On the Fringe with David Crawford
David Crawford caught the acting bug singing “I am a Cowboy” in the third grade, but it wasn’t until high school that he was inspired to become an actor. He said, “My algebra teacher, Mrs. O'Brien didn't find adequate expression in algebraic equations. She asked me to stay after class and perform dramatic readings of classic texts.”
The math teacher had Crawford reading Shakespeare, Tennyson, and the King James Bible. Crawford has been a professional actor since 1980 when he earned his Actors’ Equity card playing in a production of Macbeth starring iconic TV star, Jean Smart (Designing Women). He immediately put his union membership to work, playing Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet at Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, followed by more than 200 other roles in American regional theatre.
In the late 70s, Crawford played Father Berrigan in a production of The Trail of the Catonsville Nine, with fellow actor, David Early. George Romero attended the performance and cast Crawford and Early in his movie, Dawn of the Dead. He added, “Romero pointed at us and said, ‘I want those guys!’” Crawford said, “David Early and I would rehearse our movie scene in my apartment above a pizza shop on Fifth Avenue in Oakland over and over. We went down to shoot it and practically did it in one take. We were out before they set up for lunch.” The actor has garnered a worldwide fan base due to the seminal zombie flick. Crawford added, “David [Early] told me he once went to a convention and made $1,000 signing autographs at five dollars apiece. So, I started going to conventions and signing autographs.”
The actor had performed all over the Tri-State area. He has fond memories of working in a tent for the Morgantown Theater Company. He said, “The tent was informal – improvisational. The entrances and exits were ad-libbed. It was a great experience.”
Crawford developed a one-man show about Edgar Allen Poe in Poe’s Last Night. He said, “I love working on the one-man shows. It’s the complete creative process; writing, directing and acting. It’s gratifying to create something completely on your own. I had to use everything I knew about theatre.” He smiled and added, “Not that I do.”
He took his Poe show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. It debuted in Scotland and went on to runs in Pittsburgh, Michigan and the Brighton, England Fringe. 12 Peers Theater put on a production of Crawford’s Poe in an art gallery at Halloween in Pittsburgh’s Friendship neighborhood. Vince Ventura, Artistic Director of 12 Peers Theater, said, “David has been an influence on my career from as far back as my high school Career Day. He’s also been a loyal supporter of 12 Peers and a loyal friend.”
In the Bagel Factory in Oakland, Ventura convinced Crawford to create a one-man show about H.P. Lovecraft. Crawford said, “I didn’t know who he was. Vince was a big fan, though.” Crawford learned all about the troubled horror writer. Crawford created Lovecraft’s Monsters, his second solo show, and subsequently took it to the Fringe. Lovecraft’s Monsters had incarnations at the 2014 and 2017 Edinburgh Fringe, the 2017 Brighton Fringe, and for two weeks in Pittsburgh. Recently, he was invited to spend a day at Waynesburg University meeting with honors and theatre students and performing the play. “I fell in love with Edinburgh. The old stone and old architecture. It looks like you’re inside a storybook.”
When the actor heard that he was nominated for the Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award he smiled and said, “It must be some mistake.” Crawford added, “I’m honored of course and immensely grateful.”
The award will be handed out Sunday, October 7, with the rest of the Donna Awards at Cefalo’s Banquet and Events Center, 428 Washington Avenue, Carnegie, PA 15106.