This August, Emmy award winner and Tony-nominated Jeff Daniels’ Escanaba In Da Moonlight was presented at Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles. Daniels paired up with Eric Olsson, CEO of Ole Productions and co-star of Escanaba In Da Moonlight, to host the production, which honored the Developmental Disabilities Service Organization Employment Plus. Escanaba In Da Moonlight is a comedy that is based upon a family of deer hunters who meet every year at their cabin for opening day of deer season. I was able to attend this showing of Escanaba In Da Moonlight with The LA Fashion magazine, and can honestly say that this play is truly hilarious. The actors and actress in Escanaba In Da Moonlight were able to effortlessly present their passion for the play and for acting in general throughout the entirety of the production. This is what stood out to me the most. Each of the characters within Escanaba In Da Moonlight was able to tell The LA Fashion Magazine more about their thoughts and experiences with the production. In each of their short interviews, they all expressed their deep gratitude and dedication to Escanaba In Da Moonlight.
Mike Jimena is a talented and highly experienced actor who plays the role of Albert Soady in Escanaba In Da Moonlight. Along with his role as an onstage actor, Mike also played a role in designing and building the set for the performance of Escanaba In Da Moonlight at the Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles. Being involved with behind-the-scenes work as well as physically performing onstage is a skill that most of the actors in Escanaba In Da Moonlight have in common. Mike Jimena’s experience with theater traces back to 30 years ago, and his career as an actor, director and set designer continues to excel today.
“Side by side with my wife, Connie Mockenhaupt (director of Escanaba In Da Moonlight), I am currently the Managing Director for the Sutter Street Theatre.”
Mike Jimena and his wife, Connie, have accomplished the production of 22 shows every year for the past 10 years at the Sutter Street Theatre. Along with being the creative mind behind all of those 22 shows, Mike Jimena is currently working on a few upcoming projects, one of which includes Evil Dead the Musical, which will open in October along with Willy Wonka. Anything Goes, a production of which Mike Jimena was the director and set designer, opened just a week ago. When asked whether he preferred working behind the scenes or acting onstage, he expressed his passion for both sides of the theater.
“It’s hard to beat the rush of a live performance, but problem solving of design can be very rewarding.”
Mike Jimena stated that the reason why he enjoys being a part of the production of Escanaba In Da Moonlight so much is because of the way in which the actors are able to “break the 4th wall” and really connect with the audience. This makes the play so unique from others. Nevertheless, Mike Jimena acknowledged that there were, of course, obstacles that he faced during the production of Escanaba In Da Moonlight. For Mike, the biggest obstacle that he had to face was time because, while simultaneously directing Anything Goes, he was responsible for designing and building a fictional set for Escanaba In Da Moonlight that could be transported and assembled within 30 minutes. However, he was able to overcome the challenges and produce a very successful play.
Jerold McFatter has been involved with various productions for about 7 years. Even though he has been acting for so long, Jerold stated that Escanaba In Da Moonlight is a play that is definitely unique to some of his other productions in the sense that it required him to do things that he had never done before in the plays that he has been in. Jerold McFatter plays the role of Jimmer in Escanaba In Da Moonlight. Jimmer is a character who is hilariously reckless and oftentimes clumsy. Throughout the play, the other characters were spilling drinks all over Jimmer as much as Jimmer was spilling all over himself.
“This was the absolute wettest production that I have been in. Many times on stage, you have to just act as if there are liquids. In this production, we had actual liquids, lots of liquids.”
Although Jerold’s role as Jimmer was different for him as far as the boundaries that the role pushed through, he found himself able to relate to his character quite easily since he grew up in an environment that was similar to the setting of Escanaba In Da Moonlight.
“I lived in Arkansas, the Ozarks to be precise, from the time I was 10 until I was 17. This is where the first day of deer season was like a holiday; school was canceled for the day. I can definitely relate to the play because of this.”
Though some may see being able to relate to Jerold’s character, Jimmer, an obstacle because of the shocking actions that he is required to perform onstage, Jerold was able to embrace the idea of trying something new and have fun with it. In fact, his favorite part of the play is when he has to shotgun a beer!
“This always caught the audience off guard and gave them an insight into the bond of our group.”
On the topic of obstacles, Jerold’s biggest challenge was making sure not to break character. When playing the role of such an amusing character, it is often hard not to laugh along with the audience. Jerold McFatter claimed that the only time he was really allowed to laugh was if it was a true representation of his character. However, Jerold had no problem staying in character. He let the audience laugh for him.
Eric Olsson, CEO of Ole Productions, has always known that he wanted to become an actor.
