In Krapp’s Last Tape, 2011

Interview by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

J. Barrett Cooper is an actor, director, voice-over actor, and fight director. As an actor, he has appeared in NYC and in regional theatre with Manhattan Stage, Theatre 1010, Walker St. Theatre, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Pioneer Playhouse in Salt Lake City, Arkansas Rep, Shakespeare Festival of Dallas, Wayside Theatre, Findlay Summer Stock, and locally with Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company (Founding Producing Artistic Director), Bunbury Theatre, and Kentucky Shakespeare. Cooper has over 30 years of experience in teaching and mentoring young actors, from elementary school age to University training. Known nationally for his work with young people while working for two of the nations preeminent training programs for young adults, Walden Theatre (now Commonwealth Theatre Center) in Louisville, Ky. and Idyllwild Arts Academy and Summer Programs in California

1.    What is the next show you are/were scheduled to do?

I was scheduled to do the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival 60th Season and finish out the Falstaff Trilogy with Merry Wives of Windsor. But unfortunately, that show has been canceled. Hopefully, we will get the other two shows in. I’m excited about Shakespeare in Love.

2.    In the last two summers, you played Falstaff in Henry IV, Part One and Part Two. Was that a bucket list role?

Actually, no. I never thought about myself in that role.

3.    You weren’t working on a show when the theatres were closed, but you did work on a film project about three weeks ago when quarantine procedures began to be in place. Describe that experience.

It wasn’t a film. It was a training video for an Insurance Company (irony included) I was a last-minute replacement. I auditioned in February and had forgotten about the project but when I went back and looked at the specs and saw how much they were paying…..?…..uh….I said sure.

They said that “Social Distancing” would be followed and as it turned out, there were only 2 actors and two crew. We were barely ever in the same room. One actor on set, the other doing VO from another room. It was slated for two days and we got it done in one. It a 360 Virtual Reality Camera which I’d never worked with before. All recorded on a computer. There was the director down the hall in another room and the other director about 12 feet away from me checking the script and the camera look on a computer.

It felt like it was just me, and the camera, which was a really cool contraption that looked like a dodecahedron ball with six camera lenses  

4.    Do you consider yourself an actor first or a director?

1. Human Being 2. Dad 3. Husband 4. Actor 5. Director 6. Fight Director 7. Instructor 8. Golfer

5.    What show are you longing to do as an actor?

Jeesh! There are so many. Long Days Journey into Night and The Lion in Winter are my big two.

6.    And as a director?

Tantalus by John Barton. It’s huge. It’s epic. It’s the beginning, middle and the aftermath of the Trojan War. I saw the only production of it done in the US at the Denver Center Theatre in 2000. I was in the theatre for over 12 ½ hours with 6 intermissions and a lunch & dinner break. And that was a cut version of it. Close to 1/3 had been cut. Those cuts ruined John Barton’s (Playing Shakespeare and Co-founder of the RSC) and Peter Hall’s, one of three directors of the piece, relationship as Barton was insistent that the piece in one unedited and in total, which would have been close to 16 hours playing time. And the stipulation is you cannot cut anything from the script if you wish to perform the piece. So I want to do the ONLY production EVER of it uncut.

7. What has been the single most important influence on your work in the theatre? 

Impossible to imagine one “single” influence. Everyone, everywhere, I’ve ever worked with or seen work, has been an influence. I’ve taken so much from so many. Stolen much too. But that is the highest form of flattery, isn’t it? 

8.    Besides Louisville, what other places have you worked?

A thousand years ago, Off-Off-Broadway in NYC. Then regionally in Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Utah, Indiana. Not too many places.

9.    What, if anything, is different about working in Louisville?

It depends on what company and the people you’re with. A rehearsal room is a rehearsal room, and the theatre is a theatre. It’s the people that make the experience and when everyone is in sync and going for a common ethos (is that the correct word?) and goal, then each individual production is pretty much the same and at the same time completely and wholly unique.

10. Do you have a non-theatre job?

I bartend and work catering. I also teach at Indiana University Southeast.

11. What music have you been listening to?

It depends on the day and my mood. I still love to listen to REM, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, and The Beatles. My musical tastes were always 10-20 years behind. I never caught up I guess.

12. What book is on your bedside table?

Sunday Times Crosswords, 33 Variations by Moises Kaufman, Irrepressible by Emily Bingham, How to Talk About Hot Topics on Campus, The Shakespearean Stage 1574-1642, GOLF Magazine, and my summer scripts.

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for