BWW Interview: FLY BY NIGHT's Jim Lichtscheidl
I often tell people that I most enjoy going to shows I have not seen before because there's a joy in the discovery of a new work or one that is "new to me." FLY BY NIGHT, directed by Sarah Rasmussen, at the Jungle Theater was very much one of those shows. The area premiere at the fabulous little theatre on Lyndale was just the right thing for a Friday night -- and, I loved it. I felt connected to this story in ways I can explain and others I cannot. (Go see this show!)
Another highlight was seeing an actor that I have seen numerous times in many different shows but who never grows old -- someone who is always entertaining and brings his quiet chameleon-like performances to the stage night after night. Bonus for me, getting to interview this local actor whom I have never met before. Jim Lichtscheidl, who plays the Narrator in FLY BY NIGHT, and recently starred on London's West End in NICE FISH with Mark Rylance (who won an Oscar during that run, coincidentally!), is an actor who's really going places, but also not going anywhere. Learn what I mean in this 6 Questions & a Plug:
My colleague, Jill Schafer, wrote a great review of FLY BY NIGHT that describes the plot of the show well, but I would love to hear about this show from your perspective -- what does the Narrator have to say about it and what the show is really about?
The initial reason I wanted to be involved in this production was the theme of connection, and how we need to open our eyes and hearts to the collective consciousness. The Narrator bookends the show with the line "There is an invisible world woven into the fabric of our daily lives." This is what I love about the play; it examines those unseen connections we experience constantly in our day-to-day existence, but perhaps ignore or discredit for some reason. Every moment, every instant must be given its due. A play that encourages people to see the whole picture and not simply their own viewpoint is valid and necessary at this time in history.
We've seen you perform before in shows with multiple characters (i.e., THE 39 STEPS) and this show has you hopping between the standard narrator moments to the mother to a gypsy and many more. When you perform something like this, how do you keep on track with each character and separate them for yourself and your audience? And, do you create a life for each in your preparation so you have more depth, even in the shorter scenes?
When I play multiple characters in a show, I tend to start with the physicality of the character, a silhouette that I can quickly snap in and out of, something immediately recognizable for the audience if we see that character again. Then I try to find the character's voice, considering factors as region, age, and disposition. If the character has a larger role in the play, I will invest more time in development, such as the back story and relationship to other characters. With characters that have no lines, I like to think of them as snapshots; what would one moment in this characters' life look like as a photograph?
There has been some talk and reviews (Spoiler Alert for those who want to stay away from surprises) that relayed disappointment with the ending of the show (because everybody loves a happy ending in this modern day world), but I was perhaps one of the few that while a tad surprised by the ending, and was not disappointed in the same way because I felt the bigger theme was served. Can you describe your thoughts on the ending and how it supports what you and the cast do in this show?
I think one of the most intelligent things about this play is how it does not fall into the predictability trap. When I go to theater, I like to be surprised by what unfolds; if I get ahead of the plot I tend to disconnect. Most of us are hard-wired to expect the story to unfold in the way we want it to; this allows us to sit back and not get involved. If it takes us down another road it may jar our sensibilities, it may force us into a vulnerable place emotionally, it may put into question our assumptions. All of these responses are necessary for this production, in my opinion. The play compares our time on this planet to a flickering flame of light. The ending of the show doesn't avoid this comparison but deals with it honestly and plainly, and hopefully in the process the audience is inspired to seize the day.
Minneapolis/Saint Paul theater goers have seen you in countless shows and we've even seen you on the big screen in some Minnesota-made films, yet you're one of those actors that blends seamlessly into each character you play and it's never, "Oh, that's Jim Lichtscheidl on stage." (That's a compliment!) You've just come home not too long ago from playing Erik in NICE FISH on the West End with Mark Rylance. That's a big deal, obviously. I read you met a lot of celebrities after performances in London and NYC. What's it like being a part of something huge like that and then coming back to Minneapolis and back to being a local actor who does lots of local shows? Do you think the local theater scene rivals those others?
