Passionate to Play the Part

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Acting since he was 5, New York David Arthur Bachrach has carved a niche on city stages and elsewhere


  • David Arthur Bachrach. Photo: Xanthe Elbrick

  • "The Elephant Piece" Interlude Anticipation with Bartley Mullin. Photo: Michael Eric Berube

  • David Arthur Bachrach as Bill Malkey with Bill Vaughn in The Christman Bride. Photo: Michael Eric Berube

Ever since he played Hansel in a first-grade production of Hansel and Gretel, David Arthur Bachrach, 62, has thrilled to the sound of applause.

Born and raised in Maine — and “hooked” on acting at age five — he worked as a radio disc jockey during his teen years. His passion for the stage — which, in his words, “did not start but which started me” — accompanied him from Maine to North Carolina and then, finally, to New York City.

He temped at a Wall Street brokerage house where everyone crowed about the money to be made. His heart wasn’t in it; he was after what he calls the “highest high” — acting.

New York has long been thought of as the concrete jungle where dreams are made. Young people hope they can make it here; longtime residents pride themselves on never having stopped trying. Bachrach, 62, has now been an actor most of his life. Despite the hardships and uncertainties, he said, it’s been worth it. “You only need a willingness to sacrifice,” Bachrach said.

Take his living quarters, which he describes as “a Hell’s Kitchen two-bedroom, only one room’s outside.” The room outside is a garden where potted plants lend a spare beauty to the tiny urban patio. A small bench seats one comfortably, and a café table, rescued from a refuse pile, holds a cold drink on a summer’s day. This is Bachrach’s refuge from city life. The “inside” room features a long, thin bookcase stacked with mostly plays. The room also holds a few props, which he sometimes uses during auditions. A shelf holds a skull for Hamlet to ponder. Pegs on a wall hold an assortment of hats, which fit an assortment of characters.

Bachrach is tall and lanky, with an animated face, which he might angle to emphasize a point he’s making. But beneath an intense gaze, there’s also playfulness. Bikram yoga several times a week — in 125 degree heat at a Manhattan studio — keeps him limber and energized.

To pay the rent, Bachrach has what he calls his “most honorable part-time job” at an entertainment law firm, which is flexible if Bachrach needs time off for an out-of-town acting job.

“I ran around like a lunatic for so many years, from one ‘survival’ job to another,” said Bachrach, who studied at the New Actors Workshop and the Esper Studio in the city. “There is no career path in show biz.”

He’s worked as a radio announcer, a church musician and an opera singer. He’s led a jazz quartet and performed as part of a jazz cabaret in Europe.

“One thing that leavens an actor is life experience,” he said. “Everything interests me.”

Being on stage, Bachrach said, is “a kind of heightened reality. Acting teaches you something important that not many of us do. It forces you to be aware, emotionally committed, and present in the moment.”

Some 30,000 actors live in New York City, according to the website Hollywood Sapien. Bachrach’s acting friends include a registered nurse, a paralegal, an Army reservist, a yoga teacher and a personal assistant.

When not working, David goes to auditions, dubbed “cattle calls” for the sheer number of applicants. There, blink-of-an-eye decisions are made by casting directors. Is he right for the part? Will he be called back?

His most recent acting job was as the lead, Sir Evelyn Estebrooke, in The Singapore Mikado at Brooklyn’s Theater 2020. He’s worked several productions by Gemini CollisionWorks, for which he is currently rehearsing Nord Hausen Fly Robot. The fluid, experimental work is being workshopped on Governors Island this month, with a full production slated for later this year at The Brick in Williamsburg. He recently played the King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland at the Unchained Festival in Long Island City. He has also acted with American Shakespeare Repertory, The Seeing Place Theater, and the Snowlion Repertory Company.

While Bachrach is proud of having played some great title roles — Cymbeline, Prometheus, Socrates — and estimates that he’s acted before tens of thousands of people, one aspect of his acting career stands out: roles have been written into plays and musicals expressly with him in mind. Regardless, he’s always looking to improve his métier. “You ask yourself what words or lines you could have done better,” he said. Where were the hits? Where were the misses?

Although he likes acting most of all, Bachrach has time to pursue his other interests, which he believes inform his acting.

A nearby dance studio offers inexpensive, unlimited ballroom dancing lessons. When not working, he rollerblades, tends his garden, makes his own beer. Evenings, he goes to see friends act. A night owl, Bachrach reads scripts and learns lines into the early morning.

He likes having a “real” address, one where he actually lives, unlike actors who constantly travel to jobs around the country. But while Bachrach believes he has more fun than many actors, he feels a certain amount of regret too — for not mailing more resumes to casting directors, updating his website more often and attending more auditions. “Being an actor is a lot like being in sales — there’s always one more call that could be made, one more audition,” he said.

Health insurance, a high income and the social life money can buy — especially in pricey Manhattan — were among the harder sacrifices Bachrach felt he had to make. Among the “easier” ones were choosing to not have children, relinquishing certain creature comforts and foregoing status.

And things could get tougher. Fewer people are interested in theater, audiences’ tastes are less adventurous and fewer shows are in production. Since moving to New York 35 years ago, Bachrach has watched the theater become decimated by AIDS and, more recently, choked by a reduction in funding for the arts and arts education.

But despite all that, and a surfeit of actors here, New York is the place to be if you’re dedicated to the avocation.

“I have followed my heart,” Bachrach said, “and I’ve had a wonderful life.”

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