Puttin’ on the Ritz with Jeff Buchanan!Michael Gray
Meet Jeff Buchanan
A longtime Ohio school music teacher and 2002 Teacher of the Year, Jeff Buchanan is an alumnus of Medina High School (Ohio) and Bowling Green State University. He served on the OMEA State Board as District II President and Technology Rep, and he’s a past-president of the BGSU Alumni Band Board of Directors. Jeff’s bands received numerous superior ratings at OMEA adjudicated events, and he is a former director of the Heidelberg College Brass Band. An active composer and arranger, his commissioned works for marching band have been performed from Hawaii to England. Jeff has been a featured Euphonium soloist with the North Coast Concert Band and Heidelberg Brass Band. He is an active participant in community theatre with his wife, Laura.
Having been a Drum Corps enthusiast for many years, Jeff found his way to Illinois State University in the mid-1990’s for the BOA Summer Symposium, and the seeds were planted for a post-teaching career in the music industry. Jeff served as a regional sales rep with Music Technology firms Lentine’s Education Technology and SoundTree before bringing his diverse background to MTC. He has participated in countless trips as a music educator and Travel Consultant. Sons Adam and Tyler even march with Jeff each Fall as members of the BGSU Alumni Marching Band.
Somehow, in between all of this, Jeff has found the time and energy to squeeze in another hobby: Theatre. Jeff Buchanan has been active in community theatre for many years. He first became involved in the theatre by conducting the pit and acting as musical director. After watching the actors having so much fun up on stage, he decided to give it a try, and a thespian was born. Jeff has performed at many area theaters in NW Ohio including Bellevue Society for the Arts, Port Clinton Playmakers, Tiffin Ritz, and Genoa Civic Theatre. He currently calls Fremont Community Theatre home, performing there most recently as Igor in Mel Brooks’ production of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN just this October. Some of his other memorable roles include Jesus in GODSPELL, the dentist in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, Father in A CHRISTMAS STORY, scarecrow in THE WIZARD OF OZ, Snoopy in YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN and SNOOPY, and Dr. Neville Craven in THE SECRET GARDEN. Jeff has also received outstanding acting awards from the Ohio Community Theatre Association for his performance in OUT OF STERNO in which he portrayed several characters, some as men and some as women, throughout the show. He also occasionally serves as music director and/or pit orchestra conductor. Even though Jeff mentioned that he is not really that good at theatre (just like he said he wasn’t good at fantasy football but that ended up not being the case), we were able to talk him into answering a couple questions:
What inspired you to get into Theatre?
Jeff: I grew up as a Band kid, but sang in several choral groups in college while I was an Instrumental Music Education major. I played in pit orchestras for theatre productions, and noticed that the people onstage seemed to be having a really good time. I was in my late 30’s when a good friend (a theatre arts teacher) literally dragged me onstage kicking and screaming for a show she was directing. It was a perfect role for me: I had to sing a short solo, but had absolutely zero speaking lines. To my surprise, I was hooked.
What do you do to prepare for a role?
Jeff: I typically already “know” the character before I audition, and start reading thru the part well in advance of the audition. Once rehearsals begin, it’s a matter of learning how your character interacts with the others, and giving thought to how your character would look/react/think during every second you’re onstage. I find it harder to memorize my lines as I’ve begun to accumulate birthdays. I record them on CD and listen to them when I’m in the car or traveling. For me, that’s important:
I don’t want to have to concentrate on my lines while learning new blocking (where to stand, when to move) and new choreography during a rehearsal. I also exercise like a fiend, so that I’m never out of breath onstage while singing/dancing during a performance.
Which characters have you played, and which characters have you played the most?
Jeff: I used to aspire for the lead roles, and did a few (Jesus in “Godspell”, Snoopy in “Snoopy: The Musical”) but gradually realized that someone of my nerdy, slender 5’9” stature with receding hairline isn’t the right fit for, say, the role of the big, strapping farm boy Curly in “Oklahoma”. So, I’ve gravitated to the supporting “sidekick” roles, where you have a lot of stage time, but fewer lines to learn. The supporting roles get most of the funny lines; just finished playing “Igor” in Young Frankenstein for the 2nd time – it’s been a favorite. Have played Snoopy 3 times in various productions, and the Dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors” a couple of times.
The hardest role you have played, and why.
Jeff: Hmm….Dr. Neville Craven in “Secret Garden” was a challenge, because he is an overbearing, scheming, basically nasty guy, and I’m kind of the Walter Mitty type. I also played 7 male/female roles in “Out of Sterno”. Aside from the constant costume changes, I had to create 7 completely different personas, and switch constantly between them. We had two backstage “dressers” who helped me change costumes, sometimes in less than 30 seconds. Fun! Last summer, I played “The Giver”, in the stage production. Transforming myself into an elderly, sagelike mentor was an exciting challenge.
