Meet our Goneril: Arwen Anderson

During the run of King Lear (Sep. 16–Oct. 11) we will be posting interviews with the cast to help our audiences get to know the men and women behind some of Shakespeare’s most tragic characters. What was the first role they ever played? What is their pre-show ritual? To find out, keep reading! 

(l-r) Anthony Heald as King Lear, Arwen Anderson as Goneril, and El Beh as Regan in King Lear. Photo by Kevin Berne.

(l-r) Anthony Heald as King Lear, Arwen Anderson as Goneril, and El Beh as Regan in King Lear. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Arwen Anderson’s ice blue eyes pierce through to the back row of the Bruns when she gives evil orders like, “Pluck out his eyes,” as Lear’s vindictive elder daughter Goneril. Having played Lady Capulet in our 2013 production of Romeo and Juliet, Anderson has become almost as good at sending a chill through Cal Shakes as these early October nights, but the actress has a warmer side too. In that same production she deftly balanced Juliet’s misguided mom with the peacekeeper Benvolio and she earned rave reviews for her role as the devoted Julia in The Verona ProjectKing Lear director, Amanda Dehnert’s 2011 musical adaptation of The Two Gentlemen of Verona–where not only did Anderson sing, but she also played multiple instruments. Pretty good for a girl who literally got her start at the Bottom…

Where are you from?

I was born in Staten Island, NY; raised in Bucks County, PA; and have lived in San Francisco for almost 19 years now.

What do you think your King Lear character’s best quality is? Worst?

Goneril is super smart and well spoken. Alas, she is also entitled and power hungry and will do ANYthing she needs to do to get what she wants.

Favorite line in King Lear:

Right now, I don’t know about a favorite line in the play, but I am always caught by Lear’s line towards the end, after Cordelia has died: “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life and thou no breath at all?” I find it terribly sad and moving.

First experience at a play, or musical:

When I was five, I saw Annie on Broadway. I was hooked. I came home and told my parents I wanted to be an orphan.

First acting gig:

I was Bottom in Midsummer in fourth or fifth grade. I was tall for my age and this was the start of many years of being given boys’ roles. I was devastated. I wanted to wear a dress, not an ass head.

Favorite role you’ve ever played:

That’s easy. It was here [at Cal Shakes] as Julia in The Verona Project, which was also with Amanda Dehnert. No question. 🙂 (Although, my runner up is Stella in Streetcar [Named Desire].)

Favorite Shakespeare play:

I don’t really do favorites, but I did recently see Cymbeline and found it very strange and intriguing.

Do you have pets? If so, what are they?

Oh yes: an old man cat named Gato and two parakeets named Motleys and Mugwump.

What shows/movies/books/art have you seen/read lately that have really spoken to you?

Ha! I wish I had something brilliant to say here, but I had a baby a year and a half ago, and quite frankly I wasn’t able to see, read, or watch much at all during that time. Although I did carve out time to read Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I loved it.  He has an imagination the size of an ocean and it’s always a huge treat to dip into it.

What is your pre-show ritual?

Breathing. Deep breathing.

What is your line memorization technique?

I just repeat them as often as I can. While walking, biking, on the BART… Over and over and over…

The one performance you’ve seen that you’ll never forget:

Again, it’s so hard to pick one. There is an amazing group out of Montreal called Les 7 doigts de la main. They do a blend of acrobatics/aerial and theater and they never disappoint. But about 10 years ago they toured a show called Rain and it was the most beautiful and joyful and simple and astonishing and heartfelt night I can remember in the theater.

King Lear runs through October 11. For tickets click here.


Candy in the Wardrobe Room: Behind the Scenes of THE VERONA PROJECT

By Stage Management intern Julia Van Broek



Stage management intern Julia Van Broek. Julia studies theater, with a concentration in lighting and scenic design, at UC Santa Barbara

“It’s like American Idiot the Musical meets Alice in Wonderland . . . oh yeah . . . and Shakespeare.”  This is how I described The Verona Project to my mother after the first few days of working as a stage management intern  for the show. A few days later I changed my description to “If the Princess Bride were a rock concert . . .” It didn’t take me much longer to realize that The Verona Project can’t be compared to anything because it is entirely original.

