From nine to five they answer phones, analyze, sell or litigate — but after hours they light up the stage, collecting applause the way a good accounts-receivable clerk nets due funds.
Customer service rep/thespian
In the late 1990s, Kevin Fuld was a quiet, observant Lake Highlands High School student. He remembers writing his own obituary, an assignment from English teacher David Patton.
“I was into photography at the time, and I wrote about how I had lived life as an outsider, always observing,” Fuld recalls. “Looking back at that assignment, it was spot-on.”
Today Fuld remains introspective, and he holds a down-to-earth day job, but his creative self — back then just budding — is in full bloom.
He works 40-plus hours a week — customer service at a mortgage company in Fort Worth. (That doesn’t include the almost two-hour-a-day commute.) He likes it, for the most part, he says. But he spends nights and weekends pursuing more-pressing passions, which include acting in, writing and producing plays.
On a Sunday afternoon in June, he’s inside the Margo Jones Theatre at Fair Park, standing on the set of a play he produced called “Silver Screen Killer.”
Lanky, bespectacled, mustachioed and bursting with energy, he paces the stage as he recalls his first gig at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre.
“In 1997 I started working there, in the kitchen. I first saw a melodrama there and I thought, ‘I get this. I could do this.’ I started percolating ideas.”
At 19 he landed his first acting role at The Pocket, and soon after that he wrote “Camp Death,” a slasher-movie parody.
“I remember handing the first scene to Joe [Dickinson], the Pocket owner, and he read it and said, ‘It’s good. I want more.’ As a young writer, that was all I needed to hear.”
“Watching other people bring to life something that you’ve written is blissful, wonderful and, well, it’s orgasmic, but lasts longer than that,” Fuld says with a grin. “I’m sure you’ll need to edit that.”
He didn’t come up with that last part, he says. It’s a version of what the old-timers at The Pocket traditionally tell new writers.
Since then, he has written two other plays, “Brandi: The Vampire Staker” and “Spring-heeled Jack and the Enigmatic Dr. Hu.” He has acted in dozens of productions including “Dracula,” “Ebenezer Scrooge,” “Captain Blood,” “Death: The Musical,” “Love, Sex and the IRS,” “The Nerd,” “Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Boys Next Door.”
At this point in his life, he says, he doesn’t have time to audition for big movie or television roles, though he’s held a couple of small parts and he might like to do that someday.
But local theater can be rewarding in its own right, he says.
Playing the role of Mr. Dussel in “Anne Frank” was intense, he says. “He was a real man. A real holocaust victim. In a play called, “Captain Phantasm and the Countdown to Doom!” Fuld had a blast portraying a “true villain — a prototypical Jersey cop,” he says, demonstrating his Jersey brogue. (One critic for thecolumnawards.org wrote that Fuld is a “genius at channeling stereotypes.”)
He created Camp Death productions last year after writing “Dr. Hu” for the Richardson Theatre Centre.
Fuld, director Joey Dietz and the cast of the show conducted a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to produce the murder-mystery melodrama.
That they raised funds quickly ostensibly is a result of the many friendships developed within the theater community, another gratifying aspect of this life.
“Now I am surrounded by a bunch of talented people who help things like this happen,” he says, throwing his gaze toward the “Silver Screen” stage.
“There was a time, about five years, where I focused on my other job and did not do any of this. I had about five friends then. Now I have dozens and dozens. My life is more fun now.”
An actor peeks in and tells Fuld he has seven minutes to exit the stage. Soon after, audience members roll into the theater. It’s nearly a full house, and the show is a punchy, laugh-out-loud hit.
Fuld announces to the crowd that The Pocket Sandwich Theater picked up “Silver Screen Killer” to run in August.
Kevin Fuld can be seen in the Plano Courtyard Theater’s “Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?” through Aug. 23. Call 972.941.5611 for times and tickets.
Tommy Lee Brown and Christie Wallace
Arguably the mothership for Dallas’ aspiring comedians, The Dallas Comedy House on an average Friday night emits laughter from a small but raucous audience.
Neighborhood resident Christie Wallace and fiancé Tommy Lee Brown frequently are the impetus behind (or at least a substantial part of) the crowd’s collective mirth. Together they belong to two popular improvisation troupes, one called Franzia and the other Cupcake (they are also each involved with various other ensembles).
