Mt. Lebanon actor honored for work in Stage Right production
Mark Yochum literally grew up on the stage.
“I've been in show business since I was a young kid, age 5,” says Yochum, 62, of Mt. Lebanon. “Not that I was any good at it when I was 5, but it's been a long time.”
You could say he's good at it now. Earlier this fall, Yochum tied for the Donna Award for best actor at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival Gala at Off the Wall Theater in Carnegie. He was honored for his work in the original Hamilton Kreeger play “Sleeping Aide,” produced by Stage Right in O'Hara and directed by Joe Eberle.
The Donna Award is named for Donna Rae, founder of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival. Longtime Pittsburghers will remember her as “Terminal Stare” on Chiller Theater with “Chilly Billy” Cardille. The festival is dedicated to fostering the development of original one-act plays. Each year, 12 new one-act plays are produced by local theater companies during the six weeks of the festival.
“(Yochum) is such a talented guy, and it was a great pleasure to work with him,” Eberle says. “He totally deserved the best actor award.”
“Sleeping Aide” is a play with little action; its entirety thing takes place in a bed with two characters.
“I knew my cast needed to deliver a very riveting, genuine and emotional performance every night in order to draw the audience in and keep them interested, and Mark and Ruthy (Stapleton) both did just that,” Eberle says.
Yochum doesn't remember exactly how many plays he's been in, but he's done “on average” two or three per year since 1980. For each play, there are 20 to 25 rehearsals before opening night.
“I don't golf, so this is my hobby,” he says.
He has enjoyed all of the characters he has played over the years, but he especially liked the more traditional characters such as Mortimer Brewster from “Arsenic and Old Lace,” Felix Unger from “The Odd Couple” and Elwood P. Dowd from “Harvey.”
There also have been many nontraditional roles.
“This past summer, I had one of the great parts in my life in a play called ‘Angels in America,'” Yochum says.
The 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tony Kushner is more than six hours long and is presented in two parts. It was made into an HBO miniseries in 2003. Yochum played the part of Roy Cohn in the Throughline Theatre Company production at the Grey Box Theatre in Lawrenceville.
Yochum has performed in several other regional theaters, including the Little Lake Theater in Canonsburg, the McKeesport Little Theater and the Olin Fine Arts Center at Washington & Jefferson College.
Not satisfied with just acting, Yochum also calls on his creative talent to write plays. Eberle first met Yochum in 2011, when he directed Yochum's play “La Vitra Loco” as part of the staged reading program of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.
“When I read it, I just instantly loved it,” Eberle says. “It was very funny and had a lot of heart. Mark was very hands-off and wanted me to interpret it my way, and I really appreciated that.”
Yochum says what he loves most about performing is the ability to lose yourself in it. “The second thing is I love meeting people,” he says. “Theater is nondiscriminatory — all walks of life, all ages, all body types — which is cool.”
When he's not busy rehearsing or writing plays, Yochum spends his time teaching bankruptcy law and legal ethics at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, where he has been a professor of law for 30 years. He says he enjoys teaching and enjoys interacting with the students.
“Acting is very constrained,” he says. “In a play, you're not doing anything by chance; everything has been planned out. Class is always far more spontaneous, and that's what makes it fun.”
Yochum graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, in 1974 with a bachelor's degree in arts history and from Georgetown University Law Center in 1977.
He has an extensive resume, having presented or organized more than 200 continuing legal-education programs. He has served as president of the Pittsburgh Tax Club and has lectured for the Allegheny County Bar Association Taxation and Bankruptcy sections. He has spoken at national conferences and emceed more than 75 events for Duquesne University, bar associations and charitable groups.
Yochum grew up in Pleasant Hills. He and his wife, Kathleen, have a daughter, Molly.
Pamela Murphy is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.