Zack Meyer: Movin’ On Up

Zack Meyer, Fight Director and founding member of the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company, will be leaving to pursue his graduate degree very shortly. He has deep roots here in Chicago, so it’s not likely that we’ve seen the last of him, but it goes without saying that he’ll be leaving a noticeable chasm in the Unrehearsed community.

I first saw Zack perform in a studio show at Western Illinois University while I was earning my MFA. His natural charisma, ease with elevated language, and (most importantly) his genuine connections with other actors were immediately palpable. Although I allege without hesitation that he is one of the greatest conventional actors I have yet met, it is in the realm of Unrehearsed Shakespeare where he remains unique.

Zack has been doing Unrehearsed longer than I have. He played Archidamus in The Winter’s Tale, the first first production of the Bard in the Barn Festival, which means Zack spoke the first Unrehearsed words in Illinois and probably in the Midwest. He also portrayed a hilarious Lucio in Measure for Measure, and Romeo himself, all before achieving his degree. Most topically, he played Richmond in Richard III, 2008

Somewhat ironically, Zack and I never interacted onstage while at WIU. We were never cast together, and even when he returned in 2009 for Unrehearsed King Lear, we were scarcely ever onstage and barely spoke to each other.

Zack as as dying Mark Antony, with Tiza Garland as Cleopatra (2012)
Zack as as dying Mark Antony, with Tiza Garland as Cleopatra (2012)

So it was a bit of a surprise even to me when I realized that Zack has been one of the most influential artists in my development, and that there quite literally would not be an Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company without him.

Like many school theater societies, WIU held an annual award show managed entirely by the students: in this case the Grannies (a nod to Irene Ryan awards). Being the president of WIU’s theater society in 2009, Zack gave a short speech at the award show’s end. I’m paraphrasing of course, but essentially he said: “No matter how many opportunities you have here at WIU, no matter how much you do, when it’s time to leave, it still won’t have been enough. So take advantage of every chance to get to make some art.”

Despite being a grad student at the time, I was still very much a professional actor in mindset. That is, I auditioned for shows, and that was it. I did the shows I got cast in, I obeyed orders, and then I looked for the next show to do. Theater was very much an interpretive and not a creative art for me, and when I wasn’t rehearsing or performing, I was doing nothing; I didn’t even accomplish much writing, despite having penned and produced two full-length plays before coming to WIU.

Zach Roberts and Zack Meyer as Don Pedro and Count Claudio
Zach Roberts and Zack Meyer as Don Pedro and Count Claudio (2010)

Zack’s brief speech inspired me to get more out of my final year at WIU. Despite some noticeable and (in some ways) almost fatal attempts to do so, this eventually led to my throwing together an Unrehearsed production of MacBeth. It went well enough, and led to further productions of Merchant of Venice, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Hamlet, all before getting my degree in May of 2010.

Things were rough after that: jobless, directionless, often homeless (both of the couch-surfing and the genuine variety), clueless but never without ideals. Despite having no income and no idea where I was going to sleep next week, I helped bring Unrehearsed to Chicago with Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest. Zack played Claudio in Much Ado; he’s never been a creature of ego, despite his abilities, so he also played Adrian in The Tempest.

I had extremely limited means, so we were only doing one or two shows a year, usually at the same time (next year was Shrewthello, which brought us Jessie Mutz and a slightly wider audience). It wasn’t until Orion Couling (coworker and friend of Zack) brought us on the Tall Ship Windy for Comedy of Errors, that things had the chance to take off. This was early 2012, and I had resolved to quit Unrehearsed Shakespeare for good as soon as Comedy of Errors was over.

Zack as Antonio in Twelfth Night (2014)
Zack as Antonio in Twelfth Night (2014)

At the time, I was directing, producing, managing, and handling pretty much all aspects of the shows myself. And doing a show with moderately-large casts and no rehearsal to keep tabs on people means that the more unreliable performers make themselves known more easily. I had resolved to finish up Comedy of Errors and call it quits. By complete coincidence, Zack and I crossed paths while walking to the performance early, and so had a quick lunch together. During this lunch, he commented several times on how great it was that Unrehearsed was catching on, and the powerful sense of creative autonomy that having our own acting technique afforded us. Once again, Zack had inspired me, unintentionally and without agenda.

It was shortly after that (again, thanks to Zack) that a team was assembled to help produce shows, and a proper Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company was formed: Jessie Mutz, Danny Pancratz, Brian LeTraunik, and Zack Meyer. There was an immediate upswing in the number of shows we could produce, and the fate and direction of the company was no longer linked to my (often mercurial) financial/housing condition. Now, we have regular seasons and produce four to eight shows a year. Despite the limitations of our esoteric acting style, we are always trying new things and discovering new insights.

Zack as the First Player (Hamlet, 2010), which led to the revolutionary Story-Telling aspects of Unrehearsed.
Zack as the First Player (Hamlet, 2010), which led to the revolutionary Story-Telling aspects of Unrehearsed.

Zack has delivered some stellar performances in the last few years: Mark Antony (twice), Benedick, Henry V, and the director of Midsummer Night’s Dream (where I got to play Bottom, which I’ll never get tired of) and Romeo & Juliet (where I got to play Mercutio, something I sure as hell never expected in my life). But I will always be most grateful for the sincere words he offered to his classmates at Western Illinois: no matter how many opportunities you get, they will never be enough.

This Tuesday the 7th (and the 14th), Zack is performing as Richard III, his final Unrehearsed show before beginning his graduate education. Seeing him perform is a rare treat, and I urge everyone to take advantage of this artistic opportunity, while you can.

RICHARD III, Unrehearsed
July 7 & 14
@ Black Rock Pub
$5 at the Door


The End is writ, the Way is not!”

Author: Jared