This particular summer night the couple has back-to-back shows. They take their various ad-libbed roles — a lesbian Bed, Bath and Beyond salesperson or an unnerved one-night-stand participant, for example — in stride, serving up pitch-perfect physical comedy and rapid witty responses to respective counterparts.
“It is not that hard,” Wallace says. “There are certain rules you go by that make it easier.” Having good chemistry and a history with your troupe helps, too. “You support each other, and everything will go well.”
At an improv show, an audience member gives the performers one word — maybe “pillow” or “hungry.” Then the lights dim and the players return with impromptu skits related either literally or indirectly to the word.
“The first rule,” explains Brown, “is you always say ‘yes.’” Meaning that a successful troupe supports one another in every move and never blocks the flow of action.
It is difficult to imagine the adeptly entertaining and energetic duo doing days behind desks. But as staffers in the mortgage department of Pearson & Patterson legal services, they are each parked at one Monday through Friday.
“Yes, well, when I tell people at work about the improv, they say they wouldn’t expect me to be involved in something like that,” Wallace says. “It’s like you almost lead two different lives.”
For Brown, entertaining is necessary fun and essential to a balanced life. “I do like my day job, something sort of mundane where I can turn off,” he says. “But the improv — it’s the closest thing I can get to playing make believe, like you do as a child. I don’t care what I do for a living as long as I can still do this.”
His attitude makes him a favorite among fellow improvers, notes DCH founder Amanda Austin.
“Everyone loves to play with Tommy on stage,” she says.
Wallace seems a bit more serious about her moonlighting.
“A lot of us have that goal, I think. Some people here at DCH work full time with stand-up, theater and improv. Several of us are filming a pilot … it’s like a ‘Taxi’ meets ‘The Office’.”
Austin says Wallace is one of the club’s central players.
“Christie is what I like to call one of the original gangsters of DCH. She’s been here since we opened our doors. Talented comedian and an amazing improv comedy teacher, too. She’s sought out for her teaching; her students continue to rave about her classes every term.”
But the bills must be paid, and teaching improv classes, something both of them do, doesn’t cut it.
Still, life is pretty fun as-is, the couple agrees.
“Confidence, communication skills and quick thinking, which we learn and teach, are skills you can use in work and daily life,” Wallace says. “It is something I always look forward to. All of my friends are improvers, and, obviously, my fiancé.”
The two met about three years ago; Wallace trained Brown to wait tables at DCH, and, as Brown says with a grin, “I decided to continue my education.”
Catch this dynamic duo most weekends at the Dallas Comedy House. Visit dallascomedyhouse.com for showtimes and tickets.
Raymond Fischer is busy. And he’s not one of those people who find ways to tell you how very busy they are, in tones that suggest suffering. No, Fischer is bubbling with positive energy as he profusely apologizes for postponing a previously planned interview. His firm represents big companies — Whataburger, for instance — and, as part of the legal team, he sometimes has to leave town on short notice to address a situation.
“It’s everything you would imagine,” he says. “Slip and fall claims, wrongful firing or discrimination [lawsuits], the chicken-was-bad or bug-in-my food complaints.”
Fischer provides first-rate counsel in areas of general commercial litigation, but the fact that he works for Crouch & Ramey law firm today — considering the path of his last few years — is remarkable.
After law school at Louisiana State he landed his first job — a great one, he says — at Crouch & Ramey. He spent two years building a sound reputation and married the woman of his dreams, Lee.
That’s when Fischer quit his job and moved to Chicago to attend comedy school.
While lawyering in Dallas, Fischer longed to take a shot at the performing arts, namely improvisational comedy.
“I’d be sitting at my desk, unable to focus because I was thinking about it.”
Everyone was shockingly supportive, he says.
“My wife encouraged the idea from the beginning. I told her on our first date I wanted to act. Before we started having kids, she wanted me to try this,” he says. “I was amazed at how my bosses reacted — in a good way. In fact, Cole Ramey said he wished he’d been able to do the same thing. Not that his thing was the same as mine, but he meant following your dream, whatever it is.”
