BWW Interviews: TSC Interviews Paul Kiernan

BWW Interviews: TSC Interviews Paul KiernanTennessee Shakespeare Company asked our actor playing Petruchio, Paul Kiernan, five questions now that he's been through the first week of rehearsal with us for The Taming of the Shrew.

Paul, you need to know before reading his responses, is one of the worst self-promoters in the history of theatre. His modesty is not false. His skill-set is rare. He is a big-hearted, collaborative actor; and he is a winsome clown of compassion. He artistically complicates things in the rehearsal process, and I always admire this genuine struggle. He makes productions better because of it, and he makes the rehearsal space come alive.

I should also say as pre-amble that Orlando Shakespeare Theatre is happily mentioned below. It is where Paul and I first worked together, and it was on this play. Most importantly, I should note it was Jim Helsinger who brought us together and who directed the show with heart and distinction. It has forever informed how I look at the play -- and for the better. That production featured so many outstanding artists on stage and off, including a revelatory Suzanne O'Donnell, the most successful man in show business Greg Wood, a young and gamesome Michael Daly, Mayor Mark Rector of Sanibel Island, and winning film star Lucy Deakins. Bob Phillips and Eric Haugen, who have since collaborated on designs for TSC, were also behind the clever look of the production.

That was 1995. Since that time, Jim has become, and remains, the Artistic Director of OST, and he is one of the most successful A.D.s in the United States - uncanny in both his artistic and managerial prowess. If you vacation to Orlando, please do yourself and your family a favor by taking in one of his productions.

Here are five questions with our Petruchio, Paul Kiernan:

TSC: How is rehearsal going for you, Paul?

PK: Well, we ran the first act tonight. We sat in a circle and we jumped up and we said the words and we did the entire first act on the first day of the second week of rehearsal. It was amazing. I was so deeply humbled and impressed by the cast. I am trying my best to find my way around this character that, admittedly, is not a character that I would normally be cast in, and I believe I am pushing myself and jumping into the fray. Some days it feels like I am way out to sea and then, I find a moment, a line, a blip that tells me, okay, perhaps this is the right direction and then, I feel like I have a hand hold. I am so enjoying this process, the way the director has us working. The amount of improvisation, the amount of work off text, has been a luxury. Yet, more than that, I am seeing how necessary the work is and how quickly and deeply it is feeding the text for me and the character work.

TSC: Has anything surprised you yet?

PK: Dan McCleary. I worked with Dan many years ago as an actor. I did four shows with him as an actor but, I have never worked with him as a director before. Now, Dan is, as I have clear memories, a formidable, clear, passionate, deeply brilliant actor. I shall never forget his Richard III. However, being a good actor does not mean you know how to direct. Those are two completely different skill sets. Many actors cannot direct and many directors should not act. Coming into this process I was curious how Dan would be at the helm of this show. Well, I am, not surprised, but rather so happy to find that he is just as skilled, just as passionate as a director as he is an actor. He is clear, he is supportive, he knows the text inside out and, above all, he understands how to talk to actors and give us exactly what we need.

I am also surprised that I am jumping in on this show. I was very worried that I would be unable to step from my comfort zone and risk enough. I am surprised how easily and how skillfully Dan has guided me to a place where I am willing to do things that I cannot imagine ever doing. There are little triumphs happening for me that, at night, I cannot believe I have done. During an improvisation of a moment in the play where I was trying to make a point about the fact that clothes and outer trappings are not who a person truly is, I took off my shirt and stood, naked to the waist, in front of the cast. Now, for me, a heavy man, who is not very fond of his body, being able to stand shirtless in front of strangers because that is where the moment went, was kind of big deal for me. I was able to do it, because that is the kind of work Dan has built and has given us permission to do. It was a huge risk for me and, I am surprised I did it. I know that to make this production what it needs and wants to be, I must push myself.

TSC: You also have a film and television career going. What's it like being on stage and in a leading role at this point in your career?

PK: I am not famous by any stretch of the imagination, but I am very happy to do the tv/film work. But being on stage, for me, is always, always the best work, the most challenging work, the most rewarding work. The time, the intensity, is very different from film/TV, and it is where I learn most, grown most, and where I always feel most comfortable and alive. Being on stage is a blessing, it is a privilege and I never forget how lucky I am every day when I walk into the rehearsal room and I get to say these words, play this character, and work with this remarkable group of people.

