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Jake Epstein // Photo: courtesy of Arena Stage

Jake Epstein Talks World Premiere of Arena Stage’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise

It can be a challenge for an actor to tap into a character, especially one from a different decade. But for Jake Epstein, playing a WWII soldier holds a special family connection. The former Degrassi star is portraying Jack Ludwig in Arena Stage’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise now through December 29. The play, based on the love story of playwright Ken Ludwig’s parents, is set in the middle of the war and told through the use of letters. We talked to Epstein to learn more about the world premiere of Dear Jack, Dear Louise, long-distance relationships and the DC theatre scene.

On Tap: What’s it like portraying a real-life figure? Especially the playwright’s father?
Jake Epstein: To be honest, I try to block out that I’m portraying the playwright’s father. Only because in the sense of the play, I have to think of it as a character I’m playing. I’m trying to approach it the way I would any play, but certainly, there’s a real responsibility to tell the story right and to make sure the playwright can feel good about it.

OT: How closely did you work with the playwright, Ken Ludwig?
JE: At the beginning, very closely. He’s an amazing and hilarious writer. He was around for all of our table reads where we did a lot of work talking about the history and going on the trip together. Once we got up on our feet and started working with the director [Jackie Maxwell], Ken said “I’m going to let you guys play.” So he kinda went away and he’s been in and out of the whole process.

OT: How did you tap into playing a WWII soldier? What does that era of history mean to you?
JE: When you’re playing somebody from history you try to gather as much information as you can. I’ve done a lot of research, listened to podcasts every day and tried to read what I can so that I feel I can be as authentic as possible. On a personal note, my mother [Kathy Kacer] is a pretty well-known writer and she writes mostly stories about the holocaust for young adults. Her parents, my grandparents, were both Holocaust survivors. My grandmother, I never knew and my grandfather, I only knew a little when I was young. But one of the amazing things about being an actor is that sometimes you’ll get to do a play that’s out of your own time and place, and in this case, getting to do a play during the second world war makes me feel connected to my grandparents.

OT: What books has your mother written about the holocaust?
JE: She’s written over 20 books. My favorite is The Secrets of Gabi’s Dresser, which is a story about my grandmother hiding from the Nazis. Since then, she’s written a lot of other books, one called Clara’s War. They actually use her books in Canada, and I believe they’re starting to in the states, when they’re teaching kids about the second world war in school. That time in history definitely means a lot to me and my family.

OT: Have you visited the Holocaust Museum since you arrived in DC?
JE: I’ve been twice before. I went when I was younger with my parents, and a few years ago when I was here with the national tour of Spring Awakening. I’ve been in intense rehearsal, so I haven’t gotten the chance to do too much in DC but I’m certainly hoping to.

OT: What do you think of the DC theatre scene? How do you like Arena Stage?
JE: I’ll admit that I haven’t seen very much other DC theatre, but I know that it certainly has a great reputation with really smart, savvy audiences. Getting to perform at the Kennedy Center [with the national tour of Spring Awakening] was one of the highlights of my life. It’s such a gorgeous building and it was one of those moments like “oh my god, I’m so lucky that I get to do this.” I mean Arena Stage has this reputation of being this amazing out of town try out. A lot of shows going to New York, Broadway got to try themselves out at Arena Stage. It’s got this real spirit of creativity and support that I’ve been really impressed with. The building is beautiful and its location, with being right on the Wharf, is really cool.

OT: The story revolves around your character Jack and a character named Louise in a long-distance relationship, do you have any experience with long-distance relationships?
JE: Yeah, I do. My wife and I were long distance for about five years before we got married. So I have a lot of experience dealing with long distance and the tragedy, frustration and comedy that goes into maintaining a relationship when you’re far apart from each other.

OT: In today’s world, do you think relationships via letters is still considered romantic or is texting much more practical?
JE: In today’s world, people date through social media and through online dating and texting. It’s a specific part of how people meet and interact. This play is just like the original texting, the original online dating. The difference is just that letters took over a week to get to each other but I love how the play has a sort of wink to where we are today,  but with the story of the real history of letters.

OT: Since the play is told through letters, does that change the way you interpret the script as an actor?
JE: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that the characters are not speaking aloud what they’re saying. They’re expressing the letters that have been written out loud but at the same time, because it’s a play, because it’s a piece of theatre, we really thought to theatricalize the story and theatricalize the way letters can be used on stage. Our director has really encouraged us to make the letters spoken as realistically as possible.

OT: How is being in a world premiere play like Dear Jack, Dear Louise different from being in an established play or TV show, such as Spring Awakening or Degrassi?
JE: Definitely being in a world premiere is a different beat than being in something that is set in stone. The main thing being that the playwright is there so you can talk to him about moments that maybe aren’t working as well as they could. There’s the opportunity for the line tweaks or changes or discussion with what the intention was about certain lines with the person who wrote it. Whereas with a published play, that’s it. You have to make it work. On TV it’s actually similar to a world premiere, the writers are around and there are constant changes on TV. So if anything, being in the world premiere of a play is probably closer to doing a TV show.

OT: Speaking of Degrassi, my editor [Monica Alford] told me she had a big crush on your character. Do you often get recognized for that role?
JE: Tell her thank you very much! I do sometimes and I appreciate it. It makes me laugh every time.

OT: Why do you think Dear Jack, Dear Louise is a great love story? Why will audiences resonate with it?
JE: I definitely hope so. I hope audiences can relate to it. There’s a lot of truth in their love story, it’s a difficult love story. There’s a lot of banter, the two characters couldn’t be more different from each other. Jack is a shy, self-effacing, intelligent army medic who has zero experience with the ladies because he’s been in school his whole life. Louise is this outgoing, charismatic aspiring actress. They couldn’t be more different, yet somehow find each other and start to relate on this very deep personal level through letter writing. They actually have a lot in common and they start to need each other in a way they both didn’t expect. I think there’s a lot of truth in the love story and I certainly related to a lot of it in my own life. I hope audiences feel the same.

