Jesai Jayhmes recently performed with Jeannine Grizzard, Diane Nichols and Peter Alzado in Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s dramatic reading of Jane Anderson’s “The Quality of Life.” Jayhmes came to Ashland in August to attend Jean Houston’s Social Artistry training and decided to stay. We chatted over curry at the Namaste Café across from Lithia Park. This is the first in a two-part interview.
JJ:. My experience of Ashland is continually surprising in that the quality of artistic literacy of the population is very high.
EH: How have you made your way in the field of theater?
JJ: One of my passions is training groups. For years, I trained people in acting, improvisation and classical theatre. That translated into something more professionally lucrative which is training people, outside of theater, in their effective communication skills. Those are the ones who will actually value it and pay for it. I’ve worked with a lot of people from all different professions that need to get up and talk about anything. That’s really fun, but I like making shows much better.EH: Did you perform “Macbeth” all by yourself?
JJ: I play Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, the Three Witches, the Porter, Banquo, and the ghost. The whole show runs about an hour. When I tour, my favorite thing is to do a workshop for a group of people and incorporate some of them into the show. The audience sits on the stage, so everything moves in and around them. Sometimes they are brought into the action. It’s quite experiential and interactive.
EH: How do you develop your shows?
JJ: I recognize everything takes time. My experience of creating a new show seems to take nine months, like a good gestation period for a birth. I’ve also had the privilege of working in companies that have stayed together between three and 10 years. It’s great to see what kind of shared skills are developed within a group of people. I love the work that can be done after a year of people working together. So often that doesn’t happen. It’s often four weeks rehearsal, maybe. And maybe you’ve met some of the people before and maybe not. You get what you get at the end of the time, and hope that everybody had a good time. I love it when the theater event can be in service of something other than just doing a really cool show.
The current culture has done what it can to destroy community and make us think that we’re supposed to be able to do it by ourselves. That is insanity.
I think that theater should be the center of any educational establishment. Learning can be an offshoot of that, the embodiment of it. When you’re co-creating something, it’s not competitive. That’s one thing I love about theater, I call it my spiritual path. It is becoming a ministry for me, a sacred theater troupe, and transformational theater. It’s the borderline: of theater, entertainment, education and worship. It’s all in one: To create a mystical experience and awareness in the audience, rather than, “Oh wasn’t that excellent? That actor was so good. Let’s have a drink. What did we see?”
I’ve been able to live in a lot of different countries and work in strange places where there’s a group of crazy theater people doing something in-depth. It’s amazing how bonding theater experiences can be. People outside theater are hardly ever aware of the power of that. The community building and the collaboration skills, and all the things that we learn putting on shows are, pretty much, translatable to any organization anywhere.
To find out more about Jesai Jayhmes, visit his website at: jesai.org