I don’t know about you, but I love learning behind the scenes stories about films and the people who make them. That’s why I started Faith Flix. So I love when I’m contacted by filmmakers and actors with interesting stories to tell. Adam Thayer is one of those people. This interview barely scratches the surface, but will give you a glimpse into his world of theater, opera, film, and flying.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated with acting, actors and story-telling… as a kid, I remember being glued to our big black-and-white Emerson television set watching all the great half-hour comedies and weekly series, and somehow knowing that that’s where I wanted to be. And then in grade school, our class read the book Tee Vee Humphrey, and I was hooked. Don’t laugh, but I just knew I had to do what Tee Vee did… walking into a local television station and getting a job on-set! Well, that didn’t quite happen, but the bug had bitten, and I just knew that I had to be an actor.
Tell us about your acting training.
Well, shortly after reading Tee Vee Humphrey, my parents started taking my younger sister to a local dance studio for ballet lessons, and then I heard that a drama coach from New York had just joined the teaching staff, and I just begged and begged my parents to let me take drama lessons there… they finally relented! I still remember Lucille Gordon, a very, very fine drama coach that I stuck with for years. That led to getting signed by an agent in San Francisco my freshman year in high school, and even getting called in for a commercial!
Continuing in high school, I took drama, and got a part in every play that I auditioned for. I even student-directed a play in my junior year, and upon graduation, was chosen for the internship program at ACT (William Ball’s American Conservatory Theater) in San Francisco, and studied with the amazing faculty and in-house actors there for the summer.I still benefit to this day from what I learned there.I picked a college that I knew would have a strong theater program, and UOP in California was a great school for educational theater, especially with its summer stock program at the Fallon House Theater up in the Mother Lode Country, drawing big crowds all summer long.Theater 16 hours a day. You wound up either loving it or hating it. Well, I loved it!
Fast forward a number of years, including an M.A. and work as a conference interpreter, a long stint in international shortwave and domestic radio programming, playing oboe in a couple very fine local orchestras, and then finally starting film school much later in life… a dream at long last taking shape. I studied with some wonderful teachers and learned that there was much about theater acting that I needed to un-learn for film and television, and I continue to study to this day. One of my inspirations is Michael Caine, who at almost 85 still continues to study. How much more do I need to keep studying and learning!
What led to your interest in opera?
Well, another interesting side-note, I touched on music being another great passion in my life, I guess I got that from my Dad, who himself loved music, and early on, he subscribed to the RCA Victor Record of the Month Club. Every month there was a new LP in the mail that my Dad enjoyed playing on our old Hi-Fi (boy, I’m really dating myself here!) and somehow that infused me with a love for music too.
In addition to theater, I took opera theater in college, sang Goro in the Stockton Opera Association’s production of Madama Butterfly, took voice lessons for years, and accumulated tons of recordings and music scores at home to practice conducting in front of the stereo (yeah, by this time, I had a real stereo!) One opera that got my attention early on was the great opera by Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Pilgrim’s Progress, faithfully based on the great allegory by John Bunyan. All the big professional opera companies nearby never, ever scheduled it, so I thought, well, if they won’t do it, then I guess I’ll have to do it myself. I formed the newest fully professional opera company in the SF Bay Area, Trinity Lyric Opera, for the purpose of finally bringing this great masterpiece to Bay Area audiences. It turned out actually to be an US West-Coast premiere, and the composer’s widow even sent me a congratulatory statement, signed in her 95-year-old handwriting, a treasure I will keep always! I put that in the program!The Pilgrim’s Progress just brims over with Bible quotes, and the Gospel message is clear and unmistakable, probably why no other opera company would dare touch it.
We produced two more operas, Copland’s The Tender Land, and the obligatory Christmas seasonal Amahl and the Night Visitors and The Gift of the Magi, with again, the West-Coast premiere of that work. For our last show, every one of our great singers had at one point sung with San Francisco Opera and beyond. And then, in 2008, the recession hit… and I lost my shirt, Needing to cover bills with my retirement savings. Foreclosures were legion, people were losing their homes right and left, and the last thing they could afford to do was to spend money on going to see an opera. Would I do it all again? The Lord was glorified in all we did, and the Gospel was so clearly heard through our production of The Pilgrim’s Progress, so yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat, seeking better funding though the next time around, if that ever happens, and continuing to trust the Lord for His provision. We have been dormant since then, though we’re still active on paper with being up-to-date with yearly filings with the IRS, etc.
What are some of the films you’ve been involved in?
