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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Jeff James

Jeff James

Today's subject is living his theatre life on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. Jeff James is the Associate Director for the internationally and critically acclaimed production of A View from the Bridge, which begins performances this evening at Kennedy Center and runs through December 3rd. He has been a part of the current production of A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic in London, London's West End, Théâtre de l'Odéon in Paris, and on Broadway where it won two Tony Awards (Best Director and Best Revival of a Play).

Jeff's extensive resume has an international flavor to it to be sure. His other directorial credits in London include La Musica at the Young Vic, Stink Foot at the Yard Theatre, and One for the Road/Victoria Station at the Young Vic and the Print Room. Other associate director credits include The Crucible on Broadway and The Changeling at the Young Vic. As an Assistant Director Jeff has worked on Lazarus at New York Theatre Workshop, Antigone at the Barbican in London, Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, and Toneelgroep in Amsterdam. He also was the assistant director for Edward II and Blurred Lines at the National Theatre in London.

If you like what you're doing, then you are living your theatre life to the fullest, and it's clear that Mr. James enjoys working in an assistant and associate director capacity. This production of A View from the Bridge is like no other and it's people like Jeff James and others who make it a top theatregoing experience for so many all around the world.

Can you please tell us where you received your theatrical training?

Embarrassingly, I never received any theatrical training. I completed an English Literature degree and directed some plays while I was at university. But really I learnt from watching other people's work, and working as assistant director to directors including Lucy Bailey, Joe Hill-Gibbins, Carrie Cracknell, and finally Ivo Van Hove [the Director of A View from the Bridge].

In rehearsal for A View from the Bridge. Standing L-R Jeff James and Director Ivo Van Hove. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center.

What is the role of an associate director and how much input do you have into what ultimately ends up on stage?

The role changes a lot depending on the relationship between the director and associate. With Ivo, I am by his side in all rehearsals and there is a lot of conversation about how things will be staged. All the creative team members make proposals during rehearsals and Ivo always steals the good ideas! On this production of A View from the Bridge, I led the rehearsals for the new cast, but of course it is Ivo's production.

Can you please talk about what makes this production of A View from the Bridge different from all of the other productions of the play?

The play has normally been considered in very naturalistic terms - directors normally have the living room, the street, the lawyer's office, the spaghetti. Ivo and Jan [Versweyveld, the set and lighting designer] had the idea to strip all of this away and just show the characters in an empty, timeless space. It is a petri dish in which the audience can observe the tragedy unfold.

Andrus Nichols and Frederick Weller in A View from the Bridge. Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

Were you familiar with Ivo Van Hove's work before being hired to work on A View from the Bridge?

Yes. I had seen some of his work in London, and liked it so much that I made several trips to Amsterdam to see more of it. I was really interested in theatre being made in continental Europe and I had got a job as an assistant director in Munich, Germany. I realised Ivo was in rehearsal across the road, so I snuck out of my day job and watched his rehearsals for a few days. Later, when he interviewed me for A View from the Bridge, he asked me which of his productions I had seen. I listed about ten, which I think landed me the job.

You've worked in theatres all over the world. What do you see are some of the biggest differences in the way theatre is done in the different places you've worked?

The most obvious difference is that British and American theatre is much happier trying to show reality on stage. Theatre makers in continental Europe are more open to recognising what is happening is a play - they don't pretend that it's real. I think that allows directors to make more interesting interpretations of old plays. But the advantage in Britain and America is that there is this focus on creating new plays - the writing culture is stronger. There are brilliant actors everywhere, and I think audiences in the United States and Britain are opening up to work that is less naturalistic - as we have seen in the success of this production of A View from the Bridge.

What advice do you have for a student coming out of college who wants to work in the theatre for a living?

See as much as you can, and see theatre made by lots of different artists. You have to work out what your taste is, and that takes time. It's never easy to make money in theatre, so try and have another job to pay your rent. You just need to find some way to make your own work, even if it's with friends and on a tiny scale with no money. Just keep going.

Special thanks to Kennedy Center publicist Brendan Padgett for his assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.

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