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Interview with the Sharnhorst

Actor Will Janowitz is most known for his recurring role as Finn De Trolio on The Sopranos, but he’s worked extensively in film, television and stage. His web series SuperEgo featuring production design by TTH’s own Alex Reeves recently premiered on My Damn Channel. For the past year Janowitz has been releasing a series of hilariously weird web videos recorded in a persona he calls John Sharnhorst. This week Sharnhorst will be taking the stage for the first time in The John Sharnhorst Experiment Show at the People’s Improv theater.

Take the Handle: I’ve got to say, I’m intrigued by your decision to inhabit this wacky character John Sharnhorst for over a year now. Where did the idea first spring from?

Will Janowitz: Wow! A year of full blown insanity — zero arrests too! I’m pretty sure the emotions that got me to the character were fueled by the end of a fairly long relationship, coupled with the ever-present death of my mother. Although she passed away three years ago, the emotions are still very real and I’m guessing will remain that way for a long time. I’ve grown with the emotions and so has the character. I guess they’re paralleling each other in a perverse and beautiful way.

TTH: The characters in Sharnhorst’s universe (family members, lovers, adversaries) all have very distinct mannerisms. Are they based on people you’ve met?

WJ: They are glimpses, little things that stick to the back of my performer/writer’s eye and I store them in my mannerism bag o’ tricks. I like people, but I really like the way people move. My real shrink is similar to the Sharnhorst shrink in that he likes to talk… which is somewhat frustrating to certain individuals and frowned on in some circles, I guess. Victoria is an enigma even to me, and I created her… or maybe she created herself through me! I think she’s the rambunctious I-don’t-give-a-fuck chick who’s not afraid to cry. She wears the pants but lets John think he does. Victoria is woman, she is also man. She is WOAH-MAN!

TTH: Do you ever get feedback where people ask if Sharnhorst is real or are confused about who he really is? Do you have a favorite comment that someone has posted on a video/facebook post of Sharnhorst’s?

WJ: I’m also like a real actor too and sometimes I think people in the ‘real’ acting world get confused; they feel scared and feel different. I like that! I use to hate that but now I like it. I like the confusion that follows John, possibly because I feel confused about being an automaton sometimes. Favorite comment… hmm… probably my friend Ben Fries (a truly splendid video director for Dead Horse Films) said that “not knowing that John is alone in his apartment and making these videos yet knowing it is a wonderful and bizarre thing.” I like that notion. It’s like the Allegory of the Cave… but not at all.

TTH: What considerations went into adapting Sharnhorst’s persona, which has mostly been revealed through short web videos, into a full-blown live stage show?

WJ: HA! That’s the funniest part about this whole live show… I’m not sure. It’s weirder in someways! But not! I thought that adapting it would be somewhat easy until I took into consideration that I play all the characters. Alas, there is a REAL actor in the show too. It’s as though John himself couldn’t find a conducive medium to express himself, so he decided to put on a play. It’s like he doesn’t realize its tongue-in-cheek but it is, but sort of poorly done. It’s Bertolt Brecht with a heart.

The John Sharnhorst Experiment Show takes place at The People’s Improv Theater on 123 East 24th Street at 7pm this Thursday Oct 20. Purchase tickets here.