“I didn’t have a terrifically illustrious theater career at East High School—I acted in a couple of shows. But I realize now that much of my DNA as an actor and teacher—my thoughts and perspectives—were instilled in me by the teachers I had there,” says Gareth Saxe, best known for his role as the villain Scar in the Broadway and Denver productions of The Lion King.
Saxe graduated from East High School in 1989. “I grew up around theater; my parents did shows at the Changing Scene and dad taught at Metro. I was like the preacher’s kid, though. I wanted to be an architect. I was in my senior year at Colorado College when it became obvious that acting was what I should be doing.”
Saxe went on to study theater at New York University, earning his Master of Fine Arts. In addition to landing roles in three Broadway productions, he performed Off-Broadway and in regional theaters, as well as in TV and film.
Saxe began his six-year run as Scar on Broadway in 2010, with a break in 2015 to play the role in the Denver road production. “Disney let me switch from Broadway to the touring company, so I could come home to take care of my ill dad. After we came out for that month, we decided we wanted to move back to Denver.”
His Broadway contract ended in mid-2017 and so Saxe moved to Denver with his wife and 6-year-old son. “We wanted to be close to my dad and other family,” he says. They live in the City Park neighborhood house where Saxe grew up. He teaches acting classes at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, as well as performing in the company.
Saxe has played a wide variety of characters in his career and says he likes playing villains like Scar, the murderous uncle in The Lion King. “Baddies are the most fun to play; they are easier to play than heroes. There’s something fascinating about darkness. Also, the evil characters have the best lines. Scar’s lines are clever and pithy.”
Not all Saxe’s roles are villains. His favorite role was that of Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector during World War II, in the play iWitness. The character is executed by the Nazis. “It was satisfying because here was a person of conviction who decided that losing his conscience would be worse than dying.
“As an actor, it’s a glorious thing to move through the large and rich palette of human experience.”
Saxe performed in the DCPA’s Macbeth last fall and has been cast in Anna Karenina in January 2019. His classes at the DCPA help both beginning actors and those who are perfecting their craft. “It’s a real mix of students, both professionals and hobbyists. I enjoy the act of transmitting what I know. I’m learning too, because now I must articulate what I’ve done intuitively. It throws me back into the process. Teaching is renewing my love affair with the craft.”
He recalls several teachers at East who influenced his acting and teaching. “I took forensic speech classes with Judy Schwartz, who got me interested in modern drama. The drama teacher, Mr. Van Epps, was an old-school veteran of many shows who bridged the working world of theater and the academic world. He instilled in me that theater requires serious commitment. When done well, acting can look easy, like fooling around. But this is not foolishness. There are mechanics to making people laugh and you need to learn them.”
Saxe remembers a particular scene at East that changed his perception of theater. “It was a show about teenagers’ difficulties that ended with all of us doing barre exercises to the Pachelbel Canon. It felt raw and real, so powerful it overwhelmed me. It resonated with me and for the first time I thought ‘This can really talk about people’s experiences in a profound way. This is important and useful for society. It’s not just entertainment.’”