As an intern and a member of the run crew, I have seen the show countless times (or at least listened to it from backstage). It seems that no matter how many times I see it, I never tire of the whimsical atmosphere, hilarious comedic elements, and the music . . . the MUSIC!

Arwen Anderson singing "Julia's Story." Photo by Kevin Berne.

Since I began my involvement with the Project, neither I, nor any of my colleagues, have stopped singing, humming, or whistling the songs from the show. Everyone has his or her favorite.

Mine is “The Quiet” which is a beautiful and haunting song performed primarily by the three infinitely skilled actresses in the show: Marisa Duchowny, Elena Wright, and Arwen Anderson. Quite a few people on the crew say that “Julia’s Story” is their favorite. It is an upbeat rock song with enchanting lyrics that tell the entire back story of “Julia” played by the fabulously talented Arwen Anderson. “The City,” with its charming lyrics and reggae-esque rhythm, is another very popular tune among the crew and is performed by the nicest guy on Earth, Nate Trinrud (who knows every crew member’s name and always has a smile on his face).

Production Assistant Christina Hogan and Wardrobe Associate Courtney Flores often chuckle when they find me with my face pressed up against the wall that separates the offstage-left area from the house. I always try to peek through a hole in the wood or a crack of space between the wall and the weapons cabinet that is used as set dressing (and extends the sightline for those of us who are short enough to hide behind it). I am a true fan of the entire production, but I have a few favorite parts that I try to watch from backstage every night. Most of these are moments that are ad-libbed and therefore change every night. There are also a few lines that were improvised by Harold Pierce for one show, but were so good that they were unofficially added to the script. All the actors have added their own signature touches to the show that was largely written after they were cast. (The show was written by playwright-composer-director Amanda Dehnert).

Harold Pierce, Dan Clegg, Arwen Anderson, and Elena Wright jam during a performance. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Now that I have talked your ears off (or actually, your eyes out?) about how much I love The Verona Project, here are some things that go on behind the scenes while the show is happening. Once the performance begins,  I head downstairs to the undercroft to pick up a very special prop that is kept in the fridge. It is a glass jar filled with real peaches that “magically” lights up with a golden glow that looks enchanting in the misty darkness of the Bruns Ampitheater. Some serious recognition is owed to the two spectacularly brilliant ladies who built all the whimsical and clever properties that appear onstage: Prop Master Seren Helday and Prop Artisan Sarah Spero. My favorite job is the big shift we do at the end of “The City” when we transition into The Poetry and Fiction Shop in which the character Valentine works. A lot of things happen at once, and therefore a lot of things can go wrong. When I hear my cue in the song, I cross behind the set to stage right and wait with Deck Manager Sam Schwemberger and fellow Stage Management Intern Katy Adcox. When Sam hears his cue on his headset he says, “Shift . . . go!”  and I jog onstage. Christina sends a writing desk on casters rolling towards me; I catch it and roll it backwards to its spot onstage. At the same time, Sam and Katy roll on a doorframe and Sam tosses a can at me, which I catch and place on the writing desk before jogging offstage.

Adam Yazbeck ("the Duke") and Dan Clegg ("Proteus") in The Poetry and Fiction Shop. Photo by Kevin Berne.

1. “Julia’s Story” is the best time for crew to head to the bathroom

2. The cast goes through over thirty Ricola cough drops per show. (It helps their voices, especially in cold weather.)

3. There is usually candy in the wardrobe room if you look hard enough

4. Although they don’t have a lot of super funny moments on stage, Phil Mills (who plays Sylvio) and Adam Yazbeck (who plays the Duke) are extremely hilarious offstage, and often improvise their own renditions of songs from the show by adding silly lyrics that they think of on the spot (most of these cannot be repeated).

5.  Working on The Verona Project has been and will continue to be a wonderful learning experience for me, but most of all it is just a great show that I am lucky enough to see almost every night!