As the Sitwell’s Coffee House crowd buzzes around him, Jon Kovach calmly ticks off his lengthy list of commitments for the approaching summer. He has already delivered stellar 2013 performances in Know Theatre’s When the Rain Stops Falling, Untethered Theatre Company’s Red Light Winter and Legally Blonde: The Musical at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Fringe festivals across the country are gearing up to showcase his work. A writer, director and producer as well as an actor, Kovach has also co-created a recurring new play event, Barebones Staged-Reading Theatre Series, which has another performance scheduled for Sunday at the Know Theatre.
Somewhere amidst the rehearsing, performing and traveling, he manages his theatre company, Unity Productions. Not surprisingly, the League of Cincinnati Theatres presented Kovach with a Rising Star award in May. And all this from a guy who got his start playing a candlestick.
A West Chester native, Kovach didn’t always dream of a life in the theater. In fact, he grew up determined to become a professional soccer player. But he began taking acting classes in high school to satisfy his arts credits for graduation. He still plays soccer when he can find the time, but part way through his time at Lakota West High School, Kovach auditioned for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Tall, lean and a natural singer, Kovach was easily cast as Lumière, the show’s fun-loving candelabra. He enjoyed the experience so much he found himself faced with a choice: soccer or theater.
“Once this theater thing hit my junior year of high school, it was this big revelation for me about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to spend my time and live my life,” Kovach says.
“And because they both kind of take place in the evenings after school, I had to make a choice. I chose theater. It was very tough, but I’m happy with the choice that I made because I think that the arts are so important for growth and for feeling like a whole person. That was something I wasn’t really involved in until theater. It helped me find myself.”
Talking candlesticks might seem a far cry from pro soccer, but Kovach says a directing professor he had at Miami University made the point that athletes often make great actors. They are accustomed to pressure and improv and particularly suited to taking risks and listening to criticism.
During the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, Kovach mounted Nothing, a one-man production written by Belgian film director, critic and TV personality Nic Balthazar. In the show, an autistic teenager played by Kovach communicates only through long, rhyming monologues and video clips about his experiences with bullying and loneliness. Kovach now tours Nothing to schools, building on experiences and community service work he did in high school related to anti-bullying.
“Given the mission and the themes of the piece,” Kovach says, “I felt it was my duty to bring that story to the States.”
Working with a friend in film school, Kovach not only produced the show to great reviews, he also launched his aforementioned theater company. “It requires a lot of discipline, self-discipline,” he says, “just being able to constantly find ways in which Unity Productions can fit in with other groups, how I can meet with different people and how we can collaborate in the future.”
Kovach’s 2013 Fringe offering was another one-man piece, Ron Jones’ The Wave. The production follows a classroom experiment related to fascism, group thinking and Nazi Germany. In it, he played a teacher who leads his class to form a rigid, tightly knit community around discipline and equality. At first it seems wonderful, but it becomes terrifying. Kovach’s strong performance and haunting use of video earned him recognition among critics and with the Fringe audiences.
Despite his hard work, Kovach swears he doesn’t cling to a five- or 10-year plan. He eschews labels and titles, saying there isn’t a big difference between his life and his work.
“I like the creative process, really in any form,” he says. “Theater is a wonderful marriage of a lot of different art forms. I really do enjoy acting a lot. But I also enjoy producing and directing and writing and all the other aspects that go into it, like lighting and sound and set. For me, being a part of that artistic process is so fulfilling. I love getting to watch people collaborate and create something that other people can come and enjoy.”
Jon Kovach will perform in Unity Productions’ BAREBONES STAGED-READING THEATRE SERIES, presented at Know Theatre in Over-the-Rhine, at 4 p.m. Sunday. $10 at the door. More: knowtheatre.com.