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Friday, May 11, 2018

King Lear Community Chorus

Photo: Richard Termine


For last month's production of King Lear, members of the Royal Shakespeare Company traveled from London to perform at the BAM Harvey Theater. But many of the actors in the run came from just a train ride away—all non-speaking roles were cast locally via an open call to the BAM community and were filled by writers, students, BAM ushers, actors, and folks who hadn't performed in front of an audience in decades. We caught up with the members of the Community Chorus during the final week of the run to learn more about their experiences, backstage secrets, and which Lear characters they identify with most.

Name: Kevin Ray Johnson
Age: 32
Neighborhood: Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Occupation: Working Actor and Playwright

How did you feel about Shakespeare before this experience? How do you feel now?

Great and even greater. This experience has once again reminded me how versatile and timeless Shakespeare will always be.

What about this experience has been most exciting to you? Most surprising? Moments of stage fright?

The hunting scene was an acting master class in itself that I am so thankful to have had, and was even more honored to have the best seat in the house. I had a small moment of stage fright, I guess, when it came to the first time carrying the sun on stage but besides that, not really.

Does being at BAM feel any different now that you’ve been on stage?

Yes. I am also an usher here and the first time I worked at the Harvey I gave myself a goal as an actor of wanting to perform on the stage one day. So very surreal.

****

Name: Seon Gomez
Age: 34
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
Occupation: Musician

How did you feel about Shakespeare before this experience? How do you feel now?

I have enjoyed plays in the past but I’ve really been immersed in the text during this run. Previous experiences were shallow but now I have a newfound appreciation for Shakespeare’s work, King Lear at least. It’s really musical, or maybe rhythmic.

What about this experience has been most exciting to you? Most surprising? Moments of stage fright?

The green room is LIT! The community crew that was chosen is such an eager, smart, and talented crew. So many inside jokes too. Most surprising? Not really surprising I should say, but the RSC folks are all really, really incredible actresses and actors. The understudy run-through really highlighted their versatility. It was incredible to be a part of that experience. No stage fright.

Which Lear character do you identify with the most? Why?

“Gent.” He was just trying to get out of the rain and Caius/Kent was like, “Take this ring to Cordelia”. It’s like, dude....there’s a storm coming, my guy. I hate running errands in the rain!

Photo: Richard Termine


Name:
Clayton McInerney
Age: 29
Neighborhood: Harlem
Occupation: Student

What about this experience has been most exciting to you? Most surprising? Moments of stage fright?

It has been amazing to read Antony Sher’s books in the dressing room, then come on to share a stage with him. There is always a bit of fear in knowing that anything can go wrong at any moment in front of 800 people. But that is also the most exciting part.

Do you have a favorite line from the play?

“When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.”

Biggest surprise about working with the Royal Shakespeare Company?

I was amazed by the humility and clarity they approach this show with. The show is epic but the actors never forget what the story is they are telling.

****

Name: Fran├žois Maree
Age: 25
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Occupation: Student and Actor, Director, Writer, Producer

How did you feel about Shakespeare before this experience? How do you feel now?

I have always been fond of William Shakespeare, and I studied classical acting in my undergraduate years at the University of Stellenbosch back in South Africa, where we did a lot of Shakespeare. But it was always a daunting prospect to do it, as it felt inaccessible when reading his plays. It is when you see talented performers such as those from the Royal Shakespeare Company that you know it is possible to break the walls of the text and to make it accessible to an audience. They speak Shakespeare's language effortlessly, and this inspires me to do the same one day. To find the meaning and extrapolate it in such a way where everyone feels it is relatable.

What about this experience has been most exciting to you? Most surprising? Moments of stage fright?

To get offered a part in the chorus after a few rounds of auditions stands out. There were a lot of talented performers from Brooklyn who auditioned, and I am extremely honored to be part of this production. Also, to see the company and the crew from the RSC and BAM working is mind-boggling. I am used to producing and performing in plays in distressed school halls back in my home country where nothing worked. Here we see something different: everyone is a professional. Time was not wasted during our technical rehearsals and the actors and crew members have the utmost respect for the Harvey Theater, their fellow colleagues, and the limited time to do things. The most surprising thing was to see these very same, serious performers being the friendliest beings who are really interested in you as an up and coming performer.

Any backstage secrets to share?

It is not really a secret, but we get a lot of delicious snacks backstage throughout the performances that give you all of the energy and artistic inspiration to do a 3 hour and 19 minute show. It also forces you to tuck in your tummy when putting on the tight soldier garb!

