Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Interview with John Wernke from THEOPHILUS NORTH


John Wernke, who plays the title role in THEOPHILUS NORTH, spent the summer of 2007 on a cross-country road trip. He sat down with People's Light Resident Dramaturg Elizabeth Pool to discuss his travels and how the experience connected to his portrayal of Theophilus.

Elizabeth Pool: Before starting rehearsals in early August for THEOPHILUS NORTH you traveled across the country. What made you decide to take this trip?

John Wernke: I had always wanted to. I had been working in New York in the fashion industry and as an actor for four years. I made the decision that when I quit my job I wanted to travel by myself and by car to the West Coast.

EP: Why did you want to take this trip by yourself?

JW: Self discovery. I don't really know what I want to do in my life so I was hoping to find some answers. That was the big reason. I probably found more questions than answers. I had also never owned a car before. My company bought me this car so I thought I might as well use it.

EP: Had you mapped out in advance what cities you wanted to see or what route you would take?

JW: No, it evolved as I traveled. I started in New York and visited Cincinnati, Nashville, Atlanta, St. Petersburg, and Austin. From Austin I went to the Southwest and stayed there for awhile because I just really wanted to be there. I came back through Utah and Colorado. There was no set plan or route. I stayed in a place for as long as I felt I needed to be there.

EP: Tell me about three highlights of the trip.

JW: I enjoyed visiting Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. It's in the Mojave Dessert and it was 105 degrees. Joshua Trees are a cross between any old tree and a palm tree. Each one is dramatically different. They're beautiful. They have a whole personality unto themselves. And it seemed like no one was in the park when I was there so it was very spiritual. Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah was another highlight. The park has these giant stone arches that are natural formations. They are unbelievable and again very spiritual. I mean, how did those get there? The third place would be Big Sur in California. Big Sur is pretty fantastic.

EP: At what point in your travels did you read Theophilus North?

JW: I read it before I really set off. I started when I was visiting Cincinnati, where I'm originally from, and finished it a week later when I was in Florida.

EP: How do you think this trip influenced your portrayal of Theophilus?

JW: In some ways Theophilus and I are very similar. The want for adventure and the desire to find out what you feel like life is calling you to do. My actual traveling was different from what Theophilus experiences. I met a lot of different people, but the time period is very specific in the play, and influences the types of people who Theophilus meets. And Thornton Wilder, even though he had a lot of influence in his life, is very much of the Northeast. He went to Yale and is grounded in the culture of the Northeast and that's especially well represented in this play. We are all similar because we are human beings, but we are also quite different based on where we spend our time geographically. Farmers are quiet and why shouldn't they be? They don't need to talk; they need to make sure things get done. Some guy who is hiking in the Grand Canyon doesn't care about fashion. And he never will and shouldn't. One of my loves is the Midwest. I hope to get my PhD someday and write about the Midwest and the need for a Midwest voice. In the United States we have an Eastern culture that's well represented and we are now seeing a Western culture that's well represented. But the Midwest doesn't have a representative voice.

EP: Where are you hoping to travel to next?

JW: I'd like to see the Redwoods in California and Montana in the summer someday. I want to see the General Sherman Tree (located in Sequoia National Park in California.) That tree is 2,200 years old. General Sherman – I want to see that tree.