Talking Theatre Theatre

Jeff Goldberg’s madness for method

Jeff Goldberg as David Coleman Headley in his new play  

A net search for Jeff Goldberg throws up American journalist. And Jeff Goldberg, writer, director, actor, teacher, shrugs it off, because, as he says, he is not here for fame or money, or to be on the cover of a magazine.

His creative journey, which took him from New York, to Paris via Boston, brought him to Mumbai, and this is where he set up an eponymous studio, where he teaches method acting and stages plays with his students, which then go on to other venues and cities.

“India happened for a variety of reasons,” he says, sitting in a room in the studio, decorated with posters of his plays and photographs of his students in various roles, as sounds of actors rehearsing ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ filter in from the theatre. “I came here in 2006 to work on a film with Pan Nalin, and was smitten by this city. There are not many cities in the world that I can move to and do what I do. Where else do I have time to be creative, be a dad and run my own show? I feel so blessed. Every other Jewish filmmaker lands up in LA, which is so boring. There are so many things about life that interest me — politics, art, sculpture, dance, language, science — and LA is about movies. I did a stint in LA and wanted to leave. There, you can make a good living just selling pitches and never make a movie. I didn’t want to be that guy.

“You want to be where something is happening and where the energy is rolling. There is a very personal reason why I am in Mumbai…I can't deal with the cold. I was in New York a few weeks ago and in London, and I didn’t see the sun for two weeks. I love it here — there’s an ocean of stories, of people, of culture. The essential part of being an artiste and being alive is to challenge everything you think and do, every day and that’s what I do.”

After directing half a dozen of his own plays and some classics, Goldberg recently wrote, directed and acted in a one-man show called ‘David Coleman Headley,’ about the half-American-half Pakistani man, who is currently serving a life sentence for his terrorist activities, including planning the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. “With David, the fear was, do I want to play an evil, reprehensible person? I worry about that, but I also wanted to get the story out of my system. The response to David has been overwhelming. I want to turn it into a film and am keen to work with another director on it.”

He also wants to act in the works that he has not written or directed. “The biggest thing is that as an actor, I don’t know what I am doing, and if I think I have nailed it, it means I am doing some predetermined thing. I am trained as a method actor and that is all about living the thing, and in life you don’t really question ‘how am I doing? Have I nailed it?’ It’s the writing I am more confident about; I have always been a writer, I started writing when I was in school. I know how to write a script. In my twenties, I was lucky to work with some great mentors in France who showed me different schools of writing.”

Six of his plays set in Mumbai belong to different genres. “The common thread is Mumbai and I think in the English theatre space, there’s not that much modern Mumbai story telling going on, and that’s the space I work in. Mumbai is as much an Anglophone city as it is Marathi or Gujarati or Hindi speaking city. The audience is ready for an English space. Writers, actors, directors should be thinking of it, there is no dearth of people looking at English material.”

His creative work, however, does not come in the way of his teaching. “I love teaching,” he says, “I owe a lot of credit to my partner Natasha, first because we had a son, but also because she was the one who recognised a strange thing about me, that the very part of my brain that I use to create my work as an artiste, is the exact same part that I use to create my classes. That’s when I understood that the artistic, the creative, the intellectual, the cultural sides of me were in the same part of my brain. I find teaching so nourishing, because students challenge you. Every classroom in the method acting space is a laboratory, because it is alive and the chemicals in the room are the people. How many directors get to say that every day I direct? But I direct every day, and that’s exciting. And somebody with my experience owes it to those freshers to be there. It's my responsibility. I know I have achieved what I have because I had wonderful mentors. And I take it seriously, in the in four years at the studio, we have never cancelled a class.”

He still believes in method acting, which has somewhat lost its currency in show business. “For me it's process. Method acting has taken on this mystic power… it's just the word method, Stanislavski called it system, I call it process and I think that is everything for an actor. There is a certain degree of artistry, but there is a craft side too; like a carpenter you have to know your tools. That's my approach to it. The journey of a method actor is all about intimacy and that is what today's audiences really want. Elocution classes and classical acting still work for a lot of people, but at the end of the day that's not real life, and people are prepared to look at the sloppiness and the intimacy of real life. If method has lost its lustre, it’s because people are in a rush. Today's generation is used to press a button and it works, and process takes time. Just because you can jump high or run fast or kick a ball hard, doesn't mean you can make it to the Olympic team. You have to train. Today, people think I am good looking, I am emotional, I can do these dub smash videos and I can be pejorative and clichéd, so I can act. And there are people in the creative industries who validate that, but if If you look around at the artistes that people respect they are the ones who are learning and exploring all the time. You can see that in actors like Ranbir Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao—they are trained. I hope my students walk out of here hungrier for more growth, knowledge and practice, because I know that's the way I am. And they can come back, without charge, any time they want to, because the learning never stops.”

The writer is a Mumbai-based author, critic and columnist

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 8:54:49 PM |

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