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Interview: Justin “Jud” Gauthier and BETWEEN TWO KNEES at McCarter Theatre Center through February 12

Justin “Jud” Gauthier and BETWEEN TWO KNEES at McCarter Theatre Center

Interview: Justin “Jud” Gauthier and BETWEEN TWO KNEES at McCarter Theatre Center through February 12

McCarter Theatre Center has their audiences laughing with the outrageously funny and wickedly subversive tale of familial love, loss, and connection, Between Two Knees, by acclaimed intertribal sketch comedy troupe, The 1941's and directed by Eric Ting. The production is on stage at McCarter's Matthews Theatre through February 12. The show smashes through where most textbooks stop teaching Native history at the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Between Two Knees takes its audience from the forced re-education at Indian boarding schools, through World War II, the Civil Right Movement, Vietnam, the 1973 takeover at Wounded Knee, and maybe even breaks time itself.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing Jud Gauthier about his career and his role as Larry in Between Two Knees.

A proud citizen of the Menominee (Omāēqnomenēw) Nation of Wisconsin, writer/actor Justin "Jud" Eagle Gauthier studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he earned an MFA in screenwriting. Jud provides audiences across the nation a unique worldview as an indigenous actor with undeniable pop culture acuity. Jud would like to say wāēwāēnan to all his family, friends, cast mates, crew, and audiences for helping him to become a better storyteller.

Who was the very first person to recognize your theatrical talents?

Throughout my life people have asked if I was a performer or comedian. I never pursued a career in entertainment because I always thought it was such a remote chance for any kind of sustainable success. Migizi Pensoneau had seen me do a comedy bit during a reading for my graduate program at the Institute of American Indian Arts and I read the lead character for a table read of Ryan's script, "I Hate you Jimmy Bacon Iron" at the 2018 Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program. I remember thinking that I didn't do that great because I couldn't approximate an Oklahoma accent for the role.

At any rate, when they needed to recast the role of Larry in "Between Two Knees" they thought of me. I have to thank the 1491's for the recognition and trust with their material. Ryan Winn, a professor at College of Menominee Nation cast me in a production of Drew Hayden Taylor's "Toronto at Dreamer's Rock" while I matriculated there. Those types of opportunities led me to land the role of Larry in the show.

As a storyteller and an actor, what advice can you share with people interested in the entertainment industry?

I have really limited experience in the industry so I feel I have a rather naïve view of certain aspects of the biz but being in a cast with veteran actors has really helped me level up quickly. I'm really fortunate to have landed the role of Larry as I feel he is an amalgamation of the comedic sensibilities of the 1491's crew and I approach that as a real responsibility and honor. I'm a few years older than them but definitely of the same generation or at least peripherally intersecting. As a result our senses of humor run like parallel streets in the same neighborhood.

All this being said, the advice I have is to always keep learning. It sounds redundant but if you can find material that resonates with where you're at in life and you have a good amount of luck you may approach happiness in work. It's a very competitive industry and I'm not actively auditioning because I feel Between Two Knees is something of a lifework for me. I'm interested in other roles or projects but I feel the industry, for all its strides and progress is still exclusive of opportunities for those actors who don't appeal to a wide audience. Knowing this I have to double down on that fortunate feeling to be able to convey to audiences a voice that hasn't really been delivered before.

That type of specificity is the reason for my involvement in the play. Without the playwright's words and their backing I never would've been given the opportunity to take the stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Yale Repertory Theater, or here at the McCarter. Good collaborators and having self-confidence will get you much closer to whatever you think success is than anything else. Learn, find good material, collaborate, throw yourself in 110% and never anticipate anything other than creating something to behold.

Are there any particular mentors who have influenced your career?

I've been lucky to be shepherded by some really caring people in my life. I don't have representation at the moment and I can envision someday finding a great agent or manager who I vibe with and at that time I'll have a more structured "mentoring" experience, I hope anyways. I pay attention to my cast mates and watch how they handle their opportunities and choices. I ask questions and I'm unafraid to sound wet behind the ears because I really am at this point in my career. I graduated from the Lo Rez MFA program for screenwriting at IAIA and I met some really integral people there; Geoff Harris, Migizi Pensoneau, Peter Brass, and Ken White to name a few.

