EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2021
Melissa Center is... Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal. No really – she is! What starts out as her Jewish mom's pesky fantasy (and mild-to-moderate...OK, major obsession) turns into a full-on mission as Melissa, single, struggling and *cough* *cough* approaching 40, searches for love (and Jake Gyllenhaal). There will be Jewish moms (or just the one).
Hi Melissa, it's great to have the chance to talk with you, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?
Wonderful chatting with you! Strange times indeed. The past year has been a complete whirlwind though I've been very busy creatively. I was actually scheduled to premiere my show Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal at Edinburgh Fringe last year! We had to re-think how to safely move forward with the show without sacrificing the buzz and excitement we had been building. Now we get to see the fruits of our labour!
Since the start of lockdowns what has been the most surprising thing you've discovered about yourself?
I have discovered how important it is to listen to and honour the inner pinning of one's soul.
Have you been able to use this time to explore any new creative opportunities?
I have! In addition to putting Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal together, I've been creating videos where I dance in public places wearing a pink tutu. I call it "Tutu Tuesdays" since I release them every other Tuesday, and it brings me and those who watch them so much joy.
Congratulations on being able to bring Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal to Edinburgh Fringe, what does it mean for you to be able to digitally bring your show to the festival?
Thank you! This is an extremely exciting and meaningful opportunity. As I mentioned above, I was all prepped to bring the show live last year. It was a HUGE letdown when we were all forced into lockdown. I'm not one to give up easily, so I made it my mission to keep the project moving forward despite the incredible obstacles. Here I am, a year later, with a product I made out of a lot of love, that I am now sharing at the most famous theatre festival in the world!
Is this the first time you've presented a digital theatre performance?
I actually live-streamed the show to an audience last September. They had contributed to our extremely successful crowdsourcing campaign - which gave us the resources to produce and film the show. We not only brought "live" theatre to a very hungry audience, but we also gave back to the creative community at the same time! We raised $4000 for artist relief via the performance.
Our Edinburgh premiere will be the first time an audience sees a fully edited version of the show.
What is it about Edinburgh Fringe that is so special?
Edinburgh has such a rich history! It is an incredible platform for innovation and creativity. It provides artists with the space to take risks. It gives artists a fair shot to really make a name for themselves. And embedded into the Fringe is a sense of community that is needed now more than ever.
Did you have any apprehensions about bringing such a person show to the fringe and what does your mother think of the show?
Great question! I am very proud of this story. It is extremely personal. I have been creating extremely vulnerable work the past few years, so I'm used to putting myself out there. I'm more curious at the response than I am apprehensive. My mom is very proud of me and she also is shocked that I made this play, to begin with. I think she is still dumbfounded!
"I think half our society is still very wrapped up in the need to live within a set of acceptable norms."
How important has the role of your relationship with your mother been in regards to the approach you've taken to creating this show?
My mom is the whole reason this show exists. Not only because she birthed me, but she's the one who planted this crazy idea in my head! It's her persistence that really laid the groundwork for this play.
As for the approach, it was important to me that this play was a love letter of sorts to my Mom and not something that would cause her pain. Mother/daughter relationships are very complicated, and I make some bold statements about that in this show. I did have fears that I would hurt her either with my portrayal or with the ultimate conclusion (no spoilers!), but my intention has always been love.
Can you tell me a little bit about how Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal came about, why Jake Gyllenhaal?
This saga literally began a few years ago when my mom sent me an article in the mail about Jake Gyllenhaal and why hasn't gotten married yet. At first, I thought nothing of it. In fact, I thought it was quite random. Sure I was single and so was he, but he's a movie star and would never have crossed my mind in that way. Then she sent me another article about him. And emails with links about him. And I thought she was insane. The thing was, I'd be out and about living my life and he'd somehow manage to follow me around! Not literally - I mean I'd be in conversation with a friend (for example) and she'd randomly say - Guess who I just bumped into? And it would be Jake Gyllenhaal. And this happened again and again and again. So I thought - what is happening here?! I knew there was a story here.
