Eric Svendsen is an actor and founding member of the Where Are They Going Theatre Co. He recently starred in the role of Max Emerson in WATG’s critically acclaimed production of Extinction by Gabe McKinley at Guild Hall. Eric returned to Guild Hall to perform in a staged reading of Are You Now or Have You Ever Been by Eric Bentley, directed by Harris Yulin and starring James Earl Jones, Matthew Broderick and a slew of other legends of the stage and screen. He is also coming off a successful debut production of Spectacle BMX by Ian Gould,produced by The Powers Collective. In addition to his work with WATG, Eric is a member of Barefoot Theatre Co and has been involved with productions at Rogue Machine Theater Company in Los Angeles and Naked Angels in New York. His credits include starring roles in Auto Parts by Steve Stajich as well as A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas and the award-winning original performance of Sailorboy by Neville Elder. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he majored in theatre.
WATG: You and Sawyer were in another WATG play called “Extinction” last year along with fellow “Leviticus” co-stars Sawyer and Raye. Can you tell us a little more about the play? What was it about?
Eric: “Extinction” was an incredible experience start to finish. The play is about two best friends from college - Finn (played by Sawyer) and Max (played by me) who get together every year post-college for a weekend of debauchery. The play takes place ten years after college at the Borgata in Atlantic City. Max still wants to party like they always have but Finn has moved on and grown up. It’s about that tension in their friendship.
The play was so much fun and brought Sawyer and me incredibly close as friends during the process. We all shared a house together in East Hampton and put the play up at Guild Hall. Brynne Kraynak and Raye Levine were spectacular in it and it got some really amazing reviews. From there, we decided we should do more plays together.
WATG: You’re from Minnesota. The Land of 10,000 Lakes. Do you ever miss being back home. What do you miss most? What drew you to move to the Big Apple?
Eric: I actually grew up on a little lake in Minnesota called Sunfish Lake. It was a really peaceful setting to grow up in. Sometimes I miss northern Minnesota in the fall on the shores of Lake Superior, sitting around a fire and listening to the waves crashing on the rocks. I miss the Minnesota State Fair. It's a real institution in Minnesota, and I spent a couple summers working at Andy's Grille in the beer garden there. We all had to dance to "Greased Lightning" every hour on the hour. Then after work, we'd drink beers and walk around the fairgrounds after closing. It was a blast.
After college, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. My survival job was working as a video editor. That sort of ended up consuming me, and toward the end I was editing videos for trial lawyers - short form documentaries on people who'd suffered terrible traumatic accidents. I enjoyed the people I worked with, but after two and half years, I realized that I'd gotten pretty far afield from the reason I moved to Tinseltown, and I wanted to re-assert myself as an actor. My good friend Ed Tournier was going on tour with a play and needed someone to sublet his place in Williamsburg, so I made the move.
WATG: “Leviticus” takes place in the 90’s. Oh, how we miss that grunge look. What is one of your favorite things from that era you wish you could bring back? Favorite band? TV show? Trend?
Eric: I honestly feel like I've never left the 90's. That was definitely the decade I felt most at home in. The music, the clothing, wearing Doc Martens or combat boots with shorts, the angst and depression, that's all kind of still were I live. I think I'd bring it all back except maybe white guys wearing Cross Colors. It's hard to pick a favorite band because I really loved so many of them, but I think at the time it was probably Jane's Addiction. I wasn't really allowed to watch TV, but my favorite show of that era was "The Kids in the Hall." They definitely had a formative influence on me. My favorite trend was probably bad poetry readings in coffee shops. Or people who pretended to like free-form jazz.
WATG: Rumor has it that you were once in a kick-ass rock band and had a festival called SvendStock was it? This sounds amazing! Wish we could’ve been there. Tell us more about it! Any chance the band is going to get back together?
Eric: I was in a couple bands that I certainly thought at the time kicked ass. Smokin' Joe and Joygirl. I'd love to get both of those bands back together. It's hard to get everyone together at the same time, but I'll make time whenever. Hear that guys?
