Spotlight on Lost Eden: The Magnificent WellesBy Laura & Mike Clark • Jul 3rd, 2007 • Category: Interviews
Listen to our discussion with Jay Tilley and Zina Bleck about Lost Eden: The Magnificent Welles [MP3 12:42 3.6MB].
Mike: Hi, this is Mike and Laura. We are backstage at Zemfira’s opening night preview performance of Lost Eden: The Magnificent Welles. Starring Jay Tilley as Orson Welles. We’re talking with Jay Tilley and Zina Bleck, who is the director of the show. Thank you very much for talking with us.
Jay: Thanks very much for having us.
Zina: You’re very welcome. Herb Tax and I co-directed this show. As well, he did the lighting and sound design.
Mike: The one question I have would be the obvious question of how did you find the show since it’s only been done once before?
Zina: Marcus Wolland wrote it for himself to perform. He is from the Seattle, Washington area. This is the East Coast premier of it. Herb is an Orson Welles aficionado. He studied Welles for many years. He went looking online to find this. He’s the man who found it. It was an internet search.
Mike: So was it an easy sell to the author to do it again?
Zina: He was actually very easy to work with. He originally asked if we wanted him to come out and do it. We said we had someone in mind. There was actually another Welles play that we had found, but the gentleman performs it himself and will not let anyone else do it. That’s when we started looking for another one. He was very easy to work with. A very sweet guy.
Mike: So, Jay, how did you get cast? Did you talk it out one night over drinks or did you always want to do Orson Welles?
Jay: I think there was some begging involved in my part. We actually started talking about me doing a one man show during The Man Who Came To Dinner last year. That was was Castaways Repertory Theatre. Zina was directing. Herb was in the show playing Burt Jefferson. I had gotten to the point in my career where I had done musical theater, done contemporary plays, done a little bit of Shakespeare and classical work. I was thinking to myself what’s the next challenge for me as an actor? One night after rehearsal the three of us got to talking and I said, “I think my next challenge is to do a one man show. A solo piece.” Zina and Herb thought that was a great idea.
Zina thought maybe we could do something for Zemfira Stage. They basically said what would you like to do? I said I would really like to do an historical character. Herb then started talking to me about Orson Welles and said, “you need to play Orson Welles. That is a great part for you to play.” It just kind of went from there. Herb searching around on the internet and finding it. We set up a time frame to do it and just kind of went from there.
Zina: In terms of selecting a one person show to do, Harry Kantrovich (who is the producing director of the group) and I got together and said, “hmmm, this would be a good way.” Because you really don’t see groups doing one person shows. Sometimes it’s economics and sometimes I suppose it’s just not finding the right person. We were very lucky here. We found the right person with the right show. It’s great to be able to give actors in the area an opportunity to do a one person show and stretch.
Laura: Is it difficult because it’s you, the audience and a telephone. Is it difficult to draw the energy while you’re on stage with everybody staring at you?
Jay: Actually I was telling Zina, I was a little worried about that. Tonight was the first time I had done it in front of a real audience. We’ve had some people attend some rehearsals here and there. A couple people saw tech week or the tech rehearsal the other night. There’s a lot of adrenalin flowing the first couple of minutes. I was very pumped. Once I heard the laughter and people started laughing, I thought, “oh yeah, that is funny.” Once I started to feel the audience’s energy I was able to use that and then settle down and relax and that helped push me through because it is a long piece for one person to do.
In this case the audience was extremely helpful. It was a lot of fun to do. It works to your advantage. At the same time you kind of want to forget that they’re there and stay true to the vision that Zina and I have come up with. Don’t get thrown if people don’t laugh in a particular place or if they don’t react. Just keep doing the way you’re doing it and the audience will react the way that they do. But when they do, you can use that energy.
Mike: How much research did you have to do about Welles to understand what the heck he was talking about half the time?
Jay: I probably did more research for this character than almost any other character I’ve done combined. I’ve been rehearsing it for the last several months. Herb was a huge help to me because he knows a lot about Welles. He and I had a lot of nice conversations. I have a couple other friends that are really into Welles. They were helpful to me as well. I read a few of the different biographies. There have been a lot of things written about him.
What’s interesting is they’re all from different points of view. I listened to the different radio broadcasts online. Watched several of his films. Read various analyses about him. Watched interviews with him on youtube that were really really interesting. There was definitely a lot of research. Not only trying to understand who he was as a person and how other people saw him. What his goals were. What his vision was for things. Also to study his mannerisms, his voice, his movement and things like that.
Mike: There were a few times I definitely saw him versus you. It wasn’t quite consistent, but it was going in and out as you were moving and switching what you were talking about.
