BWW Interview: Aaron McDaniel and CHARLEYS AUNT at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's continues its 56th season with a classic that will warm the hearts of people of all ages. Charley's Aunt, the hilarious late 19th century comedy of manners by Brandon Thomas, will be presented for the first time on the Madison stage. Directed by Joe Discher, performances will begin October 24.
Charley's Aunt was a huge hit when it debuted in Victorian England in 1892. For many years, it was one of the most popular shows on the British and American stage. Its charm and allure have not faded over the years. Charley's Aunt features an improbable disguise of preposterous proportion, earnest young lovers, and an unflappable butler who sees and oversees all of the ensuing hijinks.
Broadwayworld.com had the opportunity to interview Aaron McDaniel who plays Jack Chesney in the Charley's Aunt. We enjoyed learning about his career and the upcoming show.
McDaniel is in his third season with The Shakespeare Theatre, last seen as Damis in Tartuffe. His other STNJ credits include Longaville in Love's Labour's Lost and Lelie in The Bungler. He is a proud member of Strangemen & Co., most recently seen in their original work The Woodsman (New World Stages). Other credits include A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, Macbeth, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Taming of the Shrew, and Bekah Brunstetter's Miss Lilly Gets Boned. He is also a fight director, working on productions such as Newsies! and Aladdin. BFA, SUNY Purchase Acting Conservatory.
What was your earliest interest in theatre and performing arts?
I was bit by the bug in what I think was a fantastic fashion. When I was five my family went to Astro World (A Six Flags theme park that no longer exists). There was a Looney Toons show that you could be a part of if you just raised your hand, and my brother and I were big hams at the time, so obviously we had to do this. They took us backstage to choose a costume because your scene depended on the one you chose. My brother chose an Evel Knievel looking jumpsuit, and I chose this wonderful foam muscular body suit that made me look like Superman's mini-me. So, my scenario was that after many attempts, Foghorn Leghorn couldn't lift up a thousand pound dumbbell. They send me out, I kindly ask Mr. Leghorn to step aside, I spit in my hands and raise the (foam) dumbbell over my head in one swift motion. There was applause and that was all I was directed to do. However, the show wasn't over for me. I let one arm fall showing I could hold 1000 lbs. with just one hand, and then I tossed it up and caught it with the other. Long story short, I was amazing. Haha! Oh, and my brother was "shot out of a cannon" if you were wondering.
What was the moment when you knew acting would be your profession?
That's kind of nebulous to me actually. I never told myself "Ok, this is what you're going to do". I have just always done it and it never seemed like there was another option.
Who are a few people who have inspired your career?
Watching Jim Carrey and Robin Williams growing up was a HUGE inspiration to me. They are just so silly and that's all I've ever wanted to be. Personally, my stage combat mentor and friend J Allen Suddeth has been very helpful in the pursuit of my career. I have him to thank for a lot of the auditions and work that I have gotten. Charles Tuthill made me a serious actor. Up until his class, I was just acting for the fun of it. He taught me to how to dig deep and truly live the character's life on stage. And of course another really silly person who I'd be nowhere without is my mother. There were some serious trials I went through in getting to where I am now, and if it hadn't been for her support and pride in me, I don't know if I would have kept going.
Tell us a little about the cast and creative for Charley's Aunt.
We have a good mix of new and veteran actors in this cast. I love it when that happens because it tends to makes things familial, with everyone helping each other out. This is my first show with Joe Discher, our director, and I really dig how laid back and playful he is. This is my second show with Kathy Snyder and she is one of, if not the best stage manager I've ever worked with who is also really chill. Natalie Loveland, who did It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play last year, has come back to give us some wonderful costumes of the time. She, along with all the lovely ladies of the costume shop are going to make us look just dandy, as they always do. We've got Julie Foh, who I have worked with before on a Bekah Brunstetter play, keeping us on point with the Upper Crust RP British accent. And thanks to Brian Prather, I'm very excited for this set because it is the first show I've done at STNJ where it will actually change with every act! It's like having a different jungle gym to play on every half hour!
What are some of the challenges of your role as Jack Chesney in the show?
Oh boy...Jack is such a specific character. He is very smart, but also insanely one track minded. He forgets a lot of plot points which is bad for the guy who has most of the responsibility for driving the play forward. I'd say the biggest challenge I've had so far is trying to justify his being angry and mean to characters when he desperately needs their help. He tends to blame others for the problems he creates himself and it's very difficult trying to make someone like that likable. Joe is doing a very good job of helping me out with that.
Why do you think that Charley's Aunt will appeal to metro area audiences?
It's a ridiculous show. It will definitely make you laugh because the characters and situations are just so absurd, especially for the era they're in. And right now, even with the comedy we have today being focused so intensely on the political climate, this show invites you to come in and just laugh. I think a lot of people need something like that right now.
Can you share any of your future plans?
Well, I just recently signed with Meg Pantera so I am hoping to get my foot in the door of more film and TV projects. As physical of an actor that I am, I feel like I am very good in those mediums because I grew up watching more TV and movies than plays. I am also writing my own swashbuckling play that I hope to finish up and produce (and star in) in the near future.
Anything else, absolutely anything you want BWW NJ readers to know.
I am a very proud member of Strangemen Theater Company as well, and I would love to take this opportunity to plug the show that we are doing at 59E59. It's called Bernie and Mikey's Trip to the Moon by Scott Aiello, and it's the first play that we are producing rather than making it for ourselves from scratch. Strangemen has shifted focus for this project to the underrepresentation of actors with disabilities. We hope to be part of the solution in recognizing the largest minority in our industry and giving them and those like them a voice. Please take a look at Strangemen's website for details about the play and other info about the company: https://www.strangemencompany.com/.
Single tickets for Charley's Aunt begin at $29 for preview performances and begin at $49 for regular performances. Prices range from $29 to $69. The Theatre is proud to bring back its successful 30 UNDER 30 program for the 2018 season. Patrons aged 30 and under can purchase tickets for only $30 with a valid ID, subject to availability. For tickets, patrons can call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit http://www.shakespearenj.org.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Aaron McDaniel