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Photo: Tony Powell

Everybody Promotes Inclusivity + Explores the Impermanence of the Human Condition

What would it look like to put our baggage onstage, in the role of Stuff? Or our regrets, in the role of All the Shitty Things One Has Ever Done in Their Life? Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins puts these weighty emotions into physical form along with the elements of Time and Love and Death, among others, in Everybody. The production comes to Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC)’s Lansburgh Theatre from October 15 to November 17 under the direction of Will Davis in the most original of ways. Each night, six of the nine roles will be assigned to actors onstage as part of a bingo-style lottery. At the center of this comedy about death is the Hero, picked at random each night to embark on a journey where he or she prepares to die. Heavy in subject matter but light in thematic style, Davis walked me through what drew him to this play, why it’s so important to connect with audiences and how diversity in casting is multifaceted.

On Tap: How does it feel to be directing the first production of the season at STC, as well as the first production under new artistic director Simon Godwin’s leadership?
Will Davis: It’s such a privilege, honestly. It means a lot to me to be entrusted with Simon’s first season opener and I have really enjoyed the time that I’ve had to speak with him so far. He’s so obviously a leader and a director who’s interested in creating space for other artists, which I think is the number one thing you want in an artistic leader.

OT: Have you ever directed anything like Everybody before where a different role is assigned to a small cast of actors onstage each night?
WD: I’ve never directed anything that has this particular lottery concept in it but I have definitely made it a focal point [to direct pieces that are] really ambitious for the theatre to accomplish. [One] of the things I’m looking for in a play is some element of the impossible involved. In this case, [the] little piece of impossibility is there’s actually no way for me to rehearse each actor doing every possible combination of roles that they could perform. [I have to] think about, “How do I rehearse this? How do I create the right container for this play to really succeed knowing that to a certain extent, chance is built into the concept of the play?”

OT: What was your role in the casting process? How important was it to cast a diverse range of actors for this production?
WD: I’m definitely interested in making sure that the cast is racially diverse and also that the gender presentation of the folks cast is diverse as well. I’m a trans person so part of what is exciting for me is giving audiences an opportunity to think about gender parity a little bit bigger than this binary idea of men and women. [Instead], to think about gender being a more holistic thing [and] far more about the gray areas than one thing or another. The other thing I think about when casting is age. This play has a really beautifully open casting template. You’re looking for someone who is going to play Time and Love and Death and God. Just saying, “Which person’s energy best feels like it represents the concept of love?” leaves it far more open. It’s a far more exciting casting process.

OT: What feelings do you hope to evoke from the audience?
WD: What I’ve been trying to say is, there’s a dark comedy irony to it that I think leaves you feeling a sense of comradery. The audience should have a real sense of kinship with everyone else who’s in the theater with them on that given night and of course, one of the reasons they have that feeling is because the show they see will be unique. No one else who sees the show the day before or the day after will see the same show. It’s such a smart, smart thing that the playwright’s done in writing this play that’s a meditation on impermanence and humanity, [and] every night that an audience comes to see it will be its own impermanent moment.

OT: In the time I’ve been covering local theatre, STC has done a fantastic job not only of being inclusive and diverse in its casting but also in expanding the identity of gender and exploring those gray areas you mentioned earlier.
WD: I love that you say that. The thing that occurs to me is the exploration of that gray area or areas. Every single one of us lives there. There isn’t actually any person that you or I know that is definitively male or definitively female. We’re all a loose collection of traits and identities that makes sense to us. I think the more we see that onstage, the more we [can] embrace that in ourselves and our families and our children. And the other thing about Shakespeare that I always find so funny is when I read Shakespeare, all I can think to myself is, “My God, this material is so punk rock.” There’s so much space inside of Shakespeare for an openness about people’s humanity and I think it’s a great place for us to be able to show each other that. It’s a space where a lot of the conversations we’re having as a culture can really be explored and cherished.

