An Interview with John Markus from WHAT

WHAT: Do you see the stories we tell as a catalyst for change?

John Markus: When we have prejudice or we are set in our ways,
it’s because we’ve chosen to believe a narrow set of truths. We would rather go with what we know. It’s psychically painful to go with what we don’t know. A story can lead you gently into new territory. If you find the story engaging and you like the people and you identify with their dilemma, you’ll travel places you’ve never gone. I think change happens when we see we don’t have to be afraid of something different. That our worst fears don’t come to fruition. It’s a way to gently nudge people into seeing new things, without being worried about them.

Does comedy help people get there?

JM: If you can evoke laughter from either recognition or surprise, you can coax people into the journey you want them to take. They will give you that. An audience will allow you to take them someplace if along the way you deliver satisfying side posts. Comedy gets you to that destination, of recognizing something you may not have thought about before. Acceptance can come from giving people the rewards of laughing at their journey.

How did your own community frame your views?

JM: I grew up in the only Jewish family in London, Ohio. I have a very positive memory of my childhood,
but there was always a feeling of “the other” that was subtle. Because I came from a small town, what I always wanted to recreate in my work is the idea of community. You can say that a subculture is a community, within a larger community. For me, community is essential for nourishment. I can’t get the small town out of me. After 29 years living in New York City, if I’m walking down the street and I hear a horn honk, I think it’s someone who knows me. Which can be very distracting when you live in Manhattan. In today’s multi-ethnic society, the old “birds of a feather” isn’t true anymore. All kinds of different feathers are flocking together. You can share a community and a subculture with people who have the same love that you have. Like Barbershop.

Did you know much about barber- shop before The Fabulous Lipitones?

JM: I was a musician into my thirties. I played in a polka band in Ohio and I had a Dixieland band. We called the woman who was my babysitter where I grew up Grandma Kaveney. When my mom and dad wanted to go out on a Saturday night, she’d ship us across the street to Grandma Kaveney. Grandma Kaveney made the best Johnny Marzetti – which is ground beef casserole with elbow macaroni. We weren’t allowed to have our ground beef casserole until we watched Lawrence Welk with her. I came to love the show. The whole milieu of the music and the time and the craft of the musicianship. That was it. I embarrass myself with my love of this.

As director, will you be making any changes to this production?

JM: This is my debut as a director. In television comedy, the head writer hires the director and works with the director. So I’ve never officially been called one, but I’ve done it. The idea of having my debut on your stage is exciting. We have a chance to deepen the characters and deepen their relationships and put a little curlycue on the froth of some of the comedy. It’s all the training I had in television. There’s opportunities to make it more human and more real.

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