I first met John Walski at Act One Studios, a small actor training studio in Chicago. John had just moved from Milwaukee. The studio gave their students ample opportunities to perform and I was ready to start putting my practice into purpose. The play was Robert Caisley’s “Santa Fe“, one of six one act plays performed in collaboration with Appetite Theater’s Bruchetta Festival. Santa Fe was the only drama. It was the second or third play of my acting career. In contrast, John was a working actor having toured all over and interned with Milwaukee Rep. I knew the moment we sat down at the table for the cold read that we were going to be cast together. Santa Fe is about two brothers, one who travels the world living adventures, and my character, a small town mall security guard who thought his life would turn out differently.
John was such a treat to work with. He was intense and focused, but playful. He’d throw salsa chips at me at the top of the scene. Always listening. Present. Dynamic. Engaging. Always with a twinkle in his eye. I learned so much from John through that show. He was a giver. A teacher. A mentor. A brother.
One night, after rehearsal, John and I were chatting. I told him I wanted to experience more of the world. He told me he was finally ready to plant roots. The exact opposite of our characters.
Eight months later, we were cast together again. This time it was for Sideshow Theater‘s one act play, “Fugitive Motel”, a play inspired by Elbow’s song of the same name (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJDf1atIuBc), written by Walt McGough. My character – a townie restaurant owner booked a room at a local hotel to have an affair. John’s character – a restless banker traveling from Philadelphia in the adjoining room.
The first table read mirrored our conversation eight months prior. I was thrilled to work with him again.
After one rehearsal, John told me I had the chops to be a working actor. I was flattered. And humbled. High praise from someone I admired so much.
The show was only three performances at the now defunct Bailiwick. On the third night, John was rolling around on the floor backstage 20 minutes before places to get more soot on his suit. That’s the kind of actor John was. Always digging a little bit deeper, pushing a little bit further, rounding out the character a little bit more.
The attached photos were during the climax of the show. My character is determined to leave his wife and his restaurant to experience the world. His character is determined to not shoulder the blame for me running out and romanticizing him. John gave me a stage combat tutorial. And his knee pad for the fall.
The last time I saw John was right before I moved to LA. My father’s stage pistol had a broken plastic handle. I asked if anyone wanted it. John drove 30 minutes to pick it up. And said he would fix it up and hold it for me until we met again. We talked in front of my mother’s condo for 20 minutes or so about my trip. We joked and laughed. He was excited. For me. Talking with John for 20 minutes was like talking for hours. I felt his warmth. He seemed proud. Like a brother.
John took his own life three years ago. I miss him. I wish I could hug him.
To get a feel for John, watch this. I think he’d be proud of where I am and what I’m doing.