Many theatre artists in our town wear many prop constructed hats for the many roles they play in theatre creation. This is especially true of Theo Langason. A crafty brewed and bred Minnesotan (hehehe I try to have pun when I write). Theo and I met after our production meeting at Park Square Theatre! (WHAT?? TWO ACTORS IN A PRODUCTION MEETING?) I know what you’re thinking! But what If I told you that two actors were not in the production meeting? What If I told you that one prop constructed hat was taken off and another put on and actually two directors sat in a production meeting? One director and one assistant ( I’m the assistant)! Theo is actually making his Park Square directorial debut with Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville running in June. I had so much fun learning about his hustle and flow and am so happy to share it with you all!
We went to Afro-Deli for a bite! Right across from Park Square. Oh how I love Somali rice.Theo had the coconut shrimp. I didn’t ask him for one but I wanted to.
I was just thinking about how I know you from the acting world and as we are coming from our production meeting, I’m wondering what are the differences between those two worlds?
They are very different. I prefer directing. There is a lot more work cerebrally but to me it is actually easier because I don’t have to stay in character or work up to emotional things. I just have to worry about how the pieces fit together and how they achieve a goal together and that is just more entertaining to me. As a performer I’ve found that I have a lot of opinions on the way things should be and so it is nice being a director to not have to quiet myself. Frankly, when you are a performer sometimes your opinion doesn’t matter. There are times when it does and it’s helpful but as a performer you are thinking about your performance. How you feel about your performance is important and it matters but there are a million other moving pieces that you as a performer aren’t accounting for or necessarily aware of. Sometimes everyone’s voice can’t all fit simultaneously.
Do you think you are gonna be directing more in your future work?
I will go where the money is! My skills are in theatre and I will do whatever people pay me to do whether that is music or acting or directing. To me it’s the only way I can make sense of it financially. I’m not a disciplined enough actor to be an actor full time. I just don’t have the desire to really really work hard at the craft and so it just doesn’t make sense to me.
You are multifaceted! Can you just talk about yourself. Just anything about yourself.
So open-ended! Well so much of my identity is tied to the fact that I grew up in Minneapolis. I’m turning 29 (his Birthday just passed, happy belated Theo!) and I’ve been doing theatre since I was 12 so the majority of my life. I don’t think that would have been the case if I grew up anywhere else. Our children’s theatre here is strong. To me, that’s one of the biggest reasons why our theatre community is as strong as it is. We have such a wide array of different children’s theatre which is a luxury as a young person to have all those opportunities. I consider myself to be a theatre artist and a teaching artist. I don’t like calling myself an actor simply because I don’t have the dedication to really hone in on the craft. I struggle calling myself a musician because it is so new to me. It also feels weird calling myself a director because it is also sorta new. It’s a little bit of imposter syndrome, if it were anyone else I’d say “that’s bullshit” but it’s me and I can’t.
What would help you with that recognition? I struggled calling myself a poet until someone was like “ you’re a poet” and I was like okay. . .
I think we live in a society that is fueled by doubt whether it is doubting others or yourself and it is a rebellious act to give yourself props. Sometimes it is challenging both to do it and hear it from other people. I think it is built in us to talk ourselves down. I have my opinion that we act like that because it benefits the people in power. There is financial benefit to those who have money and power to doubt ourselves. Even though I am aware of that it still is hard for me.
I love everything you just said! That’s funny, I was gonna ask what your discipline is and you answered. You are a theatre artist and can fit within anything in that umbrella term. Well, how do you make ends-meet?
Half my time is spent teaching. I teach for the Guthrie, Upstream Arts and Penumbra. That is half my time year-round. The other half is spent making theatre; doing music for shows, acting, directing doing stuff like that. My time spent is about 50/50 but the bulk of my income is teaching. Maybe thirty percent is purely artistic which I think is cool.
Did you just fall into becoming a teaching artist or is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
I sort of fell into it. I think that’s most people. You don’t really know what a teaching artist is as a young person you just know they come into your class sometimes. I grew up going to camp and that’s where I gained a lot of my skills working with young folks. My pedagogy overtime was built from working with multiple organizations. I ran an afterschool program at East Side Neighborhood Services. A person who worked there was a drama-therapist and so she brought a lot of drama therapy into the program that has informed my pedagogy.
