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It Was Love

Preparing myself for a university career in gymnastics, I used to travel to Abington High School in a suburb of Philadelphia to train with Coach Bob Stout who had been on the 1954 US Olympic team. I met a girl there who was in Abington’s Drama Club. She was rehearsing for a spring production of “West Side Story” and after work-out I’d walk over to the auditorium to watch their rehearsals. I remember vividly being involved in the scenes in front of me, thinking to myself, “No that’s not right! I don’t believe him” etc., my directing sensibility already putting me on notice of things to come.

 

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When Opening night finally arrived, I found myself transported by the entire experience. The music, the romance, the dancing, the emotion, the DRAMA….it was overwhelming. And the cast party at the nearby home of one of the ‘Sharks”’ found me, well, partying- dancing, singing, carousing like I never had before, and stumbling home as the sun rose the next morning. I was in ecstasy. Something had happened! I filed the experience away as an unusual thrill until the following year in Los Angeles, when I was enticed into auditioning for the USC Spring musical production of….you guessed it, “West Side Story”.

 

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I was cast and found the discipline of rehearsing as familiar as a work out on the free ex mat, and even more fun! Opening night, when the orchestra played the stunning first bars of Bernstein’s score and I scaled a chain link fence, dropped 8 feet to the floor and challenged the ‘Sharks’, I remember thinking in large capital letters, “OHHHH, THIS IS WHAT I’M SUPPOSED TO BE DOING!!” Light bulb flared on, heart and mind exploded open, a huge sigh of relief filled my soul and I’ve never looked back. Lucky me! “Joy springs from a grateful heart”

 

Joel was born and raised in Philadelphia, the first in a pair of identical twin boys. The first sparks of his theatrical talent showed up in the carnivals, fun houses, and plays he staged in his backyard and garage. “Frankenstein,” written, directed, and starring the 11 year old Joel, successfully sent local heart-throb Darlene Miller screaming into the driveway where she promptly wet her panties. Joel realized he was onto something special.

 

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In high school, Joel became seriously involved in competitive gymnastics. His athletic career led him to Los Angeles with a full scholarship to USC. When a chance audition for a production of “West Side Story” won him the part of A-rab, Joel’s life did a full twist. He was invited into a whirlwind European tour with the Festival Theatre Company, playing in England and Germany before landing at the Edinburgh Theater Festival. Three months and eight plays later, his fate was sealed.

 

“Young man! That was a marvelous performance”, bellowed the great Lee J. Cobb at an astonished 19-year-old Joel after the opening of his first French farce at USC’s Bovard Auditorium. Notwithstanding these words of encouragement, the curious and impatient young actor interrupted his college career for a stint as a circus clown that lasted all of three months. And then fate took over: In a Greyhound Bus depot in Mill Valley, California, an ad for the Summer Actor’s Training program at NYU lured Joel to New York for the first time, where he studied with Broadway director, Lloyd Richards, who opened his eyes to acting technique and introduced him to the New York theater community at the O’Neill Playwright’s Conference in New London.

 

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Joel returned to USC to finish his BA and was accepted into the MFA program at Yale Drama School. Yale exposed Joel to world-class talent which broadened his interest and honed his skill on the stage. Carmen DeLavallade, Andre Wadja, Meryl Streep, Ming Cho Lee, Christopher Lloyd, Sigourney Weaver and Chris Durang, are a few of the many artists with whom he rubbed shoulders in New Haven.

Master’s Degree in hand, Joel moved to New York, where a stuttering first year ended with a last minute audition for Dick Goldberg’s “Family Business,” which opened the door to his professional career. Joel went on to hone his craft in the regional theater circuit at the Hartford Stage Company, The Long Wharf Theater, Buffalo’s Studio Arena, the Walnut Street Theater, the West Chester Regional Theater, as well as other venues in and out of New York.

 

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In 1980, John Carpenter cast Joel in the cult classic remake of Howard Hawk’s sci-fi thriller, “The Thing”. This brought Joel back to Los Angeles, where he has lived and worked since 1983.

In his three and a half decades as a professional actor, Joel has appeared in a dozen feature films, and over a hundred twenty episodic TV shows and television movies. He continues to act on stage in theaters such as the Mark Taper Forum, San Diego’s Old Globe, South Coast Rep, the Odyssey Theatre, and the Pasadena Playhouse. Joel has not only been acting in plays, but lately his career has expanded into directing plays, which has brought him a whole new avenue of creativity and engagement.

 

Joel Polis Specialties

Living near the beach and mountains in Los Angeles, Joel also continues to enjoy his lifelong passion with athletics and the outdoors. He has often been overheard saying, “I’m a pretty lucky guy!” With the evidence still coming in, we have to agree.

 

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