After a July run in The Brick’s “Shakespeare in the Theater” festival, This England is extending for four more performances August 25-28 at our old home, IRT Theater. As we prepared for this second run, we sat down with our actors to find out why they love performing Shakespeare, what their favorite moments from the show are, and (most importantly), who they side with in the Wars of the Roses.
Our final interview in this series is with Jak Watson. This is Jak's first Strange Harbor production. In This England, he plays King Henry IV, Williams, Warwick, and a guard.
Strange Harbor: What do you most enjoy about watching and performing Shakespeare?
Jak Watson: I remember when I saw my first Shakespeare play live at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was Macbeth and the lead actor was a black man named Peter Macon. It had never dawned on me that I had never seen a black actor play a Shakespearean lead. I realized how limitless Shakespeare was and I couldn't wait to explore for myself. It's the universality of the poetry which makes every interpretation different depending on the concept and who's playing it. That's what I love about watching and performing Shakespeare and the more liberties one takes with the play the more successful the interpretation in my eyes.
SH: What first drew you to this project?
JW: I remember first meeting with Zach Tomlinson about his plans and the process the adaptation took. My passion for all things Shakespeare combined with an impossible concept (eight plays in one?) propelled me more than half way to a decision. The relationships Zach and Rosa Schneider shared with brilliant minds I hold dear (Daniella Caggiano) confirmed that the risk was well worth attempting.
SH: Why is it important to do these plays now? Why all together?
JW: I think it's important to do these plays now if you're going to do something with them. Shakespeare is the perfect vessel for telling stories about current events and I truly believe that as artists we have a responsibility to tell something greater than ourselves. Bottom line, you better have a good purpose for why you're doing the play.
SH: Which of your characters do you feel the most connected to? Why?
JW: Williams. He's my smallest speaking role but he's the most real out of every character in this adaptation. He's a simple man with common blood who is caught in the tides of a war he has no idea why he's fighting in, but that his king gave the order. There is a very haunting story to be told through Williams in Act III, and I love finding his fearful heart to express the horrors war brings.
SH: What discovery in rehearsal most surprised you?
JW: How similar Richard III and Donald Trump are. Scares me every time I do this play.
SH: What has been the hardest challenge in working on this play?
JW: Warwick's arc. One of Shakespeare's most underrated schemers, it was hard to piece together the motivations for his actions. Knowing what he wanted was one obstacle but figuring out what each action he takes to get what he wants was where the arc would be formed and to be honest that has been changing with every rehearsal and performance.
SH: Do you have a favorite line or moment in the play?
JW: "I am thine!" I will never not hear Jack Plowe say that when I read or hear that line. It should be said that way forever. My favorite moment is after Henry IV dies and we see his children by each other's side. One with the crown, and the other two with their respective family territories. It's exactly what Henry IV fought for during the first 2 acts.
SH: York or Lancaster?
JW: Fuck em both. Team Williams!