Paul Diem: Life for the Love of It
This bearded beauty has been busy. In the last two years he climbed from Guest Lecturer to Department Chair and joined the leadership of one of the most prolific theatre companies in Baltimore. Paul Diem is the Theatre Department Chair at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, an Arts Magnet High School in Baltimore County. He is a stage actor as well as being Director of Audience Experience and Ensemble member at Single Carrot Theatre.
HB: Tell me about your work at Carver.
Paul: Carver is pretty awesome. It’s a great gig. It’s the kind of gig where I catch myself walking down the staircase, and think: I actually work here. It hits me every once in a while. I’ll go sit in another classroom – an academic classroom and hear my theatre students in their Econ class. They’re really smart in addition to being talented. It’s a fun thing. They give us a lot of freedom in the work that we do. They really trust that they’ve hired the right people to teach these kids acting, and to design productions. You see these kids on stage...and getting into really good colleges. It’s an incredibly rewarding job.
HB: Do you think you are a more effective teacher because of the freedom that you’re granted at Carver?
Paul: Oh, 100%. We’re very lucky, the arts programs, and I would imagine the technology programs too. We have a lot of freedom in that there are no other schools teaching the classes that we teach. We have the freedom to work within the curriculum guide posts created by the county to give our students what they need to succeed. I’m teaching a high level movement class of Grotowski and Viewpoints training. There’s no curriculum for that in a high school book, so I have the freedom to create what I’m doing. The school really challenges us to create high-level acting and design and production training that is still appropriate for high school aged students. So that is kind of fun! If I had to adhere to a strict curriculum, I would not be as good of a teacher. It allows me to be really flexible. If I see a kid in need of something, I can stop on a dime. I don’t have to worry about what that does with testing, or if I have to get certain assignments done.
HB: So you’re both an actor and a teacher of actors. When you get to Single Carrot after work, do you feel like you’re still… at work?
It’s more vise-versa, that I feel the extension of Single Carrot at Carver. That Carver is an extension of Single Carrot, at least in how I see the day. I’m very much bringing whatever we did the previous night at rehearsal into class. Using examples from last night’s rehearsal as a professional reference. At the same time, I find myself bringing lessons that I taught that day into rehearsal. It has been a fantastic thing for me as an actor, to get back to the really fundamental stuff. When I teach the freshmen level stuff, they are really fundamental ideas. So to go back and focus on those, and approach them with twenty years of experience, like I did last year, it ended up being a major year for me developmentally. I had forgotten about everything I did without thinking about it – and I started asking myself, "what if I just thought about it?"
I love being at rehearsal, and I love teaching. They’re both enjoyable, so I don’t ever find myself saying: “oh, not another theatre thing." It’s fun. If my job was to shovel dog poop, which was my job once in my life, and I had to do it more later? That would suck. This is two fun things.
HB: How did you find yourself on this path? Did you always want to be an actor? Or teacher?
Paul: No, no. Though my tenth grade teacher said, after a presentation we did on the Iliad… she said: Paul, you should be an actor or a teacher. I was really interested in photography then. I wasn’t going to do that. I thought, "That’s dumb."
That same year, my father encouraged me to take a theatre class at school. He was like, you’re going to take this elective. He had done some acting in college – he said it was fun. Then I transferred high schools, and there was this girl I thought was cute. She was not in the musical, but I thought she would be impressed by it. I don’t know why. After I got that first taste, I was just in it. I went from applying to schools, thinking I was going for photography, to applying to schools for theatre. Overnight. I was totally hooked. I loved the camaraderie of it, which I had never really gotten except in bands. I really had no interest (in theatre) as a young kid.
HB: Would you describe yourself as artist?
Paul: Most certainly. Art has been the defining thing of my life. Art is trying to be a person with integrity, and for me those things go hand in hand. Art without integrity is not art. If you’re not being honest with it, it’s just entertainment. Which is great, there is a place for entertainment!
But, what I look for, and what I love about art, is art that has the integrity to try and say something. To do something. Move someone. Unsettle somebody. That is what I love.
HB: Describe what you consider to be your highest moment, or pinnacle of artistic success.
Paul: It was just this past year when Single Carrot moved into its new home. We had gone through a quick transition through different spaces. It was this play, The Flu Season, which is a fantastic play. We had this big gala opening night, and the mayor was there. It was the grand opening of the space, and it was a ribbon cutting. It was a big deal. It was fantastic to see all those people there.
The next night, which we called our Housewarming Grand Opening, or something like that. It was for our regular audience. To catch... I’m getting a little farklempt saying it. To catch a glimpse of the audience, these people who had gone through the history of Single Carrot with us. To see them sitting there. They own that space too. When the lights came up, it was such a celebratory moment. To be a part of the history, it felt so – arriving. I imagine it is what people feel when they have a film opening. You don’t get that moment in theatre, because you’re on stage. It felt so good. To be so proud of the work we did in that play. The six of us on stage, the director, the entire company, we were so darn proud of that show.
HB: I think I know the answer to this one, but: Do you feel fulfilled?
