On Playing Shakespeare with Brenda Joyner

Hermia, Perdita, Olivia, Desdemona, Ophelia, Hero, Lavinia. You’d be hard pressed to find another young actress who has tackled so many of Shakespeare’s female roles…all before age 30. And yet, actress Brenda Joyner is still learning what she loves about performing Shakespeare. Turn on the sound and listen as Brenda shares what she loves about performing in a Shakespeare play.

On Playing Shakespeare with Brenda Joyner Transcript

 “I’m blown away by how much Shakespeare I’ve done. I never in my life thought I’d do so much Shakespeare. I took some Shakespeare growing up and then I took…I didn’t even take a course in college…naw, maybe I took one course.

I feel like I’m still learning what I love about Shakespeare, so it’s still a work in progress for me.  I do remember when I was sixteen; I played Lady Macbeth, so obviously the finest Lady Macbeth that was ever done. But I remember working on those lines and there was this moment that clicked with me that was so powerful about Shakespeare, and I just remember being blown away by the power of those lines.

What Shakespeare can tell you in five lines…the history, what the person is experiencing right now, the imagery of that, the commitment of this person. I just thought it was beautiful and dark and I was just so caught off guard about the power of those lines and what he’s able to accomplish, and beautifully, even if you’re talking about the most disgusting thing, the most heart-wrenching thing, the most dire thing.  It’s beautiful and he does it so perfectly.”

On Playing Shakespeare with George Mount

Shakespeare has been a companion for George Mount for most of his adult life. Whether as an actor, a director, or a producer, George has spent a lot of time thinking about Shakespeare’s plays and how to best approach them. He’s had the fortune to play many of the roles he always wanted to play, and the gift of discovering himself in parts he never ever considered. I mean, what guy actually thinks he’ll get to play both Kate in “The Taming of the Shrew” and Prince Hamlet. Turn on the sound and find out what George has to say about performing Shakespeare.

 On Playing Shakespeare with George Mount

“I find with Shakespeare, more than any other playwright’s work, is the demand on the artist. The material itself is such a pinnacle of greatness that it demands of the artists, who are essentially collaborating with Shakespeare on the play, to be firing on all cylinders and be at the top of their game in order to even approach being able to be in that realm. It demands of the actor all of the resources that we have at our disposal to be working at the peak of prowess.

The mind needs to be incredibly active to unravel the thoughts and the complexities of the characters and the subtleties of the words and the meaning. The articulators need be working at the top of their game in order to get those words out. Physically, you’ve got to be as healthy as you can for the rigors of that thought breath communication, for the marathon of work of going from Act 1 Scene 1 to Act 5…it demands of an actor with the sword fighting, with the physical comedy, with the complex stage pictures. So everything that an actor has in his tool kit, in his resources, is used to its peak in doing a Shakespeare play and creating those characters.

Also, creatively, the imagination has to be at its height in order to create a unique character that can inhabit the world of Shakespeare. I think of it, sometimes, like a…I’m a fan of Bob Dylan’s work, and while I think that no one interprets Bob Dylan better than Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan is a frequently covered musician because his song writing is some of best lyrics there are. And for someone, I would imagine, that doing Shakespeare is, for an actor, what covering a Bob Dylan song is for a musician. You’ve got to be at your peak and at your best at all times to just even be in the same realm with that kind of genius and brilliance. And it will demand of you all of what you have and you’ll discover that you can always go further and you’ll get surprised at far you even went doing a Shakespeare play.”

No Damsel in Distress: An Interview with Brenda Joyner

Brenda Joyner

Although she’s played enough of them on our stage, Brenda Joyner is no damsel in distress. She’s a huge Seattle Sounders fan and admits to eating popcorn almost every day. Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, she had designs on being a ventriloquist and asked for a Howdy Doody doll for Christmas. “I was immediately terrified of it. I tried to learn with the little booklet that came with it to teach you how to talk without moving your mouth, but the doll just totally creeped me out.” Even though she played Lady Macbeth at age 16, never in a million years did she think she’d be doing so much Shakespeare. She only took one class on him in college at Western Washington University.

Brenda is playing the role of the Queen in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of “Richard II.”  This will be her second time working with director Rosa Joshi as she played Lavinia in the all-female upstart crow production of “Titus Andronicus” in 2012. We spoke with her during the run of “Much Ado About Nothing” while she was playing Hero and before rehearsals started up for “Richard II.”


Earliest Memory of Wanting to Be an Actor

When I was in third grade, the Missoula Children’s Theatre came to Alaska and we did “Alice in Wonderland” in a week. At the end, I remember we were all sitting in the front row of the theatre and the two instructors with Missoula Children’s Theatre were saying goodbye and talking about their next project. I said some inappropriate comment for a third grader… a very inappropriate comment about hanky panky behind the curtains or something like that. I don’t know where it came from, but then everyone laughed, and I was filled with the most glorious feeling in the world.  I remember thinking, “I want to make people laugh. I want to feel this way for the rest of my life. I want to make people laugh and feel things for the rest of my life.” There is no better feeling in the world than that.  And I fail at it mostly, but I just remember I was sitting there and I couldn’t believe that everyone was laughing at something that I said. And I just wanted to feel that way for the rest of my life. To make someone laugh…to make someone feel something. It’s the greatest.


