Beyond the Mind's Eye with Scott Wright
Rep Company member Scott Wright answers our second round of Acting Questions about his roles in our production of Macbeth.
1) When creating a Shakespeare character, do you start from the “outside” (voice and physicality) or the “inside” (relationships and motivations)? Why?
Well – both, I think… it depends a lot on the character though. As I started thinking about how to answer this question I began to reflect back on roles that I’ve done and thought about whether I’d favored one technique or the other. It seems to me that some characters have a very clear physicality that’s written right into the text – Caliban for instance, or King Richard III, or Jack Falstaff – and I think it can only be helpful to start right off with that. When doubled into a minor role that has little or no textual clues to work with I find that starting off with a distinct physical or vocal characteristic allows me to give those characters an individuality that their words or relation to the scene might not otherwise have.
But there are also characters whose attitudes and feelings about their situation or the characters around them are what powers their actions in the story. Creating those characters’ inner life is the more important aspect – more important than what they look like or how they walk. I could create a Claudius with a speech impediment or a Bottom with a particular physicality but those things don’t really seem important to the portrayal or to the story.
The “recipe” or ratio of inner to outer would seem to depend too, upon whether the character is dramatic or comedic. The comedic roles are so often more physical and it’s easy to start off with voice and “character.”
The question of “which comes first” is actually a little circular to me. I’ve come to realize that on one hand our actions are manifestations of our thoughts and emotions. Tears flow or we lash out because of strong emotions. We move to fulfill a want or need in response to thoughts. But on the other hand, many of our thoughts and emotions are triggered by feedback or physical responses in our bodies.
Building the illusion of great sorrow or anger or completely un-self-conscious enthusiasm on stage is a subtle blend of the physical and mental/emotional. We spend a good deal of time discovering and refining that blend in rehearsal by experimenting with the emotions, our own memories & experiences, and creating the situation physically.
2) Is there anything about Shakespeare’s language you find especially helpful in preparing for a role? Anything that is always challenging?
I find the verse meter to be the single most helpful thing – not only for memorization (the words sort of fit together only one way…) but sometimes the meter actually helps you find the right emphasis for certain words. One of the things that’s always challenging is sorting out exactly what’s happening in a scene… Some scenes of course are much written & talked about and what’s happening is well known. In some other scenes of course what’s happening is clear enough, but there are many scenes that are much less clear-cut and finding the action or energy that brings the words to life is always tough for me.
3) How do you prepare differently for an ensemble directed production versus a production with a director?
I’m a bit of a history buff so in an ensemble-directed atmosphere I might do a little bit of extra research into other people’s characters (depending on the piece – history plays offer loads of opportunity for that kind of thing… You still have to be tactful – not everyone appreciates that kind of “help.”) or I’ll look into other sources for ideas I can bring to rehearsal that we can try out and possibly integrate into our show. With a director you rely a lot more on the fact that the research and the decisions about how the show will look and feel have been thought out before hand. Otherwise the preparation is very much the same – reading the play, looking into dictionaries, resource texts, and (at least for me) maybe seeing a performance or two of the play, if possible, to get an idea of what other people have been doing with the material.
4) What is your favorite “Original Practice” (audience contact, cross-gendered casting, live music and sound, etc.) and what exactly do you love about it?
I would probably have to say that cross-gender casting, live music & etc., and direct audience contact get equal share here. Direct audience contact was quite difficult for me to get used to when I first tried it. I feared that looking into someone’s eyes would distract me from my lines and I’d screw up. But it quickly became clear that, while some will look down or away when you meet their eyes, most audience members seem to be even further drawn into the performance. As it was pointed out to me during rehearsals recently, “Instead of seeing you experience it, they experience it with you.”
Naturally, I really enjoy performing the music in our shows. It’s almost as much fun as the play itself.
Cross-gender casting is something that I’ve tried for myself only very recently. My experience with it has mostly been with women cast as men – and we have a ton of women in the company who are really good at it – but men playing women is a little rare. My personal experience with it was really challenging and fun – so much so that it catapulted cross-gender casting into this list and I look forward to more such opportunities.
5) What is your dream Shakespearean role?
It would be hard to limit myself to one dream role… I’d always wanted to play Falstaff and Sir Toby Belch…; Bottom; King Claudius. All of which I’ve had the privilege to play with PCSC. I’d really like to play Macbeth one day, and King Richard III, and Iago, and Shylock… When I’m older I hope to have an opportunity to play Titus, and Prospero, and Lear… Then there are the roles that I’d really love to do but don’t expect to ever be cast in them : Petruchio, Benedick, Berowne, Mercutio, King Henry V, Hamlet… They’re all dream roles. But probably the role that stands out as the one I most hope to one day have a shot at is Falstaff in the Henry IV plays.