Samuel Parris and Eli Weisel in BALTIMORATORY: a Dyad of Speeches from the Salem Witch Trials, Peabody Heights 2022, directed by Lucia Treasure
Kicking off “spooky season” in 2022, I had the absolute pleasure if breathing new life into two speeches on the Salem Witch Trials: one by the reverend Samuel Parris in 1692—a good old fire and brimstone sermon—and one by renowned scholar Eli Weisel in 1992 on the modern-day implications of the witch hunts. For Samuel Parris, my role was partially dramaturgical, as all that remained of his sermons was a set of shorthand notes from his journals. Combining my own religious upbringing and knack for adapting, I stitched together a couple of his more infamous sermons on witches in Salem and delivered it with a combination of hellfire passion and feeble attempts at colonial respectability. I then fell out of that character to perform Weisel’s speech as myself, in a floor-length black dress, attempting not to embody the scholar and Holocaust survivor but to reinvigorate his words with my own scholarly intonations. Together, collaborator Lucia A. Treasure and I threaded a ritual of summoning and catharsis through the two speeches and engaged in an audience talk-back and Q&A at the end.
Below is a clip from one of the more restrained moments in Parris’s sermons:
King Louis in Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes by Terry Guest, 2022 at Single Carrot Theater
In 2022 I returned to the live theater stage for the first time since the pandemic for a cameo role in Single Carrot Theater’s production of Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes, a play that looked at contemporary American racial reckoning through the lens of the French Revolution. Cycling between 18th Century France and contemporary civil rights figures from Ida B. Wells to George Floyd, Marie Antoinette grounded the seriousness of race and class violence in humor and contemporary music. My own “kingly” role involved an element of decadence and drag, allowing me to contextualize the role of whiteness and patriarchy within the framework of gender. I struggle with with the expectations of a person assigned male at birth—a role that has never suited me—as the Louis of this play struggles miserably and humiliatingly to fulfill the patriarchal expectations of their father. It was intense and intriguing to bring even a role of this size to life in that light.
Miss Docent in Cats, Criminals, and Comedians: The Untold Herstory of Feminist Performance Art by Christine Ferrera, 2019 at The Mercury Theater
In Christine Ferrera’s Cats, Criminals, and Comedians: The Untold Herstory of Feminist Performance Art by Christine Ferrera, I had the opportunity to occupy a purely comedic role—a rarity for me, as I’m often cast in villainous, tragic (or tragicomic) roles. The show is a parody lecture on feminist performance, straddling the line between performance art, comedy, and experimental theater. As co-director and performer, I performed in this show for two weekends in Baltimore with averitable who’s who of local feminist acts as our openers (Olga Comedy, Olu Butterfly, Linda Campbell Franklin, and more) and our New York show at Vital Joint featured opening performances by Penny Arcade and Megan Stalter. Below is a clip featuring and awkward and campy parody of a comedy set written by Ferrera and performed by yours truly. You can read more about the show through this review of our DC performance of it. Together with Impassioned Embraces, this role marked a continued shift toward more theatrical roles that incorporated an expansive notion of gender and sexuality for me without attachment to being a villain, monster, or victim of violence.
Timon in Timon of Athens by Shakespeare & Middleton, 2019 at The Mercury Theater
In 2019, I starred in Martin Kasey’s independently funded production of Timon of Athens (a rarely performed Elizabethan classic by Shakespeare and Middleton), about a rich, generous Athenian socialite and his fall from grace and power. In this clip right before intermission, Timon has finally been pushed over the edge; he has incurred massive debts that have rapidly caught up to him because of boundless generosity to his friends, the same “friends” who have become his debt collectors and refuse to reciprocate his generosity to save him from destitution. This was my first time in a play after my MFA program, and although I was not going through a “fall from grace” as Timon was, the connection between my own homecoming and Timon’s desire for belonging made for a valuable springboard for characterization. Below you will find the two scenes in which Timon really loses it.
Simon in The Lord of Flies, 2016
The Lord of Flies was an experimental, devised dystopian play inspired by William Golding’s similarly titled novel written by Madison Coan, Sarah Jacqueline, Rjyan Kidwell, Sarah Lamar, and myself. Using the archetypal characters presented in Golding’s novel, the play takes place on the semi-fictitious Plum Island, where a lockdown during a press tour of the biochemical weaponry building drives the scientists to extreme measures. After casting four additional actors, we proceeded to devise the show with no director as a way of experimenting with the work’s themes of authority and power balance. Here are some blurbs about my performance from various reviewers:
“Budenz’s acting is spot on, detached yet loving, juvenile but responsible, hesitant and also a bit clairvoyant.”—Pandora Locks from The Bad Oracle
“Simon is easily the most sympathetic role—a power Budenz wields beautifully as he interrupts the frenzied multi-character scenes with monologues… these quieter, uncanny moments bring even more discomfort than the livelier scenes.”—Maura Callahan of Baltimore City Paper
“The most intriguing character, Simon, a gentle scientist with a readily shared knowledge of coconut crabs, fits Jacob Budenz perfectly. The actor’s boyish voice gives Simon a disarming innocence, a certain angelic quality, even. If you remember your Golding, you’ll have a good idea of Simon’s fate, but Budenz still manages to make it surprising and affecting. He gives the play its heart.” Tim Smith of The Baltimore Sun
Various roles in Impassioned Embraces: Pieces of Love and Theatre, 2015
From a vengeful director in “Sado-Monologue” to a deranged (if enthusiastic) Broadway hopeful in “The Backer’s Audition,” I have the chance to display many faces in John Pielmeier’s Impassioned Embraces directed by Lucia A. Treasure.
Of my performance in “The Backer’s Audition,” Mandy Gunther Theatre Bloom said, “Remarkable in every sense of the word from his command over the character’s expressions to the force with which he delivers the more intense moments of the monologue… A stunning and dynamic portrayal by Budenz makes this the most evocative moment in the show.”
Karl Glogauer in Behold The Man, 2015
In 2015, I originated the role of Karl Glogauer in Connor Kizer’s new adaptation of Behold the Man, by Michael Moorcock, at The EMP Collective. In the nonlinearly-presented events of the play, Karl’s troubled past is interwoven with the Christ-era Middle East, where he has traveled in order to find the actual, real Jesus only to find that he himself must fulfill the Messiah’s role.
Connor Kizer wrote and directed this adaptation, and I led the ensemble as the whiny, if sincere and passionate, Karl Glogauer.
Alan Strang in Equus
Playing one of the two leads in The Baltimore Annex Theater’s 2013 production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, directed by Mason Ross, was one of my first productions with the company. Contrary to many of the more drugged-out portrayal’s of Alan, Mason Ross and I worked on an Alan who was manic, more overtly deranged, but ultimately still the tragic and sympathetic character the script calls for. The show performed to oversold houses, and ultimately the two week run was extended to four weeks due to popular demand.
City Paper’s Geoffry Himes reported that I “radiate a high voltage thrill,” saying, “As Alan, Jacob Budenz gives us the cool hipster and pagan rebel the dialogue often calls for, but the slender, mohawked actor also reveals the scared, sexually stifled little boy behind all the bluster.”
In The Johns Hopkins News-Letter,Jen Diamond said, “Budenz led the production gracefully as Alan Strang, a troubled teenager obsessed with horses… Budenz’s vibrant energy enticed the audience as he swung from bouts of wild-eyed mania to fearful moments of childlike anxiety.”