Local actor/director Justin Jain is known for many things—his work Off-Broadway and stage-time spent with every company in this city, for starters. But lately, the Philadelphia creative is focusing on The Berserker Residents collective, making original, interactive theater with co-founders David Johnson and Bradley K. Wrenn.
And from Feb. 8-18, audiences of all ages can enjoy his latest conception, a highly physical, silly, interactive production ‘Broccoli, Roosevelt & Mr. House,’ at Theatre Horizon. The show stars Jain as Roosevelt, Wrenn as Broccoli and Jacinta Yelland as Mr. House.
“If you have kids, 5-and-up, and you don’t come to this show, they’ll miss out on a foundational childhood memory that will shape the rest of their life,” said Jain. “But hey, no pressure.”
Metro recently sat down with Jain to learn more.
You float between collective’s — Wilma’s Hothouse, Berserker Residents, 1812’s comic team— what do you like about the collective mentality?
Working in various companies with fellow artists who share deep, meaningful long-term relationships is one of the biggest highlights of my career. Forging collaborations with people that go beyond the singular gig mentality builds a trust and chemistry that carves space for deeper investigation, risk, and expression. Think of your favorite bands — we enjoy music by musicians who’ve been sharing a space together for years on end, because they’ve been able to hone in on a special quality, sound, and soul. It’s the same for me and these companies.
What speaks to you about an all-age, family-friendly show — something you might not get with more traditional adult work?
I love theater, and dedicate my life’s work to this thing. Because of this, I love exploring/exploding all facets of the form — from the mega-experimental and devised, to the traditional and well-made play or musical. What excites me most about theatre for family audiences — I want to emphasize family here, not just “children’s theatre” — is the opportunity to create an experience for every person of every age. I’m a father of a 7-year-old. I’ve taken my daughter to children’s theatre where the experience was, frankly, condescending or didactic. She was bored. I was checked out. What I seek when I go to a show with her is the chance to share meaningful memories, share the spark of what makes theatre magical for me. That’s what I seek when I perform family theatre, whether it’s ‘Broccoli’, or when I’m at People’s Light in their Pantos. I think family audiences deserve more offerings beyond re-telling the same old fairy tales.
What were your initial goals for ‘Broccoli, Roosevelt & Mr. House’?
‘Broccoli’ is completely inspired by the family theatre The Berserker Residents saw in 2014 at the Edinburgh Fringe, a city-wide 3,000+ show fest where artists from across the globe showcase their work. We were immediately blown away by event-driven, fast-and-loose way comedians, actors, and clowns brought their work to family audiences. We wanted to emulate the daring and joy-filled risk taking of making audiences participate in the making of the show and the way they folded in parents, kids, and all audiences. These shows threw the rules of theatre etiquette out the window — experiences more like being at a concert than watching yet another production of a story that Disney did better. That charge is what we went into making ‘Broccoli’ with, initially in 2019, and stands today. Theatre Horizon’s version now includes the phenomenal Jacinta Yelland and direction by Trey Lyford. We’ve made script revisions to clarify the themes of the show and tailor the piece to this new chemistry.
Collective decision-making aside, how did the three of you interact improvisationally when it came to ‘Broccoli‘? What does Jacinta (Yelland) bring to the party?
We’re a company that tends to write our shows through play and improvisation. There’s always a point when we have to do a writers’ room and sit at our computers to write the play, but we start by exploring the clowns/characters and capture what sticks as we go. Because of this, our shows range from structured-improvisation to fully scripted works. With a show like ‘Broccoli‘, it’s a mostly scripted work that has big chunks of structured improv, pending the audience at any-given performance. With that, we need to work with performers who are nimble and virtuosic comedians, and who can play with joyful abandon. Jacinta is a perfect fit for all of this.
What’s unique about the character you portray in ‘Broccoli’, and how does it stretch you physically, aesthetically and emotionally?
I play Roosevelt, a friendly monster, who serves as the show’s emcee. Brad is the ballet-dancing, tutu-wearing Broccoli. Jacinta is our awesome Heely-skating Mr. House. The characters were birthed out of an exercise that our original director, Emmanuelle Delpeche, posed to us: to think like our little-boy selves and what characters would have blown our minds to see onstage. Following suit, there’s actually been a ton of “inner child” work on this — what would have made us laugh and play as little kids. It has been such a wonderful and joyful way to create the piece.
What’s next for The Berserker Residents and its dedication to original works?
We want to tour this piece more. Ideally, we make it back to Edinburgh Fringe, the very place this endeavor started. That aside, we’re brewing other ideas that aren’t quite public yet. But overall, we function a lot like a rock band, we go where the gigs are or when one of us has a fit of inspiration. But trust that there’s other event-driven, wild and unruly Berserker ideas on the horizon.
For more information and tickets, visit theatrehorizon.org