“My whole life, I’ve been fascinated and driven by live performance. From athletics to art, it’s all the same. I stepped into filmmaking because I was intrigued about the process of making movies. Not just being in them.”
Eric graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a BA in Film and Media. Ever since, he has been driven by the idea of having control over his own destiny as an actor and has used this as his daily motivation. It definitely took some self-motivation for Eric to be able to relate to his role as Reuben Soady, since his background does not match that of the character that he had to play. However, the audience could never tell that this was true because of the way Eric flowed through all of his lines and was able to really put all of his efforts into the role of Reuben.
“It was a lot of work preparing for the role. I’m not a hunter, nor do I have brotherly sibling rivalry because I have a sister, but I could definitely relate to the character’s motivation in the story. For Reuben, it’s all or nothing. Everything is on the line for him and I want to succeed as an actor as badly as Reuben wants to “bag da buck!”
Although preparing for the role was hard at first for Eric, he turned any struggles that he may have had into determination to perfect the role. In fact, by the end of the production, he actually found all of that hard work rewarding.
“I love rehearsing, preparing, and knowing what needs to take place in order to put on a great show. And I think we did! The LA venue was our biggest and best house yet. I couldn’t believe how long we had to hold for the laughs between lines.”
Esacanaba In Da Moonlight is definitely not the end of Eric Olson’s career. His motivation to make a difference through his acting and to be the best actor that he can possibly be is what keeps him going through any obstacles that he may face along the way. For example, one of the biggest challenges for Eric during the production of Escanaba In Da Moonlight was having to balance the acting with the producing. However, he found a way to overcome that challenge and ended up embracing that level of accountability. Eric stated that he is still very involved with Escanaba In Da Moonlight. He was able to give The LA Fashion Magazine some information on the next steps for the play.
“Having taken the show from Sacramento to LA, it gave us a lot of momentum taking it to Sundance, Utah 2017. We want to create an annual event at the festival where people can enjoy this play year after year. After Sundance, our goal will be to take it to New York and onto Broadway! Who knows what’s possible with a play like this!”
Matthew Udall has been involved in all aspects of the arts for a very long time. His main focus is acting, and he has had the opportunity to experience acting in front of a camera along with acting onstage. However, he doesn’t necessarily prefer one type of acting over another, he is very passionate about both and finds the results to be very rewarding.
“I love acting for the camera, but I also love being in a live show! Granted, it is very satisfying to get that perfect take when shooting a scene or a commercial, but I love it when I can hear an audience react to a scene performed live.”
In his 20s and 30s, Matthew Udall performed as a professional musician (singer and bass player) in a modern rock band that he started with a friend. During his time as a musician, Matthew Udall recorded two albums. However, he always preferred the feeling of actually being able to perform his music live and being able to see the audience’s reactions. He got used to playing four sets a night, four nights a week. His experience performing his music to a live audience allowed him to excel tremendously as an actor performing in front of live audiences.
“I kept our band booked constantly during our seven year run, giving us an occasional week off. So I sort of grew up on a live stage and feel very comfortable in that environment.”
As a musician, Matthew always felt a rewarding feeling when he saw his audiences flood the dance floor because they were all so impacted by his music. He felt that same sense of accomplishment while performing live in Esacanaba In Da Moonlight as his character, Remnar Soady.
“I think this is similar to my feelings about live theater. There is nothing like the feeling I get when I hear the room burst into laughter. And whether it is acting or music, every time I wake up the morning of a live performance, it feels like being a kid waking up on Christmas morning. I just love it. There is nothing I’d rather do.”
Although Matthew is always very passionate about what he does, it did take some hard work for him to prepare to put himself into the role of Remnar Soady, similar to Eric Olsson’s experience with his character, Reuben Soady. The reason for this is because Matthew Udall’s personality is the complete opposite of his character’s personality.
“The character I play, Remnar, is a swaggering cocksure hunter who is a dominant force in his family. I think I’m a little more humble in my own personality, so it was interesting to play around with Remnar’s huge ego and persona.”
Although Matthew felt that he is very different from the character that he had to play in Escanaba In Da Moonlight, he overcame the challenge by picking up on the characteristics of Remnar that he could relate to in real life, especially Remnar’s love for his family. Doing this allowed for Matthew to be able to have fun with his role and admire the ways in which the character of Remnar interacted with the other characters in the play. Having fun with each role is something that each actor in Escanaba In Da Moonlight has in common. Matthew Udall especially enjoyed working with all of the cast of the production and cherishes the bonds that were built throughout the play.
“We formed a strong bond, just like an actual family and I believe that bond was reflected on stage during the performance.”
