The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] is a different kind of challenge for an actor. There are a lot of comedic elements and some improvisation. How has it been to be a part of a play that has a lighter tone?
“It’s been really nice. It’s been so refreshing. On the Verge was the last thing I did and it was so much fun. It was such a challenge though. There was a lot of really hard work that went into that. Especially memorizing our lines and things like that. So, this is just fun in a totally different way and I’m just playing. It’s also really cool having those two very different plays back-to-back, one after another.”
Have you ever been in a show like this?
“I haven't. I’ve been an audience member for shows like this. I’ve seen The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] done in my hometown. And I saw The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee which they have four audience volunteers. I ended up being one of those audience volunteers on stage. So yeah, I’ve been on the other side of it but I’ve never had to be one of the actors working with a different crowd every night, figuring out how that works.”
What parts of the performance are you excited to share with the audience?
“I’m very excited for the dance sequence. I think people are going to enjoy that a lot especially now that I’ve seen the lighting design that goes with it. We have a disco ball and everything. It’s going to be super fun. I’m also excited to see how they like the faster and the backwards Hamlet. It’s just so inherently funny.”
What’s backwards Hamlet?
“So basically we perform our skit of Hamlet and at the end we have some extra time so we say, ‘Hey, let’s do it again faster.’ So, we do it faster. Then we say, ‘Let’s do it faster.’ So we do it even faster. Then, 'Ladies and gentlemen, we shall do it backwards.' So, literally the lines are in reverse. So, if I say ‘Lay her in the Earth,’ I’d say ‘Earth the in her lay.’ And we just run it back. We’re all dead on the floor and we launch into it with backwards lines.”
Who are you looking forward to seeing perform on opening night?
“They’re all so hilarious. Sam (Morrison) is very energetic. He’s brought so many of the ideas we’ve landed on and brings so much of the energy. It’ll be really great to see him work with the audience. I bet that’s going to be awesome, especially because he has standup (comedy) experience. So I think he has good experience working with the crowd.
“Then Ezioma (Asonye), I feel like the rest of us have this huge, giant, jumping-around-screaming energy and then she just quietly undercuts us with this sass and wit and that is really going to be great with the audience there. She still has the humor, it’s just very sassy and underplayed. Christian (Kelly) plays Hamlet, which is probably the meatiest of the Shakespeare roles we do. He brings this wonderful combination of total silliness and also seriousness and really good, beautiful acting in moments of it, which is really cool. And Jacob (Kuhn) is just the best Juliet, the best female heroine. He plays most of the heroines. He’s so funny and energetic and makes them all so different. It’s so great.”
You were in Titus Andronicus last year at the Schwartz Center and Twelfth Night at the Risley Theatre, does having that background in Shakespeare help with a play like this?
“It actually really does help especially because (director) Jeff (Guyton) has wanted us to deal with the Shakespearean text, so the acting would be good. So, it helps me find that and it’s really helped me feel comfortable with the language. I think one thing that’s been really cool about this show is it takes Shakespeare and the stories of Shakespeare and makes it accessible to people who maybe are afraid or intimidated by Shakespeare, which is definitely where I was when I went into Titus. That was the first Shakespeare show I ever did and it was a full PMA production, which was terrifying and intimidating. All my experience with Shakespeare up to that point has been in English class when Shakespeare was this high art and only sophisticated people like Shakespeare and it’s hard to understand. I had all these ideas surrounding it so having the chance do a show has made it easier to understand (for Complete Works). It’s made it easier to see that Shakespearean characters are really accessible, really relatable characters and that so much of the reason we find it difficult to access Shakespeare is because we have a psychological block to it because we tie all of that stuff to it. Even though, you know, the groundlings loved it. It was so bawdy. We really embrace that in this show and it was really helpful for me to see it in that way and come at it immediately from that perspective.”
Do you think people who aren't necessarily inclined to liking Shakespeare would enjoy it more after seeing Complete Works?
“When we were doing Titus, it was like, Titus is such a bloody gruesome tragedy and the director told us we had to find the humor in it, especially in the beginning. He said, so much of this play is so funny and you can’t just come at it like it’s this great, sad thing. We spend a lot of time on the tragedies (in Complete Works), finding all the really hilarious moments, and those are still there. It’s not done in the goofy costumes and whatever. That’s still there and I hope that people will be able to appreciate that more after seeing this.”
There are a lot of open ended elements and audience interaction in this show. Are you nervous at all to see how that plays out?
“I don’t generally get nervous but I am worried because I’m really bad at keeping a straight face and so I tend to just laugh in front of the audience all the time, so I’m worried that I’ll break. I am a little nervous for the audience interaction bits, since that’s not something I have a ton of experience with, but I think we’re going to get a good crowd so it shouldn’t be too bad.”
Do you plan on seeking out some folks in the audience who look like they don’t want to interact and trying to get them to participate?
“I’m definitely the sort of person who loves to drag on the person on who doesn’t want to do it. That’s my favorite thing in the world. Even if I’m not that mean, you can still make fun of them quietly and engage with them, which is fun.”
This is Jeff Guyton’s first time directing a PMA production, how has it been working with him?
“It’s been really good. He’s been great to work with and he has a lot of fun with us. It’s a pretty relaxed environment, which is nice. Bringing in his background as an actor is really useful. I feel like he knows how to get me where I need to go, which is cool. He really understands what audiences find funny and how to work the audience. It’s really useful for us when he can direct us in that way.”
What was your favorite play to make fun of in Complete Works?
“I definitely think the Scottish play took a weird direction, but really my favorite one has been Romeo and Juliet. I think that’s one of the ones where there’s this common notion that Romeo and Juliet is so romantic and it’s these young lovers and (in Complete Works) we’re like, maybe it’s this big tragedy about violence. We have all these preconceived notions (about Romeo and Juliet) and it’s such a huge part of our culture, it’s just so much fun to turn it into something silly and ridiculous. I play Sampson, the guy who bites his thumb, which is such a fun scene and really physical and we have some crazy combat going on. That’s just really funny. Sam playing Romeo with Jacob playing Juliet, just hearing the way their voices interact and seeing them together is so funny. They have great chemistry.”
What’s the most ridiculous prop you all use in Complete Works?
“I don’t want to give away too much, but there is a toy robot that shoots little discs out of its chest.”