In Conversation with ‘Jane Eyre’ Actor Art Anderson

First published in 1847, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is the story of Jane, an orphaned girl living with a family that dislikes her. She grows in strength, excels at school, becomes a gonverness and falls in love with the mysterious Edward Rochester. Deceived by him, Jane Eyre soon discovers something within her self—an inner-strength—and becomes a strong, independent woman. Taproot Theatre brings that story to the stage, as a musical, with Jessica Spencer playing Jane Eyre and Art Anderson playing the role of Rochester. 

Encore recently sat down with Anderson to discuss the complexity of his character, what music brings to the story, and the genius of Charlotte Brontë.

What do you like most about your character? 

The character of Rochester is complex and loaded with contradictions. His goals and intensions are clear and focused to get the girl, though his methods of achieving them are less than thoughtful. As an actor, the challenges here are intoxicating which says nothing of the pure joy of singing this incredible score.

How did you get involved in this particular show?

When I heard Taproot was going to produce Jane Eyre, the Musical, I felt drawn to the possibility of auditioning. I was not very much aware of the staged musical but the character of Rochester is iconic in English literature and I knew it would be a role worth pursuing. The open call for the role was at a time when I was out of town and I was crushed that I could not be considered. After jumping through some hoops and shameless, pleading correspondence, I was able to persuade the Production Stage Manager and Director for consideration after the fact. I was later notified that they would hold up casting the role until I was back in town to audition in person. I was and am still very grateful for the risk that the production staff took in holding off and casting me.

Jane Eyre is a classic. Why add singing? What does it add to the story?

I say, why not? Composer Paul Gordon has written this sweeping and incredible score to this timeless tale. It should be heard and appreciated. The significant story themes continue to resonate long after the production is over… To add musical nuance and emotion only enriches the experience of the book, especially if done well, as I feel we have achieved.

What will be surprising about your production to those who have read the book?

For those that know the Bronte novel and the journey of literature’s first real female heroine, will appreciate that the play keeps, for the most part, the descriptive and passionate first-person voice of Jane Eyre throughout the play. Through the use of a most excellent and diverse ensemble cast, the playwright and director are able to keep the essence of this storytelling through a Greek chorus, if you will, as well as Jane’s own narrative. The one thing that struck me most of Charlotte Bronte’s novel is her mastery of an amazingly descriptive and beautiful narrative. This is not lost in the writing of this play. It’s very loyal to the novel within the limited time constraints.

What’s your favorite role you’ve played thus far in your career?

As the old adage dictates, the role you are in at present is always your favorite. The role of Rochester has opened my eyes, with the help of some careful direction from Karen Lund, to an array of choices and risks worth taking. I look at favorite roles from which I grow as an actor and the personal relationships I experience during the rehearsal process and performance. My experience here with this production has easily risen to ‘favorite’ status, also because it’s just so much fun.

What actor would you like to work with?

Seattle is a hub of amazing talent and the list of actors with whom I’d like to work is long. One local actor, in particular comes to mind, my husband, Nick DeSantis. He is an amazing actor and I’m sure I’d get a kick out of the experience if we could ever arrange the same working schedule. It is how we met, after all, eleven years ago. 

Favorite place to see live theater in Seattle?

There is no specific venue I enjoy more than any other. I love how each venue succeeds in transporting me to different worlds in their own unique way.

Terri Weagant Talks ‘Julius Caesar’

Seattle Shakespeare Company is bringing an all-female version of William Shakespeare’s epic political thriller Julius Caesar to Seattle parks this summer, in a production directed by Vanessa Miller. Seattle theatre veteran Terri Weagant, who has performed on the stages of Book-It Repertory Theatre, ACT’s Central Heating Lab, Theater Schmeater and others, takes on the formidable role of charismatic Roman politician Mark Antony. We caught up with her to discuss the play, how (and if) having an all-female cast affects the production and the mosquito-related challenges of performing outdoors. 

What do you like best about your character?

Antony is fiercely loyal to Caesar. In his youth, he spent much of his time gambling, drinking and seducing women and men. He was basically run out of Rome. Caesar became a surrogate father to him; teaching him about military strategy, political prowess and personal forgiveness. When Caesar is killed, Antony vows to avenge his death. Antony is an incredible orator and a master manipulator. Those are two great traits that can help you take over a country. 

What do you bring to the character that males might not be able to bring to it?

I have worked on numerous shows that have played with non-traditional casting, where races and sexes differ from the original. The thing that changes is the perception of the audience. Antony is proud, conniving, dedicated, passionate and a bit of a hot-head. That’s the character that I want to play. The audience can read into “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” being spoken by a woman in any way they please. Meaning can be attached to anything. That’s for them to decide.   

