RSC's Jerry Kernion Muses On His Abridged History of Working TV, Cirque du Soleil & the RSC

Director Jerry Kernion returns to The Falcon Theatre with the latest installment of The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s laughfests, THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF COMEDY (ABRIDGED) opening March 22, 2017.  Last year, Jerry, a long-time member of RSC, helmed THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF AMERICA (ABRIDGED) to deserved critical acclaim.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview with Better Lemons and myself.

You have been a member since 2001 of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, well-known for their “…(ABRIDGED)” concept. How did you first connect with RSC?

I first connected with the RSC after being called in for an audition by their casting director, Sandi Logan, who is also the casting director for The Falcon Theatre and for this show.

You started out as a performing member, right? 

I did.  I was still touring with them as recently as 2015.  In 2006, they hired me to produce and direct the DVD version of THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF AMERICA (ABRIDGED).  We shot three live shows up in a beautiful theater in Sonoma, CA and then edited them as one.  That DVD is available now at stores/websites with bad taste everywhere.  Actually, we did it on a shoestring budget and it came out really great.

Were you involved in any incarnations of COMEDY (ABRIDGED)?

Yes.  I toured with this show for a short time and performed it at Merrimack Repertory Theatre outside of Boston for a six-week run in 2015.

How about any participation in past editions of any …(ABRIDGED)?

Out of the RSC’s 10 shows, I believe that I’ve performed in five of them throughout the years.  As a company, we have performed all over the world and I’m fortunate to have been able to perform in countries that I may have never even visited had I not been involved. 

When did you say, “But I really want to do is direct!”? 

Well, I’ve been directing ever since high school. So I’m not sure that I ever had that particular revelation.  I feel that, in our business, the more tools you have in your tool chest, the more chances you have of working.  And working is what makes me happy.  So I decided long ago to try to keep juggling all aspects of what I do so as to never be bored.  I’ve been lucky enough to switch between job titles and mediums to mostly achieve that.

I was fortunate enough to see your production of THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF AMERICA (ABRIDGED) last year. A belated congratulations on winning the LA Stage Ovation for “Best Acting Ensemble of a Play.”

Thanks.

I love how a solid, bull-eyed ad-lib fits right into scripted lines. Is a list of possible ad-libs made up pre-show? Or is each performer on their own to improvise? Or are the ad-libs already scripted? The scripts of COMEDY (ABRIDGED)AMERICA (ABRIDGED) allow room for improv, right?

Somewhat, but it’s less than you think.  In every RSC show, there are places where we change things from city to city.  We would get to a city and, while we were fitting the show to the stage for that performance, we would question all the local stage personnel about different local references that we could add that night.  On any given night, those could be the only things that you would hear differently.  The goal is to make it all appear as it’s being made up on the spot.  When you can get the audience believing that, you’ve successfully served the style.  That being said, when the cast is at its best, those brilliant mistakes that happen on stage or in the audience are not to be ignored.

You are a consistently working TV actor. Do you prefer being in front of the camera or being behind-the-stage in a theatre?

My response to that is always “Whatever I’m going to do next!” I’m very fortunate to have opportunities to act, direct, write and produce. I love doing everyone of those things equally, so I’m always thrilled most about what the next thing will be.

Do you incorporate some of your Cirque du Soleil training and experience into your direction of COMEDY (ABRIDGED)?

Always.  Working with Cirque is very different from theatre.  First and foremost, it’s circus and there are circus rules that most of the artists have been following for years.  So you really need to adjust to that when you go about crafting your performance because lives are at stake.  One could fight against that rigidity or embrace it and see what it brings.  I choose the latter and I’ve found that it’s sharpened my sense of specificity and theatricality, both as an actor and a director.  COMEDY is really about the clowns that we all grew up with, the people that made/make us laugh.  So I hope to bring all of my experience as a clown with Cirque to bear in order to honor those clowns.  

After working in large-scale productions (like Cirque du Soleil’s THE BEATLES LOVE), do you find it challenging scaling down to a mid-size house like The Falcon?

Not at all.  “The play’s the thing.”  Large, mid-size, small or tiny theatre, it’s always about serving the playwright’s vision and telling the story. 

You have done a number of shows in the Los Angeles Theatre community. What’s your take on the recent Equity ruling on small theatres?

I see both sides.  I’ll leave it at that.

What makes a production successful in your eyes?

For me as an audience member, a successful production is when I walk out of the theatre knowing that I want to find out more information about the subject matter of the show.  Whether that be from talking to others about it, reading source material or surfing the internet.  Those are the shows that stick with me.  As a director, I want to somehow achieve all of those things…and be sold out.

What responses do you hope for with The Falcon audience for THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF COMEDY (ABRIDGED)?

(Besides what I just said) I hope that the audience has a small attack of nostalgia, a large dose of laughter, and an unquenchable thirst to seek out and reintroduce themselves to all of the clowns and comedians that inspired this show.

Thank you again, Jerry. If COMEDY (ABRIDGED) is anything like your AMERICA (ABRIDGED), I know I’ll be laughing my eyes out! Break a leg!

For more information and ticket availability through April 23, 2017; please visit falcontheatre.com

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