Actors tend to fall into one of two categories: shy people who use performing to come out of their shells, or attention-seeking hams.
Jeff Salisbury proudly counts himself a member of the latter group.
“According to my parents, I have been singing and dancing and hamming it up since I was born,” he says. “You know how most kids just stare blankly when you are trying to take a picture? Well, apparently if I saw a camera, even if they were complete strangers, I would go try and get in the picture. I guess I was photo bombing before I even knew what that was.”
Despite his desire to be seen by anyone and everyone, he was a reluctant stage performer.
“In fourth grade, my teacher asked me if I wanted to do the elementary musical, Pinocchio,” he says. “I had no interest in it, but she finally talked me into it. I was the cat that helps trick Pinocchio into going to Pleasure Island. It took me about four rehearsals to be completely hooked. I seemed to have some natural aptitude for it and really enjoyed the playing and creating involved with coming up with a character.”
That was 26 years ago, and he hasn’t stopped since.
As smitten as he was with performing, he never actually saw a live theatrical performance until he made a bold decision when he was 16 years old. When his high school offered a program for sophomores to job shadow in their career of interest, he impulsively – and unexpectedly – requested to shadow a professional actor.
“My guidance counselor laughed and then asked what I was actually interested in,” he says. “I told him that was the only thing. He sighed and said, ‘Okay, Jeff,’ and sent me on my way.”
True to his word, his counselor did some research and learned about a professional theater only 20 minutes away from them – the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres in Nappanee. The teen followed one of the actors around for the day, learning what a professional rehearsal was all about, and talked with other actors and the artistic director about their careers. He got a backstage tour and was able to see two different shows in one day (Godspell and Plain and Fancy).
“Each of those shows moved me in a way I hadn’t felt before,” he recalls. “To see people I had been talking to all day completely transform and tell two completely different yet beautiful stories was mind-blowing to me. I was completely lost in acting after that. That one day told me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
After high school he earned a B.A in theatre from Bethel College in Mishawaka. Following that, he worked off and on as a professional actor at the Round Barn Theatre and other companies for about 10 years. He also learned the technical aspects of theatre, including lighting design and set construction.
He quit acting in 2006 and moved to Fort Wayne, where he has held an assortment of different jobs, including restaurant host, furniture delivery man, photographer and administrative assistant. However, he believes he has found his niche with his current employer, Apollo Design Technologies. “They make lighting and effects equipment, and I find the work to be really interesting,” he says. “The lighting designer in me loves all the ‘toys’ I play with every day. It’s just a great place to work.”
Salisbury still finds plenty of time to tread the boards and just finished the playing the title role in the Civic Theatre’s production of Shrek.
“An over-the-top fun-ride of silliness, fantasy and a whole lot of singing sums it up nicely,” he says of the Shrek experience. “The show itself is just fun, yet it has a lot of heart and a good message.”
Salisbury says he approaches his characters like a little kid. “I live by the question, ‘Why?’ When you can answer that question to everything you say [onstage] and put in the time to figure out how to convey that ‘why,’ that adds a level to the performance that isn’t there if you just recite the script and think, ‘Oh, it might be good if I’m mad here,’ or ‘I think I’ll be happy here.’”
Not surprisingly, he is an actor who creates a backstory for each character he portrays. But he also embraces the collaborative nature of theater.
“I figure out the ‘why’ for every line of every scene,” he explains, “and in rehearsals I tweak those feelings based on what the director is looking for or in response to how [other actors are] delivering their lines and where they are taking it. I try to be as prepared as I can be but still be flexible and creative enough to adapt to what other people bring to the table.”
While he says the Civic is the most “professional” theatre group in town and offers some of the most fun productions, he loves the work of the faith-based theatre group all for One (afO) productions. He has been their technical director and occasional actor for the past four years and calls them “a fantastic group.”
“I just completely believe in what they do and what they represent,” he says. “They create an amazing atmosphere and refreshing theater experience for actors and audience members.”
His first experience with afO was in the 2007 play A Sentimental Journey in which he played a WWII soldier who awakens in a hospital to find he has partial paralysis and no memory.
“The emotional and physical gamut I had to go through in that show was so hard and so much fun,” he says. “I went from happy to furious to scared to having a complete emotional breakdown. From concern to love to laughter, all while trying to remember I can’t use my right side and most of the time in a wheelchair. It was a hard show, but still one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had on stage.”
Even though afO is “faith-based,” Salisbury points out, “That doesn’t mean they do church plays like most people think when they hear that. It’s how they treat their actors and everyone they interact with. They choose really good shows that have a good message. They adapt a lot of classic literature to stage and find very challenging shows to produce. The actors are always pushed to be better than they think they can be, and I’ve seen a lot of people grow in their art there. Everyone works together to create the absolute best show they can. It’s not separated into actors and technicians and designers; everyone chips in to put the show up. That’s not an atmosphere you get in theater most of the time.”
When he’s not involved with theater, Salisbury likes another collaborative type of team play: gaming.
“I love table top games, video games, card games, you name it,” he says. “If it involves a group of people getting together and having fun playing it, I’m in.”