Nathan Woodworth was an actor before he could talk.
"I've always had a weird compulsion to imitate people," says the 22-year-old Sisters native. "Before I could talk I was walking like the scarecrow in Wizard of Oz and my parents thought something was wrong with me. They took me to the doctor."
"When I saw Jim Carrey for the first time, that's when I knew I wanted to be an actor," said Woodworth. By 12, he was doing standup comedy any time and place he had the chance.
"I think I just annoyed my family so much that they said, 'Get up on stage and annoy some other people for a change.' "
Woodworth continued to pursue comedy and acting. In 2011 he received scholarships to the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts and the New York Film Academy, but even with financial help, the schools were extremely expensive. Facing the prospect of massive debt, Woodworth did what any aspiring comedian would do, he auditioned for the Groundlings, the Los Angeles improvisation school that has served as a training ground for improv-masters including Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Will Forte and Maya Rudolph.
"I'm a big Will Farrell fan," said Woodworth. "He has the ability to do completely ridiculous things with absolute sincerity. In the Groundlings you get publically humiliated if you laugh during your scene. Jimmy Fallon is the worst Groundling ever."
The youngest trainee by about 10 years, Woodworth spent six weeks working with the troupe and returned to Central Oregon with a world-class improv education.
"The most challenging part for me was learning to relax," said Woodworth. "I wanted to do well, but while wanting to do well you get nervous," explained Woodworth. "You have to go on stage and not care what happens and be open to anything."
That sense of calm has prepared him to work with Derek Sitter, an intimidating figure in his own right, holding an MFA in acting and theatre, an instructor for The Actors Realm and the founder of the Volcanic Theatre. The pair will take on Harold Pintor's, The Dumb Waiter, a two-man play about hit men waiting for their kill orders in a non-descript basement. Written in 1957, the play was one of the first dark comedies of its kind, and is said to be the basis for the 2008 Martin McDonagh film In Bruges.
"This play is an acting clinic in itself because of the way it's structured," said Woodworth. "All the description comes from dialogue. Pintor leaves it open for the actors' interpretation, which is intimidating when you first get a script because you have no guidance. What I've learned from Derek is how to make something out of nothing. I went on to another script and thought, this is easy!"
While the play gets big laughs, Woodworth doesn't look at it as a comedy.
"The first thing you learn at The Groundlings is to never try to be funny. I don't see the humor in The Dumb Waiter, I just see my character's objective and fear and his anxiety. But there are a lot of humorous things that happen. When we do it for people everybody laughs."
The Dumb Waiter
Thur.–Sat. July 17-19 & 24-26
Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr.
$10. Tickets available at bendticket.com