As one of Christ’s redeemed, and knowing that the believer is saved to serve, I feel my calling is to have an impact for Christ through faith-based film and television, and that’s where my efforts have been concentrated these past years. I became acquainted with the early Kendrick Brother’s films, the Christiano Brother’s films, then all the great work that Pure Flix and other filmmakers are doing, and began praying like crazy for openings. It hasn’t been easy. And then, the Erwin Brother’s films, most recently I Can Only Imagine, wow…
All these films so deeply moved me, and with each film, knowing what a surprising box-office success each one had become, with untold numbers of rank unbelievers paying their good money to see these films, well, it moved me to tears each time, knowing that God was glorified, and that the Gospel was heard by the lost, and I ache in my heart to have a part in that amazing Gospel proclamation. I Can Only Imagine really, really impacted me, just knowing that it had done so well at the box office, and how so many lost sheep heard the Gospel so plainly through this amazing film… And at the same time, God’s people were also blessed and encouraged.
Well, the Lord began to answer my prayers when I found out that a Christian film was being produced up in Northern California, and I had seen the audition notice way after the cut-off date, but I reached out to the producers anyway, and thankfully, there was still a part that hadn’t been cast yet. The DP took a look at my demo reel, and recommended me to the casting director, and praise God, I got the part. Chloe’s Mountain is now in post, and is shaping up to be another wonderfully impactful movie. I got to play the role of Pastor Mike, with some key scenes in the film, and the lead in our film is none other than the niece of a very well-known actor in faith-based films. I better not give that away quite yet! Then, as the Lord works, through a friend of a friend, I was contacted to help out as casting director and assistant director on set for a short film that we shot last November, and it is looking sensational. We just got the rough cut back.
While still in film school, I got to be background in Fruitvale Station, directed by Ryan Coogler, and wound up in some key scenes. That was quite an emotional roller coaster. And I got a part in a big block-buster sci-film film that needed to wrap up funding, so we did a promotional trailer for that film in the Tampa, Florida area, and I also wound up being the A.D. on that set, with some high-profile people being on our crew. That was a huge gift from the Lord. Sadly though, the executive producer and director became ill with cancer, and passed away.Suddenly Real is now only a memory, but it gave me a wonderful opportunity to work with some big players on the East Coast.
A huge blessing for me has been working with Joey Travolta’s (yup, that would be John’s brother!) newly established filmmaking workshops for people with disabilities, and I have been so uniquely blessed to work with workshop participants in 5 or 6 wonderful films that they all wrote and produced, making great friends along the way, and encouraging them all, too, in this immensely rewarding medium of story-telling through film.
What would be your dream role?
Boy, that’s a tough one. There are so many roles I would love to explore.I love good sci-fi, and the great epic films, and of course have always wanted to have some kind of impact in faith-based films. I think my biggest dream role would be one of the Kings or Lords in the Chronicles of Narnia series. In fact, anything in that series. I just seem to resonate with it so very deeply. Great fantasy, strong theology and allegory, and just plain old fun, adventurous filmmaking! All in the epic tradition. The first three films completed will be around and watched for a long, long time to come. I’m praying for an opportunity in further adaptations!
You know, I have thought a lot about that, and I think I’ve concluded that for the believer, working in secular projects is really not so very different from the believer simply being in the world. We are in the world, but not of it. And of course, there are a number of challenges for believers involved in secular arts, but it boils down to the mere fact of the believer making the same kind of wise choices as we would in leading our lives in the context of an unsaved world. But more specifically, certainly, if an audition opportunity came up, or even the offer of a role, I, as a Christian, would examine the script very carefully before i would accept that role. I know for a fact, that knowing a little about some secular projects that I was thinking of auditioning for, and then learning more about the character, or the storyline, I decided not to audition for those roles, even if it meant losing out on the promise of something bigger down the line, or losing a good credit on IMDb, a nice paycheck, or whatever. I just didn’t want to be identified with the direction the film was headed. Now this is just my own personal approach; for others, they may not find this to be a problem, and your mileage may vary. Yes, we are the salt of the earth, and we need to be a light to the unsaved, but there are some roles that I would not be interested in. It’s kind of ironic, but there have been a couple of so-called “Christian” films, surprisingly, that I chose not to audition for as well, not wanting to compromise my stand on certain theological points that I felt were wrongly portrayed in even these films.I feel that another challenge for the believer in secular arts would be one that we as believers need to keep in prayer, and that is the lure of fame and fortune, or rather, where fame and fortune might take someone. (So far, I sure haven’t had to worry about that one!) Proverbs 30:7-9 has always helped me keep that challenge from becoming a temptation.
What do you do when you’re not performing?
When I’m not performing, I’m either helping taking care of my elderly mom, or rehearsing with one of the orchestras I play oboe and English horn with…. Or flying, or building and restoring two other airplanes in my hangar, or working out, trying to stay in shape, or seeing a movie – lots of great films I still would like to catch up on! Trying to get proper sleep fits in there too, which I try to squeeze in every once in a while! And Sunday worship is important and vital for me as well, to God be the glory!