Scott Wright answers our first round of acting questions.
1. How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?
The first step is most often just carefully reading the play – more than once – sometimes well before the first rehearsal…! The text usually has everything you need to know about a character, and Shakespeare almost always gives you plenty of details. What a character says reveals much about him but there is much more detail available – usually in the things other characters say – or don’t say – about your character, maybe in the stage directions, or sometimes in what the character says about himself. So while you’re going through the text in those first read-thrus and early rehearsals you have to pay attention to those character details, who says them, how and why they say it.
Some roles are very well known, famous characters and much has been said and written about them. Scholarly analysis is sometimes less useful than the work of other actors and directors, but it’s always informative.
Some roles are historical characters whose lives and activities are a matter of record. A little digging can glean a great many details about who someone truly was – though Shakespeare was more often interested in drama than history…
Whether a character speaks in verse or prose is a very important clue to a character’s social status and/or emotional state. Sometimes dialects or accents are written into the script giving excellent and sometimes very funny clues to a character’s class or attitudes. But then there are characters about whom very little is said or offered by the playwright. What those characters say and the situations they are placed in is about all you get and you get to fill in lots of details yourself.
We ask ourselves questions about the character – “What is the character doing (feeling, etc.)?” and “What does the character want?” and use the other tools available to us as actors. The answers to those questions give us actions to play that will bring our characters to life.
The other players, as they work through building their characters, give you feedback and active/motive stuff that helps you discover more about your character and how much or they “want.”
Eventually though, you have to get on your feet and try some things out – try it on and see how it feels. Pigeon Creek favorite Heather Hartnett has described the process as a little like making a coat – cutting it out, sewing it, adjusting when it doesn’t fit the first time, trying it again, & etc. I think that’s a great metaphor, but even more than just trying on different hats or masks, I find that part of what we try out are the strong feelings and larger-than-life actions that are often part of our characters’ realities. Those actions & emotions aren’t always familiar or comfortable for me the actor. Once I put the script down and start putting together a sequence of the character’s thoughts and actions and feelings within the action of the play, I find I discover even more about the character and what he has to say.
2. What do you find to be the most helpful part of PCSC’s standard rehearsal process?
I really enjoy the very early rehearsals where we go through the script, consult different editions, talk about the relationships between the characters and what’s actually happening in a given scene. Going through and working out the scansion in the verse lines and those sort of Shakespeare – geek-y things.
3. What do you like to do for fun outside of theatre?
I am an avid sailor and sailboat-racing enthusiast. I race as often as I can in my Rebel – a somewhat traditional 16-foot one-design sloop which is also a great day-sailing boat. My son Soren says he prefers sailing on our Hobie 16 catamaran – I think because it’s just so much faster and more exciting – especially when it’s breezy. We do more day-sailing on the Hobie, mostly because there’s just less opportunity to race.
I am also a long-time rugby fanatic. I’m currently a referee and referee-coach/evaluator, but I’ve been involved in rugby either as player, coach, or referee for about 20 years now. I don’t play very often anymore – and when I do my body protests mightily the next day, but as we say, “It’s the pain that let’s you know that you’re alive.”
4. What is your day job? What do you want to be your day job?
I work for Distinctive Machine Corp. in Rockford, where I am the CAD/CAM/IS Manager. I’m a tool-maker by trade and qualified as a journeyman building plastic-injection molds. DMC builds metal-stamping dies, and I do CAD work and support the company’s computer systems that do computer-aided design and machining. I have often thought over the years that I would like to design and/or build boats. Especially wooden sailboats. They’re like pieces of art – beautiful and functional, and the building material lends them a sort of mysterious, magical quality – though I’d probably enjoy designing and building boats in modern materials too.
I think I’d like to be a professional actor too… not just making a little bit here and there at it and being referred to as, and being expected to behave and perform like one – but actually making a living at it. I’m not entirely sure I have the courage to be a struggling, starving artist at this stage of my life and I’ve got plenty of excuses for why I can’t – “There’s not enough opportunity in this area…”, I have a lot of other obligations, & etc. – and plenty of self-doubt… But then, “For the believer no proof is necessary – For the unbeliever, no proof is sufficient…”
5. What theatre plans do you have in the next couple months?
When Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival’s Richard III is finished I’ll get a little break and then start rehearsals for Pigeon Creek’s All’s Well That Ends Well that will hit Grand Rapids sometime in January. I hope to win a role in one of PCSC’s spring or summer tours, and of course there’ll be a few other local opportunities available too…