Jack Ferver Psyches Us Out

As it states in Jack Ferver’s press release for the extraordinary Rumble Ghost, seen in December at PS 122, “Horror movies will never be as terrifying and shocking as the human psyche. They act as metaphors – scary stories that offer a release or escape from the more devastating twists and turns of an unquiet mind. Without ghosts to explain haunted houses, we are left with the pain sites of crumbling careers, failing marriages, abused children. In Rumble Ghost, as the flimsy membrane between an American horror movie classic and the fragility of the human condition deteriorates, the darkest place in the world is shown to be right up there: in your mind.”

I recently caught up with Jack to find out what exactly was on and in his mind as he created the piece, which will be shown next week as part of PS 122’s COIL 2011 Festival (January 7-9).


AM: Can you tell me how the idea of Rumble Ghost, an exploration of the psyche via the 1982 horror film Poltergeist, came about for you?

Last year, Ishmael Huston Jones honored me with a Messie for the work I had made for Danspace, Death is Certain.  I was asked to show something in an evening around the Messies at Danspace. At one point, I had been using Poltergeist as a metaphor for therapy work; this idea of trying to reclaim the inner child.  “Clean” the house.  I was curious why this movie from the 80s was what I used for that metaphor. I wanted to explore that validity in terms of art as well.  Using a mainstream artifact as a starting point to climb down into a rockier terrain.

AM: What was your creative development process?  What did you know about the piece before you started rehearsal, and how long has it taken?

I knew that I wanted it to be a diptych.  I knew that I wanted the Poltergeist theme to corrode into what I was actually talking about, which is the terrors of an unquiet mind.  So last December (which makes beginning to finish a year) I wrote the Rumble Ghost scene (as we call it), which is the final scene in Act 1.  And then in the spring I started writing the therapy section.  However I knew I wanted to develop that material on the company, so it didn’t gel more until we got to that section in the process.  Christian Coulson, Carlye Eckert and I started in July on our scene, and then I did indeed go to Paris to teach for a month, which is when I wrote the rest of Act 1.  As a group we really started the heavy lifting when I got back in August.  That lifting also includes Calder Kusmierski-Singer, who wrote that maniacally perfect score.  And of course, my dramaturg Joshua Lubin-Levy, who is so incredibly brilliant and insightful.  He understands my work in a way that I cannot even begin to describe how blessed I feel.

AM: How much do each of the other performers contribute to the piece?  Are they participants or collaborators?

My work relies on the personal, and the blur between what is fact and fiction.  In that way, it is a very collaborative act with the performers.  Dialogue and movement can and I believe should sometimes change when you set it on the performer.  I want it to be honest, even at its most hyperbolic.

As a group we were all involved in the questioning. There were parts that just weren’t working, and we would work and work and work to find what felt true to the piece. This team gave everything in terms of energy and support.

AM: What is your relationship to psychotherapy?  Did you do a lot of psycho-therapeutic work as a child and/or adult?  What were any of the experiences you had that you would be willing to share?  What is “Inner Child Work” therapy?

As my work continually deals with psychological themes I feel it would be malpractice not to have been well therapized, which I am.  Psychotherapy has helped me personally and it has opened so much for me in my research.  I met with a therapist just to discuss Rumble Ghost and get source material.

“Inner Child Work” is a practice which believes that by understanding and re-claiming part of the self that may have been hurt or repressed as a child, there can be healing from patterns, beliefs, etc that one is experiencing or rather re-experiencing as an adult.

AM: I could have watched Rumble Ghost for another 2 hours.  Would you talk about the duration of the piece and how you decided to end it where you did?

Thank you.  You know the piece is 50 minutes long, 70 if you count how long we are repeating the beginning as the audience comes in.  I’m pleased it seems shorter.  I am also pleased with the conversations that have been happening around the end.  Some people felt it ended right where it should, others were surprised, some were even upset.  I did not want to tie this piece up in a ribbon and say to the audience “This is what the piece is”.  I don’t like works that are “cozy making” – pieces that tell me as the audience what the experience I just had is.  It is more unsettling, but I think preferable to let the audience decide that.  In the piece, we have been doing this therapy exercise and I wanted to open the space for the audience to project into at the end.  To leave them questioning in the dark.  Which is something that I find very similar in horror movies and in therapy.  Also I have in mind what I want to do next in terms of a sequel, but that’s all I’ll say.

