Tri-State Theater

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Monday, January 25, 2016

"As You Like It" Interview with Robert Hutchens

   We’re four days away from the first performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It (slightly delayed by the onset of Snowmageddon) - luckily we have more interviews with the cast to share!

   Today, let’s hear from the talented and dynamic Robert Hutchens, who plays Jacques - and has a great story to share:

Q: Tell us about As You Like It.  

Robert: I first saw As You Like It in Stratford-on-Avon in 1973, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. A well-known British actor named Richard Pasco played Jacques, the part I'm now playing. A few years later,  I was playing Jacques myself, but not Pasco's Jacques.  I was Jacques de Boys. (Apparently, Shakespeare was not oversupplied with French names.) I was also doing props for the play, and one day, the director got a strange notion. She turned to me and said, "Can we get a dead deer?" I stared at her with incomprehension. "I'm not a hunter," I said. "Yes, well, but... can you get one?" This deer was to appear in one minor scene, a scene which our director, Mike Murdock, has cut. That's how necessary a dead deer was. The director couldn't be talked out of it. She'd had a vision of the foresters trudging back to camp bearing a deer carcass, and she wouldn't let go of it. So, I went off in search of a corpse. When I called the wildlife management administration, they jumped on me with paranoid suspicion: Why? Who was I?  Where was I? How could I be reached? (Arrested? I wondered.) I was a wreck.  After several days of grabbing people's lapels and demanding, "Where can I get a dead deer," one of the cast members said, "Well, I've got a stuffed head." And another said, "Well, I've got a stuffed rump!" (?!?) It was a start.  I took the head and rump to a taxidermist, who, as luck would have it, had four deer feet in his freezer. (?!?) These various parts were arranged to  project out of a burlap sling attached to a pine branch. No hunter has ever borne home the spoils of the hunt with greater satisfaction than I did carrying the remnants of three (at least) different animals into the theatre. My satisfaction was short-lived. To their delight, our merry band of foresters discovered that if they walked jauntily enough , they could expose our trick, and mercilessly they did so. The bouncier they trod, the more rigid the deer parts appeared, the more fixed and glassy was its stare. The magic of the theatre was sacrificed for a low - and I may say cruel - joke.   

Q: How does the show relate to modern-day audiences?  

Robert: For those who idealize nature, it creates a picture of an idyllic existence in the forest. For those who like to laugh, there's a parade of clowns and buffoons and country bumpkins. For those who like sexual tension and naughty innuendo, there's a gender-bending romance. And the most famous speech of the play - "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players" - is as beautiful a poetic expression as exists in English.  

Q: Tell us about the character you play.

Robert: I'm very lucky to play Jacques, the Jacques who speaks the immortal lines above. I have great fondness for him. He longs to be a fool, not realizing he is one.  He is vain and temperamental and childish - at least that's the way he is going to be in this production. It's an interpretation quite different from others I've seen.  Jacques is famous in literature as "the melancholy Jacques," and that's the way Pasco played him, and the way a very wonderful actor named Jay Doyle played him in the "stuffed-rump" version. Those actors played him with a stateliness, which is perhaps more in keeping with his moment of unparalleled eloquence.  Mine is not so much a melancholy Jacques as a bi-polar Jacques, a Jacques for the Prozac Century. 

Q: What's your background in the theatre?

Robert: I started doing community theatre when I was a teen-ager. Later, I majored in theatre at the University of Tennessee. I was able to earn a living by acting and directing in regional theatre for a few years, and spend several more years in arts administration. 

Q: Tell us about the cast.

Robert: I'm a newcomer, so perhaps I'm allowed to say this when others cannot: the breadth and depth of talent here (encountered in a very brief acquaintance) is extraordinary. That can be said with no exaggeration. And ARTS is able to attract and hold members and to inspire their devotion to a degree I've only seen once or twice in a lifetime of association with such groups. The concept of having a "company" is very smart, I think. Typically, theatres hold auditions for a play, and those not cast disappear, maybe never to be seen again. Membership in the ARTS company keeps you close to the group, whatever your assignment. This is a very accomplished cast. I'm thoroughly intimidated.

Q: Why did you want to be part of this show?

Robert: As I started out by saying, I have had a long familiarity with this play, and I have coveted the role of Jacques for decades. Twice I tried out for it and didn't get it.  To be able to speak, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players..." is a privilege for which I'm deeply grateful. You just don't get to say more beautiful words than these.  I'm an old Jacques - as Jacques's go, but I can't believe there was ever a time in my life when I was riper for speaking these words.  

Q: Why would you recommend this show? 

Robert: This is a lovely and delightful production. I suppose the setting would be called environmental. The audience is surrounded by scenery, accosted by actors, and the story is laid right in their laps - figuratively and maybe literally. The play begins in a stark winter that passes into spring. Given the temperatures outside, I'd think the audience would be glad to be reminded that spring will come again... sweet and new, as it always does.  

Q: How do you like it?

Robert: Sold out. 

   Thanks, Robert!

   As You Like It by William Shakespeare will be presented at the ARTS Renaissance Ballroom at 900 8th Street in Huntington on Jan. 28, 29, 30 and Feb. 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for the show only, and $30 for dinner and show - for dinner, you must make a reservation by calling 304-733-2787.

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