On a pixelated Zoom screen, a framed poster advertising a Buster Keaton film festival—capturing the comedian’s deadpan expression and drooping eyes—leans against the wall of playwright Bryce Pinkham’s home.
Keaton, a comedian and silent film star from the ’20s, has no doubt inspired Pinkham, who recently wrote his own one-man show.
On Wednesday, Pinkham, BC ’05, spoke virtually on his work and creative process within the theatre world. His talk, Fear Into Fuel: A Gentleman’s Guide to Stage Fright and Other Scary Things like Climate Change, focused on fear and how people can channel their nerves into meaningful action.
Pinkham was the fourth speaker of the semester in the Lowell Humanities Series, co-sponsored by the Lowell Institute and the theatre department at Boston College.
Pinkham, a Grammy- and Tony-nominated stage and screen actor and acclaimed Broadway performer, was introduced by Luke Jorgensen, chair of the BC theatre department. Later, Pinkham answered questions presented by Jorgensen and actress Gabrielle Esposito, BC ’18.
After opening with a personal story about his family’s near run-in with the coronavirus last year, Pinkham introduced a lesson he learned from one of his professors at Yale, where he studied acting at the David Geffen School of Drama.
“Fear is just excitement without breath,” Pinkham said. “I believe that fear is our friend and that with enough reframing and conscious rewiring anyone can make friends with their butterflies and learn to welcome them with excitement and control.”
Pinkham then talked about his work and career. He pointed to a time when he questioned whether his work on Broadway, performing for more privileged audiences, was really the best use of his time. He said he wanted to commit himself and his artistry to the fight against racial injustice and climate devastation, but then it hit him.
“The most useful way we can all contribute to society’s growth and to the planet’s protection is not by negating where we are,” Pinkham said. “It’s actually by addressing the systemic issues from within the very structures we’re already embedded in.”
And that’s exactly what Pinkham decided to do—he started writing a one-man show. The basic premise of the show is about a man marooned on a desert island at the height of the climate change crisis. The man is trying to complete a solo rendition of the song “Singin’ in the Rain” with only the materials that have washed ashore.
The show—which has now been picked up by a regional theater —is also going to be completely carbon neutral. The production will work to reuse old materials, implement sustainable practices, and even set aside part of its budget to zero out the carbon emissions it does produce.
Pinkham’s dream has now become a reality. Following his Lowell talk, Pinkham said he was headed to New York to perform one of the songs from his new show for the first time.
It was my fear that led me to these discoveries,” Pinkham said. “I followed my butterflies to uncover what I could do rather than freeze.”
To get to this point required hard work, diligence, passion, and inspiration, but above all else, patience, Pinkham said.
“I’m returning to my beautiful life that I crafted and put a lot of energy into, and that, I know, is going to catch me or [be] at least is going to be enough of a soft landing that I’m going to be okay,” Pinkham said.
Featured Image by Meadow Vrtis / For The Heights