Jim Lichtscheidl Q&A

August 19, 2019
Jim Lichtscheidl on carving out a legendary stage career.

“When the entire cast is vibrating at the same frequency and collectively telling a story there is no alternative.”

Congratulations on winning a McKnight grant. How are you planning to use the funds?

I’m so excited to implement the McKnight Theater Artist Fellowship at the Playwrights’ Center toward three projects that have been waiting for such an opportunity. One of them involves pop-up theater scenarios in public settings, similar to the way flash mobs work. I’m interested in finding new ways to discover and reach new audiences and my concept involves scenarios that demonstrate empathy. In my opinion, one of the most effective ways to learn empathy is to witness it. It’s taking the “Pay It Forward” concept and giving it a genesis artistically.

You had a hit with your own material with “KNOCK!” which you wrote about your upbringing in Lino Lakes. Are you writing anything else at the moment?

I’m writing a vaudevillian piece with key elements of the show “KNOCK!” in mind. There are similarities, like the movement style I call “storieography,” which is blocking a scene to musical accents found in a piece of music. But this show will include singing, original compositions and hopefully live musicians, whereas “KNOCK!” relied on pre-recorded orchestrations and contemporary pop songs.

Do you enjoy writing? Or is it a lesser satisfaction than performing?

I find I procrastinate more when I’m writing something than with any other discipline. I’m starting to accept the fact that much of the way I write involves gathering all necessary information in my head before I write anything down. If I attempt to write before I feel prepared I tend to get anxious.

Do you still get stage fright?

I don’t necessarily get stage fright anymore, but if I know a certain person is to be watching that night my heart will beat faster, and I’ll feel hyper aware of what I’m doing. And then there’s my stage fright of all things firearms. In a filming for ABC’s In An Instant I played a hostage held at gunpoint, and days were spent with a gun held to my temple. It’s hard to shake some of the terrible things I experience for my profession.

How do you describe performing when you feel totally in sync with the other actors?

When the entire cast is vibrating at the same frequency and collectively telling the story there is no alternative. This may be one of the hardest things to learn as an actor, however, because we are typically programmed to believe that we need to stand out, to be singled out as exceptional in reviews, to “steal the show!” I am guilty of that very desire myself. But the longer I worked the more crystalline the reason became of why I do it—for the audience. My most rewarding times have been when the cast is egoless in their storytelling.

Steve Martin once wrote that he never felt great joy doing comedy as he was constantly aware of, and worried about, making flubs. Doing a good show mostly felt like relief to him. Is that accurate for you? Or is it as fun as it looks?

I used to become paralyzed with fear when I would forget a line or mess something up onstage. Then I took some improvisation classes and suddenly certain synapses connected in my acting, where I understood what living in the moment means and how to apply it to a character in a play. Now missed lines are opportunities to see how this character lives this new moment in their typically scripted life.

You’re so prolific, acting on all the Twin Cities stages, and in London, New York, Washington, D.C., and more. Do you like the itinerant nature of acting?

I love that my career has allowed me to perform in so many different places around the world. There was a period where I specifically took only out of town work; I was shopping other cities to see if there were any to which I would consider moving. In the end, there’s no place like home, and I happily call the Twin Cities my current address.

What is more fun for you: the preparation or the performance?

There are highlights to both the preparation and performance of a play but in terms of fun it’s all about performance for me. All the hard work pays off when the audience and the story meet each other for the first time. Never to be recreated! What a once-in-a-lifetime event for everyone involved!

How much fun was it to be acting with Mark Rylance in the same period he won his Oscar?

The best part about Mark winning the Oscar during our New York run of “Nice Fish” was at the show the next day during curtain call his Oscar popped out of an ice hole on the set and took a bow as well. That, along with the fact that Mark was just as humble and selfless as he was before winning the award. A class act.

Who is your all-time favorite stage actor in history? Same question with film actor?

I would enjoy being in a play with Emma Thompson. We met briefly after she attended “Nice Fish” in New York and we chatted like old buddies, I felt an instant rapport. I’ve always admired her captivating and detailed skill as an actor. If I were doing a comedy film I’d jump for the chance to play with Kristen Wiig.

Do you enjoy film acting as much as stage acting?

The actor-audience relationship is less satisfying in film, and it’s why I prefer to be a stage actor. In film that connection is facilitated through several different hands. An actor’s intentions are possibly diluted or manipulated in the editing room, even overdubbed with another voice. In theater you feel the immediate effect of the words and the characters you bring to life, and build trust with each connection, back and forth, like a dance. I live for those moments.

What is one thing you learned about acting at Forest Lake High School that you still use today?

One tradition I carry on to this day is signing my name somewhere in the dressing room of the theater I perform. I have to be sneaky in some places. The dressing room at Forest Lake High School had drawers full of signatures if I recall. I wonder if my name is still there?