Producer/actor/career coach Jake O’Flaherty has lived and breathed the Whitefire Theatre Company since he and Bryan Rasmussen (Whitefire Theatre’s artistic director since 2005) started it in 2013. With diversity one of the hot button topics at issue to discuss, Jake gives us Whitefire’s take on running a theatre company with inclusiveness, while also carefully balancing his acting career, his coaching responsibilities, his producing duties and his home life.
Thank you taking the time for this interview, Jake!
Thank you for giving me the opportunity for this interview.
Is your upcoming COMPANY SHORTS Whitefire Theatre’s most diversified evening of performers and subjects?
Yes, the upcoming show called COMPANY SHORTS has a diverse group of theatre company members, and plays that embrace themes of diversity.
Whitefire Theatre’s been around for 35 years and you and Bryan took charge of it about five years ago. Was there always a conscious effort to be inviting to all people of all colors and orientations? Or was there a specific lightbulb moment for this policy?
When I started the theatre company with Whitefire Theatre artistic director Bryan Rasmussen five years ago, we very much from the start wanted to embrace absolute diversity in every category so that each 10 minute play would reflect the real world. All races, age ranges, sexual orientation, cultures, and religions. All of this was planned between myself and Bryan Rasmussen from the very first meeting.
How does an evening of Whitefire Theatre’s various SHORTS come about? Writing workshops? Acting improvs? Drinks at the neighborhood bar?
Whitefire Theatre’s evening of 10-minute original short comedy plays comes about through the process of meeting every Tuesday night from 7 to 10PM, and reading every original play submitted to the theatre company. Some of them are through friends, as well as playwright websites, as well as social media submissions that come from my announcements on Facebook and Instagram. Half-price sushi at Izakaya after doesn’t hurt either 🙂
In the early days of Whitefire Theatre, did you ever cast Caucasian actors in non-Caucasion roles? (MISS SAIGON, comes to mind. Unfortunately, so does Mickey Rooney in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.)
In regards to the Whitefire Theatre, I can only speak to the casting of the plays in the five years I have been there producing the shows. We make every effort to expand on the opportunities of every character that is written in the play to involve diversity of some kind. Honestly, I was getting tired of going to other theatre productions & watching 25-year-old Caucasian people playing every role. It was not authentic and didn’t make sense to me.
We feel like the diversity actually enhances the dialogue and brings new light and meaning to the situations at hand in most of the plays.
What’s your opinion of #Oscarssowhite? Would you agree that Oscars aren’t necessarily the source of the issue, but the end game?
#OscarsSoWhiteHasBeenAnIssueForALongTime. And yes, the Oscars are not the issue, but a reflection of the endgame. In my opinion, things are changing for the better now, and hopefully, will continue to do so each year moving forward. People from diverse backgrounds have very diverse stories to tell from a very specific point of view that can appeal to a mass audience. The people in charge of making the decisions have to embrace the opportunities that are available for all of us, regardless of what language we speak, or what country we come from, the color of our skin. I think they’re finally starting to see in movies and TV shows today, that their bottom-line financial gains are part of that process as well.
You were born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. How long were you there before moving to Tampa, Florida?
Yes, I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and lived there for a few years before moving to Tampa, Florida to start grade school at Incarnation Catholic school.
Did your FBI father teach you to get along with all kinds of people? Or did it just come naturally for you?
Yes, my FBI father and my mother raised all four of us children to treat everyone the same, as human beings. That everyone deserved respect, consideration and appreciation for who they were. I use these values and raised my daughter with them as well , and am grateful every day that I had the parents God gave me.
You seem like a person who makes lemonade out of any lemons rolling your way. Would you share your worst audition experience that was completely morphed into a totally unforgettable positive life lesson?
I like the lemonade analogy. In this entertainment business, you have to see the glass half-full or you will drive yourself crazy. There are opportunities all the time, every day if you look for them.
OK, my worst audition experience that was completely morphed into an unforgettable positive life lesson, occurred many years ago when I was reading for the network executives for what would eventually become a huge hit television series. They kept asking me to behave like one of the other actors(out in the lobby with me), and to talk like him and to make facial reactions like him etc. I knew it was him, because I saw him doing them out in the lobby for 30 minutes before he went in, before me, to audition. This other actor was the son of a well-known 30-year veteran actor. In my opinion, you bring a certain amount of yourself, that is different from everyone, to each part that you play. So they were asking me not to be myself and telling me that they really didn’t appreciate my choices. But, perhaps I was a less expensive option? It kind of crushed my soul for a few weeks, but then I realized that there’s nothing I can do except be myself. And those were the roles that I would book anyway. When you embrace who you are. The good, the bad, the in-between. It makes life a lot easier from there.
You have degrees in both psychology and business admin. To complement that book knowledge you’re absorbed, you must share a lot of your own learning experiences with the commercial acting and career consultant classes you teach at Whitefire Theatre. Would you tell us what personal experience always seems to find itself being told to your classes?
Yes, my bachelors degree in psychology and business administration have helped a great deal in my acting career, as well as my career consultation side business. Hollywood is a business of show. You have to make sure you run your business in an organized and professional manner every day. Always be kind and considerate. Be on time, have your lines memorized, understand before the audition the who, what, where, when, and why of your character in the script pages provided and commit to those choices before you enter the audition room. Then be flexible and able to listen to redirection if needed. In the beginning of my career, I wasn’t booking jobs, but I was always being called back by the same casting director for a different episode of the same show, or a different show that they were casting. And I was told it was because I was pleasant and professional and didn’t over extend my welcome in the room. I share that with every class I teach.
What do you find the most common practical mistake actors make in managing their careers?
One of the most common mistakes that actors make in their careers is relying on their agent/managers to do all the work for them. As an actor, it is your responsibility to be proactive every day and do something positive for your own career. Including self-submissions through online casting sites, taking classes, learning a new language or a skill to add to your resume, do a play or write your own material. Through all these experiences, you will meet new people to network with, see different points of view about acting, and observe all kinds of great character work.
How Whitefire Theatre’s live streaming program coming along?
Whitefire Theatre’s live streaming is up and running. We just finished six weeks of a live improv show directed by Bill Chott called Live on Fire, which aired live on Facebook as well.
We will live stream our theater company show COMPANY SHORTS which opens Tuesday, April 17 at 8 PM and runs for six consecutive Tuesday nights.
Which do you enjoy absolutely the most: Wearing your coaching cap? Donning your producer’s chapeau? Tipping your fedora at an acting partner under the stagelights?
That’s a really tough question. I am really proud of my Whitefire Theatre Company and all the up-and-coming actors and playwrights that have found representation, going out on auditions and booking jobs from our shows. I’ve been coaching clients and teaching since 1998, and I do really enjoy being able to give back a little of what I have learned, but I also find myself learning from my students/clients more than I expected every time. Truthfully, being on stage/set as an actor and creating different characters is a feeling like no other for me, almost euphoria.
Thank you again, Jake! I look forward to seeing your fresh new COMPANY SHORTS.
Thank you Gil. It takes a village to raise awareness, appreciate artistry and entertain the masses, and your support and encouragement are always welcome.
For COMPANY SHORTS Tuesday night ticket availability and other White Theatre shows, log onto WhitefireTheatre.com