Todd Stashwick talks Improv, SAG-AFTRA Strike – Fan Expo Chicago 2023

Todd Stashwick attends Fan Expo Chicago. Photo by Danielle Solzman.

Todd Stashwick spoke with Solzy at the Movies about improv, Patrick Stewart, and the SAG-AFTRA strike while attending Fan Expo Chicago.

Stashwick is a native to the Chicago area and previously performed with The Second City Touring Company after graduating from Illinois State. From there, Stashwick performed at Second City Detroit, which has given the world the likes of Keegan-Michael Key, Sam Richardson, Tim Robinson, etc. He also performed with the now-defunct Second City Northwest before relocating to New York and eventually, Los Angeles.

The actor-comedian-comic writer is appearing all four days–August 10-13–at the convention, where he is autograph and posing for photos with fans. In addition to his solo photo ops, he’ll join Michelle Hurd in a team-up photo on Saturday and Sunday. Stashwick’s panel CONversation was Thursday evening.

Being a local, how awesome is it to attend Fan Expo Chicago?

Todd Stashwick: It’s a little surreal. Right? This is where all of my acting started and just doing theater in basements in Wrigleyville to now and standing here amongst all of this amazing stuff that inspired me to go into acting in the first place because I was a nerd boy, growing up. It all sort of comes full circle. This was the place that I was dreaming the dreams, my nerdy dreams of a career, and then to have it all come full circle is really—like I said—surreal.

When you were performing Second City and taking improv classes, was there an instructor had the most meaningful impact in your career?

Todd Stashwick: Well, Marty de Maat was pretty—he’s no longer with us—he was pretty influential to me. I just adored all my teachers, Mick Napier. I studied with Del Close, who just really would push you into really new and interesting places. It’s hard to pick just one. David Razowsky—I was fortunate to study with some really amazing people.

Being someone that moved here initially for improv myself, a lot of those names are very familiar. What do you look for in a character when you’re reading a screenplay?

Todd Stashwick: I realized this recently. I like characters who the audience may have to struggle with a little bit to sort of find their humanity. If it’s a dark character, I look for the humor and if it’s a funny character, I look for the darkness. I find that dichotomy is always interesting and I really enjoy playing difficult people.

How has improv influenced your approach to acting?

Todd Stashwick: I think it’s inseparable. I think acting is improvisation. A friend of mine once said, acting is improvising but you happen to be saying what the writer wrote. Because underneath the lines, all that’s actually going on with the character is the act of listening and heightening and reacting to your partner, which are all the same tenets of improvisation, so they’re one and the same.

I know Patrick Stewart likes performing with the Improvised Shakespeare Company. Did that ever come up between the two of you?

Todd Stashwick: We never talked about improvisation. We just would kind of do it. We would push the seeds and play with the margins. It was fun.

(At this point, the rep clarified that Todd could discuss working with Sir Patrick Stewart but couldn’t talk about the forum.)

What was it like to work with Sir Patrick Stewart?

Todd Stashwick: I worked with Patrick Stewart on a project. He’s much like—he’s a Knight of the realm so you expect this very regal serious minded person. He is serious about the work but he’s a playful human as an actor. He likes to be challenged and surprised in a scene in the same way that I do. In many ways, it was just meeting a great scene partner. It wasn’t daunting in that aspect because he just wants to have it be fun and let’s get to the heart of it and let’s get to the guts of the moment. It’s great.

With the SAG-AFTRA strike going on, what do you want to tell my readers about why it’s important that the studios listen to SAG-AFTRA?

Todd Stashwick: Well, first of all, anybody who makes something wants to have their work value. No matter what it is. If you’re making if you sell pizza, you want it to be valued and you want to be compensated for your time, energy, and effort. Right now, they have found unique, clever and creative ways to not value our contribution to the process. It was much better before things started streaming. Once they started streaming, they got real sneaky and they started burying their numbers and not compensating us for the amount of times—you know they’re making money. They’re just not sharing money. People are having trouble paying their bills in what used to be a—not even talking about getting rich but just a way to make a living at this and keep your health insurance and keep your family, your children insured. We have to make a certain amount of year and now with the new structures it’s not possible. We’re just looking for a living wage. We’re looking for accurate reporting and transparency, and we’re looking for a fair compensation.

I felt like there used to be a summer rerun season and all of a sudden streaming, it’s like, is this show coming back? Is it not coming back?

Todd Stashwick: And then they’ll wait a year sometimes. They’ll wait a year before they will tell the writers and the actors. You’re sometimes on a contract where you can’t go get another job. The entire thing is tilted in their favor right now and we are just looking for fairness.

Fan Expo Chicago runs August 10-13, 2023 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.