Ladies and gents...I'd like to introduce to you an illustrious alumni of NYU Grad Acting....Mr. Jeremy Rishe... Yaaaay!
(Applause. Applause. Applause.)
I met Jeremy at the NYU Callback Weekend in 2010 at the alumni talkback session. He's a very charismatic fellow and made a lasting impression on me. We became Facebook friends and I've cyber-stalked him ever since. (Not at all creepy.) I've had the privilege of attending a couple of projects in the city that he's co-produced and performed in. And now he's got an EPIC AWESOME webseries that is brilllllliant -- First World Problem. I love it because it's a lot like my blog. It's a bunch of short, seemingly unrelated glimpses of life...all seen through a particular point of view...posted every week. But when it's all weaved together...It's this epic story...following Stan (Jeremy Rishe) and Annie (Stacey Linnartz) and their relationship. They are soooo fantastically unaware of their dysfunction. It's totally addicting. Anyhoo...More on that below...Annnnnnd tons of inside info on Jeremy's experience as a student at NYU Grad Acting!
(This interview was served up at Park Ave Plaza, NYC on February 3, 2012...and lovingly transcribed by my mom, Dorothy Wilcox...Thanks MOM!)
Virginia: Okay, so introduce yourself. Tell me your name, where you’re from originally, where you went to undergrad, and where you went to grad school.
Jeremy: Well, my name is Jeremy Rishe. You want me to spell that or, no? I think you’ve got it.
Jeremy: Nice. I grew up in Utah. I was born in Utah. I went to the University of Utah for undergrad, and then for grad school, I went to NYU.
Virginia: And what did you study in undergrad?
Jeremy: I studied acting. There was a program in Utah called the Actor Training Program. ATP was the – is it an acronym? Is that what that is? That was what they called it. “You’re in the ATP!” That was like the big thing for the theatre department. “Oh, ATP!” “ATP person!”
Virginia: So was it "extra special cool" to be a part of ATP?
Jeremy: I guess it was – you know how theatre programs are. In the little, self-sustaining – what’s the right words? I don’t know, in the small bubble of the theatre building, it was like the cool thing to be. ‘Cause it was a program you had to audition for. They accepted, I think, at most... like 20 people in each class. It was a lot of work. It was basically like a conservatory in the middle of a liberal arts college. That's how they sold it to people. If you were just going to a conservatory, you'd only be doing acting, music, art, whatever the conservatory is for...but here...you’re going to have that PLUS a little arts degree you’re going to have to worry about. So that’s actually a lawwwwt of work.
Virginia: But it gave you a very well-rounded education, it sounds like.
Jeremy: I guess so, yeah. Yeah, I mean liked the liberal arts side of it...Stacey [Linnartz] often corrects me on this... ‘cause I’ll say, “Man, I wish I’d studied something other than theatre for undergrad. But I’m saying that from the position I’m in now, whereas if I hadn’t studied theatre in undergrad, I may or I may not be as confident and in the position that I am now, you know, artistically with my acting. Who knows? I may not have the confidence. The training that I got there probably led me here and without it I wouldn’t be where I'm at today. And in some ways actually, you can give yourself a really good liberal arts education in today’s world without having to go to college if you know where to look on the internet.
Virginia: Ha! We always have the internet.
Jeremy: Yeah. So all the things that I didn’t get a formal degree in during college, I can actually educate myself in now. Well...maybe not to the extent that I could if I’d studied, say, like astronomy.
Virginia: So after you were done with undergrad...did you take time off?
Jeremy: No...I went straight through. I was like I’m not going to waste any time. I’m going to get all this school stuff done.
Virginia: So where did you apply when you were applying for master’s programs?
Jeremy: The better question is where didn’t I apply...I’m like a little anal. I was like, okay, I’m going to cover all my bases, and I’m going to make sure that when I jump off the ledge and have, hopefully, a pillow to land on. So I applied for Yale, NYU, Julliard, ACT...
Virginia: Those were your top choices?
Jeremy: Sure. And then I had a bunch of back-ups, you know, like the Denver Center. I don’t know if they even have an MFA anymore.
Virginia: It’s done.
Jeremy: It’s done, so I auditioned for them. There was, at the time, the DC Shakes had an MFA, but it was primarily for educators and for like older people. It was run by Michael Kahn [formerly of Julliard]. And he actually joked. He goes, “What, are you auditioning for everything?” ‘Cause he was running both auditions at DC Shakes and Juilliard, and he was like, “We’re looking for older people who want to go into teaching Shakespeare." I was like, whatever. I want to do some anyway....So there was that and then – oh, my God, I feel like there was another one – ART.
