Actor and instructor has held many roles in eclectic lifePublished September 9, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Tom McLeod of Conway, executive director of the Conway Community Arts Association, holds some props as he stands next to a portrait of artist Vincent van Gogh at The Lantern Theatre in downtown Conway. McLeod is presenting a one-man show, Vincent, written by Leonard Nimoy and told by van Gogh’s brother, Theo, through hundreds of letters that Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother. More information is available at www.conwayarts.org.
CONWAY Tom McLeod seems right at home in The Lantern Theatre in downtown Conway, where he is starring in a one-man show called Vincent.
During the interview, he used accents to make his stories entertaining, broke into Spanish once, described an eclectic life lived, and laughed a lot.
Funny thing, though, until a few years ago, Tom McLeod, now 59, had never even seen a play.
“Real men don’t do live the-ater,” he said, using a pretend, dumb-hick accent.
Encouraged by “some young folks” at the University of Central Arkansas — where he went to finish his degree at age 50 — he tried acting.
“I was cast in a little play and fell in love with it,” he said.
McLeod, who lives in Conway and is part-time executive director of the Conway Community Arts Association, is somewhat of a late bloomer.
The Florida native dropped out, i.e., flunked out, of Stetson University in central Florida after two years. He was a business major on his way to law school.
“I was 15 minutes from Daytona Beach. I didn’t have a plan — my parents had a plan. I was a lower-middle-class beach kid,” he said.
And a hippie. He and his then-wife joined the Back-to-the-Land movement in 1973, and they bought property in Arkansas near Leslie and moved there in 1975.
They and 75 other idealistic people “were going to make our living growing vegetables and raising honeybees.”
About two years later, he said, he stumbled into “reforestation,” planting pine trees, and he traveled the country.
“I planted trees in 27 states, probably. I got to experience Mount St. Helens blowing up,” he said.
Because that was a wintertime job, for 12 summers he took kids to Iowa to work in the cornfields.
In reforestation, he worked his way up from grunt to crew boss and, in 1981, formed a company called Qualitree in Leslie with some friends, where he oversaw 300 employees and was in charge of sales. He pitched services to big timber companies and individuals. His favorite aspect of the job was “watershed operations,” in which the company replanted cypress and hickory trees.
Competition became cutthroat, he said, and he was burned out being the boss.
“I was a heck of a worker, a heck of a crew boss. I always worked with groups of people toward a common goal,” he said.
That’s one reason why teaching appealed to him. His children — daughter, Laurel, and son, Shaun — graduated from the now-consolidated Leslie schools. Through the years, McLeod was a substitute teacher and a peewee basketball coach.
“I’ve got a ton of patience for kids,” he said.
He described himself as “hyper, Tiggerish,” and that makes him fit right in with kids, especially the middle-level grades, which he enjoyed the most.
“I really felt like it was my calling,” he said of teaching.
He mentioned, as an aside, that there was this other little hobby of his in the ’80s — playing volleyball, which led to him becoming a high school volleyball referee throughout Arkansas.
McLeod started at UCA in 2002 and told his adviser he was interested in teaching fifth, sixth and seventh grades. His strengths are in math and science, which got the adviser’s attention, because of the demand for teachers in those disciplines.
McLeod’s previous attempt at college 30 years before gave him a year’s credit.
“It was awesome. God bless UCA,” he said.
His daughter was a student at Hendrix College at the time he attended UCA.
“We would meet for coffee and talk about papers we were doing,” he said. “There was a strong daddy-daughter bonding.”
He also was a part-time adjunct teacher at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, teaching remedial mathematics.
McLeod thought he’d teach in middle school, but he was asked to take a full-time position at UACCM. He got a master’s degree in education in 2007 from UCA and is now a full-time math teacher at UACCM.
“I absolutely love teaching math. I’m a numbers freak,” he said.
It ties in with his passion for acting: one, because he’s not shy about getting in front of people, and two, he exudes personality.
“They don’t fall asleep in my class,” he said, laughing.
His love of acting has led to a growing list of credits, from three years or so at UCA doing shows such as Proof and You Can’t Take it With You, the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre and five years performing at The Weekend Theater in Little Rock.
McLeod said he’s had his hands in almost every aspect of the theater, from stage managing to selling concessions.
“I’ve done everything but directed,” he said.
The CCAA performance of Vincent, its first, will be the third time he’s done the show.
“It’s a beautiful show,” he said.
Written by Leonard Nimoy (yes, the Star Trek actor), it’s the story of Vincent Van Gogh told by the artist’s brother, Theo.
“It’s the story about Vincent, but I think it’s deeper,” McLeod said, adding that it shows the struggles a family undergoes if a member of it is an artist or genius.
The story is possible because of the 500 letters that Van Gogh wrote to his brother. Theo died not long after Vincent, and Theo’s wife kept all the letters. Yes, McLeod has played the role two other times in other venues, but “it’s still a live performance,” McLeod said.
It will be performed again at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at The Lantern Theatre, 1021 Van Ronkle St.
McLeod’s goal as executive director is to bring more diversity to CCAA performances.
“We’re going to bring in improv; we’re thinking of a week of one-acts,” he said.
In addition to five main-season shows, CCAA hosts a late-night series.
He said CCAA made “a huge decision” 1 1/2 years ago by getting a permanent space in downtown Conway.
“Knock on wood; we’re doing well,” he said.
“Our membership roll has grown. People say, ‘OK, this is the real deal.’”
And, if nothing else, McLeod is about keeping things real.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.
Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.