Raging for Guffman

Way off Broadway-and even further off the topic-with stage renegade Tim Hart

Tim Hart is having a hard time concentrating. He wants to tell me the complex, nasty story of how his Ensemble Theater Company got booted from its performance space — a story rife with bomb threats, infighting, even a Seinfeld connection.

But the story isn't coming easy to Hart, who swears that it's his various personality disorders and not the three beers he's just quaffed that are making it hard for him to focus. Tucked into a dark corner at Scottsdale's Cafe Blue, Hart furrows his brow and tries to remember how he went from soap opera actor to artistic director to thespian outlaw.

New Times: Is this the story about a small theater company fighting to stay in business, or is it a story about a belligerent asshole who wouldn't take "no" for an answer?

One life to relive: Soap star turned thespian outlaw Tim Hart at Cafe Blue.
Kevin Scanlon
One life to relive: Soap star turned thespian outlaw Tim Hart at Cafe Blue.

Tim Hart: It's a story about someone who refused to stop. I promised myself that I was going to do one thing in my life as hard as I could. That's this theater company. I regret that I didn't give it my all back when it looked like I was going to have a career in film and television.

NT: That's right — I forgot that you were on a soap opera.

Hart: I was on One Life to Live. This agent came to ASU, where I was studying theater, and he signed me. He wanted good-looking types for TV. He represented Gary Coleman.

NT: The little black kid?

Hart: Right. Gary Coleman's agent signed me and got me an audition on One Life to Live. I was . . . I'm sorry. I'm scatterbrained. Uh, like, all the time. What were we talking about?

NT: Your agent. One Life to Live.

Hart: Oh, right. The main story line was based around my character; I had my picture in TV Guide. And then, uh. I forgot what I was saying. What? Oh. I was on the show for a year, but my character got written off.

NT: Did he die?

Hart: No. He went to Denver.

NT: Okay. So, your troubles with Ensemble Theater began when some actor from Seinfeld turned you in to the cops?

Hart: No, you're thinking of Len Lesser, the guy who played Uncle Leo on Seinfeld. He's the best actor I've ever been involved with. He was never the problem. He starred in a show that we co-produced called Two and a Half Jews. It was the producer of that show who was the problem. He brought us the show direct from off-Broadway, and he wanted us to sign agreements about the show that we didn't agree with. When he didn't get what he wanted, he threatened to close the theater down. On the opening night of our next show, the fire marshal was there. This guy called the City of Scottsdale and Rural/Metro, our landlord, and said that we were violating fire codes. So they shut down the theater an hour before the show opened.

NT: There was a report filed that said that your theater was a firetrap.

Hart: The complaint said that there were lights falling on actors' heads, and there were electrical cables sitting in puddles of water onstage. The dickhead producer guy wanted to sabotage our opening night, so he made false complaints and the city locked our doors.

NT: You were actually locked out of your own theater.

Hart: No, that time we were just told we couldn't perform until we made the theater safe for the public. We were locked out of the theater twice, but those were other times.

NT: You didn't pay the rent for four months — what did you expect?

Hart: I expected what our landlord said. Which was, "Don't worry about it, pay what you can when you can." I gotta pay the phone bill, the electric bill, we're not making any money. And Dickhead the producer had stolen $10,000 from our box office. So we were broke.

NT: Is this the way that most small theater companies operate?

Hart: Good Lord, I don't think so. But most small theater companies are in fire code violation. We got busted because of this producer turning us in. I can't believe all the shit that's happened. And all the weird stories.

NT: Like the one about how you showed up at your landlord's corporate office, shitfaced drunk, and demanded to see their CEO.

Hart: That's sad. I wasn't drunk! I had just come from my psychiatrist. I have to go to him once every two weeks. I have attention deficit disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are these neurotransmitters that don't work in my brain.

NT: Then there's the one about how you were busted shutting off the water to the fire suppression system for the theater.

Hart: No. I went in after we weren't going to be able to fight our way back in to the theater one last time. I had people writing letters saying they support the theater, that the landlord shouldn't kick us out. And, uh . . . Ah, shit. What was I saying?

NT: You were busted in this locked enclosure.

Hart: Right. I went in there and saw that someone had sawed off the lock to the place where the fire sprinklers were, and I went in to see if it was working. Then the landlord showed up.

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