Wednesday, April 26, 2006

INTERVIEW: Jim Chovick

I recently chatted with the oftentimes intense looking, brooding Jim Chovick at his comfortable yellow cottage-residence nestled in the Normal Heights area of town. It’s a home that rings on a musically-happy note as you approach the door and clang the bell. Lulu and Ollie (Don’t they know I’m a dog person?), Jim’s adorable feline kids, brazenly demanded my attentions during our interview. But Jim and I meandered through some twists and turns in his life to give you a glimpse into the quiet but busy life of this “in-demand” San Diego character actor.

Cuauhtémoc Q. Kish (CQK): I always start with a challenging ice breaker; would you describe yourself in three words; revisions are acceptable?

[There must be a bit more reverence given to an interviewee with such pedigree initials as “JC.”]

Jim Chovick (JC): Kind, indulgent and happy.

CQK: What do you bring to San Diego Theatre that’s unique and all Chovick-ian?

JC: I bring food to the many Green Rooms where I am acting.

CQK: Admittedly then, you are a great cook?

JC: I’m usually cooking up the “recipe of the week” and I truly enjoy giving great dinner parties and it goes without saying, most come with a theme.

CQK: Was your childhood ambition to be an actor?

JC: My childhood ambition was NOT to be a child; I yearned for adulthood.

CQK: We both have reached a lovely adulthood. Now that you have arrived in some adult, theatrical glory, what parts are you coveting?

JC: Nothing in particular; luckily, the parts just come to me. In the immediate future I will have roles in Amadeus, Copenhagen, Festival of Christmas, and Desire Under the Elms.

CQK: Sounds to me like you are not about to loose your Equity card.

JC: I am not a card-carrying Equity member, although I carry a SAG card. I find it lovely when I am paid equity wages from a few companies in San Diego, but I wanted to be able to accept employment in any theatre company in San Diego, non-Equity included.

CQK: It seems to me that you are one of the most employed actors in San Diego; do you have a day job or are you a full-time actor?

JC: I went to school at San Diego State and majored in English and got a degree from UCLA. But I was never extremely ambitious (You could have fooled us!). I always thought that if you wanted acting as a career you have to treat it as such and in the early days I thought it a field that was entirely too competitive.

CQK: So when did your illustrious San Diego theatre career begin?

JC: It started in 1990. After a rather long hiatus from acting successfully in high school and college productions, I took a course at Mesa College in musical theatre (Art & Yvonne Noel). You must know that I can’t really sing, but it taught one how to put a show together. As part of this two semester course we presented our show to various Nursing Homes and such in the area. And it was during this time that I was diagnosed with cancer of the throat.

CQK: That obviously interrupted your theatrical ambitions for a time I take it.

JC: I had to curtain my work in theatre for about a year and a half during the time that I was taking radiation treatments. I suffered the loss of a lot of weight during this period but I am glad to announce that I am cured.

CQK: Did the treatment affect your voice at all?

JC: Not really; it killed some ability to produce saliva and during some productions where I’ve had extended time on the stage the throat gets a bit dry, but luckily that’s the extent of it.

CQK: After your cancer was cured, was there a specific invitation that brought you back into active participation with the theatre community of San Diego?

JC: I had an audition with a Christian Theatre (CCT); I got a part in Guys and Dolls and I guess they liked what they saw as I was offered parts for their entire season that included The Wizard of Oz, Carousel and Hello Dolly.

CQK: So your exposure with CCT propelled you into professional theatre?

JC: Not exactly; someone encouraged me to audition for the All City Auditions through Actors Alliance and suddenly I was getting all kinds of calls to do shows, mostly as part of the Fritz Blitz. I guess they didn’t have a lot of old men in their male actor cadre, so I was suddenly in demand. I believe I was in seven productions that year.

CQK: A kind of Chovick-Blitz?

JC: You could say that. K. B. Mercer had seen me in the Fritz Blitz and invited me to participate in an Ionesco play called The Picture that would be playing in an art gallery. Darla Cash was involved as an actor and the production was well attended.

CQK: And from that you obviously received even more acting invitations?

JC: Yes; individuals like Greg Gunther from La Jolla Playhouse began calling and I was cast in a show with Priscilla Allen in Cabaret (They both won Dramalogue Awards.) I did the show later under the direction of Sean Murray at North Coast Rep with Linda Libby. After that I was invited to audition at Lamb’s Players for a show and after singing the scales (Jim keeps reminding me that he can’t sing and I just don’t believe him). I was then cast in four other shows for that season. I had thought that I would perform in Community Theatre, never even thinking that I might get paid for my participation.

