The Independent Drama Society's production of Romeo and Juliet is nominated for 4 My Theatre Awards this year. One of those nominees is Megan Cooper as Best Actress in an independent production for her portrayal of Juliet in the punk rock adaptation.
Read on for Megan's thoughts on the production, acting, teaching and life in general:
Can you remember your first experience with theatre?My earliest theatre memories are ones of my own design. I used to put on shows in the garage for my family, and played with dress-ups all the time. I saw a Ramona Quimby play at the Moore Theatre in Seattle when I was about five. I remember being in complete awe of the whole thing, especially when the actors came back out for a Q and A. Seeing the difference between who they were in-character versus real life was very fascinating to me.
What actors and actresses have always inspired you? Are they the same today?I feel inspired by any performance that I see. It always feels like such a privilege to get to watch a great live performer. Three stand-out examples come to mind: Bill Irwin performing Texts for Nothing by Beckett at the Seattle Rep, Mark Rylance doing Olivia in Twelfth Night, and Janet McTeer playing Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew at the Globe. I used to idolize Judy Garland when I was younger, and now I love to watch any film with Cate Blanchett.
If you could perform on any stage in the world, which would you choose?I’d love to get to perform on any of the big stages back home in Seattle, at the Rep or the Intiman.
Where did you study/develop as an actress?After high school I did a summer program at LAMDA. I was very intimidated there, I was one of the two youngest students, and felt very inept and nervous all the time, but my teacher John Linke was especially encouraging. By the end I felt extremely confident and I greatly value my education and experience there. I got my BFA in Acting from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. While also completing my degree in French I was able to participate in theatre classes and workshops in Fort-de-France, Martinique and Nantes, France. Last year I finished my masters in Theatre Education at Emerson College and studied acting with Robbie McCauley and Gail Burton.
Do you have any dream roles you think are perfectly suited to you or something completely against type you’d love to try as a big challenge one day?I’m at a point in my young career where I’m just grateful for any role anyone will let me play. I try really hard to be pragmatic about the reality of being a theatre person. What it comes down to for me is that I’m happy when I’m working, and I just want to keep challenging myself to grow and get better. I hope that doesn’t sound too hackneyed, but it’s true. I love playing Shakespeare, and really anything where I feel challenged: just about everything.
Which directors and actors have had a major influence on you throughout your career?Paul Fouhy was very influential to me as a teenager. He taught me about the actor’s work ethic, teamwork, and simply passed on great passion for every aspect of theatre. Thanks to him, from the get go I’ve appreciated theatre history and the talents and value of all creative and technical input in a production. John Linke at LAMDA taught me to love language and that while confidence is useful to an actor, ego is not. Jeff Clapp and Brian Desmond at PLU helped me develop a lot of practical tools and gave me chances to stretch myself with great roles. I was directed by Robbie McCauley in Anne and Emmett last spring with Roxbury Rep, and it was the most educational rehearsal process I’ve been through. The language she has found to describe acting work is really accessible and enlightening. I can’t say enough about what she has taught me in the classroom and professionally about telling stories publicly.
What’s your favourite role you’ve ever played or production you’ve ever been in?I feel that my favorite productions have been a result of the working relationships I’ve had with my acting partners and directors. I made real breakthroughs for myself in Anne and Emmett particularly because of the working relationship I’ve shared with Jonathan Dent (who played Emmett) and Yael Bat-Shimon, the violinist. I’m very proud also of playing Amanda in The Glass Menagerie as a senior at PLU, working with very close friends. Romeo and Juliet with IDS is another example of a time where I really enjoyed the production because of the tight-knit ensemble.
Tell me about Juliet. How did you approach the role? Did you do anything specific to prepare? Are there any key components that a great Juliet should have?I’ve often been annoyed by Juliet’s character. I’ve seen her played a number of times and find the over-played childishness and love-struck aspects in her unappealing. I wanted to create a Juliet that has more agency in her own story. She is a young woman whose entire life has been dictated for her, and then everything changes when she meets Romeo. In him she recognizes someone who sees her as an individual with thoughts and opinions of her own. She is completely attracted to him by all the usual teenage standards, but also because he doesn’t use his love for her as a way to claim possession, but to ask for love from her in return. He asks her to make her own choice. I tried to make her very practical and pro-active. For Juliet the wheels are always turning, she reviews all of the aspects of the drama she finds herself in, she supposes multiple outcomes, and chooses that paths that will lead to the one she wants. She resists falling in love with Romeo, but decides to. She, in essence, proposes to him and creates the plan to make it happen. She actually makes many more tangible decisions than Romeo does. She sends for Romeo after he kills Tybalt, and when he is banished, she takes action to be with him again. She is a strong and decisive young woman.
