Artist Profile: Kelly Penner and Hallie Seline – Reconnecting with the Classic Tale of Love-at-First-Sight as the Title Roles in Shakespeare BASH’d Romeo and Juliet, November 19th-23rd
Interview by: Brittany Kay
We sat down with the smart and sexy duet, Hallie Seline and Kelly Penner, who play the title roles inShakespeare BASH’d upcoming Romeo and Juliet, running this week, for one week only, November 19th-23rd. We discussed what it’s like approaching such iconic roles, working with BASH’d, on-stage chemistry and their thoughts on Canadian Theatre and its utilization of young artisits.
BK: Are you feeling the pressure of filling such iconic roles, in arguably one of the most timeless tragedies?
KP: Well yeah, you do feel the pressure. There’s the iconic movie versions… and Leonardo Di Caprio played Romeo, and they just did it at the Stratford Festival… So yeah. It’s there, it’s big. But the first thing to do, is to forget all of that and approach it like any other part. You try to figure it out for yourself.
HS: I’m trying to be like EVERYONE in one performance. Watch out! (she laughs) Sure, I would say there’s a pressure, however James Wallis, our director, was really great in advising us to approach the text with fresh eyes. There are definite ways in which we have heard these iconic words being performed. We are trying not to fall into those familiar patterns. Instead, we’ve been focusing on telling the story, what you’re saying and who you’re saying them to. I’m trying to make choices for myself and for the story.
BK: Have you looked to any other actor’s portrayal for inspiration?
KP: Sure, I’m inspired by other Romeos I’ve seen, but I’m trying to figure Romeo out as myself like any other part that I’ve read for the first time, which is difficult because it is one of those plays that we think we know, and have so many other portrayals that have kind of defined the characters for us.
HS: And everyone will have an opinion on how it should be said or what they think Romeo and Juliet should be like. All you can do is stay true to yourself and your interpretation of the characters and the story that you and your cast are trying to tell.
BK: Talk to me about your rehearsal process?
KP: Once a week for a month we’d get together by scene and we would literally just go through the lines to make sure we were all clear with interpretation and meaning. We didn’t work on intention at all during this text work. It was just strictly for clarity of meaning. James had done an enormous amount of background work on certain words and phrases as well, which was incredible to work with as a starting off point. It was good to have that table work behind us so we could go into our blocking rehearsals really knowing what we were saying, giving us more freedom to play.
HS: Afterwards we were all really prepared to focus on our arguments and our scene partners and the story as a whole. James thinks Shakespeare is best when it’s story based. No bells and whistles just clear storytelling, which was a great way to approach our rehearsal process.
BK: You have to fall in love every night. How has it been working with each other?
HS: Look at him! I may throw up in my mouth every time I think of kissing him (she laughs) … but seriously, you can start with this one, Kelly.
KP: You don’t want to start? You started?
HS: Nope. You take the lead, Romeo.
KP: The chemistry is…. good! These two characters fall in love instantly. And they are intensely in love. I didn’t know Hallie at all before, other than a “hi, hello” in public. We just tried to get to know each other, become friends. It made the intimacy on stage a lot easier and helped it to develop a lot faster. Ultimately, the chemistry on stage comes from listening and playing off each other. The chemistry is also in the language, let alone in the heart and the body. Really listening and taking in what the other person is saying, using each other’s words, and creating poetry together is where it mainly stems from.
KP: That’s all you’ve got? Ditto? (he laughs)
HS: Well, I’m into that answer! It all comes from trust and feeling comfortable in the scene and in rehearsal with your partner. It’s really about what Kelly said… becoming friends. We are completely playing off each other. You know basic scene principles are that you are trying to affect your partner and you are fighting for what you want from them. In our scenes, that is what it is. We have fun.
BK: How did you get involved with Shakespeare BASH’d?
HS: I had seen both of their past productions in the Toronto Fringe, which were hugely successful and just so enjoyable as a spectator. I took a liking to what the company looks for in Shakespeare, performance and theatre in general. It was fun and laid-back, and in a bar, so you could have a drink during it, which is always nice. It was great, thought-provoking, fun, quality work with so much young local talent. I contacted them when I found out they were auditioning for Juliet and it’s been an incredible experience working with them!
KP: When I was in second year at theatre school at Windsor, I was cast in a production of As You Like It in Brampton. In that production there were many of the cast members of this Romeo and Juliet. Because of that production, I met James through this network of guys and gals. We’ve connected through our love of Shakespeare and I’ve been working with them ever since.
Shakespeare BASH’d Mission Statement: To present Shakespeare’s plays as they were written: with simple staging, clear and specific language with an emphasis on the words and characters telling the story.
BK: So you’d say you connect with what the company represents and stands for?
KP: I do. James and Shakespeare BASH’d idea of the text and story being the primary point of focus is why we clicked in the first place. Staying true to it is so important. They always start with such an intense textual analysis of the words in these classic stories and this what I like about them the most. It is also a room that I love working in. It’s such a fun, playful, vibrant room filled with young talent. You get easy access to trying and experimenting and being wrong and trying something completely different.
