This last weekend, we sat down with Pallas Theatre Collective’s ‘Shrew in the Bayou’ leads, Shannon Listol Wilson and Gerrad Taylor. Here’s what they had to say about playing Kate & Petruchio:
What are your personal feelings on Kate and Petruchio? Have you ever played them before? Has your impression of them changed now that you have gone through the rehearsal process?
Shannon: “Kate is a role that has been at the top of my bucket list since playing her (in the scene where Kate and Petruchio meet) in an Acting Class in college. She is the role I most identify with in all of Shakespeare. She’s feisty, she’s witty, she’s loud, she’s unapologetically herself. She is a force of nature. But she is also broken. She’s hurt and angry. Then she meets this guy that turns her world upside down. He gets her. They’re argumentative and passionate, bold and unassuming. Shrew is ultimately a love story. I think that is the only way it can really work. This is my first time playing Kate in a full production. And I am excited and grateful.”
Gerrad: “I have never played Petruchio before but was very familiar with the character and this play. Taming of the Shrew was one of the first Shakespearean plays I ever read back in middle school and growing up in a household full of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor fans made the infamy of the movie too well known to me. I was very excited when Ty asked me to play Petruchio. It’s one of those roles that I really never thought I’d play. Petruchio is described in the play as a “mad” man that has heard “lions roar” and “trumpets clang”. I don’t think this exaggerated image is necessarily the first thing that pops to mind when I walk into an audition room but I’m thankful to Ty for trusting me to take on something I initially thought was way out of my range. Petruchio is a physically imposing man with an even bigger personality. I’m 5’8” and 160 lbs soaking wet. How could I possibly embody all that this character needed to be? What’s more however, and this is a fact that I wasn’t necessarily aware of until talking with Ty, is that Petruchio is a broken man. Underneath all of that personality is a lonely soul that is really looking for an equal to love, and that’s something I could definitely relate to. This process has changed my ideas about this character because it has revealed to me what’s underneath that big personality. I’ve slowly began to discover that Ty’s casting was ideal. Although I’m not a big man in stature, the big heart that Petruchio has is something I can definitely relate to and have tried to embody to the best of my ability throughout this process.”
The director, Ty Hallmark, has set this Shrew in early 20th century South Louisiana. How has this setting influenced the story and your character?
Shannon: “Setting this play in 20th century South Louisiana has been a long love affair for Ty. Afterall, she is a Louisiana native. She has nurtured this very real sense of place with this production for some time, and when she approached me about it and told me her vision, I knew I wanted in on it. Ty is also a dear friend, and working on this show has taught me a great deal about her sense of home. It’s a place you can really settle into and relax and have fun for awhile. It’s a place where time stands still. It’s a rocking chair or a porch swing with a stiff drink and a glorious sunset. It’s a table full of food to share. It’s loyal and proud. It’s a place that sets itself apart from the rest. It doesn’t ask for permission. It follows its own rules. Jokes are many, and music is always playing. Times are simpler. No Facebook or email to check. Nowhere else to be. It feels smooth, like honey. And it creeps up on you, as if you are actually there. It’s beautiful, really. And it works well for this play.”
Gerrad: “The setting has definitely influenced the style of this production. The drinking, tom-foolery, and general frivolity of the period ushered in a strong sense of play into the rehearsal room, which I think is exactly what this play needs. This plays tackles some serious issues that can almost be seen as tragic; the power struggle between men and women, the flaws in an arranged marriage system, etc. Shakespeare, however, wrote a comedy and it should be a primary duty of the ensemble of actors in this play to not let the heaviness of these issues weigh down the lightness that the play should have. The play just doesn’t work if it’s not funny. I personally think Shakespeare’s message and intent gets lost and/or misconstrued in versions of this play that take themselves to seriously. The setting of the turn of the century Louisiana bayou definitely helped the cast keep a light and comical spirit throughout, which I believe helped in the end.”
What was the most challenging aspect of finding your characters?
Shannon: “My biggest challenge was incorporating this very fast, clipped, front of the mouth Cajun drawl while articulating Shakespeare’s heightened text.”
Gerrad: “I think the most challenging thing about playing Petruchio, and this can probably be said about just about any complex character in the history of theatre, is finding the empathy within him. There are plenty of things to not like about Petruchio. In the end however, the audience has to be rooting for this relationship to work. Discovering what’s likeable about Petruchio and this relationship was and is probably the biggest challenge for me. I think we’ve made some headway though.”
Pallas is currently running a fundraising campaign to bring Shakespeare to Anacostia for neighborhood students and their families. How do you make Shakespeare accessible for audiences who might have their first exposure to it with this production?
Shannon: “Shakespeare in performance can be very accessible. We, as actors, make sure we know what we are saying, make clear choices, articulate well, and stay true to the story. Shakespeare is fun! And they get it. They really do. I love performing Shakespeare for schools, teaching residencies, and leading camps. Every time I do, I learn something new. It’s wonderful.”
Gerrad: “I have always felt that Shakespeare is easy to understand if the language and through-line of action is clear. Shakespeare is written in English so there’s no reason why any native English speaker shouldn’t be able to understand it. What’s more, he writes in a meter that is inherently easy to understand to humans because of the relationship between its cadence and a pre-conscious relationship we all have with the human heart beat. Thus, if we as actors can embrace the meter of the text and commit fully to what we are trying to accomplish in each scene, the meaning should be clear. These are things I strive for in the performance of Shakespeare and I think it is the best way to ensure that no matter if it’s an audience member’s first or one-hundred and first production of Shakespeare, they’ll be able to understand what’s going on.”
What’s up next for you?
Shannon: “Time with my family.”
Gerrad: “Next, I’ll be playing Young Scrooge in the Chesapeake Shakespeare Center’s production of A Christmas Carol in the inaugural season of their new theatre at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.”
Pallas’s ‘Shrew in the Bayou’ plays through October 26, 2014.