The Fischers relocated to Chicago and Raymond enrolled in The Second City, where photos of alumni including Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, John Belushi, Mike Myers, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert, to name a few, line the walls. He also registered for courses at Improv Olympic, where Tina Fey, Chris Farley and Seth Meyers once practiced their craft.
Because he had taken classes with Dallas Comedy House in the past, he tested out of some of the remedial classes, he says. But he was not the typical student.
“Most were millennials who had recently graduated,” he says. “They had drama degrees. They all were a good 10 years younger than me. One girl asked me if I was a narc, which did not technically make sense, though I knew what she meant — ‘Who is this old balding dude?’ ”
Some of his life experience helped him in improvisational situations, but his relatively old age (early 30s) occasionally placed him out of the loop.
“There was a time or two when they brought up a video game or something that I had no idea what they were talking about,” he says.
However, his classmates promptly warmed to him and he emerged successful, being one of 10 Second City students (out of more than 60) plucked for an end-of-season public show; he occupied the same stages as, throughout history, his comedy idols.
It was like an itch scratched, he says of his time in Chicago. Lee had secured a teaching job and was happy, too, but about three years in, they both felt it was time to return to a more financially stable existence, one in which they could raise children.
Crouch & Ramey was fully staffed, so Fischer applied to other firms. Just as he was about to accept a position elsewhere, Ramey called to say that a position was open, but that he needed to come now.
With his 7-months-pregnant wife, Raymond Fischer returned to Lake Highlands, where they now raise daughter Abigail.
Fischer works diligently these days to ensure that his bosses don’t regret their decision to take him back, he says. But he finds some time for improv, which is his release from life’s stresses.
In Dallas Comedy House’s early years, Fischer became its in-house counsel, a position he still holds. He was thrilled, upon his return to Dallas, to see how DCH has blossomed. “Amanda [Austin, his friend and the founder of DCH] took a leap of faith opening this place years ago. It was crazy watching it grow. Amanda had a lot of foresight — she has built a community. I come back and it is in full bloom. It is exciting.”
Eventually, as he learns to balance family, work and performing, he hopes to become more of a regular at DCH, where today he sometimes stands in with existing troupes, and maybe even teach classes there.
“The best part is that I can now practice law with satisfaction, knowing that I went and did what I wanted to do.”
Richard Bailey likes his job at Half Price Books. The White Rock-area resident does everything from loading stock to helping customers find their next read at the flagship store on Northwest Highway. “It’s a pleasure to work in a place where everybody in the city loves to be,” he says.
But “bookseller” isn’t the only job title on his resume. He’s also a filmmaker, poet and playwright. “If I’m awake and not at work, I’m working on these projects,” he says.
Bailey says he’s pursued creative interests in one way or another since he was 18, when he landed a job as an overnight radio broadcaster at a country and western station. With the freedom to plan his own show and six hours to fill, he “learned what it takes to build a story,” he says.
After earning a degree in filmmaking from the University of Texas, Bailey, who grew up on a farm in east-central Texas, headed to Dallas and quickly found a job in advertising. In his spare time, he made two 16mm short films that were featured in festivals. But traditional filmmaking is expensive — film stock, processing, lighting, talent — and he couldn’t afford to make any more. “I became dormant in film and moved to poetry and plays,” he says.
His poems have been featured in about 25 poetry journals, and his poetry collection “Revival” was a finalist for the Poetry Foundation’s Emily Dickinson First Book Award. He’s also had some success with his plays. He was a semifinalist at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival in 2012 for his play “A Ship of Human Skin.”
But even with these other creative outlets, Bailey never lost the desire to make films. When a friend showed him some scenes of the ocean that he shot using a DSLR camera, Bailey was impressed with the quality. He figured the tool could allow him to once again be a filmmaker.
Even with a full-time job, Bailey has managed to make three short films in the past two years, with another in post-production. His films recently have been featured in the Snake Alley Festival of Film in Burlington, Iowa, and the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest in Polson, Mont. In May the McKinney Avenue Cotemporary presented five of his films to a standing-room-only audience.
Bailey has almost finished the script for a full-length feature. His goal is to shoot a few scenes and get them up on Kickstarter by the first part of 2015 to try to fund the full production. “I’ll keep pushing the projects forward until there’s an insurmountable hedge,” he says. “So far, there hasn’t been one.”