Advice to a Player

A young actress, a High School senior,  attended APT’s Hamlet and afterwards sent me a message with a great question. She recently had to perform a very famous Shakespeare speech and while terribly excited she realized that people would likely be familiar with the speech, and thought that most people would be reciting it in their heads, or going “oh, oh, that’s where that’s from” instead of listening to her delivery. She wanted to know if I came across a similar experience with the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy and asked me to talk about what I do when approaching such well know characters. Do I ever make a point to deliver the lines in a new way, or do I just stick to what has been done as long as it’s true to the character? The following is my response to her and I thought I might as well share it here too!

Here’s what I have to say about speaking those famous lines…

1. Shakespeare may very well have been aware of his genius, but I doubt that when he got to the parts in the plays where Hamlet says “To be or not To be” or Antony says “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…” that he thought to himself, “the stuff so far has been good, but today, TODAY I will sit down and write something FAMOUS!” I think instead, he was just writing the story. One piece at a time. “To be or not to be” is no more or less important than “You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not.” That’s a line which you probably don’t remember, nor could understand very well because it is a complex botanical metaphor for human inconstancy. But still, it’s a powerful and dark sentiment. All this is to say, I treat the famous parts like any other part.  They must be necessary, immediate, supported in personal history, and honestly said with intention and relationship.

2. As for living up to other famous versions, I’ll let you in on a little secret. No one remembers those “famous” versions well enough to compare what they think they remember of them to what they are seeing you do right now in front of them. If they do (which they don’t), but if they do… who cares? That person is one in a thousand and even then, they will either like what you’ve done or not; which is what they would have done anyway without another version in their heads to compare. See what I mean? The only path to anything remotely successful is to play the action and the scene for truth, not to attempt to garner respect from the viewer. That will happen or not regardless of anything you do, so you might as well let it be and focus on the action at hand.

3. I personally find that seeing as well as mimicking other versions are great ways to to practice your craft as a young actor. I remember doing Much Ado About Nothing in high school and a few of my fellow teenaged cast mates adamantly did NOT want to watch the Branagh film, because they didn’t want it to somehow “ruin their work”. Fine for them, but I thought, “I am 16 years old, where would I get off thinking that Kenneth Branagh had nothing to teach me!?”  In most visual art schools young painters try to replicate the works of great artists again and again. Ever go to a museum and see a student artist painting a picture of a painting? They are practicing and learning technique and style through the work of a greater artist than themselves in the hope to one day be better painters. Painting a Painting of a PaintingI say, especially when you are young, see what you can see. Mimic if you can. If something doesn’t work for you or doesn’t feel right for how you see the scene, drop it and try something else. Worst case scenario is that you learned something! Also, regardless of how you “steal” from another performance, it will inherently be different, because you are a different person doing it.

4. This may seem contrary to #3, because in some ways it is. Don’t ever assume that just because someone great did this or that moment brilliantly means that that moment should now be enshrined in that fashion for eternity. Theatre is the art of NOW. Trying to do something for the sake of being new and different will not get you very far, nor will trying to speak the speech exactly as Maggie Smith did it when she played a part. However, trying to be alive in the moment, with the intention of recreating with words the person to whom you are talking, THAT is a journey you can go on your entire artistic career with increasing success and satisfaction.

Steal what you can. Get inspired by the work you see that fails, as well as the work that succeeds . Make bold, brave choices and be not afraid of failure… Actually, forget that last part. That’s a stupid thing to say. WE ALL FEAR. Don’t try to get rid of your fear. Rather, try to learn to be okay with feeling afraid; to thrill at it. As Hamlet says…

“The readiness is all… let be.”

A Mozambique Winter’s Tale

Shakespeare Link Canada Back Row: Matthew Gouveia, Pulga Cesar Muchochoma, Kennedy Cathy MacKinnon, Philip Pace, Jeffrey Wetsch.  Front: Matt Schwader & Jane Spence

Shakespeare Link Canada
Back Row: Matthew Gouveia, Pulga Cesar Muchochoma, Kennedy Cathy MacKinnon, Philip Pace, Jeffrey Wetsch.
Front: Matt Schwader & Jane Spence

In 2012 I took off a season from working at American Players Theatre and went on a grand adventure to Quelimane, Mozambique with Shakespeare Link Canada (SLC) where we collaborated with the Companhia de Canto e Danca Montes Namuli on an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale.