A friend of mine invited me to join her writer group. I had just finished a couple of big projects and didn't have anything new I was working on, but I thought it was a great opportunity to essentially make myself write something. I sat down on the first day with zero ideas of what I was going to write, and Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal started pouring out of me. The response after reading the first couple of pages out loud was so strong that I knew I was onto something.
Then - I happened to attend this filmmaker's conference put on by Seed&Spark - a great crowdsourcing platform. The main event was a session with Mark Duplass who is an extremely successful actor/filmmaker. He was there to help 3 filmmakers work through their projects. Lo and behold I was selected to pitch. I initially pitched a tv episode I'd been struggling with and Mark could see I didn't really want to be working on it. He astutely asked if there was something I wanted to be working on, and I casually mentioned this play. And I pitched the concept - that my mom had this obsession with Jake - and I shared the vulnerabilities around being a single woman in Los Angeles still trying to find her way. And the audience really connected to my story. And Mark LOVED the idea. And then I knew I was really onto something.
Why do you think there is still such a big divide within the generations when it comes to being single and living a single life in 2021?
I think half our society is still very wrapped up in the need to live within a set of acceptable norms. And the status quo from our parent's generation and their parents' generation was that men and women got married, had babies, and lived "happily ever after." If you are single, that must mean something's wrong with you.
The internet blew everything up. Suddenly at a younger age, people were exposed to other people from different communities, different walks of life. More to explore, more fish in the sea, unlimited choices (for better or for worse).
Also, with divorce rates at over 50%, people started to question the institution of marriage as a sustainable concept.
I also think people feel they were sold a fairytale. And life doesn't look like fairytales, though some still buy into the hope of it. So now we have people trying really hard to understand the purpose of the partnership. And to really assess personal satisfaction and happiness. Maybe being single doesn't mean something's wrong with you. Maybe it means you seek growth & fulfilment within yourself first instead of believing there's some handsome prince named "Jake Gyllenhaal" out there who will magically make your life perfect.
Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal is directed by Michelle Bossy and also features music from Jamie Buxton, orchestrations by Ernie Bird and choreography by Patrick McCollum. When working on a play like this how important is the collaborative nature of theatre-making to you?
I love the collaborative nature of theatre-making! Nothing is created in a bubble. And ideas can only be put to form by saying yes to outside people, places and things. Even if you are a painter - someone else made the brush and the paint and the canvas. Someone constructed the chair a model is sitting on. The model him/herself has an essence that you are attempting to capture. It's all collaboration. And I'm VERY lucky to have worked with extremely talented artists who have truly elevated this play.
What do you think has been the most interesting thing you’ve discovered about yourself and your relationship with your mother after making Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal?
I discovered a sense of compassion for my mom I don't know I fully had prior to writing, producing and performing this play. My mom surprised me a couple of times in a positive way with her responses to my story - I was scared to share a couple of scenes with her for fear of judgement, and she handled it like a pro!
I also am now quite clear where my stubborn determination comes from.
Where did your passion for theatre come from?
My parents brought us (my sister, brother & I) to the theatre from a very young age. I grew up in a suburb outside of Chicago, which has such strong theatre roots, so I was lucky to be exposed when I was a child. I'm the only artist of my immediate family, though, so apparently, my passion comes from outer space.
Any advice you would offer any comedian making their Fringe debut this year?
Well, this is my first Fringe, so I think I need some advice! But...knowing what I do about presenting one's own work...It is an extremely vulnerable process and that is wonderful. It's ok to feel scared and tender. It's ok to feel insecure. Your work was meant to be seen and shared and celebrated. You never know whose life you will impact by sharing your story.
And finally, what do you want your audiences to take away from Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal?
I want my audiences to feel seen through my journey. I want them to know whatever path they are on is exactly ok - even if it looks wildly different than what society deems acceptable. I want them to understand what it means to be an artist. I want to inspire them to be more audacious in their own lives and more steadfast in the pursuit of their truest selves.