Jim DeVita Talks Acting, Shakespeare
American Players Theatre in Spring Green will inaugurate the Touchstone Theatre, its new indoor venue, on July 10 with In Acting Shakespeare, a one-man show adapted by and starring Jim DeVita.The intimate 200-seat space will bring the audience closer to the drama, and this particular production will get up close and personal with one of Wisconsin’s favorite stage performers.
Your adaptation of In Acting Shakespeare is described as semi-autobiographical. What will the audience learn about you during this performance?
I started in theater relatively late—I was 21 when I saw my first Shakespeare—so they’ll learn about what I did before I was an actor, the people who inspired me, the numerous and sometimes humiliating mistakes I made along the way, the challenges I still struggle with as an actor and how I came to find a career in acting Shakespeare.
Have you ever done a one-man show before?
Yes, Waiting for Vern, directed by C. Michael Wright. It was produced by Milwaukee’s Collision Theatre Ensemble in the 1990s and was the first play I ever wrote. I had just come off of a production of Waiting for Godot, and this was a sort of blue-collar everyman’s version of Beckett’s play. An actor shows up to do a two-person play and finds himself alone. He tries to keep the audience entertained while waiting for the other actor to show up, which he never does.
You’re one of a few actors who can make Shakespeare conversational. How did you learn that skill?
I could go into a lot of detail but, unfortunately, that’s the play. I received permission from Ian McKellen to “freely” adapt his script Acting Shakespeare. Much of the play I’ve created deals with how seeing McKellen in his version inspired me to want to learn to do this work, and my struggles with the challenges of that role: how to be honest and conversational in dense texts. How to make Shakespeare accessible to an audience and yet still keep his poetry and language vivid and clear. That challenge never ends.
What don’t even your most ardent fans know about you that would shock the hell out of them?
If they want something shocking, they’ll have to come to the show. But mildly surprising? I don’t like to talk all that much. Odd for someone who has made a career out of public speaking. As a kid I was called “The Sphinx” because I never spoke. Opening my mouth was one of the hardest things to overcome on the road to becoming an actor.
If you could have played any role at any time in your life, what role would that have been?
High on my list would be Edmund in Long Day’s Journey into Night. It was one of the first plays I read when I went back to school after leaving the fishing boats, and there’s a speech by Edmund that talks about being on a boat on the ocean. I fell in love with that language, what it made me feel and remember and think about when I read it. I missed that part, though. I’m too old now.
Regarding film, I would never presume to actually perform the roles that great actors may have played. But I can fantasize about actually wanting to be them. Actors like Jimmy Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces, Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies, Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and The Godfather. Why? Phenomenal, phenomenal acting.
In addition to the energy required, what’s the biggest challenge of a one-man show?
Walking out on the stage.