Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Spotlight On...Boris Zilberman

Name: Boris Zilberman

Hometown: New York City by way of Kiev, Ukraine.

Education: Hunter College, NYC- English Literature, Psychology. Improv- Upright Citizens Brigade, People's Improv Theater, Magnet Theater.

Favorite Credits: Favorite theater credit is co-writing and acting in Covers, the previous production from my theater company, Lost & Found Project. Favorite non-theater credits would be Jett Axel, the Han Solo-like lead in a 3-D holographic board game (Holografx), and the time my spoken word/monologues show (Birthright Monologues) opened for Alan Dershowitz. There were protests outside.

Why theater?: I've been on stage in a lot of contexts. In improv, for example, you're looking to connect with the energy of your scene partners, while in stand-up comedy you're looking to create an instant rapport with the audience, and in spoken word, the point is to tell the audience something indelibly true, but also relatable. Theater has all of those elements happening at the same time. Also, it feels like the oldest and most honest form of make believe. Hey, everyone, come over here, we're going to act out a story. It's core to the human experience, but so potentially complex if it needs to be.

Tell us about KNOCK: A Journey to a Strange Country: KNOCK is a story about inevitability, absurdity, hope, and leaving home. In it, we meet Dove, who is compelled to leave his home and come to a strange new place which remains stubbornly alien to him no matter what he does, and yet he almost intuitively plays by its rules. We also meet Sabrina, a modern young woman, who is struggling to put aside expectations and find something important. As they journey, they're entangled with layers of absurdity, music, sex, magic tricks. The writing process was one thing, but the rehearsal process has really challenged everything we thought the play was going to be. It's become a release of pressure, this strange, layered melody. I play Dove, and it's the most challenging role I've ever done. There's so much subtlety and dignity necessary to do it right.. I hope it works!

What inspired you to write KNOCK: A Journey to a Strange Country?: In Lost & Found, we use the verbatim/documentary technique to decide what we want to write about and bring to the stage. That means we sit down as a company and discuss big themes --- immigration (which most of us experienced in various forms), fears, goals, passions, etc. We created our last show COVERS the same way, and it's incredible how much people could relate to it. For KNOCK, we focused on the theme of fear and change. Is fear a motivator or does it prevent action? When is fear necessary? When does it hurt? At this point we've been together for over three years as a theater company and the founding members know each other so well that we can truly talk about anything. That leads to really prolific but also very painful sessions. Sometimes you walk away feeling brilliant and sometimes you walk away feeling completely alone. That process is integral to what KNOCK became when we then combined our stories and ideas with the writings of mid-20th century Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms. You know how you hear about the "russian soul" as represented in Doestoevsky or Tolstoy? Kharms is like that, but without any of the pretension or wordiness. In Kharms' world, everything is inevitable, and so everything is absurd. It's kind of like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magical realism or Paul Auster's urban paranoia. Or "South Park". What we did was combine some of his short stories brought by our director Alexandre Marine with original material I wrote inspired by our verbatim technique. It takes place in a dimension which is almost despotic in its absurdity, but at the same time, there's a feeling that it's extremely familiar.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I like theater that takes chances and commits to itself, and those choices. Nothing is worse than not committing in or believing in the thing you're doing, big or small, and when an actor or writer isn't doing that it instantly throws off the energy of the whole room. When I was in my level one improv class, some people in the room were becoming embarrassed during the warm-up when we were told to act like parrots. Our teacher said "If you're the only one acting like a parrot, you're weird. If everyone is acting like a parrot, and you're the only one NOT doing it, you're weird. The only way no one is weird is if we all act like parrots." I like theater where everyone acts like parrots.

If you could work with anyone you've yet to work with, who could it be?: Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the guys who wrote Book of Mormon, "South Park", "Team America" etc. They're good, and they're fearless, and nobody questions them because it seems so forgone that they will be good at whatever they do.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: In 2012, I happened to be in London during an international Shakespeare festival, and was  lucky enough to see an excellent Korean production of Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe Theater. There were supertitles, but they were mostly superfluous. The actors sold every single scene and emotion, and it was extremely engrossing.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: "I Think They Skipped My Song" a story of love, triumph, and karaoke starring Johnny Depp, because on the one hand I'd love to see him do more normal-people roles, and on the other hand, so I can see myself portrayed as a sexy, English cadaver or whatever.

If you could back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I'd love to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart do their thing in the Royal Shakespeare Company, in the 70's, in their prime, mastering the stage. Apparently Ian McKellen played Iago.

What's your biggest guilty pleasure?: Professional Wrestling, and there ain't nothing guilty about it. I've watched regularly since I was 12, and not just WWE. Everyone should check out a Robert Rodriguez produced show called Lucha Underground, which feels like Breaking Bad meets a telenovella about Aztecs.

If you weren't working in theater you'd be _____?: Working in an office, complaining about bagels and how much RAM I have on my computer. Someone's always taking the last everything bagel, you know?

What's up next?: Next up is King of Chelm, a children's musical I wrote for Lost & Found and the National Yiddish Theater, directed by L&F member Gera Sandler. It tells the story of Chelm, a mythical 19th century Jewish shtetl which is in danger, and a young superhero known as Captain Power, who has the task of saving the day. The media I experienced as a young kid were so important to me growing up, and still are in many ways, so my goal is to try to create a similar experience for the kids that see King of Chelm. KNOCK opens March 4th at The Players Theatre in NYC.  More information and tickets can be found here.