PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Dan Fogler

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Dan Fogler
 
"Yes, of course" and "I know" are two of the notable utterances by the cocky yet lugubrious William Morris Barfee, played by new Tony Award winner Dan Fogler.
Dan Fogler in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Dan Fogler in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Photo by Joan Marcus

Employing a viscous voice, Fogler inhabits in Broadway's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee the same pre-pubescent character he created a few years ago for the improvisational group The Farm's C-R E-P-U-S-C U-L-E.

The actor who previously voiced the signature grumble, "And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you meddling kids!," in the national tour of Scooby Doo: Stage Fright, shared some post-Tony Awards thoughts about his alter-ego — and occasionally provided his interviewer with a range of other voices and characters.

Playbill.com: Did performing an eight-show week, in addition to all the pre-Tony Awards events, wear you down?
Dan Fogler: The whole experience leading up to it was like an insane whirlwind because it's like a test of your will. You know, you're doing this show eight times a week, plus the press, plus the anxieties and craziness that comes with that, the whole nomination and the insanity. Then, you get to the Tony week and it's rehearsals and then back to the show and then suddenly you're spinning a million plates so that by the time it gets there, it builds to such a pinnacle so that it's really like no other day I've ever had in my life. I have still not recovered from it, it was like an earthquake. When I get to sleep, when I do sleep, I wake up and I've had enough sleep, but I'm still exhausted. And I think it's going to be a long, long time before I really get back to normal.

Playbill.com: How was it playing Barfee for the first time after winning the Tony?
DF: Weird. I came out the first time after [the win] and not expecting applause and suddenly people are like [audience member voice:] "I know this guy, I saw him on television!" And it's like "Oh, hi everyone." And it's great and it's awesome, but it's weird because it really gives you a sense of the memory of the American audience. You can really track it because from show to show as the days have gone by, the clapping has gotten less and less and less. And I'm actually kinda happy about that because it's been ruining the joke — I have this joke that I come out with about my name and people aren't getting it. But, I love it. I think that people, the way they're responding and the way things have gone, it's just a huge validation from working for a long time and it's given me confidence to want to create more and know that there's going to be an audience there. It's a very interesting time for me, you know I've got this show, Spelling Bee which I'm going to be with for a while, but along with the Tony came a lot of [British accent:] Responsibility. [Laughs.] I'm thinking about the future and thinking about what the next step is going to be and trying to have a whimsical feeling about the whole thing. And really, I'm just taking it day by day.

Playbill.com: Tell us the evolution of Mr. William Morris Barfee.
DF: Rebecca Feldman, let's go back, Poly Prep. in Brooklyn, New York. I went to school with her and I became friends with her sister Lizzy and her family and have known her for years and never got to work with her ever but got into theatre because I used to watch her on stage with my brother before I was even into theatre. Years later, after college, Rebecca calls me up out of the blue and says let's do a show together. She was doing this thing called The Farm — that was the improv group that created C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E [Spelling Bee's basis]. She would put on these little shows and she'd have a theme and she'd write a show in the time limit of two weeks: she'd get actors together, they'd improvise the skeleton of a show and it was hysterical. She would put on these things just in the hopes that they would become something. I think she had read "Bee Season" about spelling bees, so that's when she called us. She said this is really loose and come in with two characters, opposite ends of the spectrum. I brought in this one character I always had in the bag, it was like this real A.D.D., agita-giving child that just doesn't sit still. That was a lot like how I was when I was a kid. Very adorable kind of kid, but it's just like "My God, would you sit still." Then, the opposite of that, a very super-intelligent [kid]...my take on the kid drowning in his own mucus. I always stayed away from that, because it's been done before: Gilda Radner, Edith Ann and "Revenge of the Nerds." So I said: "If I'm going to do this, I'm going to make it really specific." So, I endowed the character with a lot of my own childhood angst that I went through that you know [dramatic accent:] scarred my soul [Laughs.] You know: back of the bus, dealing with bullies and extortion; all these events that you have burned into your mind that are really the personality-making and character-creating things that make you you. I shoved them into this little kid and he's just raw with that. He's in an awkward stage, at that time in his life where he's got so many growing pains. He's not growing into his body correctly and the only thing the kid needs is love. Obviously, I amplified all of the things. And I made it more specific, I gave him a lot of allergies and based it on my brother [who] had a hard time too — he was a very dry wit, often misunderstood — and also the fact that my brother had a collapsed nasal passage when we were growing up, he didn't really breathe correctly when he was sleeping, he sounded like a backfiring garbage disposal. Rebecca Feldman put us on tape doing each of the characters and they said, "We like this guy." I would love to hear the cassette tapes because that was the first time I really spoke with the Barfee — his name was Barfee [not "bar-FAY"] at the time — Barfee's first voice. And he's really changed over the years. It's sort of like — the comparison is crazy because Homer Simpson is like a television icon! — but if you remember his transformation from when you first saw him on "The Tracey Ullman Show."

Playbill.com: So, what's next? How do you followup a Tony Award-winning Broadway debut?
DF: There's a lot of questions popping up for me. A lot of people knocking on the door for me. People involved in television and film are like [executive voice:] "You've got a good headstart on a few of your dreams, would you like some more dreams to happen for you?" I've got a lot of people saying that to me, which is fantastic. Really for me what the next step is: what's the next character — whether I create it or whether someone has created something. That's what I want to do. If I'm able to touch somebody like all those people that I watched in all the television [shows] and the films that I've loved, that would be fantastic, that's how you live on. But, I'm right at the beginning and who knows what can happen.

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