So many Broadway shows deal with love, loss and what we wore, but when a certain project comes along that stops you short, it deserves it’s own spotlight. [UNTITLED PROJECT] #213 comes to Theatre Horizon in Norristown, PA from May 31 to June 2, 2019 before making it’s U.K. Premiere in Edinburgh from August 4 to August 17, 2019.
The Philadelphia Fringe Festival in 2010 is where the project originated, and [UNTITLED PROJECT] #213, created by Dan Kazemi (Composer/Music Director), Jenn Rose (Choreographer), and Steve Pacek, shares an extremely personal and honest story of learning how to carry on after the untimely passing of Pacek’s real-life partner, Jorge Maldonado. Being hailed as one of the “10 Essentials of Live Arts and Philly Fringe” by Philadelphia Weekly, in addition to being called “powerful, poignant, transcendent…a rich and charming evening” by Broad Street Review. The Horizon cast includes Sarah Gliko, Alex Keiper, Matthew Mastronardi, Davy Raphaely, Sam Shepherd, and Pacek, who also directs.
I sat down for a conversation with Steve Pacek about [UNTITLED PROJECT] #213 to discuss how he crafted a project around one of the most personal things anyone could possibly go through; the loss of a partner. Our conversation about his loss as well as how it spawned his creativity to create, was humorous and ultimately inspiring.
Michael Cook: Tell me about [UNTITLED PROJECT] #213 and what made you bring it to the stage?
Steve Pacek: The summary of the story is this Marcel Marceau-esque mime/sad clown who is a street performer, who also lives on the street. Through this meeting with one passerby, we get to learn how his words actually went missing. The passerby comes up to talk to him after a performance and finds that he is actually not a mute just in character, but he also does not speak as a person. He wants to get to the bottom of why he actually does not speak. Through memory, the clown reveals his past, history and story and we find that the clown has gone though lots of hard things in his own life. The parallel is that when I lost my own partner Jorge in 2007, I feel that I kind of went silent for a number of years, because I was just trying to figure it all out and process it. There is a parallel storyline in [UNTITLED PROJECT] #213 that kind of poetically tells it. It’s not so on the nose, but it’s a dance and movement based stuff rather than actually being specific and saying exactly what happened. The ultimate part of the story that takes his voice away is the loss of a loved one.
MC: For you personally, has theater always been a passion for you?
SP: When I was a kid, I took drawing classes, visual art was really my first art form. In fourth grade, I got started in music with the trumpet and acting in theater and then singing. From a very early age I was involved with it. I really started focusing on it in hight school, where you have to choose one or two things to do because you can’t do everything. I had to make a choice and I chose to go in the path of musical theater. I then went to college and got my BFA in Musical Theater and I went from there.
MC: Relationships, especially in the LGBT community are something that many people hold tightly and some try to keep out of the limelight. Was it difficult for you to decide to put your entire relationship on paper and make it such an integral part of your work and your art?
SP: It definitely was hard, but I don’t know if it was hard because I was worried about what people were going to think. The hard part was definitely the processing of it. We started making this piece about two years after Jorge died and the hardest part was sharing it with that group. You have to really make yourself completely vunerable when you are on stage and trying to recreate the emotion. The creating was the hard part, but it was also the gift. It was the thing that allowed it to take form and ultimately, to take flight. I also feel like I want to always share Jorge’s story and tell people who he was. Anytime that I get the chance to share parts of our relationship and parts of the magic that were inside of him are a wonderful thing to me.
MC: What kind of person was Jorge?
SP: The word that most people use about Jorge was amazing. He was a life force, an energy to be reckoned with. He was an amazing performer; a singer, dancer, and actor who was having amazing things happen in his career. More importantly, he was someone that was always trying to help you see the good in life; the positive. He was a force, especially for his group of friends and his family. He always knew intuitively and instinctively when someone needed help. When someone needed you to come over and hang out because they were going through something, he always just knew when and how he could help.
MC: What do you think you learned from Jorge that you were able to convey onto paper and helped you convey who he was and what he meant to you onto the material in [UNTITLED PROJECT] #213 ?
SP:Well the simple, cheesy, or cliche answer would be love; completely. I had thought that I had been in love before, I had been in different variations of it before, but Jorge was my “oh THIS is what it is supposed to be like”. I think that is the thing that people feel when they watch this piece. There is a lot of love, a lot of care, and a lot of beauty. When the story unfolds and as we get towards the climactic moment of the show, I think because people have felt the love in the show, it means that much more. Everyone afterwards, the depth of feeling that you can get in there, I think that is something that takes a lot of people by surprise. They appreciate having that experience and it brings gratitude to the experience.
MC: When you create something that is this personal, emotionally you would be left raw. What do you think the next step for you is?
The reason that the show is called [UNTITLED PROJECT] #213. Originally when we were creating it for Philly Fringe, we still did not know what the show was going to be, let alone have a title. We called it “Untitled”, and “#213″ is the address that Jen & Dan & I lived at, who are the choreographer and the composer. We were roommates and remain great friends and collaborators to this day. We have two other projects we are working on right now as a group. One of them is a “20/20” type exploration about how history repeats itself and looking at the decade of 1920 and what is similar in 2020. We are looking at that as an experimental kind of project, maybe having it take place in a speakeasy type place and not in a traditional theater.
We are also working on Philadelphia’s longest unsolved mystery, it’s called The Boy in The Box. It was the story of a little boy who was believed to be between five and six years old back in the 1950’s who was found dead in a cardboard box on the side of the road in Northeast Philadelphia. To this day, they have never been able to identity who he was, no one ever came forward to claim him. His gravestone marker at Laurel Cemetery says “God Bless America’s Unknown Child”. It was all sparked by an editorial that I read in Philadelphia Magazine that was talking about the fingerprint expert who was trying to solve the case his entire life and who just passed away five or six years ago. It was telling the tale of how you come to grips with an unsolvable mystery which is something that my brain sees many parallels in, between the loss of Jorge and this event that just happens out of nowhere with no explanation or reason.
MC: As a creative theatre force and as a member of the community, what inspires you?
SP: Adventure inspires me. Exploring, trying to challenge myself as well as other artists and people that I come into contact with to spend as much time outside of our comfort zones that we can; outside the box. The more time you spend outside the box, the bigger you expand you comfort zone. That is something I try to challenge myself to do, and I don’t always succeed. It is something that I challenge myself to commit to more often than not. Creating inspires me. I have recently got back into my visual art after putting it aside for a little while, but I had promised Jorge when we were together that I had wanted to paint him. I was never really a big painter. I was never really a big painter but I saw him as a work of art, so I was going to use him as my subject. Sadly, I have to admit that I never got around to doing that. In that year following, I started painting. I feel like however he is able to help where he is, he kind of pushed me in that direction. I have been painting a lot, and creating, and carving out beauty from this world that can be a little ugly at times. Collaboration has been a naturally built part of what we do as theater artists, you are always working with and collaborating with others. It’s a gift that we are given that you actually have to practice collaboration and empathy, that is an amazing life skill that we get to practice every day. All of those things are things I am grateful for and have been more focused on.
Single tickets to the Horizon engagement go on sale March 31, 2019 at theatrehorizon.org. Performance schedule and details are below.
Steve Pacek, Dan Kazemi, and Jenn Rose present
[UNTITLED PROJECT] #213
At Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb Street, Norristown, PA
May 31 at 8PM
June 1 at 8PM
June 2 at 3PM
Single tickets on sale starting March 31, 2019.