Bobby Smith has been acting professionally for 30 years and has built up an illustrious bio in shows such as “Forever Plaid,” “Kander,” “Of Thee I Sing,” in national touring companies of “Brigadoon” and “The World Goes Round” and on Broadway in “Crazy for You.”
In Washington since 2004, he’s worked at all the major companies in the region and is now back at Signature Theatre, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, playing Frank Shallard in “Elmer Gantry.”
Smith is singing a song from “Spin” at the theater’s 25th anniversary party Monday night, a star-studded affair that starts with a cocktail reception at 6 p.m. and features a revue of songs from many shows produced there at 7:30 p.m. (tickets are available in several tiers; visit signature-theatre.org for details). Smith, who’ll be in five more Signature shows next year, says the milestone is important.
“Signature Theatre really nurtures artists and new works,” he says. “It’s always an honor to be employed by them.”
The Christiansburg, Va., native is also a Helen Hayes Award winner and has lived in New York and San Diego for various stints as well. He’s single and lives in Columbia, Md. Smith enjoys spending time with friends, “mindless” television and spending time with his dog in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I struggled with coming out when I was 16. I am not sure when I actually became comfortable with who I am. I still struggle. I think most gay men do. Before I was 25 it was hard to tell anyone. But I can truly say that my family has never come to terms with my sexuality.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
My friend Steve Moore. Recently passed away. He was a successful comedian who was diagnosed with HIV just as his career was taking off. In the early ‘90s he created an HBO special “Drop Dead Gorgeous” about his life as an HIV-positive comedian. He raised awareness in a time where that stigma could have ruined him. He was a ray of light in my life. I wanted to emulate him and to some degree I did because he taught me how to live and love.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Tea Dance at the Lost and Found, late nights at Tracks. And I spent some time at Badlands and The Frat House in the ‘80s. My favorite spot these days is Old Ebbitt Grill. Not gay, but classy and tasty.
Describe your dream wedding.
Meh. Unfortunately, my mind is not there yet. But there would be Chambord and butterflies. Too gay?
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
As a gay white man I have been mistreated and bullied by law enforcement. It is impossible to wrap my head around how many others are racially profiled. I only hope what’s going on in Ferguson, Mo., will be a gateway for awareness.
What historical outcome would you change?
The Revolutionary War. I’m not saying I don’t want to be free from tyranny, I’m just saying I would sound cuter with a British accent.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I forget the venue, but I remember attending a performance by Grace Jones in this city when I was in my 20s. Gay heaven.
On what do you insist?
Empathy for all people in general. Also I’d like to manage and obtain respect for myself and for everyone I come in contact. My boundaries begin there. Respect is not an upgrade in a relationship, it should be a requirement.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“DC Actors for Animals had a wonderful Beltway Barks this morning….wonderful actors came out to volunteer to present and perform dogs/puppies from 6 rescues at our new venue site in the heart of downtown DC…..CityCenterDC!!! They could not have been nicer and more accommodating….think we’ll come back!”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“The Times They Are Ball-Changing”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Are you kidding? I have enough trouble coordinating my outfits as a gay man. It has taken me 30-some years to get it right. I certainly would not want to change now that I finally have a handle on it.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I turn my eyes to heaven once a day and hope there is a God that’s full of love and grace. I really want that to be true.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
I think we need more role models and guidance for the young LGBT community. Real time mentoring.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
It’s a problem for me when I hear about gay men believing they can change a straight man’s sexuality. Wishing and achieving are two different things.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Boys in the Band”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
New Year’s Eve. I once was fond of randomly kissing drunk strangers, but it holds little appeal for me now.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
I have a picture of myself shaking hands with President Obama.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
I wish I had learned to love and live in the present.
Vibrant city, full of history and 90 professional theaters producing more than 400 shows a year. It’s a perfect fit for me.