Actor and director
Directed: "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," on stage September 17 through October 18, 2015, at City Lights
Directing: "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" at Center Rep, Ocotber 23 through November 21, 2015
and commits completely to it'
to his tool belt by also doing some directing
Mark Anderson Phillips, one of the most respected and hired actors in the San Francisco Bay Area, credits at least part of the success of his career and his marriage to having done a play at Foothill College, years ago.
After graduating from UC Davis, he said during a recent phone interview, "I sort of got a job at a hotel, was kicking around, then did a show at Foothill "The Grapes of Wrath" that's where I met Karen (who became his wife). She was acting at that point, while working at in publishing, at Klutz. Robert Kelley's brother, Dan, was in the show. So, Kelley came to the show which is a rare thing, you never see him at other theater companies."
Not long after that, Anderson Phillips got a call from TheatreWorks, the great theater company founded by Kelley in Palo Alto, and was hired as an understudy for "Prelude to a Kiss."
That began a long and mutually rewarding relationship between Anderson Phillips and TheatreWorks.
"He's extremely creative," Kelley said of Anderson Phillips during a recent phone call. "He gives 100 percent to the character. Once he gets rolling, he is that person he just owns the character and commits completely to it.
"Mark manages to find the truth in comedy, finds the comedy in drama, the truth in dramatic roles," Kelley said. And, "He is just extremely giving to the other actors around him. I find him riveting. I've watched him develop over the years into an absolute master of the craft."
An example of that willingness to give to other actors might be "Fallen Angels," in which Anderson Phillips performed earlier this year at TheatreWorks. Anderson Phillips and actors Cassidy Brown, Tori Ross and Aldo Billingslea major A listers all virtually disappear for long scenes, while Sarah Overman and Rebecca Dines tear the place apart in a hilarious comedy. Read the review.
Anderson Phillips has been paired with Dines often, including in the hugely moving "Time Stands Still," in which they both played wounded war correspondents. They were both overwhelming in their roles. Read the review.
Anderson Phillips was born and raised in San Jose by parents Walt and Patti Phillips, in a house about ten blocks from where he and Karen Anderson Phillips now live.
He saw his older sister, Maureen do theater, but "It didn't click that I would want to do it," Anderson Phillips said. "I was always into sports when I was a kid."
But, "In high school, I was cut from every team I tried out for. So I decided to try out for a play, where I was helped by a really wonderful English teacher, Tom Alessandi."
At Bellarmine College Prep he was also advised by Pat Orr (my cousin), who was the music director at the time.
"Bellarmine was really all about the extra curricular activities, being a college-prep school. I was sort of looking for something to do, found out I really enjoyed theater and wanted to keep doing it."
But it was mostly musicals at Bellarmine, and when Anderson Phillips finished high school, "I didn't think I'd continue to the next level, and became an English major at UC Davis."
But he had a major change after he saw David Mamet's "American Buffalo."
"It blew my mind," Anderson Phillips said. "I had no idea theater could be like that. It was amazing.
"That summer, I came home, and me and some friends from high school put on 'American Buffalo,' rehearsing in the backyard, and we did one night with it at Bellarmine.
"That's probably the most important moment in my life, why I keep doing theater."
When he got back to Davis for his second year, Anderson Phillips got into a show directed by theater teacher Elizabeth Carlin.
"She said, 'You should change your major,' so I did."
He's had a very busy career in the Bay Area Kelley thinks Anderson Phillips has done 25 shows at TheatreWorks and at lots of other theaters, from San Jose Rep to Center Rep to the Aurora in Berkeley. He's only worked in New York when a show he was already in traveled there, and has no interest in moving there.
"I don't have an agent," he said. "The more years you are in the business, the more people you know. I went to New York for shows that originated here. When I worked in Edinburgh, it was just sort of a connection that got me into the job. When I worked in St. Louis, the director was Timothy Near (formerly with San Jose Rep).
"I'm not tempted to move to New York, for better or for worse, I really love living in the Bay Area. At this point I'm not interested in starting in a whole new market where they don;t care about me or what I've done.
"I have friends who've gone to New York for eight years, then come back. It's really, really hard to make it there.
"And I'm getting a lot of work here. I really like it, all right."
And of course, he is really, really good at what he does.
Why is he that good? How does he develop a character?
"That's a hard question to answer," he said. "A lot of it, I don't know how to put in words.
"I do a lot of research into the character ... and I just kind of always had a very over-active imagination. I love to just think of myself as different people. I think of think of ... how those people would say a thing."
These days, Anderson Phillips is also doing a lot of directing.
He'd directed some children's theater in San Jose and Sunnyvale, but then stopped that and focused on acting for a while.
"I was not sure how to move to the next level as a director, but always thought it would be cool to do it.
"I guess about four years ago I had just done "The 39 Steps" a couple of years before I saw that Center Rep was doing it, so I asked (Center Rep Artistic Director) Michael Butler if I could direct it. He took a chance, and it worked out. Then I did 'Sleuth' the next year."
Directing is a lot of work, Anderson Phillips said, "But I really like it. It's good to have as many tools on your belt as possible."
Anderson Phillips just finished directing a brilliant production of Jeffrey Hatcher's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," which is playing at City Lights in San Jose through October 18, 2015. Read the review here.
"I was in the original production in Arizona," Anderson Phillips said, "co-produced with San Jose Rep. I did it at San Jose Rep, too."
It's a good show, Anderson Phillips said, because of Hatcher's script.
"What sets this adaptation apart is that four separate actors, at any one time are playing Hyde, in addition to other parts. It sort of represents different sides of the evil that lurks in all of us. It's an interesting concept ... Hatcher does a good job of structuring it. There are 29 scenes total in the play. It jumps around, but moves around intelligently.
"The line between Jekyll and Hyde is more gray than black and white, in this play. He's described as pure evil in the book. But in the play, the line is much more murky."
While that play continues in San Jose, under the watchful eyes of stage manager Charnnee' Young, Anderson Phillips is directing "Vanya and Sonya and Sasha and Spike," by Christopher Durang, at Center Rep in Walnut Creek. That show is to run from October 23 through November 21, 2015.
In November, he returns to acting, in "Stage Kiss," at San Francisco Playhouse. In the Spring, he goes to New York with "Ideation," which he did in San Francisco.
He stays busy.
As Kelley says, as an actor, Anderson Phillips "is in demand. Now that he's directing, he's even busier."
Email John Orr at email@example.com