The Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C. has an interesting history with Patrick Stewart. In the late 90s, so not so long after Star Trek: The Next Generation had finished its run, he starred in what we now refer to as the “color negative” Othello – he had the main role as Othello, and the rest of the cast was black. I never got to see it (nor did I ever see Avery Brooks in the Oedipus plays, for another Star Trek actor who has taken the stage here), but it was wonderfully reviewed at the time.
Then, last weekend, my friend Stacey said, “Hey, Patrick Stewart is speaking at the Shakespeare Theater on Tuesday. Want to come?”
I am so glad I did. For the 25th anniversary of the company, the Shakespeare Theater is hosting once a month “classical conversations.” Think of these like a classical actor’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” Actors from stage and screen are brought in to talk about how their classical stage careers have influenced their film careers. Patrick Stewart was there for his conversation last Tuesday, the 18th.
First off, let me say the theater is absolutely gorgeos. It’s a stunning glass front from the street, and inside is warm and bright. The theater is comfortable, and set up in such a way that I doubt there was a bad seat in the house. But we got the pleasant surprise anyway that instead of the last minute, very last row seats we thought we had, Stacey and I had excellent seats in the front of the second orchestra section.
Patrick Stewart is an interesting, funny man and an excellent story teller. It is interesting seeing an interview like this, not in a science fiction setting. Instead of the usual convention questions, he talked a lot more about how he got into acting in the first place and what it was like to go back to the stage after Star Trek. Some of the things that stick out in my mind include:
- He’s still in touch with the teacher who got him started with Shakespeare and acting
- Gene Roddenberry didn’t want him for Captain Picard. “Stop talking about Patrick Stewart!”
- His last audition he did wearing a hair piece and speaking with a French accent.
- He was almost afraid to do a curtain call for Othello after a performance for local inner city schools.
- He performed Waiting for Godot with Sir Ian McKellen. “You know everyone is coming to see Magneto and Professor X, right?”
- I can not for the life of me understand his original dialect. “I didn’t just have to learn a new accent, I had to learn new words.”
But the most important thing I took away was the lesson he tries to impress on acting students: don’t let fear stand in your way. It’s a great lesson not just for acting, but for life. I should try and remember that more often.