Versatility, hard work define Ken Hof
Looking at and listening to Ken Hof, it’s no surprise that the actor he most wants to portray is John Wayne.
Like John Wayne, Ken physically dominates any stage he walks onto. His height, his shock of white hair and his basso profundo voice can’t help but capture attention. But what keeps audiences, and his fellow actors, engaged is the perfection he seeks and achieves with every role he plays.
“I’m most satisfied when I’m working hard,” he says. “I want to give the audience their money's worth. Sustaining John Wayne is hard, because everybody knows what he sounds like so it better be good.”
Radio Redux founder and director Fred Crafts concurs on Ken’s work ethic.
“Ken is one of the hardest working, most professional actors I’ve encountered,” Fred says. “He is always prepared and brings his “A” game to every rehearsal and performance.”
Ken began acting in high school and went on to study theater at Boston University School for the Arts. After acting for decades in traditional theater, he discovered Radio Redux and the opportunities and challenges it offers actors, notably the meticulous focus needed for vocal characterization.
“Radio Redux is different because you have only your voice, so all character choices you make can only be realized vocally, which requires a precision that is greater than you might require in a stage play.”
Attaining that level of vocal rigor requires careful preparation for each character.
“If I'm playing a role where the character is heavily identified with a certain actor, like John Wayne or Sidney Greenstreet, I'll spend a lot of time listening and watching and form a voice while doing that. I'll talk with the movie,” he says.
“Once I have that established, then the main issue becomes focus. For me, it takes more concentration maintaining a voice other than my own than any part I have played in theater.”
For Radio Redux, Ken has portrayed Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, Big Butch in Butch Minds the Baby, Kasper Guttman in The Maltese Falcon and an over-the-top general in War of the Worlds. In a broad, and memorable, departure, he was White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, a role that Fred took particular pleasure in casting.
“I tapped into Ken’s wicked sense of humor when I cast him as The White Rabbit. I thought it would be amusing for the audience to see such a tiny rabbit played by such a big guy, but Ken took it one step further, offering to play the role in a pink bunny suit,” Fred says.
Imbued with a wicked sense of humor, Ken Hof offered to play the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland while wearing a pink bunny suit.
“I nixed that idea, of course, so he came at us another way by giving the White Rabbit a touch of Rodney Dangerfield, which is a character voice he likes to slip in wherever he can, vocal imitations being one of Ken’s strong suits.”
Another memorable performance was Ken’s John Wayne role as Ringo Kid in Stagecoach, back when Radio Redux performed at the Wildish Theatre in Springfield.
Ringo, along with Guttman in The Maltese Falcon, are his favorite roles to date with Radio Redux, Ken says.
In his traditional theater roles, he fondly recalls playing Big Daddy in the Very Little Theatre’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof some years ago. What struck a chord about that role, he says, is that Big Daddy was “such a unique character that I really had nothing internally to go on to connect to that role. He was a self-made man and his family was generation after generation of dirt farmers, issues that are of weight and importance but that were almost foreign to my own experience. I worked hard to bridge that gap.”
Like many Radio Redux actors, Ken is a fan of movies from the black-and-white era, in particular Sherlock Holmes films with Holmes played by Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone. Ken, a longtime member of the London-based Sherlock Holmes Society, notes that anything Holmes is “still a box office draw even though his character first appeared in the late 1800s. Audiences like Mr. Spock and a host of other characters because we like Sherlock Holmes.”
Aside from playing John Wayne again, Ken says, “ I have no cravings. I love performance, I love communing with the audience, and I don't really care what role I’m playing. The thing I love most about Radio Redux is that I love us all — audience and actors — to have a good time together and go home happy.”
Story by Marti Gerdes, a free-lance writer based in Eugene.
Bill Barrett, Dan Pegoda and Ken Hof show off the best of 1940s haberdashery in a Radio Redux performance. Photo by Emerson Malone.
Al Villanueva, Achilles Massahos, Jane Brinkley and Bill Barrett join Ken Hof on stage in Radio Redux's performance of Alice in Wonderland at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene. Photo by Scott Kelly.