October 19, 2013

Spotlight on Alumni: Jack Grinhaus

Jack Grinhaus Jack Grinhaus

Jack Grinhaus (BA Hons Theatre – 1994-96,2005-06 / MFA Acting – 2007-09) took a long time to complete his first degree at York, and then returned and completed his MFA 15 years later. He's now Artistic Director of Bound to Create Theatre, as well as working successfully as an actor. He tells us about his York journey, and the sights he saw along the way.

After finally graduating York, following a 15 year odyssey that had me there as an undergrad, and then as a grad student, I’ve been working fairly steadily, surviving solely on work in this field. As an actor I have had some good opportunities, particularly on television, including a recurring role on the series Mayday and a principal role in the Lifetime Network MOW Who is Clark Rockefeller with Eric McCormack.

Jack Grinhaus with Eric McCormack Jack Grinhaus with Eric McCormack

I’ve also been able to begin establishing myself as an emerging director in theatre as well, one of my main goals of training towards when I returned to York for my MFA. Over the last four years since graduating in 2009 I’ve had the opportunity to assist and work with Sarah Stanley (City of Wine), Morris Panych (ART as well as Ghosts), Robert Lepage (Playing Cards Part 1) and with companies Canadian Stage, Soulpepper Theatre, Ex Machina and The Grand Theatre, where I was last season’s Associate/Apprentice Artistic Director under Susan Ferley, directing the HSP production of Taming of the Shrew as well as the Playwright Cabaret and assisting on the Mainstage production of Yankee Tavern staring Nicholas Campbell and directed by Stuart Hughes.

The company of dirty butterfly The company of dirty butterfly, directed by Jack Grinhaus

Some of the most exciting stuff I’ve done and am doing comes from the work with my Indie theatre company started with my wife and partner Lauren Brotman called Bound to Create Theatre in Toronto; utilizing many York Alumni I met while there over the years, and producing and directing show’s like my own play about Toronto called The Complex: A Toronto Tale, Edward Bond’s Saved, garnering a Dora nomination for Judith Thomspon’s Next Stage festival hit, The Grace Project: Sick, Phaedra’s Lust (with Tapestry New Opera) as well as Jamaican British Playwright Debbie Tucker Green’s intense and gritty drama about the collateral damage of domestic abuse, dirty butterfly, recently picked up by Obsidian Theatre as part of their 2013.14 Season Presentation Series, and running from Nov 1-17 at the new Aki Studio Theatre in the Daniels Spectrum building. (Tickets are available here; Yorkies get special rates through Surprise Surprise or with a York ID).

What was your favorite place at York, and why?

Though a closed space now, the underground tunnels at York were an exciting and adventurous place to be in. Most fun was spending time down there with all the pictures and writings on the walls, which covered what seemed like miles of endless cavernous space that was the gateway through much of the East side of the campus; each one of the walls’ images and writings representing the different ideologies of the faculty or building you would be under when in them. I read some profound thoughts from the philosophy students under Stedmans, inspired political doctrines under Vanier college, a host of intriguing concepts in various languages under Founders, murals, vast images and portraits, poems and quotes under Winters and pretty much everything else under the sun under Veri Hall. It was a marvelous little place that I frequented either on my own or with friends at the latest of hours at York to decompress and blow off steam within. It was like an unaccredited elective course. (A video of a York tunnel can be seen here.)

What was the most challenging aspect or experience of training/studying at York?

Apparently not being allowed to leave until I was ready, which in my case took fifteen years to do!! Truthfully speaking it was about relinquishing control and trusting the system would work for me in the long run, even if I didn’t figure it all out at the time. This was one of my worst habits; trying to figure it all out.

If you had the chance to go back and visit your younger self as you were beginning at York, what advice would you give yourself?

Strive to fail. What I mean by that is that you should be willing to take huge risks while training that may have you falling on your face and feeling vulnerable. I tried too hard to retain control as an undergrad, not letting go enough and trying to do things ‘right’ and give the professors, what I thought ‘they wanted’ rather than grow from taking risks that could have taught me much more about myself and as an actor.

I like a quote I once saw read by playwright Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” (See Tom Phillips's portrait of Samuel Beckett, which features this quote.) That would be my best advice. Fail Better. We generally grow more through our failures rather than through our successes. And the conservatory environment is the safest place in this industry to take the time to do that in. Indulge!

What did you learn at York that has been of greatest value?   

Patience and Perspective: When I was an undergraduate at York in my first year in the theatre program I was an usher at the Joe Green theatre (one of the genuine perks of York’s program, getting to work on all sides of the stage and gaining a deep respect for everyone’s contributions to the work), watching A Streetcar Named Desire directed and starring Janet Laine Green and my then first year acting teacher David Collins. At that age my dream was to be able to play a character like Stanley Kowalski in a big final show at York. At the end of each show I was left to mop the floors and close up the theatre. When everyone was gone I’d stay around and play on the set, doing scenes from the play and other monologues. On one particular night I gave an oath to myself that I would perform in that theatre, and at the time I assumed it would be as a fourth year conservatory actor. But I wasn’t asked into the conservatory at the end of the year. I instead went to New York City and studied with Uta Hagen and in another conservatory program. I began to work professionally and travelled the world, found myself in various intense relationships and surrounded by an abundance of… life. I forgot about my ‘oath’.

Jack Grinhaus  Tiger  in

Jack Grinhaus Tiger in “The Bundle”

Yet fifteen years later, after returning to York as an MFA student, I completed my thesis in a role like the one I always dreamt of, playing Tiger in Edward Bond’s epic piece The Bundle, as one of the final shows of the York theatre season and in the theatre I swore I would do it in. I only remembered that ‘oath’ on opening night. What a beautiful moment in my life. What an incredible lesson on patience and perseverance. Goals sometimes take a great deal longer to achieve than expected. And while cliché sounding, they are truly more rich when they are achieved that way. Helps one get perspective on career and on life.