Rebecca Olson on Playing Celia in “As You Like It”

Rebecca OlsonIn As You Like It, Shakespeare created one of the great female friendships in theatre: Rosalind and Celia. There’s no other relationship like it in the canon. And for the game of romance in the woods, Celia is kind of Rosalind’s wingman. In Seattle Shakespeare Company’s actress Rebecca Olson plays Celia and shares her thoughts about the character and the challenges of playing the role.

Rebecca:

“Oh, I love Celia! I love Celia because she’s an optimist, but she’s also very pragmatic. Especially in this production, I really like what George has done. The world that she starts out in is not a happy place, but she has obviously made a choice to be optimistic and think that things are going to work out. She’s very loyal. She’s very funny. She’s just got all these lovers running around her, completely acting like morons. She’s almost the voice of the audience, pointing out to Rosalind (played by Hana Lass) saying, “You do realize you’re dressed like a boy?” (Laughs). Saying all the things you would say if your best friend was acting foolish. I love that her wit is really, really funny. And then at the end she gets smacked in the face with love, too, and it’s really unexpected and it comes out of nowhere.

“One of the challenges of playing the role is that she’s on stage a lot and not saying anything. George (the director) and I made a choice that we’re not just going to have Celia falling asleep in the background. If she’s on stage, there’s a reason she’s on stage, even if she’s not speaking. So finding what that is, activating that, and figuring out what I’m to be doing when I’m not speaking is tough. I spend a lot of time observing, and I think that helps in that journey, so when the one-liner’s come out. They’re real zingers. At least I hope that’s how it comes out.

“Celia’s got a pretty big arc. If you’ve never seen the play before, the first third at least, could be Celia’s play. It could be a story about a girl who gives up her kingdom to follow her best friend into the forest. And then all of a sudden Orlando shows up, and the things take a turn. The challenge is to keep Celia moving forward and not allow her to sit back in cynicism while her friend Rosalind falls in love. It’s hard to walk that line of telling her friend to come back down to earth and not make Celia sound like she’s jealous and mean. This is the only relationship like this in Shakespeare where there are two women who are equals and have equal stage time and are not villainesses and are not just ingénues. Orlando is the ingénue in this play. He’s the one being courted! Rosalind and Celia are the two best friends who are orchestrating this entire plot. It’s important to keep the affection between the two women because it’s such an important part of the story. I don’t want there ever to be a moment when the audience thinks that their friendship is over. You watch them go through the really natural ups and downs that happen when you have a best friend, regardless of what age you are. And then that person meets someone, and suddenly they’re not available to you as much. And then you have to renegotiate what the relationship is going to be. It’s a really fantastic relationship that they have. And it helps that I’m really good friends with Hana, she’s one of my closest friends.

Seattle Actor Profile – Mark Anders

Mark is making his Seattle Shakespeare Company debut playing the role of Henry Higgins in Pygmalion. Recently he’s become very passionate about making sure that some of the great plays from the past (that frequently have large casts and are challenging to produce) still stay in the public consciousness. To that end he and several other local theatre artists created the Endangered Species Project (www.endangeredspeciesproject.org) to produce staged readings of the great plays from the past. Check them out and make sure to see Mark as Shaw’s irascible Henry Higgins in Pygmalion.

Reading

“I always have like five books going. I am reading a book about the Wobblies called We Shall be Free. I’m reading a book about starting a theatre that Jeff Steitzer gave me because we are doing the Endangered Species Project. I am reading John Sayles new book. And a book of ghost stories that I’ve been going through, and I don’t know why.”

Listening

“I listen to the radio, only in the car. I listen to music at home a lot. A lot of classical. I’m kind of a film score nut. At least the early ones. I’m not so crazy about them nowadays. I like really bold and accessible music.”

Watching

“I go to the movies, but I recently saw this documentary called the Renaissance Revolution. And in it this guy is talking about this amazing painting behind him. And he said, ‘What’s amazing about this painting is that everything you need is there. You can see it. It’s there. The difference between this painting and a modern painting is that the modern painting is all about what has been left out.’ And that idea has been burning in my mind ever since I saw it. And it has affected why we are doing the Endangered Species Project, because there are plays that have everything in them, not alluding to them. And Shaw is the same way. Everything is in it. It’s all there. If you want to find it, it’s there. He talks about it. It’s there.”

Looking forward to this theatre season

“I haven’t thought much more beyond Pygmalion. It’s going to be very interesting to see what ACT does with the Ramayana. I don’t know how that’s going to come across. It’s going to be very interesting to see. But I don’t know what that’s going to be like.”

Seattle Actor Profile – Mike Dooly

When Mike Dooly takes on a role, he immerses himself in it, almost to the exclusivity of anything else.  He wasn’t always so diligent.  In fact, Mike was on the verge of dropping out of high school when his grandmother signed him up for acting classes at the Northwest Actor’s Studio.  It was after an experience with a monologue class that things shifted for him. “I realized right then and there I knew what I wanted to do.  I remember getting out of that class and running downstairs, finding a pay phone and calling my girlfriend at the time.  We were kind of dropping out of high school together, and I called her and said ‘I know what I want to do!  I know what I wanna do this!’  She didn’t have anything like that, and so she was just, “Oh.  Yeah. Okay. Great…’  And I was like, ‘No, you don’t understand!  I figured it out!’  And it’s true, ‘cause that was 23 years ago.”  Mike plays Tullus Aufidius in Coriolanus

Reading

“My research has me reading these really depressing books about the ethics of warriors and what it’s like for soldiers in peace time. Things like that are really taxing after a long day of rehearsal, so I chip away at those. Just to unwind, while I was working on Midsummer I started reading the Sandman comic books. Those are good. I’m hung up on those now. I only have so much room in my head, you know. And it’s probably not as much as most people have! When I’m working on a show, the best I can do is a magazine article. Like something out of Wired or The Source, because I need that space in my head for the show.”