HS: What’s interesting is our ages range from 20s to roughly 40s give or take. It’s not just a group of 24 year olds, which I feel makes a difference. The room is filled with an incredible group of giving and intelligent performers with a wealth of experience and such variety in process. We all learn from each other constantly. It’s a room where you have the ability to develop your own approach to the work. The cast and crew are incredibly supportive. I feel like I’m coming into my own as an artist in terms of my process because of influence of this group of people.
BK: You are both playing leading roles that are meant to be young in age, and for the Toronto standard, you could both be described as young performers. Going off of a recent article to surface in Toronto, from Holger Syme’s blog dispositio, do you think the Toronto theatre industry has a youth problem? From your experience, do you think there is enough opportunity being given to young performers?
HS: I think it depends on the production. If it’s a choice to utilize an actor that’s different than what is written in the text, then that’s a specific choice. Being in the rehearsal room with all these relatively young performers and theatre makers, and from what I’ve seen of the independent theatre community, I find that there’s a lot of strong, intelligent, bold, exciting, thought-provoking artists out there, who I think should be given the opportunity to show and share their work and who are just as valid in themselves as artists to be seen on the major Canadian theatre stages and in the spotlight, as many 30+ artists are. Beyond that, I think that when you are a young artist with an opportunity for a role of this scale, it is a huge learning opportunity for yourself as an artist and not at some cost to the production. Personally speaking, to have this role of this scale at this time, has been a huge benefit in my development as an artist. I think it’s doable and there should be more trust given to younger artists. Furthermore, I think there needs to be more opportunity for all ages to work together.
KP: I do wish for more of that. For some professional companies they want the sure-fire thing, and often times that means going with someone older that they know rather than take a chance on a more age-appropriate actor with a shorter resume. In terms of theatre and the story, if they have the right spirit or if you look younger than you are and it’s not noticeably distracting, then I don’t mind it. But sometimes I see productions and it dawns on me that this actor is a man, playing a boy but they’re doing things in a manly way which really just seems inappropriate for the character and it will draw me out. I do wish we could find a way to get more young people on stage.
HS: I’ve seen a 35 year old playing a 15 year old and if the essence is appropriate then power to you. Do it!
HS: James has been really clear in not putting a time period or a concept to it. I mean… it’s already a tragedy being put on in a bar! There is definitely a lot of comedy to it, but that alone is quite unique and will be interesting. But mainly, he wanted to focus primarily on the story and the relationships of such a classic play.
KP: The costumes are neutral colours but there are jeans and running shoes, but then we have swords.
HS: … and the sword fights are awesome! They are sexy and exciting… Get excited for those!
KP: We really wanted it to be about the story and not have any kind of heavy concept distract from that. Just from the work I’ve seen in rehearsal, I think, and hope, people will really take to it.
Rapid-Fire Question Round
BK: Favourite Movie:
KP: On the Waterfront
BK: Favourite Play:
HS: Vimy by Vern Thiessen
BK: Favourite Musical:
KP: Into the Woods
HS: Cats! Of course… (she laughs) or definitely Next to Normal
BK: Favourite Actor right now:
KP: Ben Whishaw
HS: Carey Mulligan
BK: Favourite food:
BK: Guilty Pleasure:
KP: My pink cardigan. I love it but I never wear it out!
HS: Candy, Real Housewives of Orange County or Beverly Hills… yup.
BK: Best advice you’ve ever gotten:
KP: BLT-Breathe, Listen, Trust
HS: Don’t take yourself out of the part. They hired you for a reason or they are seeing you for a reason. The more of yourself in the part, the better.
BK: Advice for other young artists:
KP: Let it go. There are so many factors out of your control. Leave it in the audition room. You’d go crazy if you try to figure out why you didn’t get cast. Have fun!
HS: Be true to yourself. Also, James said this to me in rehearsal when I was trying really hard to find the right arc to one of the scenes. He said “If you’re looking for perfection, it doesn’t exist, and if it does, it’s boring. It’s just a play… Put into it what you can and don’t beat yourself up over it. It will be interesting” I think that’s great, especially for younger artists to be reminded of coming out of theatre school training. And yes… like Kelly said, have fun!
by William Shakespeare, presented by Shakespeare BASH’d
When: One week only, Tuesday, November 19th-Saturday, November 23rd, Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday (Closing) at 4pm
Thursday, November 21 includes an after-show dance party with Silent Shout’s DJ ARP 2600 – http://silentshout.ca/
Friday, November 22 includes an after-show dance party called “Much Ado About Mixing” with DJs Slamlet and Rockthello.
Where: 3030 Dundas West, in the Junction
Tickets: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday – $16, Thursday & Friday – $21 (including after-show dance party admission) http://www.shakespearebashd.com/tickets.html