Friday, August 12, 2016

Spotlight On...Jon Spano

Name: Jon Spano

Hometown: Ravenna, OH

Education: NYU

Favorite Credits: As dancer, tours of West Side Story and HAIR! As actor, the indie’s Le Fleur de Vie and Picking Up The Pieces. As playwright the short plays 8th Wonder, Ripple Effect, and The Sweat.

Why theater?: Luck. In the dinky hometown I grew up in, there was oddly an Equity dinner theatre called The Carousel that hired New York performers and celebrities past their prime. I just turned 17 and there was a spot for a local stage extra for their production of Brigadoon. I auditioned and got the job. Then in quick order I did No, No, Nanette; Funny Girl; and Carousel, and was the prop boy for Barefoot in the Park, which featured Dorothy Lamour, and I was her assistant for the run. This theatre was a reprieve from the redneck mentality of the town I grew up in. When I graduated from high school I was still 17 and moved immediately to New York. Had no job, no apartment, no friends, no financial support except the money in my pocket. But I was determined to become a good dancer and I achieved that goal.

Tell us about Joey Variations: Joey is one of those pieces I worked on, on-and-off, over about ten years. It’s had many variations. I kept going back to it because I felt there was a story there about human struggle, grief, sliding into addiction, and emerging out of it. It had to be a tale of survival and hope and a long walk through darkness.

What inspired you to create Joey Variations?: There had been so much loss, struggle, and pain in New York. I moved here in ’79. Before the AIDS epidemic. As a young wide-eyed hopeful, I never imagined something like AIDS could even exist. Then it hit and the backlash against gay people was huge. The lack of empathy, but for the saving graces of those who were not constrained by society’s limited constructions. Joey Variations isn’t about the pandemic at all, but it is about a dancer who’s been involved in a horrifying hate crime that has impacted him psychologically. And while this may all sound depressing, it’s not. The play has a powerful message of acceptance, hope, survival, moving on… with the help of compassionate, empathetic people who believe in us sometimes more strongly than we believe in ourselves.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I like three-dimensional characters with strong world-views and drive who on the surface may seem like unlikeable people. People who’ve been through the mill. I could give a shit about teen angst except for Romeo and Juliet; I didn’t care about it when I was a teenager. I like postmodernism but hate being hit over the head with it: “Okay, I get it: You’re doing a play and we know you know we know.”  I enjoy a little bit of immersive theatre, like Sleep No More, but sometimes I just want to sit back and watch. Immersive theatre is a weird but understandable trend, what with stupid, untalented people becoming famous and everybody interacting with everyone and everything because of devices and social media. Ivo van Hove inspires me. I love that he has breathed life into Arthur Miller’s plays. Miller has had a lot of scholarly shit kicked in his face by hacks and wannabes who’ve labeled him an overrated playwright. Students, and mostly students’ parents, pay a lot of money to be taught a lot of crap. So I’m thrilled some of the shit’s been thrown back by van Hove’s brilliance and that the power of Miller’s work is alive for contemporary audiences. The best plays, even those traditional in format, never leave me feeling like a passive audience member. There is no fourth wall because my emotions are right up there onstage with the characters. Powerful plays do that to us subconsciously. Forget the gimmicks, bells, whistles, and trends. Not interested. If you need all that, your play’s missing substance, like an HBO series with a bunch of naked women.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: David Cromer or Cher. I like dichotomy.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Bright Star, but it closed. Got lost in the whirlwind of Hamilton-mania. It was a beautiful piece of theatre.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: JK Simmons or Ben Kingsley. The title is He Died Trying, which will be my epitaph.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: That’s not fair. Opening nights of Oedipus Rex. Richard III. Waiting For Godot. A Streetcar Named Desire.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: That’s hard. Probably watching youtube clips of Valley of the Dolls ephemera. Like Judy Garland’s vocal track of “I’ll Plant My Own Tree,” synced to Susan Hayward’s performance.

If you weren't working in theater, you would be _____?: I’d be an historian of architecture. Understanding the engineering part would be a challenge, but I love the design of houses and buildings, old and new. Mostly old.

What’s up next?: Developing a new full-length play Dennis and the screenplay adaptations of Muskego Lake and Joey Variations. And maybe Germany.

For more on Jon, visit www.jonspano.com. For more on Joey Variations, visit www.joeyvariations.com and www.facebook.com/jonspano

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