A musical chameleon with piercing blue eyes, Josh Epstein is taking a lunch break from rehearsals for very different roles in two modern interpretations of Shakespearian plays: The Comedy of Errors in Victorian/futuristic ‘Steampunk style’ (directed by Scott Bellis) and Love’s Labour’s Lost, (directed by Daryl Cloran,) set in the musical Jazz Age of 1920’s Chicago. Both are part of the current 26th season of Bard On The Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver, Canada, founded by artistic director, Christopher Gaze.
Down-to-earth and self-deprecating, this is Epstein’s 4th season (but not consecutive) with Bard On The Beach. But don’t think Epstein, a Jesse award-winner, took a nine-year hiatus to rest on his many laurels. His resume is a barrage of colorful characters and humorous accented voiceovers; a one-man show he wrote entitled What I Like About Jew, TV and film roles from X-Files and Boardwalk Empire to Hairspray with John Travolta, playwriting and stage performances in almost every major city in the country.
“I’ve been acting since I was a kid, and have always loved to make people laugh,” grins the Vancouver-born Epstein, 35, who was already a veteran at 8 -years -old, performing ‘Michael’ in the original musical production of Peter Pan starring former gymnast, Cathy Rigby and the late musician, Long John Baldry, as ‘Captain Hook.’ Later he performed in the touring stage version of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, alongside Donny Osmond.
Whether it was his parents’ idea to ensure a professional back-up for his ongoing acting career or just mature smarts on his part, Epstein pursued a Degree in Commerce at UBC, that has stood him in good stead when wearing a multitude of business hats whether in the wings or behind the camera.
His two-season stint at the prestigious Stratford Festival in Ontario from 2010 – 2012, (he played ‘Barnaby’ in The Matchmaker and in Cymbeline,) not only culminated in the coveted John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Actor at the Festival, but allowed him to work with the acclaimed actress and director, Martha Henry.
“Martha was my mentor and I was so honored to be able to work with her,” Epstein confides, “but I decided to not become ‘a lifer’ at Stratford and jump into making film.”
It’s not until the interview is almost over that he casually mentions that a few hours before, he received the news that Eadweard, his first feature film for which he co-wrote the screenplay, produced and acted, is up for 15 Leo nominations in the forthcoming 2015 British Columbia Film and Television Awards in June.
Epstein formed Motion 58 Entertainment with business partner and director, Kyle Rideout, writing and producing their first short film, Wait For Rain narrated by Paul Gross, in 2010. First time lucky and seriously talented? Emphatically -yes! It went on to win Comic-Cons Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film, the National Screen Institute Drama Prize, Bravo!FACT and a National Film Board Award. Their next short film, Hop The Twig was screened at The Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto in 2012.
“Kyle and I were adamant that we want to make quality films and to do things slowly,” assures Epstein. “This first feature film, Eadweard, was a huge challenge for us.”
“We discovered the fascinating little-known story of British photographer, Eadweard Muybridge and thought it would make a wonderful feature film,” says Epstein. ” He was an eccentric, best known in the 1870’s for the first photographs of animals, especially horses, in motion. He proved that they galloped with all four hooves off the ground with his invention of the Zoopraxiscope that pioneered motion picture projection. He was also a murderer and the last man in America to be acquitted by justifiable homicide,” Epstein relates. The film stars Canadian actor, Michael Eklund as the troubled photographer. It’s already started to make the rounds at North American film festivals.
Epstein is called back to Bard rehearsals with lunch untouched (it’s difficult being interviewed with your mouth full.) But Christopher Gaze pops in to have the last word.
“I’ve seen a lot of young guns over the years, but Josh can sing and dance like a god!”
Top photo: Luisa Jojic as Rosaline and Josh Epstein as Berowne in Bard On the Beach’s Love’s Labour’s Lost directed by Daryl Cloran. Photography & Image Design by David Cooper & Emily Cooper