Pop-Culturalist Chats with Jake Epstein
Jake Epstein is currently starring in the off-Broadway play, Straight. Jake is an actor and singer from Toronto. He’s been active on-and-off-Broadway, most notably as Gerry in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Another one of his more well-known roles was on the hit television series Degrassi: The Next Generation as Craig Manning. Let’s take a look at Jake’s thoughts on Straight, performing, and more:
PC: What drew you to this show?
Jake: I had worked with the director, Andy Sandberg, before, and he encouraged me to come in and audition. I read the script and completely fell in love with the characters and the writing and knew I wanted to be part of it.
PC: Describe Ben in five words.
Jake: Loving. Curious. Intelligent. Giving. Confused.
PC: What was your biggest challenge in bringing Ben to life?
Jake: Ben is in a long term relationship with his best friend, Emily. And simultaneously, he starts up a relationship with a young man that he meets online. Ben is figuring himself out. But the thing that breaks my heart about playing Ben is that he cheats on his girlfriend. This is very much Ben’s story but I was always worried that people would be so turned off because of his actions in the play. One of the biggest challenges has been finding a way to portray Ben with enough love and confusion so that we understand his struggle, and understand that even though he f*&cks up, he is ultimately trying to do the right thing.
PC: Where do you see Ben in 20 years?
Jake: It’s hard to give my answer without giving away the ending to STRAIGHT! But I think in 20 years Ben will have figured himself out.
PC: Have you noticed different audience reactions to the play? When I saw it, there were a few vocal people around me at the end…
Jake: Yes! The audience reactions have been one of my favorite parts of doing this play! And in particular, the ending is very provocative and packs an emotional punch! At first, the reactions freaked me out a bit, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I think that’s what great theater is about– people literally reacting out loud in the theater!
PC: What are you hoping that audiences take away from Straight?
Jake: I certainly hope the play provokes discussion. I think the writers–Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola–have written something really unique and provocative. And at the same time, I think the piece is really funny and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I hope people are completely entertained.
PC: Have you ever had a moment in your life where you have felt like Ben? Feeling trapped between what you want and what you are expected to do?
Jake: Sure I have. As an actor it’s one of the things I struggle with all the time–doing work that satisfies you, versus work that will pay you… etc. And also how far will you go in compromising yourself in the present, in the hope of an ultimately more satisfying career in the future. Growing up is hard!
Now, About Your Time in Theater…
PC: The most recent productions you have been in have been musicals. What has it been like doing a play? Were you looking to specifically take on a play after Beautiful?
Jake: After Beautiful, I was actually lucky enough to act in a play that I co-wrote in Toronto. It was a dream come true. So yes, after Beautiful, I was definitely eager to put musical theater on hold for a little bit. I personally love performers who are able to do musicals, and then do straight theater (no pun intended), and then switch to doing movies and TV. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do a variety of different projects.
PC: Out of all the characters you’ve been, which one have you identified with the most? Which was your favorite to play?
Jake: It’s impossible to choose! This is so cheesy, but they’re all like your children. How do you love one over another? And when you’re doing each part, it has to feel like the most important and deeply personal part you’ve ever played!
PC: What current or upcoming show in NYC are you really dying to see?
Jake: Dying to see Bright Star on Broadway.
PC: What is your favorite part of the theater experience?
Jake: Good question. I think I go to see theater to learn more about myself–at least my favorite plays have had that effect on me!
PC: You recently co-wrote a play. What was that process like for you? Did it change how you experience being a part of a production—being in the creating role rather than being an actor in someone else’s work?
Jake: It was a really wonderful and unique experience! When you’re acting in something, your job is to see the play through the lens of your character. When you’re writing a piece, you have to see the whole picture. The experience was a huge lesson in understanding the function of each cog in the machine! After going back to acting in someone else’s work, I’ve tried to take that with me and keep it in mind.
And now, our Pop-Culturalist speed round:
PC: Favorite Book
Jake: The World to Come by Dara Horn
PC: Favorite Show (Play or Musical)
Jake: So harrrrrrd to choose…. My current favorite show is Fun Home.
PC: Favorite TV show
Jake: Six Feet Under
PC: Favorite Movie
Jake: Impossible to pick one. So I’ll say Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, Godfather 1 and 2, Princess Bride… to name a few.
PC: What would people be surprised to find on your ipod?
Jake: I don’t know if people would be surprised but I don’t have a lot of current music.
PC: What is your bucket list role?
Jake: I’d love to get back into doing Shakespeare one day.
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Photo Credit: Straight the Play