Faculty Spotlight: Steve Westergan | The Tempest

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM | ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

Position: Continuing Part-time Instructor of Humanities

Role in SNC Theatre Studies Production of “The Tempest”: Gonzalo

It’s always awesome to see a faculty member outside of the Theatre Department be involved in a production. What made you want to audition? Four years ago I had a small part in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Even though I had only about 35 lines and was in just three scenes, collaborating with so many talented and dedicated people—especially Stephen Rupsch and April Beiswenger—was one of the best experiences of my life. I even did all the labs, classes outside of rehearsals, in order to learn more about theatre. For the past six years, I’ve taught “The Tempest” in ENGL 150, so I was thrilled by the possibility of exploring it more deeply by being part of a production. There have also been a number of plays, during the past 30 years, that included faculty.

What do you find special about playing Gonzalo? When I decided to audition for “The Tempest” I focused on Gonzalo (though I also thought a lot about Caliban and even Prospero) because both he and I are older than the other characters (though as I keep telling my friends, he’s old, but I’m not old); I figured that if there turned out to be a place for me in the cast, I might look the part. I went through the script a number of times and noticed that he came across very differently at different points in the play; he clearly was much more than a cheerleader for his boss, King Alonso, and had flaws and moments of insight, even deep realizations.

Have you always been involved with theatre? I don’t have very much experience with theatre. When I lived in Berlin (Germany) back in the late ’70s, I was one of the three Magi in a Christmas play at a church, and about six years ago I presented a Shakespean sonnet as part of a show called “The Truth of You” which was directed by a Theatre Studies major; and then, two years later, I was in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” What really pushed me to explore theatre was that at various times in my life, people had told me I read aloud expressively, and I’d always loved figuring out how to bring plays and poems to life for my students. The first time I had an opportunity to teach “King Lear,” in the early ’80s, I started trying out different ways of saying certain lines and was amazed that they made so much more sense than when I read them silently and merely tried to understand what they meant; that experience got me hooked on approaching literature as something to be spoken, even to be made physical. I was also deeply inspired by great Shakespearean actors like Laurence Olivier and Ian McKellen, who were very moving as they shaped lines from various plays with incredible insight and profundity. I kept saying to myself, “I want to try that.” In addition, I’ve played the cello for about 50 years and, from early on, found that when I learned pieces, whether for lessons and recitals or for orchestra concerts, I always tried to feel the music and convey various emotions, even a whole story, instead of focusing primarily on technique.

Is there anything in particular you’ve learned about The Tempest from being involved with this production? In addition to admiring Shakespeare as a writer even more, I’ve learned just how challenging and difficult it is to create a character for a performance.  Even though I’ve gone over my lines many, many times, there have been a number of moments during rehearsals when I’ve forgotten some of my words or cues because I was thinking about what to do with my face or voice or with the rest of my body, where to be on stage, how to respond to other characters, and how to apply the many insights our director Stephen Rupsch has been providing each of us. I’ve definitely needed to memorize not just Gonzalo’s lines but also other speeches and conversations that are going on around him.

What is your favorite play you’ve either seen, read, or been a part of a production? Probably about 40 years ago, a friend of mine and I went into New York City (I was living in New Jersey at the time) and caught a performance of a play called “The Runner Stumbles,” which was intense and brilliantly conceived. But my all-time favorite play is still “King Lear,” which also grows in intensity and has tremendous depth.

What is your favorite Shakespearean quote? I have many favorites, such as something Prospero says to his daughter (in our production, her daughter) Miranda: “What seest thou else / In the dark backward and abysm of time?” The conciseness here, as well as Shakespeare’s willingness to bend an adverb (“backward”) into a noun, is amazing; and the words simply sound great together. But what first sprang to mind was the very beginning of “Henry V”: “O for a Muse of fire!”  I can still hear the actor in a BBC production saying those words with tremendous enthusiasm, power, and, paradoxically, also frustration at his still limited ability to get us to enter fully into his (and Shakespeare’s) rich imagination. For me, that opening spurs a listener to go beyond its words and become part of a world that’s vibrantly alive.

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