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'The 39 Steps' at Centerstage: New York-Hollywood actor comes to Federal Way
By Jonathon Collis, Special to The Mirror
Ask anyone who's ever had to move cities, and they'll tell you it's a nightmare. Talk to someone who's done it repeatedly as an adult, and they’ll reply with stories about lacking furniture, endless purging and packing, and grinding boredom. Mention it to an actor, and they'll shrug and say that it's life as usual.
For Erik Gratton, currently starring in Centerstage Theatre's new production of "The 39 Steps," it's all part of a colorful past.
A native of Kansas City and graduate from Wayne State University, Gratton's past resembled that of most actors.
"I was shuttling back and forth between New York City and Los Angeles," he said. "I loved each one in my twenties, really enjoyed the speed of NYC and the laid-back desperate vibe of Hollywood."
For 10 years, he lived the busy back and forth of a jobbing actor, hopping from film and TV shoots to theatre festivals and Christmas shows, punctuated by runs in New York. Despite the busy schedule, though, "neither city was a comfortable home, they were just 'where the auditions are.' In my mid-thirties I found myself wanting to find someplace to build a future."
That future, it turned out, would be waiting in Seattle.
"Honestly it wasn't even on my radar until I visited while on tour. I used to work a couple of months a year as a roadie chef for rock tours," he said. "On a day off here I met my girlfriend. After a few months of long-distance romance, I visited Seattle and never went back."
Seattle's performing arts scene helped, too. The city offers a steady stream of stage work. In the last year, Mr. Gratton has appeared at Island Stage Left, the Village Theatre, and of course here at Centerstage. The city also offers opportunities to perform for film and TV both here and in nearby Vancouver, B.C.
Seattle also provides a different performing culture than other big theatre towns.
"LA has a robust population of actors and writers but it seems that everyone's chasing the 'big gig' whereas here there is a sense of making a life. People have families, hobbies, interests outside work," he said. "Our work is certainly a passion but there's room for more in Seattle."
Seattle also offers some unique theatrical opportunities as well, such as the annual Centerstage pantomime, a British tradition brought over by artistic director Alan Bryce. Last year, during "Cinderella," Mr. Gratton played Buttons, Cinderella's best friend. Despite the energy required to keep up with the holiday schedule, "The Panto was an absolute pleasure from beginning to end. The cast and musicians were phenomenal and the audience came to play. I'd happily work on the Panto again, anytime."
And now, after coming off of another exciting Seattle tradition, the Village Theatre's Festival of New Musicals, Mr. Gratton is at it again, re-joining the team at Centerstage for the first show of the 2013-2014 season, "The 39 Steps."
Comically adapted from the classic Alfred Hitchcock film, the stage version uses a mere four actors to bring the film to life, chase scenes and all. Having been produced all around the world, including a smash hit run in London's West End, where the show is still running strong after seven years, "The 39 Steps" now makes a globetrotting stop in Seattle. Once again exercising his comedic talent, previously showcased in works such as "Compleat Wks of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)," Mr. Gratton is stepping into the shoes (or rather 30 different pairs of shoes) as one of the show's quick-changing clowns — and it sounds like the cast are already pumped up to open.
"Vince and Mariana and Daniel (the other three actors) and I, and certainly Cynthia our director and Becca our stage manager, are having a ball and can't wait to open."
Check it out
• "The 39 Steps" opens Friday, Sept. 27, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 20, at the Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at www.centerstagetheatre.com or by calling (253) 661-1444.
• There’s a special treat available to all Centerstage patrons. This is artistic director Alan Bryce’s 10th year at the helm of Centerstage, and in recognition of that, he’ll give a brief talk about each show 45 minutes before every performance, giving the audience a unique perspective on the production. Admission to Alan’s chats is free.