On Playing Ingénues

What I love about playing ingénues…so often you people talk about them being thankless roles. Especially Hero, having done Hero again, it really dawned on me how little she says and how much people speak for her. They always say “Hero said…” and she’s standing right there on stage! It just presents such an interesting challenge. Just because you’re not talking doesn’t mean you’re not feeling things or experiencing things. You still have opinions about what’s happening on stage, so it just opens up this whole other world of portraying that. And I think they can be funny. I think they can be charming and endearing…especially with Hero. Claudio and Hero meet, you can give them a back story if you want, but they meet and suddenly he’s in love with her. And so I try to think, okay, what’s this thing that he falls in love with, and for me that’s her humor. That’s what’s endearing and charming to me. So I try, as much as I can, in the limited stage time you have as a Shakespeare ingénue, to be charming and funny and heartfelt, and real. You just can’t write them off


On Playing a Queen

Playing a Queen?! Good God! I honestly didn’t think there was any part for me in Richard, and then I was talking to Amy [Seattle Shakespeare Company’s Casting Director]. She said, “Well, there’s the Queen…”  The Queen? Oh I’m not…God!  That’ll be challenging! I don’t know what silly face I can make when playing a Queen. Ugh. I’ll have to work in some fart jokes somehow. She has like three scenes, right, and really only one, so you better make it count.

So in my deep Wikipedia research so far, I found out she does have a name, but Shakespeare didn’t give her one. It is Queen Isabella. So when I clicked on a link to Queen Isabella to read more about her, it said she was the Duchess of Bourbon….which is my favorite alcohol! I got so excited that I was going to be playing the Duchess of Bourbon. Of course I’m Queen Isabella the Duchess of Bourbon. That makes perfect sense. I am perfectly cast…. but, that’s a different Queen Isabella, so I don’t know what I’m going to do. All of my character work is out the window. She might still be the Duchess of Bourbon for my sake.  It was such a letdown.


On Working with Rosa Joshi

She’s phenomenal. She’s so smart and exciting and daring and crazy. I’m so thrilled that she’s working at Seattle Shakespeare Company. I’m really happy for her, and I can’t wait to work with her again. She’s just…she’s like Sheila Daniels, such a strong female director. She’s just a brilliant director, but then as a woman she has this great female voice. I can’t wait to work with her on the Queen. I could use her help a lot. She has fantastic ideas and she’s game for anything. It’s going to honest and real, because that’s just what Rosa does. The way that she approaches shows is so different. It’s hard to explain, but…yeah she’s awesome.


Dream Role

I would love another crack at Lady Macbeth.  Not that my performance at age 16 was shabby. I would love to play that one.  And I think, especially since it’s so fresh in my brain, I would to play Beatrice.  I love her humor, I love how…there’s just so much that I identify with in Beatrice. In her use of humor and wit as a way of life and a defense mechanism, and a thing to hide behind.  So I would love a crack at that. And I’ve had the pleasure of watching two phenomenal Beatrices. So, I could just steal everything they’ve done.

When people ask about what parts I want to play. I don’t think of it that way. I think of it as, “Oh, I’m auditioning for this? I would love to play that part. Yes, I think I would like to play that part.” There are really few roles I’m dying to play. I just don’t think of it that way, and I’m sometimes embarrassed about that. But I just kind of take what’s in front of me. What am I available to play right now?  ‘Cause I’ll do anything! Gladly!

I’d love to play a clown! I don’t know which one, but I would love it and it would be a terrifying thing.  I’ve watched so many great comedic actors work on Dogberry and Feste. I would love a crack at that. I might fail miserably, but I would love to try that, I guess.

I would love to do a comedy and be funny. Rather than trying to shoehorn my comedy into these dainty little ingénues.


Must Haves for Her Dressing Room

Bourbon. Bourbon and a pair of slippers. Those are my only go-to things. I don’t need pictures …if people give me cards throughout the run, I’ll keep them all there, but those are the only two things that I need, a pair of slippers and bourbon. And mascara!  Three things. I can do anything without makeup, but I have to have mascara!  Mascara, bourbon, and my shark slippers. They are shark slippers. They’re my show slippers. They’re simple little slippers, but the front is like a big toothy mouth. People think it’s a whale… it’s not a whale, it is a villainous shark, and it has little flippers. I found them at Target. I love sharks…well, no I don’t. I love them because I’m terrified of them. I have this love hate relationship with them.  “Jaws” is my favorite movie and I just think sharks are terrifying things. I respect them and I stay out of their water.  I also have shark footie pajamas at home.