NOTE: PortFringe will be profiling PF14 Artists and their shows on this blog in the weeks leading up to the festival (June 24-29, 2014). The next snapshot is of Eric Jaffe of Brooklyn, NY – a first-time PortFringe Artist with an interesting story to tell. It was a pleasure to learn more about Eric and his work as he prepares for the Maine premiere of his original one-man play, “C-”.
Artist: Eric Jaffe
Description: What is the value of a college education for people who spent 4 years tapping kegs rather than opening books? Based on interviews with 65 of his formerly hard-partying, now middle-aged fraternity brothers, “C-“ is a funny and poignant look at college education, career choice, and how perspectives change as people age.
PF: Tell us something we don’t know about you/your company, and your PortFringe show.
Eric: Writing C- involved doing 65 interviews over the course of 4 years. I went all over the country,and engaged the help of a private investigator to track down some of the guys. A lot of people have negative views of fraternities, but they’re just groups of people just like anyone else, and when you live together in a fraternity house, you really do get to know people quite well, and you develop the kind of bond where you can sit down 20 years later, and really talk about how life has unfolded. I learned a lot of about all sorts of paths in life, and of course there were some great personalities in the mix, so it was also a lot of fun.
PF: SIXTY FIVE INTERVIEWS!? That is an achievement in and of itself – to say nothing of the actual writing and performing of your original work. What inspired you to trek across the country to reconnect with your fraternity brothers and create this play?
Eric: It started with a sense that I had a story to tell, and I had a great collection of characters to help me tell it. But it’s not a story about fraternity hijinks. It’s the story of my generation: the values we had about money, career, and lifestyle, and where that led us.
PF: In doing some research in advance of this interview, I read a recent Atlantic article that reveals 18 U.S. Presidents, 85% of Fortune 500 executives, and 85% of all Supreme Court Justices to date are fraternity members. Are any of them your brothers?
Eric: Two of our alumni made runs for the White House, but they came out on the losing end. We probably have some fortune 500 execs, but I can’t say for sure.
PF: I also read (from a separate source) this quote from a corporate workplace diversity manager… she said, “College women don’t always grasp that [fraternity] men their age are assembling connections that can matter more than schoolwork.” The implication being there is a reason that there are fewer women in top corporate positions nationwide. Is she on to something? Your thoughts?
Eric: I’m not sure why the author presumes that women in college aren’t also making important connections, but certainly college is one the of the best opportunities you’re ever going to have to develop relationships. And it’s true, those relationships can be very important when you’re looking for a job, or looking to start a business.
PF: It’s a Frat Movie death match. Who wins: “Animal House” or “Old School”?
Eric: Knowledge is Good. I think I have to go with Animal House.
PF: Have you spent time in Portland before?
Eric: I have not, but everyone I know in New York has raved about it. And of course we’re talking about very cynical people…so that’s very impressive.
PF: What are you looking forward to most about PortFringe 2014?
Eric: I love performing the show, and I also love meeting audience members. After a show people often like to share their own experiences, and I really enjoy hearing their stories as well. I also love meeting other artists, and seeing their work as well.
PF: Lobster or Steak?
Eric: Well, I’m a Brooklyn guy, so I gotta go with steak. (But I do intend to enjoy some Lobster while I’m in town.)
PF: Indulge us as we get a bit philosophical:
What does the term “Fringe Theater” mean to you?
Eric: It’s not theater that’s so wacky it can’t be performed in a traditional settings.
It’s a theater love-fest.
It’s people volunteering because they love theater. It’s performers putting everything they have into their shows. It’s artists supporting other artists rather than competing with them.
And it’s people seeing 4 shows a day for a week because they love theater.
PF: And as we get even more existential:
Why is theater important?
Eric: I think it’s important that people get out of the house occasionally. It can’t all be about Netflix binge-watching.
I also think there’s a kind of magic in live performance, and in an increasingly demystified world, it’s important to keep magic alive.
PF: So, what’s next after PortFringe? Any other shows or projects you’re working on?
Eric: After PortFringe I’m taking the show to the Capital Fringe in D.C. next month. After that I’m going to be putting it up in New York City, which will be the culmination of all the work I’ve put into this show, and which I’m very much looking forward to.
PF: What do you miss most about college?
Eric: Hmmm…if I’m going to be honest, I don’t miss anything about college. It has its time and place. I had a great time, but I have no desire to go back to living in a house with 35 guys, and getting drunk all the time. Everything I would do now –really apply myself in literature, film, theater and foreign language classes– I didn’t do back then, so I can’t say that I “miss” those things.
If I could go back re-live anything it would be shortly after college, when I first started traveling in the developing world…when everything about that experience was new. That’s a different kind of learning, and that was amazing.
PF: To pledge or not to pledge? What advice do you give to today’s college freshman?
Eric: I would absolutely encourage people to join organizations, and fraternities will be good choices from some people. I would encourage people to look for a group more academically or philanthropically oriented than we were.
“More balance." That phrase came up an awful lot when I was reconnecting with people.
Of course, I probably got similar advice when I was 18, and completely ignored it.
SEE ERIC JAFFE’S “C-” AT PORTFRINGE 2014!
Wednesday, June 25 at 8:30pm – PSC Storefront Theater
Saturday, June 28 at 2:30pm – PSC Storefront Theater
for more information about PortFringe, visit www.portfringe.com