What Is It Like to Be An Actor With Pickle Pea Walks?

Our Pickle Pea actors are absolutely the best of the best! We ask them to do incredibly complicated things. First they must take on the persona of an historical White House figure (as historically accurate as we can get it). Then, they must step into today’s world but artfully persuade our Pickle Pea walk guests that today is not today but really a selected time in White House history. Whew! And then ---- and then we ask our actors to tell stories about the White House from their historical figure’s point of view.

All of this while strolling the White House neighborhood and answering questions as their historical figure most surely would! Who would take on such a role?

Meet Johnny Weissgerber, one of our Pickle Pea actors who plays John Ousley, the first White House gardener (1825-1852) and Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of President Theodore and First Lady Edith Roosevelt. 

1.     What in the world made you want to be an actor?

Well I initially blame my sister. As a kid I was very imaginative but I was super shy. My sister would visit every summer and almost every year we would put on a show for our parents. Over the years we put on puppet shows, magic shows, plays, we even made stop-go animation films. It was some of the best times of my childhood. I was still a shy kid however. It wasn’t until I saw my sister in her high school production of Into the Woods that I remember deciding “I can do that.” Not too long after I told my mom I wanted to audition for my 7th grade musical. She scoffed at me saying “You? Sing in front of people? I’ll believe it when I see it." I auditioned, and got the comedic lead. I cannot tell you how nervous I was that first performance; I had to act like a complete fool in front of my entire school, a big step for someone as shy as I was. The only way I got through it was by focusing my entire psyche into being my character. I can remember the moment I realized I was no longer thinking about the audience I was thinking about what my character wanted. It was liberating!! It was like I gave myself permission not to care what the audience thought of me because I was being someone else. That in itself is an addicting experience. Loosing yourself in front of an audience, once you’ve done it once its hard not to want to do it again.

2.     What was the first play you ever saw?

Well I’m honestly not 100 percent sure. But the first I remember was a production of Joesph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat that my sister was in.

3.     What was the first play you acted in? How old were you? What part did you play?

 The first Play I did, (from the story above) was The Ransom of Red Chief. It was a short musical based on the O’Henry story by the same name. I played Bill the bumbling idiot kidnapper who gets beaten up the entire show. I was eleven years old.

4.     What’s the most fun about being an actor?

Allowing myself to access emotions that I don’t always allow myself to access in my own life. In the same vein fighting for something a character believes in even if you do not. The more different a character is from myself, the more fun I have figuring them out.

5.     Do you get nervous?

 Not really, not anymore. The only time I truly get nervous anymore is when I haven’t rehearsed enough or when whatever it is I have to do is so far out of my comfort zone that I don’t feel confident. If you don’t feel like you’re confident in the material you’ve prepared, its easy to get nervous. 

6.     When you are on stage, are you aware of the audience?

That depends on the show and the character. I do a lot of classical acting and in some cases we reference the audience, or use the audience for asides. If the show is based in realism I do my best to put up a “Fourth Wall” and let the Audience disappear.

7.     How do you go about memorizing your lines? Do you have any secret tricks?

I’ve noticed that the best way to memorize lines is up on your feet moving around. The more you can involve all types of learning (kinesthetic, auditory, spacial, verbal) the easier it becomes to remember lines. I also use an app called Line Learner. It’s a great auditory aid, and is easy to set up to use while you are driving.

8.     Tell us two behind-the-scenes secrets from a play you’ve been in.

Well I’ve done two shows on a sprained foot. I did a production of As You Like It and I had the swine flu; I wasn’t allowed to touch anything. I was in a show where the Director threatened the actors during notes with a “prop” Knife.

9.     What character has been the saddest to give up?

I  played Jean Valjean as a senior in high school, I’m not so sure if it was the show ending or the combination of me leaving all my friends for college but that was a bittersweet show to close. Valjean, the character, also touched the cuckolds of my heart.

10.  What character would you most like to play?

Henry V, Macbeth, Sweeney Todd when I’m older. There’s honestly so many new plays coming out all the time, I hope I get to originate some roles.

11.  What do you think of Quentin Roosevelt? You have him down to a “T.”  If you could have a conversation with Quentin, what would you two talk about?

When I think about Quentin, I wonder if he felt like he had to compete against the entire world for his father’s attention. I always try to rationalize the characters I play, and it just makes sense that all the shenanigans he got into where for attention. It seemed to work, because he was obviously his father’s favorite. I think we’d talk about family, comedy, and Flora. 

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Besides being Quentin Roosevelt for Pickle Pea Walks, Johnny is also one of our wonderful Co-Directors. And, when not being immersed in Pickle Pea Walks, he can be found working as a scenic artist for Signature Stage in Northern Virginia and for the Annapolis Shakespeare Company in Annapolis, Maryland.

We think Johnny Weissgerber (our Quentin Roosevelt) is fascinating!

Sandra Dee Hoffman, Pickle Pea Walks Producer