Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Studio Chat with John Paulsen and John Klein

In honor of Freehold's 20th, long time Freehold student and lab members John Paulsen (Actor, Writer) and John Klein (Playwright, Director, Actor) reflect on their Freehold experience ...

John Paulsen: Hey John, I was hoping to lay down some thoughts about our time at Freehold in the 90's. Maybe we could start with how you first got there?

John Klein: Yeah, cool. Well it was the summer of 1992 and I had just moved to Seattle where I knew no one except my girlfriend who lived in Woodinville with a lot of horses. I remember getting a coffee at Cafe Paradiso and walking down the street towards Oddfellows Hall. I must have seen the letters "Freehold Theatre" or something in the window. I looked at the building and the steps and I remember thinking that I was going to spend a lot of time here. How about you?

John Paulsen: It was '91 and I was waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant called Tlaquepaque near Pioneer Square and I had this feeling that I needed to do something more with my life. So I found a book at Elliot Bay by Sanford Meisner on acting and it seemed like something I could maybe commit to. One thing lead to another and a friend pointed me in the direction of Robin Lynn Smith and Freehold where I signed up for a class called Impulse and Transformation. On the first day of class Robin and George Lewis asked us to walk across the floor and slowly let how we were feeling affect our movement. Next thing I know I was hopping around like a squid on fire and I thought, this could work for me.

John Klein: I think the first time I saw you I was watching the culmination of an Impulse project in Crow. All I remember is these swaths of movement in white, these whole crowds of actors moving across the stage like in a wedding or celebration. Claro Austria was in the heart of it, his bride was Isabelle Calais and Jadina Lillien is some kind of storyteller. And your piece had a family vacation tableaux with a suitcase and picnic. To me the whole thing was a beautiful dream and kind of messy in that way dreams are messy and illogical.

John Paulsen (turning away) and fellow students in Impulse and Transformation class

John Paulsen: Yeah I think I was wearing a dress and cowboy boots and smashing a melon on a rock to feed my kids. We had a string tied to the door between Crow and workspace and it was supposed to magically open it up to reveal a memory. But the string broke and a hand had to reach out to open it. Real dreamlike that one!

John Klein: Right! Even so, I remember knowing that's what I want to do,or be a part of, because here was a collective of people willing to search and to not know where they where going or how they were going to get there.

John Paulsen: That feeling was quite prevalent at the time. Meeting or seeing people you knew you wanted to work with and inspiring each other.

John Klein: That is what I really miss about that time in Seattle and I think Freehold was a real home for people who were trying to find their way as artists and storytellers, to make original work. We felt like we had something struggling to get out and were searching for a way to express it. I really credit Freehold for providing the space, the language and community of people willing to be on a wooden floor late at night exploring the unknown.

John Paulsen: For me the I&T class represented what I appreciated about Freehold. It was how I imagined the wild creative spirit of 60's experimental theatre but achieved with physical and emotional precision. We felt encouraged to use everything at our disposal for expression, be it voice, movement, poetry, painting, song, dance or a bucket of dirt or piles of silverware falling from the sky. Then we as artists would watch and help to chisel it away into its clearer original somethingness.

John Klein: And at some point there became the issue of actually putting something up and performing it. Light Wounds was the first piece you and I worked on in the very first Studio Series.

John Paulsen: More like a fever dream with a boy falling through a hole and meeting a wild woman in a forest.

John Klein: Exactly. And after days of stumbling around in the dark and whittling all this prose down to monosyllabic grunts and half choreographed wrestling we showed it to George. I remember him looking at me and saying firmly and kindly "Do you really want to put this up?" And I knew exactly what he meant, still leaving the door open for me either way. I said "Yes, I do" and he jumped up and said "OK" and gave us some notes. And with that he helped me put up my first original piece of theatre.

John Paulsen: I remember George telling us that the responses he would get to our work would be that it was the best the Studio Series could be, or the other.

John Klein: Nice. The funny thing is that whole piece, or at least the heart of it, found its way into the last play I wrote and directed and performed at Theatre for the New City in New York last year called Autographic Novel. When we performed it, Tony Pasqualini came to see it. He was in town to move his daughter into her apartment to start college. Kristen Kosmas came, and so did Jadina Lillien, and Claro and Isabelle with their son. And even you were in the play, or at least an actor playing you, and an actor playing me as we struggled to make our first play.

John Paulsen: And I had the good fortune to return to the suitcase image from that I&T project and develop it into a more fully realized piece called The Magnificent Quidley. It featured Ted Dowling and Brynna Jordan and we performed it at the Studio Series a couple of years ago. It sure was a nice feeling to experience that the work and efforts we birthed back then are still alive.

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