All the world’s a stage
Recent Rice Graduate Founds Black Lab Theatre
Published: Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 14, 2012 04:09
Department meetings are usually the same. They lure prospective students into the get-together with the promise of free food, but “free” food at Rice always comes with strings attached. In the case of these departmental welcome-back meetings, the price of admission is standing around awkwardly and trying to remember what class you took with which person. Sometimes, however, these strings can pay off.
Jordan Jaffe (Baker ’12) was at the Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts’ welcome back meeting in the fall of 2010 when one of his professors gave him the idea that would become his life’s focus.
“Offhandedly, one of my VADA professors says, ‘There is this basement out in Hammond Hall. Why doesn’t someone do a show there?’” Jaffe said. “I thought about it that night and came to Christina [Keefe] in the morning with a script I liked, and asked her to [perform] it in the basement.”
In short, that script became Jaffe’s first production, and it laid the foundation for his company Black Lab Theatre.
“From putting that one show together, I realized how much I liked it,” Jaffe said. “I liked being able to pick projects as both an actor and a producer.”
Last year, as Jaffe entered his senior year at Rice, he formalized this fledgling theater company with the ambitious mission of “producing regional, local and world premieres that embody the values of theatrical ingenuity, integrity and sincerity.” With the conviction that Jaffe talks about his project, it is easy to believe that theater has been his life’s passion, but this enthusiasm actually developed during his freshman year at Rice.
“What’s great about coming to a school like Rice is that I had never done theater before, and I was able to walk down to the theater department and gain experience,” Jaffe said.
Still, his trajectory through Rice has been atypical to say the least. After his sophomore year, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting full-time. Aside from a brief cameo appearance in The CW’s “Gossip Girl,” it soon became obvious to Jaffe that his true passion was with theater. So, his journey continued as he moved from Los Angeles to New York City in order to train at the Atlantic Acting School. All the while he had a sense of lingering regret that he never quite finished his degree at Rice. So, after two years away from Houston, he returned to Rice to complete his degree and graduate. After all of his travels, he realized that what he really wanted was to develop the somewhat stagnant theater scene of Houston.
“What I saw when I first came back [to Houston] from New York was a lot of revivals, and a lot of musicals,” Jaffe said. “We are a city of millions, and there is no reason why a play that opens in New York or Chicago shouldn’t open here as well.”
Jaffe saw a new market in Houston for cutting-edge drama that avoided the ostentation of outright experimental theater. Black Lab is his outlet for contemporary theater that other Houston institutions might have skipped over in lieu of larger-scale productions.
After its opening season last year boasted the contemporary dramas “Farragut North” and “Dying City,” Black Lab returns for its second theatrical season this Friday with the regional premiere of the dark comedy “Boom.” The story surrounds two graduate students and their discovery of an inherent apocalypse through the classifieds website Craigslist.
As a trained actor and a maturing director, Jaffe has learned what exactly he needs to put on a successful dramatic production. Running a business, on the other hand, was an entirely new challenge for Jaffe.
“[Last season] I learned that while I had all this experience as an actor, I still needed to learn how to run a nonprofit business,” Jaffe said.
While the learning curve was steep, he is excited about fundraising and growing Black Lab Theatre as the center of a larger, Houstonbased movement. As such, Jaffe is always looking for excited volunteers to join the Black Lab team.
“I’m always looking for people to help behind the scenes,” Jaffe said. “Whether that is ‘run-crew’ or volunteering to work the box office one thing that I want to emphasize is that you are working directly with me. At [the larger Houston theaters] you might never meet the artistic directors. Here at Black Lab I work with everyone individually.”
Long term, Jaffe hopes to work on creating a longer-term and full-equity business model for Black Lab, and eventually he hopes to own a physical space in Houston. As for the near future, he is excited for “Boom” and starting off his second season with a successful opener.
Black Lab Theatre developed from a very unlikely situation. Nonetheless, Jaffe embraced it and realized that it was his passion. Black Lab Theatre proves that life after Rice is not dependent upon handshakes and resumes on the floor of Tudor Fieldhouse.