Mark Jacobson makes his TheatreSquared debut. Regional credits include various roles at Coeurage Theatre Company, where he is a company member; Sons of the Prophet (West Coast Premiere--The Blank Theatre); Shear Madness (Phoenix Theatre); Tartuffe, The Grapes of Wrath (A Noise Within); Vieux Carré (The Antaeus Company); Albert Herring (LA Opera); educational tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream (Kingsmen Shakespeare); regional tour of The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone (Rogue Artists Ensemble). Film credits include Tribute to Fluffy, The Impaler, The Temp Agency, Mont Rêve, and Games People Play. Television credits include Jay's Living Room (Adult Swim), Haven (Syfy), Hungry (All Def Digital), Look Who's Stalking (NBC Universal), Attack of the Show! (G4) and he currently stars in the scripted episodic Married Under 25 (BuzzFeed Motion Pictures). He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Upright Citizens Brigade, The Groundlings, and holds a B.A. in Acting from the University of Southern California.
How did you get involved with the Arkansas New Play Fest?
I was part of the developmental process of The Quest for Don Quixote in Los Angeles after Mark Brown saw me in a show there. He needed a nebbishy, neurotic, self-doubting artist and for some reason thought I fit that bill. I have no idea why he'd think I could play that. (It hits very close to home.) Then he asked me how I felt about barbecue and the rest is history.
Is this your first time working in Arkansas? How do you find it? Expectations vs. Reality?
It is both my first time working in Arkansas and really being anywhere near Arkansas! I'm constantly in awe of the kindness of everyone I've encountered. I was aware of the idea of Southern hospitality, but to see its effortlessness at work is something very special. It even makes up for the humidity, which is impressive for different reasons. I've also taken it upon myself to explore every avenue for barbecue that Fayetteville has to offer and already my expectations have been exceeded. (In case you're curious, I vote Penguin Ed's for brisket, Whole Hog for pulled pork, Lucky Luke's for ribs, value and fried jalapenos.)
At the core of this experience, working in Arkansas has reminded me of the universality of love for theatre. It's a common language and a collective home in the heart and, because of that, it's exceptionally easy to bond with the rest of these artists in the spirit of collaboration and storytelling. It makes for a wonderfully small world.
How does working on a play in development compare to working on a published script?
Working on a play in development is essentially working with a living document, like the Constitution. You have to honor the words and honor the intentions as if they're never going to change and never need to, but you also have to remain mentally flexible and open to improvements. Mark Brown writes in such a clear voice for each character that the work sort of leaps off the page and inspires your imagination regardless of if other people have performed it or not. You also have an incredible benefit of having the glove fit to your hand, in a way. It's certainly nice to draw from others who've taken a stab at a work and, at times, steal like an artist, but when you're developing a play, all you can do is commit to the words, your direction and your instincts with all of your heart, like you always do. There's a freedom and a responsibility to being the first person to say these words aloud in a public setting and it ultimately comes back to serving the playwright.
Do actors need to have a different kind of skill set to work on a play in development (new pages everyday)?
You sort of have to be "like water," as Bruce Lee said, living in a less fixed place of perpetual change. Adaptability without pride or stubbornness. You have to invest in what you have but you also can't be too precious or get too attached - or, if you are, you've got to make a great argument for why something should stay and accept the outcome regardless. It's an absolute blast and mentally exhausting and boredom is almost impossible. It's all of the "Yes, and..."-ing of improv, justifying and committing to the new, combined with the responsibility of honoring the cemented pieces - knowing all the while that you're being trusted with nurturing this artistic baby.
How do you think the Arkansas New Play Fest compares to other new play development workshops that you have been part of in the past?
TheatreSquared is such an exciting place to work because of how much respect they show their artists. Everything we're doing in our rehearsals is aimed at making the play as strong as it can be and this festival just wants to serve as a supportive incubator. Everyone in the room is valued for the contribution they can make and no individual voice is silenced, which can happen. There's so much creativity and passion in the room and strong opinions are encouraged and welcomed. Your ideas may not always be taken, but they're always heard and I think that's what makes this development process effective. Knowing you have the freedom, regardless of how often you exercise it, is priceless.