By Randall Jobe
Actors often have stories of how they fell into the theatre almost by accident, or possibly through some predestined acts of fate. Blake Jackson, who revives his role of Hedwig in the November production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, at Rich’s Houston, is no exception. As a high school student, his mother, a cafeteria lunch lady, encouraged him and his sister to take risks and try new things. One suggestion was the class next to the lunchroom—the theatre department. Jackson found himself auditioning and being cast in a small part. However, with his acting and singing talents on view, it wasn’t long before he was playing lead roles and finding a fascination with the art.
It was another female who led him to Hedwig. His girlfriend encouraged him to dress as the sex change rock and roll singer for a party; soon after Obsidian Theater announced auditions for the musical. Unfortunately, director Chris Patton had decided to see only eight people and all spots were filled with talented hopefuls. At the encouragement of another actor, Patton was convinced to see Jackson. He was the final person to audition and the decision to immediately cast Jackson was unanimous among director and producers.
The initial run of Hedwig at Obsidian Theater was a huge success with sellout houses and great reviews. The story of a botched sex change who forms a rock and roll band, “The Angry Inch” and her search for love and her own identity was nominated for Best Musical by Houston Press’ Theatre Awards, but lost to another Obsidian production. Jackson was named winner of The Best Newcomer Award. Then came the offer from Rich’s Nightclub to remount the show for a limited run—an obvious choice since Hedwig takes place in a club. After countless talks and negotiations, arranging of schedules and working out the technical aspects of such an endeavor, dates were set to perform Hedwig for eleven shows in November.
Jackson is excited to recreate the role of Hedwig, which he considers the most challenging portrayal to date. “The constant unraveling of the character, finding a method to the madness and discovering cohesiveness,” says Jackson, “was demanding and exciting.”
He also talks openly about how the issues facing Hedwig’s gender identity led him to understand and allow his own exploration of his masculine and feminine sides. His take-away from the dynamic monologues and rock lyrics that move the story is “the importance of love of self, that you are your own best friend.” He sites the support and understanding of his girlfriend and other for bringing him to an understanding and ability to play Hedwig, appearing in full drag for the majority of the 90-minute play.
Patton insists that Hedwig “combined three of my favorite things: musical theatre, glam-rock and drag!” He was first drawn to the play when he was introduced to the soundtrack. He grew up with punk rock and new wave and Hedwig placed them together in a non-traditional theatrical setting. He would spend years before directing the play, teaching children’s chorus for HITS Theatre School, being involved in fifty or sixty productions, doing voice-overs and directing animated stories. He is currently working on filming three short screenplays he has written dealing with homosexuality and mental illness.
As for the future for actor Jackson, he seems to be willing to “go where it takes me.”
His hope is that the theatre remains meaningful and that he can “be happy.” His easy-going, charismatic personae seems a little distant from a lot of actors, who so often are driven by an almost excessive search for notoriety. However, he seems comfortable in his 23-year old skin and, like the role he plays as Hedwig, he will undoubtedly discover many things about himself and life whether the theatre remains his home or not. But, with Hedwig looming and a recent role as a decidedly different character in a production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession, all signs lead to a lasting and prosperous relationship with the stage.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays at Rich’s Nightclub (2401 San Jacinto,) Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, November 2 through 18, with one “pay-what-you-can” performance on Monday, November 13. All curtains at 8 p.m. with doors opening at 7 p.m. Tickets: $35 (premium seating), $25 (general seating) and $15 (standing room only) with additional options for VIP seating with bottle service. Full bar service, otherwise. Free parking. Reservations: RichsNightClub.com/Events. Information: 832-494-0001.