So I recently chatted with a friendly Ohio alum who is about to make his jeopardy debut!! John Hendel is a talented actor/playwright whose work always has a fun sense of humor and probing trashy questions about the world. Let’s learn a little bit about him and then WATCH HIM ON JEOPARDY! Woot woot!!
- What made you interested in OU’s playwriting program?
I didn’t realize I was a playwright until I went to OU. I originally went for Theater Performance, getting into the BFA studio. Meanwhile, I took prerequisite playwriting classes, enjoyed them, found that I had a talent for it, and joined the BFA playwriting program as well. Erik was very open to training me on my time, understanding my focus was elsewhere. But as I went through the Performance program, I grew less and less enchanted with acting as a career. What I was in reality was a writer, not an actor. I don’t know if I would have come to that conclusion so quickly and so thoroughly had I not been at a school so inclusive with its playwriting program and with such strong ties between the actors (both BFA and MFA) and the playwrights (both BFA and MFA).
- What kind of stories are you drawn to?
I like stories about stupid people, sort of like the old joke, “If sense were really common, everyone would have some.” I’m most fascinated by characters who make it through their days and lives behaving illogically and irrationally. My BFA final project about two married murderers came from watching too much Fox News, for instance. I also enjoy the Kitestab style of storytelling. A Kitestab is the combination of a written monologue and archival video footage, the two of which are completely unrelated, the combination of which is is it’s own separate entity. It is a very cool experiment I suggest for all writers.
3.What was the transition from OU to real life like?
Transitioning out of OU was/is finding where my place is in the world as a playwright. The general notion of College was that I take that degree and I make a career out of it, but that’s not how playwriting has worked for me. Instead, it’s about living and being a playwright. It was about accepting that my career and my wages don’t have to go hand in hand. Playwriting became more of a reality, like death or taxes, something inescapable.
- What’s your fave candy and what do you think that says about you(as a writer or person or both)
Gummi Worms, sour ones if I’m feeling indulgent. Such a unique idea, such an odd evolution. Edible bears are bit strange to begin with, but how did worms come from that? It would seem almost lazy, like a mistake in the factory, but clearly some thought goes into it, splitting the gummi worms into two alternating flavors. Worms? Worms. (side note: while I was at OU, the best sour gummi worms were to be found at the Court St. BP station).
- Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming Jeopardy appearance and how you got involved?
I’ve been a Jeopardy fan all of my life, and have been applying to be a contestant ever since my first year at OU. It’s an online test and they will never tell you how you did. The only thing you know is if they contact you. They contacted me last year for an in-person audition. Few months later, I get called in as a Southern California alternate (since we don’t have to travel, we get brought on as alternate candidates). I didn’t make it that time, but I was guaranteed a spot. I returned to the studio in April and it was a dream come true. Alex Trebek actually saying my name, getting to buzz in, getting things right, getting things wrong. It really is a blur. The hardest part has been keeping the secret of how I did, but it’s been fun misdirecting people into guessing how I did.
- Do you have any tips for OU theater students on things to take advantage of in the program?
Take advantage of the free facilities at OU and create your own work. When you’re surrounded by eager artists and simply need to sign up for a space, create and produce. Self-production is such a huge part of the theater world, there’s no good reason to not take advantage of facilities when they’re right in front of you.
Tune in Wednesday night to see John!! Click Here for more Jeopardy info. Also while you are waiting to watch him on Jeopardy, read a little of his work!! This is an excerpt from his short play “Why Leopards Whittle”
A tree, stage right. Seated on a rock, stage left, is GUS, a leper. He is whittling. Another leper in the colony, JAMES enters. They are both wrapped in tatters, more Ben-Hur than Molokai.
What are you doing?!
Whittling. Don’t think we’ve met. I’m Gus.
Where did you get that wood?!
That tree over there.
You tore from The Savior!
Stop it! That’s our sustenance! Do you see anything else
living?? Do you think we get water from these rocks??
No, but I can’t believe we get water from a tree.
We do! Stop whittling, you fool!
Do you know how long it took me to fashion a blade out of this
I don’t care! Stop blaspheming.
GUS cuts off his finger.
Aw, dammit to fuck!
You see? You are being punished.
Fucking hell, do you have a spare rag, friend?
Serves you right.
This is a lot more painful than it looks. Can you please help?
Maybe it’s a sacrifice.
Are you even listening?
JAMES puts his foot on GUS’s finger.
You have cursed yourself. The Savior is angry.
“The Savior” is a tree that doesn’t grow leaves even though it’sJuly. Can you please get my finger?? Is anyone here a surgeon?
End of Excerpt!
More about John
John Hendel is a playwright out of Los Angeles. His plays have been seen in the Hollywood Fringe Festival, the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, and the NY Artists, Unlimited International CringeFest. He is a multi-time participant at the Last Frontier Theater Conference in Valdez, AK, as both a playwright and an actor. He writes online at offthehendel.com, where he also practices the art of the Kitestab.