Vermonter Tom Nielsen and co-star Lisa Brown promoted the CBS daytime drama “Guiding Light” on magazine covers in the 1980s.
When Tom Nielsen started work in Springfield in 1979, he scraped by with odd jobs as a custodian, musician and bartender. Then he won the lottery, only to kill a man, kidnap a woman and, in 1985, receive a life sentence. So why is he about to offer a winter of weekly acting workshops in Chester?
Because Nielsen has done his time — on stage and screen, that is. Before all of those fictional exploits, he studied with the legendary Method acting teacher Lee Strasberg and performed off-off-Broadway. He then played the role of Floyd Parker on the CBS daytime drama “Guiding Light.”
Over six years in the television town of Springfield, Nielsen portrayed a good guy until he went bad (although the above-mentioned scripted crimes avenged an explosion that blinded his on-air secret love). The actor, singer and director has since moved to the Green Mountain hamlet of Grafton. Starting Thursday, he’ll share his talents at the Vermont Institute of Contemporary Arts in neighboring Chester.
A Midwest native long interested in performing, Nielsen studied acting at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee for three semesters before moving to Hollywood in 1975.
“I soon realized how difficult it really is,” he recalls. “It demands full commitment and continuous study.”
Nielsen started taking lessons with Strasberg, only to consider enlisting in the Marines by 1977. Then a friend invited him to tag along to New York, where the aspiring actor earned a work/study scholarship at Strasberg’s Theatre Institute.
Nielsen’s big break came with his casting on “Guiding Light,” once TV’s longest-running and highest-rated daytime drama. On screen, the actor learned he was a father one moment, only to be left at the altar the next.
“The writers would change every couple of years,” he says, “so you knew your part would change.”
This month he’ll teach relaxation and sensory awareness exercises that help actors prepare and perform. In January, he’ll explain how to dissect a script, create a character and explore psychological and physical behavior.
The six-week set of acting workshops is open to both serious students and curious or creative types age 16 and older, with Thursday’s introductory seminar free and tuition for the remaining classes $20. People seeking more information can call the Vermont Institute of Contemporary Arts at 875-1018 or email abby.r@VTica.org.
“This is to pique interest, to expose people to the possibilities,” Nielsen says. “If they are a novice or accomplished actor, they will gain by this. Art heals. It connects you to who you are and with everyone else. You just have to have a desire — otherwise, you won’t put up with all the hard times ahead.”
Hopefully, only the ones found in a script.
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