As our brilliant, boffo, box office-record- breaking season heads into its last 3 performances let’s talk to the three actors who appeared in both productions. Chris Ballou, a 2013 graduate from Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, was returning to work on his fifth and sixth Oak Park Festival Theatre (OPFT) productions. Pat King, with many Chicago theatre credits, made his Festival Theatre debut this summer and returns to Tufts this autumn to complete his PhD studies. And intern Jackson McLaughlin, a native Oak Parker raised in Maine, will head back East to complete his honors thesis.
The trio remarked first on the many differences between the two productions.Amadeus, remarked Pat King, “given the characters and setting, had to remain a period piece which was reflected in the elegant and stylish costume and set designs. Because the piece was period, this also put more weight on the importance of social status, which was seen in how the actors portrayed their characters and the characters’ relationships (giving respect to the emperor, leaving certain decisions to Salieri, etc). Twelfth Night, being free from references that date it, was able to be interpreted as a 1960’s beach party, allowing for a more relaxed natured show.
Continuing Pat’s discussion of the difference in the playing styles, Chris spoke to the ensemble nature ofTwelfth Night over the drama being concentrated on the two central characters in Amadeus. “As Othello should be called ‘Iago’, soAmadeus should be titled ‘Salieri’. The world of the play revolves around the world that Kevin created. Twelfth Night could not be more different. In Twelfth Night everyone has a significant part to play in this story of loss, love and reconciliation. Also the general feel is much different. Twelfth Night has been nothing if not a blast.”
Jackson pointed out a practical and significant difference beyond the structure and tone in the two productions: time. “Amadeus had only two weeks of rehearsal,” Jackson explained, “a substantial time crunch, which meant we were driving hard through pretty much the whole process. WithTwelfth Night, we had an extra week, more time to explore and play prior to previews.” Jackson also noted differences in the pace of the productions: “Amadeus whips from scene to scene with very tight transitions, so the whole thing required a great deal of precision and speed. Twelfth Night has left us a lot more room to breathe and play.”
The two roles each of this trio played this summer differed considerably one with the other. Pat King went from playing one of the Venticelli to Sebastian’s rescuer. “The Venticelli are practically vaudevillian – it’s patter and it’s rhythm and while there’s some character underneath it (or else they would be pure exposition machines) it seemed to be very much about mastering the routine as opposed to finding a particular emotional tone or organic objectives. Antonio, on the other hand, is such an oddly drawn figure that you have to (or I have to) spend a good deal of time sussing out what he wants, where he’s wounded, where he’s rallying, and generally spending more time with his emotional and mental processes.”
Chris went from Sallieri’s Valet, a servant and a small role, to Duke Orsino, a nobleman who plays a major role and has some of the play’s most lyrical speeches. Chris’ take on which was the more taxing role may surprise you. “Sure, Orsino may have some difficult language and rides a pretty emotional roller coaster but I was much more nervous about going on as the Valet. If I drop a line in Twelfth Night, that’s on me and I end up looking like an idiot; but if I dropped a piece of clothing or even was a second late for an entrance in Amadeus (which demands a much tighter and specific timing thanTwelfth Night) I would inevitably end up making someone else look like an idiot… most likely Kevin. And as much as Gwendolyn and Miranda might have enjoyed their dad scream at another actor backstage, it would not have been as much fun for me.”
Jackson, as an intern, played smaller roles but they were no less important and demanding for a young actor. InAmadeus, director Mark Richard “focused mostly on my physicality. Helping a 22 year old act like he’s in his 70’s is not easy! Curio and 1st Officer for Twelfth Night were both part of a pair. Curio had Valentine and 1st Officer had 2nd Officer. Lavina focused more on the relationships of the characters, allowing a ‘bromance’ to form between Curio and Valentine while they try to deal with Orsino’s infatuation with Olivia and helped establish an ‘order giver’ and ‘muscle man’ foil between the 1st and 2nd officers.”
Whereas both Pat and Jackson were making their Festival Theatre debuts, Chris is a Festival Theatre veteran. Audiences will recall him from both Henry V and Beyond the Fringe. Of his three years with the theatre Chris says: “I see the actors, designers, artistic staff and volunteers put their heart and soul into each and every production. I think that is what keeps this theatre alive. Everyone involved in these productions puts their egos aside and gives their utmost to put on the very best theatre possible. Whether we are battling in the fields of Agencourt, crawling around a sandy beach with scales meditating on the ideas of evolution, wearing powdered wigs or a hunchback, or simply trying to remember our lines in the right order- our love of OPFT keeps me coming back year after year.”