nytheatre.com q&a preview by Jack Haley
September 5, 2012
What is your job on this show?
When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
I was a very shy and awkward kid. Up until about age 14, I was really only interested in math, computers and science fiction; the thought of being an actor or any kind of artist hadn't really crossed my mind. But in junior high school we were required to take one generalized "art" class that was one third visual art, one third music and one third theatre. I was assigned a monologue. I wish I could remember, for the life of me, the title of the play or the author. It was about a teenage boy being ostracized by his peers and misunderstood by his family. I had no idea how to approach it, so I just dove in and did it for the class. When I was finished, the teacher and my classmates were sitting there with their mouths open, I think because they'd never really seen this quiet kid who hid in the background. It was something that just made sense to me. After that I couldn't get enough, I kept on through high school college and into adult life. Acting is still the one thing that makes me feel like I am fully and unreservedly myself. It seems odd to some that playing an entirely different person can bring that feeling, but characters are, after all, just parts of ourselves brought to the surface and fully expressed. I know I'll never stop doing it.
Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
I love film and television, and have been lucky enough to work on shows like "30 Rock" and "Law & Order, SVU," and even got to work with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in "Hope Springs." Those were all certainly thrills, and there is something deeply satisfying about working with the camera that you don't get on stage. But the beauty of theatre, for me, is that it's a two way street between the actor and the audience. You can feel the people with you, and every audience has its own personality. It affects each performance differently. It's really a dialogue, and it provides that visceral immediate experience between people. When I do theatre and it is going well, I feel that artistic communion with the people in the room, right there in the moment. It's very satisfying.
How did you meet your fellow artists/collaborators on this show?
I've known Ken Schatz, the show's director, since we studied together at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and Circle in the Square a long, long time ago. A few years ago, after losing track of each other for ages, I started working with Ken as an acting coach, and it changed my work entirely. He led the way for me to finally break through the difficulties I had expressing myself in a very personal and passionate way. I think this is a struggle for many actors -- they want desperately to take the chance to be vulnerable and powerful, but it can be so elusive and mysterious. Ken made it simple (though not necessarily easy, it's never easy). He took away that veil of mysticism that seems to engulf so many acting classes. He helped me learn that much of this skill is just practice, practice, practice until eventually things that took hours to connect with took seconds. I saw Ken do that kind of work with many other actors as well, some of them just extraordinarily talented. So when the chance arose to take that work outside of the studio and out to the public, I jumped at the chance. I'm very proud of this show. It's really centered on the acting work, and that work is at a level that's rare to see on stage, especially in a showcase production.
Which famous New Jerseyite would like your show the best: Snooki, Bruce Springsteen, Thomas Edison?
Gotta be Bruce. He makes music that grabs you by the throat and maybe some lower parts of the anatomy. He sings about the very rough and human and unstoppable desires of everyday people, grabs at your most basic, urgent needs. I think of words like "thunder," "roar," and "jungle." It's those kinds of drives that you see in Williams' characters. Yeah, I think he'd dig it. Anyone got his number? I swear we'll give him comps.
Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
Absolutely. Not just theatre, but all the performing arts. You can read all the newspapers and magazines you want, listen to speeches, watch debates. And you should. It's invaluable to be fully informed. But what those things don't give you is a direct gut connection to the issues people struggle with. When you watch Willy Loman give everything for his dignity and the admiration of his family, or when the cabbies in Odets' "Waiting for Lefty" rise up and strike at the end of the play, or when you see Macbeth search his heart to reconcile his lust for power against his basic compassion for his fellow man, you understand what people struggle with in a way that journalism just can't provide. It's only when we understand people with our guts and hearts, not just our brains, that we can see what the world needs, where injustices need to be addressed, where attention must be paid. Humans have been storytellers from the very beginning. It's part of our most basic makeup.