Every month we'll highlight a reader in the Great Lakes Bay region and learn more about them, their work, and their reading life. We'll also promote books and share a conversation related to a theme. This month we're doing something a bit different for Romance Month. We're talking with two book lovers focused on romance - newlyweds Jason Applegate and Emily Anderson. Jason is a theatre teacher at Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy and Emily is program and operations specialist at the non-profit Self Love Beauty. Both are very involved in the Great Lakes Bay theatre community. Read on to learn about their favorite romances on the stage and in books and what is the next great show in the region.
Emily and Jason reading on the beach on their honeymoon in Florida.
How did you first meet? We initially met in fall 2016 at a Loon’s game. Emily was dressed as Mary Poppins. True first official meeting was the play “Venus in Fur” – a one act play.
August is romance month. As newlyweds fresh from your honeymoon, what is the most important thing you do to keep the romance alive? (Emily) We find romance in the typical – the little things. Jason sets out my medicine before bed even if we’re arguing. Romance comes more with encouragement to be who I am and those are what matters in our stage of life. He loves me for who I am. I have horrible guilty pleasure of watching “The Bachelorette” and Jason watches it with me. (Jason) I hate getting sucked into it but it’s important you do stuff if the other person loves it. As we‘ve gotten older, romance is more often found in the messiness of life.
What is the most romantic thing you have done for each other? (Jason) I mean we just got married so that was romantic. The vows she wrote were so authentic and intimate. Our wedding wasn’t a production. It was just an authentic celebration with the friends and family who have loved us and supported us. I don’t think there’s anything more romantic than that!
Your passion for theatre is what brought you two together, how has acting and theatre continued to play a role in your relationship? (Emily) We have a lot of common interests that we can do together. We feel most alive in theatre and have the opportunity to do it together. We get to empower others through theatre. Seeing other people grow and growth over time and being a part of relationship process is unique. (Jason) I’ve been in sports and there is a similar camaraderie but there is something different about theatre and the creative process. You create something that builds emotional vulnerability and opens us all up to each other.
As actors/directors, what are your favorite romantic plays or musicals? (Emily) I’m a sucker for Romeo and Juliet. The language is so poetic and beautiful to me. I go see it whenever I can whatever the genre. A few years ago, I got to play Juliet at 30 years old, seemingly at the last possible moment. It was my mom’s favorite play, too. Romeo, who was played by a student at CMU, was 23. They called me the geriatric Juliet and they thought it was hilarious. The language is just so beautiful. (Jason) My favorite is “Much Ado About Nothing.” I love Benedick’s and Beatrice’s characters and that they are hesitant to admit they have feelings for each other. Beatrice has been hurt before by Benedick. He is so prideful, worried about rejection, and afraid to share how he feels. I find their banter witty and sapiosexual. The play does a great job of setting up the audience and characters to come together. It’s rewarding when they confess their love to each other. Romeo and Juliet is so beautiful and poetic but idealized. While Beatrice and Benedick share more life experience. They were together at one point and later they still had a thing for each other. It comes back to the messiness and adult moments where Much Ado is more about what I feel now and the messiness of their vulnerability.
What is your favorite genre to read? (Emily) Historical fiction. My top three are Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follet, The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton, and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Pillars of the Earth is the story of cathedral being built and takes generations and all the people involved in this process. It’s very good. Train is a departure because it’s not your typical Michael Crichton science fiction, which I’m not a fan of but you get his great writing.
(Jason) Absurdism – any sort of literature or play that makes you question life’s meaning and the answer is to stop trying to find it and just live. Sisyphus keeps pushing the rock up mountain and over and over again. The victory for the absurd hero is walking down to get the boulder again and not doing anything in that moment and, in that realization, he’s empowered and not trying to beat the system.
Just being in the moment and rethinking the way things are. “End Game” by Samuel Beckett, which is a post-apocalyptic play about a blind man and his servant who are stuck in a very depressing routine of co-dependence. It is also a commentary of how society discards the elderly and the disabled. It’s beautifully sad.
We both enjoy dark comedies – “Fargo,” “The Royal Tenenbaums.” A funny and absurd read is “Lay me down Justin Timberlake”. It’s an absurd, dark comedy where actors embody the house. The father died year ago, and mother/daughter are in an estranged relationship and the daughter imagines Justin Timberlake coming in through a window and gives her value. Then the mom is struggling and imagines Harrison Ford and shares insight. It’s about this sad/tragic relationship that is amusing and touches your heart strings. (Jason) I also enjoy “Mr. Marmalade”. It’s about a five-year-old girl and her imaginary friend who is verbally abusive and coke addict. It’s a kid’s view of what adults say and do and how a mother is not a good role model. There are things that I can’t believe happen but yet I’m laughing about it. Ultimately, if we can’t be invested in characters, it’s not our thing.
What role is still on your list to play? (Emily) I lean away from musicals and to straight plays because they portray polished side of things. Lady Macbeth, honorable mention to Elizabeth Proctor from “The Crucible.” (Jason) My type is the loveable jerk. I’d love to play Mr. Marmalade and Benedick. (Emily) I’d love to play MacBeth again. Shakespeare is always different because the source material is so strong. When we were adjudicated in "Venus in Fur" competition show, we’d go back and kept digging and never found the bottom of it.
What role do books play in your/your family’s life? (Jason) I read more plays than anything else. What I love about plays so much is more than any other genre of literature, there is an interaction between playwright, actor, and reader/audience. The author creates meaning. With the play, there’s so much more subtext that exchange is dependent upon reader than other texts and novels. Movies and books have passive participants. With a play, it is in front of you in black and white and part of creative process.
As a theatre couple, are there any behind-the-scenes tidbits you want readers to know about regarding the GLB theatre community? (Emily) People see the final product and don’t know what a huge team effort it is. We as actors love the spotlight but a stage manager doesn’t get credit. There are many very, very giving artists in our community. It’s not something you find elsewhere. Empathy in theatre is unique in its ability to harness that empathy and tell stories to make people think and feel. It’s an opportunity to develop with strong bonds with your cast mates. There are no small roles in theatre. It’s cliché but it’s true. It’s an art form that’s lasted for thousands of years, and the audience is an additional character that comes to life every night. No way to replicate it – the energy is palpable and its energy I live for. (Jason) There’s more active participation in theatre. It's a privilege and responsibility telling stories. It’s (representation of people of color) starting to change but theatre is still at the forefront. We'll see it when Broadway opens this fall with all Black playwrights. (Emily) We’re seeing it in our community, too. We’re also seeing more female play writers sharing their viewpoints.
Tell me about directing Jesus Christ Superstar and why folks should come see it? (Emily) It’s a 2000-year-old story. The show was originally written in 70s as a rock opera. We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary and the goal is to say something new with it. Set in modern day and share Jesus today and who are the people he’s ministering to and what would they look like. Theatre allows you to empathize and relate to the son of God character. (Jason) His main message was love – no matter the background and religious beliefs, loving others is the most powerful thing you can do. (Emily) Jesus sparked a revolution and wouldn’t be talking about him still. We want to see this mild-mannered Jesus but sometimes to achieve peace you need to go through chaos. We have the most awesome Jesus. He’s a kind, earnest, and an SVSU student – imposingly tall, Black with a long beard. The whole cast is goodhearted and everyone in the cast is invested in the story. All are empowered people focused on social justice and they bring that intention to rehearsal. We have an amazing creative team, brilliant art director, choreographer from this area and is a dancer on Broadway.