Name: James Patrick Nelson
Hometown: Los Angeles
Education: B.F.A. Boston University School of Theatre, with a semester at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts
Select Credits: Off-Broadway: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Three Sisters (Classic Stage Company); Rutherford and Son (Mint Theater). Regional: The Norman Conquests (Depot Theatre); The Group (Actors Theatre of Louisville). National Tours: Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest (National Players at the Olney Theatre Center), and a repertory of Romeo and Juliet, All’s Well That Ends Well, Knight of the Burning Pestle, and A Christmas Carol (American Shakespeare Center). Boston: Duchess of Malfi (Actors Shakespeare Project); The Life of Galileo, directed by the late, great David Wheeler. Readings and workshops at Primary Stages, HERE Arts, Theatre for the New City, the Actors Studio, the 47th Street Theatre, Fundamental Theatre Project, Boston Playwright’s Theatre, New Repertory Theatre, and others.
Why theater?: I cannot understand a worldview that doesn’t include theatre. It cannot be compared and it need not be argued for, it is absolutely unique and absolutely essential. All that’s left of any of us when we die is what we’ve already given away: the stories we’ve told. That’s everything. Theatre is a practice in empathy. Theatre is the best and oldest way of bringing people together I can think of. Theatre is present, theatre is immediate, theatre gives us a safe space to admit to all our common beauty, rage, enthusiasm, terror, and ecstasy, and all the truths we would otherwise hide. I love the theatre. It’s where I’m most at home and at my best.
What’s it like being a part of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?: It’s so delightful! The ensemble is so intelligent, enthusiastic, and playful, and everyone has so many things to offer that are so personal. It’s so exciting to have so many uniquely extraordinary people working together on the same project. All added up, the play will likely be very different from any previous production you’ve seen, but I think what’s different, or dare I say conceptual, about the piece only deepens the story-telling. It’s such a privilege to sit and listen to speeches that I know by heart and have heard a hundred times and think, “Oh my God, THAT is what that means,” and not just in terms of the clarity of the language, but the specificity of the character’s intention, the relationships, and the stakes. The play is, of course, hilarious, but it’s also a lot more serious than people give it credit for, and surprisingly moving. And in various, little, sublime ways I’m still articulating for myself, the play is really about theatre itself.
What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: For years now, I have been really inspired by Harold Clurman. He asserts that life is the greatest of all works of art, and that this is why the theatre is for everyone, because any man or woman of any vocation who so chooses can profit greatly from an artist’s primary endeavor, which is namely to examine with compassion the challenges and adventures of living, whereby he seeks a greater knowledge of himself and his community. Clurman’s Group Theatre told people in a time of depression to wake up and sing. I think that’s the dramatic intention that speaks to me more than any other. I am most inspired by theatre that, however bright or bleak its circumstances, actively affirms a love of life. I don’t think there’s a way to know for sure going into a play if that’s what I’m going to get. A million different things can trigger it. It’s not nearly as simple as comedy versus drama or recognition versus escapism. I just know the feeling when I walk out of the theatre and feel like shouting from the rooftops, like I could dance in the streets and sing until sunrise.
Any roles you’re dying to play?: I’m just hungry to keep working. I have had the good fortune to do a lot of classical plays in the past few years, which is always a privilege, but I would really love to do some more modern and contemporary work.
What’s your favorite showtune?: I’ve been humming “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady lately.
If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: You know, there are so many answers to that. I’ve never actually done a play professionally where the playwright was alive. I would love that, I’d love to work with Tony Kushner or Edward Albee or Doug Wright.
Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: When I’ve lived long enough and accomplished enough to merit a movie being made about me, I’ll look around and see what actors I like that are working, and I’ll get back to you. I’m still just at the beginning of the story right now.
What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Bedlam Theatre is doing a four person production of Saint Joan, and they’ve just extended through May 13th. They are doing some of the strongest work I’ve seen in the city. And I also highly recommend you check out the company Exit Pursued by a Bear. They just finished up an extraordinary production of Jeff Whittey’s play The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. The play was staged in the artistic director’s apartment, and during the hour-long intermission, the actors made dinner for the audience and poured them wine and we all hung out and chatted. It was such a rejuvenating night of theatre. It reminded me that what we do is meant to be a celebration, and that it’s not about me, it’s an act of generosity.
What’s up next?: When I’m not working and have the night free, I often attend a Tuesday night workshop called the Shakespeare Forum, run by a beautiful couple I met at the American Shakespeare Center. It’s a two-hour donation-based workshop where anyone can get up and work on some classical material and receive constructive feedback from the group. It’s a beautiful urban artist community that I hope will grow into a widely recognized center for classical education and exploration. They’re venturing into their first season of plays, and I’ll be doing their inaugural production of Hamlet at Theatre for the New City.
For more on James, visit http://www.jamespatricknelson.com/ and for more on A Midsummer Night's Dream, visit http://www.classicstage.org/.