Out actor Thanos Skouteris swings into Tampa with “The Sound of Music”

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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Out actor and singer Thanos Skouteris is touring North America with the newest stage production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” a show he’s been familiar with for most of his life.

He’s certainly not alone. The show’s Tony, Grammy and Academy Award winning score, featuring “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi” and of course, “The Sound of Music,” has captivated audiences for decades. Watermark spoke with Skouteris about his work as a swing and understudy for the new tour and what makes “The Sound of Music” so relevant today.

WATERMARK: Have you always wanted to be involved in theater?

THANOS SKOUTERIS: Actually, I wasn’t one of those kids who wanted to grow up being an actor. I thought I would be a doctor for a really long time… I performed and acted throughout my childhood but never really thought of it as a career. It really wasn’t until college where I kind of realized “oh yeah, people can do this for a living, this is what I’m actually passionate about and I’m good at… so let’s pursue that.”

What led you to audition for this production?

It’s an amazing opportunity. One, “The Sound of Music” is one of the shows that I grew up with… it’s my mom’s favorite movie, one of the only musicals I was really exposed to as a child – and then also just partially out of necessity. My vocal style very much fits the style of this show, the Rodgers and Hammerstein kind of Golden Age throwback.

What are your earliest memories of watching the show?

I probably saw it when I was three months old… it’s one of those films, we watched it every year around Christmas, or just when my mom felt like watching it. We had the original two-VHS set. My family wasn’t really a musical family, or really a theater family period, so the fact that it was her one favorite – we definitely watched it a lot. I’ve known these songs since I was a kid.

Why do you think the LGBTQ community is so drawn to “The Sound of Music”?

I think it’s a variety of reasons. Obviously the LGBTQ community is known – there’s a stereotype of loving musical theater and being a part of it, and it is one those classic musical theater shows. The music is gorgeous, it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein; it’s lush, it’s romantic.

I think that aspect of it would draw anybody to it… the show is structured with people making decisions, doing things from their heart and being grateful for music and love and life. There is an aspect of the story that we can all identify with, of wanting to find love and passion. That’s in the story, even though it’s in a straight-presenting couple. Anybody can identify with that desire.

How would you describe your role as a swing?

Essentially I’m the insurance policy. I cover the entire male ensemble, there are six men in the male ensemble… and then I also understudy Captain von Trapp. That means that I know everybody’s lines, everybody’s blocking, everybody’s choreography: all of the music, all of the different harmonies for the different ensemble parts. I’m the insurance policy for if somebody gets sick or god forbid injures themselves… if for any reason anybody’s out of the show, I’m prepared to step in and do their job. So insurance policy seems to be a fitting word for it.

Is that challenging?

It’s a lot to learn and this is my first time being a swing so there was definitely a learning curve. On one hand it’s like learning any other acting job… you learn the lines, you learn the blocking. I just happen to have to learn a lot more than everyone else.

There’s one scene in particular where every single track that I cover is on stage at the same time. But I had my arsenal of different colored highlighters and you just put in the time and the work and you learn it.

You pick it up and you learn it… but the challenge is definitely keeping it all straight and being prepared to go on. I’ve had as little as a half hours’ notice that I was going on for someone. You just have to show up and be confident that you’ve done your work and that you’re ready.

That sounds intense.

Ideally we’re supposed to have four hours, but sometimes that’s just not how it goes down. Live theater!

For those who haven’t seen “The Sound of Music” live, why should they?

On one hand, I think everyone should be supporting live theater in general. I think it’s one of the most beautiful, genuine, truthful art forms and everyone I think would be a little bit more fulfilled by having more of that in their life.

But “The Sound of Music” in general, especially if you grew up with the movie, the musical’s different. The musical did come first, the movie came afterward. There are different songs, and the plot of the story highlights different aspects more. The musical’s a little more politically-charged, I would say.

There are two songs in particular that really have more commentary on class structure and people of a certain class being able to ignore the problems of the world. Especially in the climate we have going on today, I think that’s an important message to put back out there.

You have the choice of no matter where you stand in life to do what you feel is right. That’s highlighted more in the show, which I think rounds out that story and gives it a little more of an urgency than the movie itself does.

Why do you feel it’s so timely right now?

It’s one of those stories that I think is always timely, that kind of choosing and the love and joyfulness of the story is timeless. That’s one of the reasons that fifty, sixty years later this show is still touring.

But I mean, in this political climate, regardless of what your beliefs are, that’s obviously prevalent. There were literal Nazi rallies last year; there is a rise of anti-Semitism and there is a rise of violence against minorities and it’s terrible.

No matter where you are in life or whether you have privilege or not, [“The Sound of Music”] shows that you can make a choice to make a difference. It’s always relevant but it is relevant today with the challenges we’re facing politically and in the world.

“The Sound of Music” is playing at the Straz Center’s Morsani Hall now through June 10. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.

Tickets may be purchased by calling 813.229.STAR (7827) or 800.955.1045 outside Tampa Bay, in person at the Straz Center Ticket Office or online at www.strazcenter.org. For more information about the Straz Center and its upcoming events, please visit www.strazcenter.org.

Photo courtesy of the Straz Center.

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