Ari Fliakos: In The Moment, Without A Net

EN GARDE: Ari Fliakos unsheathes his sword as Claudius in the Wooster Group’s rendition of Hamlet. Photo by Mihaela Marin

For a serious actor, Ari Fliakos’ full-time job is a dream come true. He’s done the works of Chekhov, O’Neill, Racine, Shakespeare and Williams—granted sometimes he’s strutting around on stage in not much more than a jock strap or playing badminton in a skirt. But his roles have taken the 40-year-old Glen Cove native to theaters around the world, and earned him critical acclaim along the way.

Since 1996 Fliakos has been a full-time member of the Wooster Group, one of America’s most highly regarded bastions of the avant-garde. As the renowned theater critic Linda Winer once put it: “There’s Broadway, there’s off-Broadway, and then there’s the Wooster Group, which began doing its cutting-edge, multi-media, non-linear, theater in the adventurous ’70s but didn’t sell out when the rest of us did.”

Fliakos, who went to Friends Academy in Locust Valley and graduated from Duke with a history degree, admits he didn’t have this career path in mind when he set out to intern at the SoHo-based company known for its Performing Garage at 33 Wooster St., whose founding members have included actors Willem Dafoe, the late Spaulding Gray and Kate Valk, and the celebrated artistic director Elizabeth LeCompte.

“I didn’t put much stock into being an actor as a profession,” he tells the Press from a hotel in San Francisco where his company is currently on tour. But performing without inhibition apparently did come naturally to Fliakos.

His mother taught dance at their Long Island home and frequently put him to use.

Ari-Fliakos“There were never enough boys in her studio,” he recalls with a laugh, “so she’d always call me from upstairs and have me lip-synch to Elvis when I was six years old while girls in poodle skirts danced around behind me.”

Now he and his wife, Erin Douglass, one of the leading lights of Radiohole, an experimental theater group based in Brooklyn where they own a house, have a 5-year-old daughter and another child on the way.

With his light brown hair, dark brown eyes, steely gaze and medium stature, Fliakos has also found work on television as “a kind of terrible guy,” he says—a mugger and a white supremacist on Law and Order and a bank-robbing, cop-shooting maniac on Third Watch. In the indie movie Company K, he played an anguished private reliving the horrors of World War I.

Unlike his work in film and TV, which can be completed in a few weeks, the Wooster Group can take years to produce a particular theatrical piece. Spending several months a year touring poses a challenge, especially as a parent, he admits, but it’s a necessity for a company like Wooster Group, which depends heavily on box office receipts and arts grants.

“With each piece,” Fliakos tells the Press, “we essentially create a whole new theatrical language, a whole new world that we inhabit.”

That dramatic freedom is not without risk, he admits.

“At any moment failure is always there!” he says. But riding that line between success and disaster is what he finds so exciting as a performer. “To always be on the precipice of failure…that’s how you make great work.”

And that’s why he does what he does so well.