****

Name: George Copeland
Age: 26
Neighborhood: Brooklyn
Occupation: Actor

How did you feel about Shakespeare before this experience? How do you feel now?

I wasn't always drawn to Shakespeare, but I find the more I do it the more intriguing it becomes.

Do you have a favorite line from the play?

"I have full cause of weeping, but this heart / Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws, / Or ere I’ll weep."
The prose in this line is so beautiful, and it so accurately conveys Lear's sense of betrayal and frustration. It never fails to hit me.

What about this experience has been most exciting to you? Most surprising? Moments of stage fright?

Probably the way Graham always manages to bring something new to his performance as the Fool every night. It makes it very easy to be onstage with because you really have no idea what's coming

****

Name: Michael Fewks
Age: 45
Neighborhood: Ditmas Park
Occupation: AV tech

Do you have a favorite line from the play?

“Nothing will come of nothing.”

What about this experience has been most exciting to you? Most surprising? Moments of stage fright?
The whole experience has been surreal. It's been exciting just to be a part of it. The moment that surprised me the most was our first curtain call in front of a live audience. I wasn't prepared for a such a strong audience reaction. I'd never experienced a crowd of that magnitude giving such pure positive energy. It was an emotional experience.

Biggest surprise about working with the Royal Shakespeare Company?

The biggest surprise is still that they cast me.

Photo: Richard Termine
Name: Solomon Peck Jr.
Age: 31
Neighborhood: Saint Albans
Occupation: Artiste

Does being at BAM feel any different now that you’ve been on stage?
Yes.... I am also an usher at BAM and now I have a stronger appreciation and understanding of what it is to be on both sides. Actors and ushers don't realize how much they have each other's back.

Any backstage secrets to share?

One of my favorite things to do is to sing a new R&B song with Esther right before the opening scene.

Which Lear character do you identify with the most?

Honestly, I identify with Lear. I see him as a sensitive but guarded soul. In my general life I can completely understand and mesh with that.

****

Name: Patrick Simas
Age: 25
Neighborhood: Long Island City
Occupation: Actor/Writer

How did you feel about Shakespeare before this experience? How do you feel now?

I fell in love with Shakespeare in high school and working with classical artists as skilled as this has only made me love his plays even more.

Do you have a favorite line from the play?

“Come, let’s away to prison / We two alone will sing like birds in the cage”

What about this experience has been most exciting to you? Most surprising? Moments of stage fright?

Getting to watch these actors work every night was an absolute dream come true. [They] are the nicest. Fucking. People. What a treat to see people working at the top of their field displaying such ample generosity.

Which Lear character do you identify with the most? Why?

The Fool. I love eggs.

****

Name: Giordano Cruz
Age: 29
Neighborhood: I was born in Elmhurst, in Queens, I currently live in Norwood, in the Bronx, and I went to high school at Brooklyn Technical HS, a couple of blocks from the Harvey Theater.
Occupation: Actor, but my day job is Pool Host

Biggest surprise about working with the Royal Shakespeare Company?

The biggest surprise working with the RSC is how quickly and warmly they integrated us to the company and to the production. They make me feel essential to the show.

Does being at BAM feel any different now that you’ve been on stage?
BAM does feel different. I saw the RSC production of Julius Caesar a few years ago there, too, and back then I made a promise to myself: I will perform on that stage. And now that I have, I need more.

Which Lear character do you identify with the most? Why?
I think I connect most with Edmund because what he does, he does as a retaliation to him being considered a "bastard" and openly mocked that his mother was a "good sport." He was not loved by his father, but tolerated. I am not in those situations, but I do believe that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, which returns things to equilibrium.

****

Name: Nishad More
Age: 24
Neighborhood: East Harlem
Occupation: Actor

Do you have a favorite line from the play?

"Oh the difference between man and man." I love it because it's so funny and so perfectly delivered every night. It's amazing how clear Shakespeare's text can be to any audience.

What about this experience has been most exciting to you? Most surprising? Moments of stage fright?

I think the most exciting thing has been being able to work with such a brilliant cast in this awesome theater. I've been surprised by every audience every night—each night is slightly different than the previous because each audience responds differently to certain moments of the play!

Which Lear character do you identify with the most? Why?

I think I identify most with Regan, because I too am a middle child and know what it's like to compete with my siblings!

©️ 2018, Brooklyn Academy of Music.

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