I’ve seen playwright and actor Rory Jobst naked, but I’ve also seen the unprotected profundity of his work. His new play, Samuel Beckett, Andre the Giant, and the Crickets is likely no exception, by which I mean it’s insightful, not that Jobst shows up naked in it—though I wouldn’t put it past him. Based on the real life connection between Irish Nobel-winning playwright Samuel Beckett and wrestler Andre the Giant, the show is part of Rhinofest 2012. Jobst spoke with me about his famous father Beau O’Reilly, his influences and even his nude interlude.
Our Town Your work tends to reflect on pop culture. What’s the fascination for you?
Rory Jobst People tend to regard pop culture as a passive thing; it's what you discuss on your lunch break. What you watch or listen to in your underwear. While those things are true to a certain extent, I think that pop culture is way more serious. Trends in entertainment are popular because they reflect the world we are living in. We relate to them on some level. "Write what you know," the old adage says. Well, I know plenty about [pop culture]!
OT Your father is Chicago mainstay Beau O’Reilly. What’s it like to enter the Chicago theater scene when your father casts such a long shadow?
RJ It's definitely something I consider, because we more or less have similar aesthetics. The odd thing is, [theater] is what I wanted to do growing up, and I didn't really even have a relationship with him until I was a teenager. I seemed to have been drawn to this lifestyle independent of his influence. That is not to say that he hasn't had a tremendous influence on my life and work. I even had the privilege of being one of his students in a playwriting class at SAIC [and] he has always been very supportive of my work, offering helpful, honest feedback, and getting me involved in some really cool projects to boot. As far as the Chicago Theatre scene, I've met and worked with some amazing companies and people the old fashioned way: by auditioning a lot and maintaining lasting partnerships. I feel like after about eight years on the scene I have developed a name for myself, and so has my brother, Colm, who has been on the scene for a long time, too. But what matters the most is that we are all supportive of each other’s work, and that has been fantastic.
OT You’re infamous at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for taking to heart an assignment to reenact a dream and running through the halls naked. As an artist is it important to take yourself out of your comfort zone?
RJ Infamous, eh? I had no idea. And half naked, for the record. That was a very rewarding project, because the nudity just brought a vulnerability to that piece. I would always have these dreams of not wearing any pants, but walking around in public as if it were socially acceptable. I was fortunate to have a more or less positive reaction to it. It didn't feel as much shocking as a very private moment that I just happened to be sharing with about 30 people. I think it is important to be taken out of your comfort zone, not to say that I do enough of that myself. I've gotten very comfortable writing these two person pop culture mash up shows. Actually, for my latest piece, I found that getting out of my comfort zone involved resisting the need to be shocking. For instance, my work usually is chock full of profanity, sex, and violence. I am happy to say that there is not a single F-bomb in this piece!
OT Obviously your show is inspired by a tremendously interesting true-story. (Apparently Beckett, a friend of Andre the Giant's father, drove the boy to school because he was too big to fit on a school bus.) How did you realize you wanted to turn it into a play?
RJ I knew I wanted to write it pretty much as soon as I first heard about it on Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!; Logistically, the story was perfect for the stage; two characters in a confined space. The setting was also fraught with potential for Beckettesque theater of the absurd. Also, the fact that very little is known about these drives to school was advantageous, because it gave me the freedom to explore these characters anyway I wanted. There was no pressure to be historically accurate. Also, I loved the incongruity of the two characters. One is obsessed with mortality, while one had a zest for life. One was thin, one was big. One represented a highly regarded art form, while the other represented a less regarded form of sports entertainment.
OT Is Beckett an influence of yours? What other writers/performers inspire you and why?
RJ Absolutely. He has had a heavy influence on my work from the very start. I love to write about characters who exist in the real world, but their experience of the real world is slightly distorted. However, they have also have a deep personal relationship with each other and really need each other, which has always been the heart of many of Beckett's dramatic works. Brian Friel also has that ability to theatricalize interactions that characters have and create a world that is both Ireland and a place that can only exist in one of his plays. In terms of language, I love Martin McDonough's black sense of humor, which I have tried to emulate many times. The great screenwriter Charlie Kauffman is so brilliant at incorporating elements of pop culture into [his] through the looking glass fantasies.
OT What are you working on right now?
RJ I've been working on this love story piece about a vegan Princess and this vegan pastry chef, who has a flair for creating transcendent deserts. I'm writing it for three different couples who are all very close friends, and my hope is to have the piece performed simultaneously (literally at the same time, to the minute) in three different parts of the country: Chicago, New York City, and Idaho. That piece is still in its infancy, but I am really enjoying it so far.
For tickets to "Samuel Beckett, Andre the Giant, and the Crickets" go here.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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