Thursday, May 9, 2013

A "Wink" & Smile with Broadway veteran Ken Jennings

Ken Jennings
Ken Jennings is working with Wide Eyed Productions for the first time, but his support of the company goes back to his days acting with co-founder Sky Seals in the Off-Broadway premiere of Sessions at the Algonquin Theatre. Ken originated the role of Tobias on Broadway in Sweeney Todd (Drama Desk Award – Outstanding Featured Actor), and was also on Broadway in Side Show, Urinetown, and Grand Hotel. Ken’s extensive film and television work includes “Law & Order” (NBC) and  “Mildred Pierce” (HBO).
  • Youʼll be performing in our staged reading of Proof as part of our “Winks” series. No doubt many people in our audience will be familiar with your work on Broadway. Can you share with us a bit about your most recent project?  
Too early to say. Been offered one job; another in the works. But don’t know if negotiations will work out. My 10-year-old son, Brendan, is with me every weekend.  So every job has to work around him.  For most jobs, they have to be in NYC or close to it.  If they’re a bit away from NYC, I have to figure out how Iʼm going to get Brendan to me on the weekend. I never speak about possibilities until theyʼre definite. 
  • I believe you are originally from Jersey City. Growing up, did you spend a lot of time at the theatre? When did you know that you wanted to be an actor? How did you get started? 
I was always doing plays and improvs. I didnʼt see any professional theatre until high school. But my friends and I were always acting out the movies weʼd seen and changing them to fit our tastes:  TV westerns from the 50s; the monster films; the Hercules movies. All such ideas (and more) were our source materials. We even gave out awards among ourselves each week. There were three of us: me, Johnny, and Billy. The other two boys usually gave me the acting award each week. Johnny was usually given the directorial award. Johnny and I usually split the writing award. Poor Billy rarely was awarded anything. But he always played with us. 

I chose the high school I attended because they did two full productions a year - most other schools did one. I attended college on a dramatic scholarship. I got my first Broadway show (All Godʼs Chillunʼ Got Wings) from an EPI - Equity Principal Interview. They didnʼt have to audition you in those days...didnʼt have to speak to you at all, just had to look at you and accept your picture and resume. They were looking for a short Irish gangster. I went to the EPI and got the part. 
  • Who or what do you consider to have been your biggest creative influences to date? Why? 
Well, no doubt that a really big creative influence on me was George C. Scott. He directed All Godʼs Chillunʼ Got Wings  He also directed and starred in Present Laughter on Broadway (I replaced Nathan Lane in that one). George was so powerful. The best director of comedy Iʼve ever worked with. No one else has even come close. George was like a metronome. Heʼd tell you the exact timing - the exact beat - on which to get the laugh. He was exact and correct. And, oddly enough, often quite drunk. But heʼd get on that stage and it was as if a demon or angel suddenly possessed him. The audience never saw his drunkenness (even though he would often be quite literally stumbling backstage). And, when he directed the OʼNeill, he was like a locomotive. He showed one poor actor how he wanted a certain monologue done. But no one could do it like George. Only George could bring that power. I remember watching him do the monologue and feeling like I was pinned to the back of my chair. 
  • Can you describe for us what your favorite part is of the creative process before a show opens? And once youʼve opened, do you have a particular pre-show ritual that you engage in before curtain? If so, is it something you can share with us? 
It varies. I love the shadowy, blue lights black stage. The darkness inches from the bright lights. The solitude, the quiet. I love dropping exhausted on a rehearsal floor, half-sleeping in the dust of a rehearsal floor, especially if the floor is quaking with tap dancers. 
  • Do you have any additional projects coming up that youʼd like to tell us about? 
Nothing I can share at this time (as I was typing this, I was interrupted by my agent with an update on negotiations). Iʼve had to say no to a number of things. Brendan has to fit into the picture. Brendan was born two weeks before my 55th birthday. Iʼve had a lifetime of being an actor - got my first professional job when I was 19 - but only 10 years of being a father. So Brendan gets priority.

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