Saturday, March 1, 2014

Spotlight On...Ben Abbott

Name: Ben Abbott

Hometown: San Luis Obispo, California

Education: UC Berkeley, BA in Theater and Performance Studies; Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA), Acting Program.

Favorite Credits:
Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew, Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Dr. Parker in Batboy: The Musical, The Cat in The Cat in the Hat.

Why theater?: Theater creates a space where you can exist and experience things together through heightened empathy.  I’m so sorry to completely geek out on you right now, but remember the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode where that space probe connects telepathically to Picard and makes him think he lives an entire life on an alien planet with a wife, children, friends and everything in just a matter of minutes? Theater is a mini-version of that, and there’s no other art form that comes close.

Tell us about Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity: Questions of the Heart began as my honors thesis at UC Berkeley.  I interviewed a wide range of gay and lesbian Mormons from around the country, as well as some people close to them, and crafted a show out of the interview transcripts.  The show has now been expanded to include myself as a character as I struggle with and am challenged by the stories they share.

What inspired you to create Questions of the Heart?: As an actor (i.e. most of my closest friends are gay) and a Mormon in California during the Prop. 8 campaign, the two worlds in which I existed were suddenly at war with each other, or at least that’s how it felt.  It was extremely uncomfortable and I wondered if I would have to distance myself from either side to truly embrace the other.  So I went out to interview gay and lesbian Mormons hoping to learn more about navigating the rocky intersection of “Mormon” and “Queer” from people who lived there.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I have loved and hated plays in every genre.  Is it a cop-out to say I like good plays and dislike bad ones? There’s a spark that ignites and a magic that happens when theater is True, and whether that happens in comedy, drama, musical or some weird avant-garde student show, on Broadway or the basement of a coffee shop, I’m enthralled. If it doesn’t, it feels like torture waiting for the show to end no matter how much the ticket cost.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Kenneth Branagh’s early films are what first turned me on to Shakespeare and thus theater.  I would love to be a part of anything he does.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Petunia and Chicken and Yelling at Bananas in Whole Foods.  Do whatever you have to to see them.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Jimmy Stewart.  The title would be “The Inquisitive Mormon.”

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Sweets.  It’s a problem.

What’s the most played song on your iPod?: Lake Street Dive’s cover of “I Want You Back.”

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: I would open a tiny bakery or chocolate shop.  Cooking, baking, and candy making have become my refuge.  If I could, I would just do that all day.

What’s up next?:
This summer, after my wife completes her MFA in costume design at Indiana University, we’re moving to Utah while I prepare grad school applications.  If that seems dull, remember that I’ll be producing and performing this show while I’m there.  This show.  About gay Mormons.  It Utah.  You know, where the Mormons are.  I’m beyond anxious to see how it goes.