Three men sit on stage in silence. The actors are dressed in modern clothes, and the setting of the play is in the backyard of a coffee shop. Between the simple dialogues, there are pauses of epic proportions. The most action taking place is between spoken lines. In this play, the drama is exposed, not through movement or monologue, but through silence — internal change is taking place.
“It’s challenging,” Brendon Fox, FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s second-year acting teacher says. “I’m used to working on plays where the characters are using language a lot, and the pauses are rare.”
Forty-one-year-old Fox is somewhat of an alien to plays such as “The Aliens.” It’s a modern play by young playwright Annie Baker, written in the perspective of three 20- to 30-something men, questioning the way of the world and searching for their places within the real America.
“I’ve spent a lot of my career working on classical plays because I love rich language,” he says of his preference. “But I’m finding out how much I love working on a play, which is in some ways, the opposite of what I’ve done.”
Fox has a high-energy persona as a teacher, but this play really asks for a slower cadence. To do this, Fox and the three students in the cast — Brian Nemiroff, Benjamin Williamson and Zlatomir Moldovanski — take collective deep breaths at the start of each rehearsal.
“I imagine it’s what it would be like to do microsurgery or to be a watchmaker — you can’t be over caffeinated to do that,” he laughs.
Fox is in his second year of teaching the second-year students, and last January he directed “Lobby Hero” on Cook Theatre’s stage. But the Chicago-born, Greenwich, Conn., reared teacher/director is no newcomer to education. He has taught and directed at various places around the country.
In Los Angeles, he was directing radio plays for NPR; in San Diego he was guest teaching at places such as The Juilliard School; and for about three years before he found FSU/Asolo Conservatory, he was freelance teaching and directing.
The first time he met Michael Donald Edwards, producing artistic director of the Asolo Repertory Theatre, was during his seven years as associate director at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Edwards directed a play there.
Later, Fox was visiting an uncle in Fort Myers and met with Edwards. It spontaneously turned into a job interview with the head of the Conservatory Greg Leaming and Fox was hired.
But that wasn’t Fox’s only tie to Asolo. During his education at Northwestern University, his mentor was none other than Tony Award-winning director Frank Galati, who most recently directed “1776” for Asolo Repertory Theatre. Fox even acted in one of Galati’s productions, an adaptation of short stories. But he “cut his losses after that” and stuck with directing.
“It’s a small world. You never know how the world is going to spin,” Fox says. “It’s great to have Frank and people like his partner, Peter, in my life — it’s a great bridge back to my past.”
Fox likes working for FSU/Asolo Conservatory. The students are different from what he has seen in other acting programs. They come from a range of experience, and they’re all unique.
“They are passionate about what they do,” he says. “They’re very sharp. They’re very curious.”
He compares working with his students to coaching athletes. Aside from getting them to treat themselves and others professionally and exposing them to classical work, he’s developed a deeper connection.
“This isn’t about writing papers or doing fieldwork somewhere out in the world,” he says. “It’s about digging deeper, finding their authentic selves and challenging them to be more honest with themselves as people and as artists.”
As far as FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s program, Fox finds it unique that students get to work on a small-cast play similar to what they’ll experience in the real world.
“I like working with students because of the energy,” he says. “They may not have as much professional experience overall, but they have so much energy and are ready to bungee jump in.”
IF YOU GO
This is the regional premiere of a new play about friendship, compassion and young men trying to find their spot in the world.
When: Opens 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, and runs through Sunday, Jan. 20.
Where: Cook Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost: Tickets $28 to $29
Info: Call 351-9010
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