St. Paul’s Got Talent: A Conversation with Eric Webster
Eric Webster has been performing on stage, camera and radio for over 25 years. As recipient of the 2010 “Best Actor in a Musical″ from Lavender Magazine he has graced such stages as the Guthrie Theater, Mixed Blood, Park Square, The Playwrights’ Center, Hennepin Stages and many more. His on camera success has ranged from his Emmy Nominated show “The Big Bad Movie” to the nationally broadcast DirectTV program “Big Events”. Eric can currently be seen performing in The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society presented by the James J. Hill Center as well as in his original radio show Shades Brigade.
How did you begin your entrepreneurial career in the arts begin?
I started my career in sports broadcasting as a play-by-play, sports talk show host. After spending 10 years in the field of sports radio – I walked away from it, realizing that I liked playing sports, but talking about them all day was not doing it for me. I knew I liked the entertainment and creative aspect, so I tried my hand at all sorts of things like stand-up comedy and non-sports talk radio. I eventually landed a gig as the Stadium Announcer for the St. Paul Saints Baseball Team. There I was allowed to create anything I could imagine. After 6 years at the Saints with free reign and a “Go ahead and see if it works” environment I realized that I loved that creative freedom. My first foray into theater was the long running “Tony and Tina’s Wedding,” that allowed me to both act and create something new every night.
What has been the largest hurdle and success you have experienced as an artist and entrepreneur?
Largest hurdle? Selling Tickets to shows you write and produce.
Biggest success? Being a self-employed full time actor for over 20 years.
Do you think being a creative entrepreneur is different from other entrepreneurial careers?
Trying to sell something to somebody is pretty much what everybody does at their job. I’m selling the idea of “come see what I wrote and what I find interesting.” That’s a tricky sell. It’s hard to guarantee anybody that they need what you’re selling.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
My advice is to anybody, in any field, is become good at a lot of things. The more you can do the more options you have to create an opportunity.
You have an obsession with old time radio shows – how did this come to be?
When I was young my parents wouldn’t allow me to stay up to watch Johnny Carson. So they bought me one of those radios that also get TV stations, so I could listen to Carson’s monologue and the comedians he had on while I was in bed. It also had a tape deck so I could record all the monologues. I had all these tapes of comedians from the Carson show. Then I started listening to North Stars Hockey on the radio and the play-by-play man Al Shaver. It was so amazing to me that he could paint that picture in my head. I could see the players and all of the action just because of his words. I was then introduced to some old-time radio shows on cassette that you could buy — the “Lone Ranger” and the “Shadow” and classics like that. I loved how I was able to participate in the final piece. It was up to me to decide how the room looked or a person looked or what they were wearing. It was like a I was part of the creative process. I was hooked forever on theater of the mind. Years later, because of the internet, I didn’t have to scour and search for old-time radio shows – they were all there online. Thousands and thousands of episodes. I love the internet.
What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
I have lived all over from Boston to Los Angeles. I came back here and I’m never leaving. This is the best place on earth. You have four seasons, two major cities, you can be in the middle of the woods in about an hour drive north, the quality of living is tops in almost every category, and there aren’t a lot of things that can kill you. We have nothing really poisonous sneaking around in the grass waiting to bite you, no hurricanes or earthquakes. Yes, tornadoes, but if you compare it to say, Florida, well there are so many things that can kill you in Florida. Plus, again thanks to the internet, we no longer have to be in L.A. or New York to succeed as an actor. You can audition here for national work and you can produce that work locally. I can make a good living in my own backyard now. And it’s not just for acting, almost every field is now able to function in any market. YEAH INTERNET!!!