Welcome to the third installment of Artists Who Inspire! During this unprecedented shutdown of live theater, DCMTA will use this space to lift up local theater artists who are finding ways to remain creative and share their craft. If you are an artist who inspires and you would like to share your story here, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He takes requests at his online concerts. If he doesn’t know a song, he’ll learn it. And if you want to send him a few bucks through Venmo? Well, that would be cool. Jordan Friend, the 26-year-old artistic director of 4615 Theatre Company, was one of the first to switch from physical theater to the online platform. Blame it on youth, or the artist’s side hustle performing live at Flanagan’s Harp and Fiddle, but Friend was offering weekly online concerts via Facebook just days after theaters shuttered in mid-March, forcing the early closure of 4615’s world premiere production of playwright Renee Calarco’s Museum 2040.
In the past three weeks, Friend’s online jam sessions have evolved into an organized series of three weekly concerts. On Mondays, he improvises with a concert he calls #lockdownjukebox. “You send me a request, I play it,” he says. I requested the Avett Brothers. He didn’t know their music… until he did, learning a song that morning and performing it that evening. Thursdays are more structured with a #virtualcampfire concert played on his deck while the sun sets. “Mellow songs. Dealer’s choice,” he describes it. And Saturdays feature #songsforthesleepless, a varied hour of music for night owls and West Coasters.
Friend’s theater company, 4615 Theatre is currently partnering with Adventure Theatre and District Dramatists in an online playwrighting festival in which over 70 new plays will be read online in an all-day marathon on Sunday, April 19th.
Friend’s agility in moving his content online inspired me so I asked him a few questions about creating art in these difficult times.
Did you have any work put on hold due to the Coronavirus outbreak? If so, what?
Uhhh, everything (for a moment at least…). In addition to running 4615 Theatre Company, I perform as a musician, teach voice lessons, run theatre movement workshops (such as viewpoints) and even substitute teach on occasion. Having like six recurring gigs at any given moment should leave one with a margin of error but, alas, each one of these is currently shut down. However, I am working this week to get stuff going virtually as much as possible. I’ll start offering lessons via skype, keep these virtual concerts going, and 4615 is cooking up some cool stuff as well that we’ll release over the coming weeks.
Ok, let’s get the negativity out of the way: What’s the worst/hardest thing about this quarantine period for you?
As someone whose theatre company owes so much to the local businesses we have built bonds with, it is devastating to watch these places shut down. One such establishment is Flanagan’s Harp and Fiddle in Bethesda, the last Irish pub of its kind in that area. The owners, Steve and Jenny Nugent, are extraordinarily generous to local artists. They jump-started my music career, as they have with so many others, AND on top of all that, they even let 4615 stage a site-specific play throughout their ENTIRE space (A Measure of Cruelty, written and directed by Joe Calarco). They closed off their entire bar for two weekends in service of live theatre. The Harp is a cultural landmark as far as I’m concerned, and they deserve all the help you can give. So order carryout/delivery (great food), buy gift cards, etc. We want them back and running when this is all over.
Now on to the positive! Share with us one professional achievement that you are proud to have accomplished so far this year.
I’m absurdly proud of where we took 4615 Theatre this year. We put up a gigantic third season for a company of our size, including two world premieres (by Gregory Keng Strasser and Renee Calarco), and built an amazing team of resident artists and company leadership. On a personal level, I got to direct the DC premiere of one of my dream shows, Lucy Prebble’s Enron; an almost unstageable leviathan of a play that felt like a huge creative breakthrough. I mean, we made velociraptors out of spreadsheets from a corporate deposition and then had the CFO (played by Charlie Cook) fight them with an ax and taser to the tune of Mozart’s Lacrimosa, so all in all a good time was had by all.
What are some things you have done to keep busy and stimulated while stuck at home?
