Today’s profile features Ted James, who is a company member with Halcyon Theatre. Ted is an actor, playwright, filmmaker, and producer based in Chicago. His video production work is also great, and you’ve probably seen some of it on some major networks. He’s genuinely very cool; everyone thinks so. Read below to hear his reflections of the upcoming production of Dreams of the Penny Gods by Callie Kimball:
Q: What’s your name, and what’s your role in Dreams of the Penny Gods?
Ted James, playing Bobby
Q: What fascinates you about this play?
I think every adult has thought about whether or not they are bringing forward bad habits from their family. This play shows us a family that is at that crossroads. Will they continue their cycle of abuse, chemical dependency and racism? Or will they leave that behind? Do children who are abused need to grow up to be abusers? Of course not. But why do some break out? Is it courage? Free will? Fate? How can one take horrible upbringings and use that as fuel to grow compassion while others just become the next generation of monsters? And what happens when the abused start to believe that they deserve abuse? Can one confuse abuse with a way of loving? These are the fascinating and very real issues that this play explores. This play does not take it easy. It throws the audience straight into this mess of family and forces everyone to think.
Q: What drew you to your character in the play?
The character of Bobby is incredibly complex. He’s a vicious monster and suddenly sweet. He does violent things but says beautiful truths.
In preparing the role, any time the text concerned me, we put it on its feet and it just simply worked. The complexity of this character is organic, robust, and quite thrilling as an actor.
The big challenge is that Bobby is a dichotomy with a hairpin trigger. The need to slip instantly back and forth between these raw emotions is like running an acting gauntlet. There are just so many opportunities to screw up and leave the performance flat or dishonest. The only solution I know is to do the hard work and get inside the character fully. It’s fast, fast, fast. And so you need to get inside and trust it and just let it rip.
The last role I played with Halcyon was Gregers in Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. So being challenged at this company is something that is familiar to me. Halcyon does not hide from difficult material. I find that thrilling.
Q: What’s one aspect of the design that you look forward to seeing come to life onstage?
The audience is living inside a storage facility with the characters. The set continues behind the audiences. It’s not a cutout. And you’re close to the actors; at times they surround you. The design is extremely intimate and will serve to heighten to tension between the family members in the play. I’m thrilled to see it take form and to get to live in it on stage with the audience.
Q: Why should people come see this show?
This is a world premiere production of a powerful new play. Our director, Jenn Adams, has an attention to detail is this production that is rare and completely specific. We didn’t just need to know how people sound in Maine, we needed to know how they sound in Biddeford, Maine. That’s just a tiny example of the precision that’s being put into this production. Be that specific a few thousand times and you end up with a special show.