Alex Michael Cook Claudio is making his debut with Pigeon Creek as Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing. Alex has also performed with the Shadblow Theatre Company (Noises Off, Anatomy of Gray), Actors Theatre Grand Rapids (Dogfight), ADAPT Theatre Company (LINES: The Lived Experience of Race), and the Howmet Historical Playhouse (Leading Ladies, Cotton Patch Gospel).
Give us a brief summary of your acting history: how’d you start acting, where/what did you study, how did you end up in Grand Rapids, etc.
My first acting experience was a mandatory school play in middle school. Not much more can (or should) be said about that production. I spent the next four years in Brazil, where there was precious little theatre to be done and less still that had room for a fourteen-year-old novice. Left with no other options, I founded my own drama company with the purpose of providing high schoolers with the opportunity to write, direct, and act in a theatrical context; and I worked with them right up until I returned to the States for college.
After five years of membership in the theatre company at Calvin College, I wasted little time in seeking opportunities for further work in regional theatre. Since then, I’ve worked as an actor, designer, or director on fifteen productions with various companies in the Grand Rapids area.
What drew you to audition for this production?
The company had been recommended to me by several people I’d worked with in the past, and I was intrigued by what I’d heard of the speed and intensity of their process. Eager for the opportunity to approach Shakespearean text with the rigor it deserves, I showed up for the next audition that came along and was fortunate enough to be offered a role.
Pick one aspect of PCSC’s “original practices” style (thrust staging, audience contact, cross-gendered casting, doubling, etc) that was new to you and tell us about your experience with in in this production.
There weren’t any specific technical aspects that I hadn’t been exposed to before, but the extensive doubling and the sheer tempo of the performances definitely took some getting used to. No one is ever not doing something.
What do you do when you’re not acting? (talk about family, day job, hobbies, etc.)
Heavens, I do a lot of things. I’m an actor, but I’m also a professional software developer, amateur mathematician, avid reader, occasional writer, and devoted cat owner.
What is the next production or project you’ll be working on?
Who knows? I’m moving to Sacramento this summer and getting married; that should keep me plenty busy for a while. Odds are good that I’ll be focusing on my writing until I can familiarize myself with the theatre scene out West.
Pick three adjectives that describe your (major) character and explain why you chose them.
Claudio is insecure, gullible, and eager to please. The three traits are closely linked, and they’re the reason why Don John quickly identifies him as the weak link in Don Pedro’s entourage.
His deep insecurity renders him all too ready to believe that the people around him are out to get him, while simultaneously spurring him to leap reflexively at every chance to prove himself to those same people. This dangerous combination of abiding distrust, hasty judgment, and a naive sense of duty will come near to being the death of him.
Tell the story of the play from your character’s perspective.
For Claudio, this is very much a coming-of-age story. At the outset, he is enjoying his newfound military success, but he lacks a real sense of identity or purpose. Between finding love, doubting love, losing love, and regaining it, there are a lot of things he has to come to terms with over the course of the play; but I believe the core arc of the character is the process of growing up—specifically, realizing the consequences his actions can have and learning to live accordingly.
What made you want to become an actor? What makes you want to continue being an actor?
My interest in theatre began as most hobbies do: as an enjoyable pastime to challenge the faculties and bring me into contact with the like-minded. Then and now, I saw the great potential of acting as a powerful form of expression. Over the years, however, the sense of a greater purpose for the craft began to awaken in me. I believe that it is the responsibility and privilege of all actors to cultivate empathy in themselves and in their audience. To deeply understand and faithfully portray the story of a person—even a fictional one—is an important act of human respect and human dignity. Once I came to see acting in that light, there was no way I could ever stop doing it.
When creating a Shakespeare character, do you start from the "outside" (voice and physicality) or the "inside" (relationships and motivations)? Why?
My approach to building a character has been largely shaped by Stanislavski, focusing on the dual-awareness of the actor as they be simultaneously fully present as the character and fully present as the performer. This requires the external choices and internal choices of the role to respect and inform each other. Thus, while I tend to start from the “inside”, my process involves jumping back and forth between the two and doing my level best to make them meet coherently in the middle.