Savannah, meet The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble’s chameleon.
Ensemble member Eric Salles is fresh to the acting game, but Managing Director Dandy Barrett has referred to him as “the company’s utility player.”
“For some reason, to steal one of our subscriber’s descriptions of me, I look really different every time you see me,” says Salles. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but it works!”
The Boeing, Boeing and Death of a Salesman lead ultimately got into acting by accident.
“Lynne Jones, my girlfriend, was trying to get back into acting,” he explains. “She’s the actor in the family!”
The couple met Barrett when she performed in Steel Magnolias and were invited to experience The Collective Face live and in person.
“As soon as I saw them, I said, ‘Lynne, these are the people we want to work with,’” Salles remembers.
Jones decided to audition for the ensemble’s production of Angels in America; supportive partner Salles accompanied her and ended up auditioning, too.
“It was the worst audition you could ever imagine!” he laughs. “But something must have happened, because a year later, David [Poole] calls and says, “I have a part for Eric—he doesn’t even have to audition.”
Salles got his first role in What the Butler Saw.
“From that audition, they must have seen a spark in me,” he remarks. “They asked me to be an ensemble member, and that was it. I delved right into it.”
Surrounded by the incredible talent of The Collective Face, Salles was eager to gain knowledge and experience and truly tuned in as an attentive learner and team member.
“I had hours and hours of conversations with David Poole, Dandy Barrett, Christopher Blair, Maggie Lee Hart, learning as much as possible from these amazing performers,” he shares. “Any time I had the opportunity to stage manage and see a play from behind the scenes and learn, I kept applying what they taught me.”
Being the new kid on the block hasn’t been easy. Salles remembers a moment in Pride and Prejudice rehearsals when he considered ditching theatre entirely.
“I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’” he recalls. “‘Look at the people surrounding me: SCAD students, theatre students. Why am I here?’”
Poole, his mentor, explained that the way Salles was learning was actually the traditional method of developing acting skills: give the actor a small role here and there, and then bigger roles to stretch them.
Playing the lead of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman was certainly Salles’ biggest and most challenging role yet.
“It’s considered to be the greatest American tragedy ever written, but the success has been just beyond my wildest dreams,” he marvels.
The highest compliment came from an audience member who waited until Salles emerged from the dressing room to disclose that he thought Dustin Hoffman portrayed Willy Loman best—until he saw Salles.
“The accolades have been like that—so over-the-top!” Salles says in disbelief.
Even when fans are whipping out programs for him to sign at his day job at Lucky’s Market, Salles remains an indebted and humble fresh talent, singing the praises of his fellow cast and crew members.
He advises that anyone looking to get into acting do their research.
“An actor who doesn’t do their homework is a dead actor,” he states.
The best advice he ever received came from Calendar Girls’ Karla Knudsen: You can’t fake life onstage.
“One challenge has been to show intimacy, vulnerability,” says Salles. “Which is so odd—it’s an attribute I admire when I see other actors do it. To show vulnerability is to show weakness is how I was interpreting it. But we all have our moments of weakness. Once I started to make more peace and understanding and started studying Willy Loman, I started picking up and making everything real in the moment. If it’s not real for at least one moment, and the audience sees it, you lose them.”
Salles returns in Collective Face’s 2016-17 season as Doolittle in Pygmalion.
“I just got the script yesterday and am already doing my research!” the hardworking actor reveals.
He’s looking forward to many more performances and can’t wait to get back on the stage.
“I tell ya, I get a real kick out of performing in Savannah,” he says. “The audiences have been amazing. Thanks to them: they keep me going. I love coming back and hearing that applause.” – Anna Chandler
Runner-up: Justin Kent