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Actor goes from sandwich-maker to Christmas caroler
After starring in Broadway Rose's tragic 'Fly By Night,' Ben Tissell has fun in new holiday show
One of the actors in the upcoming Broadway Rose production of A Very Merry PDX-mas may look very familiar to audiences for good reason.
Those who saw the companys most recent show, Fly By Night, will recognize Benjamin Tissell as Harold McClam, the sandwich maker who fell in love with two sisters in 1960s New York City.
While Tissell only graduated from college in 2011, he has already make a name for himself in Portland theater, including playing characters years older than his actual age.
He has virtually no trace of an accent because although Tissell was born in Surrey, British Columbia, which is near Vancouver, his family moved to Portland when he was about 6 years old.
Tissell, who has duel U.S.-Canada citizenship, grew up in an artistic family full of singers. He was the youngest of four children, and the older three all performed in school shows.
I made the decision not to do theater because they were all doing it, Tissell said. But when I was in the fifth grade, a local high school did A Christmas Carol, and I played Scrooge as a boy, and I caught the bug.
He added, I did as many shows as I could – sometimes two at once. I was in Northwest Childrens Theatre shows, and Clackamas High School has a big drama program, and I did shows there and at other schools.
Tissell made the theater his career choice, attending George Fox University to major in vocal performance. The program focused on technique, but there was not a lot of artistic experience, so I added a theater degree, he said.
But after getting his degree, Tissell floundered a bit. I had graduated but I wasnt sure I had the chops to do it, he said. Some friends started Valley Repertory Theatre, and I performed there and taught at Northwest Childrens Theatre.
But over a few short years, his career has blossomed, and he has appeared in shows at Lakewood Theatre Company, Portland Actors Ensemble and other theater companies.
Prior to Fly By Night, Tissell performed in Peter and the Starcatcher for Portland Playhouse, and according to Tissell, when he auditioned for Fly By Night, director Isaac Lamb said to him, Where have you been? I cant believe no one has snatched you up!
That boosted my confidence, said Tissell, who was cast in Peter and the Starcatcher two days before rehearsals started. Its an exciting process to be part of. Those two shows kick-started my career. Now I have several plays lined up, one after another.
In addition, Tissell is a resident teaching artist at Clackamas High School, training and mentoring students only a few years younger than he is.
The school gets grants and pays resident teaching artists stipends, Tissell said. Right now there are hundreds of students in the theater program and four of us guest artists.
There are several programs throughout the school year that Tissell works on, including directing. Ive done more directing the past couple of years, he said. Its very exciting watching high school students grow and succeed.
Tissell, who is a classically trained musician, writes, performs and records music. I mainly play the guitar and piano plus folk instruments like the mandolin, banjo, ukulele, percussion, bass and an Irish penny whistle, which I learned for a show.
Broadway Rose producers were especially thrilled to learn that Tissell plays the guitar because his role in Fly By Night called for a guitar player.
I love creating my own music, he said. I sing in the vein of Carol King, James Taylor and Van Morrison.
He has completed two full-length albums and five Eps, which are all sold on iTunes.
In addition, Tissell is a dancer with some formal training in ballet and swing.
I love to keep busy, Tissell said. Its good to have a lot of tools in my tool belt – I dont want to be bored.
For now, Tissell is happy to be appearing in the Broadway Rose holiday show. Im so grateful Ive connected with Broadway Rose, and Im very lucky to make a living in the theater, he said.
The show is an ensemble, and there are seven in the cast, and everyone has their moment. Everyone brings something unique to the table, and they bring their own take to the roles. Its fun to be part of the rehearsal process. We get to dance a lot in this show, and there are a lot of songs directed to the audience, not to each other. The harmonies alone are worth the price of admission.
Watching seven gifted performers all at their best – it blows me away to be on stage with them. And Im learning from them. And Im blown away by how smart Dan (Murphy) and Sharon (Maroney) were building this theater company. They take really good care of their artists. Some theater companies have bad reputations, but if you take good care of your audience and actors, you will have a great theater program.
Tissell is not shy about admitting he loves all things Christmas. I love Christmas music – Im kind of a Christmas fiend, he said. On the 25th of every month, I wear a Christmas sweater or T-shirt. Ive done lots of Christmas shows – they always put me in a good mood every night.
As for his booming career, My family is excited for me, he said. They are so supportive. They often laugh because I said I wouldnt do theater because my siblings did, but it soon became obvious in the family that I would be the theater kid.