In less than five years Adam Qualls has worked in some of the Twin Cities’ top theaters and with top directors. The resume he has grown since he arrived could be the envy of any number of actors locally and across the country. Of course, having a knack for comedy is almost a must for Twin Cities theater advancement. And that’s something that the Millikin University (Decatur, Illinois) graduate definitely has. Qualls is also a natural for character roles and musicals. That versatility has been serving him well, obviously, because not only did he act in every Children’s Theatre Company production during the 2012-2013 season, but he also is presently in that theater’s hit staging of the musical, Shrek. I recently asked him about his rather swift ascent.
JT: You’re from St. Louis? What brought you to the Twin Cities? You’re from St. Louis?
AQ: Yes, a small town outside St. Louis. In 2009, a year after graduating college, I came up here to work for CLIMB, a company that does educational plays at schools all over the upper Midwest. I had an apartment in downtown St. Paul, but since we were always on the road, I only saw it on the weekends. After that job ended, I found the Twin Cities so ripe with opportunity for artists like me that I decided to give it a try. My first gig was Bye Bye Liver: The Twin Cities Drinking Play, and that was in the summer of 2010.
JT: What have you liked about Twin Cities life?
AQ: People here are smart. And they don’t mess around in the summertime: it’s a three-month block party.
JT: You’ve made quite a mark in a short time and have been directed by top directors: Marion McClinton, Joe Chvala, Peter Rothstein, Peter Brosius, Joel Sass, and John Cranney. And you’ve done roles in theaters known for their musicals: Bloomington Civic, Theater Latté Da’s Cabaret, and now – yet again, you’re at Children’s Theatre. Pretty impressive credentials to add to your resume. How did this come about?
AQ: Seriously, though: when you put all those names down together like that, even I stop and say “Wow!” Of course there are days when I focus more on all I haven’t done and all the people I haven’t worked with, but I’m really very lucky to have worked as much as I have in four years. And that’s the short answer to your question, I guess: luck. A cop-out answer, maybe? I also work hard, but so does everyone else in this community. I’m genuinely surprised every time I get a job, and that’s probably a better state of mind than feeling entitled to everything.
JT: Can you tell me about some of the directors you’ve worked with and what you learned from them?
AQ: I could write a book of things I’ve learned from directors, but I’ll mention a couple: Brosius, for instance, pushes you. He demands excellence. From him I’ve learned never to stop coming up with new ideas and committing to them 150 percent. On the other hand, Rothstein really knows what he wants from the start, he’s very specific. He’s also pretty much always the smartest guy in the room, showing us all that, yes, something as small as turning one’s head on one line as opposed to the next really can clarify the storytelling.
JT: What character do you play in Shrek and what did you do to prepare for the role?
AQ: I play Lord Farquaad, the villain! Rothstein last cast me as a Nazi, so that prepared me a little for Farquaad’s hatred of non-conformity, which might be projected self-hatred (not to get too Freudian). But I feel like my lifelong love of old-school camp humor prepared me the most for this role. The biggest validation of that during the rehearsal process came from the costume designer, Rich Hamson: at one point, he told me he half-expected Farquaad to say, “Butchya ARE, Shrek, ya ARE in that chair” (a-la Bette Davis to Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?). I was flattered by the comparison, but even more flattered that he knew I’d get the reference.
JT: Do you plan to stay in the Twin Cities?
AQ: As far as I’m concerned, I’m still just getting started in the Twin Cities, and have more ahead of me than behind. This isn’t a city of gypsies like NYC, so sometimes I do feel a little left out having no roots here. But that just means I’ve got to create some.
Shrek the Musical
Through June 15
Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 Third Av. So., Mpls.