SANDPOINT – The man’s theatrical background reads like an actor/director’s dream resume. He’s written and directed for productions Off-Broadway in New York. The JQ Studio in Miami bears his initials and the same metropolitan locale has been the home of his sold-out musical theatre camps for the past year. Earlier in his career, he served as director of the university theatre company at the National Pedagogical University in Bogota, Colombia.
So how did a guy with such deep credentials wind up in the figurative theatrical hinterlands of western Montana at what should be the apex of his career? As it happened, Jesus Quintero had a family.
After meeting and then marrying his wife, Carolina, during his time in a Miami repertory company, Quintero became a father in November 2011. Priorities shifted, the couple’s lives changed and he found himself looking for a new place to raise a child, while keeping his hand in stagecraft.
“At that time, I thought that to do theatre in someplace like Miami was too hectic,” he said in an accent that dances with the English language and gives it a musicality that eludes most native
speakers of the tongue.
The late-night schedule, coupled with the gaps in steady employment that accompany the acting profession, sent Quintero on a search for a full-time day job in a new place. He found listings around the world, but narrowed his hunt to a pair of opportunities that were as different as stage left is from stage right.
“I applied to what I thought were crazy places,” he said. “One was in China, the other was in Montana.”
Last year, the Montana position won the coin toss, as he signed on to be head of the theatre department at the Monarch School in Heron, Mont.
“We said, ‘Let’s take this step and change our lives,’” the director shared, sitting next to his wife in a local coffee shop and sporting an arm sling from a recent fall on the ice. “One of the greatest tools we have as actors is intuition. Nobody makes this kind of decision rationally.”
Making the move opened a new type of door for Quintero – not one that leads to larger roles or bigger theatre companies. Just the opposite, he explained. Life in the Northwest has narrowed his focus and brought him closer to the core of what acting is really all about. Flushed with the excitement of that revelation, he is prepared to share it with the rural world around him, small though it may be.
“I honestly think that community theatre and things like plays in churches are the future of theatre,” Quintero said. “It’s not going to come from big places like New York or Chicago.”
Theatre, he emphasized, is in crisis in large cities. Having lost its way in a labyrinth of technique and superficial formula, it must find its way back to the garden on a path he says is paved with “the hard work of truth.”
“It became a parody of itself,” Quintero said. “People started getting the ‘mask’ of it, but they forgot the essence of it.”
Which is not to suggest that this actor and playwright has a problem with learning technique – his classes are grounded firmly in that area. The difference, in his case, is that technique is used as a tool to peel away layers of artifice and get to the flesh and bone of creating reality on stage.
“All my life, I’m fighting what is fake,” he said. “As a people, we are accepting what is fake as real. We need to get back to basics.”
Starting this month, Quintero will teach a series of acting classes in collaboration with Sandpoint Onstage. The sessions – titled “The Secret Art of the Performer” – are designed to take participants behind the scenes of what goes into bringing a role to life.
The four classes will use movement, singing and acting to draw out the “heart of each individual – their identity,” said Quintero. Some students will attend to unleash their creativity, some to open up their humanity and improve their quality of life. Those who have spent some time on stage will gain new tools for their craft, he promised.
“Sometimes, an actor is like a person who knows the ABCs, but can only make 10 words out of it,” the director said. “The idea is to get a bigger vocabulary.”
During the classes, Quintero will lead participants on an expedition to mine what he calls the four levels of acting: Brain, mind, heart and core. The secret, he confided, is to “align them in the moment and travel with them on the stage.”
Sounds simple enough, but the levels can be toppled all too easily by those who try too hard or lose heart and fall back on artificiality.
“You have to be aware – and unaware – at the same time,” the director said.
Quintero’s quest for truth on stage has led to some remarkable finds, none more surprising than when he worked with special education students. In those classes, he saw how direct emotion, unsullied impulse and personal courage can produce acting that avoids the obvious and steers clear of the cliché.
“When you work with disabled people, you have to establish communication,” the director said. “Once you do, it’s like walking into a cave and finding a true gem. You see the colors and the richness that is there, because they are more in touch with that universe.”
That universe and the gem at its epicenter of truth have been a moving target for Quintero. Now the target has moved squarely over this region, where he hopes to take theatre out of the theater, so to speak, and share his work and insights on acting with a new audience.
“I’ve been doing theatre in non-traditional places in order to bring it to the people,” he said. “The plays that I do don’t just happen on the stage. They happen in the mind, in the soul – and in the spectator.”
When this artistic triple play is achieved, truth can’t be far behind, he added. Away from the city, far from the noise and distractions, Jesus Quintero believes he might be closer than ever to finding that truth.
“This is the most important thing in my life,” he said. “This is who I am.”
“The Secret Art of the Performer” will begin with a free introductory workshop on Saturday, Jan. 19, from 6-9 p.m. at the Panida Little Theatre.
Acting classes begin the following Sunday, Jan. 27, with a series of four weekly sessions set for 1-4 p.m. in the same location. Cost is $20 per class, $80 for all four weeks, and class size will be limited.
For more information, visit Sandpoint Onstage online at: www.sandpointonstage.com or at www.facebook.com/sandpointonstage