OT: What makes Everybody relatable to millennial audiences?
WD: The way the playwright writes is that he takes things that feel old, discarded or not relevant and pulls them through a modern framework and creates this whole other world. He, in his own way, is a really punk rock writer. I also think speaking from my part of the circle, I’m trying to create an experience that will be really deeply affecting but also have a festival atmosphere. The whole design of the play is based around balloons. There’s a dance break in the middle of the show where the full cast is going to be performing with some very, very large balloon sculptures. I spend a lot of time thinking about, “What are the ways to tie these larger theatrical gestures to something that feels really meaningful and emotional?” I think that’s what we need to do onstage is really pay attention to the fact that it’s a live form and people who show up as an audience need to be respected and cherished for the fact that they are alive and in the room.

Experience a completely unique performance of  Everybody between October 15 to November 17 at STC’s Lansburgh Theatre. Young Prose Night is Friday, October 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $49. Learn more at www.shakespearetheatre.org.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: Scott Suchman

Michael Urie Pulls Double Duty in DC

To say Michael Urie has a busy summer planned is somewhat of an understatement. 

After hosting the Drama Desk Awards on June 2, the versatile actor jumped head-first into a series of projects, that involved acting, directing and producing. 

“I do say, ‘there are not enough hours in the day’ about once a day,” Urie says. “I’m so lucky though that so many things have worked out. I’m not one of those actors who sits around and waits for things to come my way. I like to make my own opportunities and when you spend enough time plotting those, sometimes they come to fruition at the same time.”

Urie’s about to return to DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company to play Hamlet for the second-straight year, this time as part of STC’s Free for All series, running July 10–21 at Sidney Harman Hall.

“Playing Hamlet for most people is once in a lifetime, so to get a chance to do it a second time, I wasn’t going to let it go,” he says. “I wanted to come back because you learn every night, and I certainly wanted to keep playing and exploring what this guy’s all about. Already in rehearsal, I am figuring out things I didn’t quite realize the first time.”

Of course, he was busy during the year away from the part as well, appearing in Torch Song on Broadway from November through January and filming several episodes of the hit TV show, “Younger.”

“Every once in a while, I would think about it, and see if I still knew the lines, and a few weeks ago I started really thinking about who Hamlet is to me now,” Urie says. “I’m a year older, the world is a year older and our country is a year crazier. Our Hamlet takes place in this authoritative state, where a new leader is making a lot of changes and I think we will really feed our audience. I get the sense that the DC audience is truly listening, truly engaged and want to know what’s happening.”

Hamlet was a bucket-list role for Urie and he still feels he is getting so much out of the part this second time through.

“The feeling of accomplishment is quite unlike anything else. Not only is it an enormous role with extremely taxing language, emotions and athleticism, you feel the shoes that have been worn by so many greats before you,” he says. “That is a pride that is tough to describe. To know you are speaking the words that have been spoken by so many legends, it’s extremely exciting and daunting.”

At the same time, Urie will also be directing Studio Theatre’s production of Drew Droege’s Bright Color and Bold Patterns, which is being staged July 9 through July 28. The one-man show, starring Jeff Hiller, was a critical darling when it ran Off-Broadway last year, and the play is about gay marriage told through the perspective of the worst wedding guest of all time.

“Drew is an old-friend and this was a show that he had created in Los Angeles and I told him this was far more than a comedy monologue, so I worked with him to create the production and flesh it out,” Urie said. “We put together the production in New York and it was a big hit, and when Drew stopped starring in it, Jeff Hiller replaced him, and he is fantastic in this role.”

The play takes place on a patio in Palm Springs the night before a gay wedding and there are four guys attending the wedding, but you only meet Gary, someone with complicated feelings about marriage and especially this particular marriage.

“He speaks with three other characters who you don’t see or hear, but are there in the room. He’s not crazy, you just don’t meet them,” Urie says. “You gleam who they are by what he says and does. It’s exciting to watch someone create a world on their own.”

And that’s not all. On an off-day, Urie joined a cast of Broadway greats to read the Mueller Report for 24 hours straight, and he just finished producing Pride Plays, a festival of play readings at New York’s Rattle Stick Theater.

“It was a five-day LGBTQ theater festival that engaged nearly 200 artists in 19 different play readings,” he says. “That took up a lot of my time but it was very exciting and I was so happy that audiences got the chance to hear all of these plays. It was a very inclusive and representative cross-section of LGBTQ theater artists and it was very cool to meet so many people and introduce them to one another.”

