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Reap Speaks

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Q  What influenced you to become an actor?

 

A  I’m a native born New Yorker. Grew up 30 minutes from Broadway. It’s a bit like living one’s formative years on a film set. If you’ve a penchant for dramatics this kind of environment fuels that. The world becomes your stage. One day you're a broom maker, the next day king.

 

It probably helped being the first-born child of an artistic, Anglophile mother and a lawyer father. I was blessed with a culturally rich childhood. Our home was full of books and recordings. All the classics were there. Dickens. Shakespeare. Twain. Dostoyevsky. Chekhov. Reading and acting, putting on accents and costumes, was the most natural thing in the world to me. Still is.

 

My sister is also a thespian, as well as a teacher. Our brother became an attorney like our dad. If you think about it, lawyering is not that far removed from the stage. I loved watching and imitating my dad in court when I was a kid. It came in handy later when playing defense lawyer Clarence Darrow.

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Q  If you weren’t an actor, what else might you get up to?

 

A  Because I’m an actor, I’ve done loads of other jobs, but they’re all related to communication. I’ve been a journalist; an ESL teacher; spokesperson and public speaker; political canvasser; toy store demonstrator and waiter. I’ve worked in advertising and marketing. I’ve done some directing and writing. Dabbled in documentaries which I hope to do more of. Increasingly I'm moving into voice work, narration, recorded books and commercials. Actors are a flexible lot.

 

I need to work with writers, thespians and creative types to feel alive. If not an actor I'd probably be a professional interviewer like Charlie Rose, or James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio, a shadow artist quizzing people doing what I'd want to be doing. Marsha’s always saying I’m a natural born preacher, so perhaps one of those fired up, southern ministers.

 

Now you see the way my mind works as I digress in praise of Richard Burton's performance as the clergyman in Night of The Iguana. I'd love that role. Most actors find Williams an irresistible playwright. Life is a Tennessee Williams play.

 

My mother hoped I’d become an international diplomat, something like Ambassador to Great Britain would have thrilled her to no end. She wanted our family to be like the Kennedys. In reality we’re more like The Addams Family.

JJ Reap
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Q  What’s been your favorite role so far?

 

A  I’m captivated by whatever I’m doing at the moment, but bringing Dickens to an enthusiastic audience ranks right up there.

 

Q  Which do you enjoy most as a performer stage or film?

 

A  I like both, but there’s nothing like the energy of a live audience. After all the rehearsal, you need the audience to see if the show works. And when it does, when the house is packed with anticipation, when the actors play off the collective energy, there’s nothing better than a live performance.

 

Camera and voice over work are different. There’s no audience to validate or vilify your performance. As an actor you rely on your instincts, experience and the director’s vision. You give it all you’ve got but ultimately film is the director’s medium and TV’s the producer’s medium. The stage, though, belongs to the actor and the audience. The audience is your accomplice. It’s thrilling.

 

Q  Which do you most enjoy as a viewer theatre or film?

 

A  Theatre, for the same reason I love being on stage. There is soul to theatre. There’s an aliveness and immediacy of the

experience that can’t be beat. Not that I don’t watch my share of movies. I’m mad about film, but not in the same way as theatre, not with the same joyous abandon.

 

Q  Name six famous people you’d most like to play.

 

 A  Charles Dickens, though I’ve had the joy of playing him many times. Still, every time is magical. Richard Burton. Orson Wells. Benjamin Franklin. Jackie Gleason. Winston Churchill. Why stop at six? Bigger than life, complex men appeal to me: Bill Clinton. FDR. Paul Gauguin. Vincent van Gogh. Leonardo da Vinci. Henry VIII. These are inspiring characters for most actors.

JJ Reap
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Q  Who are your heroes?

 

A  Besides Dickens, Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, and Clarence Darrow? I like characters who embody the idea of the everyman. People who get up in the morning and do what needs doin’. Workin' folks. Those who try, fail, stumble, fall, break their neck, and get up again. Anyone struggling to overcome adversity commands my attention and admiration.

 

Q  Any women heroes?

 

A  Loads. I was thinking about heroes I'd like to play. Not sure I'd make a convincing Harriet Beecher Stowe, Marie Curie, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Anne Frank, or Rosalind Russell's unforgettable Auntie Mame. Most of all I admire Marsha Coupé and Gerri Brownstein Edelson, two hugely important women in my life. Without them I probably wouldn't be here. Not sure if woman needs man for survival, but I know man cannot survive without woman. Women make everything possible, while we menfolk reap the benefits.

 

Q  What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

 

A  I was diagnosed with advanced glaucoma in my early 40’s. Four surgeries were required to save my sight. The shock and pain were horrific. It took a long time to recover. I’ve had cataract surgeries and repair for a torn retina, so vision problems plagued me. I'm grateful for glasses and good lighting. There's plenty more challenges, ADHD, OCD, but best saved for another time. 

 

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Q  You’re a big advocate of spoken word entertainment. Why?

 

A Storytelling is our original entertainment. Along with cave painting it was the earliest form of communication and artistic expression. I don’t think we ever lose the urge to tell a good tale, or to listen to a story skillfully shared. It’s a simple pleasure, but an essential part of what it means to be human. You may add the storytellers of the world to my list of heroes.

 

Q  When you’re not plying your trade, what gives you the most pleasure?

 

A  A night at the theatre, basking in the performance of fellow thespians. Films. Audio Books. Spoken word entertainment, live and recorded. One wo/man shows. Music, especially classical and baroque. I relax playing the piano, writing songs and limericks. Sharing life with Marsha and working with her on Lovers Kitchen.

 

I get a lot of pleasure from cooking and coming up with new flavor sensations. Making happy belly food for folks who love to eat. Who can eat a home cooked meal and not feel that all is right with the world? Talking like this makes me think I wouldn't mind being a chef with the kitchen as my stage. Actors are impressionable creatures. We easily become what we think about. Suddenly I’m in quite the chefy mood.

 

Q  What three things would you most like to accomplish?

 

A  That’s a big question. I hope to leave a body of work I can be proud of; something uplifting and encouraging to others; something brave and worth remembering. I’d like to feel that I’ve lived at least some of my life with courage and grace. I hope to make a difference, to contribute to the joy and understanding of others. I’ve a powerful feeling that’s why were here.

 

The Welsh are all actors. It's only the bad ones who become professional. - Richard Burton