Profile: Ann Arbor lawyer guilty of acting up outside of work

During the day, Ann Arbor’s Ken Overwater focuses on civil litigation and business transactions as a lawyer with Kitch Law Firm in Detroit. It’s a “role” he’s trained his whole life for and is very good at.

But after his “day job,” Overwater transforms himself into different characters, like he’s a different person. While he doesn’t get in a phone booth and become a caped crusader, Overwater does take on different roles after he hangs up his lawyer coat and tie. For the next few weeks, he will play a dual role as Karl and Steve in St. Dunstan’s Theatre’s presentation of “Clybourne,” at the St. Dunstan’s Theatre in Bloomfield Hills.

 A lawyer by day, actor by night isn’t your typical 24 hours for most people. But it’s the perfect combination for the obviously smart and obviously creative Ken Overwater, who says he hears the same questions all the time – let’s go through them:

“People often ask if I can sing and dance and how I learn so many lines.

“They ask how my fiancée feels about me spending so much time at rehearsals.

“They also ask if my theatrical experience helps my law practice, or vice versa.”

So, let’s find out the answers.

Overwater can sing “reasonably well” and dance “reasonably poorly.”

He memorizes his lines by recording them and listening to them in his car. He also writes them out by hand.

His fiancée is very understanding because she’s been there, done that. The two actors met as cast mates in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” at Inspire Theatre in Westland.

And, yes, his theatrical experience helps his law practice, and vice versa.

“Theatre and trial practice both require intense preparation, strong public speaking skills, and the ability to think quickly on your feet,” says Overwater, who attended Dearborn Divine Child High School and the University of Michigan. “When a witness says something wildly unexpected or a cast mate forgets their lines (or your prosthetic nose falls off during a monologue – true story), you have to keep calm and react quickly.

“Juries expect some drama and theatricality, and providing that can get them to like you, which can only help your client. Working as an attorney teaches you to think critically and to thoroughly examine a text, which makes me better at finding the nuances of a character in the script.”

Overwater, 36, says the two professions “complement each other very well.”
“It’s rewarding to use my skills to help my clients and to entertain my audiences,” he says.

He will be entertaining audiences at St. Dunstan’s Theatre’s in Bloomfield Hills through March 11 in “Clybourne Park,” a Tony-Award and Pulitzer Prize winning play that takes place in two acts set 50 years apart where actors play two different roles (sound familiar?) in different stages of their life.

Act 1 is set in 1959 with Russ and Bev selling their two-bedroom home at a bargain price, unknowingly bringing the first black family into the neighborhood and creating ripples of discontent among the white residents of Clybourne Park. Fifty years later, when a white couple buys the same property with plans to raze the house and build a mansion, the now predominantly African-American neighborhood battles to hold their ground in the face of gentrification.

What does Overwater like most about the play?

“It’s difficult to choose from our incredibly hard working production team, detailed set and truly stunningly talented cast, but this play truly deserved a Pulitzer, so what I like most about this play is the writing,” he says. “It features the most realistic dialogue, which keeps it well grounded in reality and gives its social commentary more credibility. Additionally, (writer) Bruce Norris manages to seamlessly reuse topics and even the same language in both acts, artfully demonstrating how our society’s discussion of issues of race and prejudice are different, but still very much the same.”

Overwater grew up in Dearborn, and started acting in eighth grade at Sacred Heart Elementary School. He continued acting throughout high school in both plays and musicals.

He moved to Ann Arbor to attend U-M, appearing in a few student films and small productions. He stayed in Ann Arbor for a year after graduation before moving to Chicago for law school.

He lived in Chicago for 10 years, spending the last six working as a public defender in DuPage County. His acting career, meanwhile, was guilty of not existing.

Overwater moved back to Dearborn in 2014 and started a solo law practice, focused largely on indigent criminal defense.

And then the phone rang – and it was his acting career calling.

“It was during that time that I was contacted by a former teacher, who ran the theatre department at Divine Child and directed me in several plays,” he said. “She encouraged me to audition for a one act festival in Canton. I was cast in two different one-acts, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.”

He has since appeared in numerous productions, both community and professional, and was welcomed back to DC to assistant direct plays and musicals with a former classmate.

Some of his favorite roles were Bernard, the expatriate playboy frantically balancing three fiancées in “Boeing Boeing” at Farmington Players; Tom, who goes through a divorce while trying to maintain his relationship with he and his ex-wife’s mutual friends in “Dinner With Friends” at Monster Box Theatre; and “is he what he claims to be” Detective Sergeant Trotter in Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” and the “drunk and crazy” Dr. Einstein in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” both at the Players Guild of Dearborn.

Overwater moved back to Ann Arbor in 2016, where he lives with his fiancée, Sara, and stepson, Nick. And while he is NOT going to give up his day job, he’s thankful to have a night job where he can use his creative skills to entertain audiences.

 

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