In his own words, Tom Orr’s mission in life is to be eclectic.
The 62-year-old Ewing resident has worked as an actor, singer, retail store manager, national online auction manager, database and website designer, call center data analyst, business consultant, comic book and baseball card expert, barista, bartender and baseball umpire — a clear illustration of the magnitude of his eclecticism.
It continues to this day. Orr recently became the host of the Bucks County Cabaret in New Hope, and he also runs his own computer services company, is a consulting expert in comic books at the Berlin-based online luxury collectibles auction house Auctionata, and works as a stage actor who has performed in Philadelphia, New York and Atlantic City.
These days, Orr is benefiting from how life seems to often come full circle, moving from the stage to behind the scenes after being hired on the spot to run the Bucks County Cabaret, a mom-and-pop operation at New Hope’s Roadway Inn & Suites.
Orr most visibly serves as the host of the Cabaret’s shows and occasionally sings a few numbers, but his role has shifted more from performer to proprietor with this new pursuit, which has him booking a whole range of acts.
He says he hopes to leverage a career’s worth of contacts to present world-class entertainment.
“With all the connections I’ve made over the years, we want this venue to be a centerpiece in Bucks County, but it’s hard to get people to get out of their living room chairs and come see a show with live music nowadays,” Orr says.
“It’s part of the economic changes that we’ve gone through and are still going through,” he says. “People are saving their money to go see things they know they really want to see. Even big acts are working harder and playing smaller venues to be successful entertainers and make the kind of money they used to.”
Meanwhile, at Auctionata, Orr has parlayed a nearly life-long affinity for comic books into a professional pursuit. Landing a store manager job at Philadelphia’s Comic Investments in the 1970s led to an auspicious introduction to comic-collecting legend Ron Oser, who taught Orr how to grade comics and helped him accumulate a huge amount of knowledge about the medium.
Since then, Orr’s arsenal has expanded to include information about comic book artists, collection acquisition, authentication, creators and the art form’s history, to name a few. He’s also expanded his Auctionata expertise to include graphic art, sports memorabilia, and Americana — both historical and pop culture.
Over the years he’s handled items ranging from things once touched by George Washington, to Madonna’s “Material Girl” costume, to million-dollar comic books.
Of course, his firsthand experience watching comics explode in popularity makes today’s cinematic domination of superhero movies and resurging interest in their source materials of particular interest to Orr.
“The Marvel movies are so big now. Back then when they were just starting out, it was like, ‘Stan Lee—who’s he?’,” he says with a laugh. “I read Spider Man #1 when it first came out, so I grew up with this stuff. I feel like I’m really lucky to have lived on that cusp of knowing what life was like when it was black-and-white, and what it is now.”
Orr is quick to offer his opinion on why comic book heroes have crosed into the mainstream, seemingly striking a universal chord with record-breaking audiences.
“It’s like Greek or Roman mythology,” he says. “They used these gods as stories to understand what was going on in their regular lives. I think, in many ways, in lieu of a religion that everyone can agree with, these stories in comic books can be presented in a way that gives them a lot of meaning. That was the thing about Marvel: They took a simplicity meant for kids and made it meaningful.”
But even before comic books piqued his interest, Orr was already well on his way to becoming entrenched in imaginary worlds — as an actor.
He participated in summer stock theater starting at age 12, and studied history at the University of Pennsylvania, especially film history. He then studied acting and theater at Temple University.
Inevitably, his wide array of hobbies, talents and interests began to complement each other, and Orr found ways to benefit from those countless combinations.
For example, Orr used took his knowledge of general trivia and his extensive repertoire of songs dating back to the 19th and combined them with his musical talents to produce a revue about the evolution of music and its role in the American pop culture landscape.
“Basically, I’m a historian, I’m an entertainer, I’ve designed catalogues and databases,” he says. “When you’re an actor or a performer, you have to have a zillion professions—everyone has another job. Comic books really started for me when I needed a day job while working dinner theater right out of college.”
Coming from an educational background that was rich in the performing and musical arts, Orr does see the downshift in schools’ arts programs as contributing to the difficulties that live acts are now facing. But rather than allowing himself to be discouraged, he sees this as an opportunity to promote the region’s bountiful artistic resources and its countless, talented performers.
“We’re trying to bring back arts and culture, we’re trying to keep the old songs alive, we’re trying to be eclectic,” Orr says. “We have comedians coming in, we have jazz, folk and country artists. There are traditional cabaret shows with the Broadway standards, we do revues every month where we feature seven or eight singers. The thing about our space is that it’s an up-close and personal performance where the artists can interact with their audience.”
While he does admit his work with the cabaret venture is keeping him from his acting career, Orr is getting to flex his performance muscles in new ways. Take, for instance, the Bucks County Cabaret Show, an hour-long radio show that airs every night at 9 p.m. on PANJ Radio at panjradio.com.
He co-hosts the show with PANJ’s Rob Bell and frequent guests like longtime friend Meagan Hill and Orr’s wife Jennifer—both of whom are co-producers—in order to promote the coming week’s Cabaret performers.
“We’ll just talk and play songs from upcoming artists, so it’s a music show, it’s an interview show, we’ve given an extensive history of cabaret and the cabaret scene in New Hope,” he says.
When he’s not juggling various roles in both the literal and figurative sense, Orr is devoted to his family, which includes his wife, who helps with the Bucks County Cabaret and Orr cites as being an invaluable resource for brainstorming ideas, and two children, a son who is a junior at Monmouth College and a daughter who attends Ewing High School.
Orr is quick to cite their shared status as honor students, and is pleased that his youngest has inherited her father’s theatrical knack with a starring role under her belt. He also runs ACTORR Productions, which recently produced its first TV commercial, and sings “that old-timey music” at senior facilities, he says.
The Bucks County Cabaret, however, remains a passionate pursuit that Orr is determined to grow into a musical mainstay for the region’s performance venues.
“We have some big plans and some sold-out shows coming up, and we’re just hoping to expand,” Orr says. “I have a feeling that this could be an exciting next year. The thing about a cabaret is like an hour and half or performing in front of friends who are there to hear you and get to know you. You’re not fighting to be heard over people at the bar behind you: It’s a whole different kind of experience.”
For more information about The Bucks County Cabaret and to hear archived episodes of its accompanying radio show, visit actorr.com/bccradio.htm. For more information about Orr’s involvement with Auctionata, visit auctionata.com/en-us/p/142540/tom-orr-ewing-nj.