A One-Man Orchestra: An Interview with An Iliad’s Jeffrey Binder

Jeffrey Binder plays the Poet in this one-performer adaptation of The Iliad.

Q: What is fun about doing a one-man show and why did you pitch doing this show with Kristen directing for this season?

C027BF87-A1C8-464F-8A4B-979B6335E128The most fun thing about doing a one-man show is that it uses your entire toolbox of skills as an actor. You have the joy and privilege of creating an entire world that’s funny, dramatic, suspenseful, rich, active, and engages an audience with only yourself (and the help of the amazing designers) onstage.

Everything I learned in my career goes into creating the world of this play. I’m playing gods and heroes. I’m playing both a husband and wife in one scene. In most plays, you play one instrument in the band. In this play, I get to be the entire orchestra.

That’s exactly why I asked Kristen if we could produce this play. It’s such a gift and a wonderful challenge to be able to tell a story that I love because it’s an epic tale told in a modern, uber-relevant, context. This play is told in such a human way and it resonates with a contemporary audience. I was so moved the first time I read it that I was compelled to pitch it as part of our season.

I wanted Kristen to direct it because she has such an active mind – she always asks questions, and she’s never satisfied with the easy answer. With her unique perspective, I knew she would make the play even clearer, richer, and deeper than it already is.

Q: An Iliad is a one-man solo performance recounting one of the most epic stories ever told. What’s the biggest challenge?

JB: The biggest challenges are specificity and endurance. Specificity in that you’re creating the entire world in front of the audience and you need to draw them in with every tool you have at your disposal. There is no one else to rely on (or even turn to). Being specific about the story and the characters, setting, and tone are essential to the story. Endurance because there is no break – you never get a breath or a mental rest. There’s no listening to another actor or handing the story to someone else. It’s a huge challenge to keep it moving and keep it interesting.

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Q: Can you take us behind the scenes of what rehearsals are like?

JB: This is all done with Kristen Coury, the director and the person I rely on to have an eye on the best and clearest way to tell the story. Each rehearsal is essentially a six to eight-hour conversation about the script. I spent over a month before our first official rehearsal just immersed in the script, memorizing lines so we wouldn’t waste any time in the rehearsal room with the script in my hand.

For the first week it was all about shaping the structure of the play – so we would work page by page to establish the setting and pace of each scene all while digging into the story. Then we did a run through (commonly called a “stumble through” because it’s always all over the place when you put all the pieces together for the first time!). Then we look at spots that don’t work in the flow of the narrative and go back through scene by scene to dig deeper and get more technical about movement.

Q: The Iliad is a timeless tale. How do you think today’s audiences will be able to relate?

It’s about love, loss, family, home – LIFE. It’s thought-provoking and draws you into a story that seems somewhat known but still so far away. It brings stories of Paris, Achilles, and Agamemnon into the modern times in a very personal way. Think of the boys going off to war as if they’re from Ohio, or Tennessee, or New York, not somewhere in Ancient Greece. What does it mean to be away from your home for nine years, to lose your love, or make a decision that causes someone pain? What if you let your pride or anger take over your actions in a way that affects someone else, or witness loss or experience love in the midst of tragedy?

What is the cost for all of these people who gave up their lives for something that seems so insignificant when we look at it in the past: Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, has been stolen away by Paris, and the Greeks go to Troy to get her back. Have we not all made decisions that at the time seemed worth making – and would make again – but have far-reaching implications beyond what we comprehend? It’s a beautiful story, ultimately.

Q: Is there one particular character you enjoyed portraying most in An Iliad? Why?

JB: The fun for me is switching between them and making them as specific as possible. I love the demi-god Achilles because of his size, presence, and power. When I shift into other characters who interact with him, it changes everything about how they approach the scenes physically and tactically (how do you face off with a guy that’s twice your size and he’s furious with you? etc.).

Q: Were there any characters you could relate to more than the others?  Any roles that were more challenging to portray? Why? How did you prepare for that role?

Hector resonates with me and is someone I would aspire to be. Honorable, committed, decent, loving, and very human. He makes some bad choices in his life like we all do, but he’s trying to be good.

Helen was very challenging to figure out. She’s only on stage for a minute but man, when you play Helen of Troy you have to figure out how aware she is that she’s ostensibly the cause of this war. We’ve gone through a lot of iterations of Helen of Troy, and I’m pleased with where she landed. On the flipside of the larger-than-life Helen, there’s Andromache, Hector’s wife. She’s a challenge just because she’s so real and honest that to become her requires a very subtle shift. The challenge was to not seem like a guy with a beard pretending to be a woman with a high voice. I love Andromache as well. Beautiful characters.

Q: What do you think audiences will be thinking and talking about on the car ride home?

JB: Hah! Truthfully, I hope it resonates with them in any way that makes them want to talk about any aspect of the play. There’s soooo much there to dig into – war, pride, family, love, loss, grief, laughter. I want people to be inspired to talk about it all – that’s what good theatre does!

Q: If you had to name just one reason people should see this show, what would it be?  

JB: An amazing story full of action, comedy, drama, and tragedy, done in a way that will surprise you, move you, make you laugh, and make you excited to see what happens next.

An Iliad is playing until Sunday, November 4th. Get your tickets before it’s too late!

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