Saturday, February 14, 2009

On the scene

T.J. Herlihy lives a double life as police officer and actor

The phrase "don’'t quit your day job" gets tossed around a lot when an amateur tries an artistic endeavor. But if T.J. Herlihy didn't love his day job so, he could probably quit and become an actor.

Herlihy has performed in three community theater productions. By "day," he is a police officer for Conway (New Hampshire) Police Department.

"I think that it's great he does both,”" said Chris Wong, a teacher at Kennett High School, who worked with Herlihy while he was the school resources officer. "“It makes him and the policemen more approachable, because it makes them more human.”"

Wong knew Herlihy before he entered into both police work and acting and believes that both are a perfect fit for him.

"I think that being a police officer and an actor have been natural extensions for him,"” said Wong. “"He has always been charismatic, good natured, and fair.”"

Herlihy is supported in his acting pursuits by the police department, which, according to Lt. Chris Perley, encourages its officers to participate in recreational pursuits and activities that benefit the community.

"It would appear that he has been able to combine a passion for the theater with something that will also be enjoyed by many, many community members and we encourage that because police work can be a stressful and dangerous line of work and we want officers to be well-rounded in all aspects of their life,”" said Perley.

Herlihy got into police work because it has always been part of his nature to want to help others, and becoming a police officer seemed the natural progression of that impulse.

"At the time I applied I was in a place where I wasn’'t going anywhere, so I saw the ad in the paper and thought, '‘Huh,'’”" said Herlihy. "“I had thought about becoming a police officer, people around me had talked about me becoming one, and I just went for it. I thought it would be interesting, definitely another way to help people."

At first glance, acting and police work may seem like an odd combination, but a closer look reveals parallels.

"Presence might be a good portion of it because when you arrive on the scene you need to present a confident, knowledgeable, you know what you'’re doing [attitude],”" said Herlihy. "“Sometimes you really have to take control of the scene. That’s the only way to make sure the scene is safe. So having the presence, busting out the confidence on stage comes from the police work.”"

Herlihy also possesses an extroverted personality that always him to be able to transfer what he learned on the scene into a scene on stage.

“"He is a goofy guy,”" said Rae McCarey, who has acted with Herlihy twice. "“I don'’t know if I a lot of people know that because his job means a lot to him. He takes it very seriously and you only get this glimpse through the rabbit hole, so to speak, of T.J. being funny.”"

Herlihy will freely admit to his sillier side.

"Throughout my life I’'ve always joked around, impersonated whoever was around me, just for fun,”" said Herlihy. “"It was somewhat easy for me to pretend to be someone else, but there are a lot of things you have to learn in theater, how to project your voice and be bigger and louder than life so that everyone can hear you, you know that’s different because you feel awkward."

Previous to his first show, Herlihy had no acting or singing experience outside of the shower or the car, but it had been something he wanted to try. Fittingly enough, his path to acting also started with an ad in a newspaper.

"It was something I always wanted to do, but I just never had the courage to do it,”" said Herlihy. "“One day I was in my office at Kennett and my wife came in and flipping through the pages she shows me an audition for '‘L'i’l Abner"’ and she said ‘I think you should go."’”

Herlihy did go to the audition and to his surprise got one of the lead roles in Arts in Motions’ production of "L'i’l Abner.”"

"I wound up singing a Christmas song because I don’t have that many songs in my head that I can bust out,"” said Herlihy. "“So I sang a Christmas song, they thanked me, had me read a couple lines and I left. I got a call couple days later at the school. Gino Funicella was the director and he said ‘We’d like to offer you one of the leads, Earthquake McGoon’ and I was like, ‘'Oh, OK’' and that’'s how it started.”

That was last May and that could'’ve been the end of the story. But in December, he graced the stage again as the love interest in the Resort Players’ “"Carol’'s Christmas,"” a gender reversed reworking of "“A Christmas Carol."” He followed that up with his first lead role in a musical in M&D Productions'’ “"Company,"” which finished its run in January.

Herlihy didn'’t go to the walk-in auditions for “Company” because he heard it was a difficult show to sing and he didn’'t think he had a chance. The day before rehearsals, director Ken Martin was still looking for his lead and on a tip called up Herlihy.

"He did a great audition for the part,"” said Mark DeLancey, tech director on “"Company.”" "“It was certainly fun to watch him grow and progress into the role. You could see by closing night how comfortable he really was with adding his own little unique things into the role. It was fun to watch him have a good time."”

As an untrained singer, Herlihy, even with natural abilities, had a lot or work to put in for “"Company"” — and he was up to the challenge.

"He has a very beautiful, natural voice," said Mary Bastoni-Rebmann, who as the music director for “Company” did voice training with several of the actors. "“With T.J. he had his voice in his throat so I worked with him to get his voice forward and it just made all the difference in the world. As a matter of fact Ken was in the room when that happened and it was like day and night.”"

Bastoni-Rebmann was pleased with Herlihy as an actor and a singer and said he was a great success and a pleasure to work with.

"T.J. was a great actor to work with because he came in with a willingness to do the work and a willingness to grow, which isn’t always the case,”" said Bastoni-Rebmann. “"A lot of times you have blocks with actors, but he was terrific.”"

In addition to being a full-time police officer and part-time actor, Herlihy is a husband and a father — something that McCarey, who acted with Herlihy in “"Carol'’s Christmas"” and "“Company,"” can'’t quite wrap her mind around.

"He is a full-time police officer, he was the go-to guy at Kennett, and he has children, he'’s a husband, that’s full-time, right? And he did the acting and it was like ‘How do you this? How exactly are you doing all of this,"’” said McCarey, an admitted big fan of Herlihy.

McCarey, who studied acting, was surprised and excited to encountered Herlihy’s natural talents.

“"It was exciting to meet somebody new that hasn’'t acted that is up here and low and behold can hold his own and then some,"” said McCarey. “"There were moments where the hair stood up like, 'Wow he sounds really, really beautiful.' If he had more time and right brain shutdown, left brain allowed to flow through, can you imagine?”"

Not only does Herlihy juggle his career, acting and personal life, he manages to do it all in good cheer.

"T.J's ebullient personality was a fresh breath of air at Kennett High School,"” said Mark Ross, a teacher at Kennett. “"It is this same ebullience and charisma that would translate beautifully to the stage."”

McCarey agrees that his sweet, good-natured approach to life makes it hard for anyone to have a complaint about him.

"Nobody has anything bad to say about T.J. ever,”" said McCarey. "“No one has ever had anything negative to say about T.J., and he never says anything negative about anyone.”"

Unfortunately, Herlihy will have to take a hiatus from acting for a while. For the last three school years, he was the school resource officer at Kennett, a shift that gave him nights and weekends off, but he has recently been reassigned.

"I am going to be rotating to 3 to 11, so that is a nine-week rotation for everyone,"” said Herlihy. “"I don’t see that I’ll be able to do anything during that shift. The only two days off I’ll be with my kids, so that’ll be tough. But once I rotate to midnights then I could have my evenings free and then go to work that night. I might be able to do something then.”"

But rest assured, Herlihy will be back because he has “definitely developed a passion for it." But for now he’s just pleased with the opportunities he has had, especially "“Company.”"

I am very happy that Ken and Mary let me do it,” said Herlihy. “I am very thankful that they thought that I was worthy of it and I appreciate what they did. Mary was very helpful with voice lessons and she is an amazing performer herself, so I’m just a pretty thankful, happy guy.”

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