J. Dennis Robinson
The last time I interviewed Scott Weintraub, he and a cast of talented actors were playing a cabaret called We Sing, We Dance, etc. aboard a local cruise ship. This was in the early 1980s. Scott was also part of the Music Hall’s first revival. He and his wife Nancy also avoided the closure of the Prescott Park Summer Festival. Classically trained stock actor imported from the Big Apple, Scott Weintraub was handsome, hilarious and bursting with energy. We all knew this guy was moving. He did.
Then the cruise ship caught fire. My journal has closed. Prescott Park has recovered. And after 10 years of making Portsmouth audiences pale, Scott Weintraub packed his bags and left us. But this month, four decades later, the prodigal actor who played a key role in the renaissance of Portsmouth’s performing arts is back.
His hour-long cabaret is aptly titled Scott Weintraub: Return to Portsmouth. Tickets for the three-day event can be hard to find. Performances will take place at the intimate Pontine 1845 Plains Schoolhouse on the weekend of September 24-26. But all shows will be filmed with plans to present an edited version online via Zoom the following weekend of October 1-3.
Through songs and anecdotes, I’ll explore my time in Portsmouth, Scott told me from his California home last week. “Why did I come here in the first place?” Why did I stay so long? And why do I keep coming back?
It all started with Theatreby the Sea, the cramped 93-seat stage carved out of the basement of a former grain warehouse on Ceres Street. In 1975, TBS was entering its second decade when Weintraub, who had some success as a performer in New York City, got a call from TBS director Jon Kimball. Scott starred in the musical Carousel, TBS’s first outdoor production at Prescott Park. He eventually appeared in around 30 local productions, including Oklahoma, Grease, Guys and Dolls, Carnival, 1776, Starshine, Pippin, Godspell, and Bus Stop.
These actors were working in New York and coming to Portsmouth for a few months, he recalls, and you worked so closely and intensely that you really bonded and made this amazing theater. Then they left, never to see each other again.
Scott performed at TBS between shows in New York City. He fell in love with a woman from Portsmouth (who was actually from New York). He came back to live here, then ran out of theatrical work.
I was doing the Portsmouth Shuffle, he said. If you’re not a doctor or a lawyer, and you don’t own a restaurant, how are you going to make a living here? He tried voiceover work in Boston, started a sung telegram business, served tables, started We Sing, We Dance, delivered the Boston Globe, and even got his real estate license.
Like so many others before and since, the New York actor had been seduced by the City of the Open Door. For me, that was the appeal of just walking around this beautiful city, Scott says. The bricks, fences and houses that had been there for hundreds of years were magical. Have I found peace there? Was it all the nice people in a small town? I do not know.
The only thing missing was regular work. So in 1985 the Weintraubs moved to Los Angeles. It wasn’t the wild leap it might seem. Although born in New York City, Scott’s father, an economist, moved the family to Santa Barbara, California in 1965.
At the time, everyone was a surfer and athletic, and I was the kid with the short haircut and the ugly New York accent, he says. Then I discovered the theater. Scott became a mime, studied improvisation, attended acting school, and eventually found his way to Portsmouth via New York. In the 1980s, he was truly bi-coastal.
Another reason for his departure, Scott says, was the death of his father in 1983 at the age of 58. I started to think about my own mortality, he recalls. I was 30 and never really tried to be successful in Big Town. I was thinking of going to LA and getting a sit-com. Instead, I fell into teaching acting at a private school and suddenly decades had passed.
I don’t do children’s theater, I do theater with children, he says of his teaching career at the prestigious Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences in Santa Monica. We did Hamlet with fifth graders a few years ago. It was as good a hamlet as I have seen anywhere. He retired this summer after 37 years. Her famous students include 16-year-old Jack Black, Emily and Zooey Deschanel, Jason Ritter, and Kate Hudson. But the kids I’m most proud of are the ones who now work in regional theaters, on television, and are fellow actors, he says.
I didn’t go to teachers’ school, Scott adds proudly. As a teacher my whole thing was to ask myself: what would be cool to do? For me, teaching drama was all about – why not, what if we did that? “
In his spare time, while raising a family, Scott co-wrote a book on acting. He has appeared in TV shows and films like Deadwood, A Civil Action, Dinner for Schmucks and Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David.
Finally, as our interview got too nostalgic, I asked Scott the big question: So how does an artist measure success? After four decades as an actor, teacher, trainer, director and producer, does legendary Scott Winetraub feel like he’s taken the right path?
This is what I tell my students, he says: It takes four things to create good theater. You need people who will perform well. You need an audience. You need a space. And you need the material. But teaching theater on Zoom almost killed me, Scott admits. I retired because I feel like I still have an adventure in me.
I asked again – but how does an entertainer measure success? Scott didn’t hesitate.
If you do what you love to do, and do it well, and have a roof over your head and oatmeal on the table, that’s success, he said. .
We are here on this planet, I believe, for the sake of the story, summarizes Scott Weintraub. Things will happen to us that we can tell stories about. My only big nightmare right now is how I’m going to tell all the stories I have about Portsmouth on a show that is only one hour long.
How to see Scott Weintraub live or online
The Pontine Theater announces that Portsmouth legend, actor, singer, writer, director and producer Scott Weintraub will open his 44th season with the launch of a brand new solo cabaret, “Scott Weintraub: Return to Portsmouth”. The show will be filmed during live performances at Pontines 1845 Plains Schoolhouse on the weekend of September 24-26 for online broadcast October 1-3. For tickets for the Zoom show or to be added to the waitlist for the live show, visit www.pontine.org in line.
Copyright 2021 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Dennis is the author of a dozen history books on subjects such as Music Hall, Strawberry Banke Museum, Privateer Lynx, the Smuttynose Ax Murders of 1873, and Wentworth by the Sea Hotel. His first historical detective novel, POINT OF GRAVES, is now available on Discover Portsmouth and Amazon.com. He can be contacted at [email protected] or visit jdennisrobinson.com.
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