Parallel Lives: Actor Steven Clark Pachosa

Steven Clark Pachosa knows what it's like to give your all for art.

The 56-year old actor, one of the principal players in Side Man at the Gorilla Theatre, made a decision 22 years ago: "I said, that's it, I'm an artist. ... I don't want to be a businessperson, I don't want to be an administrator, I want to be an artist, and I'm not going to do that other stuff. So I've suffered for my art, as it were, been very broke a lot, lost some relationships. But I've got some jobs."

He's got some jobs. For 25 years in the Portland, Ore., area, the highly talented Pachosa worked at virtually every theater that could find him and, since coming to Tampa in 2000, he's been a staple actor at the Gorilla Theatre. He hasn't yet done much outside of Gorilla — he says he's still "surfacing" in the Tampa area — but Bill Leavengood tapped him for a role in Webb's City: The Musical not long ago and director Wendy Leigh twice asked him to audition for plays that she was staging at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and American Stage.

In fact, Pachosa was up for the role of Warren Harding in Camping with Henry and Tom when director Nancy Cole asked him to join the cast of Side Man at Gorilla instead. The role he was offered — Gene, the jazz "side man" of Warren Leight's title — was too good to pass up, and he opted out of the running for Henry and Tom. But he's confident that eventually other theaters in the area will notice him and request his services.

And anyway, how could he not perform in a play that hits so close to home? The Tony award-winning Side Man, says Pachosa, is about "the dysfunctionality of a family when the head of the family is a jazz musician, which is to say, perhaps not well equipped to be a father and a husband, if he's so tuned in to his art."

What Leight has done so well, Pachosa says, is paint "a beautiful portrait of oblivious commitment by these jazz men, that nothing else matters to them. Even wives and lovers are second place to their craft and music."

The play reminds the actor of an epigram by a Russian composer, perhaps Rachmaninoff: "Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music."

Pachosa's own life has been about increasing absorption into the world of acting, at times without his realizing where he was heading. He grew up in Kansas, where he had no formal training in acting and instead became a champion debater. But debate was only the subject of the first half of a high school semester; the second half-involved speech tournaments, and particularly competitive poetry readings.

"And a whole world of language opened up to me that I was totally unaware of," he says. "And to this day, that's why I'm an actor. I love the language, I love to walk and talk great literature. I'm not an actor like "Look at me, look at me.' I can't improv and I don't want to improv. ... But you give me good language, you give me a good story, I want to tell it, oh, I want to tell that story. And I got good at it."

Pachosa went on to college at Wichita State University, where his majors were philosophy and politics, and where his ambition was to become a lawyer and then a Supreme Court justice. But then he was drafted into the Navy, was sent to the Philippines and got "a taste of the real world" that soured him on politics. Back in the States, he moved to Portland, signed on as an administrator at Lewis and Clark Law School, did some acting as a hobby and also worked as a graphic artist.

By 1980 though, he was playing Dylan Thomas on stage, winning awards. "The phone started ringing for acting," he says. "The world started calling me to act." It was then that he made his decision: "I will never work for the Man again."

Pachosa eventually joined all the actors' unions, appeared in plays all over Portland, in about 10 TV movies and in feature films My Own Private Idaho, the remake of Psycho and Men of Honor. And he also took on some of the burdens of the artist's life: "I've been an actor," he says, "which doesn't mean I've made a great living, or ever maintained a relationship." He laughs about having an artist's income: "Me, I do my work and I pay my rent, and I'm back to broke."

He got to Tampa in a roundabout way. In 1989, a house called Stark Raving Theatre asked Pachosa to star in Mixed Blood, a one-man show by Gorilla co-founder Aubrey Hampton. Hampton came to Portland for the show and liked what he saw; three years later he asked Pachosa to appear in a restaging of the same play in New York City.

Another seven years passed, and then in 1999 Hampton asked Pachosa to travel to Tampa and play Karl Marx in Marx in Soho. After Marx, Hampton asked him to appear in The Toxic Wave, and after that, in Travels With My Aunt. "They kept flying me back and forth from Tampa to Portland," Pachosa says, "I mean, as far as you can fly in the nation ... until they finally said, "You know, we can't keep doing this, we wish you'd move here so we could just use you a lot.'"

There were two other reasons that he made the move: a girlfriend in Tampa and the prospect of a climate that wouldn't exacerbate his "stage injuries ... pre-arthritic pain basically." He arrived here in summer 2000 and began almost immediately to prepare for a role in Shaw's Don Juan in Hell. A year later, he won the Best Actor award in Weekly Planet's Best of the Bay. The citation noted his "formidable, flexible, first-class talent."

And now he's in Side Man. "It's another Amadeus," he says, "It's another Young Man With a Horn. It's a quintessential art play in the sense that it's about the cost of your commitment to your art."

And that's a cost — and a commitment — Steven Clark Pachosa knows something about.

Contact Mark E. Leib at [email protected] or call 813-248-8888, ext. 305.

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