For more information about Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Hamlet, visit here. For information about Studio Theatre’s Bright Colors And Bold Patterns, visit here.

Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

Image: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Inside The Oresteia’s Original Score with Composer Kamala Sankaram


Kamala Sankaram has worked within many musical mediums throughout her career. With a background in opera, she eventually moved into composition, and even has her own band called Bombay Rickey. The theme that weaves her work together is combining global music elements with technical prowess to evoke the exact feeling needed to fully engage audiences in the heart of a theatrical work.

On Tap spoke to Sankaram about her latest venture as composer for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s The Oresteia, a new play by Ellen McLaughlin based on the only surviving piece of Greek theatre trilogy. While its original iteration was written by Aeschylus in the 5th Century B.C., McLaughlin has made the play relevant to modern audiences, and Sankaram’s score brings it into the new world as well.  

On Tap: How did you come to be involved with Shakespeare Theatre Company? What drew you to The Oresteia?

Kamala Sankaram: I think someone gave them my name, so I went and met with [director] Michael Kahn and talked about the play. I’m very interested in how music can function semiotically
— how it creates a sense of place, or a sense of character. This play is tricky, because it moves through time. You have characters who are ghosts, you have unseen influences from these gods, so how can you represent that in a staged work? One of the ways you can do that is through really subtle musical shifts.

Thinking about how instrumental timbre or harmony or even just the kinds of sounds that are found change, and imperceptibly influence the feeling of the play. I also was an early adopter of [production software] Ableton Live, and have done a lot of work with electronics. One of the other interesting things about it is how in this strange in-between space
— it’s not ancient Greece, it’s not really modern day, so I’m interested in using this mix of real, acoustic instruments and voices with industrial sounds like radiators and machines and broken computers in the score.

OT: Tell us more about working with a play that has the paradoxical element of being drawn from the oldest surviving Greek tragedy, but also being adapted into a completely new and original work.

KS: What [playwright] Ellen McLaughlin did that’s really great is she took these three plays and condensed them into something that retains the essence of the original plays. It’s not trying to sound like a Greek translation, it sounds like two people talking. And then there are moments where they break into something poetic, just as the original does. So there’s a mix of both things on the modern and the abstract sides. Am I going to make this sound like Greek music? Am I going to have Greek instruments? I toyed with that a bit and recorded some but it didn’t fit when we went to rehearsal. It didn’t make sense, so it was cut. The nice thing about Ableton is I’m working with it as if I’m making a very big ambient soundscape, where I have all of these layers and in the rehearsal process we’re figuring out when they come in and out, what I’m adding and what I’m taking away in response to what’s happening on the stage.

OT: Are there any elements of the play you felt particularly inspired by as you composed the score?

KS: I started to think about who the characters were and what their psychological states might be. For me, the whole play hinges on the relationship between Queen Clytemnestra and her daughter Iphigenia. The whole tragic series of events is kicked off when King Agamemnon kills his daughter in order to get the winds to blow so he can take his army to Troy. From that point on, everything just goes further south. I started with Iphigenia
— what could she have, thematically? I started with a string theme and from that then the strings are sort of this warm signifier. When we first enter the play, there are these string chords that are kind of sad but still not as evil as they become later. When  we go into the past, it’s all of these voices, it’s very warm, and then the further forward in the future we go the sound changes to being very metallic. I used a lot of cymbals and slowed them down so we hear all the in-harmonic tones beating against each other, and by the end, there are no strings left and no voices.

OT: What do you feel your score contributes to the play as a whole?

KS: What the music does is support what’s happening on stage and help create a feeling of abstraction that we’re not really in this real world place. Until we get to the third act, when everyone breaks out of this chorus role and they become this jury of real individuated people. At that point, the score is pretty much gone. But before that, what it’s doing is creating a heightened sense of whatever the mood of the play is. I think the score functions as a design element, almost like a lighting cue, in that it’s subtle and supporting but it’s also present.

OT: What difficulties did you face with such a unique play and score?

