On a late Saturday afternoon fast-breaking toward dusk, David Dean Bottrell sips strong, dark brew after a long rehearsal at the Colony Theatre. He confabulates with his assistant director, comparing notes from the day’s work on Travels With My Aunt and strategizing about the next day’s rehearsal.
After their quick discussion, the tired yet resolute Bottrell looks at his cup of joe as if he wishes it were endless. Nevertheless, if anyone were ever to wish for less activity, it wouldn’t be Bottrell ““ at least not at this juncture of his life. Juggling like a veteran circus performer, Bottrell has a lot on his plate besides his directorial stage debut. His one-man show David Dean Bottrell Makes Love soon returns, plus a few other exciting opportunities are on the horizon. For Bottrell, being uber-busy is a blessing without the curse.
The Road Traveled Leads To Acting
One’s background often reveals deep insight into the mind and heart of an artist. Originally from Kentucky, Bottrell’s very religious family moved from small town to small town, and into parts of southern Ohio. Extremely reserved and shy as a child, his primary interest was painting and drawing, which received accolades but teetered on a slippery slope –Â it was not considered Christ-like behavior to draw attention to one’s self.
“Certainly one of the favorite quoted scriptures in my family’s household was “˜Pride goeth before a fall.’ One did not want to be a show-off.” For Bottrell, a chance to escape was important. “I loved any imaginary world I could enter — comic books, sci-fi on television”¦. As much as I loved (and love) my family, our existence was a little grim.”
Then came love ““ which led to another form of escape. Bottrell’s face beams at the memory. “I fell in love with a girl, Valryn Warren — one of the most beautiful names I’d ever heard in all my 15 years of life.” After learning she was active in the high school drama club, “the only way I could figure out to get anywhere near her was to audition for a play.” He auditioned with trepidation. Bottrell didn’t end up with the girl but instead ended up with the drama club.
With his new-found interest, “What I discovered, by pretending to be somebody else, was I could stand up in front of people and make them laugh. It was this wonderfully safe place. You could hide behind a character; you could be somebody other than yourself. It was magical, and I loved it.”
Cut to”¦at the end of his freshman year at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, Bottrell was hired for a local summer stock show. “At the end of that summer, the director was directing another show somewhere else. I boldly said, “˜If you cast me, wherever it is, I’ll be there.’ He hired me and I dropped out of college.” With a grin, he adds, “Plus college and I didn’t really take to each other in the first place.” Later Bottrell moved to New York, where he found an acting coach, William Esper, “who was brilliant. I actually conned him into letting me into his class. Two years later, I was a working actor.”
How supportive was Bottrell’s family about his decision to become an actor? “They had never heard of such a thing before. It seemed like an awfully risky proposition. Plus their impression of show business was sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Looking back, I can certainly understand why they were concerned.”
But acting? Bottrell divulges, “It was the only thing I was good at. I wasn’t a particularly good waiter or good at any job I’d held in my life. I never felt present in any of those jobs. The only time I felt I was really myself was when I was doing something inherently creative — involved in imagining something first and then bringing it into existence.”
NYC To LA
After a decade of working in NYC as an actor, Bottrell decided to try his hand at writing plays. Beginner’s luck struck as his first play Dearly Departed (co-written with Jessie Jones) was performed at the Long Wharf,Â then went to the Second Stage. Bottrell sheepishly admits, “Although the play wasn’t hugely successful, I started getting calls from LA”¦ to write.”
A creative career move was to be made. “I decided to not be an actor any longer. I moved to LA and for the next 14 years, I worked exclusively as a screenwriter.” Bottrell wrote screenplays for MTV Films, Paramount Pictures and Disney Feature Animation and co-wrote Kingdom Come, a hit for Fox Searchlight. Life was good as a writer, but as the years were passing by, it wasn’t necessarily satisfying.
Bottrell downs the remainder of his coffee, then shares another major “great life moment” that happened five years ago ““ one that has yet again shifted him in ways unimaginable ““ and it was as simple as a phone call. “The phone rang. A casting director had remembered me from a play I had done Off-Broadway. “˜Hey, would you come in and audition for this role?’ I explained I had been out of acting for quite a while”¦. God bless her –Â she was persistent. I went in and read for her. It was a one-scene role on Boston Legal which then morphed into something bigger. My acting career was handed back to me on a silver platter. To this day, I’m astounded by that piece of luck.” And that luck in being cast in the role of the creepy Lincoln Meyer is where “yes” began to roll trippingly off Bottrell’s tongue.
The expressive Bottrell leans forward in his folding chair. “I think the biggest lesson of the last five years has been to say “˜yes.’ I had a very specific career as a screenwriter. The phone ringing changed my life. It began with the fantastic role on Boston Legal, then a short movie I wrote and directed (the award-winning Available Men), then standing in the gym when Roy Cruz walked up to me and said, “˜I have an idea for a comedy show called Streep Tease. Want to do it?’ All these doors opened at once.” Then a letter penned by Bottrell led to another opportunity.
Colony artistic director Barbara Beckley recalls, “David sent a delightful letter to us, wanting to get back on stage. It arrived the week we were setting up auditions for Wayne Liebman’s play Better Angels.” Trent Steelman, Colony’s executive director, adds, “The letter was really wonderful, and we called him in.” Bottrell’s letter-perfect timing led to the role of John Hay in the play about Abraham Lincoln.
