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

Time Out New York: You seem calmer. 
Jack Ferver:
I am. I think you get kind of weathered down, don’t you? It’s been so much work in the last two years. It’s been so epic in terms of going from one place to the other and being in and out of town and having a very small social life and spending most of my time working…

Time Out New York: Hi.
Jack Ferver:
[Laughs] It puts you into that place of more of a calm in the eye of a storm. We’re approaching the opening of a show and I have to be together or I’ll totally fall apart. Last night after the showing, I said to Jacob, “You did really great.” He said, “Thanks. You’re really different in performance.” I rehearse and I go out onstage and this thing happens; I feel I turn into a beast. Or maybe that’s the aftereffect—I’m calm in my daily life. Save the drama for the stage. There’s another state that takes over. The other collaborators are there: the audience. I try not to get calm before a performance. I try to get as upset as possible.

Time Out New York: How do you do that?
Jack Ferver:
It’s what happens naturally. The day of a show, I start to feel—I don’t know, a sense of dread. A sense of doom in some way. It all works. I used to be worried about it, and then I just realized it’s my rhythm. Though the work may not be blatantly specific about my personal life, it is built out of my psyche and the psyche of my performers as well as any research I’ve done with therapists. I’m still doing that. I some other life I’d be a therapist. The states of being for the performance start to take over as I get ready to go out and do it. Whereas in rehearsal, you’re also working on different parts so you don’t finish the ritual and the performance is the ritual, so then you’re possessed.

Time Out New York: I like how you talk about the audience being a collaborator.
Jack Ferver:
You can’t deny them. You could maybe if you were at the Koch Theater, because you really can’t see them. But I can see the audience. It would be a weird thing to just pretend they weren’t there. I think. I also don’t like performances that I’ve seen where people act almost as if I don’t need to be there.

Time Out New York: It’s like TV.
Jack Ferver:
And that’s a big thing I talk about in teaching: We’re competing with reality television. That’s what live performance has to compete with. Where else can you see a wonderfully produced reality? It seems so dramatic that these women are fighting on this couch, but it’s all been manufactured too. It’s an old sentiment. Even before Peter Brook wrote about it in The Empty Space, I think live performance was feeling that—the competition, at that point, was how do we cope with a movie being able to take us from Rome to Paris in a split second? Onstage, you can’t do that, so how do you raise the ante? My interest has been in it being an experience for the audience so that we all share this catharsis. I know I want catharsis when I go to see something. Even in my given life, I have such swells of change—something happens with your friends, and that’s also important. For me to take a time out to go somewhere for an hour, outside of a life that already feels rather aesthetic…I always find it curious how you deal with seeing so much dance.

Time Out New York: When you feel something, it really matters.
Jack Ferver:
Yeah. It’s hard. That’s when it’s the job of needing to go and see things…

Time Out New York: You can feel anger.
Jack Ferver:
[Laughs] Yes! I do and I think that’s important artistically to have feelings—and the form I care about so much is live performance. That’s a huge part of why I’m teaching. I want it to get better, and I’m responsible for that. I had some amazing teachers who gave freely of themselves and it’s important that I, in return, do that. It certainly gives one a sense of calm. I love teaching undergrads—teens to early twenties are really intense. Especially in Performance Composition; we’re dealing with what’s going on in your personal life—how can you find the underlying truth about that, which is a truth for everyone? How can you make your personal life less personal, so you can be of service? That’s the artist’s function: to be the stomach of society. We are digesting the indigestible. Also, something that I love as a teacher is that you have to practice what you preach. You have to take good care of yourself. There are a lot feelings and emotions that come up as you take on collective-conscious stuff. Another reason why I’m interested in The Maids is that I feel the economic push on me. The kind of funding that’s available is really challenging. I want to pay everyone working with me a great rate, and it’s hard. I always feel comforted thinking about Martha. Agnes de Mille’s biography opens by talking about how great she was, and the things that she changed and that she died poor. I knew when I shifted more and more out of taking theater jobs that would pay me into making my own work that it would be hard. But it feels correct. I knew it was the only thing I could do.
Jack Ferver is at Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement May 2–4.

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