Carson Elrod is a versatile comedic actor, equally comfortable on stage (Peter and the Starcatcher and Noises Off on Broadway) and screen (Wedding Crashers, 30 Rock). The STC Afiliated Artist and Emery Battis Award winner received rave reviews this fall in the Alan Paul-directed The Comedy of Errors. He’s now back at the Lansburgh Theatre in the David Ives-penned world-premiere comedy The Panties, The Partner and The Profit: Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class. We caught up with Carson between rehearsals to discusses his working with the powerhouse duo of David Ives and Michael Kahn.
STC: You started rehearsing The Panties, The Partner and The Profit while still performing in The Comedy of Errors. That’s a big shift from Shakespeare to Ives. How do you approach a classic text versus a new script?
CE: I pretty much approach everything in the same way. I feel like everything I need to know is going to be found, hinted at, or inspired by, the text. So, when I look at a line like “Oh for my beads, I cross me for a sinner” in Comedy, I think, “Well, Dromio must be Catholic! INTERESTING!” and the same goes for David Ives. If I have a character who’s read Thomas Picketty, but still believes global warming is a hoax, that is a VERY fascinating kind of character, you know? Anyway, for me, no matter what I do up there on stage, it’s coming from my relationship with, investigation of, and respect for what’s been written. Thankfully, with Shakespeare and David Ives, you are in the company of two incredibly gifted wordsmiths.
STC: David Ives called you “a gift to the theatre.” You have been in several productions of his plays. What draws you to his work?
CE: David draws me to his work! We are often in the employ of those who like what we do. It’s very subjective and mercurial and unpredictable, this life. I have had the unbelievably flattering and heart-warming honor of having David Ives want my particular skill set and approach to his plays. As a consequence, I have had the opportunity to work with him extensively on his older and newer work, classical and contemporary. But, even if I were an actor who had a hundred offers and a hundred scripts at any given moment, what would draw me to David’s work is that he is consistently bigger, more heartfelt, more funny, more inspired, more warm, more loving, more hopeful, more incisive, more direct, more cutting, and more impactful than he even knows. I think David often writes something and thinks, “OK, I’ve got something here.” and then when actors get a hold of it, we say to him, “DAVID THIS IS INCREDIBLE!” and he smiles and asks, “Is it?” He often says that he writes plays that he hopes actors will have fun acting in. And he succeeds every time. But more than actors having fun, he has something big to say from his big beautiful heart, and those are the things that draw me to his work.
STC: This is your third time working with Michael Kahn. Can you describe what it’s like being directed like him?
CE: It’s very hard to describe what it’s like being directed by him without doing an over-elaborate impression of him, which just won’t translate on paper. So, all I can say, is that Michael has great taste… an innate sense of rhythm, tempo, tone, and, well, musicality almost, that makes him incredibly unique and specific as a director. He may snap his fingers or lean forward to ask what you meant by saying a line a certain way or just share an insight with you about the character or your approach. He’s very clear in letting you know whether or not you are in the “sweet spot” for delivering the character to the stage in the way that’s he’s envisioning.
STC: You’ve done theatre around the country, as well as film and television. What sets theatre apart as a medium for you?
CE: There is simply nothing else on earth like live theatre. Scientists are doing studies that show an audience’s heartbeats start to align while watching a play. Studies are showing that just watching one play in your life can improve your level of empathy, and there is an electricity in a live event that simply cannot be reproduced anywhere else. Live theatre produces a bio-kinetic feedback loop of call and response, cause and effect, instant analysis between audience and artist. Quantum mechanics teaches us that the act of observing an object changes an object. So what happens when a room with 600 people watch a group of actors on stage? The human voice vibrates bones and hairs inside of your ear. So…we summon the playwright’s words and thoughts, give voice to them, and in real time, we tickle your ear drums, and you laugh or remain silent or fall asleep and whatever you do impacts the way that we then move forward the story we are telling. It’s so intimate, it’s so incredible, it’s so cosmic, really. There is simply no other art form that more fully captures what it means to be a person on earth than the live theatre.
STC: Can you describe the plot of The Panties, The Partner and The Profit in one sentence?
CE: “Through three short plays, spanning 70 years, David Ives digests the rapacious American spirit and it’s apocalyptic implications.” Mic drop.
The Panties, The Partner and The Profit: Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class is now playing at the Lansburgh Theatre. Tickets on sale at ShakespeareTheatre.org or 202.547.1122.
Photo of Turna Mete as A Young Woman and Carson Elrod as Joseph Mask in The Panties, The Partner and The Profit by Carol Rosegg.
Photo of Carson Elrod as Dromio of Syracuse and Gregory Wooddell as Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors by Scott Suchman.
Photo of Carson Elrod as Crispin in The Heir Apparent by Scott Suchman.