Evan Zes is an actor and writer who is currently performing in a one-man, multi-character (30 to be exact) play that he wrote titled "Rent Control." It was just extended at the SoHo Playhouse where it was part of the Fringe Encore Series. The play is based on Evan Zes', personal story of survival as a struggling actor living in the heart of New York City at a time when finding an affordable apartment was like finding a needle in a haystack and just as the shared economy introduced us to AIRBNB. If you read the recent headline story about the New York politician caught in a rent scam, you can understand why this play is resonating with audiences. Zes discussed with AXS the process of working on this play and in theater in general:
AXS: When did the acting bug first hit? Which one came first acting or writing?
Evan Zes (EZ): In 1997, when I was 26, I needed some extra money for Christmas. I got a job at a toy store. My first day a woman asked me if I could watch her kids while she looked for their presents. They immediately started trashing the place. I had nephews and to entertain them I would play the ukulele and make funny voices. So I did that. All of a sudden I had a crowd of kids around me laughing and cheering. The manager took me aside. I thought he was going to fire me. He said: “I want you to do this every day; I’m going get you a hat and you’ll be the store clown.” Every day, I entertained all these kids while their parents bought their Christmas gifts. I had no idea what I was doing. But it was fun. I loved it! One day, after my “act”, this guy asked me to audition for “Much Ado About Nothing” for the clown role of Dogberry. I went in and I got it and it paid. So I quit the toy store and did the show. It was a nonunion school tour for kids. Not very glamorous. But it was fun. I would have done it for free. One of my cast mates was auditioning for grad schools. He told me people were crashing the auditions and that I should go down there. I went down there and some bozo didn’t show up for his appointment at The A.R.T/Moscow Art Theatre at Harvard University. I went in. They didn’t laugh once. “Oh well.’’ A week later I got a call telling me that I was accepted. And I figured, “What the hell?” In a whirlwind, I applied for a $60,000 student loan and went to graduate school for acting. The first day in voice class, everybody was lying on the floor, crying, “Waaaah”. I thought, “Well, this is money well spent.” But I got my equity card and an agent in New York. Before I knew it, I was moving to The Big Apple.
AXS: Growing up, what kinds of shows--plays, TV shows, movies, etc.--had the biggest impact on you? Have you seen that translated into your work?
EZ: I watched a lot of “Monty Python” and “Three’s Company” growing up. I was also a huge Peter Sellers fan. I still am. I do a lot of physical comedy. I play a lot of Shakespeare clowns.
AXS: When did you decide to put your experience as an actor living and working in NYC into this well received project, “Rent Control”?
EZ: I started writing “Rent Control” a little over a year ago. I went through a very traumatic housing experience. I lost my home and everything I owned. As it was happening to me, I realized it would make a great story one day so I kept telling myself to “pay attention.” I’m glad I did because it has made one hell of a story. People can’t believe what they’re hearing and they seem to really love it.
AXS: Was Fringe the first time you showcased “Rent Control”? What was the experience like?
EZ: I did a reading of it at the Alley Theatre in Houston for about 300 people. I didn’t know how it was going to play to a non-New York audience. But it went over like gangbusters. The Fringe was the first time I’ve performed it in New York. Sometimes I feel like I’m leading a support group for real estate victims. I see a lot of heads nodding in agreement. People also laugh a lot. And gasp!
AXS: To date, how many plays have you written? Do you have a favorite?
EZ: This is my second play. I also have a one man show that I wrote before this one. It’s a one man /one-hour version of the movie “Scarface”. It’s called, “Say Hello to my Little Scarface.”
AXS: So far, what has been the most rewarding thing about being involved in the theatre industry?
EZ: Far and away it is the friendships I’ve created. What I lack in money I more than make up for in friends. I have the best friends in the world.
AXS: Career wise, where do you hope to be in ten years?
EZ: In ten years I would like to still be making my living as an actor. I love it. There’s nothing else I want to do.
AXS: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become a playwright and/or actor?
EZ: Make your own work. Scratch, claw and fight your way through the hard times. Because there will be hard times. But pay attention. You might have a great story to tell.
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