Jeffrey T. Heyer

JeffreyBy Scott MacClelland

JEFFREY T. HEYER’s bio is no quick read. His credentials as one of Monterey County’s busier stage actors, in particular with Grovemont/PacRep and the Western Stage, are fairly staggering. He has performed in 43 Shakespeare productions, 44 historical reenactments, 27 public play readings, 16 puppet shows, seven musicals and scores of other plays and theatrical performance events. As a PacRep artist-in-residence, a program associate at Western Stage and co-founder of the Actors Collective, he has directed more than 50 stage works. Recently he completed a short run at Carmel’s intimate Cherry Foundation of Holmes for the Holidays, a reworking of Sherlock Holmes mysteries written and directed by Cindy Womack. (Click HERE for Philip Pearce’s review.)

That same bio begins, intriguingly, “Veteran of 80 entertainment industry employers…” In fact, Jeffrey—he includes the T, for Thomas, to distinguish himself from other Jeffrey Heyers, including an actor of that name down south—has been sought for voice-overs, films, commercials and radio shows. Further, he has choreographed fight scenes and done tech for dozens more theatrical productions. About the only performance arts he says he’s not good at are singing and dancing. “Never mastered those skills.”

“From my earliest memories I was always fascinated with storytelling,” says Heyer, who was born in Fontana and spent his formative years there. Around second grade the family relocated to Sacramento where he grew up. “I explored all different media, comics, puppets,” he says. “I found I couldn’t draw but I could write. But it’s hard to get into print, so in high school I increasingly focused on acting. Doing a full theatrical production I discovered the energy exchange between the show and the audience.” He recalls, “It fascinated me, mostly through happenstance, and was how I found my calling.”

As for education, “A college degree in theater meant very little. I got an AA degree just so I could say that I had been to college.” But with his appetite to learn everything he could about theater, from being in the spotlight to all that goes on behind the scenes, he never found one program that taught it all to his satisfaction. “I bounced around to different colleges to take individual sets of courses covering the different aspects of theater.” Those included Sacramento State, American River College (also in Sacramento), UC Berkeley, a few courses at Foothill College, Hayward State, a couple of courses at ACT, and UC Santa Cruz in the early ‘80s where he studied with Audrey Stanley, Kathy Foley and Andrew Doe, “an authority on Brecht.”

“I tried to learn as much as I could about the whole process, for a couple of reasons,” Heyer says. “First, I wanted to produce projects myself, and help small adventurous companies produce material where there was no one else who could cover it. And, second, to be successful you need to know how every aspect of it works or you can’t really coordinate. For example, an actor who doesn’t understand lights can’t make good use of them.” It all feeds together, he says. “To direct you need to know how all the aspects work.”

Heyer began appearing in the Monterey County theater scene in 1988, with Grovemont, the predecessor company to Carmel’s PacRep. “I wrote a number of things for Grovemont,” he says. “The only full-length play was The Legend of Joaquin Murrieta.” He also wrote for the Human Chess Game, staged outdoors during Grovemont’s summertime Theatrefest at Monterey’s Custom House Plaza. “When one ‘piece’ took another, they had to fight. Some bits were scripted and others were improvised. It all had to do with California history. It was fun, but it’s gone by the wayside.”

Explaining that a life in theater is not the best place to socialize—“I was very dedicated to my work and didn’t meet many people”—Heyer says he once had a choice between two Grovemont productions: The Mousetrap and Lysistrata, the Aristophanes comedy in which the large female cast decides to withhold sex from their husbands and lovers in order to force them to stop fighting wars. He chose Lysistrata and met Nancy Bernhard who became his wife. A longtime theater teacher at Salinas High, “She has been a magnificent partner and huge part of my survival mechanism,” he says. “We bounce creative ideas off one another. I owe her a lot. She’s my tether to the world.”

Today, Heyer mostly acts. “I used to do a good bit of directing, but have gotten out of the habit. I do enjoy it. But when you’re acting you can exercise control over what you yourself are doing. When you’re directing you need sufficient support.”

The local theater scene has taken some pretty heavy funding hits in recent years. The Western Stage, Heyer’s principal employer for 16 years, has had its budget “hugely cut.” Not as much as the wounded MPC Theatre Company, “but more than half, and they have lost much of their support staff, costume people, wardrobe, publicist.”

Having settled here permanently in 1999, Heyer now says, “I can only live in a medium-size city near the ocean.” Besides the allure of living in Monterey County for many residents, Heyer has the additional incentive of allergies that somehow pester him less here. “LA is out of the question,” he says. “Mold, mildew, and especially that stuff that cars put out,” he explains.

And to really get his mood humming, just ask about horror stories and triumphs on stage. He tells of a Western Stage production of Hugh Leonard’s The Mask of Moriarty, in which the stage designer kept tweaking the set from on opening night. “It was a clever set, but very complicated and the comedic pace was very fast. Everything that could go wrong did,” he says, “from a violin falling to the floor and shattering to a stage door that suddenly refused to open. I got a little rattled. It was a nightmare,” he says, now laughing. “For the rest of the run things were back under control, thanks Dionysus, God of Theater.”

On the other hand, a Western Stage production of Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor exceeded the sum of its parts. “The way the humor and the dramatic structure and the silliness of that show came together really meshed into a cooperative unit,” he recalls. “It can become too artificial. But that group formed a really nice family unit. It turned out far more funny and moving than I had expected it to be.”

Looking ahead, Heyer muses, “As with all other things it does not get easier as one gets older. All these years and I have had no job security. But I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years; there never was any job security. It’s more about having to change my habits, to juggling different gigs in different places.” But he remains upbeat. “There doesn’t seem to be enough audience to justify all the theater work that’s done here, yet these companies keep going,” he observes. “I can’t think of any place else like it.”