Published on June 4th, 2017 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: John Emmet Tracy
John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar is the newest production at Pacific Theatre. At the heart of the story is the ongoing relationship between Anthony and Rosemary, who live on two neighbouring farms in Ireland.
We spoke with John Emmet Tracy, who plays Anthony, to find out more about the show.
What is your involvement with Outside Mullingar and how did that get started?
I am one of four actors in the cast of Outside Mullingar. I play Anthony, an introverted Irish farmer described by the playwright John Patrick Shanley as someone whose “eyes are those of an intense dreamer”. So…I’m working on that!
What drew you to be a part of this production?
I had the time of my life working with Pacific Theatre a few years ago on The Seafarer. PT has an extraordinarily collaborative and welcoming atmosphere; from the staff, artists, administration and board, to the audiences and subscribers – it is just a very special place to work. So when Ron Reed (Pacific Theatre Founding Artistic Director and castmate of both The Seafarer and Outside Mullingar) talked to me about the possibility of doing another production there, I said yes before I even knew what project they were considering. It was months later when Ron wrote to me and mentioned Outside Mullingar. My wife Alia actually read the play before I did and I remember hearing her both laughing and crying in the next room as she read it. That was a pretty good sign!
Can you share some of your creative process in preparing for the role – from the initial planning all the way to opening night?
Like most people involved in a production, I read and reread the play in the time leading up to the start of rehearsal. In this case, there was quite a bit of time to do so; it was early in 2016 when the cast was first approached about the play. This was great in a sense, because it gave us each the time to let the story, characters and relationships linger and sink in. It is important to me to keep my observations and impressions as tentative and flexible as possible at this stage, because although I had quite a long period of interpreting the playwright, I had yet to begin work with our director Angela Konrad. I never want to begin to do the actual creative aspect of the actors work until the interpretive aspect is well underway. So in a way, the real work begins at the first table read – once the company of actors, director, stage managers and designers are gathered together in a room. The collective exchange begins at that moment and continues from that point until opening night, at which time the audience begins to contribute to the exchange as well.
“This play has so many personalities, but I suppose overall it is a beautiful love story.”
What should audiences expect from this show?
This play has so many personalities, but I suppose overall it is a beautiful love story. There are both dark and light in John Patrick Shanley’s play, but primarily it is really funny. I laughed so much while reading it and couldn’t put it down. I’m hoping we have created the live equivalent of “couldn’t put it down”. There are moments in the play that are both heart-wrenching and delightfully hopeful, and moments that are hysterically funny while still somehow sweetly sad. Thankfully, we are hearing a lot of laughter from the audiences and quite a few sniffles as well! Also, I am lucky enough to be working with such talented people on this production; audiences will recognize the thoughtful approach that went into every aspect of the play. Our designers, staff and stage management are doing phenomenal work. On top of that, I share our audiences’ delight at the talent of my three castmates and our imaginative, passionate director Angela Konrad.
What are the most important ingredients for a successful stage production?
It is very hard for me to choose an answer to that since so many critical factors must be considered in each production. There are countless creative decisions being made – particularly by the director – on each day of rehearsal and pre-production. But if I think about the question in a larger sense, I suppose the word that comes to my mind is engagement. Hopefully the people telling the story are sincerely engaged with the material, with one another and with the responsibility of bridging the audience to the playwright, director and story. And of course, if we are doing that, hopefully there is a genuine engagement from the audience as well. When we are all paying sincere attention to one another, it seems to me that’s when we all experience the true power and potential of theatre.
Are there any books or authors that have been influential to you so far in your creative journey?
There have been so many over the years, and quite a few that have seemingly nothing at all to do with acting. If I limit it to acting books however, I always find it beneficial to go back to Stanislavski. Previous translations of his work have been sometimes challenging for students and actors, but I love Jean Benedetti’s recent re-translations: An Actor’s Work: A Student’s Diary, and An Actor’s Work On The Role. He has returned what many of us remember reading as a three-volume set into a concise and clear two volumes. Many biographers have said that Stanislavski had always intended them to be two books in the first place. I also love Ron Marasco’s Notes to an Actor, which is a refreshingly new approach to acting texts. I was, for a short time, lucky enough to study with the great Uta Hagen, and I love her second book A Challenge for the Actor. In this book she illustrates the evolution of her work and thoughts since the publication of her first book from two decades earlier.
What is the most important lesson you have learned so far in your career?
Allow your career in art to enhance your life, but don’t allow it to be your life. An acting career can easily take over a person’s life to the point that every other aspect of life is being depleted. This happens not only because of the creative and professional demands of the job – demands of our time, our focus, our bodies, minds and spirits – but also simply because we love doing it so much! Acting can be such a joy and we work incredibly hard just to get to those wonderful moments of “Once upon a time…”. So it can easily be allowed to take over and to impact health, relationships, everything. I believe that Life should come first, Art and Career second..and third.
What other projects do you have coming up and where can people find out more about you online?
– I’m (kind of) a Twitter-er at @JohnEmmetTracy
– IMDb is always a good place to check for an actor’s upcoming film/tv appearances: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1356757/
– Instagram: @j.e.tracy
– I also have a website: www.johnemmettracy.com
I have some film and TV work coming out in the next year: I’ll be in the pilot of Netflix’s epic new series Altered Carbon as well as in a few episodes of the rebooted Reboot: The Guardian Code on YTV. On film, I will appear in a supporting role the next and final Fifty Shades Of Grey film, called Fifty Shades Freed. Also, I recently had a great time working on an independent film called Bella Ciao!, directed by Carolyn Combs and written by Michael Springate. No solid plans for theatre yet, but keeping my fingers crossed on one or two potential projects.
Thanks to John Emmet Tracy for speaking with us!
You can see Outside Mullingar at Pacific Theatre until June 10th, 2017. Visit PacificTheatre.org for ticket information.