KS: With music it’s always difficult because it takes a while to make the music to begin with, but you also have to be willing to just throw it out. I tried to work in a modular fashion where I had all of these possibilities of what the layers could be, and then through the rehearsal and watching the actors, I tried to follow what they were doing. Where their dramatic beats happen, that’s where a music change will happen. I couldn’t have known that until I was in the rehearsal room. That was the most challenging part
— to support what the actors are doing and let the text lead. In opera, it’s very different. You’re making all the decisions as a composer, and the performers are doing whatever you set down.

OT: As you worked on the score, what has been the most exciting element of this specific project?

KS: It’s been so great to dig into the actual bones of a new play. That’s not something you always get to do, even when you are working on a lot of new pieces. The time that we’ve had to figure out what the play is and how it functions
— it’s very educational for me to now be able to go back and say, ‘I know I can follow this dramatic structure for next time I want to set something as an opera, I now have a better understanding of how that works.’

It’s also been great and difficult trying to figure out how to make the chorus work. We landed on this musicalized speech and I got to work with them on finding tempo and pulse within the text. I’m excited to see how that grows and develops. It’s something I don’t think you see a lot in theatre.

OT: What makes The Oresteia relevant to audiences today?

KS: Seeing something like this is a reminder that the human condition has not changed all that much. We’re still struggling with the difficulty of letting go of a desire for vengeance, dealing with people who are different than we are, and deciding how to define the common sense of community and justice within a community. The third part of the trilogy is all about creating the first court trial, which is a huge philosophical leap to make, and it’s been really interesting watching everyone work through the third act. We’re thinking about what does it mean to have justice and how do we find a sense of justice? That’s really relevant and still a huge question today.

The Oresteia opens at Shakespeare Theatre Company today and runs through Sunday, June 2. For times, tickets and more information, visit www.shakespearetheatre.org. For more on composer Kamala Sankaram, visit www.kamalasankaram.com.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122

Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Inside Richard the Third’s Doom Rock Inspired Soundtrack

Shakespeare and doom rock are not two things one would associate. But in the world of Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s Richard the Third the two are intrinsically linked, thanks to composer Lindsay Jones. A lifelong lover of music, Jones has been playing since he was a teen and is entirely self taught. While working as an actor in Chicago, he began scoring plays as a side gig. Combined with his passion for music, it quickly became a legitimate career that’s seen him score a host of successful productions throughout the country. Now,  25 years into his career crafting innovative compositions for theatre, Jones lent his talent – and love for doom rock, punk and metal – to the score of STC’s dark performance.

OT: How did you come to work with Shakespeare Theatre Company on this play?
Lindsay Jones: When I first sat down with [artistic director] David Muse, he told me he wanted [the score] to be punk rock. I’ll be honest, I’m a huge fan of punk rock, but I never get asked to make punk rock. There just aren’t a lot of theatres in America looking for punk rock soundtracks. As he described it to me, he said he wanted it to start out very punk and full of energy, but as the play went on, to get distorted and ugly and dirty.

OT: How did you or the others involved in the play decide to approach the score using doom rock?
LJ: I started thinking of using doom rock, which is slow, and dirge-y but still super distorted – the soundtrack of your nightmares, basically. I wanted to start with punk rock [that became] doom rock as it went along. But it occurred to me that in the structure of Richard the Third, in the beginning of the play Richard says, “I’m planning this takeover, I’m going to slowly methodically knock out all of my enemies til’ I get to be king.” There’s not a lot of fast stuff in there. Once Richard is king, everything starts falling apart and becoming more frantic and crazy. Halfway through I realized I was doing this in reverse – it should start slower and speed up as it goes, so that’s what we did.

OT: What other elements played into the score’s composition?|
LJ: As I was walking out of David’s office after our initial meeting, he told me he had this other idea for the actors to be playing body percussion along with the music. I didn’t know how that was going to play itself out. They hired an amazing movement choreographer named Stephanie Paul, who in rehearsal worked with the actors to create complex sequences where they’re playing on their bodies with knives and sticks – all sorts of things. They’re pounding out complicated rhythms while sequences are happening. So I would watch videos of the actors doing these movement sequences, figure out what the BPM was and then create music that fit.

