Saturday, February 11, 2017

Spotlight On...Colin Wulff

Name: Colin Wulff

Hometown: Tallahassee, FL (Middlebury, VT before that).

Education: BA in Theater from Oberlin College.

Select Credits: Osvald in Ghosts, Guildenstern in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Michael in God of Carnage, Dan in Next to Normal and Orlando in As You Like It at Oberlin College / Oberlin Summer Theater Festival; Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Southern Shakespeare Festival; Flute in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company; Borkin in Ivanov at Columbia University.

Why theater?: The usual qualities brought me into it – it’s an exciting and creative exploration of identities, disciplines, and environments that simultaneously complement and lie beyond our own. Those things remain important draws for me, but as I have gotten older and developed many interests outside of theater, I am more and more pleased with how well theater has served me in my other working and recreational endeavors, and how inviting it is of the things I learn in turn from those other interests. Skills, knowledge, perspectives, and relationships from the world itself are especially indispensable in live storytelling, so more than other arts I have explored or enjoyed, theater is not purely a displacement of nor escape from reality so much as a companion to it. And of all the mediums that present an opportunity for complication, broadening, reaffirmation, or reevaluation of our opinions and interests, it is the one that most lends itself to conversation, because both producing it and receiving it are such community efforts.

Who do you play in The Bride?: I play Don John and Sir Nathaniel. In our first act, Don John is a composite of the Lords Longaville and Dumaine from Love’s Labour’s Lost, with occasional supplements from characters like Berowne. In Act Two, he predominantly uses the text of his namesake in Much Ado About Nothing, but as set against an Act One backdrop that adds new meaning to it, which may or may not give his chicanery a chance at a more sympathetic reception from our audience. Sir Nathaniel is a curate and a scholar, and is, along with his even more blustery friend and colleague Holofernes, the last line of defense against the ever-encroaching night of ignorance and careless grammatical practices. In Act Two, he fancies himself a pretty competent watchman as well. And I guess he does alright, if not exactly all right.

Tell us about The Bride: The Bride is a marriage of two of Shakespeare’s comedies into its own narrative entity. Lines have been repackaged and reassigned in such a way that the characters from the first play (Love’s Labour’s Lost, and our Act One) flow fluidly into the second play (Much Ado About Nothing, and our Act Two) as the same characters, with one name among their many sources standing for all that comprise each them. The Bride ultimately proposes the rough events of a condensed Much Ado as a follow-up to the rough events of a condensed Love’s Labour’s. This allows for new personalities, motives, and relationships to emerge, and for some fun conjectures as to the life of the characters in each play taken separately, were they given the chance at a fleshed-out past or a fleshed-out future. The one thing that has not been tampered with is the essential quality of the language. Words have been cut, moved, recombined, underscored with music, repeated in echoing ostinati, shared between new voices, and cheekily reinterpreted, but we have not added a word that could not be found in the original texts from which we are fashioning this “Bride.”

What is it like being a part of The Bride?: I love feeling that I am actually engaged as an artistic contributor, something about which it’s sometimes easy to develop a complex as an actor: “Am I more of an artist or a craftsman? Am I being sufficiently creative or am I a mouthpiece with some license for volume and inflection?” No fear of that fear here. The opportunities to brainstorm collaboratively, share, and listen in on everything from musical arrangement to the development of the story itself make for a kind of interdependence and liveliness that can be suffocated quickly in militantly streamlined productions. This ensemble works very well together too, and the supportive atmosphere (not to mention the strength and variety of talents in the room) allows us all to freely offer and spitball ideas or adjustments so that at the end of the day we have a lot to choose from and everyone has added something. It really does feel like we are building a microcosmic bower in which to house, for a couple of hours, our themes of love, regret, companionship, human frailty, and miscommunication, as well as celebration in the face of their worst havocs. Also by nature of the project, we are sometimes capitalizing on lucky gems of overlap and connection already shared between the two plays we are trying to splice, and other times working uphill against some basic logistical barriers that inevitably present themselves when trying to forge a somewhat linear trail between two discrete pieces. This means that there is a real need for critical thought and problem solving, and this begets a rather interesting interface between every cast member’s big-picture, structure-oriented efforts on everyone else’s behalf, and the lawyerly defensiveness we are all prone to stoke and guard on our own character’s behalf. Especially earlier in the process, the strength of the case one presented might have changed anything from their presence in a scene to their overall character arc and personality. That state of creative flux has been a good test of both sportsmanship and puzzle-solving acumen, and I am pleased to say that I am very admiring of this group on both counts.  

