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!

If you could play any role, direct any work, design any production, mount any production...what would it be and why? That is a very tough question. As an actor I think I'd have to say I would kill to play John in Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams. I played the young John in the prologue as a 10-year-old in Dallas and have loved the play ever since. Tennessee Williams is my favorite playwright. For me he finds that perfect balance between dialogue and poetry. His lines are so easy and natural to deliver as an actor, but at the same time they are poetic. I think that is a very difficult thing for a writer to achieve. I have always been fascinated with the role of John specifically because I think characters who have all the potential in the world and choose to do nothing with it are the most interesting and the most tragic. With that role you get to play everything from charming gentleman to grieving son to angry lover. It's fantastic!

As a producer, I'd love to bring The Light In The Piazza to Nashville. I don't know that we'll ever do it at Studio Tenn, but what a gorgeous piece of theater! I saw the original cast in New York and it was simply a breathtaking production! I went back and "second acted" it several time just to watch Victoria Clark sing that song again! In my opinion it is some of the most beautiful music written for the stage. I love it!

Who would play you in the film version of your life story? Haha. Hmmmm... While I'd love to say Brad Pitt or Paul Newman in his prime, I think I'd have to go with Jimmy Stewart. He's tall and lanky and you can't help but love him! Not that that is how people see me, but they might if Jimmy Stewart played me! Plus, he's my mother's favorite actor. Of course everyone tells me I look like Andy Samberg, so maybe he'd do it. Or Tony Hawk if he knows how to act.

What's your favorite play/musical? I keep answering later questions in earlier answers! My favorite play is Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams. I love the image of the worldly John next to the innocent Alma and the struggle between the two. My favorite musical is The Music Man. It always will be. I have very fond memories of my Uncle performing "Trouble" every New Year's Eve as a child and I could watch Robert Preston do it 30 times over and not get sick of it. Matthew Broderick...that's another story but we won't go there.

If you could have dinner with any three figures (living or dead, real or fictional) who are a part of the theater, who would you choose and why? Man, the questions get tougher as you go along! Danny Kaye: I have always been fascinated by him as a performer and a person. I think it is very rare to be a true original in this business and that's exactly what he was. There has never been and there never will be another Danny Kaye. I wrote and performed a one man show about him in New York. Having done so much research on the man and having interviewed many people who knew him, I'd love to talk to him myself, just to see if he was as crazy and as big of an asshole as they all say he was! Tennessee Williams: Where do I even begin? Just start with The Glass Menagerie and then talk me through every play you ever wrote and why! William Shakespeare: Again, where do I begin? I think I'd mainly be interested in what he thinks of all the modern interpretations of his work (good and bad)!

Imagine a young person seeing you onstage or seeing a production in which you played a major role coming up to you and asking you for advice in pursuing their own theatrical dream...what would you say? Realize that you have chosen a difficult path, but be proud and confident in it. Work your tail off, learn your craft and then knock on every door you can! Get used to rejection and know that casting decisions come down to a lot more than talent. Most of all, know yourself. Know yourself as a performer and a person. What makes you unique? That is what's going to set you apart. Know what you do, do it well and let your true self come out in your performance. That is the quality that will make you stand out. And if you think you could be 100% happy doing something else, do that!

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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