Aesthetically Speaking: David Wilhelm

This week’s interviewee is Chicago actor David Wilhelm. I’ve seen Dave kill on stage many a time, most recently as the dancing, singing, advice-giving ghost of Christopher Marlowe in “Erratica.” (It was as awesome as it sounds.) Starting TOMORROW, Wednesday the 2nd, he’s appearing in a four-week run of the American Demigods Old Tyme Variety Show at Gorilla Tango Theatre, which is sure to be a good time, so check it out. Thanks for sharing, Dave!

What is your name and city of residence?
David Wilhelm
Chicago, IL

What medium do you work in?
Theatre mostly, but I also write, and I’m working on getting into voiceover.

Erratica press shot, photo credit Benjamin Haile

Dave as the ghost of Christopher Marlowe in "Erratica"

How often do you work on your art–is it a full-time endeavor or something you work on in your spare time?
You assume I consider the time I spend on acting spare.  It’s not.  It’s a second job (or third or fourth, depending on how you count them).  It’s work I like, at least at the best of times, but it’s still work, not a hobby.  This is the fundamental assumption that a lot of what I will call, for want of a better way of putting it, normal people tend to make, that art is a hobby or something you do recreationally simply because it is often done for free.

Allow me to wank philosophical for a moment.

It’s something we assume about a lot of occupations.  A lot of people would say that my mother was unemployed for twenty-five years because being a full time parent is not a job.  Anyone who has been a full time parent, however, would likely disagree, if they gave it any thought.  I remember my mother recounting an exchange with a DA during jury selection in which he would not let go of the idea that she was unemployed.  She stressed with increasing irritation that she did in fact have a job and the sooner he understood that the more teeth he’d be able to hold on to.  I may be exaggerating that exchange slightly.

But ask yourself.  In what way is it distinct from a job?  Because it’s a position that involves no pay?  That would mean an internship is not a job, or that volunteer fire fighters are technically on vacation when they’re on call at the fire house because they are not getting paid.

This is more than a job.  It’s part of who I am, as cliche ridden as it may be to suggest it.  It is integral to what it means to be me and were it removed I would feel that I was no longer myself.

At any rate, I don’t call myself an artist.  The term is far too general.  Actor at least gives an indication of what I do.  I consider it a job, though it’s not how I pay the bills.  To do that, I work a desk.  It is boring.  Mostly I sit there and pray for the death that will not come.

How does art fit into your life, in general? Is it something you think about and talk about every day, or every week, or only in certain situations, etc.?
I think I’ve covered this for the most part. My friends are, by and large, theater people, so my personal and professional circles overlap a lot.  The artistic director of the theatre company I’m with presided at my wedding.  The reader/groomsman was an actor, and another groomsman was the first director I ever had.  And the beat goes on.  When I said it was part of who I am, I didn’t mean to be glib or self-aggrandizing.  The choices I’ve made and the people I’ve surrounded myself with are all part of that.

When you start on a piece, what kind of end result do you have in mind? Does it get performed or published, put in a permanent form or is it more temporary?
The idea behind theater is that it is alive.  The show will change slightly from night to night.  What one audience laughs at or is moved by will have no effect on another audience.  The show may be recorded, but staring at a screen is hardly the same thing as being in the theater watching the play happen live, as anyone who has done both will tell you.

There is the script.  That is, in some small way, permanent, but it is only one piece of the show.

What goals do you set in relation to your art, both short- and long-term? Is it something you hope to make money doing, or is it something you want to keep uncommercialized? Does the term “sell-out” hold meaning for you or do you see the art/commerce relationship as a necessary one?
The short term goal is always the same.  Finish this show and gear up for the next one.  Long term, it’d be brilliant to get paid to do this, enough so that it’s all I have to do.  I cannot describe how much I hate riding a desk.

The commodification of art.  That’s something we could spend a long time on.  You can tell yourself that money doesn’t matter, but to some extent, it does, whether you’re being paid for your work or not.  I would love to build glorious sets that immerse the audience in the play from the moment they enter, or costume actors in clothes specifically chosen from the whole history of fashion to communicate some intrinsic truth about them.  But ultimately, I haven’t got the budget.  So the actors wear what we can afford out of what we find, often some combination of their own clothes and second-hand items.  It’s the same all around.

To sell out, to me, means the money is more important than the art, and ultimately you can’t know someone to be a sell-out without knowing their mind.  There are plenty of big Hollywood actors who will tell you they do movies so they can come back and do theater without worrying about making ends meet.  I can respect that, even if I don’t much care for some of their work.  Does that mean they’re sell-outs?  No.  I don’t think so.  And while I’d like to say I’d never make an awful movie, the pragmatist in me knows we all have our price.  My wife and I have bills to pay, debts we owe.  If I could wipe those away by playing some part in making “Transformers 4: Just Like Transformers 2 But Somehow Even Worse,” I just might do that.  I’d keep doing theater, mind, because I need something that sates that creative impulse, and I might not watch the film once it came out.  But I’d do it.

I think fifteen year-old me would have a very different answer, but he’s not here, the lazy little shit.

What role does collaboration with others play in your art, if any?
It’s integral.  I can’t direct, do the lights and sound, produce, design costumes, and play all the characters.  I could do a one man show, I suppose, but I’d still need someone helping with publicity, a space to perform in.  Otherwise I’m just one of those crazy people on the street corner.  Unless I have a hat on the ground in front of me.  Then I’m an artist.  Or a panhandler.  It’s a fine line.

David Wilhelm

not panhandling

How conscious are you of your artistic influences? Who are your artistic influences?
To answer both questions in one go, I haven’t a fucking clue.  I can tell you what writers have moved me, what performers have surprised me.  In the end, everything that I am contributes in some way to the imagination that merges with the text to form the characters I play.

Since this is a travel blog, how does travel relate to or affect your art? (Themes in what you produce, road trips to perform your music, thoughts on what happens to your painting when you ship it across the country to a customer, etc.)
Money is the big issue here.  Travel isn’t cheap, and most places that need entertainers can find them nearby.  I’ll gladly travel anywhere to perform, so long as someone else is paying, because gods know I don’t have the coin.

I’ve traveled on my own, not as much as I’d like but more than I’ve any right to have managed.  Every part of it has helped to shape me in some way into the person I am now, so in that respect, it has had some effect.

And finally, a right-brain question: If your art was a map, what would it be a map of?
Big empty space with the words: Here be dragons.

If you’d like, share your website/Facebook page and any upcoming gigs/plans you’d like readers to know about.

Also, I am now co-host of the new game nerd podcast Loot the Room:

Photo 1 credit Benjamin Haile. Photo 2 credit Peter James Zielinski.


3 thoughts on “Aesthetically Speaking: David Wilhelm

  1. Pingback: Demigod Dave on Stowaway! « American Demigods

  2. Pingback: Aesthetically Speaking: Rory Leahy | Stowaway

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