Virginia: Which is Harvard, right?
Jeremy: Harvard. And that’s not even an MFA. You don’t even get an actual degree. And in my opinion, you’ve wasted your time....I don’t know, I guess if you’re going to go study somewhere, you might as well get a degree. You might as well be able to at least teach....‘Cause if you’re spending two years at ART, regardless of how good the training is, and you’re in dire straits, you know.
Virginia: Yeah, you want to be able to have as many options as you can?
Jeremy: Right. That’s kind of the point of going to grad school for acting in my opinion, one of the points. So it was like eight schools that I auditioned for.
Virginia: So of all the schools that you applied to, which ones did you actually get accepted?
Jeremy: All of them, actually.
Virginia: You got accepted to ALL OF THEM?
Jeremy: I got accepted to all of them.
Virginia: And what made you decide NYU? You got accepted to Juillard and Yale?
Jeremy: Yes. Juilliard and Yale. ACT put me on the waitlist and then called me a week later ‘cause somebody dropped out. I remember at that point I had already decided I was going to NYU. Why NYU? I don’t know. When I was in high school, something in me was like, I’m going to go to NYU for acting school. I had no reason.
I knew one guy who was in the ATP at the University of Utah, he was an actor who I admired. I was in high school and he was in college. He was only a couple years older than me. He was a very good actor, and somehow I had heard that he’d gone to NYU, but he didn’t actually finish. He left after the first semester ‘cause he wasn’t enjoying himself and he came back to Utah to just live life. I don’t think he’s acting any more. But I don’t know, just that story – like hearing that – being in high school and hearing this thing about this guy who went to NYU and then decided it wasn’t for him – I don’t know.
With the word "NYU," something in me was like, “I’m going to go to NYU for acting.” I had no idea what that meant. I didn’t know anything about any of this…The faculty who are supposedly like, you know, world famous acting teachers in the English speaking world and all this and that. I knew nothing about actor training, nothing, I just knew that I wanted to be an actor, that actors moved to New York or L.A., and something in me was like “NYU.” So it was kind of like, that’s the top of my list, and the other places – like Juilliard, I auditioned for Juilliard really just to see if I could get in. That was such like a numbers game. I was like, I just want to see if I can actually do it....I just wanted to be able to say like I did it, I got in.
Virginia: Check it off the list?
Jeremy: Yeah, and Yale, it’s because...NYU, Juilliard and Yale are kind of the big three – it’s what everybody’s striving for.
Jeremy: And ACT because it’s the west coast version of those. But NYU just "on a gut" felt right.
Virginia: So what three words would you say best describe the universal qualities that are true of all NYU grad actors?
Jeremy: Hmm? The universal qualities that are true of all NYU grad actors... (thinking)
Virginia: It’s a very diverse group.
Jeremy: Have you interviewed any other NYU folks?
Virginia: No, you’re my NYU guy. I’ve interviewed other guys from Juilliard [Daniel Talbott] and Yale [Bryce Pinkham].
Jeremy: Well, we’re better than Juilliard. We’re better than Yale. And we’re better than everybody – no. I’m joking. On the record that was a joke. The three things that make NYU actors stand out?...Well, I don’t know. I think the biggest thing is it’s hard to put a stamp on an NYU actor. The heart of that program is about encouraging people to be entirely who they are, fuck the consequences. I mean, that’s minus the second half. That little quote was my own. But I think that’s really the heart of the training -- I mean if you can call that training -- you’ve got to be YOU regardless of what anybody else might say or think or whatever.
I think the second thing – and then it goes with that – therefore it’s hard to stamp an NYU person because just they are who they are. I remember when I was in school, you know, directors, casting people, they come and they talk and they say their spiel about what it’s like in the business. And they always say, "Now, one thing I love about NYU people is whenever I see a show or see somebody, I’m like, “Who is that actor?” I always look at the playbill and inevitably it always says NYU grad acting. And there’s always something about it that I can’t quite pin down. There’s like an energy. There’s like an “Arrhhh,” you know?" And I think that relates to what I’m saying. Because when you encourage someone to just be who they are, it’s like what you said about – your blog – when you’re laying out your heart, it’s very intriguing.
When you encourage a fire to grow, the moth is drawn to the flame. That’s what I’m saying.
I think the second thing is, the other big philosophy they have is that – whatever this means – people who go through that program, they want them to feel like they’re director proof. Meaning like a director can’t fuck with me. Because there’s a lot of idiots out there who are either ill-intentioned or good-intentioned who say stupid things or try to beat people down for whatever reason or they don’t know how to talk to an actor. And it’s really important and I think a big part of their philosophy is to be able to work with anybody regardless of whether or not they know what they’re doing. You’ll be able to translate whatever they’re saying or not saying and sort of make it work for you which again goes back to the number one reason. And then number three – I don’t know. The number three that makes NYU NYU – (thinking)
Virginia: How about the fearlessness? The risk-taking?
