Out of all the professional stage actors in Tampa Bay, Ned Averill-Snell was one of the very few whose livelihood was not directly threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.
Averill-Snell, who’ll appear in The Lifespan of a Fact, opening Friday at Stageworks Theatre, had a fallback: He’s a writer/editor on the marketing and communications team at White & Case LLP, a multi-national law firm with an office in Tampa.
He’s one of the area’s finest dramatic actors, and has been seen onstage at (among others) American Stage, Jobsite and Tampa Repertory Theatre (which he co-founded with C. David Frankel and Emilia Sargent).
Based on the book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal, The Lifespan of a Fact began with a true story: A young magazine fact-checker (Fingal, played by Chris Jackson) debates the value (and meaning) of words with essayist D’Agata (Averill-Snell).
“Sometimes you read a play and you know which character you could play,” Averill-Snell explains. “Especially at my age – there’s usually only one old fart in a play. And sometimes the character jumps off the page: I know this man. I know how he thinks. I know who he is. And when you get a guy like that, it’s scary exciting.”
D’Agata, he adds, “a very rich character, and he’s difficult in a way that I find very amusing to be able to wander in.”
The actor refers to his character as a “working class intellectual – he hates the snobs, he hates the elitists. He threads this very careful needle, between ‘I know everything you know, I’m smarter than you are,’ and ‘I’m also a regular guy.’”
The play – which also features Susan Haldeman as the magazine’s editor – represents Stageworks’ return to live theater after 10 months of abstinence.
Massachusetts native Edward “Ned” Snell was a triple major at Indiana University, studying journalism, music and theater. In the mid 1980s, he recalls, “I was an unemployed actor in New York. And I took a proofreading job, because that was something I was good at, at a big software company.
“And before you knew it they had made me a technical writer, and I was making more money than I ever thought I would. And that’s kind of been the arc of my professional life.”
He briefly lost his enthusiasm for theater.
He was 27 and living in Indianapolis when his father died suddenly of a heart attack. “It was kind of a wake-up call for me about, am I doing what I want to do with my life? And within a year I had my Equity card and was working at Indiana Repertory Theatre.”
Fast forward to the early 00’s. After marrying Gorilla Theatre designer Jo Averill, he hyphenated his last name as a sign of respect (she, as you might expect, is Jo Averill-Snell, and she’s created the lights for The Lifespan of a Fact). They have a young son, and are self-described “homebodies.”
He is revered by other thespians. “I am always grateful to work with Ned,” enthuses writer, actor and director Roxanne Fay. “He is gracious, smart, giving, responsive and always takes me in directions I would not have seen on my own. When I write characters, I often see him in a role – it brings that person to fruition for me. It is a delight and a privilege to work with him.”
And so, life goes on, at a pace that suits Ned Averill-Snell just fine. “I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with acting,” he explains. “I know you’re not supposed to say that, but I find it enormously rewarding. Often.
“Performing isn’t a big thing to me. A show isn’t a big thing to me. It’s the exploration of human behavior. The experience of walking around in someone else’s shoes for a few weeks, and seeing what that feels like, is a drug to me. That’s why I do it.
“But as a career? I am cripplingly un-ambitious. I just can’t get myself together to do the things I would need to do to have more of a career than I have. So mostly I just gravitate to doing the things that jazz me.”
Details and tickets here.