ALEXANDER SPENCER is an actor with a dramatic resume: born and raised in Great Britain, he trained in Paris as a mime and tightrope walker, traveled for four months with his wife and a clown act through Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey and Italy, spent three years dubbing French films, and then decided to move his family to the United States. Where did he end up? Glamorous Arlington.
Spencer will share the Kennedy Center stage this weekend with Claire Bloom, the Theatre Chamber Players and another local actor, Tim Rice, in a performance of Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale." It is, to his dismay, one of few jobs he has gotten locally, even though his career has progressed reasonably well since he and his wife, Deborah, left France in 1978.
"Being an actor in Washington is possible only if you are committed to the repertory idea," he said. "And then there are only two companies: Arena and Folger. I don't want to do that . . . For the variety of challenges and opportunity, you just have to go to New York."
So, although he moved here so his wife and two young daughters could be near his in-laws, and because it was cheaper, he has found himself commuting to New York at least once a week. Two years ago he got a part in a well-received play, "American Days," at the Manhattan Theater Club, which led to a contract with an agent, and subsequently he got a featured role in "The Soldier," a film that was released this summer.
"One person described it as James Bond without the gags," he said. "In the first 90 seconds there are four corpses." Spencer plays one of the hero's five pals called in to help him save the world from the threat of nuclear blackmail. "I play the electronic expert, which is a complete joke because I can't do anything with electrical things."
His wife, whom he met in Paris while she was making theatrical costumes, works as a legal secretary to help support the family. He has a job with a firm in Clinton that records books for rental, which gives him some security and the flexibility to be on call for auditions in New York.
"I'm in the rare position of being an actor who is committed to having a family and to the responsibilities of a family. We could not live in Manhattan; day care alone would cost us $900 a month." Spencer said that when, inevitably, he and his wife sell their house here and move to New York, they will live in a distant suburb of the city -- but at least it will be only an hour's commute instead of the grueling 4 1/2 it takes to drive from Washington.
Like many Washington actors, Spencer has found that he had to go to New York to audition for the local theaters. He has two agents in New York, one for film and stage and another for commercials, and an answering service. Although he has worked at New Playwrights' Theatre and the Round House, and as a standby at Arena, once he joined Equity he could no longer work at the numerous nonunion theaters in the area -- which offer activity but no money.
A Navy brat, Spencer left England for Paris to study mime with Etienne Decroux, then learned to walk a tightrope with the National Circus School. Although he never performed on the tightrope, he taught at the school, and then started to get work in the lucrative French film-dubbing business.
"Most of the work was for Americans, but there was a small coterie of British actors. Somehow we were always cast as perverts or weirdos." Through a friend, he also broke into the business of French commercials aimed at the international trade, which was even more lucrative.
But while the work was financially safe, it was not terribly interesting. "I wanted to be an actor, not just a voice." So he, his wife and a friend took off four months on their extended tour, setting up their performances in the streets, gathering a crowd and passing the hat.
"In Yugoslavia we were arrested for camping. In Greece we were arrested for collecting money. Performing in the streets wasn't illegal, but passing the hat was. The fourth time we just refused to be arrested. The chief of police took us down to the police station. He said, 'give us your passports,' but we wouldn't. So then he said: 'All right, I'm going to take your names!' So he wrote down our names, and then put them in his drawer and locked it. Then he let us go. I bet those names are still in that drawer . . ."