Theatre professor makes his mark on Broadway, big screen

By Glenn Battishill

 The reason most AU students went to see the movie, “The Next Three Days” was not for Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks or Liam Neeson; it was for a humble telephone repairman.

   Fabio Polanco, a theatre professor at AU has had a part in two major films, several Broadway productions and countless other performances. Despite being on the big screen, Polanco’s favorite role was Thénardier during the Broadway National Tour performance of “Les Miserables.”

   “That was my favorite role because every single person was super competent,” Polanco said, praising the skill of both the performers and the crew. “Everyone from the oboe player to the fog guy knew exactly what they were doing.”

   Polanco said that his most important role was in Elizabeth Swados’ musical, “Missionaries” when it debuted at Brooklyn Academy of Music.  Polanco then directed the Midwest premiere in 2004.  “Missionaries” tells the true story of missionary women who are murdered in El Salavador while on a mission trip.

   “I asked Elizabeth if I could do it and share it with people and I really didn’t expect her to say yes,” Polanco said. “It was easily the most important thing I’ve done in my career.” Polanco explained that some of the families of the murdered missionaries were in attendance.

   Polanco said that after his production of “Missionaries” premiered, Swados asked him to write about “Missionaries” for what Polanco assumed was a book. He then found out that Swados added two songs to the end of the musical to commemorate him, using the words he wrote for the new material.

   “I was totally honored,” Polanco said. “Seeing someone play me was amazing and having the words I wrote be part of the performance had a huge impact on me.”

   After many theatre performances and various radio and television appearances, Polanco began auditioning for films, which he said could be stressful if you worry too much.

   “When you audition there is a good chance that you are one of many people,” Polanco said. “You can’t invest too much in one thing because you will make yourself crazy thinking about it. It’s a lot like being a hitter in baseball; a majority of the time you are not succeeding so you have to be happy about the hits you do make.”

   Polanco explained that film is very different than acting in a theatre because of the audience.

   “The biggest difference is the audience,” Polanco said. “A theatre performance isn’t a performance without an audience; it’s just a rehearsal.

   Whereas with film, film is done regardless of audience; when a film is done even if no one sees it, it’s still a film.  

   In theatre, the interaction with the audience is the allure of the event.

   “Another big difference is who is in charge; in film the director can always change something but in theatre once the show starts the actor is in complete control of the performance.  

   “The actor decides what happens to the show in theatre but in film once an actor is done, the editor chooses what gets used so you have to wait for the final film to see if you are even there.”

   Polanco also worked on “Ides of March,” a 2012 film directed by George Clooney and shot in Oxford, OH where he played a secret service type security guard.

   “Clooney was great!” Polanco said. “He made me feel like I mattered, almost like I was on equal footing with the other actors.  

   “My goal was just to be super present because if you notice me too much, I’m not doing my job right.  The opportunity I got was pretty cool and I didn’t want it to go to waste.”

   Working in all the various mediums has granted Polanco a unique perspective on acting.  

   “The most important things in my life are doing good work that I care about, with people that I like,” Polanco said.  

   “I think it’s a goal that’s really achievable and it can be a real gift as an actor.”