Bill Reid's day job is delivering mail at the University of Oregon. Photo by Randi Bjornstad.
Seven roles, one show, and a comedic bent
By Randi Bjornstad
By day, he’s an unassuming postal clerk, sorting or delivering mail for the University of Oregon’s mail center in downtown Eugene.
By night, he often puts on a new persona and takes to various stages around the Eugene-Springfield area. Is he a guy who thinks he sees a giant rabbit? Is he a hard-bitten cowboy who nonetheless gets sentimental over Christmas?
Sometimes. But underneath it all, He’s always Bill Reid.
Reid, 68, was born in Buffalo, N.Y., but grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., where he first got into drama in high school.
“I was a senior, and when I went to register for classes, they said I could take an elective now, and I said, ‘What’s an elective?’ “ Reid recalled. “They said there were only two choices left, journalism and drama. I asked if journalism meant a lot of writing, and when they said yes, I said I would try drama — and I got into the first play I tried out for.”
The play was Cheaper By the Dozen, a comedy about a family with 12 kids, and he got the role of Frank Jr., one of the two oldest offspring in the family.
That was his first foray into acting, and he was hooked.
“I didn’t have any exposure to it before,” he said. “But I always had been a good reader, and in sixth grade I was asked to read to first-graders, so that was a bit like acting. And I do remember that my younger sister and I used to sit around and pretend to do commercials.”
When he did take the stage in Cheaper By the Dozen, he remembers his little sister calling out proudly during the performance, “That’s my big brother!”
After high school, Reid headed for State University of New York in Plattsburg, where he graduated in theater. He came to the University of Oregon for graduate school, earning a master of fine arts in theater, specializing in acting and directing.
He’s been in more than 100 plays, Reid estimated. By the time he was in his 40s, he made a living working in theater, but that ended in the late 1980s.
“Once you get older, the roles start to disappear, and pretty soon it seems like you’re out of work all the time,” he said. “Then you have to start with the night jobs and the part-time temporary jobs to try to make a living. It’s a rough life, it really is.”
Partly because of that, he doesn’t do much traditional acting these days. But Radio Redux is hardly traditional so it’s worked well for Reid, who has performed in several Radio Redux productions.
“As I get older, memorizing lines or monologues has become more difficult,” Reid said. “With Radio Redux, we’re all standing up there at microphones holding our scripts and acting the parts with our voices instead of all the blocking and moving around the stage” of conventional theater.
Fred Crafts, Radio Redux founder and director, appreciates Reid’s versatility as an actor.
“He can morph into a surprising variety of types of roles,” Crafts said. “He first performed with us back in our Pleasant Hill Community Theater days, where he played a cowboy. He’s since taken on more complex roles for us in recent years that convinced me to find additional roles for him.”
Those include Pop Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life and Mallinson in Lost Horizon — both in the 2014-15 Radio Redux season — and as Carl in Casablanca in the 2015-16 season.
In the 2019 Casablanca production, he takes on a whopping seven different roles, showing Crafts’ confidence in Reid’s ability to quickly shift voice and character persuasively.
Bill’s other local theater experience includes Lord Leebrick Theater, now Oregon Contemporary Theater, where he played in Escape From Happiness in the 1990s, a relatively little known play by Canadian writer George Walker and “one of the funniest plays I have ever been in.”
He’s had all kinds of roles during his career, “but I think I’m most successful in comedy,” Reid said. “I guess I have a good sense of humor.”
In addition to acting, Reid has had directing experience, including a production of Eugene O'Neil's Ah, Wilderness! at South Eugene High School.
Bill Reid plays Chester in Radio Redux's A Cowboy Christmas (2018). Photo by Scott Kelley
From left, Bill Barrett, Dan Pegoda, Bill Reid and Achilles Massahos in Lost Horizon (2015). Photo by Paul Carter
“In that play, I had a young actor who had to break down in tears to apologize to his girlfriend,” he remembered. “I had to teach him how to cry — there are techniques like using your diaphragm — and the three of us really got into it. We were sitting around a table one day, all weeping our eyes out. A janitor walked by and said, ‘Is everybody okay?’ ”
He’s never forgotten the lessons learned in one college class he took, in which the final exam involved a completely student-directed play — direction, sets, lighting, costumes, stage management — with the faculty doing only the casting, often against type.
“It was fun, but it was a whole lot of effort,” Reid said. “I was not a very sophisticated person, and I was cast to play this really smooth guy who breezes in, sits down, and plays and sings songs at the piano. I could sing, but I had to learn to play the piano. I learned all the chords and then sort of vamped the song between chords. It was really good for self-confidence.”
He’s got the perfect day job to help get into whatever character he may be playing: His current gig at the UO mail center is delivering inter-campus mail to most of the science buildings, a twice-a-day trek that adds up to about 7 miles of walking.
That’s plenty of time to channel his George Burns vibes, just in case his dream role ever comes up.
Randi Bjornstad's work can also be found at Eugenescene.org