Truly, a Man of Many Parts
In another Shakespeare comedy, As You Like It, Jacques famously opines that “A man in his time may play many parts.” Will Clinger, currently our straw boater topped, seersucker blazer bedecked killjoy Malvolio, does indeed do just that. Audiences will recognize him from many stage roles about the Midwest as well as TV and film roles. Many know him as the host of WTTW’s “Wild Chicago”, a job in which he profiled much that is mad and marvelous in Chicagoland. Asked about his favorite assignments, Will replied that he had many including “the delightful fellow who collected turkey heads from the local turkey farmer, have the necks enlarged to look like torsos, attached the claws for hands and feet, then dressed them up as various characters and called them “Poultry Personalities” — they sold for $200 apiece.” Will spoke of many adventures while filming such as “wreck diving off the coast of Chicago or jumping out of a plane with a camera attached to my chest. Least favorite: swallowing a live minnow on camera and becoming a member of “The Minnow-Swallowers Club” (“I still have my membership card”).
Such scary shenanigans call for quick thinking. Clinger studied with Second City and created a documentary about the legendary Del Clouse shortly after Clouse’s death. Says Clinger, “He posthumously taught me about generosity in improvisation, that our main object should be to make the other person(s) onstage look good, to bring their ideas to fruition. Despite his reputation as an irascible, ill-tempered cynic, Del was in many ways the most idealistic, beneficent person to come out of the world of improv.”
But what happens when you are a cast of one, as Clinger was in his own one-man show? “I think the biggest challenge when I was doing my one-man show DR. HARLON’S KEYS TO BETTER LIVING was creating in my head the people to whom I was talking; I played 11 characters, and though a couple of them addressed the audience, most of them were speaking to specific people in their lives. Obviously in a full cast show you have other characters you can relate to onstage, but if you’re up there alone your imagination had better be in overdrive to make that “person” you’re talking to real for the audience. The other more mundane challenge with a one-person cast is just getting butts in the seats for the first couple of weeks — if everybody in the cast gets 10 friends to come, that’s…10 people.”
In Twelfth NightClinger is surrounded by a large and lavishly talented cast. The setting is deliciously updated to the early 1960’s and yet Shakespeare’s sentiments ring true whether spoken by someone in a doublet and hose or a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. “Quite simply (and unoriginally), I think it’s his ability to portray the human condition in all its complexity; we’ve all, like Orsino and Olivia, fallen in love with the wrong person, we’ve all known profligate fun-lovers like Sir Toby Belch and uptight control freaks like Malvolio, we’ve all pretended we’re something we’re not like Viola — and the way Shakespeare can get inside these characters and make them live and breath onstage never ceases to amaze”, Will observes.
Clinger is a skilled musician although Malvolio” the most unmusical soul in Christendom” does neither play nor sing. This is, says Clinger “just one thing that makes him odd-man-out in this production.”
One of Clinger’s musical roles is as a member of The Famous Brothers, a group described as three part harmony, one part comedy. The story is, that The Famous Brothers hail from the hardscrabble mining town of Monkey’s Crevice, West Virginia. That’s where they created a unique three-part harmony style and wrote their most memorable songs, such as “Armageddin’ Ready for the Second Coming (“Cause the First One Came Too Fast)” and “I Got Twenty Ways to Kill You With My Swiss Army Knife.“ When asked his opinion of Malvolio, Willie B. Famous, and he said, quite bluntly, “someone should pull that stick out of his ***”.