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: Nathan Graham Smith

Nathan Graham SmithNathan moved from Seattle to Los Angeles about 5 years ago but is back to play Orlando in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of As You Like It.  It’s a part he knows well as he played the role in the parks for Wooden O.  As the son of missionary parents, Nathan grew up as a world traveler and right after graduating high school he spent a year in South Africa. “Mandela had just become president, Apartheid fell, and they won the rugby world cup.  I was there for all that, and I was 18.  It was a phenomenal time to be there.  I can point to that moment in my life where I grew up in a big way.”

Reading

I read The Week. It’s a news digest and it’s how I get my news. I’m kind of reading everything I can about the play. When I’m in a play or dealing with a character, I tend to focus on that world, so I’m reading things about Shakespeare and his life and time period, anything that I can get my hands on. I’m reading the play a lot. It’s amazing that I’m still finding things in it and I’ve done the role before. I just picked up The Artist’s Way again for the third time. I brought that with me and I thought that would be good to have. Every artist should read that, I think.

Listening

I’m a big fan of KEXP here in town. I was really looking forward to listening to that while I’m in my car because I stream it when I’m LA. I listen to the radio a lot. I’ve been listening to a lot of Sarah McGuinn stuff. She’s doing the music for us. I’m trying to learn those songs. For some reason it’s hard for me to memorize lyrics if they’re just written down. But I can memorize a song just by listening to it over and over again.

Watching
I’m a big sports fan. I wasn’t so much when I lived in Seattle, but I became a big Dodger fan. I live right next to Dodger Stadium. In fact I’ve lived there for five years and I’ve been to over 60 Dodger games. It’s walking distance from my house. I’ve been watching the Sounders…super fun! It’s amazing how Seattle has really gotten behind that team. So I’m looking forward to seeing a live game. Also, I just finished up the first season of The Killing because I was coming up here. The homage to Seattle and the Northwest: so well done. The whole milieu is perfect.

I haven’t watched a lot of movies, but I did just watch Shakespeare in Love and 300 since I got here. You know, I’m playing the young lover and I’m wrestling with MMA style fighting. I go back and forth between gladiator films and period love stories.

What three characters from Shakespeare would you invite to a dinner party?

Shakespeare! I’d definitely like to meet that guy. The whole idea of who he was and the facts that we know about him. I’ve read a couple of different books on whether or not he wrote his plays, and I go back and forth on it, so I’d love to get to the bottom of that. I would love to hang out with other past actors who have played Orlando. And maybe Romeo, too. At least for this process. I would love to hang with the young lovers, pick their brains a bit. Romeo, Orlando, and Shakespeare. It sounds like a band!

Seattle Actor Profile – Jennifer Lee Taylor

A native of Seattle, Jen Taylor made her Seattle Shakespeare Company debut last season playing Imogen in Chamber Cymbeline. Now with Eliza in Pygmalion, she has a role that she’s been dying to play since she was a teenager.  “At 12 or 13 I went into this weird stage where I would only watch black and white movies, because modern movies offended my sensibility (she laughs). I have no idea what was going through my head. So my mother introduced me to the film of Pygmalion, and I just fell in love with it.  And then of course I watched My Fair Lady.  I started working on my cockney dialect.  And when I was 14 I got to play Mrs. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and it was because I was mimicking Pygmalion.  Yeah, Mrs. Beaver was my first attempt at Eliza Doolittle. (Laughs).

Reading

“You’re going to laugh!  Right now I’m reading Death Comes to Pemberley. I’m so embarrassed. It’s a murder mystery written by P.D. James who is a murder mystery novelist that I quite like.  And she’s a huge fan of Jane Austen, who is my favorite author.  And she has written a sequel to Pride and Prejudice that is a murder mystery. In all honesty, I’m only a couple of chapters in.  I can’t really speak to its value yet.  I bought it for my mom with the hope that I could then read it.”

Listening

“I’m always listening to Radiohead.  It’s sort of my music of choice. In all honestly, I don’t feel like I have a ton of time to sit down and listen to the radio, unless I’m in the car, and then I’m listening to KUOW or the classical station, with a little bit of pop thrown in there.”

Watching

(Laughs) “I don’t have a television.  I have a whole bunch of movies from SAG, because I’m a SAG member and they send you films to watch for the SAG awards, which I never got around to watching, so I’m excited to watch The Artist.  I really want to see that when I have a moment to myself.”

Earliest memory of wanting to be an actor

“I was always putting on little shows.  But I remember I saw a play at the Village Theatre that was their kids’ summer stage show, and I must have been 11.  They were doing Bye, Bye, Birdie, and it was the first time that I had the realization of “Wait a second! These are all kids doing this. I could do this!” It was the first time I had a real concept of that for some reason.  Movies with kids in it seemed really far away, not something that was real. And my mother took me to a lot of theatre, bless her. Thank you, Mom!  She took me to the opera. She took me to the ballet. She took me to a ton of theatre, but it never really stuck in my mind that kids could do it.  So it was the Village Theatre’s KidStage that I really realized that “What a second!  These are all kids!”  That’s probably when I had the clear notion that I could be on stage, I think.”

Looking forward to this theatre season

“I would really like to see my friend Angela DiMarco in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at Seattle Public.  I am a fan of actors, so I want to go see their shows.  I want to see Nick Garrison’s show I Am My Own Wife at the Rep. I am also interested in Clybourne Park, which I don’t know much about.  I’m going to see The Bells at Strawberry Theatre Workshop.  And, once I close Pygmalion, I open up in Holy Days with New Century Theatre Company directed by Paul Stetler.”

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.”