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: In the broadest, most comprehensive terms, I love theater that boldly sets its own physical parameters and dimensional rules so that stories feel necessarily revealed through it rather than boxed in to simply a more restrictive representation of reality. And I don’t see that as being at odds with “naturalistic” characterization and realistic delivery of dialogue. The imagistic, surreal, cerebral, and fanciful that retain something gritty and recognizably human really excite me in this respect, and Shakespeare certainly lends itself to be taken advantage of in that way. That said, I like it when theater employs visual motifs that aim to abet a central idea in an interactive, story-furthering way more than I care for one-for-one symbolism. In fact, in The Bride, we make good use of the idea that if there is to be a visual, imaginative stand-in for “reality,” it should serve as an actual mechanism preparing the realities of the story for the reality of our space rather than just as inanimate and inscrutable dressing, or a directly translatable version of “what we really mean” that undermines the very tangible existence of our presented world. Paper and correspondences especially are used well in this way in our show, which will quickly become evident for those who are able to come check it out. I also love historical drama and truly heroic protagonists. A couple of the plays that serve as great examples of what moves me in theater, and that have taught me a lot about heroism and history without overtly endeavoring to educate or persuade me of anything have been Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, and Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. They served as really effective primers for names and events that I was then moved to investigate on my own time. Their main characters modeled fears and convictions for me at great heights, all embedded in narratives that fleshed out their dilemmas with vivid particularities that didn’t preclude my own specific application of the content, but enhanced its initial impact on me. In other words, even though Salieri’s methods for dealing with his dread inferiority were less than admirable, and even though I have no personal investment in the scriptural technicalities for which Thomas More was willing to die, I came away with those manifestations of personal jealousy or defiant self-realization resonating and ramifying into a thousand personal incarnations of those themes. That’s the short answer.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Well, I don’t think there is a single major character in Shakespeare at whom I would turn up my nose. Maybe if someone misguidedly asked me to play Lear tomorrow I would negotiate for a few more decades of preparation. Beyond that, I have a handful on my list, yes. For straight shows, Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons is one I hope I can look forward to, as with George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I’d be thrilled to play Whalen in Lillian Hellman’s Days to Come, Ken in John Logan’s Red, Galileo in Brecht’s Galileo, and Astrov in Uncle Vanya, to name just a few biggies, and I want badly to one day revisit Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. For musicals, King Arthur in Camelot is my dream role, closely followed by Cervantes/Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, Bobby in Crazy for You, John Adams in 1776 and Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.

What’s your favorite showtune?: In terms of songs that manage without fail to elicit that rare, crystal clear, unapologetic joint dose of euphoria and heartbreak, it’s a three-way tie between the final reprise of “Camelot” in Camelot, “No More” from Into the Woods and “Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Michael Pennington. With all the roles I have seen him inhabit taken collectively, he is among the most versatile, consistently believable, and technically virtuosic Shakespearean actors I have had the pleasure to learn from by observation alone. In addition to this, he is a deeply incisive writer, and has written multiple informed, wise, and useful books on Shakespeare and theater that I didn’t hesitate to acquire for myself after reading the first of them.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I’d ideally cast Freddie Highmore or Daniel Radcliffe for young me, I suppose. They have the old-soul/ young heart combination that I’d naturally love to fancy I once possessed. As for adult me, it would be just great if another English Daniel (Craig) wanted to take the job – I can justify it because of the similarities in hair and eye color. And as long as I have my pick and the leniencies of pure speculation, let’s pretend that from my seventies onward I’ll be enough of a ringer for Alec Guinness that he would be the obvious choice to portray me in the latter third of the film. It would be called "A Longer Word for “Short”."

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Many many things, but what come to mind now are either David Suchet’s performance as Salieri in the 1998 Lincoln Center production of Amadeus directed by Peter Hall (never recorded, dash it all) or Michael Pennington’s King Lear, which sadly I missed when it was here.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Recently? There was a production of Little Foxes that I saw at the Goodman when I was living briefly in Chicago that I thought was excellent. Also King Charles III, which I saw last year and really enjoyed presentationally speaking.

What’s up next?: More Shakespeare! I will be playing Antipholus of Syracuse in Underling Productions’ The Comedy of Errors which opens the 17th of March at the Manhattan Theater Club.

For more on Colin, visit