BRIAN PATTERSON – Local Hunk In Bay Area Premiere of ZANNA, DON’T

New Conservatory Theatre Center
presents popular Off-Broadway musical

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

ZANNA, DON’T opens this Saturday night in the Decker Theatre at New Conservatory Theatre Center. Since its original Off-Broadway presentation in 2003 featuring Jai Rodriguez (TV’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”), the short-lived musical has become a cult favorite. The show received a nomination from the Outer Critics Circle for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical as well as four Drama Desk nominations including Best Musical, Best Lyrics, Best Book, and Best Music. It won the 2003 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding New York Theatre Production and the Lucille Lortel Best Musical Award. The story is set at Heartsville High (USA) and spans the time between Day 1 of the semester to the evening of the Prom. With a slight twisting of the wrist corsage, ZANNA, DON’T starts with the premise that Normal = Gay and that the closeted heterosexuals are struggling with their identity, social acceptance, and the whole civil rights question. NCTC’s production is directed by Allen Sawyer, with musical direction under Scott Lacy and choreography by Stephanie Temple. The sort-of fairy tale musical is complete with a magic spell, a dropped shoe, and a Handsome Prince-type known as “Tank”. In this case, Brian Patterson – most definitely the “Ooh! Sigh! Give him your attention” kind of guy. Brian has been a popular favorite at the New Conservatory Theatre Center appearing in recent hits including Take Me Out, Gabriel’s Kitchen, and Friends Are Forever. Brian and I got together at the Café Flore to talk about the show and his rising career. The day was somewhat cool and overcast, but when Brian walked in – heads turned, the temperature rose, and suddenly nobody else will do.

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BRIAN PATTERSON.
Photo, Seán Martinfield

Brian had just come from an audition, a commercial for one of the major banks. He described the character as ordinary and drab, an average office guy. “Somebody like the 40-year-old virgin on NBC’s THE OFFICE.” That’s not exactly the guy sitting across the table nor the energetic persona I’ve witnessed at NCTC. Brian must be more versatile than I already knew. Local Theatre and local Talent Agencies seldom connect. Unless the performer is a recognized TV personality will they ever find their agent negotiating a stage deal – unless it’s for something around Las Vegas, some variety of a National Tour or off-season near the corner of Broadway and 42nd and with their name above the title.

SEÁN: When it comes to theatre, you are on your own. Isn’t that difficult?

BRIAN: Not really. People know who I am. They have an idea of what I can do. So, I’m OK with theatre.

SEÁN: Are you approached to audition, do directors contact you to come to an audition?

BRIAN: Yes.

SEÁN: How long did that take to happen?

BRIAN: Not very long.

SEÁN: What was your first stage appearance in San Francisco that motivated you to invite your friends?

BRIAN: It was the musical Grease.

SEÁN: Was this the Ray of Light Theatre production?

BRIAN: Yes, I played “Sonny Latierri”.

SEÁN: I saw it! “Sonny” – usually described as a big-talking braggart, one of the Burger Boys. I remember you well.

BRIAN: It was a lot of fun. Most people who saw the show will say, ‘You were in that?’ – because they didn’t notice me at all. That tells me I was doing a good job.

SEÁN: Ray of Light Theatre just got through doing Rocky Horror Show.

BRIAN: I auditioned for that. Apparently, I was a strong candidate for “Rocky”.

SEÁN: Which role did you want?

BRIAN: A number of people suggested I audition for “Rocky”. Frankly, they needed someone with a body. “Do you sing?” they asked. It’s not my strongest suit, but – “Sure!” The audition was video taped. Then they said, “Can you take your shirt off and do that?” They have to see my body because Rocky needs to be rock-hard. I sang “Sword of Damocles”, the video was sent to director Cate Caplin in L.A. There were tons of guys trying to be Rocky! About a week later I got a call that Cate would be in town and wanted to see me in person. Great! At the time, I was also auditioning for this other musical – New Conservatory’s ZANNA, DON’T. They offered it to me before Ray of Light made an offer for Rocky. I had 48 hours to make up my mind, so I took it.

SEÁN: Tell me about ZANNA, DON’T.

