Thursday, February 28, 2013

Wide Eyed in the Field: Ben Newman

Ben Newman (AEA) - New York: Bub in The Town of No One (NY Fringe '11), Richard in Henry VI, Pt. III (Wide Eyed Productions at CSC), Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet (Columbia Stages), R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (WEP), among others. Regional: Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Denver Center Theatre Company, Actors Theatre Kansas City, Riverside Shakespeare Festival. Creator and director of Wide Eyed's NY Fringe '10 hit A World Elsewhere! Arias in the Key of Clown. Performing next as Morris in Blood Knot at Profile Theatre in Portland, OR, where he has recently relocated in order to foster his passion for artistic creation and his love of the outdoors. BA University of Northern Colorado. MFA University of Missouri-Kansas City.
  • You’ve been working on a production of Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot for Profile Theatre in Portland, Oregon. Can you share with us a little bit about the show and your experience working on this production?
Ben Newman as Morris and Don Kenneth Mason as Zach;
Jamie Bosworth Photography
 The play is about two brothers, one black and one mixed race, trying to figure out how to love one another in Apartheid South Africa. Working on this production has been a huge growth experience both as an actor and a human. South African Dialect? Check. Two-hour-two-hander where you never leave stage? Check. Role that the playwright originally wrote for himself? Check. Around 18 monologues for said role? Check. Hugely important subject matter? Check. The list goes on…it’s been an incredible challenge to attack head on and dutifully explore. Fugard’s writing is absolutely beautiful and it’s been a blessing to learn and speak his words. There’s a trap there however, in making those words too precious (something I’m consistently guilty of), and losing good storytelling in the process. This is one of those plays where the same story never gets told twice during the course of the run. Every night is going to be a roller coaster ride, so it’s best to just strap in and enjoy the ride. It has been, and I’m sure, will continue to be, a great lesson in truly listening to your stage partner and remaining as present as possible. I can’t wait!
  • How would you say the Portland theatre community is similar to that of the New York independent theatre community? How did you come about to work with Profile Theatre?
The theatre community in Portland is hugely similar to NY indy theatre. Portland is filled with tons of great, hard-working, hugely talented artists striving to get their work out there, and willing to do whatever it takes in order to do so. Last week, I learned in conversation that there are 83 theatres in Portland alone. Not bad for a town whose population isn’t even one third of mannyhatty. However, that has some drawbacks as well. With the market being fairly saturated, financial support gets tapped out, and the levels of professionalism suffer across the board. I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity, and it will be interesting to see if Portland’s demand for good theatre can keep up with the number of people wanting to provide it.

Profile Theatre has a new Artistic Director at its helm in Adriana Baer. Adriana and I met when she was in grad school at Columbia and I worked with her on several projects in NY. She was offered this job last spring and when I decided to move to Portland this summer I reached out to her. Luckily enough, she asked me to audition for Blood Knot’s director, and I was offered the role. It’s a great opportunity to introduce myself to the Portland Theatre Community and I’m grateful.
  • What is life like for you out in Oregon? Are you working on any additional projects at the moment? Care to share with us?
I’m still figuring it out. Winter in Portland is pretty tough with all the rain. Weather was a huge factor in my decision to leave NY, so we’ll see if I can tough it out. My main reason for coming to Portland was to be able to marry my love for the outdoors with a theatre lifestyle. I’ve been able to go snowboarding quite a few times throughout the winter, and did a lot of camping, fishing, and golfing in late summer after I moved here. I have a feeling it’s going to be a pretty good fit. Regardless of how much I miss my Wide Eyed family!

As soon as Blood Knot closes, I’m going to Colorado to co-direct a production of Medea at the University of Northern Colorado. Very excited to work on that! Aaaaaand…High Plains, a play that Wide Eyed produced [The Prairie Plays, 2010], has been invited to Edinburgh in August! When I saw the playwright (Brian Watkins) perform this play in NYFringe ’09, I immediately fell in love with it and his writing. Brian called me last fall and told me he wanted to take it to Edinburgh and asked if I’d be interested in taking on the role of Jake. I leapt at the opportunity, and now it’s really happening! We’ll be doing 23 performances in an underground vault space known as Iron Belly. We also just booked some preview performances in NY right before we leave this summer. They’ll be on Sunday, July 28th at 7 and 9pm at Jimmy’s no. 43! Come check it out!

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