One Man Plays Many Parts: Hughston Walkinshaw as HimselfApr 28, 2022 04:52PM ● By Kara Schweiss
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
The name Hughston Walkinshaw is pretty distinctive, but the man who embodies that name is memorable for portraying various characters on the stage, from Hans Gruber in A Very Die Hard Christmas and Screwge in Reform School Timmy! (a spoof of A Christmas Carol) to American painter Jamie Wyeth in Nureyev’s Eyes and the title character in The Dresser.
“Hughston is a true chameleon on stage. He embraces the art form in a way very few others do,” said Susan Clement-Toberer, Bluebarn Theatre’s producing artistic director. “He is able to completely transform himself once he begins rehearsals. It’s exciting to watch his process as you never know what he might do as he is manifesting the character he is playing. His physical choices as a character are clever and unexpected and are always unusually brilliant.”
Walkinshaw grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, discovering his love of acting early when he was cast as Joseph in a children’s play about Jesus. His Southern Baptist church had a “great budget for extravaganza shows and a great choir director and drama person,” Walkinshaw recalled. He cultivated a serious interest in theater and attended the Theatre Conservatory at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase, graduating in 1988.
“Hughston and I met in 1984 at SUNY Purchase. We were both in the same professional actors training program for four years. It was one of the top 10 professional actor training programs in the country at the time,” Clement-Toberer said. “During that four years we grew as artists but also grew into a very close company of comrades.”
The program encouraged students to start a theater company, and Walkinshaw and classmates Kevin Lawler, Nils Haaland, and Mary Theresa Green were inspired to found Bluebarn in Omaha in 1989.
“Ours was the first group—at least to my knowledge—that seriously sat down throughout our senior year and talked about that concept,” Walkinshaw said.
Coming to Omaha wasn’t a well-thought-out strategy, but rather “purely by chance,” Walkinshaw said.
“It was Kevin Lawler who came back here to Omaha—because he’d gone to Creighton University—for a visit or something, and he stumbled into the Bemis Center,” Walkinshaw said. “It had an outreach program called Cultural Arts Together. He told them about this idea of
starting a theater.”
In conjunction with the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, the group produced their first play, America in Pieces, a series of one-acts by Spalding Grey, David Mamet, and Sam Shepard. After two seasons at Bemis, the Bluebarn team moved to their own space on 13th Street and remained there for six more years.
“That was a particularly creative period that I look back on fondly,” Walkinshaw said. He even delved into film, starring in an early work by Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Dan Mirvish called Omaha (The Movie), which led him to Los Angeles for a time.
“My time there was bookended by O.J. Simpson, that whole thing. I got there right before the murders happened, I was there when he was acquitted. I even helped entertain the jury,” he said, explaining that he was stage manager for a special performance of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid for the sequestered jury. “It was in a weird, weird, weird time.”
Walkinshaw also saw several spoof shows in L.A. that creatively intrigued him. “They were tongue-in-cheek, kind of naughty, irreverent,” he said. He brought the idea to fellow actors Jill Anderson and Tim Siragusa, which led to Siragusa writing Reform School Timmy!, a play described by Walkinshaw as “very clever, very funny, scripted but very loose…kind of a late-night, R-rated show. The tagline was, ‘Timmy Isn’t Tiny Anymore.’”
Audiences loved the novelty of being part of the show, he added. “We made up this contrivance where the actor didn’t show up and we were going to pull people from the audience to fill in that person’s role.”
It started a trend that included Go Go Boys From Planet X and Little Nelly’s Naughty Noel and even A Very Die Hard Christmas, which was staged at Bluebarn last year.
“I’m never sure what people think of me or remember me for, if that ever comes up,” Walkinshaw said, but his talent stretches past comedy to serious roles like in The Pill Man, The Dresser, and the one-person show The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me. He’s performed in theaters in several states over the years, although his base remains Omaha.
“I’ve been here for 30-some-odd years and it feels like home to me now,” he said. “I’ve lived in LA, I’ve lived in New York, and I’ve lived in a number of different places for different stretches of time, and definitely I like the Midwest.”
Walkinshaw has served in offstage roles—including a stint as Bluebarn’s artistic director—and he’s directed many plays, but he said he prefers acting. He also said he’s looking forward to performing at the Bluebarn in the near future and is proud to continue to be associated with the theater.
“One thing I hope people would remember me for is helping to start the Bluebarn Theatre because it’s now an organization that actually pays artists, and that’s what we wanted way back when,” Walkinshaw said, referring to the Arts Fund that was started in 2009. “Now Bluebarn is a place where some artists are making a living, which is phenomenal, and other artists are coming in and being compensated to do their art. That, to me, is the ultimate gratification.”
Visit bluebarn.org for more information.
This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.