Preparation and Play: An Interview with Jeff Wittekiend

By Claire L. Wong and Alejandra Maria Rivas

Before moving to San Francisco for A.C.T.’s MFA Program, Jeff Wittekiend had lived in Texas his whole life. He grew up outside of Austin in Burnet (population 6,000), studied theater at Baylor University in Waco, then moved to Dallas to continue acting. “I was doing bigger and bigger regional shows, working on my craft, observing people in the world,” he says. “I was trying to figure out what kind of artist I wanted to be.” After deciding to hone that artistry in graduate school, he made the journey to San Francisco. Wittekiend recently graduated from A.C.T.’s MFA Program, and we spoke with him about his experiences.

Jeff Wittekiend. Photo by Deborah Lopez.

What inspired you to pursue A.C.T.’s MFA Program?
When I came to the A.C.T. callback, I felt good about the teachers I met and the classes we had during that weekend. I got to see A Thousand Splendid Suns when I was here. It was a book I’d read in high school and just adored, and I was pleased to see it brought to life onstage so powerfully. A lot of things over that weekend had an impact on me; when I got in I was so thrilled.

How have you developed in your artistry over the last three years?
We’ve studied under people with such a high degree of expertise and experience and taken in a lot of different perspectives. We’ve been able to try things on in a place where failure is not only okay but kind of encouraged, to try something and fail at it, and see what can be mined out of that. That’s been valuable. I feel very equipped and eager to go try my hand at shows out in the world.

Jared Corbin (A.C.T. MFA 2020) and Jeff Wittekiend in the 2018 A.C.T. MFA production of The School for Scandal. Photo by Alessandra Mello. 

What do you spend the most time on besides acting?
My wife and I got involved in triathlons about five years ago. I love it. I enjoy the discipline of it and the accomplishment. And it’s a great excuse to get outside and spend time together doing something we both enjoy. I’ve done several sprint triathlons, Olympic distance, and last summer I did my first half-Ironman. It was the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done, but I felt great afterward.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in the arts?
Break it down into the smallest manageable steps. Doing one thing at a time has been really valuable for me, without trying to get ahead of myself or playing the comparison game. There’s always something you can be doing: another class you can take, or a movie you can watch, something that can provide inspiration and material to apply to your own work.

Jeff Wittekiend (center) in Baylor University's 2012 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Stan Denman.

Who inspires you?
I admire people who can create a congenial atmosphere in a rehearsal room and who are professional, dedicated, and prepared. People who have a good time, who encourage other people to have a good time, and who allow others to appreciate the joy of acting. It’s called a play. This is supposed to be fun. [Laughs]

What’s your favorite part of the Program?
My classmates. We’re super tight. Everybody has each other’s back. I feel very safe with them, I believe in them as artists, I trust them as people. I really enjoy working in a company, where a group of artists work on multiple projects over a long period of time. You get to know people’s different communication styles and emotional needs, their foibles and the little things that annoy them, and you learn all that in a way that makes it efficient and rewarding to work together. Being able to watch them change and grow—and have them help me change and grow—has been beautiful. I’m really gonna miss that.

Check out A.C.T.’s MFA Program Class of 2020 here.

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