BY ERIC MULHOLLAND, April 26, 2013
I’ve done a lot of theatre on Whidbey Island over the past 11 years; acting, directing, teaching and even executive/artistic directorship at the local children’s theatre for a spell. These were great experiences but I wondered what it would be like to expand my reach off ‘the rock’, (as our lovely island is oft referred to, at least by the local teens.) So began my journey as a traveling actor.
Let me start by saying that actually, I’m no stranger to the life of a touring actor. I cut my acting teeth on touring Christmas plays in high school. And my first professional acting gig was as a company member in a touring children’s theatre in Southern California. Playing multiple wacky characters at a different school every day with a troupe of actors and musicians – think Saturday Night Live for the elementary set. It was a joyful and often hilarious way to spend my time, I loved it! We became like family and that’s why I jumped at the chance to do it again!
For the past three years, I have been working with an educational theatre company that presents environmental lessons to grade school children. Each day I wake up in the wee hours of the morning and go forth into the darkness, traveling by van to some elementary school in the hinterlands of Snohomish County. There are two of us in our merry band. We drag our set and props into multipurpose rooms, libraries and in one case – a classroom, a peculiar choice for a set that requires a height clearance of 15 feet. We have only a short time to erect our large rotating set before the students enter to watch us perform a 45-minute play about renewable energy and recycling.
My acting partner and I each play multiple characters throughout the show and it’s a wonder either of us can keep a straight face. Here’s why. My characters range from a polluting British rocker to a teenage girl who hates trash. Her characters range from a break dancing Grannie to a talking garbage can from the Bronx. It’s kind of difficult to have a serious conversation with someone dressed as a garbage can.
One of my favorite aspects of this production is the interaction with the audience. Because this show has an educational mission, we bring young people onstage to help us deliver the message with interactive props. They come up and unplug plugs as the TV set on the backdrop suddenly goes off. They portray a Dad who packs a lunch in a reusable container as they say “Cheerio” in their best British accent. Who would have thought a clip on tie, some plastic veggies and a British accent could be so hilarious? But then that’s kids! Young audiences are so generous with their reactions to theatrical antics and they listen deeply when something engages their imagination. I get a buzz from the magic that we conjure and I strive to re-create it as often as I can.
I know I seem to write a lot about my work with kids and theatre. It’s a big part of my life and I love the work. However, I have also been called off ‘the rock’ to branch out into other kinds of theatre. I am currently in a play at Seattle Center House, upstairs in the Armory. It’s the play “Cloud 9” by Caryl Churchill and produced by the Rogue Theatrics theater company.
Here’s what the Rogue Theatrics Facebook page says about the play:
The time-shifting comedy by the author of Top Girls explores sexuality, gender roles, Victorianism and oppression, balanced perfectly with Churchill’s rolling wit and hilarious situations.
The show follows one family set in two different time periods. The first act takes place in Africa, roughly during the 1870’s during the British Victorian era (Churchill deliberately avoids giving the audience any specific dates). During this time period, British colonialism was still in full swing. Churchill uses the notion of Britain’s responsibility to civilize colonial cultures as a backdrop for Act II, which takes place in London around 1979. By this time period, British colonialism had all but completely deflated, but other forms of repression remained.
Gender and familial roles are brought to the forefront as audiences are forced to recognize that men play women, women play men, and adults play children. It is a fun romp through the universally recognized strain of maintaining a family unit.
Yeah. And I get to play with all that! Actually, I had the distinct pleasure of doing this play 12 years ago and it’s the first time in my acting career that I have been cast in the same role twice. I won’t say too much more about the play because I want to encourage you to come and see it. Caryl Churchill is an amazing playwright and I think this company of actors is doing justice to “Cloud 9.”
So whether I am on the road to act for kids at schools or portraying a 19th century British matriarch, I am learning that a little time away from home is a good thing for my artistic development. My acting skills are being stretched and improved by these experiences and it makes me happy that I will have some new skills to share with my home community of actors on Whidbey.
Eric Mulholland is an actor, teacher and writer living on Whidbey Island. Come see him and fellow Whidbey Island actor Katie Woodzick in “Cloud 9” at the Armory in the Seattle Center House.
Theater events coming up off-island and on Whidbey:
- Rogue Theatrics at the Armory in the Seattle Center House presents “Cloud 9,” by Caryl Churchill at 7:30 p.m. May 30, 31 June 1, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14; Actor benefit nights are May 28, 29 (Pay what you can). Visit brownpapertickets.com for tickets and more info.
- Village Theatre in Issaquah presents “Chicago,” May 9 to June 9. Visit here for info.
- Whidbey Children’s Theater opens “The Little Prince” tonight and runs through May 5; directed by Ahna Dunn-Wilder.
- Whidbey Island Center for the Arts presents “The Norman Conquests,” three full-length comedies by Alan Ayckbourn from June 7 to 22. Directed by Andrew Grenier.
- “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Whidbey Playhouse runs April 26 to May 19. Get the full story and info here at WLM.