Conservatory actors bring past experiences to lead roles in CTC’s ‘As You Like It’

Director Jackson Gay addresses the cast of Chautauqua Theater Company’s As You Like It during rehearsal Wednesday. Photo by Michelle Kanaar.

Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer

“All the World’s a Stage

And all the Men and Women merely players;

They have their Exits and their Entrances,

And one Man in his Time plays many Parts.”

The phrase uttered by Jaques in Act 2 of William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It has become legendary.

The play is wrought with characters who quite literally play many parts. Women dress as men, rich pretend to be poor, and social elite become exiled forest dwellers. But it is through portraying others — by stepping outside themselves — that the characters discover themselves.

“People have to get out of something and be uncomfortable, and be a little displaced and usurped, in order to find themselves,” said Jackson Gay, director of Chautauqua Theater Company’s final full production, As You Like It.

The play explores ideas of dualities, identities and love. It previews at 8 p.m. tonight and opens at 6 p.m. Saturday in Bratton Theater. As You Like It runs through Aug. 17, and features performances from all 14 conservatory actors and two guest artist actors.

The play also includes six original compositions from sound designer and composer Justin Ellington and songs performed by members of the conservatory.

The actors in the production have, as Shakespeare’s quote suggests, taken on numerous roles throughout their years studying theater. Sepideh Moafi plays As You Like It’s protagonist Rosalind, Leicester Landon plays Orlando, and York Walker plays Silvius.

Moafi

Sepideh Moafi — Rosalind

“It’s been a dream of mine to play Rosalind,” Moafi said. “Who doesn’t want to play Rosalind?”

Rosalind is As You Like It’s witty, courageous and cunning protagonist who creatively solves problems and mends relationships. She is arguably one of Shakespeare’s strongest female characters, and Moafi was thrilled when she found out she would play Rosalind — especially at CTC.

“When I got to grad school and heard about the CTC, I knew I wanted to come here. I was set on it,” Moafi said. “It’s the quality of not only the training, but the theater.”

Though she is a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine and also spent her undergraduate years studying in California at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, she has ties with Broadway actors in New York City who spoke highly of Chautauqua.

But the theater realm was not how Moafi first found Chautauqua. An opera singer by trade since age 16, she heard first about Chautauqua Opera.

After her undergraduate years, Moafi turned from opera to theater to hone her acting skills. She found she fully expressed herself best through theater, which has helped her in her opera career and her burgeoning acting career, she said.

She landed her first role in a play three years ago at the San Jose Repertory Theatre in As You Like It. Though she portrayed Hymen and Audrey the first time around, she yearned to portray Rosalind.

“I think what makes Rosalind so special is in the fact that she’s really all of us. There is nothing super heroic about her, besides her courage,” Moafi said. “She has an incredible sense of compassion and empathy for others … in the same way, she is tortured.”

Landon

Leicester Landon — Orlando

Landon, unlike Moafi, has been an actor his whole life. His mother was an actress, and his grandparents owned a small theater company in Louisiana.

“I love the people involved in theater,” Landon said. “(They taught me to) just be completely truly myself … In Louisiana, it was hard to find a crowd that I could be myself with.

“I always felt different. The theater community showed me that normal is relative.”

Besides the camaraderie of the stage, theater attracts Landon, because it gives him the chance to learn about a variety of topics.

To immerse himself in research about a person or place is an intellectual journey for Landon, and it is especially important in a Shakespeare production rife with Victorian references and unknown eras.

“The bigger challenge with Shakespeare is that you actually have to prepare out of this world, and then, to really do your job right, you have to forget it all,” he said.

A challenge for Landon is to make Shakespeare’s message come through to the audience, to make the Shakespearean words and lines to resonate with the audience.

As Orlando, As You Like It’s fiery, passionate male lead, Landon said his real task is discovering the transition that occurs within the character both when the audience sees Orlando on stage and when it does not.

The greater challenges of the whole play are its intersecting relationships, politics and role of gender identity, Landon said.

Walker

York Walker — Silvius

“Disney On Ice” changed Walker’s life.

“That was my first exposure to performance and the spectacle of theater,” he said. “Just the size of it, and the loud music and seeing these Disney movies come to life in front of me was amazing.”

He would come home and corral children his mother babysat into performing in mini-productions he directed in his basement. But after spending his childhood producing and acting in his own renditions of Disney classics, he grew nervous to try out for theater at school.

But he fell into theater in high school, during which he became obsessed with Wicked after seeing the PBS documentary called “Broadway: The American Musical.”

“I remember being blown away that this was happening on stage and they were telling this story on stage,” he said. “It was magical to me. I just loved it.”

He went on to study theater in his undergraduate years and is now entering his second year in the American Conservatory Theater’s graduate acting program. Now at CTC, he plays Silvius.

“Silvius is the only true lover in the play. He loves unconditionally,” Walker said. “He’s like Elmo.”

With each play in which he performs, he learns more about all walks of life.

“When you do a show, you have to see how a person gets to that place,” Walker said. “You can feel for them more and not be so quick to judge.”

So though people of the world, as Shakespeare’s adage suggests, may play many parts on the stage of life, the more parts played, the more that is learned and gained.