AM: The wonderful final image of Rumble Ghost is haunting and mysterious – Reid Bartelme and Breanna O Mara touching you at the end – who are they? What do they represent?

They are so many things to me.  I can discuss a few.  They are the lost inner children in the House.  They are the House.  They are the Chthonic insides of all of the characters.  They are also Art:  ephemeral, difficult.  At the end are they providing me comfort as something that will give me a vehicle to speak, as art does?  Or are they resting their hands on me with a more ominous message?

AM: I recently saw your fantastic reading of NOTES!!!, based on the film Notes on a Scandal.  I had seen the film, but never realized how amazingly camp it was.  How did that happen?  And do you see that production going further than a reading?  It was brilliant.

Thanks Aaron.  NOTES!!! is really a team effort of that gang.  We are talking with people about it, but I will wait to say anything until we’ve signed something. Phillip Taratula, Rightor Doyle, and I were talking after I showed Death is Certain for my DTW Studio Series, so that is a couple years ago. We were talking about favorite movie scenes and how Phillip, Rightor, and our friend Jenn Harris, were thinking of re-creating them. I said I wanted to do the scene where Cate Blanchett slams Judi Dench into the cabinet, and Phillip did this amazing Judi impression, and I did my Cate, and then we just decided we should do the whole thing.  Phillip is continuing to rework the script.  Parody clause has proved very valuable, as now we have those hysterical stage directions and the roles written for Jenn, like the Cat.

AM: Parody, hysteria – some of the ideal tenets of camp to me.  How would you define camp?

I really feel that my dear friend who is no longer with us, Susan Sontag, did that best with her “Notes On “Camp””.

AM:  OK, free association – both on my part and yours, given the theme of psychology.  I’ve dug up two quotes from Thomas Szasz, a contemporary and radical psychiatrist, and thought we could both elaborate on them.

The first: “There is no psychology; there is only biography and autobiography.” (Perhaps this is a way to pose my standard question – for you, do you see a line between where you end and where your work begins?  How do you exist in and out of creative process?  Is everything just one big idea playground? I love the play with reality and character that you employ with Christian Coulson in the piece.  I loved what you said about Paris being a place that you can’t complain about, but that you were miserable there.  The honesty, or the possibility therein – also what I love about the piece, and the characters you and others inhabit.  How much are you revealing about yourself in the piece, or are you using your autobiography as source material to tell a completely imagined tale? Is there a difference between you as a person and you as a performer?)

It is a very murky terrain between my art and my life.  I am always in artistic process.  I spend most of my time reading, researching, thinking, discussing, or actually making the work.  I’m a Midwest boy at heart with a puritanical work ethic.  And I love my work.  It’s true that I use my own personal experiences as a jumping off place for my work.  But I feel every artist does that – is moved from inspiration and feelings that are coming through them.  I don’t think being an artist is a choice.  It’s too hard.  Literally, monetarily, too hard.  I do it because I have to.  That sounds like Graham or Bourgeois.  But I do feel that I must create something with these feelings.  I feel the emotions, and inspirations pushing and must write or create a dance.  I’m not interested in indulgence however, and I don’t think it would really be that interesting if I just sat up there reading my journal.  So I use the feelings as a beginning place and then go further with them.  Making it totemic.  Qualities that we all possess.  That is when a catharsis with the audience can happen.

AM:  The second quote: “If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.” (I don’t believe in God, per se, but I thought this was a funny way of getting at the idea of mental distress, or poltergeist – it’s really all in your mind, right? – the idea that our lives and minds are defined rather more based on perception and our own experience than in a sound, definitive logical prescribed view of how things ought to be…)

That’s a good way to elaborate on that sentence.  It’s all about perception.  Everything.

AM: Speaking of perception…who is Jack Ferver?  What’s the story?

Oh Aaron.



Written and Choreographed by Jack Ferver
Performed by Benjamin Asriel, Reid Bartelme, Christian Coulson, Carlye Eckert, Jack Ferver, Michelle Mola, Breanna O’Mara
Dramaturgy by Josh Lubin-Levy, Original score by Calder Singer, Costumes by Reid Bartelme

Fri, Jan 7 10PM / Sat, Jan 8 7:30PM / Sun, Jan 9 7:30PM

Single Tickets:
$20, $15 (students/seniors)


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