John Farrage is an actor, known for Falling Up (2009), Eden (2012) and Rocket Men (2014). He is also a stage actor and an award-winning theater director who has performed in and directed hundreds of plays including Julius Caesar, Ramayana, and A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Q & A With John Farrage
How did your creative life start?
I have always loved to read. I taught myself to read at 3 according to my mother. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t just plain fascinated with the art of storytelling. When I was a sophomore in High School, my parents sent me to Phoenix Arizona to attend a Catholic High School, while I was there, I felt like such an outsider that I decided to try auditioning for the school play to make friends. The play they were doing was All My Sons by Arthur Miller. It’s a tragedy about a man who made defective planes knowingly during WWII, who in the end kills himself. I was hooked on theatre from that point on.
Do you have a day job or are you making a living doing what you love?
I have always had 2, 3 and even sometimes 4 “day” jobs. I remember once back in the late 90’s when I was rehearsing for a production of Julius Caesar at Seattle Shakespeare Company, we rehearsed from 10-4, at 4:30 I would go to work at Seattle Mental Health, where I was a “Crisis Stabilization Worker” with 4-14-year-old clients who were transitioning from mental institutions into foster care.
Then when I finished that shift at 10:30, I went to work at a restaurant called “The College Inn” and I would bake all night for them: cookies, brownies, pies, cakes, cinnamon rolls, all that they would sell at the farmers’ markets. It was hell, but it made it possible to do the play, for which I was getting a 100 dollar stipend.
It was worth it too, cause it paid off later. The director of that play and I got along and worked well together and she cast me in six other plays in the next ten years, also Caesar was the first play I did with Seattle Shakes and I have now done 15 productions with them and got paid much better as the company grew.
Where do you believe creativity comes from?
I have always been creative, my mother was very creative in her approach to everything and always encouraged her kids to look at things from a different perspective. I honestly have no idea where it comes from, but I’m glad that I have it.
Describe your creative process.
When acting, I am a very diligent and structured artist. I do my work. I study the script, the writer, the era. I learn my lines before rehearsal starts and I am ridiculously organized.
As a director, I have a very slow process. I have usually a moment, an epiphany maybe, that this is a play I will direct someday, I have some small vision of usually a moment in the play, and then I build from there, thinking about it, gnawing over it, sometimes for years.
Writing is something I’m still developing and the process is scattered, but I am seeing how my Acting and Directing processes are both coming into play…
Can you talk about some of the mistakes you made?
Oh God, depending on who you ask, nearly everything I ever did was a mistake. I was offered a part, The Prince of Morocco, in The Merchant of Venice at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego right out of college, that would have given me my union card and probably led to a very different career for me, but instead I decided to go to Europe, which led to me living in Prague for 5 years and founding an English language theatre there.
My sister would still tell you that that was a mistake… I disagree… I don’t believe in mistakes anymore. I have learned and grown from everything I have ever done. Artists who dwell on mistakes, never get past them.
If you could go back in time what would you do differently?
Nothing…what’s the point of that… actually, no, I would have gotten a business degree instead of an English degree. It is appalling how little business training artists get when being an artist is literally running a business.
What advice would you give a 21-year old college grad looking to get into your line of work?
Be foolish and reckless when you’re young… I am so glad that I took chances, failed big and succeeded big when I was young. I am still learning from those experiences today, but I don’t think that at 53, that would be as feasible.
Any major epiphanies?
I’ve learned to be humble. The person who knows everything can’t learn anything and the artist who isn’t capable of learning is lost in my opinion…
How much have you grown personally since those early Prague years?
Drastically… mainly because of certain circumstances… life changes you. I’ve grown a lot, I think. I’m not defensive anymore, and I have a lot more confidence in my abilities, those two things alone make everything more pleasant. I’ve loved and lost, tried and failed, crashed and burned and occasionally ridden on the wings of angels…all that teaches you more of who you are.
I’m way nicer than I used to be.
Have you ever considered giving up?
I have given up, a few times. Money was usually the issue…”I can’t live like this anymore!” Love… I fell in love once and that took priority for a while. My parents getting older and needing me to care for them…. that took me away for a while… but each time, I got drawn back in by a certain part, or the chance to direct a story that I love…and then I’m off to the races again.
Do you feel like you’ve “made it”?
Arriving or “Making It” is not a goal anymore. It was when I was younger, but I realized that that wasn’t about me, that was about how I wanted to be defined by others. Not trying to live up to others’ expectations of what “success” looks like was a big step forward for me.
I make okay money doing what I love. These days I mostly direct and teach, but just this last fall, I got offered a part in a beautiful production of A Thousand Splendid Suns as the Seattle Repertory Theater and it was such a joy to just ACT again.
Are you happy exactly where you are in life and with what you’re doing?
Sure. I mean, I wish that my relationship had worked out… it can be a little lonely, especially now that both of my parents are gone… but I have great friends and I really do love my life. I like where I live now in East Hollywood.
I never thought that I would want to live in LA, but here I am after 25 years in Seattle and I never want to leave.
Would you be okay if your biggest dreams never materialized?
Yeah, because they aren’t my dreams, they’re the dreams of a kid… I’ve grown up.
What gets you out of bed each morning?
The possibility that the next audition, or the next directing proposal, or the next thing I write will connect me to my art more deeply and myself more fully.
What’s your definition of success?
I have a beautiful container garden right now… in a couple of hours, I’m going to water it in the early morning light and I’m going to look at each plant that I’ve grown from seed and note each change, every new bud and sprout. I think that kind of defines my idea of success these days… “Did I learn something today…did I try? Success!
What is your ultimate goal in life?
I just want to be involved in theatre, painting, writing… art of some kind for as long as possible and then I want to die in my sleep… that’s pretty much it. Thanks for asking 🙂
TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT JOHN FARRAGE & HIS THEATER PROJECTS. GIVE HIM A SHOUT OUT AT https://twitter.com/jbudwrites