What does an all-female cast bring to Julius Caesar that another cast potentially couldn’t?

We’ve had many discussions during the process about masculine vs. feminine traits. What makes something inherently masculine? Or feminine? Gender lines blur together. Are men guided by reason and action, and women by intuition and emotion? The characters change tactics throughout the play, employing traits that are characteristically male or female. It becomes less about gender and more about interpersonal relationships.

The central conflict in the play is political power. Our director, Vanessa Miller, said on day one that she thought a great deal about her 9-year-old daughter when she decided to go with an all-female cast. She wanted the young girls and boys who come to the show to see women in political power and not be fazed by it. Wooden O goes into communities all over the Puget Sound and for many young people this is their first exposure to Shakespeare. If they can accept that these people talk this way, then they can accept that women are the ones ruling Rome.  

Why is Julius Caesar still important in this day and age? 

Most of the themes from the play we see popping up in the news daily: political strife, betrayal, manipulation of information, power struggles and sacrificing personal morals for the good of the cause. History repeats itself.

What are the plusses and minuses of doing Shakespeare outdoors?

You have a lot of things against you when you work outdoors: planes, weather, fights, mosquitoes, etc. This is what makes the work fun. You’re always on your toes. You can look the audience directly in the eye. I love that the shows are free so whole families can come out. Shakespeare in the Park was my first introduction to his work. It took me a while to figure out what the heck they were saying, but once I did I was hooked.

In Conversation with Seattle Symphony’s Jeff Tyzik

Jeff Tyzik brought his creative arrangements, inventive programming and easy audience rapport to Seattle last year, when he joined the Seattle Symphony as Principal Pops Conductor for the 2013-14 season. This year, he’s back and eager to explore even more diverse music for more diverse audiences.A trumpet player by training, Tyzik has appeared with the Boston Pops, the Cincinnati Pops, the New York Pops, the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and the Dallas Symphony at the Vail Valley Music Festival, amongst others. From his home in Rochester, New York, Tyzik chatted with us about the coming season, what he likes to do in Seattle when he’s in town and his symbiotic relationship with Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot.

What are you looking forward to in the Seattle Symphony’s 2014-15 season?

I’m really excited about this coming season. We’re doing a performance of classic film scores—film music is some of the most compelling music created in the 20th century. We’ll play John Williams. We’ll play Star Warsand Superman, of course, but did you know he also did the score for The Witches of Eastwick? I like introducing less familiar music to audiences. We’ll play James Bond music, Casablanca, and some of the best music from westerns—SilveradoDances with Wolves. For the holiday show we’re working with cirque groups to do a holiday themed aerial ballet, if you will. They will be performing while we play holiday music beneath them. We’ll also do a concert highlighting Ellis Hall, the last artist to sign on Ray Charles’s label. He was in the Tower of Power, and we’ll be playing a soul show with him, playing all sorts of great soul music from the late ’60s and early ’70s.

How do you go about choosing the programs that you do? 

I want to keep audiences interested. If it’s interesting to me, hopefully it’ll be interesting to the audience. I’m always looking for new and different types of programming to keep things exciting. That’s why I like working with Ludovic Morlot. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We’re both looking for new ways to showcase great music. We go about it differently but we arrive at the same point in that regard.

Who is your favorite composer?

My tastes are eclectic. I like to bring that to the pops programming. I love Stravinsky. I love Beethoven. I love Miles Davis. I love Duke Ellington. Billy Joel. I’ve been listening to a lot of Latin music recently. The Beatles. I love all sorts of music.

What’s your favorite show you’ve done with the Seattle Symphony?

They’re like children: You like each of them for a different reason! “A Night at the Cotton Club” was fun, and we did a salute to veterans that was very powerful. I love working with this orchestra.

What’s your dream conducting gig, realistic or not?

I’m living it. I am very fortunate to be the Principal Pops Conductor for three orchestras: Seattle Symphony, Dallas Symphony and Detroit Symphony, and these are symphonies I grew up listening to. 

What’s your principal instrument?

I play the trumpet. I’ve dabbled in keyboards. In the 1980s I had some jazz crossover albums on the Capitol Records label.

What do you like to do when you’re in Seattle?

I walk Pike Place Market, get the vibe. I like to cook, so if my hotel is one of those suites with a little kitchen in it I’ll go down to the market and buy some seafood and veggies and cook right there in my room.

