Sunday, March 12, 2017

Interview with Walt Disney Incarnate David Skipper - Part II

By Ron Baxley




When actor David Skipper performs as Walt Disney in one man shows, he seemingly becomes him. See David Skipper become Walt Disney incarnate in a three part series of interviews by Disney Avenue contributing writer Ron Baxley, Jr. in which David not only discusses Walt and his own life but will actually transform into him before your very eyes. This time around David discusses his acting in general and how it relates to Walt Disney. Join us today for Part II of an interview with Walt Disney incarnate David Skipper...


Interview with Walt Disney Incarnate David Skipper - Part I


Review the treat that is David Skipper performing as Walt Disney...








(NOTE: Some of Mr. Skipper’s opinions about aspects of the Disney Corporation and its theme parks are not ones that are all shared by contributing writer Ron Baxley, Jr. nor Disney Avenue.) 




(Source: David Skipper) David as Walt is shown with “his office” in the background.




Walt Disney is just one of David’s Multiple Literary Personality Disorder “characters”…

1) How does performing as Walt Disney compare to the other creative types you portray such as Charles Dickens, L. Frank Baum, H.G. Wells, etc.?


Walt Disney is just plain fun. He is outgoing, gregarious, and inquisitive, much like Oz author L. Frank Baum. Audiences often ask me what is my favorite character?  I tell them it is always the one I am currently performing. But Walt Disney is by far the most rewarding. My goal is always to dispel myths and misconceptions about the characters I portray and to share in their creative process.  I encourage the audience to pursue reading source material to learn more and increase their education and literacy. With Disney, many people claim that he was racist and did not hire female employees. Through my performance, I destroy these myths with hard facts and place them into the context of the 1960s. I perform one-man shows of authors I have loved throughout my life, such as Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Kenneth Grahame, H.G. Wells, James M. Barrie, L. Frank Baum, and The Rev. Charles L. Dodgson.  I have had people come up and suggest characters I should do, such as Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System.   I could not think of a more appealing topic for librarians, but the general public, no way.  I would find talking about card cataloging boring.  There has to be a certain marketability to the characters I chose.  Other characters that I have been doing research on for possible performances include Rudyard Kipling and Egyptologist Howard Carter.  They have to be someone I have a literary and historical interest in.  I have started writing a new one-man show of my first fictional character, Professor James A. Moriarity, Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis.




(Source: David Skipper) A make-up test for the development of a new one-man show called Chaos Theory: Moriarity, The Napoleon of Crime.




Not just examining Walt Disney but other life experiences helped David as well…

2) How did life experience in general help you as an actor?


I had a fun childhood and wonderful parents who did not really understand me at all. They realized I was creative and I remember being given art lessons, but what I really wanted to do is learn to play the piano. There are certain emotions and experiences I can draw upon to refine a character as needed. But it is more about understanding the character and motivation of the individual I am portraying that inspires me. Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight” was a milestone for me. I’ve seen that show live three times. I told Holbrook he had become my mentor. Graciously he said, “I am glad to have played a part in your career.  I am amazed at the number of characters you perform.”

You have probably seen the American Adventure audio-animatronic show with Mark Twain and Ben Franklin in EPCOT. What did you think of that particular Mark Twain?

EPCOT has always been a let-down for me and I recall seeing American Adventure once.  It took five years to build and has some of the best audio-animatronics conceived. But to be honest I don't remember much about it. I prefer Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln. It really shows the drama and passion Walt had for our 16th president. I recall when Royal Dano was recording Lincoln's speech, Walt kept saying after each take, "That's good, but do it again.  After several hours of recording Walt had worn Dano down to where he sounded tired and weary, which is what how he wanted Lincoln to sound.  It was not just about delivering the speech, but conveying great emotion.
Again, all the great rides have become extinct.  I loved the Norway pavilion, which has now been commercialized into a Frozen Attraction.

David continues on with his answer to the main question 2) above…
I was also encouraged by an article in Life Magazine about a university biology professor who gave lectures to his students in character as Mendel and Charles Darwin. I thought, what a fascinating way to learn, combining education with entertainment, which is what Walt Disney did.



 David Skipper becomes Walt Disney but not in the way of the method actor…

3) You have stated before this interview that you answer audience questions as Walt Disney in addition to performing as him. Do you believe in method acting? Do you figuratively become the character when you walk into wherever you are going to perform that evening and not change from being that character until you leave? Why/why not?


