Week 27 | Artist 27: Created to Create 2016 | Jeff Ginsberg, Educator/Director/Actor

July 2, 2016

 

About

I am an actor, director and educator and the Coordinator of the Acting Program of the Theatre

Department of Columbia College Chicago. As co-artistic director (1992-1996) of the National

Jewish Theatre, I supervised, directed or acted in over twenty classics, as well as Chicago and

world premieres. Previously, (1986-1990) I was co-artistic director of the Immediate Theatre

Company, a Joseph Jefferson award-winning ensemble where I directed “Jeff” recognized

productions of Seduced, Two Small Bodies, Apocalyptic Butterflies and Ragged Dick. I have

performed in the Chicago premieres of The Heidi Chronicles, Sight Unseen, Exact Change as

well as classical and devised work in a variety of media.

 

I have taught at The School at Steppenwolf, Northwestern University’s “Cherub” program, The

Actor’s Center, Center Theatre’s Training Program at for 30 years at Columbia College Chicago

where I have directed many classic, contemporary and devised pieces. I received a Presidential Scholar in the Arts Teaching Award and have twice been nominated for the Excellence in Teaching Award from Columbia College Chicago. I continue my training at and have been greatly influenced by the Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, MA and have studied at LISPA and with Paola Coletto in Padua, Italy. I’m a graduate of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts (BFA-Acting) and the Yale School of Drama (MFA-Acting).

 

Where were you born?

Fall River, Massachusetts

 

Where do you live/work?

Chicago, Illinois

 

What fuels your desire to be a theatre worker?

At present, much of my creative energy and passion is devoted to teaching. So my pleasure in

collaborating with my younger colleagues, in sharing my preferences, passions and

methodologies is the “fuel” that drives my work. I love being in the room with young

performers/theatre makers who are often open to the exploration of ways to enlarge their own

vocal, physical and emotive capabilities and widen their perspective on the world, both present

and past. I am searching for my own personal and creative ‘freedom’ as well as hopefully

facilitating theirs; to use the theatre training, performance and production for self-knowledge,

skill building, empathy and appreciation of other perspectives.

 

The best thing about being an artist is...

Discovery, exploration, collaboration: really trying to look into the others’ eyes and

listening/responding to the ‘safe other’. Trying, trying, trying to “speak with your heart on your

tongue”- Patsy Rodenburg

 

The biggest obstacle of working with the self is...

Personal resistance, habitual thinking and action, the challenge to break patterns, fear of what

is beyond the known. Facing my perceived and REAL limitations, particularly as I age: I’m 64.

Fuck.

 

What advice would you give self at the very beginning of your training and professional career?

Feel the fear but do it anyway. Break more rules. Work harder. Really connect to the world in a

variety of ways- viscerally and spiritually. Love the humanity and empathy you have but also, in

equal measure, embrace the dark side knowing that the ‘bitter and better’ is all one. Create

(and try to live as much as possible) always out of ‘Desire and not Obligation.’ The latter was

something that I heard Stacy Klein, the founder of Double Edge Theatre say, at one of the many

trainings I’ve done with her and her brilliant cohort of ensemble members. It has stuck in my

ear and heart and I say it often to my students.

 

Are there any rituals that you created to help you “face avoidance” that plagues any artist occasionally? Would you describe what works for you?

I am trying to “tackle the hard stuff first.” Even today, knowing that I wanted to fulfill my

‘desire’ to respond to your questions (which I also must admit was mixed with

‘obligation’…hmmm) I knew that I needed to start it- to tackle the hard stuff first- this, as

opposed to working and fantasizing and researching my next directorial gig- Peer Gynt.

 

Talk about a piece of work that you experienced recently that moved you and how it found its place in your work?

I see a lot of work because Chicago is so rich as a theatre making town, a dance making town, a

music making town, etc. I am blessed to have spent my artistic life in Chicago. Recently, I saw a

production of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window directed by Anne Kaufman at The

Goodman Theatre. I love Pina Bausch’s work and Ivo Von Hove’s in equal measure to more

conventional story-telling onstage, but I was born and bred and trained in mostly traditional

forms and this production (for me) exemplified those forms at its best. Adeptly, courageously

performed, directed with heart and intelligence and a wonderful design: for me the huge

scaffolding surrounding this small Greenwich Village apartment, circa early 1960’s was a perfect

metaphor for the play- a marriage under construction as well as a city and society under

construction. The actors “went to the edge and reported back.” The play was dark, and funny

and thought provoking and it has stayed with me several months after seeing it.

 

What other art form do you connect to? How does this craft/discipline help you in your work?

Well, in the last few years I’ve become much more connected to classical music. I would say

that that is a daily continual diet that I feed myself. My station of choice is WFMT, Chicago’s

Classical and Folk Music Station. The beauty, the ‘architecture’ of a great piece, just amazing for

me to listen to a piece by Beethoven or Dvorak. I’m inspired by artists who work hard and

again, create out of desire. I would love (as many of us do, I surmise) to leave something to the

world that is courageous and beautiful and affirming. That’s what is challenging to us who have

chosen to do theatre. It’s ephemeral, it disappears. I know that there is great beauty in that, but

also sorrow. When I watch the YouTube of Claudio Abbado conducting Beethoven’s Symphony

No. 8 with the Berliner Philharmoniker I’m in artistic aural heaven; like listening to Leslie Odom,

Jr. and the Hamilton Company sing The Room Where it Happens!

