Behind the Scenes
If you’ve been to a show at Penobscot Theatre in the past decade, there’s a high likelihood you’ve seen Dominick Varney in action.
He’s a ubiquitous face on the Bangor Opera House stage — and backstage, as well, as a director for PTC and for Winterport Open Stage, a community theatre company Varney’s long been associated with. Varney, 38, is a rare beast in eastern Maine: a working actor. He keeps a day job, too, as Coordinator of Foundations and Academic Recovery for the University of Maine, and as he says, teaching is just as important to him as performing.
Varney just finished directing Nora Ephron’s “Love, Loss and What I Wore” for Winterport Open Stage, and will be seen over the holidays as Lumiere in Penobscot Theatre Company’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
Tell us about your younger years. When did you start performing?
Well, I was born in England and lived there until I was ten years old, in a little town called Feltwell, in Norfolk. My mother is British and my dad was American. I was ten when we moved to Winterport. I definitely had an accent, but it was a very conscious decision to get rid of it. I didn’t need another thing for kids to make fun of me for. When I go home, though, it comes back.
My mother was a professional actor in London. She played Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” and Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.” I grew up with all those old musical theatre records playing, like “Cabaret,” “Kismet,” all that, and I’d sing along.
It wasn’t until high school that I started performing, because I joined chorus and the show choir. Heidi Corliess, who still teaches at Hampden Academy, introduced it all to me. And it was actually Brianne Beck [another Penobscot Theatre regular] who got me into more contemporary musicals. We were best friends immediately, when we met. I really was focused on singing, not acting. There wasn’t really theater at Hampden Academy, anyway. There was no “Glee” back then. That came later.
What ended up getting you onstage?
When I went to UMaine, Heidi told me I needed to be part of the University Singers. And from there, I auditioned for the Maine Steiners. One of the guys in that group, Todd Daley, worked at Penobscot Theatre, and they were having auditions for “Sunday in the Park With George.” This was in 1999. Anyway, they ended up casting both Todd and I, and that was really my first time in theater. And then I just started getting involved in theater at UMaine, and I met [longtime UMaine theater professor] Sandra Hardy, and she cast me in things, and it just went from there.
How do you juggle a full-time job at UMaine, doing three or four shows a year, and having a personal life? It seems like a lot.
I think I was born with my father’s work ethic. He did what had to be done, until it was done. I’m like that. I’m a person that always gives 100 percent, even if I only have 20 percent left to give. I also make sure to schedule in time where I don’t do anything. I have to re-energize. For me, 30 percent of life is art, 30 percent is teaching, and 30 percent is family and relationships. If I don’t have one of them, I’m unhappy. All of those things are really important to me. That’s probably why I never moved to a big city. And I’m extraordinarily lucky to be a working actor in Bangor, Maine. It’s something I’m incredibly, incredibly grateful for.
What was your most challenging role? And what was the most purely fun one?
I think the most challenging one was Dr. Frank-n-furter in “The Rocky Horror Show,” back in 2014. The history of that show, the fan base, all very intimidating. And the character is very physical and vocal and emotional. It’s a character that has a lot of pressure attached to it. Also, “Mauritius,” which was a play Penobscot Theatre Company did in 2009. That was an extremely challenging character. I played the villain, with six to eight pages of dialogue at a time. It was really hard. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
For most the most fun, though, I think doing “The Santaland Diaries” was really great, because it was a huge amount of growth for me as an actor, doing a one-man show. And “Boeing-Boeing.” I would do that show 100 times. I absolutely love that play.