Joel L. Schindlbeck as Cymbeline’s Queen
Oh, trust me; one year ago, when the PCSC board was talking about an all-male production of Cymbeline to match our successful all-female production of Julius Caesar, as well as our coming up all-female production of Henry IV, Part One, I leapt at the opportunity. To try the ancient profession of cross-gendered casting. I’m a dorky kid in a renaissance candy store. Little did I know how much…
When I was offered the role of Shylock this past winter, I was taken aback completely. I had intended to offer myself for the role of Antonio, and that was how I had spent most of my audition rehearsal. In the past, I had only ever played minor villains, so I was not prepared to even be considered for the role of Shylock. I took it in stride. I know…that sounds terrible, to “take a wonderful role in stride.” But it’s never been my goal to play the greatest roles. Call it humility, call it typical actor self-deprecation, or just call it plain ol’ fear! However, when it came down to it, Shylock was a beautifully written part; a good step (in my opinion) between Polonius and Richard II; a part I’ve played and the part I want to play before I die. All part of the grander scheme of natural selection that I believe any passionate actor will come across as they find jobs and continue to grow in their art.
However, what I did not expect was to find a penchant for villainy.
And oh, how the Queen is wicked. I remember someone telling me years ago that the Queen in Cymbeline was extremely akin to Snow White’s Queen. God’s. Honest. Truth. This woman’s poison does not simply remain in a closed cabinet in her private study. Oh no! She drips with it, the words pour out of her mouth as sweet and fluid as arsenic nectar. Almost no one sees her face, her true face, except the audience; which is letting me discover an extra benefit about playing the villain.
A couple years ago, Katherine Mayberry, our executive director, started to teach me about the concept of Audience Contact and Surrogacy. To act many years with a great distance between yourself and your audience; and then to turn that table on it’s side and eliminate the distance entirely between the two…what a blessing! The chance to take your art to the next level and not only entertain, but engage! Almost all Shakespeare’s major and minor characters do it at some point. The “aside”, the “soliloquoy”, the rousing public monologue or war rally; in Original Practices, this is one of the greatest and genius tools that Shakespeare has given us. It could be argued, however, that no characters in Shakespeare do audience contact and surrogacy with such panache as the villains. The characters beg to have a private comrade to confide their true wishes and plans to. More often than not, you can’t do such with other characters in the play. They’re the VICTIMS!
No, the audience, they’re the greatest option, and I relish to opportunity to explore performing audience contact with great stakes and such meaty substance as grand treason, murder and political subterfuge! And, not only do I get to participate in one the finest means of entertaining a Shakespearean audience, but there’s the other beautiful meta-theatrical character device that I fell in love with during my time as Malvolio: The ignorant belief that the audience is on your side. Oh…the be the blind villain or foil, that deliver the juiciest of their secrets to the engaged and paying audience; to let the rest of the cast trip and tumble you through hoops of self-conceit and tortuous character arcs as your plans come to fruition and then rot on the vine.
That…that is the true pleasure of playing a villain, in my opinion, and I am relishing it UP with Cymbeline’s Queen. I cannot WAIT for our audiences to see this amazing cast and amazing direction and amazing show.