There’s only one Orson Welles, and Erik Van Beuzekom has never considered himself an impersonator of the legendary filmmaker, actor and innovator.
What he does hope to do through his one-man “Rosebud, The Lives of Orson Welles” show is convey the depth of Welles.
“There are times in the show that I try to really nail down his vocal characteristics, but for the most part, I’m sort of trying to channel his spirit rather than trying to do an outright impersonation,” Van Beuzekom said.
Performed at 7:30 p.m. May 16 at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 E. Van Buren St., the play is one of numerous events taking place in Woodstock this month as part of Orson Welles’ Centennial Festival. Tickets for the play cost $23 for adults and $13 for students at www.woodstockoperahouse.com or 815-338-5300.
For information on the festival, including film screenings, presentations on Welles’ connection to Woodstock, where he spent his teenage years, a recreation of the “War of the Worlds” radio play and a festival wrap party, visit www.welleswoodstock.com.
In town since the festival’s beginning, Van Beuzekom, who co-founded the Paradise Theatre School in Chimacum, Washington, first opened the Welles show at his theater company in 2012.
He had been told nearly a decade ago he looked a bit like the Orson Welles of his 20s and 30s and later discovered the script for “Rosebud, The Lives of Orson Welles,” written by Mark Jenkins.
He’s performed the play in Seattle, Los Angeles and elsewhere and hopes to bring it to more theaters in the future.
“I think there’s still a lot of lack of understanding of who Orson was, his human side, the depth of his intellectual compassion, his political life, all the things once you dig a little deeper and find out, you’re like, ‘Wow, he had an amazing life,’ “ he said.
Here’s more of what Van Beuzekom had to say about the show and Welles, who would have turned 100 on May 6:
Kunzer: What can we expect from the play?
Van Beuzekom: It’s like a confessional, if you caught him in the makeup room before a performance and he starts reminiscing about his life. In the course of the 90 minutes of the play, you cover everything from his childhood and his relationship with his parents to his time in Woodstock, to his time in Ireland and his New York theater venture, to when he went to Hollywood, and then in subsequent years, when he was in Europe.
It’s jam-packed, and I think the playwright really does a good job of capturing not only the heart of Orson Welles, but his intellectual capacity. It doesn’t dumb it down at all. It asks you to go along with Orson and try to keep up.
Kunzer: Having done this for a few years now, I’m assuming you’ve learned quite a bit about Welles.
Van Beuzekom: I’ve read 25 books on Welles. I’ve watched numerous documentaries. That’s the cool thing about performing a role of someone so well-known. There’s a tremendous amount of source material. I come to a festival like this and turn into a student again. That’s why it was so great to meet Oja Kodar [Welles’ collaborator and long-time partner, who spoke May 9 as part of the festival] and hear directly from her her impressions on who he was and his contributions.
Kunzer: To you, what makes Orson Welles stand out? What makes him a legend?
Van Beuzekom: Even beyond his film career, the 1,000 radio broadcasts he did, that alone is amazing. His theater career to me, being a theater person, I always have a high amount of respect for people who do a lot of diverse things on the stage. And the fact that not only was he acting, he was producing and directing and had his hands in the technology makes me even more inspired.
I tell people if I could have one one-thousandth of his success, I would be considered a hugely accomplished individual from where I’m from. That gives you a sense of scale of what he actually achieved in his life. People are right. There’ll never be another Orson. … It’s too bad that we really sort of think of him as this overweight, deep-voice guy that did obscure things, and they don’t see him as the true humanitarian and thoughtful human being he was.
I think the town of Woodstock gets it. Definitely the rest of America has some catching up to do.