Jerry Hoffman was a character actor for more years than he cares to remember; he still “treads the boards” on occasions, but his real passion in life is bringing alive the works of William Shakespeare to as many people as possible and his next target is Mallorca.
In fact Hoffman is the driving force behind Shakespeare Mallorca and he is determined to bring to the island a Shakespeare Festival of international significance. We meet at the rather stylish and cool Bar Gibson, Plaça del Mercat, in central Palma not far from where Jerry has an apartment, and it struck me that the attractive young professionals who were enjoying coffee there would be just the type of audience that Jerry might target for his festival.
Hoffman is 68 years old and he looks his age, but significantly he doesn’t sound his age at all! Like many Americans he is so positive he exudes a sort of energy that escapes many cynical and care-worn Europeans who prefer to wield irony as a weapon of self-defence.
But what of the man? Jerry was born in the “Great state of Kentucky,” a place where, “The ladies are beautiful and the horses are fast, or is that the other way around?” Somehow I think that Jerry has used that line a few times before, but his enthusiasm is infectious.
Jerry started acting at the age of seventeen and like many an aspiring actor learning his craft he did just about anything, eventually carving out a niche for himself acting in television commercials to pay the bills. “I became the ‘go-to’ actor whenever a casting director was looking for a young father-type in those mini-family advertising sagas that were so popular at that time.”
Jerry worked with the eight-year-old Ricky Schroeder who went on to win an Oscar award when he starred with Jon Voight in “The Champ.” Interestingly, at this time in the late 60s and early 70s, Jerry Hoffman became involved in the hippy culture of that time helping to set up Theatre Refuge in California, a left wing actors’ ‘collective’ that boasted such names in its ranks as Jane Fonda, Jon Voight and Peter Fonda and a group of other well-known actors of that period.
As a seasoned and very funny raconteur Jerry talked about acting at this extremely important time for American film and theatre; so why and when did he become hooked on William Shakespeare – a playwright who has been dead for 500 years? “When you have done as much acting as I have over the years, you get to know what is good and what is not. Don’t get me wrong, I am not an artistic elitist, I have earned money in television commercials, film, and in mainstream and fringe theatre; however, nobody compares to Shakespeare.”
So would it be fair to say that you are obsessed by the Bard and all his works, Jerry? “Maybe, I suppose,” he smiles, “but Shakespeare wrote about human relationships and what makes us what we are, and that is still relevant today; his sense of poetry in the written and spoken word still defines theatre at its absolute best.”
So, Jerry, why Mallorca? “Why not? I love the place,” he replies waving his arms expansively, as if the sun-dappled Plaça del Mercat was his idea of heaven. “Once I discovered Mallorca I couldn’t wait to get back here as often as possible.”
Shakespeare Mallorca’s production of Romeo and Juliet went into rehearsals at the end of August ready for a four-week run from early October. Hoffman has recruited and cast a number of local actors to his production and is excited by the prospect of linking it to an island-based educational outreach programme that he hopes will fire the imagination of young people interested in acting and performing.
Perhaps in countering the flow of his contagious enthusiasm, I ask Jerry if he ever regretted his choice of life in theatre. He laughs out loud and leans forward to tell me something, “When my wife was pregnant (Jerry has been married three times – twice to the same woman!) I thought I had better get a proper job so I went to Law School. It was tough, I was still working and studying; it took three years to pass The Bar Exams and then I took up a job as a junior lawyer in a law firm. My God I hated it, detested every moment of it . . . I don’t know who was more miserable, my clients or me; thankfully my wife understood when I left.”
I think William Shakespeare himself could have made something out of that revealing story; in fact I think he did. “To thine own self be true.”