Vigo Jansen: D.c.'s Resurrectionist King (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

Vigo Jansen: D.C.'s Resurrectionist King

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:42:20
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we've been coming out to play and next we'll hear about a very particular kind of play.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1

13:42:28
Mr. Jansen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2

13:42:29
Yes?

SHEIR

13:42:30
A stage play.

1

13:42:31
What is that?

2

13:42:31
This?

1

13:42:32
Because it looks likeā€¦

2

13:42:35
A body?

1

13:42:36
Yes, it looks like a body.

2

13:42:38
That's because it is a body, a corpse less than a day. Now, we can put on a show.

SHEIR

13:42:44
Well, a stage play within a stage play really.

1

13:42:46
You had a body, a cadaver delivered to my theatre?

2

13:42:51
I did not have time to procure it myself.

SHEIR

13:42:53
All right. So what you're hearing now is a rehearsal of a play about a rehearsal of a play. The actual play being rehearsed, that is, not the play within a play, but the play itself comes to us care of this guy.

MR. STEVE SPOTSWOOD

13:43:04
I'm Steve Spotswood. I'm the playwright of "The Resurrectionist King."

SHEIR

13:43:07
And for those unfamiliar with that term, resurrectionist, well, all this talk of cadavers and bodies gives you a bit of a hint. See, back in the 19th century...

SPOTSWOOD

13:43:16
Doctors needed to test out their anatomical theories and, like, actually practice surgery and it was before there was any access to bodies. Like, people were donating bodies.

SHEIR

13:43:26
So sometimes people would be hired to sneak into cemeteries...

SPOTSWOOD

13:43:30
And dig up corpses.

SHEIR

13:43:31
And Washington D.C.'s most legendary resurrectionist, the king, if you will, was Vigo Jansen.

SPOTSWOOD

13:43:38
Who was such a huge personality and he loved publicity. So anytime he ever got in trouble he would run to "The Washington Post" and he told them these fantastical stories and they loved it, they printed it.

SHEIR

13:43:51
And the public just ate it up. So it wasn't long before Jansen became quite the, I guess you could say, celebrity.

SPOTSWOOD

13:43:57
Not celebrity, but like, yes, infamous celebrity, I guess.

SHEIR

13:44:02
And in 1884, he decided to grace his adoring public with what he intended to be a very serious, very straight, one night, one man show.

SPOTSWOOD

13:44:11
Telling people about why he did what he did and why it was necessary.

SHEIR

13:44:15
And it was this show that helped inspire "The Resurrectionist King," which imagines what might have happened during those 24 fateful hours before Vigo Jansen took the stage.

SPOTSWOOD

13:44:25
There is actually a review in "The Washington Post" of this show and it was awful. It was honestly one of the worst reviews I've ever read.

SHEIR

13:44:35
Apparently, Jansen was drinking in the wings, staggering all over the stage, slurring his speech.

SPOTSWOOD

13:44:41
They said that his performance, like, degenerated into a farce.

SHEIR

13:44:45
And as Tom Prewitt...

MR. TOM PREWITT

13:44:46
I'm director of "Resurrectionist King."

SHEIR

13:44:48
...loves to recount...

PREWITT

13:44:49
My favorite part of that Washington Post review was that the onstage actor, stagehand, who was playing the body being resurrected, he kept giggling during the show and, in fact, there were catcalls from the audience. The audience noticed it too clearly so I thought that was hilarious.

SHEIR

13:45:06
As we heard in our rehearsal scene, my man Jansen wants to use this corpse in this show, right, a real live body, but the manager of D.C.'s Theatre Comique is totally wigged out. So as Spotswood imagines it, Jansen's stage manager...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 2

13:45:20
Excuse me.

SHEIR

13:45:20
...comes up with an alternative.

2

13:45:22
Mr. Jansen, does the body have to be dead, the body that you resurrect?

2

13:45:27
They are usually dead, yes.

2

13:45:28
But just for tonight.

2

13:45:31
What are you suggesting?

2

13:45:32
That we get someone to play the corpse.

SHEIR

13:45:34
So she asks a stagehand named Saul, who just happens to be the son of the manager of D.C.'s Theatre Comique, who as you can imagine...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3

13:45:42
No.

SHEIR

13:45:42
...is less than thrilled.

3

13:45:44
He's a stagehand.

2

13:45:45
All he would have to do is play dead.

3

13:45:47
Absolutely not.

2

13:45:49
It's his decision.

3

13:45:50
No, it's not. I'm his supervisor and his father.

2

13:45:53
And I'm the stage manager. What happens on stage is my responsibility. So are you always going to do what he tells you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 4

13:46:01
What do I have to do?

SHEIR

13:46:03
Mary Resing runs Active Cultures, the Maryland based theatre company producing "The Resurrectionist King." Active Cultures specializes in what Resing calls, vernacular theater.

MS. MARY RESING

13:46:13
Meaning that we do plays that are really locally specific. They're in the language of the people.

SHEIR

13:46:18
So she says Steve Spotswood's story about Vigo Jansen fits right in.

RESING

13:46:22
It's based on actual events from his life so it's really local. And for me, I'm such a big fan of local cemeteries. I grew up near Congressional Cemetery in D.C. and this is a really cool story.

SHEIR

13:46:31
But says Spotswood, for all the plays coolness, for its slapstick, screwball humor...

SPOTSWOOD

13:46:36
It is very funny, I guess. I hope it will be very funny. It's very funny to us.

SHEIR

13:46:41
At its heart, it's also pretty serious.

SPOTSWOOD

13:46:43
I get to insert all of these very, very dark elements because his profession is digging up corpses, which if you actually start thinking about it, it's an incredibly morbid, terrible thing that this man did.

SHEIR

13:46:57
And in real life, Vigo Jansen came to an incredibly morbid, terrible end three years after his flop at The Theatre Comique.

SPOTSWOOD

13:47:05
Also in The Washington Post, there's his obituary. And in 1887, he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at a fleabag motel in New York City.

SHEIR

13:47:15
But of course, "The Resurrectionist King" doesn't look that far ahead.

SPOTSWOOD

13:47:19
Our play takes place over the course of one evening in 1884 and we leave totally open what happens to the fictional Vigo Jansen.

SHEIR

13:47:26
But the real Vigo Jansen definitely will go down in D.C. history as a man who stole headlines, captured imaginations and in spite of everything, succeeded in being larger than life. "The Resurrectionist King" opens March 30th at Joe's Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier, Maryland. For ticket information, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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