Professional actor returns time and again to Bread Loaf
Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories on summer theater in Ripton.
RIPTON — Actor Jonathan Fried’s connection with summer theater at Bread Loaf began with “Macbeth.”
The Bread Loaf Acting Ensemble has maintained a handful of members dating back more than 25 years, and Fried was among the first. He came to Bread Loaf in 1987 as a recent graduate from the University of California at San Diego’s Graduate Drama program, and has since returned in the summers, on and off, to perform in Bread Loaf’s professional productions. He estimates he has performed in at least 17 plays during the 27-year span of his professional relationship with the Bread Loaf Acting Ensemble.
Fried was first introduced to the Bread Loaf Acting Ensemble through his mentor and collaborator Anne Bogart, who had heard that the long-time director of Bread Loaf productions, Alan MacVey, was seeking a young Macbeth to star in that summer’s production of the Shakespeare tragedy. MacVey, who directed plays at Bread Loaf for over 30 years and now teaches a drama course at the Ripton campus of Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English, invited Fried to audition in a friend’s living room.
“I was very suspicious,” Fried recalled during a break from a recent rehearsal of this summer’s Bread Loaf production. “I thought, where’s the rehearsal studio? Where’s the casting director? What’s this Bread Loaf? What a strange title.”
Fried landed the lead role, and thus began “the longest professional relationship of my life. I began with Macbeth, and not only did I fall in love with BL …. I found Bread Loaf, I found this community, and I also found a professional partnership that has lasted (for 27 years).”
Fried began his career at Bread Loaf with a bang, and has continued to play a variety of leading roles, from Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing” to Deflores in “The Changeling.” Most of Fried’s roles have been substantial, often in Shakespearian verse, and very emotionally and physically demanding.
“Historically I’ve played enormous roles, and they tend to be incredible — huge personalities — and because of the luxury of six weeks at Bread Loaf, we have enough time and we have the resources to investigate,” Fried said.
So it was a breath of fresh air when Fried landed the role of Pandarus in this summer’s production of “Troilus and Cressida,” a comedic part that offers a change of pace from his usually somber and intense characters. For one, the part is in prose, rather than verse, and requires less time on stage despite Pandarus’ integral role in the play’s action. Mainly, Fried says, playing Pandarus allows him a newer form of artistic freedom.
“He’s certainly a character part, and he’s the opposite of the roles I’ve been playing over the (previous) 26 years,” Fried said. “I’m finding it absolutely wonderful for many reasons. There’s a freedom from carrying the play. Pandarus is important, but in terms of actual stage time it’s very modest. I get to be very freewheeling in terms of my interpretation. I can serve the play and be in wildly different ways and still be serving the intent and the structure.”
The Bread Loaf Acting Ensemble is comprised of graduate drama students as well as professional actors, and the title roles of “Troilus and Cressida” are both played by graduate drama students studying under Brian MacEleney at the Brown University’s Trinity Repertory Theater. Starring alongside drama students has also been a new and invigorating experience, Fried said.
“This is the second time I’ve been directed by (MacEleney), and he’s a sensational director,” Fried said. “It’s also wonderful to be privy to his teaching. As we’re rehearsing I’m also listening to him take every opportunity to continue their studies. He has them all year, and I benefit enormously from hearing his teaching. It makes me, in a way, a little sad — I wish I had had a teacher like him. I’m jealous of these kids; they have an extraordinary teacher.”
With just over a week before the production’s opening night on July 31, Fried is gearing up for a busy year ahead. He will be the artist in residence at Emerson College starting in the fall — a “new endeavor for me,” he said. He will also be promoting his new book, “Dressing Room Stories,” a collection of stories and interviews concerning Alvin Epstein, a member of the original American cast of “Waiting for Godot” and with whom Fried shared a dressing room while they were both members of the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University.
“Alvin told me stories, and this is a way of preserving those stories, and also examining his historical role in the 20th century American Theater,” Fried said.
Before Fried’s year begins, however, Bread Loaf’s Little Theater will open its doors to audiences for a five-night run of Troilus and Cressida. The play promises to be an energetic and nuanced production of Shakespeare’s lesser-known play, and for Fried it will be a chance to explore his role with the audience’s energy nearby.
Playing the role of Pandarus is “like going from a very rigorous traditional style of painting to suddenly being Jackson Pollack,” he said. “There’s a freedom and a wildness that is just thrilling.”
Ticket for “Troilus and Cressida” which will run July 30-Aug. 3, are free and available to members of the Bread Loaf community and surrounding communities. For reservations call the Bread Loaf box office at 443-2771. Tickets are limited due to the small venue.
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