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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 7, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 27
Robert Petkoff: The stage is a real Fun Home
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Robert Petkoff: The stage is a real Fun Home

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

FUN HOME, THE MUSICAL
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
July 11-30
NOTE: The cast of Fun Home will be co-hosting several free community talks and after show discussions with several Seattle LGBTQ community organizations*


Robert Petkoff is no stranger to playing diverse characters. He's played an aristocrat in Anything Goes, a Jewish immigrant in Ragtime, a Russian Cossack in Fiddler on the Roof, and has even played the American Senator Hubert Humphrey in All The Way. The Seattle Gay News caught up with Mr. Petkoff as he returns to Seattle for the highly anticipated, Pulitzer Prize nominated musical, Fun Home.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Robert Petkoff: Oddly, it was Richard Burton in a very strange way. I was into Shakespeare and the art of language when I first started in acting. I saw Burton in Camelot in Chicago (one of the last performances). Here was a man that couldn't move as well, but what he did with his voice was amazing; he made the word come alive. I've always loved words and thought that this 'acting' could be fun.

Andrews-Katz: What show gave you the theatre bug?

Petkoff: It was a production of Come Blow Your Horn [Neil Simon]. I auditioned for the play because there was a girl I had a crush on. A lot of my friends came to see the play and when I entered, they cheered. I thought, 'that felt nice' and that was it. Coming home that night, my mother said she 'didn't know who was up on that stage.' She was complimentary and I was at the age where I didn't talk to my parents much. Her comment effected me emotionally, her praise and admiration. Those connections with her made me feel great.

Andrews-Katz: You've done many voice-over recordings. What are some of the books you've narrated and what is it about audio books that you enjoy doing?

Petkoff: I've been very lucky to do David Foster Wallace's stuff, a lot of fiction, non-fiction as well. It all goes back to the idea of storytelling. Most entertainment is about that, even sports. We are watching a very active story unfold on the field in front of us. Nothing is more pure story telling than literally telling a story with a book. I don't create them, but it is satisfying in communicating another person's ideas and thoughts through words. I get to play all the parts, so it's really fun. I get to play women, any nationality and race, anything & you are doing it all in an audio book. Plus, I love reading.

Andrews-Katz: You've done classic musicals (Anything Goes, Fiddler on the Roof) and more contemporary shows (Spamalot, Ragtime). Which do you prefer?

Petkoff: For me, there is obviously something to love in it all. There is something really wonderful about the classics, but of course there is a complexity in modern musicals that weren't allowed from the classic age. With South Pacific you get bigotry and racism, those are some major issues, but there is a more complex form of storytelling that audiences will accept now. It makes the experience that much deeper. You can be affected watching Carousel, and also, in surprising ways, by watching shows like Fun Home.

Andrews-Katz: You played Hubert Humphrey on Broadway in All the Way. What are your challenges when playing an actual, historical figure?

Petkoff: It's tough because there will be people (related to that person) wandering around the world or in the theatre. Some of his relatives saw the show. You want to invent or evoke that person's qualities but don't want to fall into mimicry because that seems shallower of a characterization. I tried to identify his human qualities. He was one of the most decent politicians the world has seen, a real decent human being.

Andrews-Katz: Were you familiar with the original graphic novel Fun Home by Alison Bechdel before the musical?

Petkoff: No, I wasn't. I had been asked to audition for the original at the Public Theatre, and that was my first introduction. I did read it, and it's amazing. What I was so struck by was not just the artistry, but how literate the book is. Alison is a great writer and an honest one. She delves deeply and unsparingly into her own self and family. It is, in and of itself, an amazing piece.

Andrews-Katz: Why do you think the graphic novel and musical resonates with people so much?

Petkoff: People in America connect with this story in amazing ways. Everyone can relate to it even if it surrounds a surprising relationship. I think there is a very specific relationship that Alison has with her father, with both of their own coming out stories, discovering her own sexuality, and then as 'adult Alison' looking back on all of this. The details may be specific to her, but the story connects with a lot of others. People are always commenting 'that's my mother' or 'my dad is like that.' Watching 'medium Alison' discover her sexual awakening, people can identify with that across all the sexual spectrums. We aren't trying to change people's minds about ideas; it's more like we are letting people say 'oh, that's not so different from me and my life.' Despite what politicians may say, we really are more alike than not. It's great to see people connecting with this show in ways that you normally wouldn't expect.

Andrews-Katz: Fun Home is called a tragicomic. How does the term define the show?

Petkoff: At its core, it is a very tragic story, but like any human story, there is also love and humor and fun. Alison said what she loved about this production is 'the audience gets the sense we had fun in my family, too' despite how intense some of the subjects. This is the beauty of a good piece of art; it doesn't just say everything is black and white. Human life is so many shades of color, the more colors you display, the more people believe and relate.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of any limitations - what would it be and why?

Petkoff: I'm not sure. I've been really lucky to have already played the roles I want to play. I was lucky to play Hamlet, George from Sunday in the Park & I have to give that some thought. It's a tough one. Whenever I think of what role I want to play, I always think of Shakespeare. Those are the Himalayas, the Mt. Everests of acting. I would also have said Sweeney Todd, but I got to do that last year. I think the women's roles would be challenging, and it's hard to come up with those roles. Medea pops into my head and it would be very interesting to play Medea; to love so intensely that you destroy the very thing you created to punish for not loving you back.



Fun Home is the hit musical based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel and tells the story of her dysfunctional family's running of a funeral home, and how both she and her father struggled with their own personal secrets.

*NOTE: The cast of Fun Home will be hosting several events around the community to bring awareness to several of the controversial subjects the play deals with: Tuesday, July 11 @ 6:30pm - Community Talk with Gay City at Calamus Auditorium, 517 E Pine St; Sunday, July 16 - After Evening Show Dialogue/Discussion at 5th Avenue Theatre; Tuesday July 18 @ 6:30pm - Panel with GSBA, SMC/SWC, Pride Foundation, Bank of America, Virginia Mason; Saturday July 22 @ 7pm - Community Talk with Virginia Mason; Sunday July 23 - After Evening Show Talk with cast/crew of Fun Home at 5th Avenue Theatre; Tuesday July 25 @ 6:30pm - Community Talk with PFLAG.

All Community Talks will be held in Studio E, which is part of the 5th Avenue Theatre rehearsal space underneath the theater. You get to it by going down the flight of stairs to the front right of the theatre; then you make a left and continue down and around the corner. There will be signs marking the way.

The After Evening Show Dialogue/Discussion/Talk will be held inside the theater auditorium.

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