Class Clown's Bigger Stage
February 9, 2017
Prentis Moore went from "very, very shy kid" to class clown in just a few short years.
Born in Detroit, Moore's family moved to Fort Wayne when he was two years old. He attended the arts magnet schools Weisser Park Elementary and Memorial Park Middle School. There he honed not only his musical craft, but his comedic skills as well.
"I was the kid that always finished his work first," he says, "but the problem was after I finished my work, I would take it upon myself to entertain myself and everyone else. Some people would have labeled me a 'trouble maker.' I thought of myself as being the class 'morale specialist.'"
As attention-seeking as he was in school, however, he was hesitant to bring his gift of entertainment into a more structured setting. Although he loved to watch musicals like The Wiz and Little Shop of Horrors and imitate performers like Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy, he says, "I didn't know if acting or singing was cool. I never really wanted to be in the forefront."
That began to change when he found himself called on the carpet during music class at Weisser Park.
"I was talking while everyone was singing," he says. "Mrs. Graf stopped me and made me sing it myself. So it was my first solo."
Mrs. Graf called his mother to discuss his antics, but she also had something else in mind. She wondered if he might be interested in being in the school play.
"My whole life was imitating and impersonating the things I heard," he says, "and I was actually good at it. That was when I knew I wanted to entertain."
His family moved to Indianapolis when he was in 7th grade. He attended North Central High School in Indianapolis, where he performed in show choir and gospel choir. When he transferred to Ritter High School, he became even more serious about performing.
"We had a choir that sang at masses and special events," he says. "That was when I got involved with singing groups, dancing groups and lot of performance."
He graduated and attended Tennessee State University where he earned a degree in vocal music with a minor in music technology. He put his education and experience to good use.
"I did a lot with music after school - writing, publishing, producing, and singing background," he says. "I toured with some well-known R&B and gospel artists at the time."
One of his greatest achievements was having two songs he co-wrote appear on the Sony Music compilation album Urban Street Anthems. Another was having a song he wrote and produced demo-ed by Jamie Foxx. "Small victories in theory," he says humbly, "but huge in my eyes."
He had dreams of starting his own publishing company and one day his own label. He even enlisted the help of his first cousin, actor Ken Foree, who has a long career in Hollywood dating back to the 1970s. He played Roger Rockmore, the father on the TV series Kenan and Kel in the late 90s. They spoke at a family reunion in Indianapolis.
"I told him how much I loved performing and wanted to come out to L.A. with him," Moore recalls. "He told me I reminded him a lot of Kenan [Thompson], how funny I was and how it came naturally. He said when he got back, he was going to set everything up."
Unfortunately, it never happened.
Although straight music was his forte, Moore also dabbled in musical theater. But he didn't take it too seriously at first.
"I was mainly just cast in musicals because I could sing," he says. "I never really had to audition."
In 2007 he moved back to Fort Wayne, where he still had family. His first Fort Wayne audition was the following year for the Civic Theatre production of Once upon a Mattress directed by Becky Niccum.
"I saw the audition notice in whatzup," he says. "I went to the audition, but without any sheet music or recollection of how the audition process actually goes."
After the first few auditioners sang, he realized he was unprepared. He asked a fellow auditioner if he could borrow his sheet music. The other gentleman complied. Moore was cast; the other singer was not.
Although he was a chorus member with no lines, Niccum noticed his knack for comedic timing.
"She would ask me if I thought things were funny," he says, "and I would always give my opinion. On closing night, I thought it would be funny if I popped out of the mattress at the end of the show. She agreed, and the audience loved it."
His sense of humor and timing also helped elevate a few onstage mishaps into moments of comic gold. When Cinderella's slipper fell into the orchestra pit at the Civic Theatre, Moore confidently broke the fourth wall and told the audience with a shrug, "I got it. I'll be right back," before jumping in to retrieve it.
And while playing Donkey in Shrek, also at the Civic, Megan Meyer as Fiona inadvertently mispronounced the word "witch" when explaining that the creature had placed a spell on her. He couldn't keep from laughing in front of the sold-out audience, and he ad libbed, "That bitch did what?"
Moore hasn't restricted himself to musicals, though.
"I've done a few straight plays, and I'd love to do more," he says, "but I always seem to be some sort of comic relief. I'm always the 'fat, funny, compassionate friend'--both on stage and in real life."
He says he longs for the opportunity to stretch as an actor and perform in a lead role or even the antagonist, "just to see if I could pull it off."
For now, though, he's back at the Civic Theatre, after performing in Hair for Three Rivers Music Theatre. He plays Bobby in the musical Memphis.
"There is a lot of music, and it's such a fast-paced show," he says, "but the biggest challenge is dealing with topics of the 1950s that are considered taboo today, even though they're still relevant 60 years later."
But he says the show isn't a downer. "The cast is super talented, we have fun and mesh well," he says. "Audiences can expect to laugh, dance, sing, and maybe even cry."
When he's not onstage, Moore is a manager at Wells Fargo Bank and a husband and father. His wife Debbie is also a talented performer. The two of them have worked together in several performances, including this season's Hair with Three Rivers Music Theatre.
"She is awesome, and doesn't even know it," he says.
Moore is proud of his wife, but he's also proud of the Fort Wayne arts community in general.
"It's so vast in so many different ways, but all-encompassing at the same time," he says. "We have people of all different races, sizes, genders, religious beliefs, tax brackets, social standing, political views and abilities. The one thing we all have in common is that we love what we do."
Love plays a huge role in his life and in his world view.
"As an artistic community we have a voice, a voice that can stand out over all of the nonsense that our country, our world, is dealing with. The voice of love. The only way to 'make America great' is to love one another. None of the differences matter. All in all, at the end of the day, love matters."