Gene Weygandt well remembers the advice he got from his drama coaches and from the theater people.
You should not attempt this. You’re not good at it. You’re really bad. Don’t do this. You can’t do this, we promise you.
The Ottawa native can laugh about it now. For one thing, he’s made it – Weygandt has multiple credits on TV, stage and the silver screen – and he knows the naysayers were only trying to be helpful.
“There were a lot of us they wanted to protect from being hurt,” Weygandt said. “It was an effort to protect people from how difficult it is.”
Weygandt will discuss all this and more when he takes the stage at Illinois Valley Community College for a seminar modeled after “Inside the Actor’s Studio.”
“An Evening With Gene Weygandt” will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 31, at the IVCC Theatre. Admission is free. Weygandt, an IVCC alumnus, will participate in a one-on-one interview with IVCC Director/Choreographer Don Grant Zellmer and then field questions from the audience.
If you really think you can do it, don’t allow other people to tell you what you can or cannot do.— Gene Weygandt
Weygandt plans to set a more encouraging tone with the IVCC participants than his coaches and teachers provided him and his fellow students.
“If you really think you can do it, don’t allow other people to tell you what you can or cannot do,” Weygandt said, though he cautioned a thick skin does come in handy.
“You do have to have a certain belief in your ability to do it and you have to have a certain need to do this thing that’s really terrifying for normal human beings – to stand in front of 3,000 people to sing or whatever is called for.”
Weygandt will nonetheless impress upon students the need to persevere because success seldom happens overnight. It certainly didn’t for him.
The 1968 graduate of Ottawa High School discovered his love of acting at IVCC, where one of his happiest experiences was performing “Brigadoon” during a blackout. The show went on only after an outdoor stage was erected and a handyman shined his tractor’s headlights on the actors.
After trying his hand as a high school English and speech teacher – “A really hard job,” he recalled – Weygandt tried his hand at summer stock and small-tie productions where he performed for pocket change, and sometimes much less.
But over a long and at times halting career, Weygandt an impressive list of credits. He had memorable roles in “The Birdcage” and “The Babe.” (In the latter, he played the father of the child for whom Babe Ruth made the famous “Called Shot.”) On TV, he’s appeared in “Chicago Fire” and “Empire.” Stage credits? That list is quite long.
Like most Americans, Weygandt scuffled through the novel coronavirus pandemic, though COVID-19 brought an unexpected benefit: He was able to return to his roots.
As Weygandt explained it, infection controls forced producers to hold auditions by Zoom and enabled him to try out for parts from the comfort of home. As he scouted properties further from Chicago’s theater district, Weygandt was drawn to Ottawa and delights in being able to follow Pirate sports in the home stands.