Then Beckley and Steelman saw Bottrell in the long-running cult hit Streep Tease ““ an evening of Meryl Streep monologues (from movies) all performed by men. Bottrell’s film choice was Out of Africa but he soon realized that “there’s no monologue in it. I had a real dilemma on my hands. Roy had informed all of the performers there was a strict six-minute time limit (per monologue). Then it hit me. Since Isak Dinesen was a story-teller, I decided to see if I could tell the entire story of Out of Africa in six minutes.”
Beckley states, with Steelman nodding in agreement, “It was one of the most hysterically funny, touching, beautiful moments of the show. It was exquisite.” And Bottrell’s performance reminded them of the tone and style of Travels With My Aunt. Later, when mulling over the names of possible directors for theÂ Giles Havergal adaptation of the Graham Greene comic novel, “Trent suggested David. I looked at him and said, “˜You are a genius.’”
How does it feel to hand the reins over to a first-time director on a full-length play at the Colony? “It was scary to realize we’re hiring someone who has never directed a play before,” Steelman admits. Yet with a hearty chuckle, he adds, “But it wasn’t like we were handing razors to a child either. This was David Dean Bottrell.” Beckley mentions, “Watching David at work with the design team, the actors”¦He knows what he’s doing. We’re in good hands.”
Bottrell states, “It’s right up my alley. I love the fact you can take four actors and a couple of folding chairs and suddenly create a car or a boat or an airplane”¦. With a couple of sound effects and clever lighting, you can be anywhere. I love that about the theater and it attracted me to this material, plus I love the story ““ about whether or not you can correct the course of your life late in the game.” Retired bank manager and mild-mannered Henry Pulling has never left his own orbit. When his vigorous and eccentric Aunt Augusta suddenly appears with mysterious information about his past, Henry is drawn into an exotic international adventure.
Bottrell’s eyes flicker with enthusiasm. “Originally the play was written for four men to play 25 roles. We’ve been given permission to do it with three men and one woman. All of our actors play both male and female, every conceivable nationality, every age, and in one case, an actor plays a dog. I felt Giles’ original concept was confusing with three of the four actors playing the leading role of Henry at various times — also dressed identically. Really loving the character of Henry, I wanted to make sure we had an actor who the audience could identify with and follow through the course of the show. Thomas James O’Leary is terrific as Henry, and the other three actors — Mark Capri, Larry Cedar and Sybyl Walker — are remarkable and incredibly funny as well.”
What prepared Bottrell for this new experience ““ staging a play? His last few years as an acting teacher are vital, he replies. “You can’t have a boilerplate response to performers. Each actor is an individual artist, each works in their own way, has their own vocabulary. Part of my job as a teacher is to use my best instincts to nudge that person toward their best work. I have to meet everybody where they live. Not the other way around. And that’s what I’m doing here.”
As for being on the “other side,” Bottrell smiles broadly. “Actually, I like it on this side of the table. My job is very clear. I have to make everything work.” His rollicking laugh fills the rehearsal hall. “In all seriousness, I’m responsible for the story being told, to the way the stage looks, to the playwright, to the producing team of the theater, to the audience”¦. Ultimately, it’s my responsibility. All of it.”
And Then There’s Making Love
Meanwhile, David Dean Bottrell Makes Love has a return engagement at the Rogue Machine from November 16 through December 15. He reflects on how his one-man show — an oddball, edgy collection of true stories about “what we do for love” — came to fruition.
“I did a piece at a Spoken Word evening that really went over like gangbusters. As I was driving home, I thought, “˜Maybe there’s more to this material; maybe it can be expanded.’ I started writing more, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a series of jokes. I’m not a stand-up comedian. I’m a storyteller. My goal is to tell the truth, hopefully in a way that’s funny.”
What has struck a chord with the audiences regarding a 68-minute show of love stories? “I wanted to create a show about love. Granted if you come to the show, you’re going to find out way more about me than you probably ever wanted to know, but I’ve been touched by how many people stay afterward to talk to me. All kinds of people ““ men, women, straight, gay, all races, all ages”¦ have stayed to tell me how they related to one story or the other. Some stories are about dating, about falling in love with the wrong person, about first love, about my relationship with my father”¦. I’ve done everything in my power to create as many on-ramps as possible for every conceivable person to come to the show, to enjoy, to laugh and to come away with something.”
At The End Of The Day
Bottrell readily admits, “All of these wonderful, amazing things didn’t just magically happen for me, although there was definitely some luck involved. They were a result of 30 years I’ve been in show business. And I remind myself, if I want to have a career in the industry, my job is to contribute to that industry, not to bang on the door and demand things from it, but to come to the door offering something.”
“So far it’s been an incredible adventure. I’m very appreciative and grateful. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt as excited as I do these days. Pretty much every morning I get up and think “˜Who knows what’s going to happen today, but I’ll bet it’ll be fun!’”
The power of “yes” thrives in the ever-evolving, irreverent, creative world of David Dean Bottrell.
Travels With My Aunt, presented by the Colony Theatre. Opens Nov. 12. Plays Thur. ““ Fri. 8 pm; Sat. 3 pm and 8 pm; Sun. 2 pm. Through December 18. (Dark the weekend of November 24-27). Tickets: $20-42. The Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third Street, Burbank. 818-558-7000 ext 15. www.colonytheatre.org.
***All Travels With My Aunt and Better Angels production photos by Michael Lamont
David Dean Bottrell Makes Love, produced by Andrew Carlberg. Opens Nov. 16. Plays Wed. ““ Thur. 8 pm. Through Dec. 16. Tickets: $20. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd, LA. 323-930-0747. www.roguemachinetheatre.com.