In this 3-part series, PerformInk takes you inside Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of KING LEAR through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past “Inside” articles click here.
By Heather Michele Lawler
Last winter when our professor Theodore Swetz announced we would be doing a co-production with KCAT and that the show would be KING LEAR I quite literally jumped out of my chair with excitement. I was thrilled not only to get the opportunity to work with KCAT and with Ted as an actor but also because ever since I was in 4th grade I have been in love with Shakespeare. It all started when I spotted my dad’s red leather-bound, gold-tipped “Complete Works of William Shakespeare” on his bookshelf. Being the little bookworm I was I pulled it down one afternoon and just started reading. I’ve been hooked ever since.
My dad always jokes that he understands Lear’s character because he’s a father of daughters. “Ouch dad,” I say, and then usually he laughs. Well, now is my chance to take on one of Lear’s misunderstood daughters. Goneril, his oldest daughter, is a role that has been on my radar for a long time, but especially since seeing a final dress rehearsal of KING LEAR at Indiana University in 2014. I was visiting the campus while looking at Graduate programs and they let me sit in on that rehearsal. I was really moved by the performances, specifically Henry Woronicz as Lear and Evelyn Gaynor as Goneril. The struggle, the pain, and the need from these actors made me realize, “I want to play that role!”
What I loved about our initial auditions and callbacks with then-director Ed Stern was how clear he was about making each daughter unique in character and in their motives throughout the play. Many times when you hear a person describe KING LEAR (this includes my own father) they say, “Oh yea, that’s the play about the evil daughters!” That is not what Ed or Ryan Artzberger, our heroic and absolutely wonderful current director, see at all. Based on the text alone, which is the driving force of any play, but particularly of Shakespeare, the story lives in a grey area, not the black and white we tend to see in productions of Lear.
The play is really about family, about perception, and about what people will do to survive. If you really look at the text of Goneril and Regan throughout the play they NEVER say anything “evil.” They acknowledge their father has always had a temper and that in his old age he is becoming unpredictable and dangerous. What these women are fighting for is their own safety from a father that, based on his words and actions, is a threat to their lives and legacy.
I have a line to Regan at the end of the first scene of the play that to me really lays out Goneril’s honest fears. “Pray you. Let us hit together. If our father carry authority with such disposition as he bears, this last surrender of his will but offend us.” This scene is often played as the “plotting scene” or the “conspiring of the evil daughters.” Ryan has really helped Amy Billroth-Maclurg (Regan) and me to fight the temptation and false obligation to make these women “evil.” Their perception of the situation is very real to them. Their father is dangerous; that is real! These women were raised by Lear to be strong and stand up for themselves and that is exactly what they do.
The seven weeks we have been blessed with to dive into this beautiful-yet-heartbreaking Shakespearean tragedy has been incredible. Normally in a professional production you only get 2 to 4 weeks for a rehearsal period. The extended time due to the educational aspect of the co-production has really let us as a company explore the story, these characters, their relationships, their motivations, and their flaws. Working with Ryan has been incredible. His ear for Shakespeare’s text and knowledge of his canon of work has been such a gift for the entire company of actors. I feel truly honored to be taking on the misunderstood Goneril with this group of artists. Now the true test, will you and my dad see that the daughters really have a point? You’ll have to come see the show to find out.
KING LEAR runs October 13 – 22 in the Spencer Theater in the Olsen Performing Arts Center on UMKC’s campus. Tickets and information are available at kcactors.org or by calling the Central Ticket Office at 816-235-6222.
Heather Michele Lawler is in her final year of the M.F.A. actor-training program at UMKC. She has performed in New York City, Chicago, regional theatres around the United States and in 2013 she made her International debut in Perth, Australia playing April in “Company.” She has performed with UMKC Theatre, Riverside Theatre, KC Rep, KC Fringe, and Bloomington Playwrights project. She will soon be appearing in “Stupid F**ing Bird” at the Unicorn Theatre and in the World Premiere of “Imaginary Friends” at the Coterie Theatre.
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