American Shakespeare Center actors speak to Arts Editor

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By Avery Novitch

This interview took place on Monday, Oct. 20, 2014.

 Avery Novitch: How did you get involved with the American Shakespeare Center and why do you focus on Shakespeare?

Josh Innerst: I think that’s very different for each of us, but for me I’ve always wanted to do Shakespeare. (…) I’ve always kind of been involved in Shakespeare but, to be honest, since I’ve finished training and finished grad school, my bigger concern for a career is what pays. I do Shakespeare because there are tons of Shakespeare companies across the country and it’s really good work to do. (…) So it’s kind of different reasoning for everybody, but that’s the reason I focused on Shakespeare. Pretty much every state in the country has a Shakespeare festival. He’s the most produced playwright even X number of years after his death.

Stephen Brunson: I’ve done a wide variety of theater in the past few years and I started doing music, and musical theatre and then I did Shakespeare alongside of it … but I think, speaking differently from Josh, what brought me here was that I spent a few years doing some musician shows. I love doing them, they’re really great. (…) When I got this offer, I was just so ready to change and do something like this. (…)

I think what’s specific to the American Shakespeare Center, something I love and have always liked about … them is that fact that doing the specific staging conditions and really getting in touch with the language and the way (Shakespeare) would have done it. (…) This company trusts the language, they trust the man, the Bard … and do it the way (he wanted) and it needed to be done. (…) You don’t need anything else except what he gave us.

Patrick Earl: I went to a classical theater training program as well … (and) it was tailored for this sort of thing. When you have a specific ability that you were trained for in certain genres and Shakespeare was definitely one of them because it’s classic theater and so I kind of just keep going where the jobs are and … like Stephen said, it’s just so unique to be able to play music and act and be part of a rock band and an acting troupe at the same time. So it’s like music is a passion for me as well as acting, so that’s why I specifically like staying with the American Shakespeare Center.

Stephanie Holliday Earl: I grew up doing musical theater, primarily. My first jobs in professional theatre were as a dancer, so as I started getting more involved in acting … I started realizing that my favorite plays were the ones with the best language, and that was Shakespeare, but it was also a lot of playwrights from anywhere. But I was specifically interested in plays with strong language. So I feel like the acting opportunities are so meaty and the kinds of scenes you get to do and characters you get to play are so three-dimensional. (…) I think the way that (the ASC does) Shakespeare just makes the most sense to me. Set with staging conditions, to me it creates an environment that the plays just fit in best.

Avery: Do the original Shakespearean staging conditions take away from the ‘magic’ of theater?

Patrick: I mean, I think the magic of theater in general is taking a blank space, whether it involves lights and sets, and making it a whole different world for the audience to watch. (…) This company in particular, and what makes it even more magical, is that we are able to do it with almost nothing. (…) Every once in a while, we do have to change things … but that’s kind of what it is to be a touring actor. It not only forces us to be flexible, but also makes it more magical because we are able to do it in these different types of spaces.

Josh: Patrick touched on this: limitations. It’s not that we’re limiting ourselves with these few (staging conditions). We’re trying to get in touch with the venue and the feel that (the plays) were written for originally. (…) These plays, Shakespeare’s plays, were written for a specific way of doing theatre that was cutting edge technology for Elizabethan England.

So if you let the plays live in that world, they have a whole life to them that you can miss out on.  (…) To see them set in the environment that the plays were written for is really cool because it hearkens back to Peter Brooks’ “The Empty Space,” that the only thing you need for a good story is an audience, and the magic is here in our imaginations and their imaginations. In the communication that happens between two actors and an audience member, you can miss out on that. It enables the magic that was written in the plays to live.

Avery: How much do you make the characters become your own, and how much do you take from adaptations?

Patrick: For me, especially taking on the role of Hamlet, there was so much baggage. There are a ton of people who have played Hamlet before me, so I’m never going to come up with an original acting choice, because all the acting choices have already been made. (…) I tried not to look at any of the adaptations, unless I got really stuck.

I tried to make sense of the script that was given to me. (…) And what research I did do was the differences between each version of “Hamlet.” (…) For me, it was ‘how does Patrick Earl make sense of the character Hamlet and what is in the text?’ That’s how I get into the character, (looking at) ‘what is the script screaming at me?’

Stephen: I look at the text first, but I love watching anything I can get my hands on, especially the greats playing any of the roles. And I did a lot of Polonius too, especially since I didn’t see myself playing (him) at this age, so it took a little more work for me to look at that and say how can I do this. And I look at the script and work on it on my own.

As far as character is concerned … I find the vocal and physical traits when I start looking through the text, and I start writing all the stuff down, and I keep all the research. I look at what the character is saying to other people and how they treat him, and then I will roll with that.

Stephanie: Mine is sort of a combination of that. I have different opinions about whether I want to watch something or not, and it just depends on who the character is. (…)

Gertrude (is) a lot different from me in terms of (her) status. (She) is a different age than I am … I want to see those characters played in some way, even if I didn’t decide to do any of it. It just gives me a jumping off point and gets my imagination going.

For Beatrice … I didn’t really want to watch that many (performances), because she could very easily be my age and my status. I didn’t want to get fixated on someone else’s choices. (…) That might cut me off from my imagination. (…) But the biggest thing honestly is to really just spend a ton of time with the words … because your imagination is going to come up with things that will suit you as that character.

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