Saturday, February 9, 2013

20th Anniversary Memories: Ken Simon

Ken Simon in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Actor and Artistic Board Member Ken Simon shares his memories of Rhinoceros, Linguish, The Memo, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

My association with Untitled Theater Company #61 began in 2001, with the production of Rhinoceros as part of UTC61's Ionesco Festival (my first of three UTC61 festivals [actually four, if you count the 24/7 Fest - EE]). From a carnival-looking Cafe Proprietor to an officious Office Manager to a green-skinned rhinoceros (don't ask), it was a very enjoyable show (as was the reading we did of translated French conversation lessons that Eugene Ionesco had written for a friend...when UTC61 festivals, it festivals) and the start of an important part of my performing career.

There was the production of Linguish in January 2006 written and directed by Edward Einhorn, Artistic Director of UTC61 (and for whom people have been mistaking me since I have known him) as part of UTC61's NeuroFest, a festival of original plays about neurological conditions. It was a play about four people quarantined with a virus (fictional) that caused various types of aphasia (real neurological disorder). I was cast as Michael, a lawyer so snarky and sarcastic that after one scene rehearsal, I told my other castmates that I didn't understand why they just didn't kill me and eat me. In fact, a castmate, Uma, told me that one of her friend's said, "That guy who played the lawyer, he must be a real jerk." To which Uma said that she told them, "No, he's really very nice." Which is an amazing things for an actor to hear...and maybe why non-actors have a hard time knowing how to compliment actors. And we were invited to perform the show again at the American Academy of Neurology's 60th Annual Meeting in 2008. You just never know where UTC61 will take you.

In the same year as Linguish, November 2006, I had the privilege of working on an original translation of The Memo by Vaclav Havel as part of UTC61's Havel Fest (did I mention we've done a number of festivals?) The Memo was my first introduction to President Havel's work and even more, to President Havel himself, as he was an audience member for one of our performances. I was at first confused why everyone else was running to the dressing room when the show was over...until I heard the former President of the Czech Republic had been in the audience and then I joined the running mob (it was a large cast) for him to sign my script as well. I've had the opportunity to meet Elie Wiesel (late '90s) and formed a theory then about truly great people; that theory was further cemented in meeting this playwright/world leader: a distinguishing characteristic of the truly great is their humility and appreciation of people. So not only do you not know where UTC61 will take you, but you don't know who will be brought to you by UTC61.

In December 2010, I was part of the Edward's original adaptation of the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis for Ridley Scott's movie, Blade Runner) by Philip K. Dick. I played Isidore. A shorthand way I described him was as "a radiation-affected moron" (which is actually kinder than the nickname given to him throughout the script, ie, "chickenhead", which was used to great delight during rehearsal by one of my castmates, Alex, who played Deckard. But underneath this bantering, and possibly to offset the necessary approach, was a great affection I felt for my character. Part of his backstory that led to these terms was that he is a man degraded by the radiation of the Earth's last world war to the point that his cognitive abilities are weakening and likely to grow weaker. But what I loved about him, and the way Edward had written him that fed into portraying him, was a sense of ever-present courage that expressed itself in optimism and perseverance. Of all the characters I've portrayed, I think I care most about Isidore. And that may be why it was also easy, and maybe necessary, to joke about him, because getting too caught up in pathos for one's character actually detracts from it. I wanted to honor the character by making sure he stayed a human being, who lusted and eventually fell in love with the android using him; who experienced anger and despair when he found out the philosophy upon which he based his whole life and hopes was a lie; who with all his limitations and the pain he experiences, ends the play sadder but maybe a little wiser. Which is a pretty amazing thing when you're degrading from the radiation around you. It was an honor to play Isidore, a transcendent experience for me as a performer, and I will be forever grateful to Edward and UTC61 for the opportunity.

Happy 20th Anniversary, Untitled Theater Company #61. As my relatives would say, "May you live to be 120, and never know a day of suffering."

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