[After living in New York City, Jim moved to San Diego with his partner, John, in September of 1979. Jim, a spry 60-year old baby boomer who participates in water aerobics at the Mission Valley “Y,” works at the San Diego Country Club. John has recently retired and is House Manager for Cygnet Theatre Company.]

CQK: Do you have a day job?

JC: I became a waiter in New York and I used to work at the Embarcadero Room, but I took a job at the San Diego Country Club because I get off at one in the afternoon which affords me time to take a nap, participate in a rehearsal, and do a show.

CQK: You never worked as an actor in New York?

JC: No.

CQK: How did you manage to get yourself to the Big Apple?

JC: I became very unhappy working in Marketing Research for Columbia Pictures and just dropped out for a time. I hitch-hiked across the country to New York and that’s where I met John.

CQK: What’s your best and worst audition experience in San Diego?

JC: The worst has got to be an audition for a Reading of one of Edward Albee’s plays. It was for an On-Book-On-Stage production and I just wasn’t prepared. One of my best was for an All-Cities Audition for Angles in America (the role of Roy Cohn).

CQK: Is there a professional theatre in San Diego where you haven’t worked?

JC: No; but some were limited to a Reading (Diversionary).

[Jim’s career includes: The Old Globe’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (Old Max); Lamb’s Players’ The Winslow Boy (Arthur Winslow), 1776 (James Wilson), A Man for All Seasons (Cranmer), & several Christmas productions; La Jolla Playhouse’s Our Town, Cygnet Theatre’s The Invention of Love (AEH), Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (Big Daddy); North Coast Rep’s Cabaret (Herr Shultz), Travesties (Lenin); The Fritz’s Rhinoceros (Jean) & multiple appearances in the Fritz Blitz; SD Rep’s Restless Spirits (Winchester); New Village Arts’ Orphans (Harold); Sledgehammer Theatre’s Sweet Charity (Herman) & When the World Was Green (Old Man) and many more!]

CQK: You work for the love of it.

JC: Yes; and the money is helpful.

CQK: Let’s talk SAG for a moment.

JC: I received a call from Sarah Altman one day with an invitation for a part in a TV series (first episode) called The Invisible Man. I was to play the part of the Senator. This was my first role in a film and I had no idea how to act; I just observed and responded to the text and have been invited back on numerous occasions as a result.

CQK: What criteria do you establish for accepting a role?

JC: I need to know the director (his reputation). I need to know that the project is in capable hands.

CQK: Any favorites?

JC: Sean Murray is a genius; Rosina Reynolds is remarkable. I would also include the Lamb’s Player’s triumvirate of Kerry Meads and Bob and Debbie Smyth.

CQK: As a close friend of Rosina, would the personal ever interfere with the professional (as director)?

JC: With Rosina it’s all about the work; nothing is personal. She works with actors to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. And she doesn’t suffer fools.
I think she’s a goddess.

CQK: Two of the finest performances that I’ve seen you in recently were Duck Variations at the Actor’s Alliance Festival and Sledgehammer’s When the World Was Green. Can you comment on these experiences?

JC: Working with Kirsten Brandt on her first and last Sledgehammer productions was an interesting coincidence; both wonderful experiences. (Pause.) I fondly remember my experience with the late Jack Banning in Duck Variations. It was a lovely process and we (Robert Dahey as director, Jack and myself) fought a lot during this lovely process to create good drama. We used to rehearse in the Park next to the lawn bowling area where we pretended it was a lake. Jack was very passionate. I cherish a wooden duck that he gave me to commemorate our experience.

[Jim has carried home a few awards in his career to include Dramalogue, San Diego Critic’s Circle, Patte, Billie and Robbie.]

CQK: How does “JC” unwind?

JC: I enjoy gardening and I participate in water aerobics.

CQK: At the end of the day, what does the word accomplishment mean to you?

JC: A good night’s sleep.

CQK: What’s your favorite “theatre” word?

JC: Rehearsal; working thru a rehearsal.

CQK: If you somehow made a wrong turn and ended up facing the devil at the end of your illustrious life and career, what would you say to him?

JC: I have lived up to all of your expectations.

Jim Chovick is an actor that has a tremendous instrument; his voice is mesmerizing, comforting and professional. It’s a voice that adapts from one character to another with the greatest ease (at least from the audience’s perspective). Perhaps that comes with age; perhaps it comes with experience; perhaps it’s simply because he’s so damn talented.

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