What's New on the Rialto
Jeremy Shamos Assembled Parties
by Beth Herstein
Like his co-stars, Jeremy Shamos is no stranger to the New York stage. He has appeared regularly on and off Broadway, most recently in a star-studded Broadway revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, and he received a Tony nomination in 2012 for his fine work in Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize winner Clybourne Park. I was fortunate to interview the actor by phone recently. He was gracious, intelligent and interesting. When we spoke, the cast was finishing its work in Manhattan Theatre Club's rehearsal space and getting ready to move into the theater for tech. "It's a big play and we're patiently letting it develop," Shamos told me. "There are some really good actors in this, and it's fun to watch them work."
Beth Herstein: You were born in Manhattan but grew up in Denver. It's a beautiful part of the country.
Jeremy Shamos: It was a great place to grow up.
BH: I read that you became interested in acting during high school.
JS: Yes. I had a chance to be in some professional productions when I was young, and I loved being around theater. I also was lucky because I went to a small enough school that I didn't have to choose theater over other things. I got to play varsity lacrosse and varsity soccer and still be in plays. A lot of friends that I have had to sacrifice things to do theater. I got to do everything, which I'm glad about.
BH: So you came to New York to study acting at NYU?
JS: I actually went to undergraduate as well as graduate school there. I came here when I was 18. After undergrad, I worked off-off-Broadway and for three years. I was doing a lot of shows downtown and getting paid sort of subway fare [while] doing experimental theater. Then I just decided I wanted more training and wanted to enter into a different part of the theater world. I was lucky that I got into NYU.
BH: Did it open up the kind of opportunities you wanted?
JS: Yes, it opened up opportunities. I also took myself a little more seriously.
BH: How so?
JS: When I went to grad school I felt like I didn't know what I was doing. I thought I might know what I was doing when I finished grad school. When I finished grad school, I still didn't feel like I knew what I was doing but at least I realized that I would never know.
It was a comforting feeling just to say, "I guess I'll always not know what I'm doing." There is something sort of freeing in that ... It's always a doubting profession for me. It was a good feeling, to accept the fact that I always was going to be questioning and not knowing what I was doing.
BH: When I was younger, I kept waiting to become a grownup. Then I turned 25 and realized, "It's always going to be like this. Just me, getting older."
JS: It's not like you come to this place where you feel [like an adult]. It seems as if other people are in that place, but they're probably not.
BH: I have loved so many of your shows, like 100 Saints You Should Know and Miss Witherspoon. But, the show that first made me a big fan of yours and Christopher Fitzgerald's was Gutenberg: The Musical, which I saw at the New York Musical Theater Festival.
JS: You saw it when it was at the Festival? That was really rough. At that point we really threw it together but it was so funny.
BH: You're also a good friend and frequent collaborator of Christopher Fitzgerald.
JS: Yes, I've done four or five shows with Chris.
BH: He met you and several other friends when you all performed in Terence McNally's play Corpus Christi.
JS: It was an interesting experience and it bonded the people who were a part of it. We were all generally the same age and all just starting out. That was 15 years ago.
BH: You're a member of The Civilians, too.
JS: I've not been available to work with The Civilians as much as I'd like. My wife [Obie Award winner Nina Hellman] has gotten to do more with them. We have been members since the group was first coming together.
BH: In an interview you gave during Clybourne Park you mentioned that you didn't have to audition for the part because you were part of the first reading of the play.
JS: Playwrights Horizons was already going to produce it. It hadn't been cast when the reading took place and Bruce [Norris] had written it but never heard it out loud. Pam [McKinnon, director] and Bruce cast it without auditioning, just thinking who'd be able to read it well. Four of us who did the reading ended up doing the show all the way through.
BH: Is it common to get parts that way?
JS: It's happened to me several times. I've been offered parts because I've done the readings. It's a trend with new plays, that there are a lot of readings. Once you do a reading of the play, if you have a sense of the voice of the character and the playwright, and a sense of the play, then every time they do a reading they tend to ask you. Why reinvent the wheel? Then, eventually when it comes time to do it, you get asked without auditioning.
It's a nice feeling mostly becauseI know one is not supposed to say this, but I don't really like auditioning. Most people don't like it, but you're supposed to feel you should like it because it's a big part of an actor's job. Though I understand the process and why it's a necessary evil, it feels somehow thatas civilized as it can bethere's something about it that's uncivilized.
Still, there are certain directors and writers for whom it's not horrendous to audition and it actually can be fun. Now, because I've been working professionally since Corpus Christi and have been lucky enough to be pretty consistently working, it's relatively rare that I go into the theater [for an audition] and don't know the director or the writer. I certainly know the casting director. So it doesn't feel like an unfriendly environment the way that it does when you go into a room full of strangers you have to prove yourself to.
JS: It is a wonderful cast. I've known Jessica [Hecht] for a long time and admired her, and we have done some readings together. Other than that, we've seen each other's shows and had a mutual admiration. I've loved Judith Light, I thought she was incredible in Other Desert Cities. She's just a lovely person, so I'm excited to be working with her. I feel like I've had a great relationship with Manhattan Theater Club as well. I've done two shows with them, but also a ton of readings, and I've known Lynne [Meadows, director] in her capacity as Artistic Director and always have felt it's one of my artistic homes. So I feel very comfortable here and happy that I'm doing a show here; and I'm a huge Richard Greenberg fan, so it's exciting.
BH: How are you enjoying this play, and your role?
JS: It's exciting. I love doing different kinds of things. I'd love to be in a rep company and do different things every night. Clybourne Park was an especially unique experience because I got to play two different kinds of characters in two different kinds of plays, really. This is the same play, but he is as different as people are 20 years apart, which actually is quite a bit. I love those challenges.
Assembled Parties now at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th Street. For performance and ticket information, visit Telecharge.com.
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