I’ve had many friends and fans ask what was it all about. Well, earlier last year SLC artistic director Kennedy Cathy MacKinnon and I were interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Veronica Rueckert Show. (Here’s the interview, listen and take a look at the pics below!)

Aside from our central project we brought aid to an Orphan Feeding Program and a rural church as well as taught classes with a local girl’s school. Here are some photos from our time there…

Pulga leads us in stretches and warm ups

Pulga leads us in stretches and warm ups

Danca Danca!

Danca Danca!

It took hours and hours to agree upon proper translations of words and phrases between English, Portuguese, & Chuabo

It took hours and hours to agree upon proper translations of words and phrases between English, Portuguese, & Chuabo

Ba'Hati practicing her steps on a break.

Ba’Hati practicing her steps on a break.

Cathy

Leone, Cathy, & Julia try out costumes!

Ernesta & Matt

Ernesta & Matt

"Little" Ze plays Mamilius while in the back Jefferey as Leontes condemns his wife, Hermione (played by Nina)

“Little” Ze plays Mamilius while in the back Jefferey, as Leontes, condemns his wife, Hermione (played by Nina).

Hyena Attacks!

Hyena Attacks!

Myself as Polixenes, Philip as Camillo, "Little" Ze as Mamilius, Jane as Perdita.

Myself as Polixenes, Philip as Camillo, “Little” Ze as Mamilius, Jane as Perdita.

Polixenes in Disguise

Polixenes in Disguise

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Streets of Quelimane

Streets of Quelimane

Streets are 80% bicycles

Streets are 80% bicycles

Market

Market

Streets of Quelimane

Streets of Quelimane

Streets of Quelimane

Streets of Quelimane

Mozambique Taxi

Mozambique Taxi

Trash in the streets of Quelimane

Trash in the streets of Quelimane

Father & son working on their truck

Father & son working on their truck

Homemade remote control car!

Homemade remote control car!

coconut sugar bars DELICIOUS!

coconut sugar bars DELICIOUS!

Cathedral Ruins

Cathedral Ruins

Cathedral Ruins

Cathedral Ruins

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Refurbishing old shoes into sandals!

Refurbishing old shoes into sandals!

A common Home

A common Home

common home

common home

Streets of Quelimane, Mozambique

Streets of Quelimane, Mozambique

Purifying Drinking Water

Purifying Drinking Water

Jane, Violetta (our House Keeper, a common job in Mozambique) and Dionisio in the background (our chief man about town)

Jane, Violetta (our House Keeper, a common job in Mozambique) and Dionisio in the background (our chief man about town)

Making Rice Bread

Making Rice Bread with Violetta

abandoned train station

abandoned train station

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meeting the orphans

meeting the orphans

Supplies for the orphanage

Supplies for the orphanage

2 boys peek through the school walls

2 boys peek through the school walls

Orphan Feeding Program & School House

Orphan Feeding Program & School House

A sweet girl that befriended me and wouldn't leave me side. "Maya"

A sweet girl that befriended me and wouldn’t leave me side. “Maya”

The orphans & their school

The orphans & their school

Fisherman Zala Beach, Indian Ocean

Fisherman on Zala Beach, Indian Ocean

Fisherman w/jumbo shrimp on Zala Beach, Indian Ocean

Fisherman w/jumbo shrimp on Zala Beach, Indian Ocean

Swimming with the locals in the Indian Ocean. The promised no sharks... I think.

Swimming with the locals in the Indian Ocean. They promised no sharks… I think.

Church in Nicuadala, rural Mozambique

Church in Nicuadala, rural Mozambique

Me & Pulga's Sister. (Pulga, a member of Montes Namuli & Shakespeare Link, invited us to spend time with his family. They cooked and we all danced!)

Me & Pulga’s Sister. (Pulga, a member of Montes Namuli & Shakespeare Link, invited us to spend time with his family. They cooked and we all danced!)

Pulga, a member of Montes Namuli & Shakespeare Link invited us to spend time with his family. They cooked and we all

Pulga, a member of Montes Namuli & Shakespeare Link invited us to spend time with his family. They cooked and we all

Jane, Jeffery and the newest member of Pulga's Family!