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ZANNA, DON’T – Now at New Conservatory Theatre.
Photo, Lois Tema

BRIAN: I absolutely love it. I’m having a really good time. Scott Lacy is an amazing musical director. He’s intuitive, sharp, and so on-top of his game. He’s that wealth of knowledge you just take a scoop from once in a while. I know I’m getting something really rich that will serve me now and well into the future. Scott has been key in allowing me to be comfortable singing on stage. I was nervous at first, working with such a demographic of people among whom I’m senior in years.

SEÁN: A big wake-up call.

BRIAN: Yes, I’m getting older! But, first day of rehearsal, my reservations were put completely to rest as I watched these kids work. They are amazing. I heard them just jump right into the music as if it were nothing. And they all know the show. It’s from their era. The title, ZANNA, DON’T, is more of a take-off on the film title, XANADU, than it is the story. Basically, it’s a fairy tale about this high school, Heartsville High. Everything is Gay at Heartsville High. It proposes that the entire world was Gay. Via some turn of events – which you will have to experience at the show – the world actually becomes straight. All this gets initiated when two people come out of the straight closet. In light of Prop 8, I think everyone should come see this show.

SEÁN: I feel the same way about the film MILK. Saturday night, following the election and the passage of Prop 8, more than 25,000 people participated in a protest march that passed right in front of my house. For at least 50 minutes I watched this organized crowd moving at a quick pace toward Dolores Park. Even with helicopters stationed above, I believe that such marches are taken for granted these days. But in 1978, demonstrations of this nature and solidarity were brand new.

BRIAN: The LGBT Community is going through their own human rights movement now. It’s time that everybody wake up and understand that no matter who you are or where you’re from, what group you belong to or don’t belong to – everyone deserves their basic human rights. This past month, during rehearsals of ZANNA, DON’T, we have seen a lot of emotion and some really visceral responses. What I like about the show is that it deals with some very heavy, touchy and delicate subjects and then takes its Pop-Bubblegum feel and gives it real perspective. It’s not just fluff. It hits you with something.

SEÁN: Does it hit you right off?

BRIAN: It’s a “creeper” – it creeps up on you. You start getting it by the end of the Act I and then it hits you by the time it’s over. Later, after the performance, people will be laughing and saying how fun it was, but then the real conversations begin. And I am so excited! I feel that a lot of directors and agents tend to type-cast me into certain roles. The part I play completely breaks every mold I’ve been put into.

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MICHAEL UIMARI and BRIAN PATTERSON. Photos, Lois Tema.

SEÁN: Tell me about your being type-cast. I’ve seen you in NCTC’s productions of TAKE ME OUT and FRIENDS ARE FOREVER. Based on those – I’m not sure I see the “type”. I can see why they cast the looks of you, the lure of you, however. I loved you in Take Me Out. Remember the publicity photo we carried of the coach screaming at you – and you’re just looking like, ‘oh-uh, uh-huh, blah-blah-blah’. Man, I know that look. You were perfect for that role. So, where’s the type-casting?

BRIAN: Like “Darren” in Take Me Out. He’s a little bit more straight-laced macho kind of guy. In Friends Are Forever – in a Gay couple, I play the more dominant guy. Then with In Gabriel’s Kitchen, “Gabriel” is the Gay younger brother and I played the straight older brother. Even with “Sonny Latierri” in Grease, he’s the kind of goofy macho guy. I tend to get put into that category. In Zanna, Don’t I get to play a geeky, nerdy, awkward-in-his-body laughing dork. And it is so much fun – just to step into a completely different character’s shoes and be able to see life through his eyes.

SEÁN: Were you asked to do this particular role or did you want to be considered for it?

BRIAN: That’s funny. I originally wanted to be considered for “Steve” the football player because he’s the guy-guy. Then I get cast as “Tank”. I read the part and go, ‘Yes!’ I was just elated. I love NCTC. I think they are one of the best, most professional companies in the City.

SEÁN: I totally agree. They use local talent, most of the season’s productions are well written, and the effective use of the smaller theaters amazes me. The current show in the Walker Theatre, AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN, is a wonderful production. My primary interest in seeing it was to watch the work of the director, Andrew Nance. It’s his best work to date. Every production at NCTC has something or someone to latch onto – like you, for instance! And that’s why I say to those who love going to the Theatre – spend your money over here.

