Wade McCollum says that he has always enjoyed playing old women, and sometimes old men. He says, “I’ve always played old women well. When I was in 7th grade, I was in this program for the weird kids, (including) genius scientists who ended up inventing things for Yahoo and Google. Those kids and I would create these balsa wood structures that would hold weight and my job was to write a skit about why we were putting weight on the structure.
“So I developed this character where I was an ancient old woman in a wig and muumuu and I had a magic purse, and it had items I’d bring out and describe so that it would tell about these weights we were putting on this balsa wood structure. From that time on, I loved playing old women.
“I played an old hermit 90 years old in Rimers of Eldritch by Langston Hughes when I was 14 or 15 (years old) with the help of folks from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Their (invaluable advice was) to not play the age, play gravity that has been pulling at him for 90 years.”
Wade is coming to the Paramount Theatre in Seattle in the touring company of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, (November 12-17) about a trio of drag queens. This turns out to be the last stop in the tour, so coming here is bittersweet. Wade says, “My back, my feet, my neck are very excited to stop doing this. My spirit and the part of me that enjoys the relationship with the cast is not ready to say goodbye. It’s a great goodhearted group of people and a really positive environment.
“I’m in and out of drag about 20 times in a show, so I’m doing 40 costume changes in a two-show day. The shoes, as well-designed and great, are not designed to be a natural thing, so my feet are taking a beating, and my back is cranky and my neck because we wear very heavy headdresses and do kooky moves. I’ve really been honing it down so I don’t hurt myself.
“I did injure myself really badly in Chicago and it was the middle of winter and super cold and I thought I’d warmed up and something snapped in my hip and for the first time in my career I had to miss a show. I couldn’t walk for a week. I don’t do that move anymore.
“(I’m used to having) three month runs, and then I go to another. My body was kind of calibrated to a three month run. Chicago was right at the three month time period, and my body was kind of saying it’s time to be done with this. I had to craft a sustainable performance if you are doing a show you love so you don’t die.”
“I’m surprised to still be making discoveries. I pride myself on being the kind of actor that doesn’t stop working, that every performance is an opportunity to find more. And I am still finding in the past few days, weeks, I’m making discoveries. I love that.”
One of the seminal experiences Wade had was being directed by (now local) director Victor Pappas at Portland Center Stage in I Am My Own Wife. (There’s that old woman thing again…) Wade says, “IAMOW was exceptional. There are projects that are turning points, that are going to make me better, more compassionate, less fearful. I like to choose a project that might be further than what I think my capabilities lie and expand my craft with challenging projects. Honestly, (when I read the play) I didn’t like it very much and thought it was boring.
“I happened to be flying to London and went to the West End and looked at discount tickets and saw that IAMOW was playing with Jefferson Mays who did it in New York, and who won the Tony. It was his last night in London and I was totally blown away!
“I loved the whole regimen of researching regional German dialects, there are 26 dialects, and regionalism like people who learned English from Germans or younger kids who learned from American television and their colorations are completely different. It was so delicious to suss out all the details.
“I was 26. I would love to do that show again!
“In IAMOW, there is very little makeup to transform and it’s a physical actor transformation. It’s my access point for various characters.
“For me, it’s not about the makeup or external things. It’s about the internal things where the way their body has manifest in the years can be completely different.
“Tick (his character in Priscilla) is my age, but what is different is that he has spent his life forging his divisions, his straight life with wife and child, his drag life, and he’s gifted and feels powerful, yet I feel he’s spent a lifetime forging identities through division. He drag-named himself Mitzi Mitosis which is cell division. If he named his most powerful liberated part of his nature “divided,” it’s a clue that he has claimed his own division through reconciliation and begins to merge those two disparate aspects of his nature, and at the end, the anthem of belonging is him triangulating his divided self and they can all coexist.”
Connection to Pacific Northwest
Wade grew up in Oregon and did a lot of theater in Portland and shuttled to Los Angeles a lot. He didn’t get jobs in Seattle, mostly because offers ended up competing with offers in other places, but visited here. He remembers, “In college, one winter, there was a freak snow storm (‘96?) and I spent a good few weeks there and there was an incredible dance festival on Capitol Hill. You could take as many dance classes as you wanted for a whole weekend, and I remember taking 8 hours of dance a day. African dance was off the hook, and modern, and ballet, and I had waffles at a great place. It was such a cool weekend.”
For tickets to Priscilla, go to http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?orgid=30247&agency=STG_PRESENTS&group_id=458944