Things are getting a little cuckoo at freeFall theatre in St. Pete: rounding out the 2013-2014 season is a local production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
A Dale Wasserman stage version of Ken Kesey’s novel, also made into a classic 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson, the play opened August 2nd for a limited run of 22 performances through September 14th.
The final show of freeFall’s season, Cuckoo’s Nest boasts a large cast, featuring names like James Oliver (McMurphy), Roxanne Fay (Nurse Ratched) and Michael Nichols (Chief Bromden), who also starred in the 2001 Broadway Production of the same play. Directed by freeFall mastermind Eric Davis, the play is slated to be the local theatrical event of the summer.
Articulate got a chance to chat with director Eric Davis and leading actor James Oliver (freeFall’s Miss Julie and NBC’s Fraiser). Oliver and Davis are no strangers to artistic eminence—the two are big names currently shaping the Tampa Bay area performing arts scene.
How long have you been directing/acting? Why did you start?
Eric Davis: I directed my first play as a high school student. It was an evening of student-directed one-acts that I organized. I’ve always liked the idea of bringing the vision of a play as I imagine it while I’m reading it into reality. It’s still a very thrilling idea to me.
James Oliver: I’ve been acting since I was ten because my grandmother made me. I wish she could see that I’ve never stopped since then.
What inspires you?
ED: I find inspiration from a lot of sources: other theater that I see, film, music, visual art, things I read. Almost anything I encounter can become an inspiration for something.
JO: Nature. Animals. The Hopi. Hawaii. Thunder.
What’s led you to where you are in your career today?
ED: It would be impossible to list all of the people and opportunities and obstacles and choices that have led me to be here now. As with anyone in any field, every moment and experience that has come before has somehow contributed to where one finds oneself.
JO: In all seriousness, my career has been bumpy. Most are. It’s a tough road, no question. But I’m happy where I’m at as an actor. I’m better than I’ve ever been and I am learning all of the time.
Is there a specific artist you relate to, look up to, strive to emulate?
ED: I don’t really strive to emulate anyone else’s work. Instead, I respect and relate to many other artists. I’ve always loved the work of Baz Luhrmann, and Peter Greenaway. I love the stunning visual imagery they both create and I have always enjoyed employing anachronism as a theatrical device which nobody does quite as boldly as Luhrmann.
JO: There are people that inspire me, but you can’t strive to emulate anyone—you have to try to do better work than them. Build off what they’ve done, or what’s the point? Honor your heroes by picking up where they left off and digging deeper. I don’t want to be anyone’s fan, I want to create with them. But the real answer you’re looking for is: Jack and Marlon. More recently, Mark Rylance. He’s a badass and seems to be afraid of nothing. I also love Henry Miller, Tom Robbins and a million others. Anyone telling the truth and cutting through the nonsense of commercial enslavement is my hero. Eric Davis of freeFall is actually a hero of mine. I was just thinking that the other day. He had a vision and he has manifested it without compromise in a world that would offer a million reasons to doubt it would work. That’s incredible to me and I’m blown away each time I come back here to work with him.
What do you consider the best thing about being an artist?
ED: As Shakespeare put it, we are “the abstract and brief chronicles of the time.”
JO: The fact that you’re defying the collective agreement that earning money is the most important thing in life and, instead, serving beauty above all else; striving to awaken people’s feelings that we have more in common than we are different, communing with the great writers in history to create something new and carrying that brilliant lineage forward, disrupting mundanity and ignorance and becoming a better, stronger, more complete person in order to act from truth and not from the need to please or entertain. It is fascinating work and I’ll spend my whole life doing it.
How do you feel when people interpret your work differently than intended?
ED: I don’t concern myself with how others interpret my work. It does bother me when others feel the need to share with me how they interpret my work. I prefer to put the work out there for people to do with what they will. What they take away from it is a combination of how I intend the piece to work on them, both consciously and subliminally, and what they experience personally because of their past experiences and particular points of view.
JO: I don’t think about it at all. It’s theirs to interpret as they please. It’s not my business to tell them what to think – it’s my business to tell the truth as best as I can and then go home.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
ED: I would advise them to work hard and learn as much as possible about their chosen form as possible.
JO: Erase the idea of an “audience.” You are them and they are you. So, go as deeply into the truth as you can and try to reveal it to yourself without controlling it. That’s magic. That’s what we love about art and that’s why it’s vital to any culture that wishes to evolve.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JO: Have a good day. Go outside. Respect the Earth.
Catch Davis and Oliver in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at freeFall until August 31st. For dates, times and ticket prices, visit freefalltheatre.com.
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