Houston Voice – Interview

Houston Voice – Interview

Houston Voice

Friday, July 28, 2006

MAIN FEATURE

From New York City with love

Texas-born actor John Raymond Barker returns to Houston for music, memories

By JOEY GUERRA

Texas boy John Raymond Barker made his way to the Big Apple in 2003, in search of fame, fortune and a few exciting theater roles. Three years later, he returns to Houston—thinner, wiser and ready to show locals exactly what he’s been up to. Barker joins a few fellow performers July 31 at Sullivan’s of Houston for a night of standards, jazz, showtunes, rock, pop, funk and original music. From bawdy to balladry, every style will likely be covered. Joining Barker onstage will be singer Omari Tau, currently in Houston as part of the national touring production of the musical The Lion King. Rounding out the evening are prolific performers Doris Davis, Mia Fisher and Bethany Daniels Shapiro, assistant for the Arts & Culture Department at the Jewish Community Center of Houston. “My show, I guess, it would be anti-cabaret. It’s not purist. It’s rock-pop and funk, and I’m raunchy,” Barker says. He recently performed his one-man show Jerby: Fully Loaded for enthusiastic audiences in New York City. “I’m creating my own theater, so it has to be theater I care about. It had to be indicative of me,” he adds. “Ultimately, I just do what I want. If people don’t like it, oh well.”

Inspiration

The prodigious actor, who earned a master’s degree in fine arts at the University of Houston, says inspiration came from one of theater’s—and the gay world’s—most irreverent icons. “I think a lot of people that do cabaret nowadays that are not traditional are clearly inspired by Sandra Bernhard,” Barker says. “I put in a couple of references here and there—an homage to her—because it’s just clear that her format, her style, her wit and comedy sort of drives how people create their shows these days.” After graduation, Barker was a regular face in Houston’s theater scene, popping up (albeit briefly) in glossy productions from Theatre Under The Stars, Stages Repertory, Main Street Theatre and the Alley Theatre. Soon, however, it was clear that a major change was necessary to jumpstart his career. Barker made the leap to New York at age 29 with a pair of friends, which he says made it much easier. There were, however, a few initial setbacks. “I wanted to move a year earlier, but then 9/11 sort of threw everything (off), and the flood (from tropical storm Allison) in Houston. Lots of things happened,” Barker says. “There was no option. I had to move to New York. I was never going to really get to do the kind of work that I was craving. When you’re in your hometown, people don’t really take you as seriously. You’ve got to move away to get to respect.”

He toiled away as an usher on Broadway and now works as the backstage doorman at the Walter Kerr Theatre, which has been home to several acclaimed productions. That seemingly modest position has given Barker the chance to rub elbows with a revolving door of celebrities and pick up a few tips. “It’s a very thrilling job. I’ve met so many people. I’ve actually developed semi-friendships with people like [actors] Cherry Jones or Ron Eldard,” Barker says. “Not like I can just call them up, but they really were very, very lovely people to get to meet and learn from. “I think I’ve had the most amazing training just sitting backstage in that chair … seeing the ebb and flow of a year on Broadway for a flop and a hit. It’s been amazing.” Those moments have served as inspiration for Barker’s own original work, which he also says draws from his experiences as an openly gay actor. He seemingly wouldn’t have it any other way. “I will never be a closeted performer,” Barker says. “There’s no way that could happen, even if I wanted it to. I’ve slept with too many people.” “What’s great is there are a lot of people that are being that brave—Cheyenne Jackson and John Hill—all these up-and-coming Broadway performers that are making a crossover into television and film. They’re out of the closet, and there is no going back.”

As for coming back to his old Houston haunts, Barker says he is looking forward to touching base with old friends and simply taking in the familiar with a new sense of self. He’s also ready to indulge in a few eateries that are all too familiar with the late-night club crowds. “There’s not a Whataburger in New York, and I do crave that. There’s lot of things you can’t get in New York,“ Barker says. “House of Pies, of course. Even though there are lots of diners, you can’t get that. There’s always Mai’s [Vietnamese restaurant] and the waitresses who roll their eyes at you after you order. I’m going to have to have some of that, I think.” And don’t be surprised if you see Jerby rolling through the clubs this weekend—pre-Whataburger. “It is kind of cool to go back home and then go out to the bars and feel like you’re a changed person. That’s such a shallow thing to say, but it’s true,” he says. “I was weaned on the Houston gay bars. My first gay bar was Heaven. Will people look at me different? Will I be more confident? Will I feel sexier? Only because it’s Houston, … it’s a benchmark of something.”

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