Mark Cherniak brings his one-man "Jalopies" back to the stage, Nov. 18-20. Photo by Jacqueline Mention
Mark Cherniack is not what you’d expect of the star of a one-man show; he’s humble, soft-spoken and (perhaps most surprisingly) shy.
Cherniack wrote, staged, directed and stars in his show, "Jalopies," which is making its second appearance in Port Townsend at the Chameleon Theatre this weekend from Nov. 18 to 20. I was able to catch up with him to discuss the show and his life as an artist here in Port Townsend.
Cherniack started his career in the arts at the University of California, San Diego, where he received a master's degree in theater. Though the theater remained an interest of his, Cherniack shifted his career into social work and didn’t get back into acting until moving to Port Townsend seven years ago. It was in writing "Jalopies" here, in fact, that Cherniack found himself reentering the theater scene.
"Jalopies," which spawned from the writer’s 15-year career working in retirement homes, was inspired by his experiences and observations during his work with the elderly. “We think of these people as being tucked away in a box and we don’t think about what’s going on in that box,” he says.
Cherniack knew he had something he needed to share, though he didn’t quite know how to get his story out. He originally conceived the piece as a series of short stories. “It’s very difficult to get short stories published, even if they’re good,” reflects Cherniack. So after unsuccessfully circulating them, the writer eventually found the medium for his message and transformed the stories into a play. But the hard work was far from done.
Cherniack gave the play to local actors and directors and eventually entered it in a Paradise Theatre School contest. Though it didn’t win, it did get the attention of the theater’s directors and Cherniack was asked to show it. Now, a few years and much critical acclaim later (the show was a semi-finalist for the 2011 Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference) "Jalopies" has “hugely changed.” After performing it time and time again, Cherniack has learned what works and has adapted it to make the play tighter and stronger.
The fact that "Jalopies" is a one-man show has allowed Cherniack to make the necessary changes. He describes the medium as lending a “wonderful power.”
“As an actor, if a show isn’t working, it’s on you. When it’s a one-man show you have the power to tighten the script up,” he says. Writing has always been very important to Cherniack and the one-man performance gives him a double dose of creativity, allowing him to both act and write.
Another important factor in Cherniack’s success? It could be Port Townsend. “It’s hugely supportive and not as cutthroat,” he says when comparing it to a big city. “People are happy when someone is trying to create. There is a real love of the artist here.”
Describe yourself in three words.
Idealistic. Perfectionist (unfortunately). [Looks at wife, Gail Pruitt.] Shy.
Describe your work in three words.
Idealistic. Thought-provoking. Hopefully-sold-out.
It’s a Thursday afternoon. What are you doing?
On Thursdays I work at a mental health clinic in Quilcene doing counseling.
What is the last piece of music you listened to?
Bjork’s album, Vespertine.
What, if anything, hangs on your walls?
Because actors don’t get paid much there’s a lot of second-hand art from thrift stores with cracked frames.
If you could name a park, a street or a building, which would it be and what would you name it?
A street whose name would change. Every day a different person could put his name on it. It would be hard to find.
Are you creating what you want to create?
Some nights. When it works, yes. For the most part, yes.
Are you doing what you want to do?
When it works I am. When it doesn’t I start to question myself.
Who or what inspires you?
I’m inspired by people who have a vision and honor that vision wherever it leads them.
What medium would you like to try?
I’d like to be involved in helping people get a break in the arts. After seeing how hard it is, I’d like to help. I guess you’d call that medium “blessing.”
How, if at all, does Port Townsend affect your work?
Having worked with lots of people here I carry the stories with me – even on stage.
(Jacqueline Mention talks to interesting people, writes short fiction and drinks hot toddies. She can be reached at email@example.com.)