By Amanda Rosenberg
Jordan Golding, an actor in the Writers Theatre’s upcoming show, “Once,” is a housing activist by day and a thespian by night. The 30-year-old plays an emcee in the Tony Award-winning Irish musical, which began previews on Feb. 16. He also regularly stars in Chicago’s own resident “Drunk Shakespeare” show in the Loop.
Golding, who studied theater and environmental studies at Oberlin College and Conservatory, also plays guitar, piano, bass, mandolin and accordion. Taking shots on stage and giving sophisticated performances differ wildly, but Golding embraces it — on top of releasing original music and working a day job fighting for fair housing.
Medill Reports spoke with Golding to discuss how his time in theater led him to “Once.” This interview has been condensed and edited from two conversations for length and clarity.
What would you call yourself if you had to choose?
I would call myself a performer, a storyteller and a lover of creating — not only by myself, but with other people. Acting is a way of escaping the bounds of my own reality and completely immersing myself in the skin of another human being, living out another point in history, exploring what it is to take on a new identity.
When did you know you wanted to be a performer? Was there a specific incident you can remember?
My childhood babysitter said I used to act out “Star Wars” (the original trilogy) as a young kid. I would act out Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber battles. But when I was 10 years old, I knew that I wanted to be a musician when I picked up the drums. It’s what I was always doing — beatboxing on the school bus, banging on pots and pans at home and from there picking up other instruments.
What is your favorite part of performing?
Becoming someone else and abandoning everything that this person isn’t. A good actor has many qualities and has experienced as many things as possible.
It’s important to live your life with empathy and to go about the world caring for others and thinking about what you can do to help people. I work in housing, and I’m passionate about social justice. Some of the stories that I’ve heard and talked about with people intimately when it comes to love, loss and bare necessities, you see the most humanity.
As an actor I live for stories, I live for humanity, and empathy is a big part of that.
You work in social justice and housing rights in tandem with your acting career. What do you do for this job?
Once I had experience witnessing some of the many housing crises in Chicago, I couldn’t turn away. I worked in tenants’ rights for a couple of years helping with eviction defense. Everything’s urgent when it comes to your housing being jeopardized. Chicago has a pretty robust landlord tenant law, but it’s a very segregated city. Discrimination and eviction have a lot to do with that. Now I work in fighting housing discrimination for a fair housing initiatives program where I witness a lot of discrimination primarily against voucher holders, which subsidize rent for people with low income, often single Black moms. In Cook County, we have laws that make it illegal to deny someone housing based on their lawful source of income, and that includes vouchers. Still, some housing providers will make up other reasons to deny someone their rental when it is really due to their voucher. Often, this source of income discrimination is a proxy for race — whether it’s intentional or not, they’re denying people’s vouchers because of their race.
When did you find out about “Drunk Shakespeare”? What made you want to take that job?
I didn’t hear about it until the audition. I was performing with Quicksilver Shakespeare, a small theater that does “Hamlet” productions. One of our cast members posted about it in our Facebook group. It sounded like an absolute blast, but it said the actor has to take four shots on stage. I didn’t know if I could handle all that. But the audition was a blast.
We do one of several different plays, the main one is “Macbeth.” I was cast as Macduff, but through my time with “Drunk Shakespeare,” I’ve learned all tracks of “Macbeth.” I’ve played Macbeth, Banquo and the host. Some months back, we had an emergency coverage issue, and someone needed to go on as Lady Macbeth with one day’s notice. I learned the Lady Macbeth track while at my day job in one day and went on that evening, drunk.
Are the performers truly drunk each night? How do you make sure you don’t develop an alcohol problem?!
Yes! The drunk actor takes four shots on stage. The first is with an audience member — we pick somebody at random and do a shot with that person. That is our way of verifying it for everybody.
The last thing we want is for anyone to develop a drinking issue. If I say I don’t want to drink for a couple months, that’s OK. We have enough actors. We also send every drunk actor home in a paid ride and provide food to the drunk actor to make sure that they’re consuming more than enough of what they need to set them up for success.
You are rehearsing for the upcoming play, “Once,” at the Writers Theatre. What is your role?
I’m emcee. “Once” takes place in 2007 during the market crash in North Dublin, Ireland. I play a bartender/emcee. As we’re staging the show, we’re finding opportunities for me to live out that reality as my characters. I will be giving the pre-show speech, in character in a North Dublin accent, where I basically tell the audience members to silence their phones, remind them where the emergency exits are and things like that. And I hope to make it my own and put a few jokes in there as I’m welcoming audience members and we tell this heart-wrenching love and musical story.
What should people look forward to in “Once”?
It’s a complete fairy tale. This show, it’s magic. I’ve had a blast with this cast, the production team, the leadership team, the theater. It’s so good. The music is already sounding great. The staging is masterful. And it’s just a joy to be a part of and to look at. There’s something in there for everybody. The leadership team at the Writers Theatre mentioned that they’ve already sold tickets at a historic rate.
Will you still be performing with “Drunk Shakespeare” during your time at “Once”?
For the rehearsal process and performances, I’m stopping “Drunk Shakespeare.” I want to devote all my time and energy to this production. It’s nice to take some time away from the grit and grind that comes with “Drunk Shakespeare.” And to give my liver a rest!
I will be going back when “Once” is over, though. I might take a little time between when “Once” closes and going back to “Drunk Shakespeare” to concentrate on my music. I have a lot of songs that are ready to go. I just need to record, produce, mix and master. When I have four or five singles out, I’m thinking of releasing an EP.