Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Q-and-A with Jeremy Julian Greco

Jeremy Julian Greco [credit: Louis-Pepin]

Guest Contributor Grant Knutson of Minion Productions offers a quick Q-and-A with solo performer Jeremy Julian Greco.

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Jeremy is a San Francisco-based performer who had toured his award-winning show around California. I first saw it at the Nugget Fringe Festival in Grass Valley, CA. I was impressed with how clearly he could paint a picture of his family, while making his experiences universal for the crowd.

Thus coming June, he will be presenting his most current show Keeping Up With the Jorgensons at the 2019 Dallas Solo Fest. I managed to catch up with Jeremy via email and what follows is our interview. 

Q: First, let's get a little background. Where you are from and how did you get started in theatre/performance?

A: I’m from Santa Cruz, CA. I’m an only child, and I spent a lot of time making up stories and singing in front of the mirror to Elvis songs. 

My step-father was a blues musician, so I spent a lot of time going to blues festivals and even the occasional bar from a young age and watching him perform.
When I was eight years old my parents took me to see Rebel With Our A Cause. at the Sash Mill Theater in Santa Cruz, a small second run movie theater with a tin roof. The theater was full, everyone was wet, the rain echoed off the tin roof of the theater and seeing James Dean up on the screen – his truth, his pain – I was captivated and decided right then and there I wanted to be an actor.

Unfortunately, I am a really shy person, so the prospect of getting on stage scared the hell out of me. 

In 6th grade, I did a play were I was Mister Rogers and I got a lot of laughs.  In 7th grade I was in The Hobbit, I had a small role as Bilbo Baggins grocery delivery boy.  I had four lines and a lot of laughs.  I didn’t return to theater until my Jr. year in high school and haven’t looked back since and I’m still getting laughs.

Q: What event or desire brought you specifically into the world of solo performance?

A: Solo Performance work was something I have always wanted to do.  I took a class at San Francisco State with playwright, Brighde Mullins, called the art of solo performance.  Which was great. I was exposed to a lot of solo performers.

However, it wasn’t until some years later my friend, John Held Jr. came to see a short play I did.  He’s a San Francisco based artist and one of the world’s experts and collectors of Mail Art.  After my play, we were sitting at a bar and he said, “You know what, you should write a play a solo show about me.”  His mother just passed away, so I think he wanted to get a lot off of his chest.  So, we met once a week for a number of months and he told me about his life while I taped him.

It was out of this that my first Solo Show, With Held, was created.

Q: Could you tell us about some of your particular kind of solo work?

A: It’s all about the story and the rhythm of the language. I do not believe in props, I usually just have a chair.  The language has to have a particular flow or the entire story doesn’t work.  The script has to have a musicality to it.  From the language come the characters.   From the characters comes the show.

Q: Could you tell us about some of your current show Keeping Up with the Jorgensons?

A: My current show, Keeping Up with the Jorgensons, is based on a road trip with my weekend father to Southern California to an unknown relatives wedding.  It is my goal, my want, my need to get to Disneyland - the one glowing aspect from this trip from hell.  I’m forced to tickle my father’s feet…repeatedly, and sleep in my grandmother’s bed.  I play eight different characters, the play is based in 1982 and is a tour de force of dysfunction.

I’ve performed it at a number of venues and festivals. It won a best of award at the 2017 SF Fringe Festival, and I had a run at the Marsh Theater last year.

The show is funny, uncomfortable and touching.  The most wonderful aspect of the show is the number of people who have come up to me afterwards to share stories about their own childhoods.  It’s interesting to know what overlaps from childhood to childhood.

Q: What is your favorite thing about doing this work?

A: Stepping on stage alone.  I never know what a particular performance or audience will bring.  I love theater because each night is new.  I continue to discover new things as an actor.  When you are on stage anything can happen, but when you’re on stage alone there’s no one to save you.  It’s scary, it can be nerve racking.  It’s fun.

Q: What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?

