Fishers of Men: An Interview with Rod Armentrout and Mark Demel

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The story of the apostles Peter and Andrew gets a modern update in the play ‘Fish Eyes’, which plays at Provision Theater from February 8th-March 31st. Rod Armentrout and Mark Demel are the two actors that have performed the play across the country for over ten years. Armentrout and Demel sat down and spoke about the energy of the play, how it has changed, and how working together has made the show what it is today.

 

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You two have been performing ‘Fish Eyes’ together since 1998. Has every performance brought something new to the work?

 

Rod– One of the things that has been fun over the last couple of years is that we haven’t been performing the show in its entirety. We usually perform pieces of it at churches or schools. So it’s really exiting to do the whole thing in one chunk of time.

 

Mark– It’s a piece we know well, so now we’re able to play with it and find new things. As an actor, one of things that’s really fun is when a play is organic. It’s sort of alive. It’s not the same every night. You might have a whole new feeling each scene. The goal is that you keep the play alive and tingling. It’s great when you find a new quality that helps with that sort of vibrancy.

 

Rod– We often walk off after doing the show and say, ‘Well, that was different’ [Laughs]. But sometimes it’s a good different. Sometimes it’s not. One time, we went to Phoenix, doing the whole play and I was on the verge of being sick. I was getting worse and worse throughout the night. That was not one of the fun organic moments. But we pulled through.

 

You guys are playing characters that are 2000 years old. How is the play relatable to modern audiences?

 

Rod– The writers [Ted Schwartz and Lee Eschelmen] wrote the play in a very current vernacular. It’s just like ordinary guys talking. There isn’t a strange sound to the language, so it makes it very approachable. Also, the stuff that people were dealing with 2000 years ago are the same things that people deal with now. Same kinds of struggles. Different context and circumstances, but still the same struggle.

 

Mark– The 2000 years between when they were walking on the planet and now…There’s a lot of ‘scrubbing’ that happens in their story. What I like about this play is that it makes you think about what happened between the lines in scripture. For example, many times in the show, Peter and Andrew travel a certain distance to go to a town. Well, you just brush over that when you read scripture, and the truth is that that trip might have been a day-and-a half walk. Just imagine what takes place during the day-and-a-half! Think of a road trip you take with your friends where you’re going to visit a place and you’re in the car together and you sleep in the car… that’s the kind of stuff that took place with them, albeit in different situations, but that’s what’s so interesting- these guys were real people! In fact, there’s a scene in the play where one of the guys- Peter- wants to quit. Now, scripture never talks about that. [Rod laughs] But it’s entirely possible that these guys got so confused that they wanted to walk away and they didn’t understand what they were capable of.

 

Rod– And I think that’s one of the things relatable to anyone in any time. Everyone knows what that feeling of frustration is. It connects to audiences everywhere.

 

Has the show surprised you in any way?

 

Rod– Audience reaction is always a surprise. Sometimes it just depends on the crowd. My experience as an actor is that audiences have their own personalities and respond according to that personality. Sometimes it’s more reserved and not as responsive, and sometimes other audiences want to have fun. That has always been a consistent thing with me. Audiences are different and change. After living with the play for such a long time you find new things. One of the ways Mark and I check with each other is by asking ‘Are we still listening to each other? Are we still finding those moments? We’re not slipping into Autopilot, are we?’ Mark’s great about that. He pushes and tries different things and hopefully I’ll respond to those differences he throws at me.

 

Mark– One of the reasons we chose to do this play again is because it’s gotten a good response from the audiences we perform for. We expect people to enjoy it when they come and see it.

 

In a phrase, or a few words, what is this play about?

 

Rod– Faith when you don’t know what’s going on. Following when you have no clue.

 

Mark– It’s about that gap between what you know and what you hope for. It’s about how some people can follow that path even when there’s a gap they have to step over, and others can’t.

 

Provision Theater is located at 1001 W. Roosevelt St. To purchase tickets, call 312-455-0066. Prices range from $10-$32.