Jay: It’s interesting that you bring that up because I purposely put a little bit of myself in every character that I play. I feel like that makes it real. I didn’t want to do a caricature of Orson Welles. I’m not Orson Welles. I’m creating a flavor of Orson Welles. Creating the illusion of Orson Welles. It might come and go a little bit. I want to have at least a little bit of myself in there because that makes it more real and more believable.
Mike: How do you define a one man show as a success as opposed to a regular show where everybody’s working together to make it a success?
Zina: To be honest I don’t know. I don’t know that there’s such a difference between a one man show in terms of what’s a success. There is a crew on this show. We did work together as a team. Acting wise of course the burden falls fully on the actor. To that end I think the amount of diligence that an actor or actress puts into it from the perspective of what you see on the stage, that makes it a success or not. If Jay had just come in and gone up there and done it as Jay, it would have not been a success. That would be the one difference I would say is that truly that research that carrying the show, keeping the audience’s interest so that they really do walk out interested. I had some people say to me, “Gee, I want to find out more about Orson Welles.” They want to find out about his daughter. That makes it a success and make it somewhat different I would guess from a show with many characters.
Jay: I basically agree with that. You took the words right out of my mouth. The thing is that I came into this knowing that not everyone is going to like the show. Not everyone is going to agree with the way I do it. Orson Welles was such a legendary figure and such a controversial figure. If you talked to 100 different people about him you’ll get 100 different opinions. That will include 100 different opinions on how to play Welles. I just want to create the character according to my vision and Zina’s vision and stay true to that. I think that we did that tonight and so I think that’s what makes it a success.
Mike: Do you think that Orson Welles is someone you’d like to hang out with?
Jay: I would love to.
Zina: He’d probably be exhausting to hang out with.
Jay: Maybe we would want to hang out with him in his older years when he had settled down some. Wasn’t quite as brash or arrogant. At the same time I think it would have been a blast being around him in his youth. This guy was a wild man. He was a partier, a drinker. He had his hand in everything including a little bit of politics and women. I think it would be fascinating to sit down and talk with him about his experiences, his visions, his conquests. His failures which are just as fascinating as his successes.
Zina: I can’t help but wonder if he had been alive now doing films because the independent film movement is so strong now. Much of what he was doing back then really was trying to do independent films and have control over his own films and maintain his artistic integrity that maybe he would have had more successes in today’s day than he did then.
Laura: So you talked for 95 minutes. How did you do those lines?
Jay: The script is about 20 pages long, but it’s two pages per page. It’s probably like 38 or 39 pages long. It’s one long monologue. So what we did, we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time. Zina and I were working on other projects at the time we knew we had to give ourselves plenty of time to prepare for this. We had our first read through in late February, I believe it was President’s Day. I took the rest of February, March, and April to learn it. What I did is I learned a few page each week. We would run those few pages off book, block it and then the next week we would add a few more and then the week after add a few more. It was a steady build up which was really helpful to me. There’s no way you can cram for this in three to five weeks. Some people might be able to, but I couldn’t. That’s how we did that. May was running it a lot and June was polishing it and here we are.
Mike: Was it tricky because it wasn’t necessarily in timeline order? It was kind of jumping around in his story telling.
Jay: Overall I thought it was pretty much in order. It did skip around a little bit. The way he had it divided up was pretty easy to follow after awhile. You could use the phone conversations as markers. He gave you clues throughout the script as to what was coming next. He did a good job structuring it. What was interesting was I saw an interview with Marcus Wolland. Apparently this play was originally a full length one with two full length acts, but then he cut it down. Thank you, Marcus.
Mike: Tell us when this show runs officially for the next few weeks.
Zina: We run through July 15th. We don’t have a production on the 30th this Saturday. Other than that we’re every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Fridays and Saturdays at 8. Sundays are at 7:30. That’s at the Lyceum in old town Alexandria 201 S. Washington Street. The phone number for reservations is 703-318-0619 or you can find that information on our website www.zemfirastage.com.
Our upcoming productions at Zemfira Stage after the Magnificent Welles. We have That Day in September, just on September 11 2007. That’s by Artie Van Wy. May 15th through 31st, 2008, A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin. July 10th through 26th, 2008 we’re going to have another one person show, Tea at Five, which is a one woman show, Katherine Hepburn. Laura Russell will be staring in that. That Day in September has kind of become a tradition with us on the one day, September 11 to do that show. Finally November 30th to December 20 of 2008 we will be ending the year with Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula. You kind of get a different perspective on The Christmas Carol.
Mike: Thank you very much for talking with us. We appreciate you doing that.
Jay: Thanks for having us. It was a blast.
Zina: Thank you.
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Laura & Mike Clark started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.