Jack Ferver unveils All of a Sudden at Abrons Arts Center

The witty Jack Ferver talks about his new work, All of a Sudden, a dance-theater twist on Tennessee Williams

Jack Ferver, All of a Sudden

Jack Ferver, All of a Sudden Photograph: Al Hall

Jack Ferver unveils All of a Sudden, a witty new work created in collaboration with Joshua Lubin-Levy, at Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement. Inspired by Tennessee Williams's play Suddenly Last Summer (and the film, penned by Gore Vidal), Jack Ferver finds inspiration in many places—including Showgirls—to explore the fine line between collaborator and friend.

In All of a Sudden, a new work by Jack Ferver and his collaborator Joshua Lubin-Levy, the focus is—seemingly—all over the place. For the production, at Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement beginning May 2, the hilariously sharp-tongued Ferver takes inspiration from Tennessee Williams’s play (and the movie version of) Suddenly Last Summer, in which a young woman is driven mad after watching her cousin’s murder. In All of a Sudden, dancer Jacob Slominski joins Ferver and Lubin-Levy; together, they deconstruct the notion of role-playing, as well as explore the fine line between collaborator and friend. Expect fast talking, dancing and much wit. 

Time Out New York: You just returned from Bard. How long have you been teaching there?
Jack Ferver:
Bard is doing a guest-artist residency program so their first semester was Annie Dorsen. This semester is me. Next semester will be John Kelly and the semester after that is Nature Theater of Oklahoma. I teach Physical Theater on Mondays and Performance Composition, which I’ve been teaching for the past few years at NYU on Tuesdays. Physical Theater is the accrued knowledge that I have from acting and dance. There’s reference to viewpoints and Chekhov and some [Jerzy] Grotowski, and [Martha] Graham always infiltrates everything. In Performance Composition, I teach people how to make dance and how to write and then how to put them together dramaturgically. Because it’s just a semester, I only deal with solo work. If I had a year, I could expand it into working with others.

Time Out New York: But you’re right. It’s too complex.
Jack Ferver:
It’s too complex to start involving other people. And Bard is a bachelor’s program; I have some dancers, but also a lot of creative writers and some people from the film department. So even getting to something as basic as how you touch and work with a partner in a duet is its own thing. This semester will end, and they will all have made a piece. My last day is May 14. I’ll go back to Bard after my show that Sunday and teach on Monday and Tuesday, which I’m so thankful for because I become so epically depressed after a show. Last year, after I closed Two Alike at the Kitchen on a Saturday, I set a dance at Juilliard the following Monday. It was great. I got to go to Juilliard, be with the students…

Time Out New York: Which was probably nourishing.  
Jack Ferver:
It is so nourishing. I love teaching. That’s what I know I want to keep doing. That’s what I want my life to be is to be a professor and then to make my work. I learn so much by having to teach what I do. It’s shaped my practice in the last three years into something that I’m able to be more formal about now because I teach it. Also, since I’m doing crits [critiques] each time and watching people dance and move and listening to their text in a group dynamic, it makes it very clear what works and what doesn’t. I quote you a lot actually: “Just because it feels good doesn’t mean it looks good,” all the time.

Time Out New York: That’s funny. It’s true!
Jack Ferver:
It’s totally true, and I have definitely watched videos of past works and thought, Oh wow—I was really feeling it then. [Laughs] Whoops. I think that’s what’s so great about Joshua Lubin-Levy—having someone on the other side, which is very much what this piece is about this piece. I’ve been doing two shows every year since 2008, and this is the first year I don’t know where my next premiere will be as I’m finishing a work. I’m really glad. I’m scared, but because of the output I haven’t had time to write grants or look to tour. That takes time. But when the work started to get harder to make, it got better. With each piece, you keep stripping away what’s not working. I’ve spent over a year on this piece and longer talking about it, and you do it for three nights. The piece that I want to do after this requires more time; the set that Marc Swanson and I have been talking about is pretty elaborate. So I know what the next piece is. It’s a matter of getting everything in place to implement it. It’s about doing those follow-up meetings from APAP. And doing the grant part. [Dryly] That really fun part. I’ve heard it’s just a dream.

Time Out New York: How did you begin thinking about All of a Sudden?
Jack Ferver:
We came in with Suddenly Last Summer and some other ideas for film references. At that point, Josh said, “What if on your side of the set, you have The Piano Teacher and Showgirls”—which are two of my favorite films—“and on my side of the set I have Suddenly Last Summer?” So already you’re talking about the dramaturge trying to wrangle the choreographer in a little bit. Showgirls has remained. The Piano Teacher has not. One element of the piece is this idea of bringing people in. You bring someone in to help you shoulder your fantasy or your take on reality. I relate to being that lonely kid on the playground; then you find the other lonely kid, and you make up some fantasy. Josh and I realized that we needed someone else. I had heard about Jacob from Reid [Bartelme], who had said that I should work with Jacob at some point.

Time Out New York: Why did he think that?
Jack Ferver:
Performance and style—and he just knows him personally. I asked Jacob if he would get together with me, and we just talked and I asked him to be in the piece. I showed him the films. The Piano Teacher just felt too heavy. Then I’m watching Showgirls with Jacob, who hadn’t seen it—with all of my references toward it with camp. It was such a different experience to watch it with a straight male who is really kind, whose experience to it was “yikes” or “oh, no,” whereas my friends and I would laugh. The piece begins with us doing one of the scenes from it, but in this way of, for me, the little gay boy on the playground finding this other lonely boy on the playground. He decides to play my game, but it’s unclear what the game is. I’m making it happen, which also has a metaphor to choreography and being a director, as well as toward just being that kind of friend who brings you into their reality, and you’re not quite sure where you are. You want to play along. You like them, but you feel a little lost. There’s the idea of a novice. Early on in the show, I do say that he’s straight, and that I’m bringing him into this world that has a lot of violence and queerness to it, for sure.

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