“They kicked off the start of many incredible, fantastic years of my life” An interview with Abe Zapata

Last season we began our “Actors’ ExPats” series – interviews with folks who once were involved with Actors’ but had since moved away. This year, as we move our 30th Season, we are going to take that idea and expand on it. We are going to be celebrating some of the many, many people who have made this theatre such a success!

So, we’ll be interviewing all kinds of folks, from those that helped start Actors’ in the very beginning to those who are helping out today; people who have moved from West Michigan and those who are active in Grand Rapids theatre now. Our goal is to get to know some of the amazing people who have graced our stage, from acting to directing to everything in between. This is an opportunity to take a look at the past and also look to the future – and why Actors’ Theatre has been a passion for so many.

To read more of our past interviews with Aaron Fryc, Teresa Thome and more, go here.

Abraham (Abe) Zapata

This week we talk to Abraham Zapata.  Actors’ Theatre patrons will remember Abe from his many, many appearances on our stage, but may not know that he was also very active backstage and as a member of our Board of Directors.  Now living in Houston, TX and a part of the theatrical community there, we wanted to ask him about moving from Michigan to the Lone Star state.

First tell us a little about your history with theatre, Abe.  When were you introduced to community theatre?

When I was about 11 my first big show was School House Rock, Live! at Civic Theatre. I was astounded by the theatre… it was so accepting, giving and creative. I loved acting and performing, but due to finances and such I wasn’t able to do a community show until I left high school. After that first show at Civic however, I was involved with every single dramatic and choral production my school did. That really helped me learn about acting and test out many different kinds of creative outlets – script writing, backstage work, prop building, costume construction, etc. I worked hardest on my acting since it seemed to help me understand so many other things involved with theatre, as far as onstage work. Once I started with Actors’ I was committed to keep up acting but learn everything I could about the business to keep the arts alive in the community and within myself.

Abe Zapata, Amy McDaniel, Abe Lee and Carol Black from Actors' Theatre's production of "Enter the Guardsman"

The first time I was introduced to Actors’ Theatre was when an actor dropped out of the musical production, Enter the Guardsman. I got a call from Fred Sebulske, who got my number from Abe Lee of the cast, asking if I could come in for a cold audition. I auditioned with the worst song possible, (brought in “Mean ol’ Lion” from the Wiz for a “Sondheim-esque” show) – but Fred was very complimentary and brought me in – it turned into the best audition of my life.

So, where are you now?  What have you been working on lately?

I left Grand Rapids a little over 3 years ago due to the economy. I moved to Houston, Texas where my brother, Alfred, and his wife, Laurie, helped me find a place of my own. I had to put theatre and any kind of social networking to the back burner for the first year to focus on getting financially stable but after getting a great job in south Houston I’ve had the ability to get back to donating my efforts into Children’s Activity Programs, GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered & questioning) Education Services and have found a theatre group I’m very excited to be a part of.

I’m now working with an incredible group called Unhinged Productions. I started donating my time and efforts to them during their last season and was asked if I would join their Board of Directors and take their Accounting Position. It’s Houston’s premiere GLBTQ Theatre Group and we’ve done some incredible productions for being as “small” as we are, Hedwig and Angry Inch, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, and Uncivil Unions an in-house production that was incredibly well received by Houston. We have secured a great season and if anyone in GR is heading Houston way, I’d love to welcome you to catch one of our productions. (Our website is www.comeunhinged.com if anyone wants to take a peek!)

How did your experiences with theatre in Grand Rapids effect you?

Theatre in Grand Rapids has helped me define the person I am proud to be today. Every single experience, both good and bad, have helped me understand myself and, more importantly, the world. The arts in GR is so varied and filled with so many opportunities that once involved, you can’t help but be changed. Personally my experience there has helped me become a better student, worker and person. I will always be grateful for my time there.

As a former GRCC student and performer on Actors’ stage, how do you feel about the relationship between the college and the theatre company?

Abe Zapata and David Fletcher from Grand Rapids Community College's production of "Fortenbras." Photo credit: Gayla Fox

You know… a month or so ago I frightened my fiancé when I started swearing at my laptop. He was upstairs while I was down in our living room and he thought I set our home on fire. I came across an article and saw the ‘controversy’ regarding the whole Actors’ Theatre/GRCC Funding situation was alive and kicking. I couldn’t believe it since it happened 7 (SEVEN!!!) years ago when we did Corpus Christi – Which I’m VERY PROUD to say I performed in, along with an incredible crew. I was attending GRCC and a performer in that production… I was confused by the situation then and I’m confused by the situation now. The ability to be a student and to have practical experience in your desired field is supposed to be encouraged. You wouldn’t threaten or punish a university and (more importantly) a Law Student for working in a controversial legal trial, but apparently that’s fine if you do theatre! I know I can say for myself and on behalf of my friends who worked with not only Actors’ but all the theatre groups in Spectrum Theater while at GRCC, that nothing could replace that relationship and that it was, and is, nothing short of incredible. It prepared me for the real world and I sincerely hope that that relationship isn’t at risk.

Tell me about some of your favorite shows that you did:

I have had the great fortune to have absolutely loved every show I did while in GR… with the “slight” exception of Follies at Circle Theatre – and that was only because of the powder wig and pink outfit I had to wear standing outside of John Ball Park Zoo waiting for a number to begin.

Two shows in particular stand out for me, both Actors’ Productions: Bat Boy: The Musical and Rocky Horror. From Bat Boy opening night, I remember when the fabulous Alex Agard was playing Mrs. Taylor – in a foot high blond wig – came barreling towards me (as scripted) to lament her recently deceased child. During the scene his wig popped right off and he totally lost it. He buried his face into my leg to “sob” but really to laugh and I quickly reached for the wig and placed it gingerly back on, in character, as the baffled Sheriff Reynolds. The audience went nuts.

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at Actors' Theatre - Photo Credit: Gayla Fox

Then there was Rocky… I lived, breathed, ate and slept that show. I worked the box office for it, was the Associate Director, helped backstage, helped onstage, helped with set construction, made HUNDREDS of “Rocky” participation bags, made the logo for the promotion… during the week the show was going up I remember Austin Rodriguez and I literally spent over 48 hours in the theater to help get it ready… you know the service elevator next to the Spectrum Box Office? I would sleep in there for quick breaks while we tried to get the show ready. The set was fully “complete” for that show less than half an hour before opening night! To date it was the most I’ve EVER done for a show and if I were able, I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

And finally, what does Actors’ Theatre mean to you?

To me, Actors’ means the start of innovation. Words cannot describe all that Actors’ has done for me… They provided me with the Mickey Sebulske Scholarship and helped me restart my education, they gave me the experience I needed to spread my wings as an Actor, Writer and theater administrator. They gave me the acceptance and truly, the love, I needed in such a volatile stage in my life. They kicked off the start of many incredible, fantastic years of my life – which I’m so happy to say I’m still living in and know will continue thanks to my experiences there.

I tried to show my love and pride for the group by doing as much as I could during my time at Spectrum and GRCC… with Actors’ alone I assisted in over 24 shows with them spanning over 5 seasons. For them I volunteered, performed, wrote, produced, constructed and worked as Board Member. I worked with all of the other theatre groups in town, but always kept Actors’ a priority. All I sincerely hope for is that, at some moment in the future, someone from Actors’ will think of me and say “He truly loved this group,” because I did and still do.

Leave a comment

Filed under Actors' ExPats, Interviews of Note

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s