Arts & Entertainment

One Tri-City acting icon to pay tribute to another

Tri-City actor Tom Powers admits to having a powerful ego.

"I can't help it," he said with a throaty chuckle. "It goes with the territory of being an actor. I also know I'm not a great singer but that isn't going to stop me from singing."

That's what having the heart of an actor is all about -- ego, he added with a sly grin.

And even though he's never been the kind of guy who lets a little thing like age -- he's 77 -- get in the way of a good show, he says it's time to put the scripts away and retire.

"Yes, I know I've said that before," Powers said. "But I really mean it this time. My memory is fading in my old age, and I just can't handle the amount of memorization it takes to do a play any more."

But that doesn't mean this vintage thespian plans to retire from his involvement in the Tri-City theater community.

He'll also continue to emcee various programs and special events, including the upcoming Fred Dixon Tribute Revue on May 1 in at Columbia Basin College in Pasco.

Dixon, who died last fall at age 77, was another favorite longtime Tri-City actor and close friend of Powers.

"I wouldn't miss a chance to salute Fred," Powers said. "He and I go back 40 plus years. We vied for many of the same roles in various productions. Sometimes I'd win, sometimes he'd win, mostly he'd win, but we always remained friends."

Powers, who moved here from California, has been in more Tri-City theater productions than most during the last 50 years. The retired Richland real estate agent has been acting since he was 5, when his mother put him in a Christmas pageant.

That lead to more acting in elementary school and an eventual reputation by many who told his mother he was quite the ham. "My mother would tell those people, 'No. Hams can be cured,' since she recognized that acting was my destiny," he said.

He grew up in the Midwest but moved to California in 1956 to attend the Pasadena College of Theater Arts.

"My time at Pasadena Playhouse was undoubtedly one of the most significant factors in my life," Powers said. "I was a student there for two years. It was there I had my first introduction to Shakespeare.

Among his fellow classmates were Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman and comedienne Ruth Buzzi. In fact, Buzzi would sometimes baby-sit Powers' two children Debbie and Jerry.

But acting isn't exactly a steady income, especially when you're first starting out, so Powers packed up his family and moved to the Tri-Cities in 1959 where he worked at a radio station, a bank and eventually as a real estate agent.

Even though the everyday life of a husband and father took priority when it came to paying the bills, Powers never lost sight of his love of acting. He got involved in community theater as an actor and director.

Mary Lou Gnoza of Richland has acted with Powers in more plays than she can remember. "The talent of the man has always amazed me," Gnoza said. "He memorizes the entire show, his lines as well as everyone else in the cast, so you felt very secure on stage with him. You never lost your place in the script if he was there."

But Powers says his memory isn't as good as it used to be.

"During the last two shows I had moments where I forgot some lines and had to ad-lib," he said. "That bothered me a lot and I don't want to be remembered for forgetting lines so I'm going to quit acting now so I won't embarrass myself later."

Powers involvement with the arts community goes far beyond the limelight.

He's held board positions with the Richland Players, the Richland Light Opera, as well as served on the board for the now defunct Corporate Council for the Arts.

He's also played master of ceremonies for the Miss Tri-Cities program for four years and has been a devoted supporter of the First Night Tri-Cities for seven years.

Veteran director Jo Brodzinski of Richland has directed Powers in a number of productions and believes his self-proclaimed egomania serves him well on stage.

"Tom's had great training as an actor and will give you the best effort always," she said. "I have directed him numerous times, and he always gives me what I want."

His daughter Debbie Hughes of Pasco said growing up with a theatrical dad meant there was never a dull moment.

"When Dad got a job with (a bank) his hours were better so he was able to become more involved in RLOC and Richland Players," she said. "Of course, my dad never does anything half way so before long he was a involved as a board member, director, producer -- you name it. It wasn't long before our house was filled with local actors, musicians and just great people."

But Powers has a philosophical view about his love of acting, as well. "I survived a bout with cancer 14 years ago, and I do worry about my failing memory, but I still love the theater and always will," he said. "The order of importance goes like this: God, family, theater."

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com

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