In the months leading up to our 2012 Main Stage season, we are profiling some of the artists shaping our productions. —The Tempest, Spunk, Blithe Spirit, and Hamlet—in our e-newsletters. This month, we’re featuring renowned Bay Area actor René Augesen, who will make her Cal Shakes debut as Ruth Condomine in Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit. What follows is the transcript of my email interview with René. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.
Manoel Felciano and René Augesen in ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN at A.C.T.; photo by Kevin Berne.
You’ve been an A.C.T. Core Company Member since 2001, and have performed at Lincoln Center and the Public Theater in NY and on stages throughout the country. What’s your experience with outdoor theater?
I’ve not worked in outdoor theatre for a very long time. Around 20 years ago I worked at Trinity Shakespeare Festival in Fort Worth. I did Ophelia in Hamlet and Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew one summer, and Juliet in R & J and Luciana in The Comedy of Errors another summer. I’m told the weather in Orinda is much more fickle than Fort Worth!
What’s your experience with Noël Coward? Can you share any early thoughts on the role of Ruth Condomine or on Blithe Spirit in general?
In my first year at A.C.T. I actually did a production of Blithe Spirit in which I played Elvira (Condomine). It should be pretty interesting and odd doing a show a second time, playing a different character. I remember Shona (Tucker, who played Ruth) finding it particularly challenging to pretend like she didn’t see me; we kept cracking each other up because of it.
Mark Rucker directed you in Once in a Lifetime at A.C.T. What do you like about working with him? What do you think he’ll bring to this production?
I’ve actually worked with Mark a number of times. He directed me in one of my very favorite shows, The Rainmaker. I love working with him. I think he’s one of those rare directors that intuits what each actor needs, individually, and gives them that. He takes the time to know who you are as a person and as an actor and very generously morphs, sometimes several times a day, into exactly what you need at the time. It’s difficult to know when an actor needs to hear more or less from a director at any given moment. He somehow knows. And he’s always up for a game of “what if…”. So he’ll bring to this production what he always brings, collaboration and fun and color and idiosyncrasy.
What or who inspires you right now? Any particular writers, music, current events, people, et cetera?
I fear anything I write here will sound pretentious but here goes.
I could go with the obvious and say Shakespeare. But it is true that I pick it up often. That I daydream about doing it quite a bit. That I secretly work on it. That when I teach it I keep working on it even after the class ends. And that I’m a bit obsessed with the actual “work” that it takes to do it.
But also I’m lately sort of obsessed and inspired by and always looking for performances and actors that don’t announce themselves, that transform into character without seeming to shout “Look at me! Look how good I am!” Bryan O’Byrne, Mia Wasikowska, Viola Davis. Performances that sometimes transcend what otherwise might have been mediocre material.
And finally, if you could have appeared any play in history, what (and/or where, and/or with whom directing or sharing the stage with you) would it be?
OK, this is really hard! I’d love to answer with my dream cast and play on the Broadway stage, now—but I feel like that’s cheating. So I’ll say Our American Cousin, so that I could throw my body over John Wilkes Booth and change the course of American history for the better. I’m kidding.
I don’t know! Maybe do Macbeth with Marlon Brando in the 1960s with Harold Pinter directing? That might be awesome!
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