Debbie Smith talks ‘On Golden Pond,’ biker gangs and more

From left, Howard Green, Doc Porter and Debbie Smith in rehearsal for “On Golden Pond.”

Debbie Smith, known as one of Birmingham’s best and funniest character actresses, is front-and-center as Ethel Thayer, one of the lead roles, in Homewood Theatre’s upcoming production of “On Golden Pond.”

During rehearsals, Smith took some time to answer some questions about her life in Birmingham, life on the stage and the show she is about to open.

Are you from Birmingham?

I moved to Birmingham from Pittsburgh in 1980, and got married in 1982. The husband (now ex) and kids left, but I stayed.

What’s your first memory of being on stage?

I started working at a summer theater when I was 16. We did kids’ shows on Friday and Saturday, and my first role was the Witch in “Hansel and Gretel.” I worked at that summer theater for seven years and loved it!

Debbie Smith.

What’s your favorite role you’ve played or show you’ve been in?

When I was a junior in college in 1973, the theater attached to my college decided to become Equity, and the first show they did was “Fiddler on the Roof.” Although I was 20, I was cast as the youngest daughter. The cast was full of professional actors who had been in either the original production or the first road company, and it was thrilling to work with professional actors for the first time.

You do a lot of improv in Birmingham. How does it compare to straight theater?

In both improv and acting, the key is truly committing to the reality of the scene. That’s what makes it work.

Tell me about “On Golden Pond.”

I’m so excited to be in “On Golden Pond.” It’s a dream role! When I first started learning the lines, I found myself saying them with a bad Katharine Hepburn imitation. I stopped that pretty quick! It’s a lovely cast. We’re having a great time getting to know each other and our characters.

Who is your favorite playwright?

I love Sarah Ruhl.

Do you have a favorite show?

Two of my favorites are “Fuddy Meers” and “The Big Meal.”

What’s a performance that sticks out to you as an audience member?

I love it when a character actor takes a small role and knocks it out of the park. A couple years ago, Elaine May was on an episode of “The Good Fight” playing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and she was phenomenal.

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

Right before I go on, I say to myself, “Sing out, Louise.” It’s a line from “Gypsy.”

Tell me about a time something went wrong on stage.

Well, I think having a play stopped by an onslaught by a biker gang is a Birmingham theater legend by now. Definitely the freakiest thing that ever happened to me on stage.

What is something about you that might surprise people?

I have an irrational hatred of Ed McMahon.

What’s the last book you read?

“Tom Lake” by Ann Patchett. It was wonderful!

“On Golden Pond,” at Homewood Theatre, April 11-21.

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