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David Joy: Rocking and rolling in Winston-Salem

by Mark Burger

David Joy isone of the moreversatile and prolificactors in thePiedmont Triad.He doesn’t necessarilythink so,but more aboutthat later.In addition,David Joy doesn’tparticularly liketalking about himself or his career,and true enough there suddenly comesa incident where panic ensues duringthis lunchtime interview in downtownWinston-Salem: It’s the exact momentthat both interviewer and intervieweerealize they haven’t replenished theparking meters outside.Thus entails a mad dash out the door,to which the restaurant hostess says:“Well, have a nice —”“We’ll be back!” This reporterresponds breathlessly, praying for areprieve from the inevitable parkingticket. Happily, there are no unfriendlypieces of paper on either windshield; theinterview can resume and lunch can beenjoyed.Joy is be portraying Roger Davis, thepassionate singer/songwriter strickenwith AIDS, in Theatre Alliance’s productionof Jonathan Larson’s PulitzerPrize- and Tony Award-winning musicalRent, which opens later this month.“I’m supposed to be playing a heroinaddict,” he says as he peruses the menu,“but I’m afraid I’ll look a little chunkyto convince as a heroin addict.”He finally settles on a turkey sandwichand a side of pasta salad, althoughhe occasionally sneaks longing glancesat this reporter’s french fries. But havingjust performed his Elvis Presley tributein Spend the Night With the Legends atTheatre Alliance, a few extra poundsseems appropriate, doesn’t it?Joy laughs. “I wasn’t playing the fatElvis, I was playing the black-leatherElvis — so I really don’t have anyexcuse.”Joy possesses a singular wit — a laidback,unabashedly acerbic demeanorthat belies the intensity he brings tohis work. This, he admits with a smile,occasionally puts him at odds with fellowactors or directors. “Some peoplehate me,” he says simply, with no rancoror regret.“I try not to take anything too seriously,”he says.Joy is also refreshingly candid abouthis own work. Some of it’s good, someof it isn’t. The actors whose work hetends to enjoy are those who comfortablysegue from leading roles to characterparts, such as Russell Crowe, PhilipSeymour Hoffman and Jack Black.“I like playing the quirky, weird guy,”Joy says. “Romantic leads are boring.”The main drawback of Rent, headmits with a laugh, is that he’s playinga romantic lead. Again.“I love the show. It’s got a great cast,a great director… and it sucks being theromantic lead.”The youngest of five children, Joy’smother was herself a singer and stageactress in Ohio. With each of her children,she tried to impart some of thatlove for performance. By the time Davidcame along, he says, she’d given upbecause none of his siblings had anyinterest in it. “They just didn’t want todo it,” he shrugs. “They had other interests.She threw in the towel — and thenI came along.”Even at an early age, David had animmediate love for putting on a show,putting on an act, playing a character.He revels in getting under the skin andinto the head of whoever he’s playing,whether it’s Stanley Kowalski inA Streetcar Named Desire, playing thedynamic dual role(s) in Jekyll & Hyde:The Musical or grooving in a blackleather jacket as Elvis.“Maybe I hate myself so much that Iwant to be someone else — if only for alittle while,” he quips with deadpan wit.“It’s the coolest thing in the world to beon stage and be someone else, and whenyou find that connection with anotheractor and you’re someone else, it’s betterthan sex… well, almost!”John S. Rushton, the founder andartistic director of the West Side CivicTheatre was one of Joy’s first actingteachers.’ “He’s one of my more successfulstudents, and I take some pride in that,”says Rushton. “He’s good at drama.He’s good at comedy. He can sing…[and] he gets better every time I seehim.”He remembers in particular Joy’sperformances in the WSCT productionsof Brigadoon and Camelot, in which Joy“played a great Mordred.”Joy respectfullydisagrees. “I was horrible,”he says plainly.“That’s nice of Johnto say, but I was atrocious.I didn’t knowwhat I was doing. Iwas 18 years old. Icouldn’t even grow abeard. I painted mygoatee on with mascara!”Rushton’s praiseis echoed by JamieLawson, whoobserved, “David isgood at shifting fromcomedy to drama.He glides from One Flew Over theCuckoo’s Nest to Debbie Does Dallas:The Musical with ease.”Lawson, the artistic director ofTheatre Alliance and the director ofRent, has worked many times with Joyand has exchanged many barbs and putdowns,but it’s all in good fun and, notesLawson, it never interferes with thework. If anything, he says, it alleviatesthe tensions and pressures of rehearsals.“I dish out right what he hands me,”he says. “It always helps to have a senseof humor when you keep the long, tiringhours a community theater performerworks.”In that same spirit, when asked aboutworking with Joy, both Rushton andLawson unhesitatingly say that, were itnot for them, he wouldn’t have a career.Jokes Lawson: “Truth be told, he owesall of his success to me, and the rest ishistory.”Joy plays right along.“It’s true,” he says. “I’m Jamie’sbitch. He works me like a slave driverand I keep coming back for more. I’m aprison bitch.”Spoken in a perfectly modulatedmonotone that offers no giveaway to thehumor underneath.Lawson had seen Joy in Annie GetYour Gun and My Way at Twin CityStage (back when it was called the LittleTheatre of Winston-Salem) while hewas seeking his Brad for the TheatreAlliance production of The RockyHorror Show.“I asked if he would sing and dance intighty-whiteys,” recalls Lawson. “Withthat ‘Yes,’ a career at Theatre Alliancewas born.”“Yeah, and theywanted me in aG-string!” Joy laughs.“I told them ‘No way!’I’m not giving thataway for free. If youwant that, you’ve gotto pay!”When he’s not workingas a massage therapistat the YMCA inthe Wachovia Building(“I’m a massagetherapist who thinkshe can act,” he says),David Joy is constantlyon the lookout for anew character, a newopportunity. He’s appeared in a numberof short films made in the area, includingby UNCSA School of Filmmakingstudent films.He just wishes there was more outthere — and that it paid better, or evenat all. Many times he’s had to turn downa role because of everyday financialobligations. He considered doing histhird show in a row for Theatre Alliancethis season but simply couldn’t swing it.Joy’s frustrations “are not uncommon,”he says. “Winston-Salem creditsitself as an arts town, but it’s so hard toget stuff started.”Twice in recent years, Joy has fronteda band — one good, he says, the otherbetter than good — but both times thebands broke up. In one case, the drummergot pregnant (“It was hard to arguewith that,” he says). In the other, somemembers of the band moved elsewhere.For a gifted performer seeking newchallenges, it’s not easy… even in theCity of the Arts.“I don’t care if I’m famous,” saysDavid Joy. “It’s not about fame. It’s notabout money. It’s not for the applause.It’s about the art. If it’s not about art, it’snot about anything.”Rent opens Friday, Oct. 23 at Theatre Alliance(1047 Northwest Blvd., Winston-Salem).Showtimes are 8 p.m. Oct. 23 and Oct. 28-30,4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Oct. 24 and 31; 2 p.m. Nov. 1.Tickets are $16 and $14 (students and seniorcitizens). This is the full version of the show,and is recommended for mature audiences.Reservations are strongly suggested.For tickets or more information, call336.838.3006 or go to wstheatrealliance.org. !

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