Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.
Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)
Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black. These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.
Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.
An eleven year veteran of San Francisco’s legendary Beach Blanket Babylon, Phillip Percy Williams grew up singing in the church in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. His theatrical background includes performing Broadway shows with Carnival Cruise Lines and performing a solo tribute to Nat King Cole with an eleven-piece orchestra. He is a 2015 recipient of a “Principal Actor in a Musical” award from the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.
Williams has performed in dozens of roles with many Bay Area troupes, including Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions, Berkeley Playhouse, Mill Valley’s Throckmorton Theatre, Ross Valley Players, Marin OnStage, Curtain Theatre, Marin Shakespeare Company, and Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse. He has also performed with the Long Beach Civic Light Opera and at many fundraiser events for charitable non-profit organizations. His contemporary jazz/R&B trio the Phillip Percy Pack can be seen at various venues throughout the Bay Area.
ASR: Your background?
PPW: A true southerner: African American with traces of Europe.
ASR: How did you get started in theater?
PPW: I was a cabaret performer in Los Angeles. A director saw me perform, introduced himself, and offered me a role in his production of “Working.” I played the newspaper boy. That was my first play.
ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?
PPW: Approximately fifteen.
ASR: Did you anticipate that you would become as successful as you have?
PPW: No, I did not. I was never really formally trained and I kind of fell into it by happenstance. I have been so blessed to have been given the opportunities to perform and grateful to learn of my true passion—performing.
ASR: What are some of your favorite musicals?
PPW: “Big River,” “ Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Scarlett Pimpernel,” “City of Angels,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “The Fantastiks,” “Kinky Boots,” and “La Cage Aux Folles,” to name a few.
ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work — sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes — which would it be and why?
PPW: Sound. Sound is one of those technical aspects that most theatres, clubs, and restaurants don’t understand. It’s essential to a successful production and show. And the funny thing is, all it takes is fine tuning (sometimes literally) or adding elements that if implemented would make the experience more memorable for audiences, performers and musicians.
ASR: How do you warm up before a performance?
PPW: Vocally, I sing old school gospel. Physically, it’s light stretches, pushups and situps. Mentally, prayer.
ASR: How do you relax after?
PPW: A “lil dirty” Stoli vodka martini—two olives, an onion, and shaken. I’m an old school Stoli guy.
Sound is one of those technical aspects that most theatres, clubs, and restaurants don’t understand…
ASR: What are your interests outside of theater?
PPW: My #1 interest is my husband Mike. I like to garden and cook. I’m getting back into piano, and love love love to sing, especially old school gospel (Mighty Clouds of Joy, Andre Crouch) and jazz standards (Gershwin, Porter, Berlin and Mercer). My favorite influences are Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, and Chet Baker.
ASR: Do you pursue any other arts apart from theater?
PPW: Yes, I have a Jazz/R&B group called the Phillip Percy Pack. I am also lead vocalist in two other bands.
ASR: What would be the worst “buy one get one free” sale of all time?
PPW: Any clothing made of polyester—sweaters, socks, pants, etc.
ASR: You have the opportunity to create a 30-minute TV series. What’s it called and what’s the premise?
PPW: “You Don’t Sound Black,” about a Marin County interracial gay couple, Allen and Percy, and their experiences with people in the Bay Area. Allen is midwestern white and Percy is southern black.
Pilot: Allen and Percy are at a black-tie gala where one of them is being recognized for his amazing contributions to the community. Allen introduces Percy to board member Robert and his wife Lilly.
Allen: “Robert, this is my partner Percy.”
Robert: “Nice to meet you, Percy. So what kind of business do you run?”
Lilly (whispering to husband). “No . . . they are partners . . .”
Robert: “Oh, okay.” (sincerely spoken) “Lee, we are so lucky to have you and really value and appreciate your commitment.” (followed by firm handshake)
Lilly (to Percy): “Good for you guys . . . you’re attractive and speak so well . . . good for you.”
And scene . . .
ASR: A fashion accessory you like better than others?
PPW: Cuff links. I have a substantial collection.
ASR: Favorite quote from a movie, stage play, song or book?
PPW: “I was never in the chorus,” from “Mame.”