Well, this all landed just in time for both personal and business taxes, so I’m thrilled to say I’m knee-deep in that right now. More importantly, I’m using this time to get my life essentials back on solid footing. Running a startup theatre means burning the candle at both ends much of the time, with rarely a moment for necessary personal upkeep. I’m working on getting in shape, developing better sleep habits and reconnecting with old friends. It’s also season selection time, so there’s a big stack of plays to read, and I’m devoting lots of time to music, both recording some stuff and writing a new song cycle that will be performed shortly after we reemerge from all this.
You caught my attention by devising and performing Facebook Live solo concerts. What inspired you to do that and what did it involve?
This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, partly because I so rarely have a chance to share music with my friends and colleagues since there are always rehearsals and shows when I have a gig. As soon as our production closed early on Sunday, I promised myself that I’d do something fulfilling on day one of my quarantine, but I also wanted to make sure it would be of service to others. I feel very driven to form communities, and love bringing people together to do or share something. With that in mind, I decided to make it a virtual jukebox. I let people send requests ahead of time, and kept tagging people whose requests were approved as the list grew over 24 hours. I think interactivity in our virtual art is extra important right now to help people feel connections, and it also helped build buzz and reach. I was thrilled by how many people tuned in, and also got a lot of requests during the show, which I’ve saved into a list for the next one. The logistics are pretty easy, as you just need a webcam, a microphone, some plants in the background, and a very patient partner to scroll through the onslaught of chord/lyric charts for you!
We are nearly a month into this quarantine now. How are you feeling?
Like many of us, I flip between days of frantic, “disarming a time bomb” productivity and absolutely overwhelming inertia. I try to forgive myself for the latter. I don’t think I’ve ever lived through a time where letting a bad day go is so necessary for pulling through to the next one. I watch a lot of sunrises, and not because I’m waking up early. I get angrier than I normally do; mostly at our awful, archaic unemployment laws that left my fellow freelancers in the dust, but also at the frozen spaghetti I had that simply refuses to fully thaw no matter how long I nuke it in the microwave. I’d like to solve those two issues, in that order.
List three other DC-area artists who inspire you and tell us why.
First up, I have to mention Sean Chyun and Thomas Keith (TK). They run the acoustic Tuesday shows at the Harp where so many amazing musicians get to play (like Andrew Scott Zimmer, Brigitte Hart and more). Sean also made his acting debut in 4615’s production of Museum 2040 and killed it. He’s a full-time musician, so he’s getting hit really hard by this, and I encourage all to check out his upcoming live streams and send some tips his way.
Next, Charlene V. Smith (who leads Brave Spirits Theatre) is in the midst of her titanic undertaking: becoming the first person in American history to professionally produce all eight Shakespeare Histories in rep. I’m honored to be involved in realizing her dreams (as composer for the whole cycle and director for half), and I’m awed by what she’s doing. The first four shows are currently on hold, so make sure to send some support their way, and PLEASE get tickets when we return.
Lastly, I’m inspired by Chil Kong, the new artistic director of Adventure Theatre MTC. He’s doing extraordinary work to forge deeper connections between theatres in our community and transform how we look at artist employment. He’s also been extremely generous in offering council to an emerging director/producer like me, and for that, I am deeply grateful.
BIO: Jordan Friend is a DC-based director, actor and composer. He is the Founding Artistic Director of 4615 Theatre Company, currently eligible for the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company. For 4615, he has directed productions including the DC Premiere of Lucy Prebble’s Enron, as well as the world premieres of Joe Calarco’s Separate Rooms and Renee Calarco’s Museum 2040. Next year, he will direct the entirety of Shakespeare’s War of The Roses cycle for Brave Spirits Theatre. As an actor, he most recently appeared as Isaac in Disgraced at NextStop Theatre Company. Jordan also works throughout the area as both a theatrical composer and singer/songwriter. He holds a BFA in Acting from Ithaca College, as well as a Diploma in Classical Acting from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and studied directing under Joy Zinoman at the Studio Theatre Conservatory. Learn more at www.4615theatre.com.