 

Describe effective techniques you use to increase your focus/productivity when working on a project.

This happens more rarely during the school year because I am responsible for so much

administrative as well as creative work, but now, as I prepare for Peer Gynt, I just find it easy to

“get obsessed and stay obsessed”- with research, with listening to Grieg, to contemporary

rockabilly music (because I’m setting the play in a small Wisconsin town on the Illinois border

with a large indigenous Norwegian heritage circa late 1980’s for the first part.) So I artistically

meander, I’ll read critical analysis, I’ll read and make notes of several scenes, I always have it in

my mind.

 

How do you reward yourself for a job well-done?

See, relish, and embrace my collaborators. See, relish, and embrace the audience. See, relish,

and embrace many performances of a work I’ve directed. Very rarely do I not love watching my

shows. That’s the reward- the magic of being in the house and watching the audience vibing

with the production.

 

What, in your opinion, is the most important element of training of young actors? 

Just making the proposal, making the offering to try themselves out as creators/interpreters. To

offer them some of the tools that I have found valuable for my growth. To nourish their

curiosity, to offer them dramatic literature that I have found compelling and rich. To make

them embrace some of the rigorous physical training that I have found to be so freeing and

incorporate that as part of their ritual. To find ways to work on breath and voice and text in a

world that is tied to the ‘thumb dance’ of the iPhone and the tablet. To try to not judge too

harshly their own work and the work of their colleagues both young and old. To instill the

Malcolm Gladwell “10,000 Hours rule- the magic number of greatness.” In whatever the

endeavor. To just log the hours.

 

What do you advise your students to work on after graduation? How does a young artist maintain and grow in their craft, in early professional years?

For many years, on the last day in most every class I teach, we end sitting in a circle and reflect

on the semester. The young colleague to my right turns to the person on their right and spends

a few moments thanking them for a specific things that they have observed about their

colleague during the time we’ve spent together. It could be in connection to their acting, their

collaboration, or a personal quality that they feel they want to “thank” their colleague for

sharing. There is no dialogue. One person speaks, the receiver just listens and takes it in.

The last person in the circle turns to thank me. Then I will always share an adage attributed to

Paul Gaugin. He said, “If you have five centimes left, spend 1 on bread and 4 on training.”

So that’s what I tell my dear students who are leaving the nest. Always train, always grow.

 

What keeps you inspired and motivated to train actors and give your best?

The spark and energy and humor and sweat and pleasure and passion of a group of people

dedicated to a singular task. To grow as people, as artists, as collaborators, as a stakeholder in

humanity. What an amazing gift to be able to do this for 30 years. I often share this with my

older colleagues: there is terror on that first class facing a new group (my sense is that many

long-time educators feel this) but on I go- I “feel the fear, but do it anyway.” Although teaching

is “give/give” whereas acting is “give/get”, I am very nourished by it.

 

What, in your opinion, could be some traps/pitfalls for young actors or working actors to avoid in their work/development?

To keep fearless and try something new. Stanislavski says it all (for me) in Chapter 3: Character

and Types in Building a Character. Call me old-fashioned; just gave up my rotary phone.

 

Who were the important artistic influences, mentors, or methods who have shaped who you are?

Peter Thompson- a brilliant teacher and humane man that I serendipitously found when I was a

young actor living in NYC. Peter often used the term “personalization.” In four years of solid

undergraduate actor training at Boston University, I don’t think I ever thought the acting vehicle

(script, improvisation, created work) was ever an expression of “me.” Of course, it always is in a

way, but for me, the idea that acting was not “putting on a mask” but rather, perhaps, “taking it

off” was really crystalized in Peter’s classroom in a basement space on West Fourth,

Washington Square Park in the Village. He had such charisma and empathy and brilliance as a

teacher and he wore it lightly. I always think of him, I always aspire to his patience and

perception. I’m a work in progress as a teacher.

 

Double Edge Theatre - late in my career as a theatre maker, I applied and was given permission

for my first sabbatical. My sabbatical plans were already formally vetted and my schedule set

when I saw a beautiful photo-essay in American Theatre Magazine about a company that was

not on my radar: The Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, MA. I applied for their Winter Intensive,

had an indelible, moving experience and have been training and collaborating with them for six

years. Many of my students have trained at the Farm or in Chicago and the company, the

training, the Farm have become integral to my view of what an integrated artistic life in a

community can be. Their training is rigorous, their spectacles gorgeous with life and image, and

as people? None better.

 

My students- every one affords an opportunity for my growth and further understanding about

the world. They are a huge part of my ‘family’ and I continue relationships and collaborations

with them long after they leave the Theatre Building at Columbia College Chicago.

The companies and artists I’ve collaborated with over the 30 years I’ve called Chicago my

artistic home.

 

My late partner, Hal Brun.

 

In 2016, SUPER SPACE is serving as a vehicle to facilitate Created to Create Project.

 

What

CREATED TO CREATE 

INTRODUCING ONE ARTIST PER WEEK, FOR 52 WEEKS IN 2016.

 

When

Beginning, January, 1st, 2016

 

Who

ACTORS, ARTISTS, THEATRE MAKERS, FILM MAKERS, DESIGNERS, TEACHING ARTISTS, STUDENTS all chosen because they spend a part each day creating. Artists will be chosen in no particular order.

 

Goal

Introduce artists from different parts of the world. People who use different mediums and whose practice is at a different skill level. A thing they all have in common is unique sense of style and self-expression.

 

 

 

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