Jeremy: Yeah, I think you’re right. So much of our time at NYU is all about making your own work. That’s like probably – I don’t know – I’m probably blowing this out of proportion, but that’s probably like a good 60% of your training is spent like in games class or like in a movement class or in...there’s a literature – there’s a clown – you know, there’s a thing called actor’s space – whatever name the teacher’s give them. Fundamentally they’re all about you and your peers going away, creating something, and then you bring it into the class, and then you get critiqued on it. And really the only class in my recollection that had anything to do with prepared material was scene study.
There’s voice, and there are classes about breathing and this and that. But when it comes to performance, I would say more time was spent on – or it may be equal. If not equal, then more time was spent on encouraging people just to get comfortable making their own work. And I think that relates to what you just said. What was the word you just used?
Jeremy: Risk-taking. Yeah, because to me that is what being an actor is all about. Like this idea of... "I get my sides, I audition, I read, the casting director decides to show me to the director and then the director shows me to producer and then someone signs the line that says "her” or "him.""That’s like very new. That’s very Twentieth Century. That way of getting work didn’t really exist, I don’t think, until the industrial age, and the American machine put a sort of emphasis on making money. Don't get me wrong. Money’s awesome. Even Shakespeare tried to make money.
Virginia: We actors become a consumer product.
Jeremy: Yes. And it becomes about "who do I think LOOKS like this part?" And then you have five people who could very well play it, but one of them happens to look like the version that the director thinks it should be. It’s totally arbitrary. Whereas, for the four thousand years that theatre existed in western lineage before that, it was the people who were acting in the plays were also writing them and producing them and directing them and they were also the shareholders of the companies, you know, all the way back to Greek times. Sophocles, all those guys were actors. Shakespeare was an actor. The commedia performers were writers and actors. The performers in medieval drama were writing the things that they were doing. Even Stanislavski was an actor and a director. The idea of, you know, someone doing JUST the writing and another person doing JUST the acting is very mid-Nineteenth Century on. You know what I’m saying?
Virginia: Yes, absolutely. And you’ve done a lot of both kinds of work. You know, work juuuuust as an actor where you've gotten cast by route of the "traditional" process...auditioning and being approved by the director and the producer and so on and so forth. I'm sure you’ve had plenty of that experience. But you also have your own production company which is called --
Jeremy: Conniption FitZ Productions. Which goes back to a high school thing.
Virginia: And you’ve got your web series called --
Jeremy: First World Problem.
Virginia: So you’ve had the experience of creating your own work in the real world. And I want to focus on how you feel as an artist working on someone else's project versus creating your own work.
Jeremy: Well, it’s kind of funny because I think in our day and age we’re so conditioned as actors that this is how it is...People are like, “There’s got to be a better way to make theatre, to give actors work.” And everyone’s like, “Well, if you find a better way, tell me.” That’s like the common answer that you get from casting people and directors...And people say, “This is the way it is. You’ve got to accept it.” I’m like, "No, not really. It’s not the way it was."...You know, there are better ways. We did them as human beings for thousands of years prior to now.
But I have to admit...there is a part of me that does get off on being "chosen," you know? Getting a role – someone to be like “I chose you for this role.” It kind of makes you feel like, “Oh, I was chosen!”
Virginia: “I won the lottery!”
Jeremy: “I won the lottery!” Right. Everyone likes to win something. That’s kind of the feeling that comes with that. It’s nice to be wanted, and I love doing work like that. And I still audition for work like that. But I was getting to a point in me where I was getting a little desperate, and my work was not as good as it could be or should be because I was focusing so much on “Am I going to get chosen for the part?”
And I always wanted to make my own work. And I kind of did before, you know, this Conniption Fitz thing. We used to mess around in high school, and we jokingly call ourselves the Conniption Fitz, and as an adult, I’m like "Now I’m actually going to call that my company. Why not?"
Virginia: Why not, indeed!
(More Jeremy tomorrow! Isn't it nice to have something to look forward to?)
P.S. Check out Jeremy's latest creative-lust-child...First World Problem...Subscribe to the YouTube channel by CLICKING HERE...annnnnd if you do...you'll get to view a super-exclusive full-length episode! I've seen it and it's awkwardtastic hilarity!!! And also...here's a little preview of the upcoming feature-length to disturb your senses: