Jess Prichard is, like his character Matt Norton, a straight white man in America, but they navigate the world in vastly different ways. We met with Jess to find out how he defines success, about the role of privilege plays in society, and why he thinks Straight White Men is an important play in today’s world.
How would you describe your character, Matt?
I find Matt very caring, thoughtful, sensitive, loving, educated, and I think he’s loyal.
A theme in this play is the definition of success. As an actor you don’t fit in the box of society’s prescribed “cubicle, working 9-5” definition of success. Have you ever experienced some of the struggles your character, or any of the other characters, have faced?
This came up a few times in rehearsal. I think anyone who chooses a profession outside of societal norms can struggle at times to explain what they do and why they do it. And yet, as the new “gig economy” makes the “9 to 5” ideal and life less attainable, I think we’re being forced to rethink what “success” is. I think we’re really having to ask ourselves how we define success, and I think that’s why this play is so important right now, because I think that’s what it’s pointing to.
What does it mean to be a straight white man today? And how does this play challenge that idea?
In many ways, I think it means what it’s always meant; as straight white men in America, we have privileges that non-straight white men do not. These privileges can be difficult to notice at times because privilege, by definition, affords us the benefit of not facing certain pressures and dangers that non-straight white men face.
Conversely, I think it also means we have a great opportunity. I think now, more than ever, we can use our privilege to make change and eventually, hopefully, remove the inequities that brutalize so many other people.
How does this story challenge our ideas of what privilege is and how it affects the way we look at the world?
I’ve been trying to do my best to be a part of the conversation about privilege for most of my life. Two of my greatest privileges, beyond being a white male, have been to have come from an educated family and from a diverse community in Los Angeles.
I think this story is quite genius in the way it presents concepts of privilege, both overt and subtle, so that the audiences can begin to digest them in various ways.
Also, it’s no secret that people who see theatre are often white and privileged, which the playwright addresses at the top of the play. So from the start, the audience is being asked to examine the layers of privilege they do and do not possess.
Why do you think this story is important today?
I think it packages these large cultural issues into a very entertaining piece of theatre. People will laugh, cry, and walk out reviewing what they just saw to find answers they feel went seemingly unanswered. That’s when the play really does it work. Reviewing and re-hashing the issues in the play allows the audience to see these issues in their own life.
I think it looks at tribalism as well and what we do as these long-assumed tribes change. The straight white male tribe is still the most advantaged tribe member in America. The question facing us is, “What do we do with this? Do we scratch and claw to keep it, or do we find ways to relinquish it for the betterment of society?”