NEW YORK – Jason Nahum, an up and coming actor of considerable talent, opens up about his recent foray into the downtown scene, appearing in Axis Theatre’s Hospital 2011 written and directed by Randy Sharp. The experimental play just opened last weekend in Sheirdan Square, the latest installment of this unusual episodic series that Axis has performed over several years. Nahum, a graduate of Emerson College, discusses the artistic side-effects of sharing the rehearsal room with serial theatrical risk-takers:
Can you describe Hospital 2011?
Hospital is Axis Theatre Company’s flagship show. A new installment has been performed nearly every summer since 1997. Like past productions, Hospital 2011 is an episodic series that examines the interior life of a terminal coma patient. Through four episodes our protagonist, the Traveler, subconsciously interacts with characters from her actual life. Before the play begins, there is a short film that provides some background for the Traveler and the characters she meets. There are three sections of each episode. First is the event, where she is introduced to the idea that something strange has happened. Next is an abstract scene between the doctors and nurses. Finally, is the dream sequence, where she encounters characters from her past in different, dream-like contexts. This show really introduces the audience to new ways of thinking about the possible, subconscious circumstances surrounding one’s own death.
Who do you play? How would you describe your character?
In the premise film (Traveler’s real life) I play a co-worker of hers (a teacher). I have strong feelings for her, but she is more interested in the dashing teacher with whom she flirts on a regular basis. In the play however, I play more of her perception of my character. Because the play takes place in the Traveler’s subconscious I am technically her, or at least a part of her.
What has the process been like for you personally as an actor in this project? How has it been different from other projects you have worked on?
This is my debut with Axis. The company of actors is incredibly talented and committed. The director, Randy Sharp, is really open to actors’ suggestions and she is very encouraging of taking risks on stage. I am at a point now where she has convinced me of her confidence in my work, which has really opened me up to explore and discover. We are at a point now, as a company, where we are putting on four different shows (episodes) in a seven-week period. While we’re finishing up one show, we are teching the next. This type of schedule is a challenge in itself, but the real challenge was in the work. I have never been in an original play with re-writes before. There were multiple occasions where I would be fresh off-book and then handed a totally new script. It’s odd though. That never phased or frustrated me. I enjoyed learning new lines and re-working scenes. As an actor I’ve never been such a big part of the writer’s process. Because of all the challenges I have encountered and continue to encounter working on this show, quite honestly I consider this to be the greatest experience I’ve had working in the theatre.
What do you hope the audience comes away with?
My major hope for the audience is that they walk away saying, “Man, I can’t wait to see the next episode!” I don’t expect the audience to follow perfectly in each episode. There is an element of mystery, which I love, and which leaves the audience wanting more. This show traditionally is a bit on the experimental side, but this year, I’ve been told is much more literal than past productions. Although it’s more literal than past productions it is definitely still somewhat abstract. Which can be great fun for the audience. It certainly is for the company!
How has this experience working on the play helped you grow as an actor?
After most of the plays I’ve worked on over the past five or so years I have walked away saying, “Well, don’t do that again.” Referring to some risks and choices I had made. Not the case with this show. Randy has really been supportive and has made it seem like I haven’t made bad choices. I may not have made the best or appropriate choices at times, but they were never bad or wrong. I suppose the most important thing I’m walking away with is a reaffirmation that I have made the right career choice and that I should never play it safe.
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