BWW Interview: Jeremy Aggers Steps Back into THIS WONDERFUL LIFE at the Aurora Theatre
"As long as the audience is with you on the trip, it's pretty easy to get there." Jeremy Aggers
It's not every year you win a Suzi Bass Award and certainly rarer to reprise the role for which you won. But this holiday season, that's exactly what Jeremy Aggers gets to experience.
Fresh off his Best Actor win for last year's THIS WONDERFUL LIFE, Aggers returns to the role of, well- everyone, in the Aurora Theatre's second mounting of the Christmas piece. Written by Steve Murray, it is a one-man, abridged version of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, featuring George Bailey and co. alongside a narrator who is a character himself. So how in the world does one actor step into this vast array of characters and single-handedly carry the entire story? Aggers would say he does not do so alone.
Below, check out our conversation with the multi-talented performer as he reflects on last year's production and shares how this season's rendition carries a new energy.
We're so excited that you'll be back in THIS WONDERFUL LIFE this season!
Thank you. I'm having a great time already. I didn't get sick of it last year, and I'm still having a good time now. Hopefully I'll get to do it for years to come and feel the same every year.
How has it been this time around, so far?
It takes a few swings to hit sometimes, and that was finally- even in rehearsal I was like, "I'm not quite there yet," but I've realized, especially after last night, that the audience is really what makes the show. Everybody knows the movie- well, most everybody.
Thinking about how vast the show is, how would you describe it for audiences who have never seen it before?
Well one-man shows are kind of tricky because a lot of audiences shy away from it, but if you like the movie, you're going to love the show. For the audience, imagine you're watching the movie on a little bit fast-forwarded. It boils the movie down to sixty minutes, and it's the longest and shortest hour of my life every night. When I first started working on it, [Aurora Theatre Artistic Director] Anthony Rodriguez said, "Just digest each scene. Take small bites, and treat each scene like you're your own scene partner."
Earlier you said you took a few strokes to make this land, which is interesting because you already did this last year.
Well, I've had the whole year to think about it, and I haven't necessarily been doing anything differently, but I'm breathing that energy back into it. It's not really like riding a bike. The lines came back really easily, but the connections and the timing, especially for the comedic moments, took rehearsal.
So you said it takes time, but what else contributes to that energy being a little bit different?
Honestly, I think it's probably being another year older and being able to connect with George Bailey a little bit more, because I had my first child in between then and now. That's a big theme in the show. We found out we were expecting, I think, the weekend after opening night last year, and he's three months old now, so it's still a whirlwind.
So how has becoming a father affected how you play the role?
Well, George is constantly referencing, "I want to go home and see my wife and kids," or "I don't care what happens to me, I just want to see my wife and kids," so it's a lot easier to connect emotionally now.
And where Jimmy Stewart had take after take to get through, I've just got one a night. So far, as long as the audience is with you on the trip, it's pretty easy to get there for me.
I love how you say that.
Well, Steve Murray, the playwright, was very careful about keeping up the pace of the dialogue and hooks in the script to make sure that I've got the audience in the first third. After that they just come along with me. And Justin was really careful to grab those moments last year and hone them even better this year.
So what do you feel like those moments are?
Well, the opening, where it's every major line in the movie condensed down- it's a nice opener, and it kind of sets the tone for the narrator's personality and how frantic he is. There's a lot of hand-holding, even for people who have seen the movie, but it's just kind of a reminder. To spell out some major plot moments is really helpful for even people like me who have seen the movie a bunch. But once you get that exposition out of the way for the first third, it really starts to clip. The moment where I realize, "Oh wow! It's just downhill from here," is when Sam Waynewright comes back to visit, and he's driving the big giant car. That's like the halfway point for me. So I'm like, "I'm good." Then I'm along for the ride at that point myself.
One thing I loved about it was that it felt like I sat down with you, my good friend, and you said, "Have you ever seen IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE before?" and I said, "No," and you said, "Let me tell it to you."
I think keeping it conversational with the audience is what keeps it real. And being so close to them [in a tiny venue] really helps because I try to talk to every single person in the room at least once. For some of the folks who are really into it, I'll go back to them as my well to get replenished with my energy through the show. Last night, there was one woman- I don't know who she was, but she was just locked onto me the whole show, and I made her my Mary and asked her if she wants to move. I always try to find someone who's really enjoying it for that moment.
And then with what Tony said about taking in each moment, it sounds like you're taking the idea of reacting to yourself very seriously.
Oh yeah. It's so weird. You're your own scene partner. You have to listen to yourself, and the second that you don't, you screw up, which has happened, but it hasn't happened in a way that the audience would notice. But you just have to stay laser focused. I think the audience helps you focus, because their energy just takes you right into it.
What do you feel like makes this show special?
I think it's making it something that's so iconic to an American viewer in the last fifty or sixty years since the movie, it's making it fresh because it's a big undertaking for the playwright, performer, and the audience. But I think it's working.
Oh and I forgot to mention this before, but you won the Suzi for this award! I was backstage, but I cheered from there when you won.
Oh, thank you. The timing wasn't right [for me to come to the ceremony], but I'm very grateful for the Suzi committee and everybody and for the opportunity. I'll put it up on my bookshelf right next to my poetry award from eighth grade.
I gave Tony a couple things to say on the off-chance that I won. The competition for Atlanta theatre is fierce and thick, so I don't hold my breath for any of those things. It was a big surprise and nice to have. And hopefully I'll be able to do this show for quite a bit of time so I can get my son to come see it one day.
Yes! That would be so special! What do you have coming up next?
Mostly just audiobooks. I've kept the first half of 2020 open to just do books and make my own schedule so I can hang out with [my son] Arthur because I just had two shows in a row, so I want to get more time with him.
Anything else you'd like to tell our readers today?
Just thank you for reading! Come see the show! We run through December 23, and there are plenty of opportunities to come see it. And support local theatre, please!
Aurora Theatre's THIS WONDERFUL LIFE runs through December 23. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.