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FRIENDS ARE FOREVER – Brian Patterson (center), Robert McDiarmid, Leo Lawhorn, Gerrad Bohl, Christopher M. Nelson, Dann Howard

BRIAN: Friends Are Forever was in that particular theater – and speaking of their directors, Ben Randall is amazing to work with. Any time you have a new work you know it’s going through a process. Friends Are Forever was going through a process. Ben just turned it upside down and made it work.

SEÁN: What’s coming up after ZANNA, DON’T?

BRIAN: I will be in Los Angeles. Before that, I’m finishing up a feature here in the City that’s called Reality TV Movie. It’s a spoof on reality television shows. Again, I get to stretch my acting wings and play a character that is way over the top. His name is “Manny Nuts”, one of three panel judges. It’s a full-length feature, very much like Dancing with the Stars – with stars who host the show doing a parody on real life singers. There is a protagonist who is very awkward, dorky, and doesn’t know how to dance. He comes to life during the successive rounds. If you know the SCARY MOVIE series, this is how it will be with Reality TV.

SEÁN: Is there a “backstage reality” as well as what is presented on TV?

BRIAN: Oh, yes!

SEÁN: Is that scary? The question being – who wants to sleep with you?

BRIAN: On the set? Our rehearsals have been really short, so there hasn’t been any, uh…

SEÁN: I mean with your character!

BRIAN: Oh! No! Although my character has a crush on one of the other panelists. But, no backstage rumors on camera or off. I will be filming the same time I’m doing ZANNA, DON’T.

SEÁN: Then you’re off to Los Angeles to do what?

BRIAN: Pound the pavement. I’m going to work some connections to try to become a higher paid actor than what I am now. I’m only going to go for Pilot Season. I don’t think Los Angeles is the best place for me to live. San Francisco is the perfect fit. My agency has been sending me out on a bunch of things here, so it’s been go-go-go.

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BRIAN PATTERSON

SEÁN: Fast-forwarding to the future, what part do you really want to play?

BRIAN: I’m an Action Film junkie. I watch them and think, ‘I could have done that!’

SEÁN: Will you be pursuing it on a more aggressive level? Is there an action film you wish you had done?

BRIAN: THE TRANSPORTER. One of the best action films of all time. The fight choreography, the direction, the attention to detail – it was brilliant. Jason Statham couldn’t have been a better pick – and Qi Shu, who comes from China. She is amazing. So many action films come from China. I have one of her films, SO CLOSE – among the best of that era.

SEÁN: What do you do in your physical workout to keep yourself toned and available for that sort of job?

BRIAN: A lot of stretching, exercising with weights and not machines. Once in a while I re-visit the martial arts. I’ve had about a year of boxing, and two years of hapkido – a Korean martial arts. There is a difference between aikido and hapkido. Aikido uses very obvious circles and ways to use your attacker’s weight against him. Whereas hapkido is a mixture of aikido and tae kwan do – where you have the very linear tae kwan do go into the circle movement of aikido. Very interesting. But I feel that kung fu is more the direction I should be going.

SEÁN: Keeping yourself physically fit amounts to a full-time job as well. Had you been a ballet dancer – by this age you’d be through. About this future of yours in Action Films, are you the protagonist or the guy in the black hat?

BRIAN: The protagonists are a lot more fun to play. If they do a re-make of ALIAS with a male in the lead – that would be my dream role.

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BRIAN PATTERSON – Ready for action.

Click here to visit Brian’s web site: BRIAN J. PATTERSON

The Bay Area Gala Premiere of ZANNA, DON’T opens Saturday, December 13th, and runs through January 18th, 2009: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. All performances will take place at The New Conservatory Theatre Center (Decker Theatre), located at 25 Van Ness Ave. near Market St. in San Francisco, 94102. Tickets range from $22 – $34, and are $40 for opening night on Saturday, December 13th. Click here to order tickets on-line: ZANNA, DON’T

Visit Seán on YouTube:
Lorena Feijóo – A Look at “Giselle” with Seán Martinfield
SAMSON & DELILAH – Meet Seán Martinfield
CA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES – A Preview Look with Seán Martinfield

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See Related: FINE ARTS CRITIC SEAN MARTINFIELD

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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