Perhaps, four or five centuries ago, Joshua Taber might have resisted following in his father’s footsteps to become, say, a shoemaker or butcher.
Instead, his youthful rebellion came in the form of not wanting to pursue a career on the stage.
When your mom and dad run their own theater company, these are the kinds of things you think about. (Greg and Lisa Taber founded Theatre Ventoux, and both are key members of the creative team at Woodward Shakespeare Festival.) Did Joshua, who has appeared in his parents’ productions for years – often delivering promising performances – ever want to get away from the “family business”?
“Oh yeah,” says the Central High School-East Campus senior. “I never really wanted to do theater for a living until very recently.”
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He appears in this weekend’s Theatre Ventoux production of Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman,” a challenging play for any group of actors. He plays Michal, the troubled and “slow” brother of a man named Katurian (played by Broderic Beard, who also directs), who is arrested by police in a totalitarian society.
Q: Tell us, as briefly as you can, what “The Pillowman” is about.
A: On the surface, “The Pillowman” is about an author who writes particularly gruesome stories that usually involve bad things happening to kids. He is brought in by the police because of a number of child murders that are being committed in the style of his stories. It becomes a race for detectives to find one final girl who may be alive, and a struggle for the writer to prove his innocence and hopefully not be executed. But on a deeper level, the play is about art. It’s about how art can impact the world and how it can impact people. It’s about how much someone would be willing to sacrifice for their art. It’s a wonderfully complex and weird play.
Q: Your character is described by critics in several ways, but the most common is “slow.” What is your take on Michal? Do you attribute his difficulties solely to his traumatic upbringing, or is there something physical at work at well, such as an intellectual disability?
A: I believe that there was something “wrong” with Michal before the trauma, but it wasn’t that serious. After the trauma, though, it took hold and basically pulled him out of the real world. The trauma aggravated his disability.
Q: Have you ever played a character similar to this? What approach have you taken? What’s the biggest challenge?
A: This is a first for this kind of character. He rambles a lot and is constantly focusing on different things in the world, and that’s been the biggest challenge, really, the lack of focus. We wanted him to be just constantly out of it, in his own world, so that meant shifting my focus away from Broderic on stage and drifting off. As for approach, I just experimented. I had a pretty solid character when I walked into the first rehearsal and direction only made it better, so I’ve just let the character take over when the time comes, and it’s wonderful to just get lost like that. But it’s weird coming out of it. Suddenly you’re you again.
Q: When you read the plot of “Pillowman,” it’s pretty bleak. Do you see it as a bleak play?
A: It is a very bleak play, but it also has some seriously funny moments. It creates this constant shift in tone where the police are threatening to torture a man one moment and talking about “Execution Hedgehogs” the next. It plays into the absurdity of it, but it also makes some of the darker moments that much more effective because it plays with your emotions and you’re not sure if you should laugh or cry.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: I’m currently a senior at Central High School-East campus, where we just finished up a production of “Blithe Spirit” in October. I got to play Charles Condomine, my first major role there. Outside of theater, I have a really unhealthy obsession with ice hockey, the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens in particular. I play bass as a hobby. I also have a musical obsession with the work of Maynard James Keenan of Tool, Puscifer, and A Perfect Circle.
Q: When you were going through your “rebellious phase,” what other career prospects did you consider?
A: In the last four years, I’ve wanted to be in the Air Force, a lawyer, a history teacher, even a political economist. I realized that I’m having way too much fun doing this to stop, and I want to make a living doing it; not to get famous, but to just do what I love. I finally had to face it and thought it sounded like a good deal.
Q: What are your plans in terms of acting?
A: I’m looking forward to Stageworks Fresno’s upcoming season, which I plan on auditioning for to work with more people and do more musical theater, which I got turned onto last year in high school. After that, it’s Fresno City to take all the theater classes I can. Then, hopefully, over to Pacific Conservatory Theatre, and, if it all works out, across the pond to London to learn more and to experience that part of the theatrical world.
Q: What have you learned from your parents in terms of theater?
A: A lot. My mom has pushed me as an actor when she has directed me. She also taught me to be nice and not so cynical all the time. I’ve learned from my dad the need to go big or go home. Push my boundaries. Do the things I’m uncomfortable doing because they’ll make me a better actor. From them both, I’ve learned the most important thing and that is how to work. It’s OK to mess around when the time allows it, but when the time comes to work, it’s time to work and work hard. Do the best work I can, and that is something I will forever be grateful for from them.
Q: What do you hope audiences take away from “The Pillowman”?
A: An understanding of the reaches of art. How it can change people, how it can change the world. How truly important art is in this world. I also hope they leave this production unsure of whether they should be laughing or crying or a bit of both.
- 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20
- Fresno Soap Co., 1470 N. Van Ness Ave.
- All seats “pay-your-own-price,” with suggested donation $10