|Judson Webb on right|
To prep me for our conversation Judson sent me his manifesto for ETC entitled “An Operational Manifesto for Training Makers of Enlightened Theater”. I was immediately interested. It’s a two-page document that deftly covers the vision of ETC, which Judson runs with his wife Kjesti. Between the two of them, they have over 20 years of experience and offer services for corporate training, theater for adults and children and produce original theater and film. Here is an excerpt from the first paragraph:
With a rebellious sense of humor we reject the idea that artists of any kind must be overly neurotic, addicted or dysfunctional in order to create. We believe that theatre artists should seek to become beacons of joyfully awakened, high-functioning expressiveness as it is their job to be clear conduits for communicating the mysteries of being human. To accomplish this we see the cultivation and practice of deep self-awareness as central to the training of theatre artists. We define spirituality as “our relationship to the unknown”. We strive for unabashed hilarity, technical mastery, innovation and vulnerability on our path towards an enlightened theatre.
Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Judson was heavily involved in the film “Somewhere West”, directed by David Marek, who holds an MFA in Film Production from the University of Colorado. The film has won numerous awards on the festival circuit and has become a testament for independent first-time feature filmmakers.
Trailer for "Somewhere West"
“What we came out with wasn’t perfect by any stretch. Had we had more time and more money we could have made it better but still what we came out with was Herculean. In its own way it’s done very well. If we had all hated each other it would have been over before it began! So it’s about family, community, relationships and having fun.”
Judson then went on, “And the other piece is that everyone likes the task at hand. Everyone needs to be passionate about filmmaking or whatever the art form is and you can see that. I keep thinking to myself “What is the right formula for creating a well working crew or a good collaboration?” and those good collaborations, they happen almost accidentally. I didn’t know I was going to meet Dave Marek in 1998 at Whole Foods making pizzas! And I certainly didn’t know that 11 years later we’d be shooting a feature film driving all over the country. But I did know that I liked Dave a lot.”
Judson and the entire crew of “Somewhere West” had a lot of help from CU Boulder. “CU is awesome. The guys over at The Kage, Clint Culley in particular, were always super-supportive. They were supportive of “Somewhere West”. I know that Phil Solomon was a real inspiration for Dave. CU has always been supportive. “Somewhere West” is Dave’s graduate thesis. It wouldn’t have been there at all without the CU Film Department.”
Judson spent a great deal of time refining his acting creds. He has acted in his native land of Texas and spent some time in Los Angeles before moving to Boulder. In an unusual twist, Judson realized he was camera shy while he was out in LA. He explained, "Put me in front of an audience and I feel fine. But in front of the camera, I always felt really weak. My work had this self-conscious quality in front of the camera.” After he’d been in Boulder for a while, he discovered the CU Boulder Film Department and realized it might be the best way to work through his shyness. He explains, “I was on the periphery of that scene mainly through Dave Marek and Adam Benn. They were together in the BFA film program.”
Judson then explained how his collaboration with David Marek went beyond throwing pizza pies. “We wrote a play together called “Fall: A Post-Apocalyptic Fairy Tale”. This play was performed in Gregory Canyon and the audience had to follow the action of the play around, people in trees - it was a wild event! It wasn’t a great play but it was fun and it made concrete some of these relationships that continue. Dave wasn’t in CU yet. He decided to go to film school and he jumped in and got turned on by the film program. I said, “I need to get in front of the camera. I want to loan myself out to you as an actor.” Subsequently I got hooked up into some of the other student projects over there. That’s what I needed, just a low-pressure way, where no one was looking at me with dollar signs in their eyes saying, “You’re burning my film dude!”
Speaking of making films and filmmakers, I wondered if Judson had spent any formative time watching movies at IFS. He emphasized that IFS had always been a central component to the Boulder film scene, “There were films there that I couldn’t see anywhere else. Among the artists in Boulder, there is always this rallying cry for independent film. You see venues spring up for a second and then they run out of money and die. That was the great thing about that program. It was a consistent showcase for indie film, first time filmmakers, and foreign films. The people who are curating that program always had an excellent eye for excellent work. For us it was like, there’s always IFS.”
During his tenure in Boulder, Judson was instrumental in cultivating the Boulder theater scene. He was a founder of the Theatre 13, LTO, and Bohemian Dinner Theatre. He produced, directed and acted in more than 20 productions for Theater 13. Discussing his experiences he was honest about how difficult the work can be in a small off-off-off-off Broadway environment. “You know the Boulder theater scene, you just have to wear 75 different hats, you may be an actor, but if you’re an actor you’re also gonna be a designer and a lighting tech and a board op and you’re gonna do all of it. So I did pretty much everything you can do there.”
|Judson and Kjesti Webb|
Eventually, he and his wife Kjesti outgrew the scene and that’s when they started to look around for a good place to raise their daughters and to continue making art. Sweden was the clear answer after looking at many other cities in both the US and Canada. He went on to explain, “It’s a two hour flight from Stockholm to London, and it’s not a far punch to get to anywhere to do work. The arts are a lot more supported here. Those things combined with family connections [Kjesti is Swedish], great free education for our daughters all the way through college, and health care, social benefits out the ear. Those things were a huge determining factor and this feeling that Boulder wasn’t fitting us anymore. We reached a ceiling there. We did the best work we were going to do in Boulder and we were ready for something different. Plus I’m a kid from west Texas so the opportunity to move to a foreign country and live a days drive from the Arctic Circle… it’s an adventure for me to be an expat for a while.”
Before bringing our conversation to a close, I wanted to get back to the manifesto. What was key to Judson about making enlightened art? He went on to explain, “I’m most impressed by vulnerability. For me, that‘s the place where all dharmas converge. Vulnerability and open heartedness, you can’t fake ‘em. Something I’ve been chewing on lately is I’ve been reading back over this enlightened theater writings. Actors are sometimes accused of being fakes. Of being people who pretend to be other people because they can’t be themselves and I disagree with that intensely. There are certainly many actors who are good at faking it. But I believe that acting is about authenticity, it’s about vulnerability and even one step further it’s about becoming masterful in empathy.”
That seemed like a perfect place to end our delightful conversation about making art in Boulder, learning and teaching a deep and variegated craft like acting and moving out into the world to share it with others, or in Judson’s case, starting ETC and learning to speak Swedish. Lycka Till (Good Luck) Judson!
|The flag of Sweden|