Merging psychology, acting
Jed Weiss plays Mr. Gibson in UBC theatre’s production of Wives and Daughters. (photo from UBC theatre)
University of British Columbia’s theatre program has a tradition of presenting historical plays. The current production, Wives and Daughters, based on an 1860s serial novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, was adapted by Jacqueline Firkins and directed by Courtenay Dobbie. It promises to be “a charming romp of love convoluted by hidden desires and expectations.”
One of the actors in Wives and Daughters is Jewish community member Jed Weiss. In his final year at UBC, Weiss will graduate in May 2018 with a dual degree in psychology and acting. A transplant from California, he moved to Vancouver in 2013.
“I first moved here to go to UBC,” he told the Jewish Independent. “And I would definitely like to continue living here for awhile after graduating. I’ll always go back to Northern California to visit, but Vancouver is a second home to me. Part of what made UBC so attractive was the tuition price. I was able to finesse a dual citizenship a month before I applied here, thanks to my awesome mom, who kept her Canadian citizenship after moving to the States.”
Since his arrival, he has been very busy with work and study. Among other activities, he was a radio host for several years. “Between 2013 and 2016, I was hosting my radio show called Crescendo on the UBC radio station CITR 101.9. It went live for one hour every Sunday night. The program played eclectic music, starting with chill and down tempo, and building in intensity through the hour. I also used the time on the show to interview local bands, which was a really fun time. It was a live show, which was later podcasted, and some of the shows are archived on the website. Sadly, during the last couple years, I’ve gotten increasingly busy with acting and music and had to let go of the show, but I still drop by to support the station.”
He also donated his time to the nonprofit organization Generocksity.
“Generocksity is a nonprofit organization that originated at UBC and has since spread internationally,” he explained. “Its purpose is to create philanthropic opportunities, increase philanthropic culture, and throw live events featuring local musicians, with every dollar made from those events benefitting a local charity. A few years back, I worked as a talent coordinator, so I spent time reaching out to Vancouver comedians and musicians to volunteer their time to perform at our events to benefit local charities. At this point, I can only help out when I’m not too busy. I almost feel like Generocksity’s dead-beat stepdad, but I’d encourage everyone to look into them.”
When asked about acting, and what attraction it holds for him, Weiss said, “As an actor, you get to be whoever you want. You get to lose yourself in the escapism while simultaneously chasing this high of complete connection with an audience. It didn’t occur to me as a viable option until my ninth grade drama class and, since then, it’s been step by step. In 10th grade, I had to inform both my wrestling coaches that I was quitting mid-season to join the cast of my high school’s production of Beauty and the Beast, which were two very ‘fun’ conversations. After high school, I began working with the UBC Players Club and other campus productions. Eventually, a close friend of mine pushed me to audition for the UBC BFA program, and the rest is history.”
Weiss enjoys both of his areas of study. “If I can make enough money from acting to feed, house and at least partially clothe myself, I’d be set! That being said, I would honestly feel that something was missing if I didn’t spend some time continuing to study psychology. I wouldn’t even mind Frasier-ing it and landing a radio or podcast psychology advice show that would utilize both of those fields,” he said, referring to the main character’s jobs on the television comedy Frasier, which ran from 1993 to 2004.
Weiss said that psychology is a useful skill for an actor, and that the opposite is also true. “There has been a rise in the implementation of theatre into therapy,” he explained. “There is significant power in using theatre and performance in clinical settings, so it’s great to see theatre being recognized for how therapeutic it can be.”
As for UBC’s current production, Weiss said Wives and Daughters “is based in a small English town in the 1830s, centred on a determined girl, Molly, who is reaching for adulthood. It’s a very period-specific piece, but it does a great job of relating to the universal human experience of family dynamics. Our crew and production team have done a phenomenal job of helping create this universe through the use of costuming, lighting, sound and stagecraft.”
Weiss plays Molly’s father.
“I play Mr. Gibson, the town doctor and Molly’s widowed father,” said Weiss. “I read the novel and also watched the BBC adaption, then researched what medical knowledge was available to doctors in the early Victorian England. You need the research to fuel the technique but you can’t play any of the research during the actual performance. You play the wants of this person filtered through his age and the time period. Mr. Gibson may want to tell someone else to get lost, but with his 1830s gentility, he would word it in the kindest and most astute way possible.”
Weiss is passionate about theatre. He likes everything about it: researching, rehearsing, performing. And, of course, the audience response. “Nothing beats the visceral elation of connecting with an audience,” he said. “A group of people connected to the story you are telling and [the] feedback of connecting with that focus is an incomparable high.”
In addition to all of these pursuits, Weiss is part of a local band, Cheap Flavor. So, what does he want to be?
“I want to be freakin’ everything!” he said. “The hardest part of growing up for me has been acknowledging that I can’t do everything. I’ve been able to trim it down to acting, school and music only, and forcing myself to focus on those areas, but it’s always a work in progress. In the future, I would like to keep up with psychology, acting and music equally, and, when it comes time to let one of those fields go, I’ll have to make peace with that sacrifice.”
Wives and Daughters runs until Nov. 25 at Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC. For tickets and more information, visit theatrefilm.ubc.ca.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].