Steve Read played the role of Ranger Tom in Escanaba In Da Moonlight. He has been involved in theater for almost 30 years, and is so passionate about acting that he even stated that, if he ever had the opportunity, he would love to be able to work with young people and teach them the joy of acting. Steve Read enjoys sharing his passion for acting with others. Earning the role of Ranger Tom in Escanaba In Da Moonlight was, of course, extremely rewarding for Steve, but it also has it’s challenges. For example, similar to Jerold McFatter’s role as Jimmer, Steve Read’s role as Ranger Tom pushes beyond boundaries and forces him to act in ways that he usually would not. However, Steve used his passion for theater as a way to push himself beyond his limits and nail his role as Ranger Tom. Just when Steve sees himself beginning to perfect his role as Ranger Tom, he gives himself a little more to do with his character, which helps him to be more comfortable outside of his comfort zone and allows him to get to know his character even more.
“This is my third production as Ranger Tom at Sutter Street. I’m going to do it until I get it right. Each time, I’ve given him a little more to do – this time he was more physical than the others. He has some quirks and behavior patterns that are challenging for my introvert self to charge headlong into. But, it’s unique and fun to be 60 and stripping while talking about seeing God and that there is no purpose to existence. You rarely get the chance to do these things…at least I rarely get the chance to do them.”
Steve Read enjoys being a part of the production of Escanaba In Da Moonlight so much because of the feeling he gets when he receives such a positive reaction from his audiences. He admires how the play is produced in such a way so that it is completely unique from other productions. Most of the scenes within Escanaba In Da Moonlight are completely unexpected.
“Audiences come into this play unaware of what Jeff Daniels and the characters will offer them in the way of life experience.”
Along with enjoying the reactions that the audience has, Steve expressed how he feels about being able to share his work with his family and get a reaction from them as well. Steve’s family is just as passionate about his work as he is.
“Coming to Escanaba was my sons’/daughter-in-law’s first experience seeing their new dad in a very unique way. One of my sons in law went to his parents and said “you will never look at him the same way.” That was a favorite moment.”
Steve Read stated that his family is always very supportive of him despite the amount of time that he is required to be away from home in order to work hard on his productions.
“You volunteer a lot of time for rehearsal and performance. People have to work around you, giving up evening and weekend plans until the run is over. I’m very happy I have a family that accepted that as well as they did.”
Jessica Mishler made her debut on stage as she played the role of the female lead, Wolf Moon Dance, in Escanaba In Da Moonlight. Wolf Moon Dance is a supernatural, spiritual being who clearly possesses magical powers. She uses esoteric traditions to help the love of her life/husband. Although this was Jessica’s first time acting, she did not have a hard time relating to her character, Wolf Moon Dance. Of course, she didn’t connect with Wolf Moon Dance’s supernatural side. However, the character’s morals are what Jessica was able to relate to more than anything.
“While I don’t carry the mystical powers to spellbind people, I believe that we all can use superhuman, magical powers when it comes to helping those that we love! In this way, I relate to my character. I will move mountains for those I love. I felt very connected to Wolf Moon Dance in this way.”
Jessica Mishear was very determined to get to know her character. She even took part in creating Wolf Moon Dance’s wardrobe.
“I have quite the collection of Native American jewelry and was able to add all of that to the costume.”
A unique part of Jessica’s costume for her character was an authentic bear claw necklace that her father made by hand.
“We were on the hunt for a bear tooth or bear claw necklace. I called up my dad and he offered up his necklace.”
Jessica Mishler has been involved with both performing arts and visual arts for years. One would think that, because this was Jessica’s first time ever acting, she would be nervous. However, being so dedicated to her role in Escanaba In Da Moonlight made Jessica feel more comfortable when acting on stage. She stated that she definitely sees herself continuing down the path of acting.
“Acting is new for me and after being a part of the play I definitely have the acting itch! We shall see what the future holds as far as that goes. I will always have a love for visual arts, music and dancing. They are things that I’m extremely passionate about. They have always been a big part of my life and will continue to be.”
The thought of doing something that she had never before done is what made Jessica so excited about her role as Wolf Moon Dance. Pushing through her own boundaries as an actor is something that Jessica Mishler has in common with the rest of the cast as well as her passion for the production.
“Acting forced me into being vulnerable. I think that it’s important for everyone to get uncomfortable and to go outside of their comfort zone. Acting in the Theater world puts you on the spot and does just that.”
Luckily, getting accustomed to the acting world was not much of an obstacle for Jessica. However, she did find it difficult at first to balance both the production and her daily job as a hairstylist in Sacramento. However, she took that challenge as a lesson in balance and, in the end, it turned out to be a success.