(l-r) Robin Lord Taylor, Hunter Gilmore, and Noah Peters(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
(l-r) Robin Lord Taylor, Hunter Gilmore, and Noah Peters
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Even a significantly flawed play can offer golden opportunities to great actors. Michael Lewis Maclennan's The Shooting Stage -- now being presented by Tesseract Theatre at The Culture Project -- certainly has its problems in terms of plot credibility, structural focus, and heavy-handed symbolism but it also contains some well-written, powerful scenes that move forward one of its two major plot lines: A lonely, effeminate teenager named Elliot (played by Hunter Gilmore) is bullied by his schoolmate Derrick (Robin Lord Taylor). At first, Elliot is half-heartedly defended by Ivan (Noah Peters), on whom he has a crush, but Ivan's anxiety over his sexual orientation eventually gets the better of him. The other plot line involves Elliot's father Malcolm and his fraught relationship with a photographer named Len, who has recently exhibited an erotic photograph of Malcolm that was taken when the two men were boys playing brothers on a TV series.

One of the best things about the show is that the extraordinarily talented young actors who play Elliot, Derrick, and Ivan are 100% credible as high school-age kids. You may have seen Hunter Gilmore in Five by Tenn at Manhattan Theatre Club earlier this season or, prior to that, at the Kennedy Center in D.C. You may have seen Robin Lord Taylor in the Young Playwrights Festival at the Cherry Lane Theatre, in Boy Beautiful at the HERE Arts Center, in Henry IV at La MaMa, or in a number of TV commercials. As for Noah Peters, you probably haven't seen him in anything, since he just recently graduated from Rutgers University; but his performance in The Shooting Stage indicates that we'll be hearing a lot from him in the future. I spoke with Hunter, Robin, and Noah about the play and about how a young actor goes about forging a career.

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THEATERMANIA. Do you feel that The Shooting Stage is an accurate portrayal of homophobia among teenagers?

HUNTER GILMORE: Yes, but I think the situation was much worse when I was in school than it is now for the kids that I've spoken to. At the same time, when really bad things happen, they pop up in the press more than they used to. I've never known anyone who's to the extreme of Elliot, being so bold as to wear a feather boa at school and to blatantly have a crush on his best friend. It's all about how far out there you're willing to put yourself . Now, gay kids have kind of carved out a niche in the marketplace. It's almost like the hip thing to be. Of course, it also depends on where you live; if you're in a city, it's much different than if you're living on a pig farm in Nebraska. I went to high school in South Carolina and Mississippi.

ROBIN LORD TAYLOR: I have a similar story to Hunter's in that I grew up in Iowa in a small town. When I was in school, I saw this stuff go on all the time; but I just went home to Iowa and I found out through a friend that the only out gay kid in the high school had been elected class president. It was really encouraging to hear that.

NOAH PETERS: I didn't see too much homophobia in the high school I went to. That was in Jacksonville, Florida.

Noah Peters and Hunter Gilmore in The Shooting Stage(Photo © Joe LaRue)
Noah Peters and Hunter Gilmore in The Shooting Stage
(Photo © Joe LaRue)
TM: I assume that you all started acting in school. Did you feel that it was uncool to be an actor in that environment?

NOAH: The problem is that they call it the International Thespian Society, so you're going around school with a shirt that says "Thespian" on it. That doesn't go over too well! But the kids in my school were pretty cool. You know, I'd hang out with the guys on the football team. I definitely had friends there.

ROBIN: It was never encouraged to do something like this in high school; in Iowa, acting is like a dream that no one every seriously considers. I always knew that it was something I wanted to do but I never allowed myself to really think of it as a possibility until I went to college.

HUNTER: I went to two different high schools, an academic school in the morning and a performing arts school in the afternoon. At the performing arts school, there was obviously no stigma attached to wanting to be an actor; and at the academic high school, when we would do productions there, the football players were in the shows, too. It was kind of a thing for popular kids to do, like, "Look at me! I'm up on stage and I'm funny!" So there was never really a stigma attached to it there, either.

TM: What were your first steps toward a professional acting career?

HUNTER: I started doing community theater when I was in middle school. Then I went to the performing arts high school -- The Fine Arts Center in Greenville, South Carolina -- which gave me more opportunities to perform. Then I went to Long Island University and got a BFA in acting, and I got an agent through the college showcase. I've been gradually building my résumé in New York and kind of branching out from theater to try and do more film and TV.

ROBIN: I acted in high school and then I was a theater major at Northwestern. After graduation, I came to New York with some friends and just did it.

NOAH: It was the same for me. I went to Rutgers -- it's a great theater program there -- and then I moved to New York with my roommate, who's now up for an Emmy. His name's Tom Pelphrey and he's on Guiding Light.

TM: Would you say that it's a constant struggle to make a career in acting, or is that an overstatement?

ROBIN: When you're doing it full-time, I think the hardest thing is that you're sort of living outside of society in that you don't have a regular job, so you have to learn how to fill your life in a way that's different from the way the rest of the country does it. It can be a struggle to stay focused.

HUNTER: It's great when you get a job, but when it comes to an end, there's a little bit of a freak-out because there's not necessarily another job right around the corner. The whole process starts over. On the other hand, it can be exciting. And if acting is the only thing you want to do, your answer is right there.

NOAH: I don't make money by acting; I bartend. So, when I get into a show, I'm thrilled to just not have to be at the bar more than three days a week. I'd spend a lot of time worrying myself to death if I thought, "I have to start making money doing this!"

TM: Do you feel that there's still reluctance on the part of some actors to play gay roles? Is it only an issue for openly gay actors?

HUNTER: It's obviously much more of an issue in the world of TV than in theater. You can kind of get away with being gay and out if you're a stage actor, but it's hard to be a gay celebrity making out with some woman on screen for 10 million dollars when some housewife in Nebraska is thinking, "He doesn't really want me; he wants my husband." Whether an actor is gay or straight, playing a gay role can be a problem it you want to establish yourself as a sex symbol -- the new, hot, young thing. But there are a lot of exceptions.

NOAH: Yeah! I mean, look at Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. And Colin Farrell: Alexander was a big deal, and he also did A Home at the End of the World. But if that had been the first role he was offered, would he have taken it?

ROBIN: I just think that, if the work is good, that's what matters -- especially in New York theater.

Robin Lord Taylor and Noah Petersin The Shooting Stage(Photo © Robert Henderson)
Robin Lord Taylor and Noah Peters
in The Shooting Stage
(Photo © Robert Henderson)
TM: What is it about The Shooting Stage that specifically attracted you all to be in it?

NOAH: In the first sides I read, my character had this speech about what it's like to kill a group of pigs -- that moment when they realize you're betraying them, because you can't look them in the eye. The speech is unbelievably great, and that alone made me want to do the play.

ROBIN: When I first read the play, I thought it was a very heavy piece because of the subject matter. But I also thought, "This is gonna be sweet!" It's an amazing opportunity to lose myself in a play like this. To have a chance to really live onstage with other actors is so fulfilling. During the rehearsal process, it was hard: I'm having this great day, then I come in and I have to torment Hunter for two hours. It can get to you after a while. But at the same time, it's fun to be the antagonist and push everyone's buttons.

HUNTER: I think it's interesting that a lot of the characters in this play don't come out on top, but they try to take care of themselves and they cope as best they can.