OT: That’s an incredibly unique element – and incredibly challenging to work with, I can imagine!
LJ: Rock music doesn’t usually have a lot of space for additional percussion. The whole idea is it’s super loud and regressive. The first challenge was just fitting everything in. We ended up [putting microphones on] the stage and performers, so I could pick up [the percussion] and amplify it to the same volume level as the recorded music.

The other challenge, which probably took us the longest time to sort out, is that these actors worked for several weeks creating percussion sequences and got pretty good at it, but they weren’t initially trying to perform these sequences along to anything else [like music].  As soon as I show up with recorded music at a certain tempo every time no matter what – it was a lot of telling them to start at a certain beat, keep up with a certain rhythm, listen to parts of the score – so they could hear the rhythm they have to keep up with.

So we’re telling them “okay actors, you’re going to speak, you’re going to play rhythm on your body and you’re going to attempt to stay completely in time with this recorded piece of music that’s playing along.” I have to give the cast a tremendous amount of credit. It was tricky but they hung in there, and wanted to make it work. When you see the performance now, it all seems like second nature. But at the time of putting it together, we definitely had moments of thinking “oh my god, what have we done?”

OT: How have your audiences received the score?
LJ: People who are casual theatre fans are really excited by it. The reviews have either said “wow, this is a totally crazy interpretation of this play and I really enjoyed it” or “oh my god, what did they do, I don’t know how I feel about it!”

One of the reviews called the score “post-Wayne’s World,” so if your relationship to hard rock music is Wayne’s World, I don’t know if there’s much I can do to help you.

OT: Scoring any play, but especially a Shakespeare classic like Richard the Third, is no small task. Why do you think this job is so important, and what keeps you in this industry?
LJ: I’ve started teaching how to write theatre compositions recently and one of the things I like to tell my students is that music is really the emotional context by which you’re going to receive drama. This speech I’m giving right now about how music affects – you could imagine that while I’m giving it there’s a slow building underscore that’s really inspirational and exciting. That’s going to totally frame the context by which you’re getting this information. If I gave the same speech with dark scar music, it completely changes the context by which you see it because now you’re imagining something terrible is going to happen.

Music is incredibly powerful and influential. When you’re given the responsibility of creating music that’s going to match live drama, you really have a great responsibility to try to make the music as close to what the action is as possible, so that the audience is receiving the clearest and most expressive form of the story.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Richard the Third runs through Sunday, March 10 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall. Tickets $44-$102. For more on composer Lindsay Jones, visit www.linsdayjones.com. You can find the punk, metal and doom rock songs that inspired Jones’ compositions below.

Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Richard the Third – tracks and influences

Track: Richard III 

Influence – Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath 

Track: This Is War

Influence – Boilermaker by The Jesus Lizard

Track: To The Sanctuary 

Influence: Bliss In Concrete by Pelican 

Track: Full Speed Ahead 

Influence: Otsegolectric by Static-X 

Track: Zadok The Priest 

Influence: The Prophet’s Song by Queen 

Track: A Needless Coward 

Influence: This Isn’t The Place by Nine Inch Nails 

Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Modern Shakespeare: Richard the Third at STC

“Now is the winter of our discontent.”

The opening line of Richard the Third would have you believe that all hardships are over and only good days are to come. But as theatergoers attending Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) upcoming production of Richard the Third will soon realize, anything but peace lies ahead.

Directed by David Muse for STC and running from February 5 through March 10, Shakespeare’s Richard the Third follows the titular role of Richard on his ambitious quest for the crown. A spiteful megalomaniac, Richard (Matthew Rauch) will stop at nothing until he sits on the throne, and thus invites the audience into a world of murder, villainy and even dark fun.

“Yes, Richard does horrific things in this play,” Rauch says, “but my hope and David’s [Muse] hope, I think, is that at least for the first part of the play, the audience reaction will not be ‘Oh, what a terrible person,’ but ‘Oh, isn’t he just deliciously evil’ and it’s terrible, but it’s fun to watch.”

Rauch emphasizes that just because the title of the play is Richard the Third, it doesn’t mean the story is only about him.

