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Words of Wisdom from Tom Skerritt

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Some of you were kind enough to ask if I made it to the Tom Skerritt presentation at the Hilberry Theatre. I did, and it was so worthwhile.

Mr. Skerritt was introduced by John Wolf, Professor and Chair of the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance, who presented him with the Apple Award on behalf of the Nederlander Family. What followed was a lovely conversation, with rich remembrances and anecdotes that I couldn’t hope to replicate here with the same charm and warmth.

Although Mr. Skerritt was not over keen to dispense advice, I did cull a few gems that seem worth sharing.

  • Speaking about the importance of exposing children to things that stimulate their imaginations, he tells a great story. As a child in school, little Tom was taken to hear the symphony perform with an ancient, feeble guest conductor who struggled to make it to the podium. Once the music began, the conductor was transformed into a powerful, lithe performer. Young Tom was blown away. The conductor was Arturo Toscanini.
  • When he was a young man, Tom Skerritt wanted to be either Frank Sinatra or a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. The whole “acting thing” came through the process of loving both writing and painting, and wanting to channel those arts into film and learning to be a director. Acting was a way to learn the larger craft of storytelling.
  • He still has a passion for painting. Before attending the lecture, he and his wife revisited the Detroit Institute of Arts to admire the Rivera Murals.
  • He appeared in the Bonstelle Theatre production of Luigi Pirandello’s “Right You Are” as an undergraduate.
  • On being mentored by Robert Altman: “He taught me to ‘Do the work.’” He also shared that the idea of staging the “suicide” scene in “M*A*S*H” as Da Vinci’s Last Supper came from an off-hand comment by a guy at the Craft Services table.
  • If as an actor you bring your audience to the point where they expect you to cry, but you don’t cry, they’ll cry for you.
  • He worries that we are losing the art of storytelling and teaches that in the The Film School in Seattle.
  • An Air Force veteran himself, Skerritt was moved by the plight of young veterans coping with PTSD. In response, he founded the Red Badge Project through which volunteers teach acting, creative writing, filmmaking and photography to soldiers in the Warrior Transition Battalion — a group of active-duty, National Guard and reservists diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other injuries. The program helps veterans connect with a new group of “civilians” in a positive and safe environment that is conducive to self-expression and healing.
  • He urges everyone to embrace “the risk of possibilities” as the only way to truly tap into your creative energy.

Words of wisdom from a gifted artist; thanks to WSU for hosting this event. If you'd like to support The Red Badge project, you can do so here.

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