BWW Interviews: Jake Speck, A Life in the Theater


Born in Texas, but a Nashvillian through-and-through, Jake Speck might look like your stereotypical matinee idol - tall and good-looking - but there's a certain affable goofiness about him that completely blows the stereotype out of the water. You can't help but like the guy! Add to that immense likability factor a whole bunch of talent and you have a very formidable force of nature in the person of Jake Speck.

My earliest memory of Jake Speck was in a production of Man of La Mancha at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre. When the original actor cast as Don Quixote dropped out of the show, Speck showed his leadership and proved his mettle when he took on the challenge of playing the much-older character - and showing to audiences and critics alike the tremendous talent just beginning to flower.

After making a mark in New York (he did a number of roles, most notably playing Bob Gaudio in the mega-smash Jersey Boys), he came back home with wife Emily Tello Speck to take the reins as managing director of Studio Tenn, the city's latest entry into professional theater. With a stunning string of successes to their credit during that initial season, Studio Tenn's presence in Nashville's artistic community has been cemented, with audiences looking forward to the company's sophomore season.

With Studio Tenn's production of The Glass Menagerie just concluded, Jake (who just recently found out that he and Emily are going to be parents of twin sons in the not-too-distant future) took time to look over our questions and to give readers a glimpse into his version of "A Life in the Theater." Read and enjoy!

What was your first taste of theater? My grandmother took me to see Kathy Rigby in Peter Pan in Fort Worth, Texas. I'll never forget it as long as I live. I was completely mesmerized. At the time I'm not sure I knew I wanted to "do that," I just knew that I loved it and it captivated me like nothing else ever had.

What was your first real job (or responsibility) in the theater? I was nine years old and was cast as an Oompa Loompa in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Dallas Theatre Center. It was the most thrilling experience of my young life at that time and I knew I wanted to make it my career. I distinctly remember telling people as a nine-year-old that I was going to be an actor when I grew up, specifically a stage actor and that I was going to perform on Broadway. If I got an "Isn't that cute?" reaction I would get really upset that they weren't taking me seriously. I would like to apologize to any of those people I snapped at! I was a nine-year-old who took himself way too seriously!

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in theater? The first time was during Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I had a second moment on my first trip to New York. It was 1998 and I was about to enter my junior year in high school. I was with a school group and we saw the original Broadway production of Ragtime. To this day I have never been so moved by a production and a cast in my life. Sitting in the theater at intermission I heard a voice in my head say "you must do this, you must come here and do this". I know that sounds completely crazy, but it was very real to me at the time! Almost exactly 11 years later I was in my dressing room at Jersey Boys and looked out my window to see the marquee for the revival of Ragtime going up across the street. I got very choked up. It was a "full circle" kind of moment for me.

Why do you pursue your art in Nashville? What are the best parts of working here Nashville is my home. Even though I moved here as an awkward 8th grader from Texas, I still consider Nashville my home. It is where I spent those incredibly formidable high school years and deepened my passion for the arts, theater specifically. It has been an absolute joy to return to Nashville after being away for eight years. The thing I love about doing theater in Nashville is I think Nashville is the best kept secret in the country. There is so much talent here and not everybody knows it! They know there are country singers here, but they have no idea the vast pool of talent that exists in this town beyond that! I also happen to think that Nashville is the perfect combination of small town and big city. I love it!

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.

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