“It’s very easy with a face on the poster and the title of the play, for people to think there’s only one person involved,” Rauch says. “The truth is there’s about a hundred people involved and all of them are crucial.”

Some of those crucial people are the women around Richard, including his mother the Duchess of York, Margaret of Anjou and Queen Elizabeth. Rauch points out that while Richard can brilliantly manipulate people and events, these particular women don’t bend easily to his will and disprove the outdated notion that Shakespearean women are damsels in distress.

But a fourth woman equally as important to the play’s development, Lady Anne of Neville (Cara Ricketts), is the person who perhaps best understands Richard.

“Richard sees himself in [Anne] and she sees herself in him, in a way that she probably feels like she may break through to him,” Ricketts says. “He pretends it’s a possibility and she falls for it.”

Bust because Anne is ultimately manipulated by Richard, this doesn’t make her simple.

“My Anne is not a pushover,” Ricketts says. “There’s nothing soft about these women. The foundation for these characters has never been soft women.”

Ricketts adds she is ready to play Anne the way an audience 70 years ago may not have let her.

“During the 50s, you had preconceived notions about what a woman was in terms of society so that’s what you got,” Ricketts says. “Now I’ve got a chance to let loose the girdle and make it rip, so that’s what I’m doing while respecting what that character is.”

These preconceived notions of Shakespearean women are not the only ideas cast and crew hope prove outdated. Perhaps one of the most famous scenes in the play is the “wooing scene” where Richard interrupts Anne’s mourning of her father-in-law.

Rauch stresses that while many feel the scene is “creepy” and Richard comes off as “sexually predatory,” this is not the way they plan to portray Richard.

“The only event that needs to happen in the scene is that Anne consents to come to Richard’s house. Nothing else is implied in that scene or on the page and my hope is that it will not come off as sexually creepy,” Rauch says. “David [Muse] and I were never interested in a Richard who was sexually predatory, not because it’s not politically correct, but because we didn’t believe there was anything in the text that supported that.”

Changes in the character’s tones will not be the only noticeable differences in STC’s Richard the Third production. About 40 percent of the original text – mostly obscure English history – has been cut for a streamlined production.

“The Shakespeare Theatre is, I would argue, literally the best classical theater in the United States,” Rauch says. “They know how to do this here and they have created such a web of support.”

Rauch adds that despite the play’s age, audience members will find a lot of similarities between the 500-year-old story and modern society.

“[This is] a story about a deeply complicated, manipulative, brilliant person who rises to power and the people who are complicit in his doing so,” Rauch says. “All you need to do is read the front page of the New York Times to find parallels to that story.”

See Richard the Third at Shakespeare Theatre Company from February 5 through March 10. Runtime is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $44. For more information, click here.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: Scott Suchman

Ken Clark’s King Arthur Leads with Heart

This classic tale of one of the world’s most famous – and heartbreaking – love triangles and the noble man caught in the center of it is at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through July 8. Directed by Shakespeare’s very own Alan Paul, Camelot follows Arthur from the moment he meets his beloved bride Guenevere until the last time he sees her face.

“Love and marriage – don’t conflate the two!”

The audience laughs, but Merlyn (played by actor Ted van Griethuysen) is quite serious when talking to a young Arthur (Ken Clark), who is trying to sneak a peek at his bride-to-be Guenevere (Alexandra Silber).

Even in the first scene, as Arthur props himself between branches and pesters Merlyn with questions about Guenevere – “Is she pretty or very pretty?” – the future king exposes his sincerest qualities from the beginning: hope for his marriage and affection toward Merlyn. These inherent qualities, hope and affection, guide his principles and spur the ideals to reinvent Camelot through his reign.

“It’s a play about our basic natures, and our attempt to overcome and even alter those natures,” Clark explains in a recent interview with On Tap. “Arthur never gives up on his own convictions in order to save his realm, and that’s what makes him different – because people do bad things in the name of the greater good, but Arthur doesn’t.”