Paul: 100%. I say it often, that I”m not complacent. But I don’t see myself doing something different. Provided that both Carver and Single Carrot exist. For the rest of my working career, I don’t see myself doing anything different. They do fulfill two different parts of me. It allows me to just act at Single Carrot. I don’t have to use Single Carrot to fulfill my desire to direct. Not to say that I won’t ever direct a show at Single Carrot, but I don’t feel the desire to. I get that itch scratched at Carver.
I never get up and dread going to work. I never dread going to rehearsal. I feel really good, and I come home feeling good. That being said, this year, I learned the benefit of taking a break. Starting in August, I took a break into the new year. As an artist, it is really important to take that time and center yourself. Remind yourself that: this isn’t all of me.
HB: Where you are now, you have made it. You’ve made it just about as far as either an Actor or Teacher could make it in the city of Baltimore. Do you feel like you deserve it?
Paul: It’s hard to say, uh…
HB: Sorry, that’s a bit of a loaded question. You’re a pretty humble guy.
Paul: That’s funny. Some people would not say that I am humble. They’d say I was a cocky bastard! Do I feel like I deserve it? I did the things that I needed to do to be where I am. Making it is what you define it to be.
I was just in a conversation last year with one of my students who made a remark about an actor being a “failed actor” because they weren’t working in New York. That is very unrealistic. It is such the .0001%. Are you working, supporting yourself, and happy? Doing what you want to do? You’ve made it.
I have that in two ways: I’m working with a theatre company that has the ethics and ethos that interest me. And I get to work at a school that values what I do. That values me as a human being. Takes care of me as a human being.
HB: At the very least, there seem to be a lot of intelligent, qualified people around you every day that feel like you deserve it.
Paul: I don’t ever want to get complacent. I always want to get better. I do believe in the concept of right livelihood. If you do the right thing. If you always try to do the right thing. That things will generally work out for you. There are plenty of exceptions, but I try to live that way.
I try to say: if I do the right thing, then things will come my way. The only proof I have of that is my whole life. I’ve been really lucky, my whole life. In so many ways. I can only contribute that to the fact that I’ve always worked hard, and that I’ve had the confidence to say: I’m going to get that. I can do this. It has worked out. For me to say that I deserve it? I would say that I need to continue to deserve it. If I ever stop improving, If I ever start feeling like I deserve it? I fear that I won’t work to get better. That would be really unfair to my students. I can’t ever let them down. I have to be the best I can be for them. It’s not fair for my ensemble members at Single Carrot, nor to my audience. I can’t just deserve it.
HB: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to find more personal fulfillment?
Paul: Try to find the thing that you love to do the most. Honestly for the fact that you love doing it. Just do that. Continue to do what you love because you enjoy doing it. If you love painting, paint for painting’s sake. Do it. And say yes.
All of these dominoes fell into place on one night. It was a Thursday night, in the spring of 2011. I was driving home from work, up 95. A friend of mine called me and asked if I wanted to go to the Single Carrot show that night. This was before I worked at Single Carrot. I said, I don’t know, dude, I’m tired, I’m not feeling it. Whatever.
He was like, come on, I have an extra ticket, just come with me. I gave in. Fine. I’ll meet you there. From that one night, I met the [current] Aristic Director of the company, who found out, by proxy, that I could play banjo because we saw a bluegrass band playing. She needed an actor who could play banjo. I started doing a show three weeks later.
My decision to go out, instead of staying home – that one night changed my entire life. It really did. Without that one night, I don’t meet my boss at Single Carrot, which means I don’t work at Carver. If I’m not with Single Carrot, then I’m not with [my girlfriend] Moira, because I’m not as likely to be going to see a BROS show. Maybe not, who knows.
But that night, saying ‘yes’, instead of making the choice to hermit-up. It totally changed everything about my life. I didn’t go there to sell myself into a Single Carrot show. It just happened to fall into place. If I had gone in there to sell myself, it wouldn’t have gone as well. I was just doing what I loved, because I wanted to do it.
Do what you love to do, and say yes to opportunity. Don’t burn yourself out! But, say yes to opportunity, because you never know about that one little thing, who you might meet, that changes everything about your life.
Check out Single Carrot Theatre's season, and make sure to go see Blind From Here, now showing in Baltimore City!
Blind From Here
By Single Carrot Theatre Ensemble Member: Alix Fenhagen
Directed by Stephen Nunns
Featuring Ensemble Members Paul Diem and Britt Olsen-Ecker
Preview Performances Wednesday June 3rd and Thursday June 4th – PAY WHAT YOU CAN
*Tickets for PREVIEW PERFORMANCES are available beginning at 6:30PM at the door only. Ticket price will be determined by you! Cash and credit card will be accepted.*
Running June 5th - 28th, 2015
Performance times are Thursday- Saturday at 8PM— NEW TIME
Sundays June 14th, 21st, and 28th at 2:30PM
Single Carrot Theatre
2600 N. Howard Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
Entrance on 26th Street.
Free parking available in adjacent lot and on 26th street.
TICKETS AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
A small-town band sets off across the country for the gig of a lifetime. This early 90s indie-rock odyssey comes to a crashing halt, bringing their lead singer face to face with her lack of control and robbing her of her vision. Live music, sibling rivalry, young love, and the open road set the scene for this existential exploration of coming of age in broken vans and cheap motels.
FREE BEER AND WINE WITH VALID ID.