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Character Questions with Mike Dodge

4) What was the last role you played for Pigeon Creek? Describe some key differences between that character and your current character.

The last role I played for Pigeon Creek was the Earl of Northumberland in Henry IV. My current role is Gremio in Taming of the Shrew.

Similarities begin and end, for the most part, with their age: they are both elderly. Northumberland is a dramatic role, father of the young antagonist, Hotspur, and, by the end of the play, ill. He has two major scenes: one with his daughter-in-law, and one with the nobleman who tells him of his son’s death. There is little humor in the scenes or, for that matter, in the character. A father learning of his heir’s death in battle and realizing he is too old and sick to avenge that death are not the marks of comedy in the play. In many ways I envisioned the Earl in straightforward, realistic terms: how does a parent react to and cope with a child’s untimely end? What can he do in response? And, when his first response is understood to be impossible, what next? Given the quality of the actors opposite me in both scenes, it was not difficult to create moments of conflict, pathos, and sorrow.

Gremio, on the other hand, is a stock character in a classic comedy. Old, but besotted with his neighbor’s younger daughter, he tries as best he can to impress both the girl and her father with his prospects as a potential husband. Since he has little self-awareness, humor can be found both in his expectations and in how those expectations crash and burn by the end of the play. Besides a certain posture and gait, my keys for Gremio were a bit trickier. I wanted to exhibit the ridiculous side of him but, at the same time, give him sufficient humanity and audience recognition that while laughing at him they could, at the same time, sympathize with him. Too, unrequited love (of various sorts) is a common theme, both in plays and in life, so I didn’t expect the audience to have to work very hard to understand who he was.

Being a comedy, Shrew requires a constant sense of how the audience is reacting, both to my character and those with me in the scene. Actors in a comedy that stifle laughter by the audience by not giving it space quickly realize that they need to recalibrate their timing. One of the joys of live theater, of course, is that every audience laughs in different places in the show, so as an actor I have to be constantly listening not only to my scene partners but to the folks in the seats. Pigeon Creek’s tradition of including the audience in much of the action makes this easier, for once the audience realizes that they are going to be part of the evening’s experience they often get into the spirit of the play and make our lives as actors easier.

Over the last two years, Pigeon Creek has given me wonderful opportunities to explore a diverse palette of characters. I am blessed to be part of the ensemble.

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