In Conversation with ‘The Price’ Star Charles Leggett

Arthur Miller, scribe of such watershed works of theatre as The Crucible, Death of a Salesman and All My Sons, is one of America’s most beloved playwrights. One of his lesser-known plays, The Price, centers on two estranged brothers—one a beat cop, the other a doctor—who are reunited in the attic of their deceased father’s brownstone to dispose of his furniture. Despite New York Times critic Clive Barnes’s assertion that The Price “is one of the most engrossing and entertaining plays that Miller has ever written” in his review of the original 1968 Broadway production, the play is rarely produced. Local stage favorite Charles Leggett is currently starring as cop Victor Franz in ACT Theatre’s production of the Miller classic, opposite Anne Allgood, Peter Silbert and Peter Lohnes. We talked to Leggett about the show, his depressing dream roles and his fondness for Annapurna momos and Cal Anderson Park.

What’s your favorite thing about your character?  

Victor’s arc through the play. The action of the play is continuous from beginning to end—there are no scene breaks, no lumps of time between scenes to account for. While the two-plus hours of the play’s action are obviously difficult ones for Victor—and of course the distant past looms very large—it’s simply a matter of stepping onto the stage and being swept up into it. It’s very clean that way.

What’s your favorite thing about the show?  

The economy and effectiveness with which Arthur Miller presents what is a very complex set of relationships and family dynamics.

What’s the best role you’ve ever played?  

Hard to say. Among the best would have to be Shylock and Sir Toby Belch, but I also had a grand time playing Ray in Steven Dietz’s Yankee Tavern here at ACT, while some of the most pure FUN I’ve had onstage was taking on an assortment of roles in J.P. Donleavy’s Fairy Tales of New York—a mortician, the CEO of a spark plug manufacturing company, a hard-drinking denizen of an athletic club boxing ring (simply called “The Admiral”), and an unctuous Eastern European waiter, among others.

What’s your dream role, realistic or not?  

I’ve always sort of had my eye on Reverend Shannon in The Night of the Iguana; there’s also a fellow named Charlie in a beautiful play by Samuel Hunter called The Whale, a 650-pound English teacher who hasn’t left his apartment in months and is dying of congestive heart failure. Nothing especially cheerful, it appears.

What actor would you love to work with, realistic or not?  

There are very, very few actors here in Seattle I wouldn’t like to work with. In the larger world, well, I have always been inordinately fond of Peter O’Toole. That’s now about as unrealistic as it gets.

Where do you like to eat in Seattle?  

Toulouse Petit is certainly a favorite. Lots of good pho around, too. Annapurna, on Capitol Hill, for the momos.

What’s your favorite park in Seattle?  

Cal Anderson. I’ve lived on Capitol Hill several different times over the years, and that park has always been a fond presence.

What’s your favorite place to see theater in Seattle?  

That’s a trade secret; I ain’t sayin’.

Five Friday Questions with ‘Once’ star Stuart Ward

On the streets of Dublin, an Irish musician and Czech immigrant are drawn together by their shared love of music. Once, now showing at the Paramount Theatre, is a theatrical version of the movie that causes peoples’ hearts to swell in 2007 starring real-life musicians Glen Hansard (The Frames) and Marketa Irglova. One of the songs in that film, “Falling Slowly,” won them both an Oscar.  

Now, on stage at the Paramount Theatre, Stuart Ward is playing the role Hansard made famous. Ward, who has been in London’s West End in The Recruiting Officer and Dreamboats and Petticoats and was seen on “Downtown Abbey,” trained at Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. A singer-songwriter, we recently talked to him about his role, his past achievements and Aaron Sorkin.

What’s your favorite thing about your character?

How complex he is. He’s yearning to burst out of his shell and unleash his talent on the world but just doesn’t know how to. He has major confidence problems.

What’s your favorite role you’ve ever played?

This one, by far. As soon as I heard the film was becoming a musical I knew I had to do it. 

What’s your dream role—realistic or not?

I don’t really have one. I prefer to create new roles when at all possible. There are a lot of Jeff Buckley biopics going on at the moment though. I’m a massive fan, so would love to have a go at playing him in a film or a play. 

What’s your favorite stage moment thus far in your career?

I was lucky enough to work at the Donmar in London, which was a massive honor. Probably one of the proudest moments on stage for me.

Who’s your favorite actor you are dying to work with?

My favourite actor is Martin Sheen. I’m a big West Wing fan. They’re all amazing actors on the West Wing though, and I’d  love to work with any of them. I’d also love do anything that Aaron Sorkin has written. 

Your favorite place to run your lines?