“He is SO much fun to watch in ANY character he has ever played!! He recently finished a stint as Igor in my production of Young Frankenstein! His facial expressions, body movements, voice, you name it, it WAS Igor! Jeff disappears when he is on stage and that makes him so much fun to play off of as a fellow actor!”
The most fun role you have ever played, and why.
Jeff: Definitely Igor in “Young Frankenstein”. He has the same impish sense of humor I have, I think. A close second was “Flint”, the lecherous handyman in “Something’s Afoot”, as my character got to flirt onstage the entire show with a character played by my lovely, real-life wife, Laura.
What would your dream role would be, and what do you feel you would bring to it.
Jeff: My favorite/dream role is always the role I’m currently playing in whatever show I’m currently doing.
What role would you like to play but have yet to get the opportunity?
Jeff: Marcellus in “the Music Man” would’ve been fun, but in my late 50’s, I’m not really a good fit for the role. Perhaps one of the “Greater Tuna” shows (2 males play 20+ roles).
If someone ever approached you about doing a film, what would you say and what kind of film would you like to do?
Jeff: There are a couple of indie film producers in my area, but I have my hands full still learning my craft with local community theatre and with my busy MTC schedule. The nice thing about doing live theatre: if I goof up, it’s not captured on film for all eternity.
Who would be your dream crew to do a play with?
Jeff: It would be cool to do one performance on a Broadway stage with professionals, of course. What is cool about community theatre is the cast and crew – through 6-8 weeks of rehearsals – become a family. Backstage during a show, everything is as tightly choreographed as the show the audience sees. You’ll be waiting in the wings to make an entrance, and need to pull a small set piece offstage at the same time/location as 7 chorus members who are exiting the stage, making sure you don’t collide in the dark. After your scene, you cross behind the set, making sure to do so before the lead character arrives at his backstage costume area, blocking your path. Everything is timed down to the second, and everyone relies on each other to a high degree. It has a LOT of similarities with a music ensemble performance, in that regard.
Do you feel that there is a connection between being a Music Director and an Theatre Actor?
Jeff: I’m a former band director, and was 6 weeks into my first sales job in 2006 when I mentioned to my boss that I did community theatre. He replied, “You should have told me that you did theatre. I would’ve hired you immediately”. So, I believe the answer is yes. As a teacher, you’re basically performing all day long, communicating with your students in ways that help the group improve. I often conduct pit orchestras for theatre productions, and the move onstage to offstage is seamless in my life – skills learned with one helps me do a better job with the other.
“Jeff Buchanan is not only a fellow thespian of Fremont Community Theatre, but he is also a dear friend. He is a talented vocalist and instrumentalist. He has successfully directed vocals and orchestras in several theaters. When cast in a play, he is diligent about learning dance, music, and lines quickly and professionally. Jeff is a peacemaker. He has a teacher mentality in the sense that he will not stir conflict, and when conflict arises, he will work to sooth a situation and seek resolutions. Jeff has a witty and quirky sense of humor. In the middle of a conversation, he will interject with quiet but quick-thinking humor. Jeff is a friend we can trust. My husband and I love hanging with the Buchs and enjoy intelligent, yet relaxing companionship.”
What is your advice to aspiring Theatre Actors.
Jeff: The tendency, at first, is to play roles that are similar to your real-life persona. By all means, do those shows, and have fun! Where you’ll really stretch your acting chops, however, is by trying roles that are quite different from the actual person you are. I learn by watching others. As a student, I was shy and introverted, and nearly 40 years later, it’s still a huge feeling of accomplishment when I can push myself outside of my comfort zone and perform onstage. I’m still far more comfortable with a baton in my hand than I am dancing my way through “Together Again” with Dr. Frankenstein onstage, but constantly trying new things is kind of my Fountain of Youth.
Who would play you if there was a play made about Jeff Buchanan?
Jeff: The wise-cracking next-door neighbor. Or maybe the director. But truly, a play about me would be a singularly horrible idea.
Jeff is still very active on the band front as well. He conducts a local community band, and was a featured soloist this past Spring, and does alumni marching band with BGSU each year.
A lot of times in the music teaching world, people think “I’m an instrumentalist” or “I’m a vocalist” and the 2 don’t often mix. But the reality is that there are a lot of people, such as Jeff, who have found a home in both endeavors. People come from all walks of life, joined by the bond of music and the goal of helping other people experience the things WE love to do.
For Jeff, theatre is the ultimate pay-it-forward thing. People have no idea the extreme amount of time it takes to prepare a show, and the fact that for every hour you spend actually rehearsing at the theatre, there are 2 hours where you’re toiling on your own learning your lines, building the set, doing a publicity newsletter. If they could see it 5-6 weeks before a performance, they’d be stunned.