Listening

“I listen to hip-hop and 60s or 70s soul. Hip-hop’s great. If you’re into Shakespeare, there’s no reason to listen hip-hop and not be fully in awe of it. It’s the same thing. It really bugs me when I hear people say, especially people in a Shakespeare play say, ‘Oh I listen to everything except hip-hop and country.’ It’s language! It’s everything we work on. It’s also great, especially playing a character like Aufidius, because it pumps you up. There is an element to hip-hop that is all boasting, but it can get you feeling good about yourself. Make you feel like you can get done what you NEED to get DONE. And nobody’s going to stand in your way. It’s also really great if you’re trying to work out. And podcasts… of course the best podcast ever is The Ricky Gervais Show or This American Life.”

Watching

(Laughs) “I’m watching HBO’s Rome, which I’ve never seen, but a couple weeks ago I was like ‘I might as well…’ It’s a few hundred years after our play. It’s been very helpful because I now understand what tribunes and patricians and consuls and all that stuff are…plus it’s a really fun show. And I’m watching I Claudius (laughs). Those shows feed the play, but I can’t get too involved with anything else because I don’t want it to pull me away from my job.”

Looking Forward to this Season

“There’s something that’s happening at Balagan, that’s cool. It’s called Theater Anonymous. It’s the first time they’ve ever done it. I think they’re doing It’s A Wonderful Life, but none of the actors know who any of the other actors are. They all rehearse with the director one-on-one. So the actors are just going to sit down in the audience with the audience and when their scene comes up, they’re just going to get up and start to act in the scene. Nobody’s going to know who’s playing what. I’m really looking forward to that. It’s the same folks behind 14/48. You can only do it one night. I’m also looking forward to Pygmalion, which I’ve never seen before. I’ve never seen a Shaw play, ever.”

Shakespeare Character That You Identify With

“More than any of the others? When I first came back to Seattle, I played Iago. And I loved that guy! I think he’s a great guy. Had things gone differently for him I think he could have been this really cool old man. I do know how it feels to be over looked and passed over. I think everybody knows that. And you wish you were somewhere else in life professionally or emotionally or whatever. I didn’t think I was going to identify with Horatio as much as I did. Terry Weagant just played Helena. Helena’s fucking fantastic! I relate to all the outsiders: Iago, Aufidius, Helena…that feeling of ‘Why not me?’ That’s something I like to exploit in myself because it’s a part of yourself you can share, that people don’t share. But everybody feels that way. So I like those guys. Edmund…Edmund the Bastard! All those guys, they’re all alright in my book. They’re cool.”

Seattle Actor Profile – Therese Diekhans

The last time Seattle Shakespeare Company audiences saw Therese, she was the sly Mistress Quickly in our production of The Merry Wives of Windsor (and you may have seen her brief cameo as Queen Elizabeth).  In Coriolanus, she’s playing a character three times as cunning, Volumnia, the mother of Coriolanus.

Reading

“I was reading Tree of Smoke which is a novel about Vietnam.  Really difficult.  I got about half way through it and then said I have to stop now.  So I’m going to have to pick it back up and read it again. The other thing I’m reading is a series by Ursula Le Guin: The Earthsea Cycle, which is now five or six books.  I like her.  She was raised as a Taoist and so her books are filled with that kind of philosophy which I find interesting…and I love sci-fi or rather science fantasy.  So I like those two things: the philosophical and the fantasy at the same time.”

Listening

“I really only listen to the radio in the car.  It’s usually NPR or Democracy Now.  For music, it’s funny, I was just thinking about that today. I don’t generally turn on music when I’m at home.  It’s really odd.  My family, when I was growing up, we didn’t listen to a lot of music, so I’m in silence a lot.  But when I do listen to music, I like Pink Martini; I love any of the classics: Beethoven, of course, Mozart, opera.”

Watching

“I haven’t seen a film in a while.  Television I don’t really watch much, but I have been watching on Netflix and Hulu.  I really love the series Bones, so I’ve been watching that.  I’m also watching Once, which is that fairytale series. It’s kind of fun.”

Looking Forward to This Season

“I’m looking forward to getting out and seeing as much as I can.  I’m looking forward to this show.  I’m looking forward to the Book-It shows.  I adore the Book-It style and the way they do that.  Anything at Seattle Public Theatre and Theater Schmeater.  And anything at Strawberry Workshop…I love Strawberry Workshop.”

Shakespeare Character That You Identify With

“I just played Paulina in The Winter’s Tale.  She is very much a truth-teller and a plain speaker, and righteous.  She is not going to let the king get away with lying to himself; creating a truth that is not real. She’s very firm and knows right from wrong, and will not allow anybody else to get away with it.  I kind of do that in my own life.  I sometimes get in trouble with people because when I do see something, I usually can’t control my tongue and I usually end up getting in trouble for it (laughs).”