Jackie Apodaca Lights up the Stage
Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Jackie Apodaca (by Rory N. Finney)
She acts, she directs, she writes, she teaches … occasionally, she chases tornadoes. Whether she’s on stage, off stage, or writing for Back Stage, you’ll want to catch Jackie Apodaca in action.
Her extensive theatre and film acting credits include playing lead roles in feature films and shorts as well as portraying dozens of leading women in productions at National Theatre Conservatory, Shakespeare Santa Barbara, Genesis West, and ONE Theatre Company. She served as an understudy in the Broadway production of A Thousand Clowns with Judd Hirsch. You may have even spotted her in a commercial for Lexus, Jeep, Scotch Brite, Panda Express, HBO, Lifetime, or Kragen Auto.
She has directed an equally impressive number of plays at theatre companies in New York City, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Denver, Santa Barbara, and Venice. Apodaca has her foot in the production world as well, having served as head of production at Modern Media in Los Angeles and a freelance producer/editor/coordinator in Hollywood. She has written and adapted the plays In a Warring Absence, Shakespeare’s Joan d’Arc, and Franny and Zooey.
Apodaca earned her MFA in acting from the National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center Theatre Company, where she was recruited and mentored by Royal Shakespeare Founding Member Tony Church. She had previously completed her BFA in acting at UCSB, graduating with high honors and distinction in the major. During her career, she has studied under such masters as Jim Edmondson, James Donlon, Archie Smith, Jennifer McCray-Rincon, Gary Logan, Judi Dickerson, and Ursula Meyer.
Her seemingly bottomless bag of tricks includes juggling, puppeteering, and clowning. Oh, and did we mention that Apodaca also sings mezzo soprano, performs dialects, and is certified by the Society of American Fight Directors in Unarmed, Rapier and Dagger, and Broadsword Stage Combat? It’s no wonder she continues to remain in high demand on stage, behind the scenes, and in the classroom.
As a senior columnist for Back Stage, Apodaca has counseled thousands of young and emerging actors in her “Working Actor” column over the years. Over the past decade, she has brought hundreds of industry professionals into conversation with her students through courses such as Hollywood: Anatomy of an Industry. No one will benefit more from Apodaca’s talents, connections, and experiences than the next generation of Southern Oregon Universitytheatre arts majors.
Conversation with Jackie Apodaca
E-interview conducted by Melissa L. Michaels in September 2011
Chilling at SOU’s Center for the Visual Arts (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: When did you first fall in love with the theatre? Can you pinpoint a moment in your childhood when you suddenly knew you wanted to become an actor?
JA: I’m not sure about an exact moment … it was more of a gradual realization. I couldn’t believe something this fun was actually a career option. As I went through my junior high and high school years, theatre was something that kept me grounded and gave me a really clear focus on where I wanted to go. I was lucky to have a supportive family and a wonderful high school drama teacher, Bill Waxman, who encouraged me to believe I could have a “life in the theatre.”
Dylan and Caitlin Thomas (by John Griffiths)
MM: Your BFA senior honors thesis, In a Warring Absence, was a one-person show on Caitlin Thomas, the wife of Dylan Thomas. Very few people know anything about Caitlin. I’m curious what inspired you to choose this subject and what you learned about her life as you wrote and performed this piece.
JA: Caitlin was an incredible person. I discovered poet Dylan Thomas in college and was trying to come up with a way to incorporate his poetry and person into a show when my advisor, Judi Dickerson, suggested I read one of Caitlin’s books, Leftover Life to Kill. That, the many biographies of Dylan, and her later book, Not Quite Posthumous Letters to My Daughter, became the meat of my piece, which used almost entirely Caitlin’s words to tell her story. She was a very gifted writer—like Dylan—and fought with and for him throughout their tumultuous relationship. They had three children together, and his death (at thirty-nine—he always said he’d never see forty) almost killed her. Instead, she rebuilt a more peaceful life in Italy until her death in 1994, when she was buried next to him.
(left to right) “Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII” (by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres), “Joan of Arc is interrogated by The Cardinal of Winchester in her prison” (by Paul Delaroche), and “Joan of Arc’s Death at the Stake (Right-Hand Part of The Life of Joan of Arc Triptych)” (by Hermann Stilke)
MM: You created another one-person show, Shakespeare’s Joan D’Arc, for your MFA thesis. This female lens on a male lens of a female heroine is intriguing. Did you draw your perceptions of Shakespeare’s views from Henry VI, Part 1?
