9 questions for Jamie Vann

Today we conclude our interviews with the six-actor cast of Danny Casolaro Died For You. (Check out the previous five: Kyle Hatley, Mark Richard, Demetrios Troy, Philip Earl Johnson and Dennis William Grimes.) You have until December 21 to  see their work together before the show closes! To wrap up the series here’s Jamie Vann, who returns to TimeLine, having previously appeared in The Farnsworth Invention, to portray six dramatically different characters in this play:

1 — Tell us the story of when you first knew you wanted to become an actor. I remember being in a school play in probably the 1st grade, and I remember being shy and not wanting to have to speak or really do anything during the play. The big scene in the play was where those of us who played the nameless villagers built a wall onstage with those red cardboard bricks that they sometimes have in elementary schools. And the lead character tore down the wall in an “I’ll save you!” moment at the end. And that character was played by a kid in my class named Stan. And the audience cheered when he burst through the wall. I remember standing onstage next to him and seeing the crowd, and I think I probably decided then and there that I wanted to be Stan.

2 — What had you heard about Danny Casolaro or any of these conspiracy theories before working on this play? I’ve heard about the October Surprise and I had definitely heard about the John Hinckley stuff that is mentioned. I was very into presidential assassinations when I was in school. In junior high, I took a summer course that focused on the U.S. presidential assassinations and ever since then, I’ve been fascinated by the stories that have surrounded them. Almost all of them have big conspiracy theories around them. The Lincoln assassination was actually part of a larger conspiracy, with no theory, but actual fact. Because of that historical truth, there is credence given to every theory about conspiracies to assassinate the President of the United States.

Kyle Hatley (from left), Demetrios Troy and Jamie Vann (as Bill Hamilton) in "Danny Casolaro Died For You."
Kyle Hatley (from left), Demetrios Troy and Jamie Vann (as Bill Hamilton) in “Danny Casolaro Died For You.”

3 — What character do you most enjoy portraying? I actually love playing the different characters. I’m a character actor, so I often get cast in roles where I need to play a bit of an extreme, or something out of the ordinary. It’s the range that I love. I think the far ends of that range are Dr. John and Alan Spar. I really like playing both of them, and I only wish Dr. John had a more time to explore. My favorite reaction is when audience members have thought that multiple actors play my roles. My goal is to make all the characters believable and real, and to commit strongly to them and make them individuals.

4 — What other experiences have you had portraying real people? I’ve had a couple of experiences playing actual historical figures. I played [Richard] Nixon once, and when you play someone that well known there’s always the danger of it just feeling like an impression. Or an impression of someone else’s impression of the person. When you play people who actually existed but aren’t famous, you feel a bit more freedom to make choices. In one instance at Next Theatre, I played one of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project building the atomic bomb. At a Q&A after the show one day, a woman in the audience casually mentioned that she was the secretary for Robert Oppenheimer for many years, and it suddenly struck me that I was playing a character that people in the audience may have met in real life. It was incredibly daunting and I found myself wanting to question the choices I had made in rehearsal.

But the truth is, I’m not really portraying that real person. I’m portraying a character in a play that is based on that person. The playwright has made choices in scripting the character that may be based on the real person, but I have to make my choices based on what is in the script and what is necessary for the story we are telling. In Danny Casolaro Died for You, I play two characters who are real people and one other who is “loosely based” on a real person. With Bill Hamilton, I was able to look at him on YouTube and see interviews he has done, but I can’t just imitate the man I see in the interviews. That’s not the character written in the play. The character I play has dramatic intention and plays a role in the story. We don’t do documentaries in the theatre.

Jamie Vann (as Alan Spar) and Kyle Hatley in "Danny Casolaro Died For You."
Jamie Vann (as Alan Spar) and Kyle Hatley in “Danny Casolaro Died For You.”

5 — How does being in TimeLine’s intimate 99-seat space affect your engagement with the audience? I always love the audience being close. It may sound hokey, but you can feel the attention of the audience when they are that close. You can feel when the audience is holding a collective breath and there is dead silence and no one is moving a muscle, waiting for some moment to resolve onstage. You can feel even the smallest little laugh. With the audience close, it really feels like a shared experience.

6 — This is a fast paced show, with costume changes, food being cooked on stage, changing characters and settings. How do you balance all the moving parts? It is a well-oiled machine backstage, and our crew members are the ones doing the balancing. Between Dennis Grimes and me, we have 19 costume changes during the show, some of which have to be done in less than a minute. We spent a lot of time rehearsing the changes and figuring out how to make the changes work efficiently, so we don’t show up onstage in the wrong thing, or worse yet, in nothing.

7 — What’s your favorite conspiracy thriller movie or TV show? I love The Usual Suspects, because it plays so well into the core of the conspiracy thriller: the willingness to believe.

8 — Of the conspiracies in the show, which one fascinates or concerns you the most? The one that concerns me the most is one that is just touched on late in the show—the idea that government/corporate interests have been financed by and/or profited from the drug trade in the past 40 years. If true, and I think there is little question that it has been true at some point, it has had a profound impact on the culture of the U.S. for generations and is probably the core of the great divide we have seen in the country. Money, prestige, and beautiful women—you either have them, or you don’t.

9 — What’s a fact or quirk about you that could be fodder for conspiracy theorists? My day job is “Slot Machine Designer.” Everyone believes that casino games are rigged. No matter how you explain it, and no matter how much players love the games, they have all these theories on how the games work. Most of those theories are based on some conspiracy between me, casino owners, or the government, to make the games pay or not pay while they are playing. No one wants to believe in randomness. And that is actually a human trait. We look for patterns in the randomness of the world. Seeing a pattern helps us understand the past and predict the future. Randomness doesn’t help us understand the world, so we reject it. And that is why a lot of conspiracy theories catch on, because people want to see the connectedness between things. And when you start down that path, you can begin to think everything is connected and conspiring against you ….

To read Jamie’s biography, visit our website …

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