Five Questions for Aaron Landsman

photoName: Aaron Landsman
Title/Occupation: playwright/actor/advocate
Organization/Company: myself.

1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?

I grew up in Minneapolis during an amazing cultural moment. The punk rock subculture was incredible, as was Prince’s music scene; Liviu Ciulei was at The Guthrie overseeing some pretty great work; Theatre de a Jeune Lune was doing its groundbreakingest shows; The Walker Art Center had become a beacon for the kinds of art, film and performance you couldn’t depend on seeing in a medium-sized Midwestern industrial city in the 1970s and 80s. And you didn’t have to pick between mainstream and marginal, one discipline or genre over another. All this was set against the backdrop of a kind of emotionally repressed, blistering cold, half-abandoned cityscape. Political activism as well as regression. Pressure to toe the line as well as communities that embraced outcasts. A stoic Scandanavian foundation on which freakish expressions could teeter. And the tension among all those forces was where I think I was formed. In 1984, my friend Susan Ziegler came back from her first semester at NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing and told the youth theater company I was in that there was nowhere else to try and go to school. So, after taking a year to live out some Kerouac fanasies, I went in 1987. While I chomped at the bit of New York a lot in the first several years, the collaborators, the work, the conversations around the work, and the ‘inexaustible variety of life’ (tm: F. Scott Fitzgerald) has kept me. I live in Flatbush, Brooklyn with my wife Johanna S. Meyer and son Harry Emmett Landsman.

2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?

Ron Vawter’s performances in Brace Up! and Roy Cohn/Jack Smith. He is my biggest influence as an actor. I once spent two blazing hot days in a very starchy suit as an extra on a Leslie Thornton film so I could watch him work. I think my wrist made it into a few frames but it was worth it. As a live art maker and writer (this is cheating, I know): works by (in no particular order) Chekhov, John Coltrane, T. Griffin, Paul Westerberg, X, Art Spiegelman, John Collins, Jem Cohen, Kristin Newbom, Johanna S. Meyer, Sarah Michelson, David Hancock, Heather McHugh, Melanie Joseph, Richard Maxwell, Daniel Alexander Jones, among others.

3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?

I wish I were better at finishing what I start, at playing a musical instrument, and at understanding my own goals.

4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.

I don’t really have a normal day. I have a normal month, I guess, or quarter. I split my time among writing/producing my own work, acting with ERS and elsewhere, fundraising for ERS, teaching workshops in Professional Development with The Creative Capital Foundation, and doing the occasional freelance gig, or meeting with the Collective Arts Think Tank.

5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?

Well, sure, there are constant balancing acts, but I’m lucky that all the work I do is work I love. Recently I’ve chosen to teach a couple workshops over ERS tours, because the ERS shows are great with Frank Boyd and Pete Simpson playing the roles I did, because I love teaching workshops, too, and because my priority has to move to family support and putting my own projects first. In the past, when I had more traditional day jobs (in the non-profit, dot com, and restaurant industries, for example), I always put art-making first and quit several decent jobs in order to get a project done. Once I got unemployment for six months and used it to make my first site-based show Desk. Johanna called it my Department Of Labor Fellowship.

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