Co-majoring in theatre and English has led Jerry Metzker ’86 down an exciting career path, all the while opening doors not many find themselves in front of throughout life.
Co-director of the popular theatre production A History of World War II: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin, which just concluded an eight-month run at the Marsh in San Francisco and Berkeley, California, Metzker has an impressive resume when it comes to both his majors. His current project, written, performed, and co-directed by John Fisher, was developed at the Theatre Rhinoceros, the oldest continuing queer theatre in the United States, and the United Solo Festival in New York City. It opens next at Los Angeles’ Broadwater Black Box Theatre on Oct. 4 and runs through the month.
“We made some adjustments to the show for the Berkeley and Los Angeles runs, and now we're off. By the second weekend of the Berkeley show, we were filling houses. Now, mind you, there are only two performances per week, but the show is considered a hit. The San Francisco Chronicle theatre critic made it one of her theatre picks,” said Metzker, who served as dramaturg and associate producer of a couple of Fisher’s productions.
Like a lot of solo plays, it is autobiographical. Fisher tells the story of World War II, the western front, by playing war as a little boy from these movies.
“He's a marvel to watch and more than once, he draws the audience into the world with him,” Metzker said. “He covers some of the terrors of the time--the war butchery on both sides, the massive number of Russians who lost their lives, the brutal killing of hundreds of American teenagers in the Battle of the Bulge, and, of course, the Holocaust.”
Originally from Oregon, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo, Metzker went right from college to graduate school and earned his MFA in dramaturgy/dramatic criticism from Columbia University in New York in 1989. His work history includes being a theatre writer for a magazine while pursuing his master’s degree and working a variety of positions - dramaturgy, stage manager, and lightboard operator - for a number of student productions. He was also an executive assistant for a talent manager who represented playwrights and award-winning songwriters, a day job and theatre writer for the Bay Area Reporter, the weekly LGBTQ paper in San Francisco, a playwright, a coordinator for a theatre development group, and an aerialist on the static trapeze, along with “making theatre,” as he refers to it.
“I've had several plays produced, including a number of one-page plays,” he said. “I created a solo show that played at the San Francisco Fringe Festival. I've workshopped a couple of plays. And shortly after Oakland's First Fridays Art Murmur took off, I created a series of street theatre pieces, all of which used signs to tell the story - Sign Theatre. But my understanding of myself was that I was a theatre-maker. Sure, I could support other artists…, but I wanted to pursue theatre for myself...and tell stories. I paid for all of my own college and graduate school education, and with the student debt, I couldn't afford to work in the theatre. I was living in New York where I couldn't afford to go to the theatre, so I decided to have a new adventure. My dear friend Lisa Starzynski (Wittenberg class of 1986), who was a theatre major with me at Wittenberg, invited me to move to the San Francisco Bay area with her. She was a props craftsperson at American Conservatory Theatre and then Berkeley Repertory Company, and I accepted. That’s when I wrote about the theatre and arts for the newspaper for five years. After I paid off my student loans, I made a change, left the paper, and started writing plays.”
He also attended many shows. And while he loved New York’s theatre environment, California was the place for him, so he moved to Oakland near the San Francisco Bay in 1991 and has made his home there ever since.
“There were weeks while I was in New York when I saw six shows, sometimes four on a weekend,” said Metzker, who during his time at Wittenberg was very involved in the Weaver Chapel Association, sang in the chapel choir, was a member of the Symphonic Band, wrote for The Torch, and participated in 24 different theatre productions, both mainstage and student.
“During my grad school days, I went to everything I could to strengthen my theatre observance skills; and I wrote about everything. During that time, I also had a couple of internships with theatre companies in the literary office, and I continued to write plays here and there. Oh yes, and sometimes I participated as an actor in play readings. And I read a lot of plays. I was really exploring my scholarly side.”
Metzker took a playwriting class at Wittenberg, and he actually wrote three plays while in college and also did summer theatre/performances for two summers, including a stint as a singing waiter at the Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park.
“Ever since I was in elementary school, I have been drawn to the theatre,” he said. “In high school, I was mostly an actor, although I was also a writer, and I wrote sketches for three years of variety shows. If you want to make theatre, make theatre. Take advantage of opportunities, and take advantage of what you want to do. Live boldly. Even if that means you participate in community theatre. Even if it means you go into academic theatre. Even if it means you go to the theatre a lot.”
How he came to be an aerialist on the static trapeze is a whole other story that may end up in a performance piece one day.
“While working as a co-chair of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce's non-profit roundtable, I invited someone from Kinetic Arts Center and was invited to try a class. I really wanted to learn aerial straps, but Kinetic did not offer a class at the time, so I took trapeze, and, well, I ended up liking it and doing fairly well at it, even though I am not terribly flexible. And now, it is kind of my Zen place--five years later.
“2019 has been quite the year so far,” he added. “When it began, A History of World War II was running in San Francisco. I had a reading of a new play called Playing Detective. We opened Deathtrap, which I co-directed with Fisher at Theatre Rhinoceros, and I performed on the solo trapeze in three circus shows. I completed what I call the write-through (meaning I've gotten through the entire first writing) of a new play-- a gay version of a Hallmark Christmas movie. And the transfer of A History of World War II to the Marsh in Berkeley for two months and then the monthlong run in Los Angeles in October. Plus, I started a new day job.”
All in a day’s work.