Monadnock Profiles: A passion comes full circle for Andy’s artistic director

  • Jared Mezzocchi, the producing artistic director at Andy's Summer Playhouse, recently completed a fellowship at MacDowell and was put on a list of five artists to watch by the New York Times for his work during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Joanna Eldredge Morrissey—©2020 Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

  • Jared Mezzocchi, the producing artistic director at Andy's Summer Playhouse, recently completed a fellowship at MacDowell and was put on a list of five artists to watch by the New York Times for his work during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

  • Jared Mezzocchi, the producing artistic director at Andy's Summer Playhouse, recently completed a fellowship at MacDowell and was put on a list of five artists to watch by the New York Times for his work during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/6/2021 5:32:06 PM

The moment that Jared Mezzocchi realized he was meant for the stage is one he’ll never forget.

Mezzocchi was 11 years old and was overcome with emotions sitting in the back of the family car, with his parents Rosemary and Michael in the front seats. He had just concluded the opening night of his theatrical debut as Prince No. 3 and Grown Up No. 48 in the Andy’s Summer Playhouse performance of “The Little Prince” and as Mezzocchi described it, he was hyperventilating and sobbing.

“I didn’t know the insane energy that happened on opening night,” Mezzocchi said. “There was something very profound seeing all those people starring at you. I never felt something like that, but I now seek that energy.”

Mezzocchi said it was a totally innocent moment, but he still draws upon that feeling.

“And I’ve never looked back,” he said.

Because of that experience, Andy’s has always held a special place in his heart. It’s where it all began – unless you consider when his older sisters convinced him to wear a three-piece suit and sing Tone Loc’s classic “Funky Cold Medina” in preschool.

“My two sisters always dressed me up and said ‘perform for us,’” he said.

During the spring break of his 5th grade year, Mezzocchi’s dad Michael saw that Andy’s was hosting a one-week workshop.

“I went and loved it and the workshop artist suggested I audition (for the summer),” Mezzocchi said. And that’s when he was in “The Little Prince” and got hooked.

Now at 35, Mezzocchi has spent the last five summers as the producing artistic director at Andy’s, helping to mold the same kind of aspiring actors he was more than two decades ago. He returned to Andy’s in 2009 to work on “Donkey Xote”, written by Kerry Silva, who was in “The Little Prince” with him. He was hired back each ensuring summer, eventually being asked to write what he would direct. Then the position of producing artistic director came up. He applied and got the job and there’s no place he’d rather be each summer.

It has allowed Mezzocchi the opportunity to work with the younger generation who he calls a little more courageous.

“I find it exceptionally fulfilling to work with kids from 8 to 18 because of their inhibitions and willingness to leap,” Mezzocchi said.

He learned so much at Andy’s and is constantly looking for a way to inspire those that strive to learn. And he’ll always consider New Hampshire home.

“My artistic foundation still lives in the woods of New Hampshire,” Mezzocchi said. “There’s still something about that area of the world that holds my artistic strings.”

Every day spent at Andy’s is also a chance for Mezzocchi to learn.

“Legacy is really important to me and giving young artists the right to explore themselves artistically is just richly inspiring to me,” he said.

And when the coronavirus pandemic put this past summer’s Andy’s season in jeopardy, Mezzocchi knew there needed to be a way to keep the kids engaged. That’s when the idea for the Digital Renaissance Project came up.

“Allowing kids space to self explore is so important, and to take that away seemed really destructive,” he said. “And this summer was an opportunity to role model what a professional has to do to survive. There was still an opportunity out there and ways to tell a story – it was just different.”

Mezzocchi recently completed his second fellowship at MacDowell. The first was in 2017 when he was working on a script and in December he put in two weeks of uninterrupted time on his upcoming book “A Multimedia Designer’s Method To Theatrical Storytelling”. He was also recently placed on a New York Times list of artists who should be watched while inventing during the pandemic in theater – a list that included Andrew Lloyd Webber and Paula Vogel.

Mezzocchi spent every summer at Andy’s until he was 17. He acted in one show per summer, but spent time working behind the scenes on countless other shows, something he encourages every aspiring actor to try.

“I think that is a huge aspect,” Mezzocchi said. “There’s a fundamental problem with young artists thinking you must be one thing and one thing only. But I want to dismantle that idea and say no, learn all of it because everyone is working toward the act of theatre making.”

Growing up he also played soccer and ran cross-country, but once he got the theatre bug, it was a foregone conclusion in Mezzocchi’s mind that he would be an actor. He went to Lawrence Academy for high school and continued his on stage work, while captaining the cross-country squad. It’s also where he got interested in filmmaking.