The greatest part of a Chautauqua style presentation is that after the dramatic monologue I open it up to questions. I remain in character. I respond to those questions as Walt would. This is very dangerous for an actor, but the most exhilarating part of the show. You need to have a pretty large base of knowledge in your brain. I have not been stumped by a question yet. In the final moments of the Q&A, I break from character and respond to questions as a scholar. I respond to those questions I could not answer as Walt Disney. No matter what show I perform, someone inevitably asks the question ‘how did you die?’ when I am still in character.  I usually blow if off by using the Mark Twain’s remark, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Method acting is a humbug!  I prescribe to Sir Laurence Olivier’s mantra, “why don’t you try acting dear boy?”

Yes, I invite the spirit of the individual I am portraying to share my living, breathing space and they never let me down. I have written scripts, but rarely follow them. I feel what the audience wants to hear and talk about and I focus on those things.

I use props in all my shows, but my Disney show has the most, which people love to see. There are original animation drawings, models, maquettes, animation cels, operational handbooks, letters, a 3 ½ foot model of the TWA Moonliner and an animatronic parrot and dinosaur. Allowing audiences to see this memorabilia, it makes the films real, they come alive.

Seeing the Pinocchio Exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum last May was an awe-inspiring experience for me.  Seeing Gustaf Tengren’s finely detailed drawings and sketches brought the film to life.  You realize a Herculean effort went into the making of these classic animated films.




(Source: David Skipper) One of David's prize animation drawings is Samson, Prince Phillip’s horse in “Sleeping Beauty” drawn by one of the famous Nine Old Men, John Lounsbery.




David Skipper has done a lot more acting or work in theatre than in just one man shows as Walt Disney, though those are impressive enough…
 

4) Have you had roles in traditional three act plays, television, and/or film? If so, what roles have you had? What plays and where performed? -What television shows/films if at all?

I have pretty much stayed in the theater world. Yes, I performed in plays in college, where I was bitten by the acting bug. I was one of the poker playing buddies in “The Odd Couple” and a dancing bear in “Carousel.” 

My first foray into one-man shows was appearing in a university art history class as Vincent van Gogh. I studied the letters between van Gogh and his brother Theo, was tutored in a smattering of Dutch and even painted my own props in van Gogh’s style.

I helped found the Irish Playwright’s Festival in Tallahassee (FL) and was featured as a main character, an old IRA soldier, in an original play by my longtime friend Michael Sheridan. I also provided primitive atmospheric music with my didjiredo and bodhran to an adaption of William Butler Yeats “The Death of Cuchulain.”  I also wrote and performed a one-off one-man show as Padrig Pearse, leader of the Irish Easter Rebellion of 1916. The one-act play takes place in his prison cell the night before his execution by the British.

I have been a professional storyteller, focusing upon folktales from my Musgogee Creek Native American ancestry and my own personal interest in Australian aboriginal dreamtime legends. I am proud to say that one of my stories was recorded at the famous White Springs Folk Festival and is preserved in the Florida archives.

My absurd play, “Morpheous and Somnabula” a Shakespearean-style comic parody was produced by the Tallahassee Community College in the mid 80s.  A music student even wrote an original musical score, which included “The Farte Ballet,” performed with two dueling tubas. Don’t ask.

While I enjoy the synergy of working with other people, I really prefer to do my one-man shows.



David Skipper does his homework and then some when playing Walt Disney…

5) How much historical research do you do to prepare for portraying these historical figures such as Walt Disney in your one-man show? If you could quantify it, how many books and/or articles/web articles have you read in order to portray and/or write scripting for your one-man show as Walt Disney?


I will spend anywhere from six months to a year preparing for a new one-man show. With Walt Disney, I was already ahead of the curve, having studied him and his studio considerably while in college. One of the papers I wrote for my Master’s degree was “The Disney Studios at War,” which I still have buried somewhere. 

As per books, I am addicted. I have my own resource library. I have just about every book that has been written about Walt and his studio. The same goes for the other characters I portray. 

I try to distill in a one-hour to 90-minute script, the essence of the man and his creative output, being sure that I identify those characteristics and stories that will appeal to the audience.



David Skipper plus-es his performance…

6) How do you recover when mistakes are made as Walt Disney during a performance?


Fortunately, it has never happened.