How did the punk rock aesthetic/tone affect your performance or interpretation of the character?I resisted a lot of the punk undertones for a long time. I’m still not quite sure why, but I knew the kind of Juliet I wanted to create early on and felt it more important to find her first. I really connected Juliet with the punk aesthetic through work on the vial speech when she considers the various horrors of what may happen when she drinks the potion. While she is coming to terms with death, I found that a lot of her descriptions encompassed periods of time in which she would be waiting for the results of her actions. Waiting seemed to be what was her horror. Here is a person who has been waiting for her life to be planned for her by her family and social constructs, and she is tired of waiting. She wants to make something happen for herself, and is willing to risk death for it. That seemed to connect the ideals of being punk and of anarchy. Taking action.
And what about Romeo. How did that chemistry develop?We had a long rehearsal process, and up until the last two or three weeks it felt that the relationship was going nowhere fast. William and I never really interacted except when we were actually running a scene in rehearsal. We were both frustrated feeling that way about it, because if the love between Romeo and Juliet isn’t convincing, there’s not much point in the rest of the play. That frustrated energy found it’s way into the scenes and affected their quality quite negatively. We struggled especially with the balcony scene because the plan to use free-standing ladders was always there, but for some reason or another we were never able to actually rehearse with them. Neither of us really felt like we knew what we were doing or where we were going with the scene. We finally found time and space to have a rehearsal with the ladders outside in a parking lot behind a restaurant with IDS Artistic Director Lindsay Eagle and it was just so fun. Being up on the ladders at different heights, actually dealing with the wind and passersby, added this entirely new element of fun and urgency to the scene and enlivened our chemistry together. At that point we had just a couple of weeks left and all the rehearsals were left to run-throughs and trouble spots without time to focus on Romeo and Juliet. William and I met up maybe three or four brief times to run our scenes with this new sensibility between our characters and things finally clicked. Especially when we found the key moment in the balcony scene to be when Romeo makes it clear that he’s not just romantically professing his own love, he’s asking for love.“J: What satisfaction canst thou have tonight? R: The exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.”
And your relationship with the nurse (who’s also nominated for a My Theatre Award), did the camaraderie come easily?Adam and I bonded pretty quickly because we were the two newbies to the IDS community, so that friendship was there from the beginning. Adam is a very caring person and we were both very trusting with each other on and off stage.
Your Juliet had a uniquely close relationship with Tybalt. Did that affect your sense of who she was?It did in that he became another person who, albeit was a friend and peer, had designs on her future and what she could and couldn’t do based on the rules of their family. After the sonnet with Romeo, I would run offstage and find Tybalt and tell him all about how this boy just came and kissed me. Dave Rogers [(Tybalt)] played excited for her and curious to find out who it was, which made the decision that instead of the Nurse, Tybalt tells Juliet that he is Romeo and her enemy even more powerful, because it showed a break in the Capulet family bond, and gave Tybalt more impetus to confront Romeo later.
Do you have a favourite moment in the production?I always had this great sense of euphoria following the balcony scene. Juliet is happy and not just because she’s found love, but because she knows what she wants and is doing something about it. That happiness affected me.
What were some of the biggest challenges working on this production?I was a little worried about being visible onstage throughout the entire show, but actually wound up loving it. I really felt a part of the world of the play every moment.
If you could pick one definitive moment in your career up to this point, what would it be?The highs and lows of trying to be an actor are so extreme, and I am so insistent on not leading myself down a path of complete delusion that I think the definitive moments are bound into the almost weekly decision I make to not completely give up. At this point, I’ve done enough good work to feel very confident in my capabilities and my vision of myself as an artist, but it’s still very hard to overcome near-misses at great roles with impressive companies and not let myself and occasional disappointments get in my own way. Especially within the last two years, I’ve learned that I have a lot of reasons to not abandon what I love doing.
What are you doing now/ what’s your next project?I am a theatre educator. I teach acting and creative dramatics at the Holliston School for the Performing Arts, Riverside Theatre Works, and Watertown Children’s Theatre. I am a company member at Theatre Espresso, a Theatre in Education (TIE) company that tours educational plays around the state and in-residence at the John Adam’s Courthouse and Lawrence Heritage State Park Visitor’s Center. I’m working on a new performance piece (and blogging about it) about Alzheimer’s Disease, called the I Forget Project. And I’m always auditioning.
For more from Megan check out her websites: