Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest actor, director, teacher and author, Jack A. Langedijk. Jack received his BFA in Montreal at Concordia University and his MFA at York University in Toronto. Jack had also taught acting and directing at Concordia University and Ryerson University in Toronto.
Jack has acted across Canada including at La Poudrière in Molière's Precious Ridicules, at Toronto's Adelaide Court in Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle, at Montreal's Centaur Theatre in Glengarry Glen Ross and Little Shop of Horrors, at the Citadel in Pericles and in the APA productions of Kiss of the Spider Woman, Man of La Mancha and Sweeney Todd. More recently he appeared as Pop in the Queen's musical We Will Rock You. As both an actor and director, he has worked extensively in television, filmsand theatre. He also lended his voice to two animated television series.
Jack founded QUEST-I’m-ON, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to create and foster healthy relationships within schools, workplaces and homes.
Jack has recently published his first novel “because.”
Norm: Good day Jack and thanks for participating in our interview.
When did you become interested in acting and what was your training?
Ah, the question brings me to two moments in my life: One when I was
a young boy going to church every Sunday and watching the priest
perform mass. Yes, I said “perform” for I guess that is how I saw
it as a performance as he had to perform this mass over and over
again. How was he able to keep it alive and fresh day in and day out?
And those sermons he had the pressure of having to connect with his
(audience) congregation each time. I was fascinated by the task he
had at hand! The first thing I wanted to do was to feel what it was
like to be up there so I became an altar boy.
Being up there for each
mass created a huge sense of responsibility towards the mass and to
ensure the performance was honest and went as smoothly as it should.
But then standing there performing my duties mass after mass I saw
what looked to be a very uninterested audience and being young and
restless I tried to liven things up—you know, make it interesting
to myself and maybe some of my friends in the audience. At first I
tried staring at certain people to see if they were listening. I
would give them mean looks if they yawned. Then, I tried simple
things to get the crowd to interact more. I made little secret waves
to my pals and then actually tried bowing at the end of service
before I left the altar.
Well, as you can imagine since mass is a ritual repeated exactly the same each week, any little variances would be noticed. And soon it wasn't only my friends who waved back. And of course as I did the waves behind the priest's back thinking he didn't see what I was doing, but what he did see was all the waves to me (I didn't think of that!) Anyway I was soon exposed and I was unceremoniously fired—let go, told I had embarrassed God and my church. But the experience of being in front of a captive audience and connecting with them left a big lasting impression on me.
second moment was when I got to high school. At that time I had
absolutely no ambition to act or perform but I took drama and music
(as easy credits, no essays) and our school was going to put on a
musical for the first time. There was not one boy in the school came
to audition so all the boys in the drama class were forced to
participate. So I had to perform!
The show was called Anything Goes (A Cole Porter musical) and I was playing Moonface Martin, public enemy number 13, who was trying to escape the law by dressing as a priest on a ship. Well, there I was dressed in black with a white collar. I remembered the disgrace of what happened in church so I was determined to be straight as an arrow. Play the role with an honest to goodness serenity. I had very little guidance as our director was a history teacher with no experience in theatre and was only focused on everything being historically authentic. I was completely lost on the fact that the character was the comic relief. So the first night as people were laughing throughout my song,
I kept trying to be more serious and that only made them laugh all the more. After the applause I ran back stage and was in tears until our music teacher spoke to me. He had come to many rehearsals but never said a word as he just sat at the back watching and taking notes. He never saw me wiping my tears. Instead he came to give me a huge hug. Telling me how he was so impressed with how I handled playing a very funny character. Instead of just trying to make people laugh, I always played Moonface Martin with an honest integrity just like some of the best comic actors on TV. After those three performances I started to get interested in acting.
I began taking drama class seriously and then went to university and did a master in directing and acting.
Norm: How do you set about working on your roles and how much research do you undertake for a role?
Jack: I can't say I'm a method actor, but I do love to research everything I can. A character’s intentions are probably the most important of all aspects of playing a role so I try to read the script multiple times. Then look at the world of the story, the time period, the family background and then I try to write out what some would call a bio of the character.
Norm: What would make you turn down a role or what kind of characters would you avoid?
Jack: This is a very interesting question because I think the answer constantly changes. When I was young and just trying to get a job, I tended to take anything to not only pay the bills but to at least feel as if I was creating something. I have been fortunate to play some of the most incredible heroic characters ever written. Don Quixote (Man of La Mancha), Pericles, Mac the Knife (Three Penny Opera), John Proctor (The Crucible), Jesus (Godspell) to name a few. But I have also played so many villains and some fun and some quite despicable. Now as an actor you also have to audition which means you probably learn the lines and become hundreds of characters you will never perform on stage. Yet, you still have to be them. And what I found is after a while there were certain dark charters that I did not have the desire to play or audition for anymore as I found it depressing and just didn’t want that to be a part of my life.
Of course there have been many battles of morals and ethics along the way. And I'm sure I didn't always succeed in my choices.
Norm: What do you want to achieve with your performances?
Jack: There was a writer, Bertolt Brecht, who was known for writing and performing play that were always about intense political social issues. I have tried to live by what he was quoted as saying, “Regardless of what the issues I'm trying to convey—one thing I think we as writers, actors, directors have—is we must first try to entertain for if we fail at that we will fail to get our message across.”
Norm: What motivated you to write your first novel, because, and where did the title come from?
Jack: Well, let me tell you a little story because it’s funny how often that question is asked: “What inspired you to do this or that?” One thing for sure is that one can find inspiration in thousands and thousands of ways and I’ve been inspired so many times in my life to take action and yet, more often than not, I was never was able to achieve what originally inspired me. It’s really hard to make that inspiration to stick around long enough to see you through the completion of most things. I mean how long does any inspiration stay alive inside you?
It was only in the last couple of years I discovered that what makes inspiration stick. You see, a couple of years ago I was asked to do a motivational/inspirational talk to 500 leadership students. But I got stuck, really stuck. How do I motivate and inspire 500 completely unique human beings at the same time?
I had been inspired to write a book many times in my life and failed every time. Why? When I was asked to do that talk, I had already been writing because for six months. So what was different this time? Why was the inspiration sticking? What was the reason? It was purpose! I know it sounds simple, but I had a very clear purpose to write this book and that purpose kept the inspiration alive!
So to answer your question: What was my inspiration to write this book? Well, after facilitating hundreds of workshops and sharing experiences with thousands of human beings, I knew I had a story that I want to share—a story I truly believed was worthy to be heard and read.
And the title, what an adventure finding it was! It had become a fun Sunday morning adventure. My wife and I would sit with our morning drinks and come up with so many ideas….then we would pass them through the boss: our daughter! She is an avid reader and she was the one that kept telling us if it was a good title or not. Mainly not! Oh, it was quite the stimulating adventure…and fun and hard. It is so difficult finding that title because once you have a title, it really represents the book like nothing else will. But the day we came up with because, we knew it was perfect! Because my company is called QUEST-I’m-ON and, think about it, anytime you ask a question—usually a person-based question—well, we often answer it with a ‘because’. And mainly I love it because (see here it is again)…because if you split the word ‘because’ in two, it becomes ‘be’ and ‘cause’… and I love the idea that we answer our questions with our ‘CAUSE’ to ‘BE’!!! What is your cause to be?
Norm: Could you tell our readers a little about because and as a follow up, did you write the story to express something you believe or was it just for entertainment?
Jack: I wrote this book because it comes from the passion of my life and work outside of acting and directing: that is to help my fellow human beings feel happy, empower them and create healthier environments to live and work in. The story comes from all the experiences of my life—what I have learned and what I still have to learn. I hope it is read with a spirit of wanting to look at one's self. And yes, I tried to follow Brecht's advice and attempted to create a story that was engaging and entertaining as well as meaningful.
Norm: How has your acting career influenced your writing?
Jack: Yes, in every way. I live and breathe along in the creation of each character. My daughter and wife often laugh as they watch me write. Constantly contorting my face and making sounds as I write. I think my dialogue is very much influenced by my experiences of working in the world of Shakespeare-Moliere-Sheppard-Brecht-Miller, and the list goes on and on...
Norm: Are you a plot or character writer and what helps you focus when you write?
