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To Tour, and, Yes, To Tour! :: A Chat with Jesse Garlick, Brown Box Theatre's 'Hamlet'

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jul 25, 2017
Jesse Garlick
Jesse Garlick  

Jesse Garlick has plied his theatrical trade at Boston area stages for several years now, recently appearing in dramatic productions like "Good" with New Repertory Theatre (where he also served as Dance Captain for the New Rep's 2014 production of "Assassins"), "Arcadia" with The Nora Theatre Company at Central Square Theater, "Salome" with Bridge Rep, and the Poets' Theatre's rousing rendition of "Beowulf."

Garlick is also a co-founder of 360 Dance Ensemble, and a veteran of several high-energy productions by Liars&Believers, including "Talk to Strangers," "Who Would be King," and "Yellow Bird Chase." Now the young actor tackles one of theater's most demanding and iconic roles: That of Hamlet in the classic Shakespeare tragedy. From the wild fun of the "Animaniacs"-like "Yellow Bird Chase" to the melancholy, psychologically complex, brooding Prince of Denmark? Why not?

"Hamlet" is this summer's pick from Brown Box Theatre Project, which tours its productions to neighborhoods in and around Boston, including areas that are theatrically underserved. Brown Box also tours to other states, and has plans to take the show to towns in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. This season's six-week tour, which commences August 11 at Christian Herter Park in Allston and ends September 23 in Lewes, Delaware, will visit two dozen cities. (A complete schedule of the tour is available at the Brown Box website.)

EDGE recently enjoyed a chat with the theatrical polymath, who, it turns out, is also an instructor with Boston Ballet's ECI Department and drama director at Newton South High School.


EDGE: Looking at your résumé, you've had an array of roles, stylistically as well as in terms of geography and genre. Do you approach more 'standard' theater projects differently from the kind of playful work that a troupe like Liars&Believers would do? And does your background in dance figure into that?

Jesse Garlick: Great question! The process with Liars&Believers is very different from how a 'normal' rehearsal process might operate. Usually, with Liars&Believers, when we come in on the first day of rehearsal we have an idea and nothing else, as opposed to a show like 'Hamlet,' for which I have been prepping for months. It's one of the things that I love the most about working with Liars&Believers, in that it is such a challenging and different process and one that requires a great deal of physical experimentation to discover what the show actually is. I try to bring a lot of that exploration into my prep work for more 'standard' shows like Hamlet, where I am fiddling with the physicality of the character, digging through the potential meaning of every word and allowing myself to throw away preconceived notions about the show before stepping into it.

EDGE: Speaking of 'Yellow Bird Chase' -- which I loved, by the way -- I've been wondering something ever since I saw that show: What was the language you all were speaking? It sounded like a mix of Esperanto, Spanish, and fun gibberish, but it was also structured, with a recognizable vocabulary and grammar. And how long did it take the cast to learn it?

Jesse Garlick: Haha, glad you enjoyed it so much! At the beginning of that devising process, we knew we wanted everybody to have their own form of gibberish. I've spent a lot of time in Italy, so mine was sort of a mishmash of Italian intonation filled with a lot of nonsense words. At the same time as [we were] doing this, we also knew that certain words would have to mean one thing for the three of us ('fluteza,' 'Scooto'), and [those words] were created in a very onomatopoetic way of just looking at the thing and saying the first word that popped into our brains. Once we knew the vocab (which didn't take long, since we had invented it) it was very easy to remember the narrative beats we had to hit because so much of the story is based around the objects we are speaking about. It also forced us to be hyper-specific about creating each object, because if the boat doesn't look like a boat and move like a boat, the audience is going to have no idea what we are talking about.


EDGE: 'Hamlet' is a far cry from 'Yellow Bird Chase,' and you have the play's central role -- a psychologically complex one, not to mention you get some of the best material Shakespeare ever wrote. What, in general terms, is your take on the character?

Jesse Garlick: I think that Hamlet is one of the most personal characters that Shakespeare ever wrote. Shakespeare's son, Hamnet, died shortly before Shakespeare created the play, and I feel like there is a lot of Shakespeare's own exploration through grief in Hamlet. In that way it's very autobiographical, and I can very much imagine Shakespeare sitting in the dead of night, writing furiously through his avatar of Hamlet in order to better understand this terrible thing that has happened in his life.

