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Insight into Shakespeare - Interview with Chris Marino

Chris Marino is an assistant professor of theatre at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Formerly on faculty at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington DC teaching master acting classes, Marino is also a former artistic director of the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival. He has taught at schools all over the US, as well as, in the UK including Stella Adler in New York City, George Washington University, University of Maryland - Baltimore County, and Illinois State University. His performance credits include Titus Andronicus, Soho Rep; The Duchess of Malfi, Shakespeare Theatre; The Tempest, Macbeth at Mill Mountain Theatre; Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, Baltimore Shakespeare. Marino is a Certified Associate Teacher of Fitzmaurice Voice-work and holds two graduate degrees from the Shakespeare Theatre DC/George Washington University and Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art - London.

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Q: Where are you from?

A: I have lived all over. Right now my home is Wilmington, North Carolina, but I have called New York, London, Washington, DC, Seattle, and Florida my home at various points.

Q: How long have you been working in theatre?

A: Aside from year off to get my American Master’s degree in classical acting, close to 20 years now. Much of it has been focused in classical theatre.

Q: What was your first experience with Shakespeare?

A: I would say my first experience, or if not the first, the one that made the biggest impression, was seeing Anthony in Merchant of Venice and Bryan Cox in Titus Andronicus when I visited London. Those experiences helped to convince me that the UK was the place to study.

Q: You hold a graduate degree from Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London. How did the theatrical education you received in the UK differ from what you received in the US?

A: It was a conservatory program rooted in the traditions of British Theatre training. I studied with teachers that learned or worked with many of the people that influenced some of the greatest actors working today. In the US, the training is less vocational, so it was intermingled with a very strong foundation in the Liberal Arts. I am truly grateful for both.

Q: Do you think Americans are at a disadvantage when learning Shakespeare because they do not always have access to the techniques taught at British drama schools?

A: I think any disadvantage we have comes down to fear and bad experiences we may have had in High School. For many American students, Shakespeare represents that bald guy in the funny clothes that they were tested on. Many teachers in schools are required to teach Shakespeare and many have a fear of the plays themselves, so this fear is passed on. I teach in the UK too, and have found no significant advantage in the students there. The big difference in training is that in the UK there is a focus on text and language. They believe, as do I, that if you understand how to make language come alive the emotional truth will follow. This is fundamental in the UK. In America, we focus far too much on emotion and not nearly enough on language. We sometimes train our actors to believe that truth trumps all. What we fail to do is to give them the tools to be flexible; no degree of truth will save a performance of Shakespeare if the language is not alive and connected.

Q: Do you recommend that all actors gain at least some experience with performing Shakespeare and speaking in verse?

A: Absolutely! One of mentors Michael Kahn (head of Julliard in NYC) said “if you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything.” Julliard trains with this principle in mind, and you can see it pays off. We see Julliard grads not only in theatre, the actor in “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” in NYC who won the Tony, but also Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac who are in the new Star Wars film. If those actors did not have major language skill which came directly out of their classical training, they would not have been cast in those projects.

Q: What do you want the actors to take away from your class? A process for working on classical text.

A: I do not expect them to get it right there or then, but if what I teach continues to drop in long after I am gone, I have done my job.

Q: People are often under the assumption that Shakespeare is much more difficult to learn and perform than other types of theatre. Is that true in your opinion?

A: Yes, and no. The level of preparation is much more intensive. When I prepare for a Shakespeare role, I spend weeks, and occasionally months working on the language and the verse. Bear in mind, I do not rehearse or set things, that is very dangerous. What I seek to do is drop the text into my body, brain, and heart. Then I can be present to the director and my fellow actors in rehearsal. Aside from that, the rules are the same with contemporary text, be present, listen and respond, and go on the journey each night.

Q: What tips/advice would you give to actors who are looking to perform Shakespeare for the first time?

A: Everybody started somewhere, if not now, when? Get into a class, intern with a company, or at the very least speak it out loud. Watch as much as you can from the old BBC taped versions, to new adaptations like “Macbeth” with Michael Fassbender, or the Ralph Fiennes “Coriolanus”. Figure out what you like, and what you are drawn to. Not all performers or productions you will like, nor should you. If you are ready to work very hard, let go of ego, and commit mind and heart to it, Shakespeare will change everything.

Q: Just for fun: what is your favorite Shakespeare play?

A: Hard to say. Winters Tale always comes up for me, but I think Twelfth Night is kind of perfect too.

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Interview conducted by Noelle Hisnanick


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