Jason Alexander won't be himself when he comes to the Chautauqua Institution on Friday.
The actor will be taking the stage at the amphitheater as "Donny Clay - America's 4th Leading Motivational Speaker in an Evening of Music, Comedy and Personal Growth." A satire of today's motivational speakers, the presentation is performed entirely in the Donny Clay character.
"Jason Alexander never shows up on stage," he said about his performance. "It's all Donny, all night. It's hysterically funny, but it's not really standup comedy. It's theatrical in that it has a premise. It has a story."
Jason Alexander will star as Donny Clay in a performance Friday at the Chautauqua Institution.
Theaterics are nothing out of the ordinary for Alexander, most famous for his role as George Costanza on the television series "Seinfield." Before the show debuted in 1989, he was performing on Broadway. The 49-year-old New Jersey native won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical in 1989 for his role in "Jerome Robbin's Broadway."
The transition from theater to television acting can be challenging for some, but Alexander believed "Seinfield" was produced in way that made this switch easier.
"The nice thing about 'Seinfield' is that - while it was a television show - they way we filmed it was more like theater than anything else," he explained. "There was a live audience, they were right there. It was great prep for that kind of transition to television."
The role of George on "Seinfield" was a creation by Alexander, and the show's creators, Jerry Seinfield and Larry David. As the character evolved throughout the seasons, Alexander made George his own.
"I always felt like George is my creation short of the actual dialogue," he said. "He was a bunch of ideas. But the 'ins and outs' of playing George, I always felt was mine."
As his role of Donny Clay over a decade later, Alexander has the opportunity to not only act on stage, but also create his own dialogue, which can sometimes be tricky.
"It's fascinating to be in charge of what comes out of your mouth," he said.
Although the Donny Clay routine is less than three years old, the idea for it can be traced back to "Bob Patterson," a show about a motivational speaker that only lasted six episodes.
"I will go to my grave saying it was the right show at the wrong time," Alexander explained. "Bob Patterson" debuted on ABC less than a month after September 11, 2001. "It was just not a good time and it did not go well."
To pitch the idea for the show to network executives, Alexander would perform a five minute "seminar" to the executives as Bob Patterson, a motivational speaker. Five years later, Alexander and the show's co-creater Peter Tilden brought the idea back to life, and created Donny Clay.
"Donny Clay was definitely born out of the ashes of Bob," Alexander explained. "Had we never explored the turn of Bob Patterson, I don't know if we'd had ever come up with Donny."
The Donny Clay act began as a performance exclusively for business executives, many like the network executives Alexander pitched Bob Patterson to.
"These poor guys are trapped in their retreats or whatever, and they think they are seeing a guy named Donny Clay who is a motivational speaker," he said. "So we come in and do an hour show where we bust them up and bust up their company or their products."
Taking the act to a public and more diverse audience is extremely young. In fact, Alexander said that his show at the Chautauqua Institution on Friday is only the third time it has been performed in front of a general audience. So far, making the show avaliable to the public has been a success.
"The challenge is what do we do with a real audience who isn't united by a company or a product?" Alexander explained. "It's been a hoot. It's really fun, although really frightening, to carry on the responsibility of 'we created this.'
"If this isn't good, it's our fault. We can't behind anyone else. But that's also what makes it really exciting and so far... the response has been terrific."
Those who will be in attendance at Friday night's show can expect a little lecturing, a bit of music and plenty of audience participation. As Alexander's character, Donny Clay, pokes fun at motivational speakers, the comedy in the show is only part of what an audience member will take away from the experience.
In past performances, Alexander said many audience members feel like they learned something from Donny Clay.
"If you can come out of a piece of theater having had a throughly good time but also going, 'I feel better about myself,' How great is that?"
Alexander's performance of "Donny Clay - America's 4th Leading Motivational Speaker in an Evening of Music, Comedy and Personal Growth" will be at the Chautauqua Institution amphitheater this Friday night at 8:15 p.m. General admission tickets are $38 general admission and can be purchased online at www.ciweb.org or by calling the box office at 357-6250.