At 28-years old, Clayton Pelham jumps on tables and speaks in a French accent for work. He’s neither French nor a parkour expert, but his current job requires both nimbleness of tongue and physical durability. Pelham is an actor.
His career path has been anything but boring, leading him from DC to Atlanta to Los Angeles before returning to the nation’s capital to finish his training at Studio Theatre’s Acting Conservatory in 2015. Pelham has always found success in his undying desire to bring joy to an audience.
This weekend, Pelham and the rest of DC’s Faction of Fools Theatre Company will put a close to their latest show, Molière’s The Miser. Before he takes the stage tonight, On Tap got a chance to speak with the young performer about his character’s love lust, the sometimes physical exertion in his roles and his level of silliness.
On Tap: Tell me a little about the play, and what drew you toward the characters Cléante and Maître Jacques?
Clayton Pelham: Cléante is young, naive and foolishly in love. You can’t go wrong with playing a lover. It’s very fun and I guess that’s what drew me to the character – just the challenge of finding the innocence in everything he’s saying and doing. Everything for him is dire, do or die. It’s fun to play that. Jacques is really fun. Playing him is very physically demanding, and I find myself doing a lot of stretching and testing myself physically. It has to be clean and coordinated, too. It’s not just a bunch of people jumping on tables.
OT: Do you have any similarities to the characters?
CP: I always start from a place of self. What do I recognize in my characters and in myself? And I amplify these things. For this play, it’s that Cléante is an optimist and a hopeless romantic. I kind of relate to that, wanting to pursue that special someone out there. And the youngness of it – the acting foolishly out of desires. For Jacques, it took me a long time to develop. It was almost like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time. I had to work on the voice, the characterization, the physical part and how the mannerisms are. Once it came together, and even right before the opening, I was still making adjustments to the character.
OT: What drew you to the fast, silly, physical commedia dell’arte theatre form?
CP: I thought I could take on the challenge with commedia dell’arte, and I knew it was something different. I knew it would stretch me in something that was a totally different form of acting. I didn’t want to just stick with dramatic roles – my comfort zone. I wanted to be flexible. I wanted the challenge artistically. When I felt like I was getting the hang of these very physical shows, I thought it was my niche, and this show has proven that I’m more capable of handling these demanding shows. It’s made me aware of what I’m capable of.
OT: How did you get into acting? Was it something you’ve always wanted to do?
CP: I was introduced to Studio Theatre when I was 17, and I worked in [Studio’s] young actor’s ensemble until I turned 18. Then I wanted to try an adult class with older actors. I was able to get so much out of working with people with so much life experience. You could just see and feel the emotions, and you can’t get it from a bunch of 18-year olds. I did my final class [at Studio], a performance of Fences, and after that I felt so full, and that’s when I knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt so alive from it. It was one of my favorite performances as a young actor, because I knew I was good at it.
OT: Would you describe yourself as a silly person?
CP: Yeah, I’m silly. But it’s a dry silliness. I think of times when I’m with my niece. The silliness comes out, especially with kids. When I’m working with children and teaching them to act, it’s almost a requirement to be silly. That’s sort of how I am with an audience as well, depending on the show.
The Miser runs until Sunday, June 26. Tickets are $12-$25.
Gallaudet University’s Eastman Studio Theatre: 800 Florida Ave. NE, DC;www.factionoffools.org
Photo caption: Clayton Pelham in The Miser
Photo credit: Courtesy of Faction of Fools Theatre Company