The Life Of A Riverwest Actor


Story and photo by Tim Lambrecht

Four years ago, Kirk Thomsen found himself in his mid-thirties, not really doing what he wanted with his life, so he decided to make some changes.

While driving down Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View, he saw The Boulevard Theatre. “I was working for a printing company at the time. The money was great, but I was always interested in performing. I thought, ‘why not try something else?’ I wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to challenge myself and step outside myself.”

His life changed when he walked up and knocked on the door. Mark Bucher, owner of the Boulevard Theatre, asked him why he was interested in becoming an actor. Kirk told him he wasn’t sure, but was looking for some advice on what he would have to do if he did.

“We talked for a while and I ended up taking some classes from him two times a week to learn some basic things that an actor needs to know, like studying writers, like Arthur Miller and David Mamet. And then he found a spot for me in Moliére’s The Bungler.”

His second role was in a version of Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice.

“It must have been good timing because I look back and think they were the perfect plays for a new actor. One, because you’re on stage a lot, two, you’re learning acting cues and three, because you’re working with a lot of props.”

As a non-equity actor, Thomsen does not get paid for most of his roles. He does have some paid acting parts as a performer in Murder Mystery Dinners for local businesses. So like most actors, he has to work another job to pay the bills. “When people ask me what I do, I say ‘Oh I’m a sales rep for Stanley Steamers, but I really love to act. That’s my main gig.’”

He warns against people who get into acting for the wrong reasons. It’s a huge time commitment. There are times he’ll be performing one play, reading the next, and still has to work his other job.

“I mainly do it for myself. Acting is not some glamorous profession where you go onstage and you think you’ll be ‘discovered’ and people will shake your hand when you come offstage and tell you how great you are. These are all the wrong reasons to do it, in my mind. I do it for the challenging aspects that it offers. That is stepping out for me.

“When I am up for a role, whether it’s my competitive nature or whatever, I want to be their first choice. I’m grateful whenever I get a role, but I want to be their first choice.

“Understanding the theatre and having a respect for it is important to what I do. I listen to others and try to learn from everyone I work with. What I strive for as an actor is the truth. To be believable.

I read the script and do the dialogue, and I try to understand the timing and the relationship between the characters. I need to project that and if I can do that, I’ve done my job. Criticism is not a bad thing. You can learn quite a bit from what others think, but at the same time, you know in your heart if you did a good job or not.”

Kirk now has experience working at different theatres and in different theatre groups. “The interesting part of Milwaukee and its theatres, is that each one has its own niche. Boulevard, you go to watch more mainstream shows, Off The Wall is literally off the wall with edgier shows like Caligula and Rocky Horror, while RSVP does more sensitive productions.” He is also happy to have the Astor Street Performing Arts Center up and running at the Brady Street Pharmacy. “It’s a place where I can come and work on projects and have the freedom to come and go as I wish.” That’s something that it is very rare and very valuable to him.

Look for Kirk in a new advertisement for a local law firm. It’s his first film work. “My goal is to progress and develop and to become the best actor I can possibly be. My main drive is to keep getting better. Whether it’s film or modeling or whatever, it’s a progression of steps.”

Riverwest Currents online edition – February, 2006