I really appreciate being in the cast with Wotko Long, he and I have pretty similar backgrounds and he's been a great sounding board for me as we both navigate this stage acting thing and level-up out of being fledgling actors together. My late father John "Johnny Gun" Gauthier was a great artist and he taught me a lot. He was definitely an amazing mentor along with my grandfather Louis "Cy" Washinawatok. My father was a great painter, singer, musician, powwow emcee, dancer, activist, and educator. My grandfather was a pipe maker and one of the first indigenous AODA counselors in the Great Lakes region so I had a unique upbringing being in their presence and being guided to this day by what they instilled.

Interview: Justin “Jud” Gauthier and BETWEEN TWO KNEES at McCarter Theatre Center through February 12

What would you like audiences to know about Between Two Knees?

This play is a radical act. It represents something of a primal scream from a largely ignored, discounted, and forgotten segment of society that we all live in together. It's adversarial to the tenets of colonialism, capitalism, organized religion, nationalism, and pretty much anything accepted as "the norm" in 21st century America. Despite assaulting these sort of weighty issues, to indigenous people in particular, it's a slapstick comedy in the vein of an early 20th century Vaudeville line up. The most incendiary parts of the work can be unsettling for some audience members. I've witnessed a lot of people leave mid-show following some of the sharper barbs written into the work. The show is a unique lens to view history through and the audience is invited to experience a night of indigenous humor and to witness how we use humor in concert with a wide spectrum of emotions to deal with inter-generational realities of intentional and institutional erasure and the ever-present specter of genocide visited on all of the people of Turtle Island with the uninvited arrival of Europeans here.

I believe the show represents an elder culture chiding a younger and more impetuous culture for behaving in a way that doesn't align with basic morality. It addresses a lot of the hypocrisy and exclusionary aspects of American culture, such as it is. If they come to the show with an open heart and mind and a willingness to expand their idea of humor and what is sacrosanct in their own world they may learn something and discover a viewpoint they never would've considered.

What have been some of the challenges of your role as Larry in the show?

Learning all of the dialogue was the main and first challenge. I lived with the script and memorized the monologues using a couple of memorization tactics I found in researching acting. When I could recite while playing Mario Kart 8 I knew I had it in hand well enough to begin putting some of myself into the character. Once I had it in my mind I worked on instilling heart into it. It was apparent to me early on that I would basically be the voice of the 1491's onstage and I felt an apprehension in assuming that mantle. I've always thought of them as a sort of Voltron-esque entity when all combined together and that type of comedic potency can only be grasped at by a single performer so I take inspiration from all of the major figures in my life experience to create a defined shape I feel approaches who that character could be.

The evolution of the character has been very interesting and with the help of my incredible cast mates and our great director Eric Ting I've had a lot of support and protection in my soundings on what the character is and what he can do in the confines of this story. People have asked what it feels like to deliver some of the more confrontational and downright insulting lines of the play to mostly non-indigenous crowds. I approach those moments as part of the whole of the message I've been tasked with delivering. The script is such a beautiful and strange thing that it's easy for me to invest my trust into the novel approach it takes.

The physicality of the role is a challenge and the show takes a huge effort from everyone involved. I'm not much of a dancer outside of indigenous dances so I'm thankful that I'm able to showcase four distinct styles of dance at the end of the play. I'm proficient and not really gifted at any of them but thanks to being a mimic growing up I can present a stylized and heightened version of those categories of dance. Owning these choices is another challenge, not a challenge to be surmounted but to be lived with. I'm always concerned with how aspects of indigeneity are portrayed onstage and our approach is such a glancing blow that it can be engrained in most everyone's performances, indigenous or non. I try to remember the ancestors and future generations we're representing up there and trust my intuition and teachings to make decisions in how I portray Larry.

Can you tell us a little about working with the team for Between Two Knees at McCarter Theater?

The experience at McCarter has been exceptional. Our stage crew has really embraced the torrential comedic pace of the show. They've excelled at helping us as an ensemble to present a much more quickly timed comedic experience for the audience in contrast to the first two iterations of the show. The company has been very supportive and accepting of what the show is and the intention that we as artists bring to the piece.

Follow Jud Gauthier on Facebook: Jud Gauthier; on Instagram @judgautier; and on TikTok @gauthierthanyou

McCarter Theatre Center is located at 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit or call 609.258.2787.

Production Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Headshot Photo Credit: Rachel Crowl

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