I also taught with Red Eye Theater and Upstream Arts, it has all informed the way I work. If you are good at it people notice and the are like “Oh you should do this here”. That’s one thing I have no doubt or problem talking myself up about. I’ve been doing teaching artist work in some shape or form for eight or nine years. It’s something that I’ve consciously worked at. I think I have trouble doing that with acting or directing because as a kid I “dreamed” about them. It doesn’t feel like the “dreams” that I’ve had and so it feels weird to call myself that. I never “dreamed” about being a teaching artist yes I very much enjoy being one. I think it’s vital and important but like, I wouldn’t do it for free! Teaching in general is super undervalued and teaching artistry is extra undervalued. It’s hard to convince people what our worth is because we don’t produce anything. It’s not actually about the product and if you are producing a play with kids and you think it’s about the product you are kidding yourself. It is about the process, it’s about being present. It’s about approaching every moment openly with freshness and keen eyes so you cannot waste an opportunity to be present with theses kids lives.
I know you started doing theatre at 12 years old but when did you know that you wanted to have a profession in theatre? And also, when did you know that you wanted it to be in Minneapolis?
There are two moments that I guess are my theatrical origin stories. The first, I was 12 and I was in football and I hated football. Toxic masculinity was real and I didn’t know what it was at the time but that’s what it was. I didn’t wanna beat anyone up or prove my strength, I was not interested. I begged my parents to let me quit and they said, “you can quit but you have to find something else to do you can’t stay home and play video games” which I would have happily done. We went to see The Grinch Stole Christmas at CTC and I was like “yea that’s what I wanna do”. There was a moment (in the show) where the sleigh is teetering on the cliff and I was like “OH SHIT MOM I WANNA DO THAT”. And so she signed me up for classes. It was scary and terrifying but it was fun.
The moment when I was like “oh I can do this for a career” I was a teenager maybe thirteen or fourteen. I went to Penumbra and I forget what I saw but it was my first time seeing black bodies in force onstage. I saw T. Miychael (Rambo) and Regina (Marie Williams) and I was like “OOOOOOH OKAY ALRIGHT THIS IS REAL!”. In high school people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and until I was about 17 years old I would say “ T. Mychael (Rambo)”.
I started doing shows at Children’s Theatre Company and as a young person you are exposed to professionalism. I met people who were actors full time and owned homes so I knew it could be real.
Did you always know you were gonna come back to Minnesota?
I think I did. I pondered working in philly because I went to school right out of Philly but that theatre scene for whatever reason felt really inaccessible to me. Part of it is because I was in college and didn’t actually know how to network and meet people. There is so much theatre happening here I just knew I should come back. But also I think that’s why I left. I went to school In New Jersey I knew if I left I would want to come back but if I stayed I probably would of hated it. I would probably be so sick of the community.
Okay I want you to describe your career so far from starting out and until now. The peaks and valleys. Moments that were transformative and moments where you were like “what the hell am I doing”.
One really transformative moment was my first show with Sandbox Theatre (which I am a company member of). Working on a show where I get to create it and have my voice heard and respected was so vital. I don’t think I would be where I am now without Sandbox and the process of creating so many plays and being challenged to have a voice. Not just having my voice be respected but having to have an opinion as well. You’ve worked with sandbox so you know.
Sandbox was one of my first shows out of college so getting to be young and challenged to have an opinion and say something, I feel like so often as an actress you don’t get to have an opinion. Anyways I love them too ( I don’t know what I was getting at here except I love them)
And that’s a unique position to be in. I didn't know how unique that was until I started to do more plays.
Were there any moments that you wanted to do something else and quit theatre?
Basically every tax time. Why do I do this? There was a moment I realized I don’t really like acting that much. For me the acting part is the work part. Not to say that I don’t ever want to act again but acting is something where it feels like I need to make sure I get paid appropriately or I will resent the situation. Making music or directing I have so much more fun with those parts and I am not quite as jaded. I have moments where I am like “I don’t want to act again” but really I mean I don’t wanna act for a while. Then someone comes along and pays me a livable wage to act and I take it! I don’t audition a whole lot because it takes so much time. I’d rather save time and save my energy for a project that I am really passionate about. But if anyone wants to hire me to act I will still act!
Are there any career moments that you wish you could redo? Like taking a role or not taking a role?
