills a secret part of us. It’s an alternate reality that we get to play in. When we have good material, good directors and good cast mates, the process is magical.”
Since moving to the region, Drew has had opportunities to work with several of the community theaters in Fort Wayne, including the Fort Wayne Youtheatre, Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre and Fort Wayne Civic Theatre.
But the theater with which he has the most longstanding relationship is Wells Community Theater (WCT) in Bluffton. “They are small, but mighty,” he says. “I think they don’t get the credit they deserve because they are ‘way out in Bluffton,’ but they are legitimate and wonderful. When my family moved to Indiana, they welcomed me with open arms, and that kind of brings it back full circle to the show I’m in today.”
That show is a one-man comedy, Buyer and Cellar, by Jonathan Tolins. The 2014 play focuses on Alex More, an underemployed actor who is hired to work in the mall in the basement of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu home. “It is a hilarious piece of fiction,” says Drew.
He was actually approached by the Creative Arts Council of Wells County, which runs WCT.
“I’ve become sort of a regular at WCT, and they called me with the offer of a farewell performance show,” he says. “The idea was that the proceeds would go to my college fund. I jumped at the opportunity.”
Drew was given his choice of production. “I did some research and found Buyer and Cellar which is hysterically funny and filled with heart,” he says.
He says his director, Marlyn Koons, “is one of the best when it comes to creating moments and interpreting dialogue. Marlyn and I work well together. With a show like this, there is a lot of communication between the actor and the director, and working with her makes it so easy.”
He is also enjoying the challenge of memorizing a 90-minute show (with no intermission) in which he never leaves the stage. “It has made me grow as an actor as it has pushed me harder than any show has so far,” he says.
Drew says his natural sense of humor tends to land him character roles, particularly comedic ones. “I played an old man for Youtheatre for what seemed like decades,” he jokes, “but I would love to play the romantic lead every now and again!”
He’s not really complaining about his typecasting, though.
“Those comedic roles are very fun and keep me entertained,” he says.
Drew hopes to expand his range and repertoire beginning this fall when he enters the music theatre program at Oklahoma City University.
Auditions for the prestigious program were intense.
“We arrived and were immediately escorted to a dance hall,” he says, “where they taught us a three-minute dance combination that we performed for the dance faculty. Then I was taken to a smaller room and performed two monologues, and after that I went to a concert hall and performed three full songs for the music faculty.” After two long months of waiting he was notified of his acceptance just before Christmas of 2015.
“They have a fantastic musical theater program and a track record to back it,” he says, citing such stars as Tony Award-winning stars Kristin Chenoweth and Kelli O’Hara who graduated from the program.
He’s already had a small taste of acclaim here in Fort Wayne. Last month he won his first Civic Theatre Anthony Award (it was his third Anthony nomination) for his performance as Igor in the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein.
“That show was the most fun I have ever had in the theater, and anyone involved can testify,” he says.
Drew’s longer-term goals are to make a living as a theater performer after he earns his degree.
“I would love to see myself living in New York and going to work on stage every night,” he says. “Broadway is the ultimate goal.”