The timeline of the play, spanning years, allows for greater character development not only for King Arthur but also for Guenevere and Lancelot – a Knight of the Round Table who becomes Arthur’s dear friend and ultimately falls madly in love with his Queen. Subtle mentions of time in dialogue help keep the audience aware of where we are in the story, but the characters also provide cues based on changes in tone and attitude. Clark says one of the great things about playing Arthur is portraying him during his lifelong journey.

“You follow him from boyhood to older manhood, and all of the things that change along the way. You get an opportunity to play those human circumstances and apply them to a dramatic scene. That is a rare, rare opportunity for an actor.”

The medieval period generally evokes imagery of bloodshed and knights in armor battling for land – or a woman. In other words, a play based in this period of history can be expected to have a very masculine display with limited range in a man’s emotions. But Camelot’s King Arthur represents a courageous leader who is well-respected because of his emotional vulnerability and not in spite of it – a symbol for modern men that feels very necessary to represent onstage in 2018. It’s important, Clark says, for a leader to show vulnerability.

“I think that we need to make it very clear that you can be masculine and vulnerable. The two are not mutually exclusive. And in this day and age, I think that needs to be clear, especially for young men. You can be emotionally available, you can listen, you can be sensitive – and you can still be masculine. They should go hand in hand.”

When the pompous (yet somehow still endearing) Lancelot (played by Nick Fitzer) arrives on the scene, he’s a French knight who has the type of energy you’d expect. He’s always ready to swing the sword and quick to insert self-praise into regular conversation. But he kneels before King Arthur immediately, demonstrating how powerful the King’s presence is even beyond Camelot.

“It helps that the other actors are so good,” Clark says of his castmates. “When you put something out and you get it knocked right back to you, it makes it a lot easier to get to those deep, emotional places.”

The 29-year-old says casting a young King Arthur makes the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production unique and modern in another way.

“First and foremost, it makes the love triangle more compelling – certainly from Guenevere’s standpoint. If you have a much older Arthur, then the audience is going to be like, ‘Well of course she’s going to go with Lancelot.’ But if you can present a more loving, tender, romantic, sexual relationship between Arthur and Guenevere, it makes it that much more compelling when Lancelot comes around, which I think is a smart way to do it. I’m certainly glad they did it that way!”

Arthur and Guenevere’s genuine love for each other makes it easy for them to be the right royal duo to implement changes in Camelot. Clark’s favorite scene is when the pair imagine the Round Table for the first time.

“[This scene] is a window into their marriage when it’s still a very good, strong partnership, and it’s a look at what two people who love each other can do when they trust [each other] and work well together,” he says.

This is one of several scenes with a deliberately intimate setting, allowing the dialogue and chemistry between the actors to shine through. The stage is stripped of visual noise and an array of candles tranquilize the atmosphere. Our eyes follow Guenevere as she moves around Arthur, and delights in their forward-thinking idea with her husband. However, the audience will find it hard to pick just one favorite scene. Clark laughs as he adds, “There’s so many good scenes.”

And even with Arthur at the center of the story, Silber’s Guenevere holds her own and at times, is truly the highlight of scenes. When singing about the “lusty month of May,” Guenevere is a more mature and established queen than at the beginning of the play, but she still reveals the spirited maiden she has always been. This boisterous, vibrant dance and song sequence with the simple folk is one of my favorites.

Each actor perfectly embodies their respective characters in tongue and physical form. The songs are a performance in their own right, granting applause from the audience every time. The use of space is impactful as well, with a character running through the audience aisle or appearing under a spotlight offstage, and Paul even uses floor-to-ceiling space to give the audience dual point of views.

Clark delivers a King Arthur who is relatable in 2018. He says Shakespeare Theatre Company wants to interpret plays thoughtfully, which isn’t easy for a production like Camelot that has a well-known story and is full of household songs.

“They don’t want to put Camelot up and see who comes. They want to take the ideals and ideas that make Camelot special and put them on full display. There’s so much more going on in the story, and STC – especially [director] Alan Paul – has been dedicated to making sure those ideas are at the forefront of this production. I’ve been wanting to work [at Shakespeare] for a long time, and it’s been everything I hoped.”

Camelot runs through July 8, and tickets start at $59. Learn about Shakespeare’s Young Prose Nights and discounted tickets at www.shakespearetheatre.og.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org