The festival was Svenstock - but I suppose the SvendStockspelling is a more accurate representation of the semi-silent "D" in my last name. It was a festival with eight or so bands that I hosted in my parents backyard twice - my freshman and senior years of high school. There were around 300 attendees for both shows. A lot of the musicians who played there are either staples of the local scene in Minneapolis now or national touring acts.
WATG: You met Sawyer, Raye and our amazing playwright Mandi Riggi when you were in Lyle Kessler’s class. How did you stumble upon this little gem? What is your favorite part about the class and how does it strengthen you as an actor?
Eric: In my experience, Lyle Kessler's master scene study class has always been stacked with amazingly talented actors, and Lyle is a phenomenal teacher. I found the class through an actor Patrick Williams who played basketball with my roommate. We started talking acting and he told me there was an outstanding class I had to take. I sat in for one class and was blown away by the level of the work people were bringing in, so I decided to take the class. My favorite part of the class was that, while everyone's ability level intimidated me initially, they were all so welcoming and supportive. It made me feel like I had to bring, if not my A game, at least work that I had truly put time in on. Lyle is very gifted at breaking down who the character is and in what direction you need to go in order to get all the way there. It helped me to make strong choices and commit to the world of the scene. I learned not just from him, but from everyone in that class. And the class really served as an incubator as well as that's how I met Sawyer, Raye, Brynne and Mandi - incredibly talented people that I've had the pleasure of working with outside of class as well.
WATG: Speaking of working your acting muscles, you’re also a member of Naked Angels who meet every Tuesday, right? How’d you get involved with this crew? How long have you worked with them?
Eric: The Tuesdays@9 cold reading series is put on by Naked Angels. When I first moved to NYC in 2013, I had no idea how to get involved with the theater community. My friend Ed Tournier put me in touch with a genius actor named Ned Van Zandt. Ned brought me to Tuesdays and I found an incredibly supportive community there. It's been an awesome way to break up the week and celebrate or commiserate with other actors and playwrights. I've gained some wonderful friends through that program, and it is so helpful to condition the skill set that is cold reading. It also a damn good time.
WATG: Your character Robert talks a lot about his “strong childhood history” with the character Austin in this play. Those early tween years are especially formative. Any particular events or stories that you can remember that shaped you are today?
Eric: I would say those tween to teen years were incredibly important in shaping who I am today. It was really that 90's grunge music that, in a way, got me into acting. I decided I wanted to quit playing sports and play in a band. From there, I took an interest in theater and that's who I am today. I guess it isn't really a tween experience, but when I was a freshman in high school, a senior named Kermit Carter took my friend Shaun and me under his wing and gave us the confidence to start a band. His mantra was, "Hey man, do what you feel." I still try to live that way.
WATG: Robert faces a lot of different temptations in this play. When taunted by these desires, he often turns to his faith to keep him from giving in. As humans, we’re all tempted at one time or another to stray from the straight and narrow path. How do you relate to Robert in this way? Any deep desires that you struggle with that help inform your performance of Robert?
Eric: I suppose there are always struggles as to why we are compelled to do things, especially when they might be self-destructive. I think my fear has always been that of keeping to the straight and narrow. My biggest worry is living a life that's just like everyone else, so I'm not sure exactly what my "straight and narrow" would be, although I have a whole lot of really fantastic friends that I trust to keep me in line.
WATG: So what’s going on for you after the Edinburgh Fringe is over? You think you’ll just stay in Scotland? Maybe travel the world?
Eric: In my mind, I've built the Fringe up to be a monumental, life-altering experience, so there's no way I could possibly predict where I'll be afterward. I'm just trying to stay open right now and see where I end up. I do have Sawyer and Raye's wedding, though. I'll be around for that.
Where can people keep up with your latest news online?
Eric: Please track me down on: Instagram: @ericsvendsenTwitter: @ericsvendsen Facebook: Eric Svendsen
“Leviticus” opens TODAY in New York City at 59E59 before we head across the pond. Only three performances - July 17, 18, 19 at 6:30pm.
Come see us in Scotland at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Aug 3-27 at 12pm (except for Tuesdays). Buy tickets here: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/leviticus