Jack: Honestly I don't think I can answer this question with the experience of only one novel to my name. I wrote the book knowing the journey I wanted the main character to follow. I knew how I wanted it to end. But my focus was always enhanced when I truly felt the character I was writing had a great story to tell.
Norm: What would you like to say to writers and actors who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Jack: I truly believe that each and everyone one of us have a story to tell. And the world we live in now with a variety of ways to tell your story: be it blog, Facebook, Youtube…— to name a few—gives anyone who desires to share a way to find an audience. The advice I would say to another fellow writers and actors is to look at what you like to read and if you feel any kind of burning desire to create, start by following the templates of what already exists. The crucial part is that you must be willing to do the work. Put in the time. Finish what you start and most importantly, enjoy the process!
Norm: What is QUEST-I’m-ON all about?
Jack: One innocent night, I was sitting with some friends when someone said, "Did you hear about those kids who doused a 10-year-old boy's shoes with lighter fluid, and lit them on fire?" And suddenly everyone was sharing similar stories, each one more horrifying than the last. The over-arching question was, of course, why? Why is this happening with such increased regularity? Is bullying a growing epidemic or are we just blind to the problem until tragedy occurs? What is being done to prevent future tragedies? After I'd arrived home, a bigger question haunted me: Why does this issue resonate and echo so loudly in me? Why do I feel so compelled to do something about it? Well, it was at that moment I faced something that I have rarely spoken about to anyone—that I was viciously and relentlessly bullied until I went to university. And yet now I'm a confident and successful professional in my field, as an actor and director. So, how did I cope? How did I make it through the rest of my life without feeling like damaged goods? Was I just lucky, or were there certain factors that helped?
These questions propelled me into a journey of finding programs and tools to help students deal with bullying. I put aside my career to go on a mission, and spent the next year visiting schools, talking to counsellors, students, teachers, and parents. I spoke to many organizations that addressed this issue and I watched and participated in many workshops and presentations in many schools. Although each had its own merits, nothing really hit home with me as being that effective. It was when I participated in a "Challenge Day" (the same group that was asked to work with the Columbine high schools after those fatal shootings) at a very rough and risk-filled school in Flint, Michigan, that I felt I found a template for a program I believed could help the problem here in Ontario, Canada. So that’s how "QUEST-I'm-ON" was formed as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to nurturing and creating a safer world. Since then, I have facilitated numerous workshops for students and staff in both Catholic and Public School Boards in Ontario, and also developed programs for families and corporations.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and because?
Jack: Readers can find out more about me and my work at because. From there, readers can find links to my other websites and social media pages.
Norm: What is next for Jack Langedijk?
Jack: I think throughout the history of the world and human beings, stories form a huge part of our existence…We need stories for an abundance of reasons. I really felt a reason to write because so I hope I find another reason that would drive me to write again.
Maybe purpose is a better word…but when I think of all the reasons that we create and tell stories, I find it often is a simple purpose. I think we have such a profound desire to explore our why’s. Why we do what we do? And I’m finding the older I get, the more I don’t know and the more I’m curious about. So yes, I do hope this curiosity leads me to really wanting, needing and finding a reason…purpose to write more. Happily I can say I have started writing and creating my second novel.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Jack: Many people have asked me “what’s more exciting, being an actor or an author?” and that is also a question I asked myself throughout my time writing the book. Trying to say what is more exciting, well, I guess I would have to think about what I find exciting about each.
Acting is so demonstrative; it demands your whole body be present. It’s about portraying and being in the moment…and being in that moment at the same time as so many other people—actors and crew, and an audience! And when you’re acting, you are in constant search to explore that moment where you just feel completely alive in that moment, and when it all comes together, wow, it’s absolutely amazing…and so incredibly magically exciting. And the wonderful thing about acting is doing it with other actors and in front of an audience.
Yet, when I was writing I was also living the story—feeling each character creating their actual existence—that’s also incredible…I mean being the creator giving birth to everything! After I wrote something, I had this strong desire to share it. I was like a kid who searches for a gift for someone special and then I can’t wait for them to unwrap it…I couldn’t wait to share my writing—first with my wife—I would read the chapters out loud when she came home then share it with my family, friends, and the world. And just like an actor—I’m waiting, anticipating…almost holding my breath for a response.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
Jack: Thank you and all the best to you too, Norm.