A Casual Conversation with ChadAllen
By Tony Schillaci and Don Church
“Where’s your lunch?” we asked in unison as Chad Allen bounced into the TheaterWorks conference room. The 33 year-old actor had agreed to an informal lunchtime interview with Metroline, while in rehearsals for the upcoming play The Little Dog Laughed.
As he took a chair, he backed right back out of it. “Give me a minute,” he smiled, and in a flash he returned with a crisp red apple.
“No lunch today – just a straight six-hour reading – and this interview is part of the day.” At that, director Rob Ruggiero appeared in the doorway. After our hellos he placed his hands onChad’s shoulders. The obvious rapport between director and actor was immediately evident. “You’ve got about 45 minutes, and then I need Chad back to work!” Both of them had big Cheshire cat grins on their faces.
As Rob left, we asked Chad “What’s it like working with Rob?” “So far, it’s been really good. We’re just doing readings right now, but the play has a gay theme, so it’s comfortable to work openly as a gay man in a gay play with a gay director. Before I came out, as an actor I had no reference to gay people in the theater or TV. If they were gay they just didn’t let it be known – or at least I didn’t know.”
In answer to: “What brought you to TheaterWorks in this comedy just at this time?”
Chad replied “Jacques (Jacques Lamarre, Director of Marketing/Public Relations at TheaterWorks) saw me a few years ago at (the) Westport (Country Playhouse) in Temporary Help. He remembered me when the casting for this play was being discussed and they called me. When they sent me the play and I read it I thought ‘yeah, I’ve got to do this’. So, I got off the plane in one degree weather – do humans actually survive in one degree air temperature? – and I immediately wanted to be home in California with my partner and my dog. But then I realized that Hartford was a real city with a small town feel, kind of like Seattle, and I got over the temperature shock. I’d only been to Westport and Greenwich in Connecticut before, so the urban reality of Hartford was a surprise”.
Chad Allen (family name Lazzari) has been acting on the stage since he was about five in musical shows like Oliver! and The Music Man. He recalled that when he was eight he got the role of Tommy, the autistic boy in the 1982-1988 TV series St. Elsewhere.
“Chad, how did you, at eight years old, know how to portray an autistic kid?”
Chad Allen answered “Once they decided I looked right for the part I was exposed to autism by meeting real autistic kids and studying them. But I also had a vivid imagination where I could go and lose myself. I played in my mind. I could sit and play soldiers and cars and tanks and battles, all in my mind. My first narcotic was my imagination. I call it a narcotic because in the world that I lived in I was protected by my imagination. My mother always said that artistickids are stuck in their own world – much like autistic kids are”.
That world allowed him to play Tommy Westphall in such a realistic way that many fans truly believed that Chad Allen himself was autistic. Chad appeared alone on screen in the last scene in the final episode of St. Elsewhere.
The transition from child actor to adult star in show business is rarely successful, but Chad partially attributes his working through this critical period and being accepted by the audience as an adult actor to his years (1993-1998) playing Matthew Cooper on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
Chad added, “During those years I grew into an adult with the audience watching. There was lots going on in my life, but I had to concentrate on the work, and that helped the transition to be easier”. A scandal sheet outed Chad while he was working on Dr. Quinn, and he came out publicly in the Advocate in 2001. Chad referred to the book When I Knew by Robert Trachtenberg in which Chad has a contribution about his awareness of when he realized he was gay.
Before chatting more about his TheaterWorks debut in The Little Dog Laughed on January 25, we touched on his popular HERE! TV series The Donald Strachey Mysteries. (If you missed them on TV they’re also available at Netflix). Chad films this series in Vancouver – there are two in release, Third Man Out, and Shock to the System. Two new episodes are being released in the spring, and two more are in the works. His character, an openly gay P.I., is in a comfortable loving gay relationship and to Chad “his relationship is the best part of the character, I love that relationship.”
Not only is Chad Allen a triple-threat actor (theater, TV, movies) he also puts on his producer’s hat for the soon-to-be-released-nationwide “Save Me”, starring Chad, Robert Gant (Queer as Folk), and Judith Light (Ugly Betty). A provocative film about a young man in an “ex-gay” ministry, it has already won the top award at the Southwest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and will be an entry at Sundance showing on January 21-23. Chad won’t be at Sundance due to his commitment to TheaterWorks, but his Mythgarden Production Company will be well represented by his working partner Christopher Racster, and co-star Robert Gant.
When we asked Chad about why he agreed to leave the California sunshine to work in Hartford in January, he broke out into his easy (yes, and sexy) smile and said “because I’m an actor….I love the theater, because that’s where actors go. Theater is the actors’ medium.”
He explains that unlike movies and TV, theater is where you connect as an actor to an audience in the most frightening, exciting, and immediate way. “Theater keeps my soul intact”, he shared, and we could see his soul reflected in his intense eyes. “Most of the parts that I play are characters with inhibitions. I have to find a way to cover my own inhibitions – theater helps me to do that”
When asked if he had any advice for young actors he said “If you want to be an actor – then act. Work in community or regional theater, anything you can do to act. There are lots of ways for people to show themselves off, to get themselves into the public eye, to be celebrities. But to be an actor you need to act. Connecticut is amazing; it has so many regional theaters, places for actors to work at their craft. (Theaterworks, Long Wharf, Hartford Stage, Yale Rep, WestportPlayhouse, Goodspeed.) You need to work at acting and it needs to be a passion. Sometimes I think, well I’ll just enjoy the house and the dog and my partner and I’ll retire and teach oceanography and just do a play now and then just to keep in. But then when I read another good script or play that excites me I know…I’ve just got to do this. That’s what acting is.”
In addition to acting he finds time to do charitable work, with his AIDS/LifeCycle ride fundraiser and his honorary board member status on the Matthew Shepard Foundation. (To read more about Chad Allen’s life, coming out, and charitable works, go to www.chadallenonline.comand to www.teamlazzari.com.) Being on a bicycle for so many hours during the year is one of the reasons that Chad has such stamina and such a fine physique.
Time has been flying by. This intelligent, handsome and thoroughly nice young man has held our complete attention for forty five minutes with his infectious charisma. Before we wrap it up, we ask, “What kind of things would you like to do in the theater in the future?” Without any hesitation, Chad leans over and says with great enthusiasm, “You want to know my secret dream? Now I am giving you a scoop! I haven’t told this to any other reporters! I would loveto do a musical again. It would take some extra training, voice, dance, but I know I can do it! And you heard it here first.”
Then, like a young gazelle, Chad Allen smiled and bounced out of the room. Can’t wait to see him in The Little Dog Laughed. And then, sometime in the not to distant future, maybe, just maybe, in The Little Dog Laughed – The Musical!
The Little Dog Laughed
By Douglas Carter Beane
January 25-March 9, 2008
TheaterWorks in Downtown Hartford