BWW Interview: Jacob Tischler: Creating a Conversation

BWW Interview: Jacob Tischler: Creating a Conversation

"This show is a boot camp in and of itself!" declares Jacob Tischler.

Tischler is referring to his role as Tony Manero in Maine State Music Theatre's production of Saturday Night Fever, which begins its run at the Pickard on July 18th, and he is speaking to Broadway World about the colorful creative path that has brought him to this point in his career.

Tischler grew up in rural Vermont tending llamas and enjoying pastimes such as fly-fishing. He says the rural childhood "gave me time with myself. I know I come off as an available, enthusiastic chap, but I promise you that's a skill set I've honed. I really am an introvert, and I appreciate my time alone with my thoughts; that's where I can work on improving my skill sets."

He recalls being bitten by show business at the age of four when he attended the circus with his parents. "I turned to my Mom and said, 'That's what I am going to do!' I had to wait four years before I could attend Circus Smirkus camp and went on to participate in their overnight camp and clown school after that. The clown training taught me what it means to be present, available and vulnerable on stage."

Together with the circus training, Tischler credits his experiences at Champlain Valley Public Schools with introducing him to drama and the arts and allowing him to learn to express himself through various creative media. "The arts have always been a pathway for me to communicate my thoughts and feelings. I am very comfortable leaving everything else back in the dressing room when I go out on stage. I try to bring only my strengths with me because, believe me, I am very much in touch with my weaknesses."

Tischler feels that a performer must always deal with a certain element of risk. "I knew a clown in the Big Apple Circus who had been with them for many, many years. I once asked him how he felt knowing this was his niche. He vehemently contradicted that notion by saying, 'I don't have a niche! Every time I go out there, I have to feel unsafe, and when I do, then everyone else leans forward [and into the performance]. If I do feel safe, then I'm dead because no one wants to watch a performer just go through the paces. You have to take a risk.' It's a lesson that I have taken to heart. There is a difference in watching someone dance and someone act a dance. I am not the best trained dancer in the world, but I will act the daylights out of the choreography."

Acting is, indeed, one of Tischler's fortes. He attended Carnegie Mellon as a theatre major, though he took electives in dance and voice while there, and he continued that study after graduation in New York City with post graduate work at the Scott Freeman Studio in Soho and with voice teacher Will Bryan, whom he credits with "drawing me and my voice out."BWW Interview: Jacob Tischler: Creating a Conversation

In addition to performing, Tischler devotes his energies to writing book, music, and lyrics for musical theatre pieces and other plays. He has created several short musicals such as Inexperienced Love and Sandy, and his full length musical, Grindr, won numerous awards at the West Village Theatre Festival in 2014. At the moment he is hard at work on the "ninth draft of a straight play entitled Death Seminar about a public school's curriculum on death and dying. Writing extends Tischler's creative vocabulary. He says he feels it is essential for an artist today "to find every single avenue available to him to maximize his creative outlets. You have to capitalize on all your abilities."

This production of Saturday Night Fever will be Tischler's fourth, but he recalls auditioning the very first time for a production at the Westchester Broadway Theatre. "I was up against people who were better dancers and had better commercial resumes than I did. Perhaps, I looked liked John Travolta, and I guess I did well enough in the audition because I got the role. It was my first leading role as a professional. We had twelve days to rehearse, but actually that was a best case scenario for me because I focused everything on getting the job done and didn't worry about what things I might do badly. This part is one of the most daunting tracks I know, even though I have done it several times now."

The first three productions were all staged by Richard Stafford so when Tischler joined the MSMT cast in Maine to work with director/choreographer Mark Martino for the first time, he experienced that familiar feeling of first day nerves. "I walked into that rehearsal room and even though I have already done over 1000 performances and all of them have been with Alex[andra Matteo], I still felt a bit insecure. There were all these new faces I didn't recognize and a new director, and it was like starting from square one again. These guys are phenomenal. This theatre has stacked its cast with exceptional actors, and when the caliber of the performers is raised, you have to raise the caliber of your performance to meet that level. It can seem intimidating, but ultimately, it is a good thing because it challenges you to do your very best."

Tischler says working with Mark Martino is sparking him to explore new perspectives on the role of Tony Manero. "We have already taken some divergent spins on certain scenes, and some of the relationships are being drawn differently. We are finding new colors, and that is a very exciting process. We hope to tell a clearer, more refined story."

Inhabiting a role based on the iconic movie with its star John Travolta also poses a challenge to Tischler. "I can never replicate what John does. Seeing him walk down the street with two slices of pizza is one of the most astonishing things I have ever seen! It is nothing I could ever do. I knew that from my first audition, and I have made it a pillar of my interpretation: that my take must be totally my own. My collaboration with Richard [Stafford] helped me bring that to an awesome level, and my work with Mark [Martino] is fleshing out my performance even more."

Though Tischler's own cultural roots are very different from the Bay Ridge Brooklyn Italian-American context depicted in Saturday Night Fever, he says he has done his research. He approaches it as a period piece and says he has spoken with colleagues "who did grow up there and witnessed first hand the mob shootings or cars blowing up or the sharpened racism."

Tischler sees Tony Manero as "filled with potential. He is not articulate, but he is intelligent. When he slips up, it's because he has not been told otherwise. His distractions are having lots of sex smoking, and hanging out with his friends, but he's not satisfied with his lifestyle. He wants something more, and Stephanie provides the window and the framework for him to see a difference. Dancing is for him an escape." The actor acknowledges that while he does not consider himself a "trained dancer," he loves the experience Saturday Night Fever provides him " to feel my body grooving to the music and of leaving it all out there on stage."

"The songs and the dancing are crazy good. Mark's choreography embraces some of the tropes of the disco era like line dancing and fretti. I especially love "Boogie" and "Disco Inferno." Mark stays close to the vocabulary of the period and imbues the choreography with musical theatre story telling. And, after all, the stage version tells a really good story. It takes away some of the darker elements and tones down the language and opens up the narrative to invite the audience in."

And having a productive conversation with the audience is what really thrills Jacob Tischler. "When I go on stage," he says, "I am intent on having the best conversation possible. If the audience feels engaged by my cast mates and me, if they feel invited onto the stage with us, metaphorically speaking, then I feel great!"

Photos courtesy MSMT

Saturday Night Fever runs at MSMT's Pickard Theater from July 18 - August 4, 2018 www.msmt.org 207-725-8769

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From This Author Carla Maria Verdino-S├╝llwold

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