Working on Impossible Projects

We spoke with actor Frank Boyd, now playing Joe Kavalier in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, about the challenges of a performing in a 5-hour show, learning magic, his work with New York-based group Elevator Repair Service, and what’s next for him.

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Frank Boyd and Lauryn Rilla Hochberg; photo by John Ulman.

Your character Josef is a trained magician and escape artist and you execute some pretty nifty sleight of hand in the show. How did you come by that? Did you ever practice magic as a kid, or is it something you learned specifically for this show?
No, I’ve never dabbled until now. Local magician Steffan Soule has been working with me on the magic for K&C. I’m really into it. I like the repetition required. It’s meditative. I feel weird talking about it because I’m such a hack. It’s an incredible world and I’m grateful to get a peek into it. I do plan to keep learning even after K&C is done. I just became an uncle (twins!) so I’ll have an audience going forward.

How do you prepare for a five-hour show on a daily basis? Is there anything different in your preparation for this than, say, a typical two-hour production?
Yes, conserving energy during the day is crucial for this one. This has been hard to do given the incredible weather we’ve been having. But I gotta stay inside and horizontal before the show. And I always take a power nap on the dinner break. And coffee seems to be a key component. I also listen to a lot of music backstage. Music is always an indispensable tool for me as an actor. If I’m tired or feeling unfocused the right piece of music always helps me change the channel, so to speak.

Frank Boyd as Joe Kavalier; photo by John Ulman.

Frank Boyd as Joe Kavalier; photo by John Ulman.

So you’re a member of the Elevator Repair Service that did the six-hour rendering of The Great Gatsby called GATZ, which you were in. Do you have a thing for long literary adaptations for the stage?
No, I wouldn’t say I have a particular thing for long literary adaptations. It’s more a thing for working with great material. Wow, I just referred to The Great Gatsby as “great material.” Come on, man. It’s perfect material. As for the length of these shows, or any show for that matter, I think the significance of this is usually overplayed. From my experience, if a show is good the audience is not thinking about the length. And if it’s not good, even a 60-minute show can feel excruciatingly long.

This book has an incredible following and your character Joe Kavalier is much beloved – how did it feel to be working on the first ever dramatic interpretation of this? Did that affect you in any way in your process? Did it weigh on you, or intimidate you?
It feels like an incredible privilege to be a part of this project. However, I think it’s very dangerous to indulge a sense of obligation to live up to the legend of something like this. This character and this story are so much bigger than any one actor and this has actually been liberating for me. I am inevitably going to fail to fulfill everybody’s idea of Joe Kavalier and so all that’s left to do is pursue something that feels truthful to me. This is a good place to be as an actor. I hope I can keep working on impossible projects.

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Joe Kavalier (Frank Boyd) shows off with fire escape acrobatics; photo by John Ulman.

What’s been the most challenging aspect of this production? The most fulfilling?
Honestly, every aspect of making theater is always challenging for me. Theater is hard. There’s never enough time. But I do feed off of all the adversity involved in making a show. The most fulfilling aspect is working with this group of actors. The vibe is excellent. It’s incredible, actually. I love actors. I’m honored to be working with 17 absolute gems in this show.

What are you working on next?
I’m performing a show that I created called The Holler Sessions at On the Boards in January, 2015. I’m beyond thrilled to be a part of their season. The Holler Sessions is a live jazz radio show that is explosive and irreverent and sworn to inspiring a visceral and emotional experience of jazz music. I’m collaborating with some amazing artists including NYC based director Rachel Chavkin and Seattle director/actor/Book-It Literary Manager Josh Aaseng.

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Frank Boyd in The Holler Sessions.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is on stage now through July 13.

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