A: I work well under deadlines.  It is also something I feel I have to do.  I do not feel good as a person if I’m not creating.  I feel when I create I become a better person.

Q: What is your approach to the development process when putting together a new project? Do you create a lot on stage, improvising? Draft after draft of scripts? Tape or video record? Hold readings? Go to a mountain top?

A: Each show is different.  With With Held, John and I met each week.  I’d tape him, then I’d transcribe the interviews.  From there, I’d have to shape, edit, and make a story.
With Keeping Up with the Jorgensons, I just wrote it flat out in about four weeks. 
I then rewrite the script in a long poetic form.  This helps with memorization and breaking things into beats and moments.

I’m consistent in the way I prepare through my memorization process. I’m dyslexic, so the memorization process can be difficult.  However, this is where a lot of rewrites occur.   Basically, I do a three-mile walk around my neighborhood with my script in hand, talking to myself like a crazy person. 

I take chunks of the script and try and memorize it, saying it to myself over and over again.  If I can’t memorize it, or if the rhythm doesn’t sound right, I’ll cut it and reshape it. 

Then I’ll meet with my director, I’ll work on twenty minutes of the script and perform it at a Monday Night Marsh, or Tell it on Tuesday.  When I feel things are working well, I’ll take the next chunk and perform that.

It takes me about two or three years from original script to performing the piece as a whole.

Q: Who are some of your influences or people that inspire you?

A: Christina Augello, the founder and artistic director of the Exit Theatre.  She has, with a great staff, put on the San Francisco Fringe Festival for over 28 years. It’s amazing the amount of local artists that have come out of this festival. It’s amazing that her theater has lasted in San Francisco for all these years. She’s an amazing person. Not only that, she’s a solo performer, as well, and is currently on tour.  I’ve done five SF Fringe Festivals, so far, and I would not be who I am artistically without this festival.

Stephanie Weisman, founder of the Marsh Theater. Another amazing person.  She has provided a venue for solo performers in the Bay Area since 1989.  They provide classes for Solo Performers as well.  It was at the Marsh Theater with a class with David Ford that I first developed With Held.  If I didn’t have access to this venue, I most likely would never have delved into solo theater.

John Held Jr.  John lives and breathes art.  If it wasn’t for John and his willingness to see projects through, I would not have been a solo performer.
Mark Kenward, my director, is a big influence. It is so important to have a good director who believes in you.  He’s an awesome solo performer himself.

Q: Do you have a favorite performance, festival or venue you'd like to tell us about? 

A: Obviously, I am a fan of the SF Fringe Festival and the Marsh Theater.  I just did the Whitefire Theater’s solo fest.  That was a very fun festival. 

Q: How do you bridge the gap between the creative and the business side of solo theatre? 

A: I just do it. Part of the work in putting on a show is getting people to see the show.  It’s like memorizing lines.  It’s something I don’t necessarily like to do, but it’s something I have to do.  However, there are very creative aspects to marketing a show and you just have to find joy in that.

Jeremy Julian Greco performing Keeping Up With the Jorgensons

Q: Any advice for some aspiring artist just starting out in solo performance?

A: Don’t be an asshole.  I know this sound crass, but so is being a jerk.  Yes, it’s a lot of work putting on a solo show, but it’s important to remember you’re just one aspect of the entire team – even in Solo Performance. Especially if you part of a festival.  You have people running lights, running the theater, you have a director, you might have a photographer, you might have a graphic designer, and you might have a publicist.  If you’re in a festival, there’s a team of people who are probably working for no pay.  Be respectful.  If you’re luck enough to get a run and go on to other festivals, be sure to be thankful, you never know what happens in life, this may be your only opportunity.  Enjoy the ride.

Q: What do you see for the future of solo performance and for you personally as an artist? 

A: I see more and more people doing it.  Putting on an ensemble show is so expensive, especially if you tour.  Solo performance is the most economical way to go.  Personally, I have a running list of shows I want to create.  Importantly, the show and the performer both have to be honest and offer a hint of danger.

Q: Shout outs or links?

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