The Real World: Theater Edition: An Interview with John Fisher

Barbara Jwanouskos, two weeks in a row!

I had the chance to ask questions of Theatre Rhinoceros’ Artistic Director, John Fisher, about playing Alan Turning in Breaking the Code currently playing at the Eureka Theatre. It was the first time I had heard about Alan Turing, the British mathematician who developed the Turing Machine, considered a model for the computer. Turing was instrumental during World War II for helping to break the German Enigma code. He was also gay, and after the war he was prosecuted by the British government and forced to take chemical treatments that would castrate him as opposed to going to prison.

Turing had an amazing, but very sad life, which Hugh Whitemore explored further in Breaking the Code. Here, John Fisher talks about the Theatre Rhinoceros production of the play and what it was like to bring Alan Turing’s story to life.

Pictured left to right: Justin Lucas as Ron and John Fisher as Turing in Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore; A Theatre Rhinoceros production at the Eureka Theatre. Photo by David Wilson.

Pictured left to right: Justin Lucas as Ron and John Fisher as Turing in Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore; A Theatre Rhinoceros production at the Eureka Theatre. Photo by David Wilson.

Barbara: How did you first learn about Alan Turing?

John: I learned about him when I saw the play in 1990 on Broadway. Never heard of him before then.

Barbara: What in his story drew you towards wanting to produce it with Theater Rhinoceros?

John: His queerness and how it is tied into his genius. Because he was an outsider in so many ways he was able to think in a different way. He truly was a man from the future.

Barbara: Could you tell me about the development process? How did it come about? Have any collaborators been instrumental along the way?

John: The actors have been instrumental. They’ve all become fascinated with the story, finding books about their individual characters and contributing their thoughts and insights to the project.

Barbara: Anything interesting that came up in the research of Alan Turing that didn’t make it into the play?

John: Many things. He tried not to be gay. He got engaged to a woman at one point. It was impossible though. He couldn’t live a lie. He wasn’t famous because he worked in espionage so when he was persecuted for being queer there was no one important to step in and protect him. He truly suffered the legal system as the most helpless must in any society.

Barbara: I’m curious about the structure of the play. Could you tell me how you found one right for this story and what challenges you had to address along the way? I imagine that in working with true stories and real life people it can be difficult to figure out what all to put in and how to present it.

John: The play tells three phases of his life at once. It does jump around a lot. But it stays with themes throughout and is masterful in always remaining clear and entertaining. It’s a VERY clever play, much like Turing’s mathematics – both complicated and elegantly simple.

Barbara: Tell me about your production of Breaking the Code. Has there been anything about the production or development that has challenged you or pushed you forward as a theater artist? What might we expect?

John: We’ve rehearsed a lot. I’m also in it so I’ve wanted to get on top of my performance enough so I have time and focus to oversee the other aspects of the production. This is drama, which is always difficult because it has to have the ring of truth. We’ve worked to, hopefully, discover that truth and present it.

Barbara: Talk to me about theater’s current state. Where would you like it to go? Does this inform your trajectory as an artist and/or Theatre Rhinoceros’ trajectory?

John: The theatre is doing well. People have turned out for the productions and we continue to grow artistically. We like the theaters we use and would love to become permanent tenants of one of them, hopefully the Eureka. Theatre Rhino is my artistic home, and I’m very lucky to have one.

Barbara: What keeps you involved in theater?

John: My passion for art. It’s also my habit. And, luckily, my vocation.

Barbara: Any advice for aspiring theater artists?

John: Create your own opportunities. It’s such a cliché but it does work, if you work hard enough. At least audition a lot and get out there and meet people.

Barbara: Any plugs for anything of yours (or others) coming up?

John: Timon! A musical-comedy version of Shakespeare’s play performed outdoors at Yerba Buena Gardens first week in June 2015.

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You can see more of John Fisher as Alan Turing in Theatre Rhinoceros’ production of Breaking the Code from now until March 21st at the Eureka Theatre. For more information, please visit the website: http://www.therhino.org/index.html.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local playwright and blogger. You can follow her @bjwany and on facebook at http://facebook.com/bjwany. A reading of her new play developed with Just Theater’s New Play Lab will be performed at The Flight Deck in Oakland on April 28th at 7 PM.

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