Thursday, January 14, 2016

Spotlight On...Jake Beckhard

Name: Jake Beckhard

Hometown: Vienna, VA

Education: NYU Tisch School of the Arts, B.F.A. 2013

Favorite Credits: Artaud Artaud by Matthew Minnicino (Theater for the New City); -Archy by Sam Corbin (#serials@theFLEA, & more, soon, if god is good). Workplace Professional (Grey Room). Assisting: The Originalist with Molly Smith (Arena Stage); The Way We Live with Mia Rovegno & the Civilians (The Met)

Why theater?: Because you’re there. Something different happens to the human body in the presence of an event. If a person witnesses a car crash, a month later it’s still somewhere in their spine. Compare it to a person who watched a film of a car crash. Ask her how she feels a week later. It’s psychically, physiologically different when you’re there for the event. And even more so when that event is in you, around you, and for you.

Tell us about Artilliers: Artilliers is a team of four of us, plus our Gym ensemble of brilliant actors, who work to manage, reform, and reinvent the Canon (har har har). We’re posing a solution to a problem: that it’s almost impossible to see a classic play without layering on seventeen different veils of critique - other versions of the role, things you learned in high school, popular attitudes about the play or the writer - and those veils keep you from experiencing it fully. We believe the human experience is crystallized in these plays, that’s why they’ve endured. We want to get at the Original Play. To do that, we develop tools for production through a devised investigation into the classic text. Then we use those tools to create unique and often strange versions of the original play and perform both the play and the devised piece in rep so that they can continue to evolve and warp one another. This is only possible through the extensive efforts of our Gym group, which is our resident ensemble of amazing actors. They come regularly to "work out" on the classic plays that define our seasons - and by doing so, they help us to investigate the bones of the play. Currently, we’ve got a residency at Chinatown Soup’s new space in the LES, which makes it possible to do this weirdo long-term investigative performance work. It’s amazing to have a home, even if only for a year. It’s really become a pressure cooker.

Tell us about A Dream Play: Well, it’s Strindberg, which I love because I think he’s underutilized in New York. He was a real trash heap of a guy, but he was also a genius and there’s a lot more there than people know. By many people’s accounts, A Dream Play is the first really expressionist play in history - a lot of the expressionists were writing off the proto-expressionism Strindberg was playing with in Sweden at the turn of the century. The play takes that Martian-comes-to-Earth, sees-everything-from-the-outside trope and applies it to human suffering. It’s very grim! The Daughter of the Gods visits earth and finds human after human after human caught in all these awful pitfalls of being alive.Our translation is by Matthew Minnicino, who is a playwright everybody is going to know in five years. He's a poet and a prophet, and he's written a very sincere and very contemporary version of Strindberg's play.

What inspired you to direct A Dream Play?: This was kind of the first-ever play I wanted to direct. I found the Caryl Churchill translation in school years ago and pitched it to my company and got summarily shut down - which is good because i had absolutely no idea how to approach it. It’s this enormous monster - there are towers burning and flowers blooming and a million scene changes that are all supposed to happen instantaneously, and I had never directed anything before. I brought it back recently when I came up with the frame narrative we’re using - the choice to stage everything as if children had designed and run the play. We’re essentially building an enormous blanket fort to act as the Earth. We wanted to tell the story from a position of extreme vulnerability, but also to highlight how clownish the whole play is. Our version relies on the idea that the time in your life that you’re most attuned to the horror of being alive is when you were lying awake in the silent middle of the night, and you were too young to have developed any coping mechanisms to deal with those thoughts yet.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love athleticism in theater. Actors are athletes, and my favorite directors and companies know this and trade on it. When you have people who are coming at each other like forces of nature in a stage which has been designed like an arena, it’s physically stimulating to watch. I like to leave the theater feeling like I've had a workout.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Peter Sellars. Peter Sellars 100%. For the scope, for the way he works with his actors, for his sense of ethics in his work, for the whole thing. I wish I could audit his class at UCLA. I would commute, it’s only a 5hr plane ride.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: It’s over now, and it’s an enormous shame, but Miller’s Incident at Vichy at Signature was the best play in New York last year. It’s so topical - complicity in the rise of evil, the protections you owe to your fellow man - and it indicts everyone in the audience to some degree. I could barely talk when it was over.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: John Hawkes would play me, and it would be called “President Hamlet” and it would be about the time I played Hamlet so good that the people of America elected me President.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I’m really mad I missed An Octoroon. Twice, I missed it. That was dumb.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Doughnut Plant. Anytime day or night.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Still into video games, probably.

What’s up next?: Well, Artilliers’ mission is driven by this “two-plays-in-rep” process, so we’ll be kicking off the work for our devised piece soon, which we’re building with the aforementioned Gym group that made A Dream Play possible.  Follow us for more news on that. Then we’ll produce both of them in rep at the Studio at Chinatown Soup, where we’ve got a residency. I’m also developing this play -Archy which is very Phantom Tollbooth and Alice in Wonderland. It’s a postmodern fairytale and it’s being written by Sam Corbin, who’s a genius, and I’m coproducing it with Karsten Otto, who is also a genius.

For more on Jake, visit www.jake-beck.com. For more on Artilliers, visit artilliers.org and www.facebook.com/artilliers

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