By Susannah Clark, Artistic Fellow
In the first week of rehearsals, Susannah Clark sat down with Ken Clark (King Arthur), Alexandra Silber (Guenevere) and Nick Fitzer (Lancelot) to chat about growing up with theatre and tackling legendary characters.
SUSANNAH CLARK: How did you get your start in theatre? Did you have any performances or performers that really inspired you?
NICK FITZER: I grew up in Michigan, where there isn’t much live theatre, but musical theatre was still a very big deal in my house. Turner Classic Movies would have a musical theatre movie every single week, and my sister and I were instructed to get ready for bed before the musical so that we could go to bed immediately after it was finished. The first time I saw a musical live was when my school went to Toronto for a field trip and we saw The Phantom of the Opera. But by that time I was already immersed in theatre. So for me it was really the movie musicals of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s.
ALEXANDRA SILBER: For me it was the community theatre scene. I felt like I was as much raised by community theatre as I was by my family. I had a really charmed and loving childhood, but my dad was sick my whole life. I think it was a wonderful place to escape my environment at home and to work through big feelings. I actually did an epic production of The Music Man, where all of the children of River City are now on Broadway. Like, Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Newsies, Tuck Everlasting) and Celia Keenan-Bolger (Peter and the Starcatcher, The Glass Menagerie), and
Sutton Foster (Thoroughly Modern Millie) and Hunter Foster (Million Dollar Quartet)—all the Detroit kids. And outside of performing, I lived vicariously through movie musicals and soundtracks. I have no idea how I would have responded if YouTube and Instagram and the ability to interact with people had existed in my era. The fact that I had to visualize on my own made my imagination stronger.
KEN CLARK: I’m an only child, and I grew up in the country and I spent a lot of time by myself. We didn’t even have cable! It was just me and the dog. So being forced to use my imagination was huge for me. But I always sang. In fifth grade, we took a trip to New York and we saw Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway. And I remember thinking, I could do that, no problem. When I finally did a musical, I realized, “I can do this. In fact, I think I should do this.”
NF: Hilariously, I wound up doing a show with the Christine that I saw in that first Phantom. We were talking one night, and she was like, “I was definitely playing Christine at that time.”
KC: When I was on tour with La Cage aux Folles—do you guys know Christophe Caballero? He’s a veteran Broadway chorus member. He was in that La Cage tour with me, and I found out that he was in that Annie Get Your Gun that I saw when I was 10.
AS: The first Broadway show I saw was Ragtime, with the original cast. My dad took me, and it happened to be Broadway Cares week and it was in the era where the actors, still in costume, were in the lobby with the buckets. And my dad, who was so charismatic, started telling Judy Kaye about me, saying, “She’s in all the plays; she wants to do theatre!” I was 14 and I was so embarrassed, sure that these Broadway actors were going to laugh in my face. But Judy Kaye didn’t do that. She looked me right in the eyes and she said: “You will.” When I die and they do an autopsy, tattooed on my heart will be that memory. I ended up making my Carnegie Hall debut opposite Judy Kaye.
SC: It’s incredible that you all ended up meeting these heroes of yours, and they ended up being very human. You’re now tackling some of the biggest mythological heroes that we have. How have you mentally prepared to take on these characters?
KC: The same way you do any other role. Stay in the text, stay on the grind, don’t think too much about the bigger picture. Just take it one rehearsal block at a time.
AS: Realizing you’re just creating a human being that’s living second to second, the way we all do.
KC: If you don’t do that, you don’t make a human. And it’s not interesting; it’s just a bunch of tapestries and pomp.
NF: Fortunately, my character is extremely flawed. He is as flawed as he is brilliant and strong and courageous and upstanding.
AS: All three of them are.
NF: He is a human. He can do incredible things, but he’s a human.
AS: I also think it’s important to allow the audience to have their experience. They’re going to bring their own personal mythology, their own relationships to these legends and these characters, and that’s not our business.
KC: Play what’s on the page, and play what you’ve worked. If you try to play to someone’s expectations, you’re shooting in the dark. All you can do is be as honest as you can.
SC: What about these characters has made this myth so prevalent and long lasting?
KC: Their duality. It’s the back and forth—what is right, what should I do, what will work. It’s that push and pull of trying to implement something forward-thinking, against the backdrop of the dark ages.
AS: I think that at the core it’s about a person who tried to make the world better. And there is never a moment when that’s not relevant. We all want to hope for more, for better.
NF: And these characters are timeless. You look in the mythologies of a hundred different cultures across the history of the world, and you see these characters, this struggle, this conflict.
KC: We’re constantly climbing up the mountain and getting dragged back down by our own natures. This is the play that directly addresses that attempt, that—for lack of a better word—noble effort to better our natures. Not better ourselves, but better the nature of how we interact with one another.
SC: If your characters were hanging out with us right now, who do you think their heroes would be?
KC: Arthur’s such a simple guy. I think that’s the beauty of him. I think if you asked him, he’d probably choose Joe Montana, actually. You’d think a world leader would say Gandhi, or the Dalai Lama, but I really don’t think there’s any pretense like that for Arthur.
NF: I’d have to say the Pope. Lance is certainly more conservative than Pope Francis, but faith is everything to him. It’s the only thing that exists for him outside of this world of Arthur and Guenevere.
SC: Quite a dichotomy between your two characters, right there.
AS: And as a nice middle answer, I think Michelle Obama. Somehow Guenevere manages to hold dialectic thinking in her mind. Things can be “and” as opposed to “either/or.” She’s able to hold purity and immorality, devotion and betrayal at the same time, and still be good. There’s something really amazing about that.