Jason Schuler and Kourtney Rutherford are well known in the downtown theater scene for their colorful and quirky collaborations. The two first met while students at NYU's Experimental Theater Wing and have since gone on to create numerous performance pieces that playfully push the boundaries of the form. Rutherford's new play, The Present Perfect, is currently running at The Brick Theater in Williamsburg. [Tickets.] Schuler, who co-produced the play and performs in it, spoke with Gothamist via email.
What’s your new production, The Present Perfect , all about?
In short, it’s a comedy about a cocktail party at the home of an interior designer and glass art collector. Some unexpected guests show up and the whole shebang goes to pieces.
Everything on stage is for sale, including the costumes. What inspired this idea?
Desperation… Although, as actors, we perform for the love of the process – it’s just not possible to produce a full theater experience expecting that ticket sales will pay for it. Kourtney wrote the play with high production values in mind, so we had to invent fresh sources of revenue. Besides that, I’ve always felt that live performance should offer an audience something that they can’t get from a television or movies. This idea extends beyond selling the clothes off the actors’ backs, but that’s a small part of it.
So if all the items sell out will you perform on a blank stage in the nude?
I wish. I’ll bet the audience would like that. Actually, our patrons have to wait to get their purchases until after the run is over. We are replacing certain pieces of glass art as they’re sold to ensure that they don’t get broken, but everything else will get passed along after our last performance May 14. We’ve already sold several glass pieces and a costume. Audience members said that they wanted the pieces as souvenirs of seeing the show. That’s not something I expected.
A recent article in Paper mentioned that the actors had already been “sold”. What’s that about?
We had a party and auctioned off members of the cast. Anyone who wanted to participate was invited to do so, and did. I think the highlight of the evening for me was when a couple, with whom I’m friends, encouraged each other to go on the auction block. When other people bid on them, they flew into a jealous rage and out bid the competition. They ended up contributing a good deal of money to our production to have the privilege of going home together. It supported art, so I encourage the behavior.
You two were regular performers at the monthly Little Theater series at Tonic. Any thoughts on its closing?
I hate to see it go. It’s the end of an era. I hope that Jeff Jones and Mike Taylor who now produce the show will take it to a new venue. It was a uniquely friendly and culturally satisfying community. This is attributed to its founders Judy Elkan and Kristen Kosmas. They are inimitable. Kourtney Rutherford and I performed there maybe a dozen times combined and we always felt at home. I performed in a film piece by Mike Taylor that was shown on the final night, but I didn’t even know it was the end. So there isn’t a sense of closure for me.
Have either of you had a chance to see any theater in the past year that really wowed you?
My favorite playwrights who work in the city currently are Sibyl Kempson and Kenny Finkle. I love just about anything they do. If you read that they are producing work, go see it. They’re both complicated people and that lends itself to their work being a complimentary paradox of simplicity and strata.
Time for some New York questions. Please share your strangest “only in New York” story.
My father grew up in Forest Hills and we would visit my grandparents as kids. One of my earliest memories of the city is driving away from their apartment building as a very large woman in a night gown chased an extremely skinny man down the street. He carried a suitcase under his arm that had obviously been packed in a hurry - shirt sleeves hanging out the sides. She was screaming and waving umbrella. He pleaded with her as she beat him about the head and shoulders. The light turned green and we pulled away. It’s burned into my memory.
What’s your idea of a perfect day of recreation in New York?
I love Prospect Park. I recall reading somewhere that Frederick Olmsted, who designed both Central Park and Prospect, felt that Prospect Park was his masterpiece. I’d agree.
Can you please recommend a good weekend hang-out that isn’t unbearably mobbed?
My apartment. Everything in New York is crowded on the weekends. Anyway, I’ve always felt that real New Yorkers don’t wait for the weekend. I like to go out on Monday or Tuesday evenings when the bars are empty. Daddy’s, in Williamsburg, has a great Jukebox. On a Monday night you don’t have to wait to hear your songs.
Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter?
Once I ran into Milton Berle…almost. He was rushing out of a building in Tribeca toward a waiting limousine and I was hurrying to the subway. We came within an inch of knocking each other down. Once I also nearly ran Deborah Harry over with my bicycle as she was hailing a cab in Chelsea.