Role: Chris
Project: ‘Outside Inn,’ a regional theatre touring production

Roger Grunwald

Roger Grunwald

Gabriele Schafer, co-producer and co-star of the drama Outside Inn, calls Roger Grunwald “a miracle.” Before Grunwald read for the part of Chris, Schafer and co-producer Melanie Dreyer had spent months searching for the final piece of the four-character murder mystery, which would be performed in both English and German, with performances in Germany as well as the United States.

“Imagine trying to find a middle-aged American,” the German-born Schafer says, “fluent in German, who can speak English without a German accent and German without an American accent, who is also able to play this ruthless businessman, and who can really act, because there are lots of long monologues. So the role requires a very unique and experienced actor.”

Grunwald was a German-language major at the University of California, Berkeley, and after studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, the San Francisco native came to New York in the mid-1970s to pursue a career on stage and screen. He worked steadily in theatre, found background roles in film, appeared on soaps, and did voiceover work. And because of his undergraduate education and the year he spent studying in Germany, he says, “Most of [my] voiceover work was in German or with a German accent. I had a niche.”

Back then Grunwald was a member of Equity, SAG, and AFTRA, but he rejoined the unions just last summer after 25 years out of the spotlight. Before that he was a central member of the All Stars Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes development through performance, serving poor and minority young people in New York and other cities across the country. When he felt the organization had grown enough to continue thriving without him, Grunwald decided it was time to get back to his roots as a full-time actor. So when he saw the casting notice for a role requiring accent-free American English and fluency in German, he submitted his headshot and résumé.

Schafer was nervous at first about Grunwald’s lack of recent acting experience, but after seeing him in a production of Henry V, she was sold. “Roger was really a gift because he met all our criteria and he’s a very good actor,” Schafer says. “But also he has the sensibility of what it takes to do a team project. We couldn’t have anybody for this part that was looking at it as just another gig. This was our baby, and we all took a lot of leaps by putting this thing together.”

Outside Inn opened Sept. 12, 2007, in Pittsburgh and played five performances; it then traveled to Stuttgart, Germany, for three weeks. In both countries some shows were performed in English and others were performed in German. The production will run Off-Broadway Oct. 1-19 at 59E59 Theaters. It may also return to Germany.

“What was particularly interesting from my perspective, and I think for all the actors,” Grunwald says, “was the experience of learning the project in two languages, because basically we had to learn two plays. We had to learn the play in English and then in German, and then develop the characters — and they weren’t the same. There was some edginess that I could bring to the character doing it in German that I didn’t quite have in English. We were able to explore the depths of our characters because we had these different dimensions to uncover through doing them in different languages.”

This “Who Got the Part?” column was published in the Jan. 24-30, 2008 issue of Back Stage and online at BackStage.com.

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