Broadway actor to Glenbard North theater students: 'Remember where you're from'
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Before performing in a Broadway-bound musical Thursday night in Chicago, Eric Petersen gave theater students at his alma mater in Carol Stream a lesson in humility and kindness that also happened to be very funny.
One of the teens at Glenbard North High School asked Petersen about his first of many television roles.
Here's how Petersen tells it:
He's a young actor in New York at the time, hired for a two-episode arc on the soap opera classic, "As the World Turns."
He's playing a "Bad Santa" criminal who takes a main character hostage after a robbery -- a bit of a stretch for the Christmas-loving Petersen.
But he's still eager and starry-eyed, even though he has to deliver lines like: "Somebody's getting coal in their stocking this Christmas."
Petersen also is playing opposite one of the biggest stars on the show, and let's just say she's not popular among crew members.
"She walks out onto set and she said, 'I just want everyone to know that this is the lowest point of my entire career.' And I was like, I'm so happy to be here,'" Petersen says.
In one of their scenes together, he has to hit her on the shoulder with a rubber shovel. The assistant director tells him to give her a good smack so they don't have to reshoot the scene. Petersen delivers, but then there's some sort of problem with the lighting. He hits her again. And again. And again.
"They made me hit her like eight times," Petersen says. "It was never something that I did. It was always a crew issue that they had to redo it, and I think they used the poor day player to beat up on their star."
Petersen works with her for two full days.
"She never once asked me what my name was," he says.
Later in his visit with students, Petersen provided some career advice that could have served as the moral of that story.
"The competition is so fierce that you have to be easy to work with," he said. "You have to show up on time. You have to show up prepared. You have to be kind to people. There's too much competition to think that having an attitude will help you in any way."
Petersen demonstrated that humility by reaching out to Glenbard North teachers about meeting with students while he was in town for "Escape to Margaritaville." Petersen plays Brick in the Jimmy Buffett musical that's running at the Oriental Theatre and headed to Broadway in March.
Glenbard North Fine Arts Department Chairman Nathan King was about to invite Petersen to speak with his class when he heard from the 1999 graduate first.
"To have a former student who is very busy and also very successful reach out and want to give back, I think that speaks a tremendous amount to his character," King said.
In response to the compliment, Petersen was nostalgic.
"I think it's very important to remember where you're from and who your people are," he said.
He remembered working on Glenbard North productions with a tight-knit group of theater classmates he still considers close friends. In honor of his return, a hallway where his teachers used to post cast lists was covered with pictures of his high school and professional stage career.
"It's very emotional," he said, admiring the photo collage. "It makes me feel very proud to be from here. I've always been proud of being from Carol Stream and going to Glenbard and being able to come back and talk to the kids and hopefully impart some wisdom is a treat."
Petersen recently starred as Dewey Finn in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "School of Rock -- The Musical" on Broadway. He also has had parts on the hit sitcoms "Big Bang Theory" and "Modern Family."
Even with that kind of resume, he offered to serve as a sounding board for aspiring actors.
"If you have any questions, even like: 'We have auditions for something coming up. Should I sing this song or this song?' And you let me know that you go to Glenbard, I will hit you up in like two seconds," he said, "because I think it's important to try to help your community."