STORY WRITTEN BY NEAL ZOREN
For Digital First Media
Bob Stineman has a lot riding on his lead role as Atticus Finch in the Media Theatre’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The Philadelphia-based actor attended the University of the Arts with several performers who have made a name in Philadelphia theater and are regularly cast. Appearing in a starring role, his first on an important local stage, earns him the points he needs to become a full member of Actors Equity, the union for professional actors. It also gives him a chance to establish a place for himself among the talented theater artists who have made Philadelphia their home.
All of this was on Stineman’s mind as he prepared for his opening night (Friday, January 29).
Stineman also appreciates the irony of how he landed his potential breakthrough role. He had come to the Media to audition for any part he could get and was called back by artistic director Jesse Cline for a featured role in the show Cline is also directing. As Stineman was doing his lines, Media company manager Roger Ricker says Cline turned to him and said he saw an Atticus in Stineman.
The rest is fate. Cline took a chance and offered Stineman the lead.
“I couldn’t believe what I heard when I picked up the telephone,” says Stineman during a between-rehearsal conversation in the Media’s upstairs lounge. “I was running to do a character gig, playing James Bond at a mall – It pays the rent. – and had no time to talk, but I quickly said ‘yes.’
“Then came that moment when elation and disbelief turned into those panicky thoughts about, ‘How am I going to do this?’
“I feel prepared. I have a lot of experience, have been doing theater since high school, have an MFA from a school that once turned me down for admission, and know I can do well in the part. But there’s still that side of me that is incredibly humbled at being given the opportunity and anxious about the relatively short time between starting rehearsal and going on stage in front of an audience, a little more than two weeks.”
Looking at Stineman, you see some of the features of Gregory Peck, the actor who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus in John Badham’s 1962 movie of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He has wavy dark brown hair and a lock of it that frames his temple and comes down towards his eye.
Stineman has never seen the movie and, therefore, doesn’t know Peck as Finch.
“I am glad about that,” he says. “I don’t want to model my performance on someone else’s. I’ll watch the movie after the show closes.
“I read and am now totally familiar with Christopher Sergel’s script, and I’ve re-read Harper Lee’s novel.
“Lee says Atticus is 50. I am in my thirties, so there’s a difference right there. In other ways, I’m living what Lee says in the novel. Atticus spends a lot of time in the courtroom, and many of his speeches, especially his long speech comes directly from Lee’s text. He is also a father. Much is made of his relationship as a widowed man with his two children. His daughter, Scout, is the narrator of the story. His son, Jem, shows indications of needing a father’s hand to guide him.
“Atticus’s relationship to his children strikes something in me. I do not have children, but I always wanted a daughter. I can put elements of Bob in my playing of Atticus.
“Something else happened during rehearsal. One of the characters, Miss Maudie, and Atticus have begun trading flirtatious looks with each other. It’s something Hillary (Parker, who plays Maudie), and I worked out.”
Stineman clearly states his hope that “To Kill a Mockingbird” will garner him wide attention in the Philadelphia theater community. He mentions the support he is getting from his friends and former classmates and says that he and other UArts alumni often think of a favorite acting teacher, Ernest Losso. “I ask myself at times what I can do to make Ernie proud,” Stineman says.
Stineman grew up in Bear, Delaware, and his first experience with performing was as a musician.
“I began singing in second grade, began playing the saxophone, was in the band, and then studied guitar.
“Music occupied me, and I had no interest in theater until like many teenagers, I became attracted to a girl.
“She was involved with theater, so I auditioned to be in ‘Cheaper by the Dozen” at William Penn High School in Newark, to be near her. I was cast and moved into a lead when one of the other actors dropped out.
“I didn’t stay with the girl, but I enjoyed acting and wanted to go into musical theater. I auditioned at UArts but was rejected. Luckily, friends convinced me to try again, and I was accepted and concentrated on acting in general. I played lots of part here and there, including leads. I was in just in a show at Quintessence.”
Stineman became a jack of many trades. He studied filmmaking and other courses at Wilmington College. He ran a coffee shop. He had an aptitude with numbers that led to administrative jobs and business leadership at some theaters. He is currently director of finance for White Pines Productions.
“I know how to fill out a 1099 and do a lot of the accounting,” Stineman says.
Never gone from the theater, Stineman made it his full-time pursuit after earning predictable income as a paralegal for a personal injury firm.
“The work went against my grain. Here I am, trained in a profession that strives to present the truth, and I spent my days working around people, lawyers and clients, who want to take advantage of a system. It was toxic. I had to leave. I turned towards acting, A friend, Carol Ann Raffa, told me it was time to go for what I want. Playing Atticus is the result.”