Fast Forward Friday with Perri Yaniv

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed actor Perri Yaniv. He is a native New Yorker who has performed in more than 30 theater productions locally, regionally and internationally. He has originated roles in new works by John Patrick Shanley, Erik Ehn, Candido Tirado, Jack Agueros, Maurice Decaul and Owen Panettieri, and has played title roles in revivals of George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell and S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk. He has also worked repeatedly with Obie-winning companies like Metropolitan Playhouse, Medicine Show Theatre Ensemble and Nicu’s Spoon. Film work includes Winter Has No Sun (Gradient Films), Al Qarem, The Wolf of Wall Street, The O.C. Club, Delivery Hour and the forthcoming feature ​The Restaurant. For more information, visit http://www.perribazyaniv.com/

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

Right now I have a few projects in the mix: one is a short film titled Purity by Avichai Assouline; there’s a new play by sci-fi author Ryan Sprague called East in Red, which will be inaugurating Dark House Theater, a company that specializes in horror theatre in October; and I’ve just been cast in Claire Beckman’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard (entitled The Plantation), that her company Brave New World will be performing on Governor’s Island in September.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

I’m a very sociological actor. I’m obsessed with behavior and community, and I often choose projects that either involve psychological or social issues. Purity deals with the shame of sex addiction in a Hasidic community, East in Red examines the perceptions of prostitution and The Plantation sets Chekhov’s classic on a Virginian slave plantation shortly after the Civil War.

For every character I work on, a huge inspiration for me is childhood; there’s a heightened feeling that activates my imagination.  The characters in East in Red and Purity are very self-suppressed, so the echoes of events in their childhood feel like they’re right underneath the surface for me. The process then becomes about finding all the intricacies of how the suppression finds its way into behavior; what remains unseen versus what sneaks up to the surface.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who had an impact on you and your work?

First and foremost, I see art as work. A ton of time and sacrifice goes into earning the title of being an artist or being artistic, so I always consider artists workers, like servicemen and servicewomen. As for the workers I’ve found most intriguing, I’d have to say one of my biggest heroes is Anna Deavere Smith. She’s pioneered an entire genre and changed the landscape of documentary theatre in a way that’s connected to a specific process, and through that has presented an incredibly profound outlet that bridges artistic expression and tactile reality in a way that is undeniably brilliant and painful.

I consider myself lucky because art has had a huge impact on my life since I was a child; my father is a composer and a musician, my mother a trained as a dancer, so art itself is a hero to me. I advocate for experiencing the arts as prime education in DISCOVERING YOURSELF AS A PERSON.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?

Since acting is a bit of an elusive art form; we are our instrument and our canvas and our paints, I’m grateful for my accountability partner and dear friend Jessica Levesque. We meet weekly and address the work for the upcoming week: anything that needs to be rehearsed, memorized or read gets done during our time together. If there aren’t any projects or auditions, we read a play. It gives me a much-needed structure and it creates consistency. I can’t over-stress the importance of consistency. Tennessee Williams wrote for 5-7 hours a day because that’s what it took for him to consider himself a writer.

I think it’s too easy to call yourself an actor and not be in constant practice, so that’s my battle: what is the work I have for today? Even if it’s reading a scene or running a monologue, something will always come out of it that I can appreciate.

The other way I stay motivated is that I approach my acting work with a wide net.  I hold a day job in a hospital doing asthma research in addition to my acting career.  I’m rooted in the belief that empathy is incredibly powerful, and within each of us is all of us.  I like to think that’s the New Yorker in me. Every person I meet or interact with is a gift; that’s my inspiration. Experiencing other art forms, seeing the work of colleagues and peers is always enticing, and learning from the living masters always leads to inspiration that then gets expressed as a poem or a moment on stage or in a film … it’s all cyclical.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I recently got to do a reading of a new piece by Erik Ehn for a downtown theater festival called Planet Connections Theatre Festivity  and that was a lot of fun. I find his work fascinating.  It’s a cross between poetry, chaos theory, song and simultaneity at the level of special relativity. I played Jesus in his most recent world premiere at LaMaMa, and there’s a sensibility to his work that is unlike anything I can even describe, and that’s part of the fun. Audiences usually have a variety of experiences when they encounter his work, and because it’s not a neat narrative, they often have to surrender the subconscious need to control their experience of what they think watching a play is supposed to be, and then they can feel the power of his work.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

This has got to be the best question for an artist ever, since there is a part of us (probably from childhood) that seeks validation for choosing this path in life, even if we’re convinced it chose us. For me, it’s collaboration. No matter how challenging and difficult or friendly and serene a process might be, the fact that I have been offered an opportunity to work, to express myself within this little gypsy family we call an ensemble, for a day or a week or a month or a year is always a huge reminder that this is the life I want to live. The “level” of that exercise is secondary to me. I’m happy performing on just about any scale.

I choose my projects based on the impact of the story. If the work is important to me it’s because I think it will be important to you.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Within the field of acting it would have to be working on major motion pictures, expanding and cultivating what I do on a larger commercial scale: A-list talent, intense and creative energies on set, polished and profound material. I got to spend some time on the set of Wizard of Lies and watching Barry Levinson work was like a master class in running a set. That was very educational for me.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

I would like to say that my biggest obstacle has been navigating this field without an MFA or some business connection to get me to the next level, but in all honesty I think my obstacle is a deep insecurity of what my true worth as an artist and a person is, and that creates situations where I end up stopping myself from achieving my full potential. I’m slowly getting through it and I have faith that I’ll come out on the other side of that, but it is definitely a process.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

I found the easiest way to stay connected to my creative impulse is to always be in the midst of working on something. If I don’t have a project lined up, I’m in an acting class or I’m seeing friends’ shows or catching up on film and TV or networking. I don’t just watch TV or film for the sake of it, I’m learning. It’s actually why I chose acting over pursuing dance or music or writing; I discovered that my happiness came from the stimulation of absorbing new information; like a child’s. The experiences I had when I was acting educated me in a way I knew I wanted to pursue, so the trick for me is to always stay connected in some way, shape or form to that process.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

The poison of procrastination.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Painting: Aivazovsky’s The American Shipping off the Rock of Gibraltar
Poem:  Rilke’s Go to the Limits of your Longing
Song: Tracy Chapman’s If Not Now
Choreography: Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room
Film: The Russian Arc
Play: Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children
Quote: “Blessed Unrest” by Martha Graham

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

My mother and Viola Davis.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

If I have a legacy I would like it to be for helping children find the way into their personalities and interests, whatever leads them to embrace, cultivate and celebrate their true selves.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Enigmatic.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Ice cream and peanut butter straight from their containers with the same spoon.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Embrace the doubts.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

By the water.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Embodying joy, appreciating fulfillment, facing challenges, helping others.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Waking up with something to look forward to.

Q: Final Thoughts?

These days, in a world run by social media profiles and corporate outlets, it has become too easy to pretend you are engaging engaging socially by engaging anonymously. The pressure of accountability should be contended with, because without it, the truth becomes unclear and it becomes too easy to speak without knowing; too easy to identify oneself without personalized context, and that creates a false sense of connection and community. In this age of convenience, I hope the arts can remind us of the importance of personal identity, even if it’s the actor’s expressing themselves in the guise of an “other.” It is in this public engagement that we are reminded of what humanity really looks and sounds like, and more importantly, what it feels like, and what it is capable of in a collective environment.

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