Making Connections – Jeffrey Tambor’s next act
“I can’t think of a time when we needed more connectivity,” says Jeffrey Tambor as he describes the workshop he is leading this fall at the Ridgefield Playhouse. The Lewisboro-based thespian has been teaching acting for more than four decades while building a filmography of movie roles that ranges from Jay Porter in …And Justice for All and Sid Garner in The Hangover trilogy to award-winning performances on shows such as “Arrested Development” and “Transparent.”
The married father of five is enjoying life in our neck of the woods, hosting a podcast (“acting Schmacting”), filming a documentary (working title: “Geek”), writing, producing, teaching, and continuing to act.
“This has been a real time of learning for me,” he reflects. “The whole workshop is about learning and allowing me to be useful. You know, my dad sat my brother Larry and me down as kids and said ‘in the end, be useful.’ I remember us looking at each other and stifling our laughter and rolling our eyes, but you know what? He was right. Be useful. And that’s what I want to do.”
Settled into a director’s chair in the Playhouse’s c. 1938 theater, Tambor says his workshop (a series of six three-hour classes) isn’t just for wannabe actors who are hoping to get a pilot and a shot at stardom. Sure, there’s plenty of room for those dramatic artists, but the San Francisco native likes to mix things up and welcomes aspiring writers who have a script or novel that’s been sitting unfinished in a drawer for years, as well as musicians, directors, artists, cooks, even stay-at-home parents who are looking to find the confidence to step up, remove the stumbling blocks, and move forward with the next chapter of their lives.
“They will be freer, they will not be sitting at home on their ‘scaredy’ couches, waiting for a phone call. They will be unafraid to make messes, and they will drop perfectionisms. I’m all about making messes, I believe in doing it badly before you do it well,” he adds of his goals for his students.
Tambor explains that where the learning takes place is not necessarily on the stage but more often in the seats. “It’s actually in the bi-play—it happens when the students are reacting to the performance, and that’s why I like to sit in the middle and look this way,” he says as he points to the rows of seats he hopes to fill. “As a student, I learn more by watching and listening than by performing.”
A hands-on dad who is about to head out to Decicco’s to pick up ground beef for his signature meatloaf (he’s the family cook on Tuesdays and Thursdays), Tambor tears up as he describes the vulnerability of the subjects of his documentary-in-progress on “the kids who sit at the ‘other’ table, the uncool table—the kids who have to be their own table and find their community… and their connection. I’m rooting for the kids who are the geeks.”
Tambor’s wife, Kat, is a real estate agent and developer, and she is the one who zeroed in on northern Westchester as the ideal place to raise their four children (he also has a grown daughter from a previous relationship). “The schools are through the roof, I can’t say enough about them, and we love the area. It’s beautiful. I mean, what are people running off to the hamptons for when they can have this?”
When he’s not whipping up meatloaf or salmon dinners, Tambor and his clan like to head out to Ramenesque in Thornwood, Bacio or Haiku in Cross River, or Prime Burger in Ridgefield. “and I go to the Reading Room in Katonah. My son and I are addicted—there’s no other word for it—to the avocado toast there.”
“Right now, other than an actor, director, producer, teacher, and cook, I consider myself an Uber driver. I drive to the library, sports practice, the Stamford Nature Center, movies at the Prospector. I help Kat raise the kids, and I enjoy that. They’re not learning anything from me, but I’m learning a lot from them.”
Tambor acknowledges the shift in his life focus. “It’s not so much about acting anymore…it’s about living,” he explains. “I want to keep learning. I want to try new things. I want to find out what my next chapter is like.”
Performing Your Life: the art of the Personal Monologue, kicks off at the Ridgefield Playhouse on October 15.