Before he hit it big with cultural touchstones “thirtysomething” and “Field of Dreams,” East Lansing native Timothy Busfield split his time rounding the bases and treading the boards at East Lansing High School, where he graduated in 1975.
This weekend, the Emmy Award-winner returns to mid-Michigan for LCC’s dark two-person comedy “Vigil” alongside Lansing legend Carmen Decker. Busfield, 55, directs and stars in Morris Panych´s pitch black comedy as a neurotic nephew who is waiting ever so impatiently for his aunt, played by Decker, to die.
He recently took some time to talk to City Pulse, recounting some of his early experiences, his influences, and the joy of coming home.
When did you get into theater?
My sophomore year of high school. I played football and baseball, and I hung with the jocks, but I knew I wanted to be an actor. I just didn´t know how. I didn´t know what that world was. (East Lansing High School theater instructor) Kate Veihl convinced me that I could go into “Guys and Dolls” around my baseball schedule.
Who were some of your most influential teachers and peers at East Lansing High School?
Kate Veihl was such a great encourager to me and to everybody. She was so good at getting people to come together. At that same time we had a really great football coach at East Lansing, Jeff Smith, and both programs were very strong. The theater department put the athletes on stage, and the athletic department put the actors on the football team. Their influence broke down the barriers of theater and sports for me.
Lela Ivey was another actor who came out of that production of “Guys and Dolls.” I ended up working with Lela later, but seeing that world-class talent at a high school level was inspirational to me.
My dad taught theater at MSU back in the ´50s. Theda Assiff was his choreographer and was also the choreographer for “Guys and Dolls.” All of a sudden it became cool that you could be a varsity athlete and a good actor. I think those influences were far greater than anybody teaching me “process.” Nobody gave me any process that applied to the professional world at a high school level. I got that from college and from the pros I´ve worked with. They gave me an opportunity to experience and trust, and that is far more important in high school than technique. It´s the opportunity for experience.
What has the experience been like returning to Michigan?
I think it´s everybody´s dream to come home. I’ve done a lot of movies and TV shows, and I so appreciate the support of all the people out there watching. But when I think of the people who enjoy what I do, then I think of the people I grew up with. I think of the people who are still my closest friends and family all my life that are still here in Michigan. So to come home and be able to perform live for them, it´s such an honor. I´m excited to be home.
Lansing Community College Sept. 14-23
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
LCC Black Box Theatre
Room 168 Gannon Building
$15 adults/$12 seniors/
(517) 372-0945: box office (noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday)
(517) 483-1488: information