Jane, Jeffery and the newest member of Pulga’s Family!

Pulga, a member of Montes Namuli & Shakespeare Link invited us to spend time with his family. They cooked and we all

Pulga, a member of Montes Namuli & Shakespeare Link invited us to spend time with his family. They cooked and we all

baby & rice

children playing

children playing

youth with age in her eyes

youth with age in her eyes

Pulga in the center!

Pulga in the center!

Mozambique Independence Day Celebration.

Mozambique Independence Day Celebration.

Mozambique Independence Day Celebration.

Mozambique Independence Day Celebration.

Mozambique Independence Day Celebration.

Mozambique Independence Day Celebration.

saying goodbye

saying goodbye

Dancing with Leone

Dancing with Leone

Cathy & "Big" Ze

Cathy & “Big” Ze

Sad to say Goodbye

Sad to say Goodbye

Cheto my man!

Cheto my man!

Nina & Matt

Nina & Matt

Group Photo!

Group Photo!

Montes Namuli waves adios from the airport rooftop.

Montes Namuli waves adios from the airport rooftop.

Breathe on 9/11

“They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died.” ~ Tom Junod (Esquire Magazine 2003) talking about 9/11 victims in the upper floors of the World Trade Center.

“TO BREATHE ONCE MORE BEFORE THEY DIED.” That phrase speaks to a very deep part of my soul. It is the thing we human beings have in common; more than nationality, religion, or any cultural pride. We breathe this air. Our air. Air that has been marvelously contained around this floating, orbicular ornament. We are NOT without it; nothing, as empty and as not as the vast dark nothingness that surrounds our tiny blue marble.

Maybe we take the day not to bang drums or praise Gods or point fingers or wave flags. Maybe we take the day to breathe and share the air… with everyone.

WTC memorial

Hamlet & Ophelia “Somebody That I Used to Know” Parody

Video

A parody of the Goyte video “Somebody That I used To Know”
Starring American Players Theatre’s Ophelia (Cristina Panfilio) & Hamlet (Matt Schwader). Showcased at “Words, Words, Words” Aug. 2013

Conceived & Shot by Haley Esposito & Ricco Fajardo A BEAN CLAWS Production

Live on Wisconsin Public Television!

Tonight, Monday Aug. 12th at 7pm, I will be live in studio on WPT during the airing of Shakespeare Uncovered: Hamlet w/David Tennant! Don’t miss it.

Image

“Actor David Tennant discusses the meaning of the play Hamlet and the iconic role with Jude Law and other Hamlets. Plus, American Players Theatre‘s very own Hamlet, Matt Schwader, joins us in the studio.”
Hamlet

Photo by Carissa Dixon, courtesy of American Players Theatre – 2013

Corporeal Mime

Last night I received some terrific actor inspiration! I went with some friends to see a production of corporeal mime (which, for those of you unfamiliar with the art form, is something like a combination of story based theatre and modern dance).  It was entitled Waiting for Ulysses and presented as part of the Theatre de l’Ange Fou‘s White Church Theatre Project. It was compelling, beautiful, funny, and unnerving. The performers are from all over the globe and they perform and study the techniques of Corporeal Mime created by Etienne Decroux (who taught Marcel Marceau as well as my teacher, Jewel Walker). Their home base is in London, UK.  This is the second summer season the company has performed in its space in the beautiful Wisconsin countryside. If you are in the Spring Green area anytime now through Aug. 12, I STRONGLY recommend stopping by and catching a performance! (I have their schedule posted at the end of this entry.) They have rehabbed a beautiful old white church in a valley not far from American Players Theatre and Taliesin into a performance space.