David’s Disney Dialect…

7) Did you work with a kind of dialogue coach to get the distinct dialects of those you portray? For example, Disney seemed, most of the time in front of the camera, to have a soft-spoken avuncular yet confident voice with a bit of a Missourian dialect. Did you get assistance in learning this dialect?


Early on, with one of my very first one-man shows as 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns I worked with a dialect coach.  I got so good with the old Scots tongue I had to slow my performance down so people could half-way understand what I said.  I have always been good with dialects.  I do not try to replicate Walt’s voice, other than by speaking with reassurance and slowly with a tiny mid-western accent. With me, it is not about the voice, but the outgoing, larger than life personality. The twinkle in the eye and reassurance.  It works for me and the audience.




(Source: David Skipper) David as a beaming Walt Disney with a Mickey Mouse Club television show script in hand.




David’s dreaded non-Disney day job…
 

8) Do you or have you had what some call a “day job” or have you always performed solely as a means of income versus having other employment, etc.?

I am retired at long last, but had a career in Communications for over 40 years.  Out of college, I became a newspaper editor on a country weekly. I was a film critic on a Florida daily newspaper and two of the first films I reviewed was “Star Wars” and “The Spy Who Love Me.” I was a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Corrections and later a correctional training manager. I was Director of Communications for the Florida Health Care Association, an educator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and Vice President of Emergency Management and Communications for the Colorado Health Care Association.  Acting was my sanity saver. Now I can afford to focus on just my creative endeavors. But it continues to be a challenge. People still expect artist to work for free or practically nothing. I have tried to promote my L. Frank Baum show to any number of Oz events around the country. I know these venues have small budgets, but I simply cannot afford to give away my talents.


This concludes the second of three articles in a series about David Skipper portraying Walt Disney as an actor across the country and his scholarship/research surrounding Walt Disney… Stay tuned to Disney Avenue for the third and final article in this unique series from contributing writer Ron Baxley, Jr. coming soon.

For more information about David Skipper's performances and bookings, contact David at literarydetective@comcast.net or visit his FACEBOOK Page exclusively devoted to his one-man shows: https://www.facebook.com/PendarynProductions.






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S.C. native author and former 15-year educator Ron Baxley, Jr. has visited Disney World since he was three in 1978. His mother, Marleen Baxley, was originally from Jacksonville, Florida and had family there who facilitated going to Disney World. Ron has been invited as a guest author at Oz festivals and science fiction cons since 2010 and was recently awarded the honor of a lifetime membership by the International L. Frank Baum and All Things Oz Foundation in Chittenango, New York, birthplace of L. Frank Baum, in June for his lifetime Ozian achievements. Within the past year, Ron posted a social media article with photographs entitled simply “Dad and Disney” in which he compared a lifetime of experiences in the Magic Kingdom in Disney World with his Dad including his first-time experiences in Disneyland after attending as an authorial vendor at OzCon in San Diego in 2015. From having a plush Mickey Mouse as his favorite, earliest toy to watching Disney films, Ron has been a Disney fan as long as he has been a fan of “The Wizard of Oz.” If he is not occasionally traveling to the closest Disney Store outlet in Concord, N.C., he enjoys yearly trips to the Disney Parks and collects different types of Mr. Potato Heads there and elsewhere.

Ron recently went on board with Mad Hatter Adventures Company, a travel agency that specializes in Disney destinations, as a part-time outside sales contractor selling Disney vacation packages. Contact Ron at Ron@MadHatterAdv.com for more information on Disney vacation packages and visit his Mad Hatter Adventures Facebook Page here.

Ron is an Oz, fantasy, science fiction, children's, and young adult author of 25 years and part-time correspondent/reporter for the Orangeburg “Times and Democrat” in Orangeburg, S.C. He has most recently had an article on Eugene and Eulie David, former M.G.M. Wizard of Oz “Munchkin” actors and brothers who lived in his hometown of Barnwell, S.C. published in the August - October 2016 issue of the glossy national magazine “Filmfax” after it appeared in three newspapers. He placed this article and a fictionalization of it as well as stories which followed his previously published Oz books in a brand new Oz fan-fic collection, After Th’Oz, available from Amazon. A full listing of his Oz, co-written Oz/Wonderland, fantasy, and science fiction books (some of which were traditionally published from Maple Creek Press) can be found by clicking here and information on his other projects and updates can be found at his author page, here.

You can find all of Ron's articles here.

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