Yea. One of the first plays I did was a sort of staged reading of a radio play. It was one of those things where I went in to read and they paid a small small fee. The process required way too much time and I couldn’t swing it with my day job. There were times when I was like “I can’t be there until this time” and they looked at it as if I was undedicated and I was like “I’m dedicated to paying my bills!” I’m gonna show up and do the job and know my script but I am not a volunteer. I never got paid for that show. It was a time when I didn’t know how to ask for things. It’s been off my resume for a long time.
I think I have heard from multiple friends of mine or performers in my circle (wait do I have a circle? idk) anyways, just people that I know who wonder if they should quit a job that pays a hundred dollars for like ten weeks for something better. I think there is a fear that the “employer” of the previous job will get mad and irritated. Do you feel that is a thing that happens a lot?
I understand people getting upset. But I think it is built in our community that if people get better jobs it’s understanding if they drop. For me, the first question is have you signed a contract? If you haven’t then you are free. If you have, then most people are like “okay, do you”. And the depth of talent here is so deep that maybe you don’t get that name you really wanted but you can find someone to do the job. I had a few actors drop the show I am directing now for MUCH better gigs and they were like “I am so sorry” and I was like “go do you I’m so happy for you”. What gets people cast in plays is so arbitrary sometimes. It’s not like “Oh this role was written for you”. No, the role was written and you just happened to fit the part but there are like twelve other people who could play the part. That’s why I don’t get mad when I don’t get things. Because often it has nothing to do with you. I could get mad, sit and sulk or I could be like “you know what it just wasn’t this time”
Did you used to get mad?
When did you start shedding that sort of mindset?
Once I started to realize that when you say yes to one thing you are saying no to everything else that fits within that time. That one thing that didn't happen creates a space, a vacuum for other things to fill. They won’t always be lucrative but you can make sure they feed your soul. That’s time I spent learning to play guitar better. Time I’ve spent writing music and spending times with friends and family.
I love that so much. Okay two more questions! (you still with me readers?)
Describe a moment your career took a turn for the better?
A turn for the better. . . I don’t know. I guess, I made the call 2 or 3 years ago to quit my day job with no real plans and it was the best decision of my life. I quit my day job with no plans in March 2015. I was really broke. Really struggling. I borrowed a couple hundred dollars from my parents a few times. I had to get a shitty summer job. It looks sort of bleak at times but like I said it created space. I had space to fill with things that really improved my career and skill set and allowed me to do stuff. To put work into seeking out the things I wanted. I couldn't have done that without quitting. The day job helped me in that after I quit I had a little flexibility financially but that ran out! The thing is that it’s all a hustle. Whether you are working a day job or making all your income from art, none of it is more or less than the other. This idea that having a day job makes you less of an artist is bullshit. Its bullshit! It really is bullshit (you should get the point by now) We have to divorce ourselves from this idea that time, money and work are all equal. Just because you spend 40 hours a week doing this thing that gives you the bulk of your money but what you live for is doing your theatre at night then guess what, that theatre is your day job!
You should be able to own that with pride. For some people that’s working a day job, for some it’s working a million jobs. When I filed taxes I had 6 w-2s and 8 1099s! I worked a million places! But this idea that just because your not a full-time artist then you’re not worth anything is bullshit. Regardless of whether you’re in play, cast in a play or working on a play or playing music, you being an artist is not tied to what you’re doing it’s tied to who you are! You can stop doing plays but you’re still gonna look at things through the mind of an artist. You’re still gonna look at the world with the curiosity and wonder and creativity of an artist regardless if you want to or not. If you’re an artist then SURPRISE! That’s it!
(Are you all loving this? I’m loving this!) My last question Theo, If you had any advice to give your 12 year old self what would it be?
I would say, you’ve already begun.
The thing that sort of tripped me up would be “oh well when I get to this level I can do this”
When in actuality you are doing it. The work has begun so start. I tell my students, it feels like you’re in high school and nothing matters but it actually really does matter and you can take over the fucking world if you want! All the work you are doing now may feel like nonsense but it all factors in to who you are and what you bring to the table. You are there. It's here. you've already begun. I feel like I would of started doing stuff that I really wanted to do earlier. When I was in college I thought I had to wait until I graduated but that’s bullshit such bullshit. We’re here, were already doing the work.