"I'm not some kind of goth, just so you know," Alastair Morley Jaques asserts. "I'm an alarmingly happy and optimistic person."
But for the past five Halloweens, Jacques has taken on the personality of a man fascinated by death and darkness—poet and author Edgar Allen Poe.
The 31-year-old father of two studied theater at Evergreen State College and University of Oregon and regularly performs (mostly Shakespeare) in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. But he reserves the Halloween season to portray one of American literature's most famous figures. Jaques has created a one-man show that deftly balances historical accuracy with romantic expectations.
"Everyone seems to know who Poe is; even people who don't read," Jaques says. In addition to Poe's own famous and persisting works (who isn't at least familiar with the line, "Quoth the raven, 'nevermore'"?), the famously tortured writer's life has inspired numerous books and films. The actor explains that Poe lives on because of his work's evermore themes of mortality, madness and mystery as well as the strength of his writing. "He tried to shock and amaze either with bizarre and fantastic theories or with incisive psychological portrayals or depictions of the evil men do to each other," Jaques says. And, he approached his work "with a feeling for the beauty and musicality of the English language."
Poe's use of poetic use of language makes his writing well-suited for dramatic reading. Jaques will present a mix of popular passages and personal favorites (including, of course, "The Raven") Oct. 25 at The Belfry in Sisters.
Though this is Jaques' sixth year portraying Poe, he still prepares for the performance as if it were his first time—studying the man's life, mannerisms and quirks. In part, this ritual serves to mitigate a perpetual fear of failure, but there are also new biographies, critical takes and other perspectives to peruse. It's work, to be sure, but it's also a labor of love. Jaques says he's been impersonating historical figures since he was a young child. He would often show up to school dressed as Christopher Columbus or Abraham Lincoln and insist on being called by that name. "We didn't have much by way of modern entertainment," he says of being brought up by his elderly Norwegian grandparents in rural Central Oregon. "I grew up around old books and old people. Elements of the past always had a greater resonance for me."
He also developed a fascination with crime, inspired by the fear of wrongdoing his strict Lutheran upbringing instilled in him. This interest plays out in another of Jaques' Halloween season engagements—a lecture on notorious crimes in Central Oregon, Oct. 29 at McMenamins. All this darkness—mental illness, murder and mayhem—is simply a part of life, Jaques explains. And facing it is far healthier than sweeping it under the proverbial rug.
"I think we in modern America are so isolated and sterilized from elements of death and the macabre," Jaques says. "That's why Halloween exists so far as I'm concerned. We need Halloween and we need scary stories more than anything, because to deny darkness is to deny ourselves."