In my house with as many distractions as possible. Running lines is boring and I tend not to do it. I prefer learning them in the rehearsal room. 

Your favorite place to see theatre?

The National Theatre and the Donmar in London. Everything they do is pure gold.

Five Friday Questions with ‘Diana of Dobson’s’ star Helen Harvester

Before there was Eliza Doolittle there was Diana of Dobson’s: a young woman, overworked and underpaid with little chance of success, until her chance comes by way of an unexpected inheritance. Written in 1908 by Cicely Hamilton, Diana of Dobson’s is as fresh and relevent today as it was then. We recently chatted with Helen Harvester, who plays the plucky young shopgirl, about living rooms, oysters, and Lisbeth Salander.

What’s your favorite thing about your character?

Diana is fearlessly eloquent. She has a polished, well-reasoned retort for every situation and is unafraid of the consequences of speaking her mind.

What’s the best role you’ve ever played?

Hands down, Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story. I’ve been lucky enough to play her twice. I love her carefully hidden vulnerability beneath her headstrong facade. 

What’s your dream role—realistic or not?

I love the classics. I would love to play Hedda Gabler. As a dream role that doesn’t exist yet in play form, I would totally go for Lisbeth Salander.

The place you run your lines?

My living room, though I usually have to cram it in on the bus.

Your favorite place to see theatre in Seattle?

If we are speaking Seattle proper, then On the Boards. But Harlequin Productions in Olympia is doing some of the best work in the area. They are absolutely worth the drive. Productions are gorgeous and their seasons are always varied and exciting.

Your favorite park in Seattle? 

Discovery Park, where it opens up into fields. It reminds me of running through tall grass as a kid.

The best thing about being a Seattleite? 

Summer. And the oysters.

In Conversation with Dan Kremer, Seattle Shakespeare Company’s ‘King Lear’

Arguably Shakespeare’s finest play, and certainly one of the world’s great tragedies, King Lear traces an aging monarch’s descent into madness. In a production at Seattle Shakespeare Company directed by Sheila Daniels, Dan Kremer has donned the crown of King Lear. It’s a taxing and formidable role, and one that Kremer doesn’t take lightly.

How did the part come about for you at Seattle Shakes?

It was a year ago, in May 2013, when I auditioned for the role. The part was offered to me about two months later. These are unusually long lead times for a repertory theatre, but most directors will say that casting is 90% of the job. With this play, it is wise to take some extra time in deliberation.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “No man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear.” Why do you think this is so? What’s so particularly powerful about this play, over other tragedies?

Shaw, the masterful writer of comedies, would, of course, appreciate a perfectly written tragedy. There are many elements that coalesce to make King Lear a profound piece of theatre; one is the sheer scope of the play. The story moves like an explosion seen in extremely slow motion from a very personal error of judgement outward in all directions maiming or destroying everyone involved. The inevitability of the destruction magnifies its destructive power. Nothing has come of nothing. 

What are the thrills of taking on the role? What are some its biggest challenges?

The thrills and challenges of this role are closely aligned. Tracing the journey of a man through the vicissitudes of anger, anguish and the annihilation of reason is a thrill that actors adore. On the other hand, the role carries with it such a well chronicled history that it is a challenge to escape the “Lear” of an audience’s imagination. 

What observations do you have about the nature of human suffering having done the part? 

Every retelling of this story illuminates a new aspect of the play for me. At the moment, Lear’s prayer in act 3 scene 4, outside the hovel, “Poor naked wretches, wheresoever you are …” resonates deeply. Gloucester echoes a similar sentiment in act 4 scene 2 when he says, “Heavens, deal so still: Let the superfluous and lust dieted man, that will not see because he does not feel, feel your power quickly.” Both characters come too late to the realization that man has a responsibility to those of less fortunate circumstance. 

What’s it like doing a Shakespeare play within an organization dedicated to Shakespeare plays?

In my career I have had the good fortune to work with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, the Shakespeare Theatre in DC and a number of other companies that dedicate their energy to keeping these works in the contemporary theatrical repertory. It is not an easy task. These plays require large casts. They require players with great physical and verbal dexterity. They ask for an audience that values poetry, intellect and language. It is no accident that as our nation was taking shape in the nineteenth century, the great Shakespearean actors of that time, Booth, Forrest, Macready, and Duse, toured the West. The audience awaiting them had arrived there by strength, wits and dreams. Those remain the qualities that keep these companies alive today.

What’s next for you, acting-wise?

Oh dear. The same as every player’s lot. “Just closed… my calendar is open.”