Dear Jack, Dear Louise opened November 21 and runs through December 29. Various times. Tickets begin at $41. For more information visit here.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

The Sherlocks Set to Shake the US

The Sherlocks may hail from the outskirts of Sheffield, England much like Arctic Monkeys and Pulp before them, but their sound is all their own. Last year, the four piece indie rock band released their first album Live For The Moment to great acclaim in their home country. The band is now ready to take their infectious sound and energy stateside. Fresh off supporting the legendary Liam Gallagher on his European tour, we caught up with frontman Kiaran Crook before the group embarks on an expansive US tour, including a stop at DC9 on May 7.

On Tap: What was it like touring with Liam Gallagher? Your band consists of two sets of brothers and Liam is at the center of one of the most notorious sibling rivalries in music history, so that must have been a really interesting dynamic for the band.
Kiaran Crook: That’s exactly what it was, yeah. I was going to say it was surprising, but there’s no need to say surprising because of what I’ve seen from [Liam] in interviews before doing that tour. I think Liam’s a bit- you kind of love him or hate him- but we just get where he’s coming from with his humor and stuff like that. I find him pretty funny to be honest with you. So after doing that tour and spending a bit of time with him, he lived up to it. He’s good company. Most of all, we really appreciate him having us along on tour. There are a lot of bands he could bring, so the fact that he chose us as support certainly means a lot to us. Good guy.

OT: On a similar note, what’s it like touring with your brother and another set of brothers?
KC: It’s good! I mean, you have your fall-outs and stuff, but 95 percent of the time, or maybe and even higher percentage, we’re sweet, we get on well. I think the main thing is not doing each other’s head in or taking things too seriously, or getting in people’s way too much. I think everybody’s worked out how to handle each other a bit more since the start of the band, so that’s definitely gotten better, and we don’t really fall out too much. As far as touring’s concerned, it’s good. It always makes for a funny tour experience though, rather than being four separate lads who are not brothers, and we know each other better. There’s plenty of fun.

OT: Are there any cities you’re excited to hit on this particular tour that you may have missed the last time around?
KC: I’m personally really excited to go to [Los Angeles]. I couldn’t even tell you why. It’s just a name, and it sounds pretty funny. Where I come from, if you told somebody you were going Los Angeles as part of a job, I suppose, it would just seem like a joke to some people. Because the place where we live is really quiet and people don’t usually step out of where they are. People are born here, spend their whole lives here and die here. Not to get morbid, but in this little village where life is just- nothing really happens. You know what I mean? So to get the chance to travel to LA and all these great places, it blows some people’s minds.

OT: So more about the music, you all made quite a splash on the UK charts. What has the response been like to your music from audiences in the US?
KC: The main thing is, it’s not exactly a shock, but there’s obviously a lot more people in the UK that know us than in the US, so things are relatively small when we’re playing gigs in America. But it’s all part of this journey, really. We didn’t expect to play what we are playing at the minute in the UK, and it all started exactly the same here. In the UK, the first few gigs, I can remember playing for literally nobody, or like five people. So we’re used to [going] from empty rooms, to filling the rooms, and building on top of that. But the reception to the album has been really good. That’s the good thing about building and starting up small which we’ve been doing in the US. We get to talk to every single member of the crowd, all three of them! [laughs] I’m kidding. But you do get to speak to everybody, and people seem excited by it. And even though it’s on a small scale, I still feel the passion. They actually do care about this band and it means a lot to them that we’ve troubled to play to them, and vice versa. It means a lot to us that they’re coming out to watch us.

OT: What would be your dream venue to play? Or a favorite venue you’ve already played you’d want to go back to?
KC: I don’t know, to be fair. We’d normally say a stupid answer, something like ‘we’d like to headline the world someday’ but in terms of real venues, it would be good to [headline] a stadium. I could imagine that would be pretty mental. Like any stadium, none in particular, just playing our first stadium gig would be a crazy moment.

OT: That sounds awesome. I look forward to the day I see you’re playing a stadium and I can say I’ve interviewed you. Do you have a dream tour mate? I’m sure Liam set the bar really high, but if you could bring anyone on tour with you or be asked to support another band, what would be your top choice?
KC: These questions are hard! They’re good! I’d like to play with Kings of Leon. [Those] guys seem pretty cool. We opened for them at Sheffield Arena, and that’s like our hometown. Sheffield is the closest city to us, so to support a band like Kings of Leon in our own town, in the biggest venue in Sheffield, that was like a dream come true. So I’d like to play with them again. Or even if we did a song with them one day, that would be strange!

OT: What music are you currently inspired by?
KC: Well I’m listening to Kings of Leon at the minute, and an Australian band call DMAS.

OT: Can fans expect you to debut any new songs on this tour?
KC: We’re going through a bit of heavy writing, but not really [as a] band because I write the tunes. We’re spending a lot of time in the practice room at the minute, just blasting out new tunes until they sound good, the same as we did on the first album. We’ve got some really good ideas floating about and I think we’re gonna try to make the second album sound like – you’ll be able to tell, if you listened to the first album – you’ll know it’s us. So we’re not going to drift too far away, just try to progress slightly and do some things we didn’t really get to do on the first. So just plenty of writing at the minute, that’s what’s going on at The Sherlocks HQ. We might even try a couple of new tunes out in America, because obviously we’re playing to smaller crowds, so it’ll be less people booing us if we mess up [laughs].

The Sherlocks play DC9 on Monday, May 7. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

DC9 Nightclub: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; 202-483-5000; www.dc9.club