We love, love, love the silliness of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised], but it takes talent for the 3 actors to be so successfully goofy. We asked Spencer D. Christensen, John William Watkins and Christopher Peltier how they do it....
Q: Spencer, what is it like to be in Complete Works compared to other comic roles you've played? Does the ‘Complete Works’ style of comedy require different comedic tools or skills?
A: It [Complete Works] shares more qualities than are different but it requires tapping into some skill sets more deeply because the show incorporates the audience. They are on the journey with us because most of the show is a form of direct address - talking with the audience and there is very rarely any kind of barrier between us - and if there is - we make a joke of it.
Because the show is so dependent on the audience - we must be beyond secure in what we are saying and doing - we have to believe what we are doing more deeply and securely. This is due to the fact that the audience could give us something at any moment that we could use and fold into the moment on stage - and once that moment is over - we get back to the show that we have planned.
So basically during the show ANYTHING could happen at ANY moment and if it does we sure hope we can get everybody safely out of the theater!
Don't worry, we're trained professionals.
Q: In Complete Works you seem to end up in a lot of wigs and dresses. What special skills do you need, or what acting techniques do you use to pull off the comedic trope of a man trying to play a woman?
A: When we first got our costume plots (a list of all the different looks and changes) I had 47 changes in the show. I think we've added a few since then. Some of these are as simple as adding or subtracting a hat, some are full changes, but lots of them involve wigs and dresses. I have 6 wigs to signify different women, plus several hats for others.
In terms of special skills or techniques for playing the women I'd say the most important is taking care of my voice. Because I spend a good deal of the play speaking and screaming in falsetto I have to make sure I do a good warm up and don't run myself ragged. As for making it funny, I'll put it this way; Me, Chris the Actor, thinks I am a pretty ugly woman (insert lipstick on a pig reference here). But when Chris the Character hits the stage as one of the women, he is the prettiest, prettiest princess in all the land and he owns it. The pink Converse help too.
Q: What is your very favorite persona in this show (male or female) and why?
A: My favorite character in the show? Lavinia [ from the Titus Andronicus cooking show skit]. Hands down. She has no hands and no tongue, but she's a bundle of joy!
Q: How do you prepare to play so many characters in Complete Works?
A: The rehearsal process involved a lot experimentation with each character, playing with different physicalities, walks, voices, mannerisms and tempos influenced by what we know these Shakespeare characters and universal types like witch, football announcer etc to be. I distilled each character down to its essence: love struck, meddling, brown nose, and exploited that one word. The play moves like a Mack truck so it's important for each character to be identifiable as soon as possible to the audience. Sometimes all that's needed is to speak because the costume and text reveal the character for me.
Q: How do you mentally switch so quickly between each persona?
A: I try to think as little as possible and allow my body to do the work. Each physicality created for each character informs a feeling or attitude inside me. Underneath all of it I try to get out of the way and let the joy of performing shine through.
Q: Your base character is “John”. How different/similar is he to the “real” you?
A: I remember early in the process I had a difficult time defining who he is because although we are calling him "John" he was written/created by Daniel one of the three co-writers. To me he is beautifully odd and that description actually helps me see myself in him. We have everything in us and so when I put on those pumpkin pants, sweatband and cape it just releases parts of me that I might not feel comfortable releasing when I'm sitting reading at the Java House...so "John" is similar to John.
The only tickets left to see Spencer D. Christensen, Christopher Peltier & John William Watkins live onstage in 'Complete Works' at Riverside Theatre are on Saturday, July 12, 2:00PM. Call 319-338-7672 or email [email protected] to reserve your tickets. Enjoy this show!
Photos by Bob Goodfellow.