In “Channeling Kevin Spacey,” audience members are treated to a cinema homage that’s big on laughs and filled with parody. Written by two nice boys from South Florida, Cory Terry and Jewish-born Elan Farbiarz, the off-Broadway play centers on a milquetoast leading man who uses his favorite films to empower his personal and professional life. That feat is accomplished by two stage actors, Justin RG Holcomb and Jamil Chokhachi, who combine physical comedy and character acting to create a theater experience that turns the audience itself into part of the show.
Jspace recently caught up with Elan to talk about how the play developed, where he finds inspiration, and why Broadway’s due for a new brand of comedy.
Jspace: How did you and Cory come up with the idea for the show?
Elan Farbiarz: I was living in England at the time and I was pretty much going through the same thing [as the main character in the play]. I was working a mundane job. I was entering my life. Every night I was watching Netflix, or I guess it’s called NetFilm there, and I was watching movies a lot. I saw “Glengarry Glen Ross” one night and I just saw Al Pacino ranting and raving over Kevin Spacey and then I called Cory. And it stemmed from there.
Charlie, the lead character, seems ambiguously Jewish. Did your own Jewishness influence the character?
Yes. I am Jewish, so we drew a lot from that. At one point when we were first doing the show there were a lot more Jewish references, but it changed a little bit when we got off Broadway. So yeah, I definitely draw a lot of my experiences from that as well, from my family.
You’ve been running for a little bit more than a year now. How have things evolved from when the show first started in Canada, as different actors have taken on the roles?
Our actors have brought their own stuff to the show. The actors break down the fourth wall a lot. And depending on the crowd, they really make the audience part of the show. The actor who plays Charlie, Justin, he’s really consumed that role and he knows how to go after the crowd and make them part of the show. For better or for worse sometimes. It’s usually a fun time regardless.
We didn’t do that when we first toured the show in Canada, but it works very well in New York. The actors love it, the crowd loves it, too. And sometimes we have different responses from different people, so it depends. But whatever the case is, Justin always goes right at it.
There are some current news references in the show. What role does improvisation play and are you guys constantly tweaking the way the show comes off to reflect current jokes?
We’ve always tried to make it current. It’s always a work in progress to see if things work or not. When we first started touring the show in Canada sometimes our pop culture jokes would be a little bit too dark and we had to tame them. There was one time when we performed the show in Toronto and Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett had just passed away and we used a joke and the response was complete silence. And so we knew that we had to dial it down a little bit. It’s a work in progress. We’re always using different jokes and we’re always trying something new to make it more current.
So no two nights are exactly the same?
For the most part, yes. It’s always a little bit different. We had one woman who’s seen it five times and she constantly buys tickets for friends because she knows that every single time the show is different. Not completely, but it’s different here and there.
How does that work with you being one of the writers and also the director? As a writer you’re trying to lay down a story that will be emotionally gripping and consistent and then as a director you’re trying to bring out the best of your actors and let them play a little bit more.
We’re not too hung up on really pushing – we trust our actors enough. We have actors that we thought are fantastic, and they really are. It was tough for me because when we first started the show I played Charlie. And I wrote the show because I thought that would help my acting jobs. I would play a role the best that I could possibly do. And so it was hard to walk away from it at that moment, this was a couple of years ago.
But the actors that we got, they’re funny guys. We have funny people. You trust the talent and you trust that they’re going to do a good job. And we just see where they go with it. We really want them to make the characters their own. If they have good choices to make, we just let them go with it. Because even if it doesn’t pan out that time that’s fine, they’ll eventually find it. I think now they have a feeling of where the show needs to be and we really let them go and do what they need to do. That’s why the show has been running for almost 15 months now.
You have a number of cinematic influences and Hollywood references in the play. Why turn to theater to do this rather than within the medium of videos and film?
I’ve always done theater and I like theater. But sometimes I’m not the avid theatergoer, and I think a lot of the reasons why is because I constantly need to be entertained. I wanted something fast paced, and from my experience, I watch a lot more movies than I go to theater. I think that comes out naturally. And when we write, because that’s pretty much where Cory and I get all our inspiration from, it just naturally comes out.
We’re doing one other show called “The Movies Abridged” and a lot of film references. We just write what we see. I don’t know if you ever have that feeling where you walk out of a movie, and you’re watching an action film, and you leave the film and you get exhilarated. You want to be the lead character. I think that’s where it came from and that’s where the whole idea of Charlie wanting to be Al Pacino, wanting to be bigger, feeling like he wants to be that character, comes from. That motivates us, Cory and I. It’s just natural. We can’t really write the show based on musical references and so forth. We don’t watch enough of it.
Are you and Cory currently working on any projects together?
Yeah, we’re working on a couple of projects right now. We’re concerned with putting on our show “The Movies” it’s kind of a mock parody. We’re also talking with a couple other people about bringing a revival of a show back actually onto Broadway. So we have a few things in the works. At the same time we’re also writing a musical.
Is that a little more challenging for you guys since you said you don’t have a musical background?
It is. We’re working with someone who has a great musical background. We write the jokes, we write the script. But when it comes to music, Cory and I are completely lost.
Do you have any advice for young Jewish directors or playwrights looking to get their start?
Just go out and make it for yourself because it’s very rare, very hard for someone to make it for you. I started, I was working in Toronto as a waiter getting cast in these horrible productions so there was no chance ever, ever of going anywhere else but the community theater. You put everything you have behind you. If you believe in what you’re doing, put in whatever money you have, do it. Start with the fringe festivals. You can start with not much money in your pocket and put some money where your mouth is and just go out and do it. If you believe in it, chances are you’ll succeed.
“Channeling Kevin Spacey” currently plays at the St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 W. 46th St, New York, NY. Visit CKStheShow.com for more information.