PreViews - Nicola Alexis Interview

Uploaded by CPAPSU on 11.09.2012

>> Laura Sullivan: Actors From The London Stage, founded by acclaimed performer Patrick Stewart, is
one of the world's most respected touring Shakespeare companies.
The British troupe comes to Penn State in the production of The Merchant of Venice.
PreViews writer Jennifer Pencek speaks with actress Nicola Alexis about her
preparation for the role of Portia,
the provocative comedy's main female character.
Alexis discusses how the ensemble of five actors, each of whom portrays
multiple characters, focuses on Shakespeare's timeless words.
She also talks about the production's clever staging, which uses minimal props,
costumes, and sets.
>> Jennifer Pencek: One of the characters you'll be playing is the main character Portia,
who's the wealthy heiress.
And I was wondering what the preparation has been like to bring that
character and your other characters to life on stage?
>> Nicola Alexis: Well, Portia,
she's one of the most well-known Shakespeare characters...
in his plays, which I discovered in doing the research.
So for me I wanted to do a lot of background work on what's already been written,
how performances have always been done. She's already got a couple well-known famous speeches.
So just looking at all the various ways they've been done already,
and seeing if that was going to impact on my own performance.
Other than that, I tend to just rely on the text itself.
I always think that any clues you have for a character no matter Shakespeare, modern text, or whatever text you're doing,
the clues will be there in the text. I mean, Shakespeare's text is very dense with clues
and the language itself is full of clues, and how the characters are feeling or where they are, or who they're talking -- or the stages
of the people who their talking to. So yes, I think
all the clues are there within the text anyway.
>> Pencek: What sets Actor's From The London Stage apart from other theatre companies is obviously it's
size and the fact each actor portrays numerous characters.
For you, what kind of challenges does that pose and what's the process like for
all of you?
Alexis: Well, you're playing anything
up to four or five characters each.
The way it works for is the minimal costumes, minimal props,
minimal actors, and minimal sets. So you have to be
reliant not only on the text and language...of
the play itself,
but you have to be reliant on yourself, as a performerÑ-your own body to somehow bring
this world to life and make a story and something that the
audience can follow, even though you don't have all these
excess props and things to make it
come alive,
they're just depending on you, yourself, as an actor,
to make that come alive.
>> Pencek: And I'm sure to with The Merchant of Venice that you know, you probably have a different process depending upon what
actual story you're
going to be telling.
What's your familiarity
with The Merchant of Venice and have you taken a
different approach with this role compared to others you might have done with the
>> Alexis: Not necessarily so,
I mean, all the plays are very different, they're all a complete story in themselves.
So before I've previously done with AFT, like I've done
Taming of the Shrew
and Midsummer Night's Dream,
but they're all completely different. Midsummer Night's Dream is a fantasy,
there are lots of fairies and magic going on it. Shrew is a lot more about feminist issues
and about comedy as well, but there all kind of
individual plays in their own right. So I think my presence has probably been the same in my
approach to this, in just the
sense that you get familiar with the text, you
throw yourself at the characters and dress in the style, which is
as I said before, you know minimal costumes, props etc. and you just focus
on really telling the story with the language and hopefully making it accessible
for anyone who watches it, that you know they can follow the story and they're
interested in the story and entertained.
>> Pencek: What can the
audience expect from
this performance?
>> Alexis: [laughing] Uh...OK, Well...having this choreographer in
and we're quite the musical bunch.
Um...we've got someone who's good at drumming, we've got a few good singers,
a couple of piano players, someone who's good at composing
and putting together music. Um...and we've just had a choreographer
and this one in particular has been
more than any one I've seen and been involved in
there's going to be a lot more music
and physical movement in it as well. 0:05:07.919,0:05:12.509 So...yeah, we're bordering on a musical at the moment [laughter], not
quite musical but there's lots of musical music in it and uh...
yeah, just that feeling of using everything--music, song, dance
and the words as well...that's
what they can expect,
to be hopefully amused and laugh
because at the end of the day it's a comedy as well.
It's tackling some major issues like race, identity, uncomfortable issues. The Merchant of Venice is all about being uncomfortable...
there's a lot in this.
>> Pencek: When you and the other actors actually come to Penn State 05:43.789,0:05:47.569 you'll be visiting classes in theatre, English, and law. How
important is it for you all to reach out to students when you go to different
>> Alexis:'s hugely important.
Um...having done these tours before I know that it's amazingly
important. The play is there and we want everyone to see it and be
inspired by Shakespeare, but also us going into the classroom and giving them a taste of
Shakespeare in the classroom and maybe in a different way
than they have in the classroom previously is essential to what the company is about. We want people to realize that Shakespeare is very much
accessible and available to everyone, especially students who are in that
education phase of their lives.
But it's accessible, it's not something that's just done by academics or
you know, or somebody who studied for years, that's not the case at all.
It's very much something to be enjoyed by everyone and it's relevant, it's universal
and still definitely has a place today
in society.
So that would be yes, that it is very important that we reach out and the people
understand that when going to classes and they enjoy it may want to go back
to it after we've gone.
>> Laura Sullivan: Tickets are on sale for two performances of The Merchant of Venice
October 10 and 11, 2012
Order on-line at
or by phone at 1-800-ARTS-TIX.