HAMLET's Cheryl White on Making the Transition from TV to Stage
With Nashville Shakespeare Festival's annual "Winter Shakespeare" production set to open Thursday night - Denice Hicks' staging of Hamlet, starring Sam Ashdown - actress Cheryl White, who plays Gertrude, found time between rehearsals to talk about the production.
Before gaining local critical and audience acclaim for her performances in Nashville Rep's productions of Rapture! Blister! Burn! and Sense and Sensibility, White's burgeoning resume boasts more than 60 TV credits to her name, Major Crimes, Resurrection, Grey's Anatomy, Nip/Tuck, The Book of Daniel, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Gilmore Girls and many more.
How would you describe the difference between acting for the camera and acting in front of a live audience? I think the primary differences are in the technical aspects of the two mediums. In theater, an actor needs to be generous and robust both physically and vocally. They need to be seen and heard all the way to the back of the house. On the other hand, a camera sees every little nuance, so a performance can be more intimate and internal.
Camera work requires a bit more precision in order for the editor to cut together several takes and angles seamlessly. I can remember on Cold Case having to shift my weight onto my left hip at the same moment every take to allow the camera to "find" something behind me. In fact, an on-camera performance is ultimately created by the director and editor. Whereas on stage, my delivery of the playwright's words and the director's vision is viewed in real time and influenced by the immediate response from an audience.
What is your favorite TV character you've played? That's an easy one. On the first season of Nip/Tuck, I played a woman with multiple personality disorder. The episode was named "Montana / Sassy / Justice" after my character(s). It was so challenging to create a believable portrayal of this woman. Fortunately, I had worked with the director and crew many times before and they created a safe and supportive set for me to take some wild risks!
What are your thoughts on Shakespeare and how did you prepare for the role of Gertrude? When I was 14, my grandmother took me to see The Acting Company's production of King Lear, directed by John Houseman. I was mesmerized. That experience made me want to be an actor. Whenever I am lucky enough to tackle one of Shakespeare's characters, I begin by looking up every word I do not know...and then I look up every word I think I know (I'm usually wrong). Shakespeare does not give us much information about Gertrude, so I read a number of critical analyses of the character. I read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (her account of the year following the death of her husband), and a stunning book of poetry about revenge by Jason Reynolds, Long Way Down, that our director Denice Hicks had suggested. And finally, I have tried to stay focused on Gertrude's humanity. She is a queen, but more importantly, a wife, a mother, a widow, a woman.
What do you like about living in Nashville v. Los Angeles? I love LA. We lived there for 23 good years. LA is a diverse and dynamic city. It is also stressful, crowded and expensive! When my husband Michael and I decided to make a change, I actually created a spreadsheet of possibilities with all the things we were looking for in a new city to call home. Nashville ended up at the top of the list. It has so much to offer and Nashvillians are so generous. It also puts us a bit closer to our families. And most importantly, our two big furry Akitas love the colder weather and Shelby Greenway!
Hamlet runs January 4-28 at Belmont University's Troutt Theater in Nashville, then February 1-3 at Middle Tennessee State University's Tucker Theatre in Murfreesboro. For details, go to www.nashvilleshakes.org.
About Nashville Shakespeare Festival's 30th Anniversary Season production of Hamlet: NSF's 30th anniversary season kicks off with Hamlet, Shakespeare's most famous work. Artistic director Denice Hicks directs the production that takes you on a journey into the minds and hearts of the royal family of Denmark in their darkest time. Prince Hamlet is torn between two unbearable situations: either living with his father's murderer or committing murder himself.
Making his Nashville theatre debut in the title role is Sam Ashdown, a film and stage actor who boasts an impressive resume, having performed with companies across the country.
In addition to Ashdown and White, the cast also includes Melinda Paul (Horatio), Roger Csaki (Claudius), Chelsea Bell (Ophelia), Ethan Jones (Polonius), Audrey Tchoukoua (Laertes), Brian Russell (Ghost), Shawn Knight (Bernardo/Osric), Lauren Berst (Marcellus/Gravedigger) Andy Kanies (Rosencrantz), and Santiago Sosa (Guildenstern).
An original musical score is composed and played live by Natalie Bell and Jack Kingsley; set and projections by Sam Lowry; costumes designed by Jessica Mueller; lighting design by Anne Willingham; and fights choreographed by David Wilkerson.