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Robert Winstead stars in Broadway Roses Lucky Stiff

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER -        Robert Winstead could be called an accidental actor: He didn’t take singing and dancing lessons as a child, and he wasn’t a theater geek in high school, although he sang in school choirs and performed in a musical revue in eighth grade.

Because the acting bug hadn’t bitten him by the time he graduated from high school, Winstead went to college preparing to become a teacher.

Yet Winstead is now an Equity actor based in Portland and starring in the upcoming Broadway Rose Theatre Company production of “Lucky Stiff,” in which he plays English shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon, who is forced to take the embalmed body of his recently murdered uncle on a vacation to Monte Carlo. If Harry succeeds in the ruse, he stands to inherit $6 million.

Needless to say, the murder mystery that is also a musical farce involves mistaken identities, missing diamonds, a corpse in a wheelchair and much more. And trying to control the situation is hapless Harry as portrayed by Winstead, whose own life is not nearly as melodramatic.

Get lucky

What: “Lucky Stiff”

Starring: Robert Winstead, Amy Jo Halliday, Ecaterina Lynn

When: Preview performance Thursday, with opening night Friday and performances continuing through Oct. 13.

Evening performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; matinees are at 2 p.m. on Sundays and on the following Saturdays — Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 and 12.

Where: Broadway Rose Theatre Company, 12850 S.W. Grant Ave., Tigard

Tickets: $30 for adults, with discounts available for groups and youth. More Info: visit or call the box office at 503-620-5262.

Channeling his strengths

Born in Louisville, Winstead’s family moved to the Southwest when he was 10 and ended up in El Paso, Texas, where he graduated from high school before going to New Mexico State University to major in education.

“I studied music education in college but got interested in performing,” Winstead said. “They had a very accessible opera program, and I ended up doing a lot of performing —light opera during the school year and summer musicals — and getting a bachelor of music in voice. I had a notion to see what else I could do before becoming a teacher, but an education degree was my backup plan.”

However, Winstead started picking up acting jobs in commercials, film and television, and on the stage.

“I felt comfortable and felt I was doing well acting,” he said. “I felt I had a good eye for utilizing my strengths, and it was fun. I traveled around a bit. I spent a few months in LA during pilot season and got work. I wanted to learn, and I had friends there.”

Winstead did a couple of shows at the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts in Santa Maria, moved to Seattle to do improvisation and storytelling at Playback Theater Northwest and then returned to LA, although he found it expensive to live there.

“I had a couple of friends from doing plays living in Kansas City, and I could afford to live there,” he said. “When I went there, I didn’t know how long I’d stay, but there is a good variety of theater there, like Portland. There is the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, which is similar to Portland Center Stage, and there are suburban theaters and dinner theaters.

“It worked out great for me. I worked pretty steadily for about five years. It was definitely a valuable time for me.”

But eventually Winstead, who got his Actors Equity Association card just before leaving Kansas City, felt it was time to move on and ended up in Flagstaff, Ariz., “where I did different things,” he said.

He wasn’t kidding: He became a guide at the Grand Canyon and was able to apply his acting skills to the job.

“There were long days, but it was rewarding,” Winstead said. “I learned a lot, and in a way, it was like acting in a role and doing improv. You learn your lines, put on your hat and step into your role. I loved being in the park talking to people.

“I had 12-hour days and drove 200 miles, but it was a great job for a while. I started doing day hikes, where you hike down into the canyon for a couple hours and have a destination picnic spot for lunch. You had to be sure people stayed on the trail and drank lots of water. There were people from all different places who don’t hike partway down the Grand Canyon every day, so it was exciting for them.”

But eventually, Winstead felt the time had come to return to acting.

“I had been through Portland before and had friends here,” he said. “I came to housesit for a couple months in the winter and stayed. It has now been about six years. I got a job as a waiter and started getting acting jobs. I was in a Northwest Natural commercial and in a Portland Pilots spot where I was hired to be a bad basketball player.”

Lucky break

Broadway Rose’s fall 2011 production of “I Love You Because” was Winstead’s first full-scale show in Portland.

“I did readings for a work in progress, and Broadway Rose hosted one of them,” Winstead said. “I got to know (general manager) Dan Murphy. I worked with him shortly before I was cast in ‘I Love You Because,’ and it was a good introduction here.”

Now just a few months later, Winstead has the lead role in another Broadway Rose show, making “Lucky Stiff” a lucky break for him.

“There are fewer roles for Equity actors, and some theaters don’t hire them,” he said. “I do a lot of auditioning and hear ‘no’ more than ‘yes.’ Auditioning is almost a separate skill from performing. There is a whole different way of preparing, and there is no set or support — just you on your own. It can be nerve-wracking, like going on a first date over and over.

“When Broadway Rose called me in, I was really excited. I had never heard of ‘Lucky Stiff’ before. It is set in the late ’80s and reminds people of ‘Weekend at Bernie’s.’ It’s in the zany farce style.”

After starting rehearsals the week before Labor Day, Winstead said the play, directed by Murphy, “is already cracking me up.” He added, “There are about 10 in the cast, and it is a great group.”

Throughout Winstead’s many moves and job changes, his parents were supportive of his endeavors, “although they would hint at times that maybe I should get something permanent,” he said, adding, “They moved to Kentucky but came to see me in ‘I Love You Because.’”

And Winstead might just have found that stability all parents hope for: He recently combined his passion for music with his interest in education by becoming a teacher at Music Together.

According to its website, it is an internationally recognized early-childhood music and movement program for children from birth through age 5 (in Portland) and their parents. It is based on the recognition that all children are musical and can learn to sing in tune, keep a beat and enjoy music.

“It treats music like a language,” Winstead said. “Music and speech parallel each other in brain development. It’s brilliantly put together. It’s about teaching parents how to bring music into their family life and integrating music into family activities — it’s lots of fun.”

Meanwhile, he loves being back on the boards at Broadway Rose: “I’m super excited,” Winstead said. “I’m glad to be back working with Dan. And I love working at Broadway Rose. They care about the people they hire, and they care about the people in their audience.”

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