Friday, March 6, 2009
An Ode To My Heroine Jo Anne Akalitis
Above is a depiction of the enduring myth of Phaedra and Hippolytus. See the dude who has his hand out like "Beat it lady, I got no time for you!" Now look to the right and check out the chick who's white as a ghost looking like "Oh me, oh my!" Okay well these are two characters from the ancient Greek story of a queen who goes mad when she falls in love with her stepson. Euripides first brought us this play a gazllion years ago and has had many followers including Seneca, Jean Racine and yours truly.
I first fell in love with Phaedra when I was cast in a production at the Court Theatre in Chicago. It was directed by the great JoAnne Akalitis and starred my pal Jenny Bacon. This was back when I still young in my acting career where I did my best to soak up everything like a little sponge. If you've never experienced Hurricane Jo (as I like to call her) then its too bad. She's worked for many many years in theatre across the globe and almost every actor I know has a JoAnne Akalitis story. And the stories are Good, Bad, and sometimes Ugly.
My experience with Hurricane Jo has been nothing short of fanfckingfantastic. In fact, while creating my own version of Phaedra I based a good portion of the character on Hurricane Jo. When I first met her, I was fresh out of college and happy to do whatever I could to gain experience, especially with classical text. Charlie Newell from the Court Theatre asked me if I'd be a reader for the auditions for a production called Life is A Dream that JoAnne was directing. Naturally I agreed and showed up ready to roll. Now, I had heard she was a scary chic. People even went so far as to call her a bitch. Now that I'm wiser, I realise that most idiots will call any intelligent woman with a droll sense of humor a bitch. It's silly and dismissive to call her that, but I will say she doesn't suffer fools gladly. She speaks her mind and cuts right through bullsh*t. Note to all you actors out there. If you ever audition for her DON'T ACT. She hates "acting" and "emoting". And if you don't know what I'm talking about, you ought not work with her.
So I spent the afternoon reading with actors and remaining professional. On the inside I was laughing my ass off because she was chewing these people up and spitting them out. One by one they all left the audition room pissed, angry, disappointed but mostly shell shocked. For 8 hours I watched this woman virtually pee in every body's Wheaties. A few survived, and did well. But for the most part she was kicking every ones ass. I became so happy that I wasn't auditioning that I started to loosen up. I felt like I was working for the axis of evil. That I was untouchable. Until the end of the day when she was like "Well, you've been here all day. You can read well. So lets audition you. Right now." She said. "Ahh...er ah, what? Me? Audition? I...I...okay?" Dammit. I hadn't escaped. I'd been sitting supporting actors for 8 hours and now I have to stand on the firing line? Fck. Shite.
Well I did it. I auditioned and I was okay. Just, okay. I was freaked out and frightened by her power and assertiveness. I didn't book that role, but I did get to work with her after that.
I've had the great fortune of working for her in 3 different productions from New York to Chicago. She is reason that I know Phaidra Phaedra Fedra. And I can honestly say that she still scares the sh*t out of me. But I love her. I love her work. I love directing. I love her stories. I love her cooking. I love her NY apartment. I kinda wanna be like Hurricane Jo when I grow up. She's getting on in her age, and I've heard that her health is not so great. I pray for her health and recovery and I pray to Zeus that I can work with her again. So Ms. Akalitis, this production is dedicated to you my friend. I hope that you are alive and well sipping on Diet Cokes and laughing at actors who act.
ciao for now kiddies.