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Process Questions with Michael Dodge

Michael Dodge (Gaunt/Percy/Keeper) is appearing with Pigeon Creek Shakespeare for the third time. He made his debut with PCSC this summer as Old Shepherd in The Winter’s Tale and then appeared in School For Scandal as Sir Oliver Surface.. He has also performed with Heritage Theatre (Grumio/Christopher Sly in Taming of the Shrew and Danny Dubrow in American Buffalo), Civic Theatre (Horace VanderGelder in Hello, Dolly), Circle Theater (J.B. Biggley in How to Succeed in Business), and Aquinas College (Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac).

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

As with most issues in acting (at least for me), simple binary options are insufficient. Part of this may arise from my having very little formal training. What “process” I have is cobbled together from watching good actors and

directors rehearse and perform. I have a lot of experience on stage but significantly less off stage and before stage in terms of how to prepare and how consistently to improve what I do on stage.

With that as prologue, Richard II posed new problems and opportunities for me. I’ve not had a chance before this to delve into one of Shakespeare’s dramas, especially into a character like John of Gaunt. What I discovered was a combination of inward and outward origins. Gaunt participates in a decision to exile his son: it breaks his heart and leads to his death. Once I spent some time with that gamut of emotions I realized some of the outer effects such an experience might have. Once I started playing with outward gestures, postures, gaits, etc., I discovered further emotional connections. What I ended up with was an ongoing dialogue among inner motivations and outward physical and vocal expressions. It’s an ongoing process, as I seem to learn something new every time we perform.

On the other hand, my minor character of the Keeper came to me almost full-blown once I experimented with a particular way of walking, i.e., with my feet pointed outward in a “ten ‘till two” position. For whatever reason, posture, manner, motivation, even voice seemed to flow from that simple discovery. It was great fun, for I’d never had that happen to me so completely in preparing previous roles.

What is your dream Shakespearean role?

Oh, my. Since, until a year or so ago, I didn’t expect the opportunity to play in Shakespeare’s yard, my dreams are still rather rudimentary.

Three possibilities:

  1. Well, this isn’t really a possibility, but it is one of the first characters I spent any time with that captured my attention: Othello. While he is a very specific role, there are universal aspects to his experiences and situations with which I identify.

  2. King Claudius in Hamlet: it may be a bit beyond my reach right now as an actor, but with more experience I’d enjoy the chance to humanize a role often seen as “evil”. It’s a truism, but Shakespeare’s villains are often very attractive to actors as opportunities to explore life in all its ambiguities. Also, my “type” may not really be the antagonist or bad guy: when I’ve had chances to play these kinds of roles it has been most rewarding.

  3. A role for which I may never be ready: Lear. This is my pie in the sky character – as I get older I seem to grow more and more understanding of some of what he endures. It’s too big a role for me at present, but, hey, as long as I keep fooling Pigeon Creek into using me in productions, I have a chance to keep learning and growing

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