Posted by: Kristin White
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself – how did you get started in the theater in general, and directing in particular? What do you enjoy most about that role?
JJ: “I have been seriously involved with theater since high school, where we were lucky enough to have an ex-Broadway professional as our theater director. He not only ran an award-winning company, but as part of my course schedule, I was able to take classes that would cost anyone else hundreds of dollars. Along with learning the full range of acting methods, we were required to learn every aspect of tech and production, including directing. I believe this understanding of all aspects of a production is what led to my love of directing. I love bringing a complete vision to life through creativity and teamwork.”
Q: You’ve done quite a bit of acting, too. Do you prefer one over another?
JJ: “While I relish a good acting role, I prefer to direct, which allows me to work on every aspect of the creative process.”
Q: Let’s talk a little bit about that process. The ability to convincingly deliver the lines and express the nature of the character are obvious traits required when casting a play, but what are some of the other important things that you look for when making decisions about which actors to work with? Is it fully dependent on the play/characters, or are there some “universal” traits that you feel contribute to a successful show?
JJ: “I am huge on teamwork. When I’m at auditions, I am of course interested in an actor’s talent, but I am equally interested in their attitude. I honestly don’t care how talented you are if you are going to make the process difficult on everyone else. A great attitude and work ethic is contagious, as is a bad attitude. In addition, when I run a team, I want everyone to do their job, and do it the best they can without worrying about other people’s work—that’s my job. I am always open to ideas and suggestions, but I discourage complaints about other people’s work, especially in front of the group. So, there it is: Teamwork, attitude, work ethic. The two most common phrases that will come out of my mouth are: ‘Do your job. Do it the best you can. Don’t worry about anyone else’s job’ and ‘Don’t let how you feel about the process get in the way of the process.’ That second one came from my high school director.”
Q: You’re very busy with a full-time, demanding day job with the U.S. Air Force and producing a quality production takes significant investments of time, energy and thought. How do you decide to which theatrical events you’re willing to dedicate your time?
JJ: “I often say that the Air Force was my calling, but theater is my passion. No matter how busy I am with my job, I make time for theater. I honestly feel incomplete without it. But of course, having limited free time means I want to spend it in the best way possible. So I try to work with people who I feel genuinely love the theater and I prefer projects that serve a greater social good.”
Q: What inspired you to want to direct Other Desert Cities?
JJ: “The script. I believe it to be one of the best scripts written in modern times. However, I also feel it carries an important message that audiences need to hear, especially now.”
Q: Without giving away too much of the story, is there one thing in particular that you hope audiences will take away with them after seeing the Peace Mountain Theatre Company’s production of Other Desert Cities under your direction?
JJ: “We are our stories. They define us, they shape our relationships and our place in the world. But we must be open to each other’s stories. We must understand that even the same event is experienced differently by all participants. We cannot force our narrative on others, we must listen and engage with open minds and open hearts. I started this process with some stylistic ideas, but I’ve really stripped all of that away. This is a beautiful story and our design team and actors are telling it simply, with honesty and passion. I believe our audiences will appreciate what the entire team has accomplished.”
Other Desert Cities shows from Dec 5 through 15 by Peace Mountain Theatre Company, in Darnestown, MD. For more information click here.