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Beyond the Mind's Eye with Zachary Johnson

Our newest Rep. Company member Zachary Johnson answers our second round of acting questions.

1) When creating a Shakespeare character, do you start from the “outside” (voice and physicality) or the “inside” (relationships and motivations)? Why?

Inside. It kind of has to be with me. Mostly, I am going to be sitting alone reading these words over and over again…all by myself…thinking about what the hell any of them could possibly mean. In that way, I am already having the internal monologue that is required to feel out the character’s motivations. For example (after reading the play through from Hector’s perspective):

Me: So, Hector seems pretty pissed off at his entire family nearly the entire show.

Me Too: Yup.

Me: But everybody’s always talking about he’s so honorable and virtuous and patient and moderate


Me Three: (Offstage) Yeah, gallant’s the word!

Me: So, what the hell?!

Me Too: …I dunno. Bad week?

Me: …Gotta be. Bad week it is!

You see? How could I work on my physicality and voice that early when I’ve already got several people screaming opinions about the character at me in my head? It doesn’t seem like a reasonable expectation. When I’m sitting on the toilet wondering what the word “tenth” means and how I should go about coloring it (quick hint: tenth doesn’t mean what you think it means), I have no time to devise a specific posture. All that comes later, when the other actors and rehearsal space exist.

2) Is there anything about Shakespeare’s language you find especially helpful in preparing for a role? Anything that is always challenging?

My answer is the same for both things; implied stage directions. On the one hand, I love it because, when I understand what stage direction is implied, it eliminates at least one of those “uhh, I don’t know what to do with my hands right now” moments from the play. I especially love false exits. Any time my character says goodbye even twice or more, I typically try to make a run for the exit after the first farewell. The concept of making another actor have to force you back onstage after you try and just leave is really fun for me. Unfortunately, things get hilarious in a more at-my-expense kind of way. I end up looking confusedly at someone for several seconds before they just come right out and say, “You should probably be stopping me from ripping her eyes out of her skull right now.”

3) How do you prepare differently for an ensemble directed production versus a production with a director?

I don’t know that I change very much between ensemble and “nonsemble” directed shows. More likely than not, I will just pose all of my questions throughout the process to the directors as opposed to taking them to everyone around me. Directors have their own overall plan, but an ensemble just needs to talk more in general to each other to establish their own overall scheme together.

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 say audience contact, but I typically end up struggling with it too much still to really admit to it being my favorite. Soon, maybe, when I’ve got it all figured out, I will appreciate it better, but for now I am going with live music. For one, I always end up involved in some way. Most often I am on drums, which might be one of the most rad things that I’ve gotten paid to do. However, sometime I get the pleasure of learning one of the ridiculous instruments that PCSC has at their disposal. My favorite example of that would have been in Love’s Labour’s Lost when I got to play three different songs on the concertina. It’s like an eentsy, uncomplicated accordion, and it rocks my socks. I even managed to work in “Epona’s Song” from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as I entered a scene with that instrument. Nothing beats it: walking around crotch-first and half-naked while playing a Nintendo love song about a horse on a wang-shaped instrument. I felt like I had made it…like I had finally made something of myself.

5) What is your dream Shakespearean role?

King Lear. Is that everybody’s? I wouldn’t be surprised. I have never actually seen the show performed, but it has always been my favorite since we read it (we of course read it last, after Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Taming of the Shrew, and Merchant of Venice) in high school. I had always actually liked the Fool the most as far as that play goes, but as far as dream roles go Lear is way superior. You get to be an ornery old man as well as hang out with the Fool for the entire play, and then there’s all the madness business when he gets naked in the rain. The people that go nuts are always especially fun. And then, in the very end of it all, you get hit with some seriously heavy drama. Dude feels so bad about mistreating his not-evil daughter that he dies! That all wrapped up in one guys seems pretty dream-worthy to me.

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