Joe Plambeck is a busy guy. A working actor and co-founder of The Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale, Joe is also its acting media director and routinely takes on directing, lighting and design duties. So we were surprised and delighted when, this fall, he walked out on stage as a member of the WSU Hilberry Theatre company – the nation’s first and only graduate repertory theatre company.
We had to know more. Why did Joe tackle this challenging Master of Fine Arts program? What about his role at The Ringwald? And where does he get his energy?
Inquiring theatre fans want to know. And despite a crazy schedule, Joe Plambeck made time to answer all our questions.
Q: What made you decide to pursue an MFA at the Hilberry?
JOE: I have a good friend, Vanessa Sawson, in the Hilberry program. Over the first two years she was in the department, she told me all about what she was doing and I really found the idea of going into a graduate program very exciting. I have been sharpening my acting and directing skills while being a part of The Ringwald, but I knew that there were further elements which I could be improving on at such a level that the Hilberry provides. I especially wanted to explore classical theatre and theatrical styles (Chekov, Misner, etc.). Essentially, I want to be the absolute best that I can be, and I felt that joining a graduate department would be a wonderful way to excel (and the fact that WSU is right down the street is a definite plus). I definitely talked about my journey with my husband, Joe Bailey, and also with the rest of the Ringwald company. Everyone was extremely enthusiastic and excited about the opportunities that I would have by being a part of the Hilberry. I think that everyone understands that by my further education, my work at the Ringwald would improve and strengthen (and ideally, so would our audiences).
Q. The Hilberry’s MFA program is very exclusive. What did you have to do to join the company?
JOE: In order to be a part of the Hilberry, I had to audition. The company auditions all over the nation at different conventions, but I was able to audition here in Detroit. I turned in a headshot and resume and performed a couple of monologues. After my audition, the panel of staff and instructors interviewed me for about a half hour asking about my goals and intentions with joining the program. After my initial audition/interview, I was asked to attend a callback where we underwent a series of voice and movement exercises to gauge our experience and to see how adaptable we were. Then it was a waiting game until all of the auditions were over and the department had decided on who to accept into the program.
Q. What’s it like working in repertory and appearing in or rehearsing multiple shows at one time?
JOE: It is extremely exciting to be in a repertory program. Because of our crazy schedule at The Ringwald, I am accustomed to doing one show right on top of another. However, at The Hilberry we are rehearsing up to two shows at once and sometimes performing up to three in one week. It is an almost surreal experience to walk onto the Hilberry stage less than 24 hours after doing one show to find the set for another all up and ready to go. I find it very thrilling as an actor to fluctuate between roles with such a quick turn-around. It keeps me on my toes and allows me to really experience different styles and characters in a quickly moving and changing environment.
Q. As a “first year” at the Hilberry, you already have a lot of experience. What’s it like being a student again?
JOE: Being a student again is very cool. I feel that, with a bit more than a decade in between my scholarly experiences, I have found a greater appreciation for all aspects of theatre. From respecting the crew and stage managers, to simply picking up after myself when a rehearsal is over, these "life lessons" have shown to make me a much more versatile and compatible performer. Working with the rest of the company is awesome. There are people from all over the nation with varying levels of experience and it makes for a thrilling ride. Some folks are just out of undergrad programs while others have been out in the world working for a few years. One over the other can mean nothing or it can mean everything…it really just depends on the person, I suppose. I really do thrive on working in an ensemble and find coming together and growing closer throughout the experience to be one of the things that I am valuing most.
Q. How would you compare your experiences at The Hilberry and at The Ringwald?
JOE: One of the biggest differences is that I am only an actor at the Hilberry. At the Ringwald I wear so many hats, from social media to sound and lighting design to directing, and it is wonderful to just focus on the craft of acting. Of course, by becoming a better actor I feel my directorial instincts improving and expanding. Another drastic change is the performance space, itself. The Ringwald is a tiny storefront space with a dozen or so lighting instruments and a capacity of 100 audience members. The Hilberry holds over 400, has well over 100 lighting instruments, and the stage feels cavernous compared to the Ringwald's smaller space. I haven't thought of either place as "better" or "worse," but simply different and awesome each in their own respect.
Q. How are you juggling your WSU classes and performance schedule with your responsibilities at The Ringwald?
JOE: Luckily, I have found that what I hoped I would be able to do and what I have actually been able to do are one and the same thing. When I started at the Hilberry, I knew that I wouldn't be able to perform or direct any shows while I was in class, but I hoped that I would still be able to handle the media aspect of my job (social media, poster design, press releases and photos, etc.). I have even found time to do some of my design work there, both lighting and sound, as I can work on some of those elements while hanging out backstage while not onstage or class. While sometimes I find I have little time to breathe, I am currently able to handle both of my jobs without one suffering because of the other. I think it really is all about time management. I really am addicted to my calendar on my phone, it's what keeps me in line and organized so that I am able to handle all of my tasks appropriately.
Q. For you, is this about actually having the MFA, or is it about the journey?
JOE: Truly, yes, it is about the journey and growing and improving as an actor. I hope that some amazing opportunities come from my being at the Hilberry and I will continue to look for every chance that comes my way. I am really loving the life of a working, paid actor and would love to continue such a life once I leave the Hilberry!
You can catch Joe Plambeck this weekend at The Hilberry in “Goodnight Desdemona, (Good Morning Juliet).” In March, The Hilberry brings back the dark comedy “Detroit,” in which Joe has a featured role.
Thanks Joe, and break a leg!