An Actor on Writing
University of Michigan student Tyler Dean discusses his writing process with TheaterMania U's Timothy Thompson.
I've made it a personal mission in my college career to know as much as I possibly can about every aspect of the theater. My theory is that the more I know, the more informed I'll be as an actor and the better my chances of getting a job. But although I am majoring in acting, I am so fascinated and challenged by other disciplines—particularly writing, management, and design. So much goes into this art, and there is always something new to learn.
I caught up with Tyler Dean, a friend from high school who is the type of actor I aspire to be: he attempts a little bit of everything. When there isn't work being offered to him, he is most likely creating it. He always seems to be putting together some huge, ambitious project. Tyler is currently a junior pursuing his BFA in acting at the University of Michigan, and has received awards from the community and college for his dramatic and musical works. I was curious to see how his process has developed and how his interest in writing has affected him as a theater artist.
What else do you do other than acting?
I love to write. Writing and acting are the two loves of my life. I'm also an avid reader and TV enthusiast.
What are currently writing?
I am currently working with my collaborator Mike Tooman on our third original musical, Sea Legs, and it's looking like that work will premiere in late February. Mike is a sophomore at Wayne State University studying Music Composition right now. He wrote for and performed with Avienne and Home for the Weekend, both local bands. Sea Legs can best be described as an absurd nautical, musical romp through a little harbor town.
What have been some of your past projects?
My first collaboration with Mike Tooman was a musical called Love Sucks: A Vampire Musical Parody, which parodied the Twilight franchise. Last year, we put up our second musical, Zombie Farm with Basement Arts at the University of Michigan, and it was a huge success. Zombie Farm actually just won the Hopwood Award and the Dennis McIntyre Prize for Distinction in Undergraduate Playwriting, which was a huge honor. My most recent work is a straight play entitled From Such Great Heights.
What is it about and where would you like to see it go?
Sea Legs tells the story of two orphan boys who grow up in a depressing harbor town. They dream of adventure, but growing up turns out to be the greatest adventure of them all. Enter the heroic Captain Cecil Seashells and his Periscopian Patrol, a pregnant ingénue, and a hell-bent children's book author and you have Sea Legs. Down to its core, it is a show about two best friends who grow up (and in some ways not in the same direction), which is ironically what I'm going through with my personal life lately. I guess Sea Legs is semi-autobiographical in that respect...sans the maniacal children's book author.
When does your writing process begin?
It begins with a cluster of ideas and continues to be a cluster of ideas until I can force myself to organize [them] via sticky notes. Then I work one scene and song at a time. Listening to music helps me generate ideas and is crucial to my writing process. I've also discovered lately that I write best in the shower, I'll work out some dialogue or lyrics or a melody while I'm shampooing my hair and I'll run out and write it down.
How has your training [in acting] informed your work as a writer? Has your writing ever informed you of your acting?
Oh, definitely. I think they go hand in hand. In particular, it has helped me distinguish the difference between the actor's job and the writer's job; As a writer, sometimes I find myself writing too much. Less is more; it's the duty of the actor and the director to fill in the blanks.