Monday, January 9, 2012

Interview with Tony Pasqualini

Tony Pasqualini is a veteran of thirty-five years in the theatre, Tony has performed in over a hundred plays on many stages around the country, including: The Arena Stage, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Intiman Theatre, The Vinyard Theatre and Playwright’s Horizons. A member of the Pacific Resident Theatre in Los Angeles, where he’s played Tobias in A Delicate Balance, and Snyder in Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses (an LA Weekly Award nominee), and Andrew in Loyalties. Tony has guest starred on dozens of televisions programs, including Cold Case, The Office, Without a Trace, Navy NCIS, West Wing, Frasier, CSI: NY, JAG, Boston Legal, and Law and Order, LA. Tony is also one of the Founders of Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio.

What did you first think when Robin Lynn Smith, Freehold's Artistic Director, called and asked you to play King Lear?

Robin has actually talked about her desire to do Lear for years, so I knew the call was eventually coming -- maybe ten years from now when I'd be in my mid-sixties. That seemed about right. So when she called this past summer, my initial thought was, 'oh, wait, I'm not nearly ready for this.' Robin, however, in her most persuasive manner said, "Well, you know Paul Schofield played the role when he was 45." I wasn't too reassured by that because I consider Paul Schofield one of the great actors of our generation. I was much more reassured to hear about the other actors who had signed onto the project. Jose Gonzales, Reggie Jackson, Sarah Harlett, Eric Anderson, Kate Wisniewski, and Kevin McKeon along with all the other terrific young actors, designers, puppeteers and musicians Robin has brought on board, gave me the confidence to leave sunny LA behind for a bit and participate in tackling, what many consider, Shakespeare's greatest play.

What has the process been like as you've begun to dive into the material?

It's a truly exciting play to work on. The story is rich and extraordinarily engaging. The language is incisive, full of passion and nuance, but mostly what I've discovered playing Lear is the complexity of the character's journey and how brilliantly structured that journey is. Many of us have dealt with family members who have lost their bearings. It's frightening to see another human being deteriorate. Shakespeare has written Lear's 'descent into madness' with such painstaking detail that you can't help being deeply moved as this once powerful man is, piece by piece, stripped of his power. And as I've studied and rehearsed the script, a complex road map has emerged for Lear. And I've discovered if I let myself follow the map that Shakespeare has written, I can begin to experience the thrill of playing Lear.

Let me also say this, and this has surprised me. This play is terrifically funny. And I think that is because when people are in their most exposed, vulnerable, human state there is great tragedy, of course, but also great humor.

As you anticipate the summer tour of King Lear, what are some things you are looking forward to?

About four years ago I went out with the Engaged Theatre Tour playing Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Honestly I had no idea what to expect. I've been a professional actor for over 35 years; I've performed in hundreds of plays in many different types and sizes of theatre; done many of Shakespeare's roles; always felt deeply rewarded by being in those plays. But to bring that work into the communities the Engaged Theatre Tour takes us to, is an experience that a modern actor will simply not get anywhere else. You set up a stage, you are in the middle of a prison yard, it's the middle of the day, there are no lights, no comfortable air conditioned dressing rooms or theatre to relax in. No, there's not even a concession stand. A large group of prisoners come out. Have they ever seen a Shakespeare play? Or a play of any sort? Are they going to be remotely interested? Why would they be? A modern typical theatre-going audience, the kind one normally plays for, has probably seen King Lear several times, certainly they've read it, studied it in school. This could only turn out to be a disaster.

But here's the thing. When Shakespeare first performed his plays, the actors stood up in an open space in the middle of the day and no one in the audience knew the first thing about King Lear. It was a new experience, a discovery. The theatre was raw and alive and unpredictable. The words and the story connected with the audience in a visceral and powerful way. This rough-shod, unknowledgable audience did not sit quietly and take in the play. They shouted back at the stage, rooted for the heroes, booed the villains, wept and laughed and cursed. When we do Shakespeare today in our very neat, well-coiffed theaters we are all (actors and audience alike) experiencing a rather sanitized version of what was the original theatre experience. So when you are out there on that prison yard, I believe you are quite close to the performance experience of those seventeenth century actors. How can you not look forward to that?


Our Engaged Theatre Program's Laboratory Showing/Open Rehearsal of King Lear will be on Wednesday, January 18 at 7:30 pm at Glen Hughes Penthouse Theatre on the University of Washington Campus. RSVP: BROWN PAPER TICKETS

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