JA: Again, I did copious research on Joan for this show and drew on material by Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw as well as Joan’s actual trial transcripts for the final piece. She was a complex character, seen very differently by those on various sides of the conflict, but her trial transcripts make clear just how strongly she believed in her mission. She was almost unwavering in her version of holiness—it’s shocking to read the calm beauty of her words, knowing she was facing a horrible execution and that she was just 19 years old.
(left to right) With Tom Hinshaw as well as Leslie Gangl Howe and Ed Romine in La Terrasse, written by Jean-Claude Carrière, produced by Genesis West and directed by Maurice Lord at the Center Stage Theatre in Santa Barbara (by David Bazemore)
MM: You not only act, but you also direct and write. What do you love most about each role?
JA: That’s a tough question. I feel as if they are very bound up in each other for me, each another way of creating a—hopefully--moving experience for an audience. As an actor, I love the chance to see the world from another person’s eyes, get outside myself, and, well, play.
As a director, I enjoy seeing the big picture, scheming about how to improve one thing or another, and puzzling out the never-ending questions. I love to create truly surprising moments for an audience, knocking them off of the expected pathways and leaving them with something new to consider. One of my all-time favorite things to accomplish is a moment when an audience is laughing, moaning, and covering their eyes all at the same time because they find something both horrible and incredibly funny. That makes me sound pretty dark, and I love traditional comedies and romances as well, but taking an audience someplace they don’t expect, or someplace they’d actually like to avoid, is always a treat.
As a writer, I’m often inspired by historical events—real people dealing with difficult situations. It’s the same impulse that drove me into acting: delving into and understanding the human experience.
On the cover of Back Stage (by Jamie Young)
MM: You also write in your role as senior columnist for Back Stage.
JA: Yes, I have been writing for the actor’s trade paper, Back Stage, for over ten years and have been doing my column, “The Working Actor,” for about eight. It’s a Q-and-A column—I’m sort of a Dear Abby for actors. It’s wonderful to be able to get questions I myself had as a young actor and give helpful advice and encouragement. I draw frequently on my own acting experience, but I am also blessed to have numerous wonderful sources to go to with tough issues. So much of actor education focuses on the craft, we sometimes forget these young artists have to go out and make a living in a very complex industry. My work at Back Stage keeps me current with theatre and Hollywood business trends so I can bring this information to actors both through my column and in my SOU courses.
MM: I can’t help but ask about your experience as a National Geographic tornado chaser. How did you wind up in that field (so to speak ;-), and what is it like chasing tornadoes?
JA: I went to school with IMAX filmmaker Sean Casey of Discovery Channel’s Stormchasers fame, and I’m married to IMAX producer Greg Eliason. My first year of storm-chasing came about because I semi-jokingly volunteered to help Sean out for a few weeks on the film Forces of Nature. This was before Sean’s TIV (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) days, when he was literally in the back of a truck in a harness and helmet as we raced down the road. I ended up doing a lot of the driving and went out again the next year to do more for National Geographic. I saw some beautiful storms, got too close to a few tornadoes, and ate at far too many gas stations. If you ever plan to chase, keep in mind that you don’t get to stop when you’re chasing an active storm system—except for gas.
MM: You’re certified in stage combat by the Society of American Fight Directors. How has that training helped you with movement on the stage?
JA: Most of my movement training was actually by master teacher James Donlon, who taught me mountains about creating physical meaning in a space. My combat training came later, at the National Theatre Conservatory. I’ve used it in a few shows, but sadly, male actors get most of the fights. I’m certified in Rapier and Dagger, Hand-to-Hand Combat, and Broadsword—so don’t mess with me ;-)
MM: Let’s talk favorites. Your favorite play, your favorite playwright, your favorite role that you’ve played—as well as the role you dream of playing.
JA: You’re killing me! Okay, favorite play: Uncle Vanya. Or Hedda Gabbler. Or King Lear. Don’t make me choose! And similarly, favorite playwright: Anton Chekhov, but I also love Ibsen, and Shakespeare, and Shaw. I played Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing a couple years back which I truly enjoyed, and I’d really like to give Hedda a whack.
MM: You played Beatrice for Shakespeare Santa Barbara. Tell me a little about your work with that company.
