It’s late into the evening and Ken Burdick is hunched over, cynical, gruff and miserly, the weight of the world on his shoulders. He’s become cold and distant, a self-imposed loneliness the byproduct of death and keeping others at bay. Christmas brings him nothing but negative memories and he wants nothing to do with it.
Weeks earlier, Burdick was a well-respected doctor known for his decency and charitable works. But the good doc also has a dark side and in an experiment to separate his good and evil selves, he fully becomes his darker half, violent and cruel, ugly and deformed.
It’s a transformation that takes place on a regular basis.
During the day, Burdick is full of youthful energy, passion and enthusiasm. When the sun sets, he can be aggressive, frightening and unlikable. Whatever the script needs him to be.
Rehearsals for “A Christmas Carol” are just beginning and transitioning from one role to another – in this case, from Jekyll and Hyde to Ebenezer Scrooge – is nothing new for the longtime actor and musician.
But this will be the first time in his career that he is able to perform in a Christmas show, which runs Nov. 30 through Dec. 23 at The Ovation Theatre.
With over 50 productions under his belt, the 46-year-old has become a recognizable name and face in the local theater scene. He’s portrayed Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha,” Aldolpho in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Frankie in “Forever Plaid,” Sweeney Todd and so much more.
“Acting allows me to step out of my own shell and become whatever I want,” Burdick said.
An oboist since his elementary school days, Burdick didn’t get a real taste for theater until he was just out of high school. As a student at CSU Long Beach, he began learning to use his voice, joining the opera program, choir and musical theater. Despite being on an oboe scholarship, he chose singing.
“Although I love playing the oboe, the way that the words tasted when I sang, the ability to communicate even further, not only through the musical expression but through the language … I’m getting to experience the linguist side of me and the creative side through music,” he said. “It was a natural progression.”
Over the years, Burdick has performed at Bakersfield Civic Light Opera, Candlelight Theatre, Spotlight Theatre, The Gaslight Melodrama, Stars Theatre, The Ovation Theatre and many other local venues.
“It’s neat to bounce around between the different theaters because this theater community we have in town is so rich and so talented,” Burdick said. “It’s a shame that more people don’t know that we’re out here. The shows that are put on in Bakersfield are high-quality shows.”
A teacher for nearly 20 years, Burdick spends his days passing on his love for music and theater to students of all ages.
His weekdays start at 8 a.m. and don’t end until 11 p.m. His days and afternoons are dedicated to teaching classes at West High School and Bakersfield College while his evenings are devoted to rehearsals, leading the choir at Lutheran Church of Prayer and his own personal works. On weekends, he provides private voice lessons.
“I do love what I do,” he said. “That’s the thing that keeps me going. I’ve found a way that I can express myself and give joy or peace or comfort to those who need to hear it.”
Talent runs in Burdick’s family as well.
His wife, Jill, is a fantastic performer, musician and actor. Their oldest son, Aaron, has a master’s in opera and is a teacher and performer. Their oldest daughter, Alexandria, and two youngest, Mackenzie and Logan, are also “top-quality performers” following in their parents’ footsteps.
“It means the world to me,” Ken said. “They’re always cheering me on and I get to cheer them on. They do roles that I haven’t done so I live vicariously through them. It’s a really wonderful place to be. I have no complaints.” ￼