I have never wanted to play leads, be the star. I just want to be a part of the company and do my job as best I can. I want to serve my fellow artists, give them my very best, add to the show and then, hand it off to the audience. So, I don't think that I am a leading actor, I'm simply an actor.

TSC: What have you enjoyed about being in Memphis so far?

PK: Well, to say "everything" is going to sound silly but, it is very true. I am blown away by the generosity of my house host Barbara Apperson (a founder of TSC), opening her incredible home to me, making me feel welcomed and special and safe. It's kind of hard when you are on the road, you don't have all your little familiars. You aren't in your own bed, you're not in your kitchen, you cannot walk to your coffee shop. All the while, you're trying to lay yourself bare, risk it all and do the best work you can. Having housing like I have here in Memphis, so welcoming, so kind, really makes the whole situation that much easier. Also, I sure do like the puppy that I am living with too. She's sweet.

I am so enjoying the dedication of the company. The feeling I got when I arrived was that this was going to be fun, this is going to be a good show but, most of all, this is going to be something you will be proud of, the community will be proud of, and an experience you will not soon, if ever, forget. There is a great sense of ownership I have felt in the community about this company, and that is incredible. Sometimes, when you do enough regional theater, it can feel distant. You're just doing another show, in another town, for another audience. Here, I feel it's very personal, very important to the community, and that makes the work that much more exciting and that much more important.

I have completely enjoyed the Germantown Commissary. That is some damn fine pulled pork.

TSC: You and Dan both acted in a production of The Taming of the Shrew in Orlando 19 years ago. What do you recall about that production?

PK: Am I supposed to be able to recall anything from 19 years ago? I recall I had more hair. That was, as were all the productions I did at Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, a great show. Dan played Petruchio, and I was Tranio. I remember the concept was a riverboat situation, much gambling and such. I remember Dan coming into the pre-wedding scene, dressed in his wild outfit to shock and appall Kate and all the characters questioning him and then, he said the line, "Were it better I should rush in thus." And then, he dropped his pants and he had on white boxers with big red lip stick marks, big kisses all over them. Well, he stood, with this great, kind-of "that's right, I just did that" look on his face, and the audience rolled with laughter, and he held that laugh for so long, it was great. Then, he would lift an eye brow or smile, and the laugh would keep on rolling. That was a funny, funny moment. It was a very good production, and I had a lot of fun working with that company. Also, it is where Dan McCleary got his nickname, Gator. Ask him about it sometime.

TSCL Anything else? (I know, that's six...)

PK: It's a privilege to be here. It's an honor to be invited to be a part of this company, to work on this play, and to be welcomed into this community. I am glad there is so much love for Shakespeare here, and I hope that continues to grow. I don't think people understand how important a resident, professional theater is. What it adds to a community. How it teaches, how it enlightens, and betters the life of a community. The arts are so important. Especially today when, in schools, the arts seem to be the first things on the chopping block. Reading plays is important. It is a very clear, immediate, kind of history. Seeing live theatre is primal for us as people. It goes back so very far. No matter what period, no matter where on the earth, it is important to remember that somewhere, someone is standing up in front of the fire and telling a story. We have to tell these stories. If we don't, we risk losing who and what we are, where we started and what we have achieved. We risk forgetting how to come together and experience laughter, love, sorrow and joy as a group, as a people. So, I am very thankful, very blessed, very honored to be able to come and stand up in front of this fire, with this company of brilliant story-tellers and share, what I know is going to be a splendid story, with the people of Memphis.

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Guest Blogger: Dan McCleary Dan McCleary is the Founder and Producing Artistic Director of Tennessee Shakespeare Company, the Mid-South’s professional, classical theatre and education organization based in Memphis.  Dan has made a living as a classical stage actor, Shakespeare master teacher, producer, artist-manager, and stage director around the country for 25 years. Memphis Magazine named him among the “Who’s Who in Memphis” each year from 2009-12, and the Germantown Arts Alliance honored him with its 2009 Distinguished Arts and Humanities Medal for Performing Arts.  Dan is a published poet, and he holds a B.A. in Advertising and Journalism from Temple University.  Dan is the proud father of three-year-old twin boys, Sullivan and Collins.


 
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