About the author:
Christopher Jackson has left the world of musicals behind this winter to join Atlantic Theater Company's rollicking new roller derby comedy, The Jammer. The actor, who is best known for his roles in In the Heights, The Lion King and Memphis, plays badass 1950s roller derby star Charlie Heartbreak in Pulitzer Prize finalist Rolin Jones’ colorful play. Below, Jackson explains how The Jammer team is reviving a forgotten blood sport of yesteryear and the magic behind making skating work on stage. Check it out, and don’t miss The Jammer running through February 10 at off-Broadway’s Atlantic Stage 2.
Rolin Jones’ new comedy The Jammer introduces today’s audience to the crazy world and eccentric heroes of the nearly forgotten sport of professional roller derby in the 1950s. For me, the subject matter feels very much like modern-day professional wrestling in the WWE. It’s a combination of sport, effort and a lot of “make it up as you go” designed to appeal to audiences in desperate need of a laugh!
It’s a pleasure to enter the world created for us by Rolin, a Pulitzer Prize finalist known for his writing on TV shows like Weeds and Friday Night Lights. He is a magnificent playwright and a magnificent person, with an uncanny ability to get inside the world of the roller derby. He and our fearless director, Jackson Gay, come into rehearsal with so much knowledge, enthusiasm and understanding of the idiosyncrasies involved in this now-forgotten spectacle. They make an amazing team, working together to give us all the ammunition we need to bring our characters to life.
Having done quite a few musicals, I relish the opportunity to act in a play again. There were so many unknowns about how The Jammer would be staged, it fascinated me and I wanted to be a part of it—I wanted to be in the room with these guys and the incredible cast and soak up as much as I could.
The first thing anyone asks when I tell them about the play is, “Are you going to be on roller skates?” The question is asked with shock and horror in their eyes as they imagine me careening off the side of the stage and into a set piece. My friends were understandably concerned that I might blow my knees out!
In fact, we are not skating around a stage that is only 20 feet wide. We go through the motions without actually traveling, and our choreographer did a marvelous job in helping us create a movement that is absolutely reminiscent of skating. After doing this for about 30 seconds, it feels like you are on skates, racing around the oval. Honestly, I thank my lucky stars that we’re “acting” the skating. Otherwise, I’d really have to up my life insurance policy!
Every day that we work on The Jammer, we find something new about the piece that doesn’t exist on paper. We are a team of actors portraying a team of roller derby skaters doing their best to make this crazy thing happen on stage. Our production is very much in the spirit of how the roller derby was put up. It wasn’t the Yankees at Yankee Stadium or the Dodgers at Ebbets Field; it was the Coney Island Armory. For guys like my character, Charlie Heartbreak, the derby was flying by the seat of your pants to make a show, which is very much what we are trying to do at the Atlantic.
I hope people come to Atlantic Stage 2 and have a great time. The Jammer is 90 minutes of madcap fun, put together in the true spirit of old-school off-Broadway theater. We’re lacing up our skates and having a blast, and we can’t wait to share it with the audiences!