Wild Space’s Randy Talley exits to the East
Randy Talley, for 15 years a mainstay of the Wild Space Dance Company, has moved to Pittsburgh. It’s all for love; Talley is making the move with girlfriend Brenda Lee Johnston, until lately the executive director of the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center. Johnston is pursuing an advanced degree in arts management at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
“I’m kind of overwhelmed right now,” Talley said, from Pittsburgh Saturday. “I don’t have a definitive plan. My priority right now is to get a day job and support Brenda.”
Talley, a handsome, personable sort, was a perfect fit for Debra Loewen’s Wild Space company. She relies on her dancers to produce material collaboratively, which suited Talley well. He’s a good dancer, technically, but his naturalness on stage and acting ability are his strong suits. Loewen often calls upon dancers to play characters, and when she doesn’t she expects them to play themselves in a vivid but natural way. That’s not as easy as it sounds, and Talley is a master at it.
“I’m proud of my body of work,” he said, citing especially Loewen’s Field Work, Physical Evidence and Seven Deadly Sins.
Talley is not sure how much dance is left in his body. He’s thinking about a second career as an actor. Meanwhile, he can live on other skills; he worked in the accounting department of the Milwaukee Rep for many years.
Like many men in the dance field, he more or less stumbled into it without really knowing what it was all about. The Spencer, Wis., native just knew he liked to move. When his high-school swing choir teacher complained about lacking a choreographer to set a few moves, he volunteered. When he graduated, that sliver of experience grew into a small free-lance career making dances for school musicals and choirs.
“I just ached to move,” he said. “I was a club dancer, too. Then I thought I should probably go to UWM and learn something about dance.”
“My placement audition was hilarious, although I didn’t know that at the time,” Talley said. “I went in to Ed Burgess, and he said, ‘OK, show me how you dance.’ No music, nothing. I didn’t know you were supposed to prepare something. So I rolled off a 10-second Paula Abdul-type riff I made up on the spot. Ed looked at me, said, ‘Modern 1,’ and left the room.”
Talley was out of his depth for two years, and he knew it. But he stuck with it.
“Ed yelled at me so much,” Talley said, laughing at the memory. “He kicked me out of class three times. But I love Ed. I owe my career to him. He saw something in me.”
Johnston’s second year of study will be in Italy, and Talley thinks it might be impractical for him to go along. Talley is thinking he might spend a year in Wausau, to get some quality time with his family. Or he might give acting a shot in Pittsburgh while Johnston is in Italy. Or he might go to Las Vegas and try gambling. Really.
“I’m good at poker,” he said. “It’s risky, but life is a risk.”
Coming Tuesday: A Where We Are Now report on Wild Space Dance Company.