Sam Gregory and Leslie O'Carroll in the DCPA Theatre Company’s 2012 production of When ‘We Are Married.’ Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

Q&A with Sam Gregory, Colorado Shakes’ go-to ghost

 DCPA Theatre Company favorites Sam Gregory and Leslie O'Carroll are reunited in Boulder this summer in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s ‘You Can’t Take It with You,’ opening Saturday. Rehearsal photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.The Denver Center’s veteran Scrooge is again summering in Boulder and next takes on the role of Grandpa in You Can’t Take it With You.

Take a look at Sam Gregory’s history with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and you’ll notice a curious pattern: He’s played a lot of ghosts.

Gregory first spooked audiences in 2013 when he appeared as Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth. Two years later, he had a turn as the spirit of John Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet. And just last year, he haunted audiences as Hamlet’s dead father.

You’d think someone who excels at unearthly roles might be intimidating or mysterious in person. But with Gregory, nothing could be further from the truth. The Denver actor, who has appeared in eight Colorado Shakes plays and no fewer than 46 for the DCPA Theatre Company, is one of the most affable people you’ll ever meet. Two years ago, he assumed the recurring role of Scrooge in the Denver Center’s annual holiday staging of A Christmas Carol.

This summer, Gregory gives up the ghost to play three characters that are very much alive: the eccentric, tax-averse Grandpa Martin Vanderhof in You Can’t Take it With You, and the assassin Tyrell and ever-loyal Lord Hastings in Richard III. We took a moment to ask him more about his life and history with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

Jill Kimball: How did you get your start in acting?

Sam Gregory: The very first Shakespeare role I ever had was Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was 12. I fell in love with acting while I was playing that role, and it kind of launched my career. When you’re a kid, you really believe in everything you’re doing and saying on stage.

Jill Kimball: Did you intend to focus on Shakespeare as a professional?

Read more: Our overview of the 2018 Colorado Shakespeare Festival season

Sam Gregory: No, I fell into it. I went to [The University of California] Berkeley, and when I graduated, I joined the apprentice program at California Shakespeare Theater. At the time, even in Berkeley, Shakespeare festivals didn’t think much about gender-bending, so they needed a lot of men. In typical Shakespeare plays, there are about 10 men for every one woman in the cast. It ended up being great training. I think if you can do Shakespeare, you really can do anything. The stakes are high, the language is tricky — it’s extreme theatre So anything else, comparatively, is easy. I’ve now done, I think, about 28 of Shakespeare’s 37 plays.

Jill Kimball: How did you wind up in Colorado?

Sam Gregory: In 1992, [DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director] Donovan Marley was doing a show, an actor dropped out of the cast and Donovan asked me to come out to replace him. After that, I popped in to Denver for plays here and there. In 2005, while I was living in New York, I was asked to be part of the company. I knew I was going to like Denver — I find it’s as close to a California lifestyle as you can get in the country. Don’t tell the natives I said that.

Jill Kimball: What’s been your favorite role at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival?

Sam Gregory: I really loved playing Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. It was the first non-Shakespeare play CSF did outdoors, and it was also the first time they used microphones on some of the actors. Of course, Gregory Peck was such an iconic Atticus Finch, and I thought I’d compare miserably. But the experience of playing that part was so joyous. I also had fun playing the ghost of John Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet. You can do whatever you want with that role.

Jill Kimball: What keeps you coming back?

Sam Gregory and Leslie O'Carroll in the DCPA Theatre Company’s 2012 production of When ‘We Are Married.’ Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

Sam Gregory and Leslie O’Carroll in the DCPA Theatre Company’s 2012 production of When ‘We Are Married.’ Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

Sam Gregory: I think it’s the people. It’s a nice mix of excited new people and old friends. I love working with undergraduates and graduate students from CU alongside the professional actors I know well in the Denver area. In other productions, you’re often working with people who are all in the same place professionally, and it feels more like a job — it’s all very professional, but it doesn’t have the same passion and joy. There’s a great pleasure in working with people who are in it for the fun of it, who really enjoy grabbing pizza after rehearsal and going on hikes together. Plus, the audiences are so great and enthusiastic. There’s nothing like performing in the summertime up in Boulder.

Jill Kimball: You’ll play the grandfather in this summer’s You Can’t Take It with You, and longtime DCPA Theatre Company member Leslie O’Carroll will play your daughter. That seems odd, considering Leslie has played your mother before.

Sam Gregory: Oh, it gets even weirder. The first time we were related to each other in a play, we were in The Diary of Anne Frank, and we played husband and wife. We were also married in a play called When We Were Married. And then she played my mother in Tartuffe last year. Clearly, we’ve both reached an age where no one can gauge what’s an appropriate relationship between us.

Jill Kimball: Why do you think the characters you play span such a wide age range?

Sam Gregory: Lots of young actors start off playing the classic ingenue and then they slip into character roles as they age. That’s what happened to me, and it was kind of freeing, because character roles often don’t demand an actor of a specific age. If you box yourself into only “young leading lady” or “young leading man” roles, you’ll have a pretty short career.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Jill Kimball: You seem very comfortable acting in comedies, if your turn as The Player in last year’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is any indication. Has Richard III been a more challenging play for you?

Sam Gregory: I’m actually more confident when it comes to Richard III. I’ve done it once before, and I’ve seen it a few times. I think rehearsing comedies is more difficult than tragedies. When you’re in rehearsal for a dark play, everyone’s always joking around and trying to make light of it. When you’re rehearsing a comedy, it’s very serious. There’s a lot of pressure knowing you have to make people laugh, trying to plot out the exact timing you need to get a joke right. Comedy is a game of precision. With tragedy, there’s more room for error.

You Can’t Take It with You: Ticket information

When Alice brings her boyfriend’s traditional, straight-laced family to dine with her household of freethinking eccentrics, fights break out and fireworks erupt. Kaufman and Hart’s 1930s classic pays homage to those who march to the beat of their own drum and reminds us all to choose dreams over drudgery.

  • By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
  • Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival
  • University of Colorado Boulder campus, indoor stage
  • July 20-Aug. 12
  • Directed by Carolyn Howarth

Cast list:

  • Sam Gregory: Martin (Grandpa) Vanderhof
  • Leslie O’Carroll: Penelope Vanderhof Sycamore
  • Betty Hart: Mrs. Kirby
  • Mare Trevathan: Olga/Gay
  • Coleman Zeigen: Mr. Kirby
  • Sam Sandoe: Mr. De Pinna
  • Lauren Dennis: Rheba
  • Christian Ray: Tony Kirby
  • Jihad Milhem: Ed Carmichael
  • Lindsay Ryan: Alice
  • Rodney Lizcano: Boris Kolenhkov
  • Sean Scrutchins: Henderson
  • Chloe McLeod: Essie Carmichael
  • Leraldo Anzaldua: Paul Sycamore/Fight Choreographer
  • Mike Largent: Donald
  • Kyle Chesney: The Man
  • Elena Sayeedi: G-man photographer
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