I grew up in Lino Lakes, Minn., and I've been in nearly 75 shows in the Twin Cities. It was a conscious decision on my part to remain here and pursue my acting, instead of moving to New York or L.A. I wanted to remain close to my family and have a fully rounded life in all aspects. I wasn't as interested in making fame and fortune the ultimate focus of my priorities. I did say to myself however, "I would like directors I've worked with to remember me and desire to cast me again, and if that takes me to other cities for work I'm okay with that." And ultimately that's what happened. I first worked with Mark Rylance in PEER GYNT at the Guthrie, and I made an impression that helped me land the role as Erik in NICE FISH, which then traveled to Boston, NY and London. These shows and opportunities away from Minnesota then become a surprise treat, because the goals I've set for myself didn't include a starring role on the West End. I've also been cast in over 15 regional theaters across the country, and for a while I was actively comparing/contrasting each city's theater scene to the Twin Cities, just in case I wanted to move from Minnesota. Each time the resounding verdict was that the Twin Cities is the best area in our country for theater and quality of life, and I'm proud to live and work here.
What got you into acting? I read you started as a student at Mankato State University and later trained at Brave New Workshop, which is another true gem in our midst. How has your career developed in ways you planned or didn't expect?
I am the youngest of six children, and grew up influenced by their tastes, their hobbies, their senses of humor. My older sister, Lisa, was in every play in high school, and I vividly remember going to all the final dress rehearsals with my mom so she could record memories with a Super 8 camera, and being enthralled not only by the productions but the inner workings of creating a play and the elements involved. I would end up stifling this instinct until my freshman year in college, where I was pursuing a degree in Speech Communications to become a teacher. The chair of the theater department sat me in his office and convinced me (or should I say reminded me) that I should be a theater major. I thought for two seconds and said "Yup!" After graduating from college with a theater degree, my primary goal was to prove to my parents that I would not be living with them for the next 30 years as they feared. After I was cast at the Guthrie, quit my temp job and confidently put "Actor" down as profession on my tax form, my parents relaxed, turned my bedroom into an exercise room, and my priorities then shifted to doing more projects with a broader audience outreach (Ten Thousand Things Theater) and creating my own work for the stage.
What would you say is a role you dream of playing or a playwright or director you hope to work with in the future?
I refuse to answer this question on the grounds that every time I mention a role I desire, without fail it will be produced locally and I will not get the part! I like to believe a role will find me instead, I'll be at a stage in my life where the stars are aligned for me to play a specific role and the timing will be perfect. I also love to work and collaborate with new playwrights and artists at the Playwrights' Center. Being the first actor to breathe life into a new character in a new play is exhilarating for me.
Plug time -- what is next for you on stage or off? Where can our readers find you after FLY BY NIGHT closes July 23?
I have two projects lined up after FLY BY NIGHT, the first being THE HOOPLA TRAIN WITH YARDMASTER YIP AND HIS POLKASTRA, a musical variety show riffing on "Lawrence Welk" and "Hee Haw" that was produced by Sod House Theater a few years ago and appeared at historic ballrooms around Minnesota. In addition to playing the host, Yardmaster Yip, I also wrote and directed the show. We had such positive responses from communities around Minnesota that we decided to have a run here in the Twin Cities this fall. Shortly after that show closes I will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to appear in TWELFTH NIGHT at the Shakespeare Theater Company in November-December, working with director Ethan McSweeney on our fourth collaboration together.
FLY BY NIGHT: A NEW ROCK MUSICAL
Directed by Sarah Rasmussen
Now-July 23, 2017
The Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Box office: 612-822-7063 or www.jungletheater.com
Jim Lichtscheidl, courtesy of the actor
Cast of FLY BY NIGHT, by Dan Norman, courtesy of Jungle Theater