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 – 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.”