Boulder County seems to have a high concentration of talented, creative and accomplished people. Sometimes, we learn about them from the news, but once in awhile, they live in our neighborhood and we learn of their existence through the coincidence of daily routines.
Enter Rich Alpers. You’ve likely seen his face many times on his real estate signs in Boulder County. Rich lives in Gunbarrel, and has been in Boulder for 30 years. But before he embarked on his career selling homes, he was an actor and singer for 13 years in New York City, appearing in numerous plays, some television shows and movies such as “Ghostbusters,” “Wall Street” and “Goodfellas.”
Alpers grew up in Connecticut, and majored in musical theater at Ashland College (now University) in Ohio. It was a small school, which gave Alpers plenty of opportunities for onstage work.
After his junior year in college, he applied to summer stock theater companies, finally getting accepted to one that was a union gig in Galesburg, MI. He worked the summer of his junior year, and was asked back for his senior year summer, which gave him enough hours that he earned a union card.
“I went to New York ready to take the world by storm, which didn’t quite happen,” he said. He spent years in traveling stock companies and singing groups, building up equity and appearing all over the country. Two months ago, the Actors’ Equity Association tracked him down even though he hadn’t been a member in decades.
“They said fill out this simple 15-page form, and now I qualify for a pension,” he laughed. “I’m delirious!”
Alpers’ times in the movies included lots of what the industry calls “silent bits,” which are roles with no speaking. Actors with lines are paid more, and in New York, extras are union jobs. Alpers said they do all they can to keep extras silent so they don’t have to pay them more.
“Lots of my movie roles, you have to know where to look. The last movie I did before I left New York was Goodfellas. I played policemen a lot, because I marketed myself that way. At one point, I’m a police desk sergeant as they bring Ray Liotta’s character through the police station.”
“I did extra work (as a policeman) on the movie Ghostbusters in New York City, and people would be coming up to me all day long, saying, ‘Excuse me, Officer, I can tell you’re really a cop, and those other guys are actors. What’s going on here?’ And I’d say, ‘None of your damn business. Move along,’” he laughed.
“I thought if I looked that right in the uniform, then I should use it,” he said. He had a postcard made up with the picture of him as a cop, and sent it to casting directors for cop roles.
“Once I’d get to know them, I’d say, ‘By the way, I sing, too!’” said Alpers.
When Alpers and his wife Amy—who is a best-selling author of Pilates books and owns The Pilates Center in Boulder—moved to Boulder 30 years ago, there was enough union work to keep him in paychecks at first. He got enough work through Industrial Film in Colorado Springs that his Screen Actors’ Guild insurance kicked in, which covered the birth of his son. He was also the first equity guest artist ever at the Arvada Center for the Performing Arts.
Unfortunately, union work for performers in Colorado dried up. It became clear to Alpers that he wouldn’t be able to support his family in Colorado with acting any longer.
“The whole process of buying a house kind of fascinated me,” he said. “So I got my real estate license. That was 28 years ago.”
Alpers’ career included voiceover work for organizations such as National Geographic and Winn Dixie grocery stores. He also worked for a quite a while for a company that produced fake radio shows for Japanese people seeking fluency in English. The shows were recorded just like old radio shows with a few people in the recording booth, but Alpers and the other actors had to speak at 75 percent of normal speed. He has toyed with the idea of going back to voiceover work after he retires from real estate.
Alpers is an accomplished storyteller, and he has plenty of stories to tell.
“I was 23, and I had just finished Carl Sagan’s book “The Dragons of Eden” the night before. This was in ‘78 or ‘79 and he was a big star—talk shows, best-selling books—and I was touring with the Winged Victory Singers, and I walked into Channel 9 in Chicago, and holy cow. There was Carl Sagan,” he recalled.
“So I walked over, introduced myself. I told him how much I loved his book, how I learned so much from someone not in science, and he thanked me. I said, ‘What are you doing here today?’ He said, ‘I’m going to go on the Donahue Show to discuss the origins of the universe. How about you, young man?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to go on the Bozo the Clown show and sing ‘Candy Man!’ I realized how stupid that sounded, and Sagan said, “Well, that’s nice, too.’” Alpers laughed.
“But hey, I got paid.”