This is classic M.A. Taylor: During the opening night performance of Idaho Shakespeare's 2007 production of "Arsenic and Old Lace," Taylor fell through a window. He was supposed to just climb through it, but he caught his toe on the frame and did a complete face-plant on the stage.
The other actors stood speechless, in a mixed state of surprise, concern, horror and laughter. The audience roared. The director kept it in. At each performance thereafter, Taylor tumbled through the window head first in search of a laugh.
Accidents like that seem to follow Taylor. He has a knack of turning haphazard incidents on stage and off into comedy gold. In fact, becoming an actor was a kind of accident, too.
Taylor grew up in upstate New York and Wheaton, Ill., near Chicago. When his family moved to Salt Lake City in 1973, he was in the midst of a pre-adolescent identity crisis, he says.
"I was taking speech class for debate because that's what my brother did. But the new school didn't have it, so I audited the drama class and came to like it," he says.
On a dare, Taylor auditioned for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as a sophomore in high school and won the role of Puck over juniors and seniors.
"I always had a penchant for Shakespeare," he says.
During undergrad at the University of Utah, he tried to pursue other interests but kept coming back to theater. That's where ISF producing artistic director Charlie Fee found and hired him in 1994. (Taylor later earned his master's in theater at the University of Delaware along with fellow ISF company members Jeffrey C. Hawkins and Lynn Robert Berg.)
Mark Anthony Taylor came to Idaho that summer intending to stay for a season and move on. Thanks to an old friend - David Lee Painter, who headed Idaho Theatre for Youth - Taylor ended up with year-round work and never left.
Today, M.A. Taylor (his official Equity stage name) is one of the most recognizable members of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival company, playing everything from the lowest lowbrow clown to the most sophisticated comic character. And he creates moving moments with each. Basing himself in Boise, he continues to work year-round between ISF and its sister companies in Cleveland and South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
What's been your favorite role?
Dr. Einstein in "Arsenic & Old Lace," directed by Drew Barr. He's the crazy cohort to Jonathan (the murderous brother of the lead character, Mortimer, who received plastic surgery to look like Boris Karloff from Taylor's drunken Dr. Einstein). And I got to work with Doug Miller (who played Jonathan), one of my favorite actors.
Do you ever long to play a dramatic role - Iago? Hamlet?
Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice." I've been really fascinated with that role for a while. I think it would be an interesting counterpoint to what I normally do. Because of the way I'm perceived on stage, it would be disarming to see someone you like on stage playing someone so dislikable. Shylock doesn't think he's doing anything wrong. He's just looking out for his own best interests, and it blows up in his face. The levels of subtlety when he realizes when he's gone too far - I would love to play those nuances. And there is some of the most stunning language. I could listen to that trial scene forever.
What roles are you most looking forward to this summer?
"Sweeney Todd," because it's an actor's musical. I'm playing Beadle Bamford (the dislikable henchman for Judge Turpin). The music is extraordinarily difficult, but at the same time it's so well constructed. And, of course, "King Richard III." I don't know what role I have yet, but there are so many great ones. I can't wait.
You've studied acting as much as you've practiced it. What benefit do you find in classical training?
Classical training gives you the craft of acting. You learn a depth of skill that comes in handy so you can create something through your imagination. You understand language and rhetoric and how story is created, so when you get stuck you know how to glean your way out. Acting seems like it's an easy task until you have to do it.
I'm not a believer in The Method (an acting technique developed by Lee Strasberg in the 1940s and '50s). I don't have to be a drug addict to play one. My favorite story is when Laurence Olivier was working with Dustin Hoffman in "Marathon Man." Hoffman stayed up for 48 hours and came to rehearsal exhausted. Olivier looked at him and said, "Dear boy, you look terrible." Hoffman replied that he was getting into character. Olivier is reported to have said, "Well, have you tried acting?"
You do so many physical shticks. How do you stay in shape?
Go to the gym (when possible); ride my bike everywhere when in Boise; hike the Foothills.
How many miles do you put on your bicycle during the season?
Although my math skills are dodgy, it's about 15 miles a day during the season (mid-May through August, about 16 weeks) with rehearsals, shows, errands and generally getting about - maybe 1,240 miles - give or take.
Who or what inspires you?
My colleagues over the many years are an inspiration, a gift, and a constant source of joy. The timelessness of the plays of Shakespeare astounds me. It amazes me that you can listen to a play six or seven times and still hear something different in the language at different times in your life and find a deeper appreciation for it each time.
What about you would surprise people who know you?
I have to make my bed every morning, and I listen to every show almost every night, usually just off stage.
In all of history, whom would you most like to dine with?
Charlie Chaplin, to glean from his genius - and I heard he was a pretty good cook.
"Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up but a comedy in long shot." - Charlie Chaplin.
What most surprised you about Boise and what keeps you here?
What surprised me was the unexpected joy I felt here. It is a "secret city" in the West, culturally diverse, but with the closely knit sense of community. The warmth, generosity, and tradition of the people make me call this home.
What is the secret to your success?
I don't have any problem with appearing foolish. It's actually my greatest asset.
If you weren't an actor, what would you be doing?
I'd love to go to culinary school and run an amazing little bistro, or just be a great bartender that writes short stories.
What is your motto to live by?
"I seldom end up where I wanted to go but almost always end up where I need to be." - Douglas Adams, author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
What is on your bedside reading table?
"1Q84" by Haruki Murakami and "Groucho and Me" by Groucho Marx.
What is in your Mp3 player?
Classic jazz (Duke, Ella, Louis, Sinatra, Bennett, Stigers, Coltrane, Miles, Django, Prima, Getz) and a mix of opera, bluegrass, rock, rap, Michael Jackson, funk, R&B and Tom Waits.