This angle of mourning has been a very personal and fruitful one to explore the character through for me, because my grandfather died earlier this year (his last words to me were actually 'Remember me,' ripped straight from the infamous ghost scene at the end of Act 1). It's also been a total delight to play in Hamlet's intellect and discover the balance between when he is dancing circles around his enemies and when his emotional life gets the best of him, forcing him to lash out at them.

He is tremendously fun and challenging to play because of all this, and I have been continually pinching myself through out this whole process.

EDGE: This is your first production with Brown Box. How did you become part of their production of 'Hamlet?'

Jesse Garlick: My good friend Will Madden, who I have acted in several shows with in Boston, performed in Brown Box's production of 'Cymbeline' last year, which I saw and thought was wonderful. He is an actor and friend who I really trust, so when he said that the process of rehearsing and performing with Brown Box was one of his all-time favorites I was even more interested. I auditioned in the winter, got the part, and have been over the moon ever since.

EDGE: Brown Box makes a point not to stay in one place with a production, but rather tour its work to different places -- often going to underserved areas, and even venturing out of state. Does the prospect of having so many different venues/settings make you nervous at all, or perhaps intrigue and excite you?

Jesse Garlick: It's actually one of the things that excites me the most about this project, and one of the reasons I wanted to be a part of this show so badly. What Kyler and the whole team at Brown Box have created is so hugely important, both for theatre and its audiences. My dream is to be a part of shows that engage people in dialogue and give audiences experiences that they otherwise might not have had, due to economic means or otherwise, and I think Brown Box's mission is very much centered around these same goals.

EDGE: Brown Box is also going to be putting on at least some of these performances of 'Hamlet' in outdoor spaces, including Christian Herter Park in Allston, where there's been some fine theater offered in years past. Have you had much experience with acting in outdoor spaces?

Jesse Garlick: I have actually performed a lot outdoors in my short theatre career and I always find it to be a total blast. Theatre can often times be a very controlled enterprise, so doing it outside adds that extra layer of uncertainty that I find thrilling. It really forces you to keep on your toes and stay present in the moment, because you never know when a huge gust of wind might come along and knock your whole set over.

EDGE: Speaking of exotic locales, your bio makes mention of your having 'attended the Academia Dell'Arte in Arezzo, Italy.' How did you end up there? What did that teach you that you might not have learned from American schools and institutions?

Jesse Garlick: That is probably one of my favorite places on the planet. I went there for my time abroad in college and discovered Commedia Dell'Arte, one of my favorite theatrical art forms, in this incredible, practical new light. Basically, every day we were exploring commedia stock characters, talking about the philosophy of comedy, building our own commedia masks and eating some of the most incredible food on the planet. It was paradise, and I think one of my biggest takeaways from that experience was learning just how expansive the world of theatre is. American theatre is great, but there are so many other incredible variations on the craft that one can't discover unless they go out and live it.

EDGE: You're an instructor as well as an actor. Do you find that teaching acting to students also provides you with fresh insights that you can then use on stage and in the classroom?

Jesse Garlick: Yes! For me, I find it essential to be bringing what I am learning from the rehearsal space into the classroom, and likewise my students give me so much that I can apply to my work as an actor. I'll always remember when I first started teaching, I was always thinking to myself 'Oh, I hope I know what I am talking about and don't lead these kids astray.' But once I saw that the students were getting what I was saying, applied it and it worked, it gave me this whole new sense of confidence in myself as an artist that I actually do know what I am doing. And inversely, seeing how my students attack their work with such fresh passion and desire reminds me of why I started acting in the first place, and I always try and bring their sense of discovery, joy and wonder into any rehearsal room I am in.

EDGE: The production of 'Hamlet' you're about to embark on seems like a monumental job, so you might not yet be making plans for what comes afterwards... but if you are, what might those plans be?

Jesse Garlick: Right now I am trying to stay as focused on 'Hamlet' as I can, but I am up for several shows in Boston next season, so fingers crossed for those. I will also be directing the Freshman show at Newton South High School next fall, so I am very excited for that!


"Hamlet" runs from August 11 - September 23. For information, including a schedule of Brown Box Theatre's touring schedule, please go to https://brownboxtheatre.org


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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