After electrifying local stages for the past two years, Scott Wichmann is heading out for greener pastures.
The first time I saw Scott Wichmann onstage, he was squeezing every laugh possible out of the role of the Cowardly Lion in Theatre IV's 1999 production of "The Wizard of Oz." The last time I saw him, he was playing an elf in Swift Creek Mill Theatre's Christmas show, "Sleepytime Santa." Even in this half-hour holiday amusement, Wichmann was mining the material for surprising moments of hilarity. His ad-libbed outburst of "Who Let the Elves Out?" reduced the young audience to giggles and is still repeated in my household more than a month after the show. These performances act as bookends to a series of roles that have defined Wichmann as one of Richmond's shining lights. In just two years, the diminutive actor has shown remarkable versatility, tackling everything from Frank Sinatra in the Barksdale's "Ella and Her Fella Frank" to Snoopy in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." But Wichmann's talent is too big for this town: When his stint as Peter in "The Diary of Anne Frank" ends at Swift Creek Mill Feb. 23, he will be leaving for Washington, DC. "It's time for a change," says the 27-year old actor. "I could see myself living in a bunch of different cities before I settle down. Eventually, I want to try everything." What Wichmann doesn't say is that, despite Richmond's thriving stage scene, only a precious few local actors can support themselves in their profession full time. Wichmann could have been one of those actors: He has worked in shows back-to-back for the past year, appearing in more than seven productions. But his determination to hone and improve his craft made this move inevitable. In DC, Wichmann will take acting classes and sign up with Central Casting, a large talent agency that casts movies and television as well as theater. "You have to keep trying to get better or else you fall back on old habits," he explains. "You end up limiting yourself." In 2000, there seemed to be no limit to what Wichmann could do, as he moved effortlessly from Shakespeare (Bottom in "A Midsummer's Night Dream") to broad musical comedy (Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls"). He landed these roles even though he isn't exactly the classic leading man. Just recently, Wichmann met with an agent. "She said, 'I can't think of anyone you remind me of; I don't know if I can find a type for you,'" recalls Wichmann. His niche-defying looks and talent may hinder him in a business that thrives on stock characters. "I can always be the goofy, wacky next-door neighbor. But I should be able to do other things, too; you just need to show people there's a real person in there," says Wichmann. "I think that Scott is going to make it no matter where he goes," says Richard St. Peter, the associate artistic director at the Barksdale Theatre. St. Peter directed Wichmann in last winter's "Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop," a one-man tour de force that had the actor playing 10 completely different characters with amazing precision. "He's fearless. He'll do or try anything," enthuses St. Peter. "Scott has the talent, ambition and drive. Both personally and professionally, I'm going to miss him." St. Peter first met Wichmann when the actor moved to Virginia from New York in the summer of 1998. Both men worked at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg where they were involved in the small-scale stage shows that ran several times a day. Wichmann eventually logged 1,112 performances in a show called "The Enchanted Laboratory." The actor says he learned a lot from the experience. "You run into every problem you can imagine," says Wichmann. "You think having a light go out is a problem [in a major production]; imagine some little kid starting to wander around backstage." Though he's leaving Richmond behind, Wichmann has nothing but good things to say about the local stage scene. "There are natives here that trash the city all to hell," says Wichmann. "But from my perspective, it's on the road to something good. The whole Richmond renaissance is on its way; you can see it in the arts community. There are so many talented and creative people here. Someday, you're going to turn around, and you're going to see those same people on "'Saturday Night Live.'" There's no telling about the rest of the Richmond talent pool. But, whether it's on Weekend Update or the silver screen, there is no doubt that we will be seeing Scott Wichmann again. And dozens of tykes who saw "Sleepytime Santa" will be able to tell their friends that they saw him back when he was just an
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