Today is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.
That shouldn’t be hard for this week’s Portrait — Eric Singel and his alter ego, astrologer Starzina Starfish-Browne.
A versatile writer, actor, comedian and producer, Singel has performed everything from roles in serious shows like “The Crucible” and “Torch Song Trilogy” to the totally zany work of sketch comedy.
PGN: Tell me a little about Eric.
ES: I was born and raised in Altoona. I went to Penn State and moved to Philly thereafter, and have been in Philly since … oh, since Ben Franklin and William Penn were walking these streets. I’ve been doing theater all that time and have worked for a lot of the little theaters around the city. Somewhere around 2004 or so, I got inspired by the marriage-equality movement and what had happened in Massachusetts back when they were the first state to enact gay marriage. I’d written a few children’s plays, but I got the idea in my head for a play which started as a 15-minute monologue called “The Wedding Consultant,” which then turned into a full-length, one-man show that I did. That was my big foray into writing — the 2007 Philadelphia New Play Festival named it “Best Play” of the year. So that was exciting, and then a friend of mine was in a sketch-comedy group called “The Waitstaff” and she said, “You know, we have an opening, why don’t you come join us?” They write and perform all their own material so I started working with them. That was in 2008 and I haven’t looked back. They do a sketch called “The Real Housewives of South Philly” and I play a character named Jesus H. Christ. It’s a lot of fun.
PGN: What was life like growing up in Altoona?
ES: Oooh, slow, quiet, dull — really, really dull. I knew right away that I needed to be somewhere more exciting, urbane and civilized with more people of different backgrounds than Altoona could offer.
PGN: Were you always a theater geek?
ES: Oh yeah. In high school, I did shows and then very shortly after moving to Philly, I realized that people got paid to be in shows and I thought, Well, I should be doing it that way.
PGN: What was your craziest incident on stage?
ES: It was in high school and we were doing a musical called “Celebration” — a very avant-garde piece — and all we had on the set were two big, hinged flats behind us. No one thought of anchoring them to anything and in the second act I was giving a speech about how the world was ending, blah, blah, blah. My actual line was literally “Everything is falling apart around us” when the flat crashed down and almost killed my costar.
PGN: Tell me a little about Starzina Starfish-Browne.
ES: I wrote her originally for a sketch with the comedy group. She’s a British astrologer and totally self absorbed. She had a blog for a long time and then she made a bunch of YouTube videos and then I created a one man, scratch that, a one drag queen show for her called, “Looking for Uranus.”
PGN: Starzina does horoscopes. What’s your sign?
ES: [Laughs] Slippery When Wet … No, actually, I’m a textbook Aries. We’re the first sign of the zodiac, so we’re like the babies: me, me, me, mine, mine, mine. Very loud, very opinionated and forthright. Quick to anger, but quick to forgive. We’re also very loyal and devoted.
PGN: What’s the worst prediction she’s made?
ES: Well, she never gets around to actual predictions. She’s not a very good astrologer. Somehow it always comes back to herself.
PGN: Are you or Ms. Starfish single or dating?
ES: She has an ex-husband for each sign of the zodiac, but we’re both currently single.
PGN: A fun job?
ES: A friend of mine was running the murder mysteries at Bistro Romano and she mentioned that she needed a new script. I said, “Just tell me the parameters and I can write one for you.” So she did, and I did, and then she said, “You know you should be in it!” I asked her as what, because all the characters were young except for the Jewish mother. She said, “Yeah, you’d be perfect for that.” So I played the mother and also wrote the next three mysteries that they did. It was a lot of fun.
PGN: Tell me about the family.
ES: My dad was in advertising. He’s not with us anymore. I had one brother who passed away in his 20s and my mother, a former nurse, who is still alive and listening in as I’m talking to you right now.
PGN: What were your chores growing up?
ES: My chores growing up were cutting the grass with a rotary mower and feeding the dinosaurs.
PGN: Ha! Describe a favorite family member.
ES: It is impolite to discuss your family’s members.
PGN: Were you ever bullied?
ES: I was not. I guess because I learned early on that humor was a good way out of all that stuff; If I make fun of myself before they get a chance, it gets a laugh and defuses the situation.
PGN: I’m sure. Did you ever play any sports?
ES: There were several efforts by the father to get me to join teams of things. I’d join and then try to find a way out as quickly as possible. I was even made to attempt football at one point if you can imagine that. If I remember correctly they started rehearsals — or I guess you’d say practices — for that in the summer, wearing those big padded costumes in the heat! And I think there was a baseball incident but I may have blanked it out.
PGN: What is the first thing that you look at every morning?
ES: It is impolite to discuss your
PGN: My beauty inspiration was?
ES: Clearly something I am still
PGN: Fashion style you wish would make a comeback?
ES: Short-shorts for boys.
PGN: In what area of your life do you exercise the most discipline?
PGN: [Laughing] I walked right into that one! What was one of the most profound “Aha!” moments you’ve had?
ES: “Take On Me.” No other decade was as fun musically as the ’80s. I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.
PGN: Which living person do you most despise?
ES: In this country, at this current moment in history? Is this a rhetorical question?
PGN: Give an alternate ending to this phrase: “Frankly, my dear …”
ES: Clark Gable was not all that.
PGN: A song that feels like it was actually written for me is …
ES: “God Save The Queen”?
PGN: First crush or first celebrity crush?
ES: Clearly not Clark Gable. Johnny Depp?
PGN: What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever
ES: You probably should have asked this earlier.
PGN: What’s coming up?
ES: We have a Valentine’s Day show planned for “The Waitstaff.” But the most exciting thing is a possible tour. A number of years ago when they still did live theater at the TLA, I was doing “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” playing the Charles Busch role. My friend Mike McHugh and his boyfriend, Peter, saw me performing the show and told me that they had a show called “Joan Crawford: In Her Own Words” that they wanted me to do. I did it, and the show was a hit and ran for some time. That was about 25 years ago, but we resurrected it in 2017 for the Fringe Festival. The show “Feud” with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon as Joan and Bette Davis, had introduced a new generation of people to them, so it was timely. It was a success, and we’re now in talks to take it on the road. It’s very exciting.