PITTSFIELD — David Adkins knew in high school that he wanted to be a professional actor, and he spent his entire adult life working and teaching in that profession.
Adkins, currently appearing in the Berkshire Theater Group production of “Dracula” at the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, has been involved with the BTG and one of its predecessors, the Berkshire Theater Festival, since 1985. Now in his 60s, Adkins served as director of the actor trainee program from BTG, which is currently on hiatus this summer.
We spoke with him about his life as a professional actor and acting teacher in a recent interview.
Q: Why did you pursue your acting career?
A: I think it’s almost something inexplicable. I went to see a play in my high school and I saw a classmate of mine doing an Agatha Christie play and I knew in that moment that I wanted to be an actor. I was born on the east coast of Maryland, grew up in Baltimore, and went to prep school in Baltimore, and they had a really good theater program. I started seeing theater in Baltimore and Washington, DC, and my parents took me to theater on Broadway.
Q: Why did seeing this person in the room make you want to do this?
A: I think it was how visceral the form is. Energy. In fact, I almost saw it as an athletic sport in a way. It really is. The game takes the whole body. He takes everything you have. I realized that requires you to be in the present, and I realized that’s what I’ve been looking for all my life, whether it’s cliffside in the Rockies or climbing Mount Rainer or being on stage and completely immersed in a piece that takes every ounce of your energy and focus. I realized that was what I was in there for.
Q: What were your next steps?
A: It’s interesting. I never thought I would become an actor. In fact, I went to Dartmouth to become what everyone else in my family is: doctors or lawyers. I was trying to decide what to do. Luckily, I applied for a summer apprenticeship at [Berkshire Theatre Festival]. I have been accepted. I arrived here that summer and my life changed. At the end of the summer I was going The Juilliard School.
Q: What goes into the thought process of making acting a career?
A: A lot of the top actors, a lot of the great actors, don’t thrive in the business because when you add it all up, some aren’t interested in [the business] because it is a very demanding job. There’s an old saying, they don’t call it show business for nothing, and it’s true. You have to be able to accept rejection, quite frankly, which we all hear about and which is very true. You almost have to get tough in a job that requires you to have thin skin on stage. It’s almost like you have to make a choice to be in this business at some point.
Q: How do you monitorlive as an actor when working at the community theater level?
A: Television. A lot of people in this business work in television if they don’t have a side career. I’m able to do one or two guest starring roles on TV pretty much every year and that really helps support everything. … There are people teaching, which I did for five years in the summers, as well as performing on the stages here.
So you carve out a life for yourself. I was fortunate to have been able to for the most part succeed in the business. Every once in a while you get a big paycheck and you put it aside and nibble on it while you go on with your life. I’m really an actor for daily work. I never really hit really big. … The thing is, I was able to work full-time as a regional theater actor for much of my life. It was always just enough to survive.
Q: What kinds of gamesbs you take when you start?
A: Young people these days, my students tell me, do a lot on the Internet. You can work for a company from your living room. I was doing things like bike messaging, which was awful. In my 20s, I worked as a carpenter. I drove a flower delivery truck carrying flowers to clear customs at JFK airport. I parked my delivery truck in a parking spot, ran and did an audition, then ran to my truck. It sounds funny now, but it was very difficult.
Q: What keeps you going?
A: It’s a very good question because I’ve often said in my life that I couldn’t do that anymore. I’m finished. It’s just too hard. I feel down and I feel exhausted, And then because I think of the company you have, you surround yourself with people who believe in you or believe in the idea of a life as an artist, and another scenario suddenly falls in front of you and it’s really hard to say no.
I had a friend who said to me, “You know we’ll never stop, Dave, we’re lifers. And in a way, that’s an apt expression. Of course, being sentenced to life is someone in prison and I don’t mean the same thing in any way. But sometimes, you have the impression of being in this situation from which you cannot get out, this artistic life, and which continues.
I think there is a stubbornness, a stubbornness and also a certain need. I feel like I’m doing nothing else. It’s not just what I do, it’s who I am. It’s undeniable. I tried to deny it. I’ve tried to walk away even briefly and it keeps pulling me back inside.
Q: Do things change after being in the business for a while?
A: My relationship with acting has changed with age. When I was younger, that was my only goal. Then there seemed to be no possibility for anything else. I have been fortunate enough to be able to make a living by traveling across the country to resident theaters. I was often offered to be a member of the company in different cities across the country, but I always wanted to be in New York.
Q: What do you prefer, acting or teaching actors?
A: Acting. I’m an actor I really enjoyed directing the students I really enjoyed directing the program. I love teaching because I found I really had to look at what I had done over the years. In some ways, it really improved my game.
Q: What are the best and worst parts of the game?
A: The best part of acting in many ways is in the relationship with the other actors and directors. There’s nothing like being in a room full of actors. it’s a completely different world. Actors are some of the most interesting and intelligent people who really relate to what’s going on in the world around us and there’s always something to laugh about.
It’s a very deep connection that we have and we form these very intimate relationships in a short period of time. We could work together for seven weeks and not see each other for two years and you can apparently pick up where we left off because we have this brotherhood.
The hardest part for me is a perpetual feeling of dissatisfaction, that the job is never done. That it’s never over. The truth is that art is not about doing things right. But we want to do it right. Art is a messy business. That’s why it’s special. This is why the public comes to see us.