He went on to Fairfield University in Connecticut with the idea of pursuing a double major in film and theater – and to run for the NCAA Division I program. That plan lasted exactly three races, because it became evidently clear that Mezzocchi would have have to choose between his passion for acting and love of running, especially after he was cast as the lead in “She Stoops to Conquer” in the fall of his freshman year.

“At that point I just wanted to be an actor,” he said. “I couldn’t do both.”

That led to a conversation with his parents. “God bless them they said you’ve got to live your life,” Mezzocchi said. “And to make a decision that was best for me.” But he had to tell his coach.

When he went to Fairfield, the film major was new and didn’t start till the spring semester of his freshman year. He enrolled in a couple classes and pursued his acting, landing a role in every show as a freshman and the fall of his sophomore year. But something told him to take the winter show off. To this day, Mezzocchi doesn’t understand why in that moment he decided not to audition, although he quickly realized he would need that time for himself. The week of the show, his dad Michael passed away unexpectedly and it left Mezzocchi questioning his faith.

He gave the eulogy at his dad’s funeral despite the dark place he was in and the anger that he felt. And then Mezzocchi decided to take what he said about the relationship with his dad and turned it into an interactive show at Fairfield. He set up 12 TVs on the stage and essentially interacted with the people on the TVs.

The president of Fairfield was at that performance and it led to a conversation about a more in depth exploration of the idea. Mezzocchi was asked what he needed and his response: “I need $26,000.”

He wanted to use real New York actors, so he put together a proposal and got his project fully funded. He held auditions and secured 12 actors to portray the people in his life that told the story of “The One Stop Light in Hollis.”

Mezzocchi wrote the script in five days, which included memories written by his mom and siblings, Jeff, Nicole and Suzanne, and put on six performances, one of which was essentially in front of his entire network of family and friends. And he immediately saw a new path for his work in the performance sector.

“I never looked back from that moment with the TVs,” Mezzocchi said.

It showed Mezzocchi there was a way to incorporate a multi-media aspect into the world of theatre.

“I like theatre and I love making new work and working on stuff that creates an abstract version of the world,” he said.

He went on to Brooklyn College to pursue an MFA in performance and interactive media art and it completely changed his way of thinking. It gave him an insight into how computers could play a role in this new found passion.

“Brooklyn really shaped me into who I am today,” Mezzocchi said.

It’s where he got introduced to Big Art Group, where he got to travel to places like France and Germany for productions, and landed a job at Santos Party House, a nightclub in New York City as a video designer, putting together upwards of four shows a night.

“It was pushing me into very different genres,” Mezzocchi said. “On paper it looks like three totally different things, but they were so similar. I felt like they were three different classrooms.”

And while it was all a great experience, there was something left out.

“The key aspect I was yearning for was storytelling,” he said. “I really missed telling stories.”

A year after getting his MFA, Mezzocchi was offered a job in Washington, D.C. working on “The Glass Menagerie”, a play by Tennessee Williams, at Georgetown University, using his experience in real time creation to make the production one of a kind.

“That is what made me unique in that moment,” he said. “And that got me into the D.C. scene.”

He spent some time as an adjunct professor at NYU – Playwrights Horizons and Brooklyn College to make some quick income, but then was offered the opportunity of a lifetime. The University of Maryland wanted him to build a curriculum for an MFA in design with a track in projection and multimedia. He was only 26 at the time and while it was a career move that was necessary there was some hesitation.

“I was so worried that New York would forget me,” Mezzocchi said. Ultimately he took the job and almost 10 years later he’s still there. But there is also an emphasis in being out in the professional world, something Mezzocchi welcomes with open arms.

“It encourages us to be out in the field and be makers,” he said. Coupled with his work through Andy’s and independent projects, and Mezzocchi is doing exactly what he wants.

“The way I’m making theatre is impacting those from 8 to 30,” he said.

The program has been a bit of trial by fire, but Mezzocchi has learned to stick with his impulses and what he loves.

Mezzocchi has worked in many well known theatres and with theatre companies around the country, like the Manhattan Theatre Club, Vineyard Theatre in New York, Woolly Mammoth Theatre and the Kennedy Center in D.C. He works as both a director and designer, writes his own scripts and is never afraid of “the big ideas.” Its led to a number of awards, most notably the Obie Award, Princess Grace Award and Lucille Lortel Award.

When he’s not creating, Mezzocchi is in his happy place while singing karaoke, going to movies and dancing, all things he’s missed since March.

He lives Silver Spring, Maryland – when he’s not at Andy’s in the summers – with his partner Olivia Sebesky and of course has continued to create, coming up with some innovative ideas during this crazy time, which led to his inclusion in the New York Times.

And as Mezzocchi looks back at his life in theatre, it always circles back to that first   time on the Andy’s stage. And if he can provide that  memory for one of the Andy’s kids, it will mean all the time he’s put in over the last 20-plus years has been well worth it.

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