As a performing artist myself, walking away from the production I can’t help but dwell on a couple of  aspects…

Theatre de l’Ange Fou's Whit Church Project production of Waiting for Ulysses

Theatre de l’Ange Fou’s Whit Church Project production of Waiting for Ulysses

First, the use of gesture and it’s powerful yet economic ability to convey a whole history. One of the performers in the role of “Penelope” (Ulysses’ hopeful, pining wife) brushes at her long hair, evidently her thoughts are elsewhere and likely on her long lost husband. This type of gesture is something I am making of use of in Hamlet. There is a moment after the my father’s ghost leaves me with the charge of “remember me” where director John Langs suggested I literally “from the table of my memory… wipe away all trivial fond records, all saws of books, all forms, all pressures past that youth and observation copied there.” It is a gesture I return to a few other times in the show, particularly when Hamlet finds himself off track and needing to return to the focus of revenge. I do it on “about my brains, hum…” There is a moment when I drift into lovingly, reaching out in friendship to Horatio but need to get on point with “something too much of this.” I return to the gesture again in the play within the play when I need to get the distracting heartache of Ophelia out of my way.  Some might consider this a little obvious or cliche, but I find it to be a touchstone of character and story. Not only is it a touchstone for the audience but for me as Hamlet as well. It is a grounding experience, a return to objective and intention. I loved seeing this play out in MANY different ways in Waiting for Ulysses.

The other thing I could not stop considering was the instant and dramatic arresting of attention that happens when a solo performer is confronted by the entrance of one or more other performers. This is nothing unique to mime, but with the absence of language it’s dramatic effect was more apparent to me.  A man alone. A woman enters. Already there is drama. Will they see one another? Do they know one another? Who will engage whom? Love? Hate? Fortune/Misfortune? What will happen!? Similarly, this drama occurs with the entrance of three or four or five more performers, etc.. However, when a stage is crowded, as in a big court scene or armies in battle, we have a potential to return to a level of stasis   similar to a solo performer on stage. This is not to say the level of drama is better or worse, just different. I find playing monologues very daunting for this reason. With one or more other performers in a scene there is an inherent sense of unpredictability. On the basest level, what if the other performer drops a line or a cue? BOOM drama. On the highest level the two performers work in a state of acute awareness of one another, freeing themselves up for spontaneity and surprise. Alone, delivering a monologue, there is the trap of performing for the sake of accuracy or correctness which is not particularly freeing. This is why an audience is so helpful. I never really enjoyed rehearsing Hamlets famous speeches until I had that first audience there to share in the experience. The same trap of static energy can happen in those large group scenes too. There are so many folks on stage that everyone must be responsible for his or her part, so as to not cause a chain reaction of chaos. It has not been uncommon for me to be sitting in an audience, sitting back while witnessing an apparently epic crowd scene and then find myself on the edge of my seat for a simple two person scene that follows it. The balance of thrill, spontaneity and “presence” must be especially paid attention to when working in these two situations. I find it especially challenging moving from “To be or not to be…” into the Ophelia scene. My goal is to make “To be or not to be” as readily necessary and tension filled as the extraordinary energy that arises when I am interrupted with what becomes the “nunnery scene.”  The funny thing is that I never REALLY know how well it is going until it is over and Ophelia has arrived. I rarely succeed at reaching the potential I see waiting there, but from time to time I get a taste of what is possible and that is reward enough to keep me hungry for more.

Seeing these elements so vividly on display and in such a marvelous production is enormously helpful. I can’t wait to get on stage with this renewed inspiration! Come on out and see some shows at APT and then slip into The White Church Theatre Project for Waiting for Ulysses running now through Aug. 12th!

The White Church Theatre Project is in the former Wyoming Valley Church
6348 Hwy. 23, south of Spring Green. $10 donation. 815-441-8828
Call: 815-441-8828

Waiting4UlyssesSCHEDULE

Ron Parker

Check out this incredibly sweet INTERVIEW with my more than generous high school drama teacher, Ron Parker. He’s not only just an amazing teacher, but an exceptional theatre artist and dear, dear friend. He taught me so much about acting and theatre and even more about being a member of a community. There is not one thing I do today in life or on stage that I can’t thank him as well as his wonderful wife, Nelda, for pointing me in the right direction. I love their family like my own.

Me and Ron

APT chats with Ron Parker, the theatre director at Appleton North. He was previously the theatre director at Tremper High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where core company actor, and this year’s Hamlet, Matt Schwader attended high school.  In the process of starting his Summer Shakespeare program for high school students, Mr. Parker directed Matt in his first Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Read about how Matt’s journey to APT started at age 14.”

Then check out this article on Ron’s current project Henry V
Henry V Appleton North