JA: Shakespeare Santa Barbara was started in 2001 by a friend of mine, Jennifer Casey, who had the brilliant idea of bringing Shakespeare to Santa Barbara’s burgeoning wine country. The press and community really embraced the concept, and we had eight years of very successful productions. I worked with the company throughout its existence as an actor and director, and I got to play fantastic roles like Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Viola in Twelfth Night as well as direct the ever-popular Taming of the Shrew set in the Wild West. In its later years, I served as the company’s producing director, which presented a new set of challenges and rewards. Sadly, we closed the company down a last year because both Jennifer and I had moved on to other pursuits—me to SOU.
On set at a student film by Steven Ray Morris (courtesy of Jackie Apodaca)
MM: You taught in the Film and Media Department at UC Santa Barbara. How did that come about?
JA: Yes, though I am a classically conservatory-trained actor, I had an unusual day job during my years in LA. I served as head of production at a Los Angeles–based commercial production company and got a hands-on education in all things production. I lucked out in that my bosses were much more flexible than they probably should have been—they let me leave for auditions anytime I needed. I would sometimes leave a commercial set on which I was the producer to run off and audition for another.
I began teaching at UCSB in the Theatre Department but found my way over to Film and Media, where I taught acting and directing. Once they realized I could also teach production, I did quite a lot of that, too. It was incredibly rewarding working with students on their film and digital projects, and I hope to do more of that at SOU.
(left to right) With Professor Constance Penley in the Hollywood, Anatomy of an Industry course and interviewing Tom Pollock in the Pollock Theatre (by Addison Woody Smith)
MM: At UCSB, you taught a course called Hollywood: Anatomy of an Industry. What did that entail?
JA: The course was started twenty years ago by studio executive Paul N. Lazarus—who had retired to Santa Barbara and regularly brought his Hollywood friends up to speak to students at UCSB—and I had the privilege of teaching it for the last couple years. The class meets every Friday evening and packs in 200 students from across campus, despite competing with the beginning of weekends at a notorious party school. It’s a Q-and-A format along the lines of Inside the Actors Studio, and I had the pleasure of interviewing such notable guests as Director Brad Silberling(Casper, Land of the Lost), Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can, Men in Black III), former President and CEO of ViacomTom Freston, William Morris Endeavor Lead Agent Rick Rosen, Academy Award Nominated Animator Don Hertzfeldt, Producer Robert Papazian (The Day After, Rome), President of Warner Brothers Digital Distribution Thomas Gewecke, Producer Tony Bill (The Sting, Shampoo), Universal Pictures Chairman Tom Pollock, and many others. What I found most interesting was just how captivated the students were by guests from all areas of the business. Whether a famous producer or a panel of recent graduates working low-paying production assistant gigs, the students—who came from various majors—were genuinely curious about the inner workings of their jobs and the industry as a whole.
At the blackboard in SOU’s Theatre Arts Building (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: Which courses are you going to be teaching at SOU?
JA: When I asked that question during the hiring process, I got an answer that I think accurately reflects my future SOU class lineup: Acting, acting, and more acting. I’ll be teaching beginning, intermediate, and advanced techniques as well as specialty courses in various acting styles, such as Greek, Modern, Shakespeare, Contemporary, Film, Auditions, and Acting Industry as well as collaborating with the film and digital production faculty on new courses.
Getting into character (by Greg Eliason)
MM: What are your thoughts on acting methodologies? Which approaches have you found to be most successful with students?
JA: I’m very fond of the work of Michael Shurtleff, who was incredibly pragmatic in his approach. Acting training can be very mystical, and while I agree there’s an enigmatical aspect to acting, as in any art, much of it can be tackled logically and head on. I also believe there is no conflict between acting for the stage and for the screen--an acting career today all but demands proficiency more than one area. Acting requires the same honesty and specificity in a Greek tragedy as it does in an episode of Modern Family, and I’ll be integrating an on-camera aspect into many of the classes historically thought of as within the theatre domain. An actor’s performance is flexible—that’s the thrill of live work—and I’m eager to show these young performers that what they are doing on stage can translate to the screen with only minor technical adjustments.
As to my courses, I believe students want and can handle huge challenges, so my classes are very demanding. I don’t stick to a particular acting methodology but am ready to employ whichever technique a situation demands. Students work differently, and it’s my job to be flexible in how best to guide them, just as I expect them to be present from moment to moment in my class or during a performance.
In conversation with Assistant Professor of Art and Art History David Bithell (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: What are you most looking forward to experiencing in your first year at Southern Oregon University?
JA: I am so looking forward to my classes! I can’t wait to get to know this student body, and discover how we can work together to take our program to the next level. I feel really blessed to be able to do what I love in such a beautiful place, and I am looking forward to being part of this lively, collaborative community.