How long have you been involved in theatre?
For thirty years, as a professional actor.
What inspired you to get involved?
At school, (QC), I was always keen to take part in the plays put on there, or indeed take part in any activity that involved playing characters, singing etc. My Dad (Bill Pinder) was an actor and very active in the Operatic Society in Nassau. I took part in a couple of his productions at age eight or nine, and got the acting bug quite early on.
In what capacity have you participated in theatre? (actor, writer, director, stage manager, lights, sound etc)
Mainly as an actor, although I have directed a few productions also.
Can you list the stage productions that you have participated in over the years?
2011, Othello, Othello, Nuffield Theatre Southampton, dir. Robin Belfield
2010, John, The Subject Was Roses, English Theatre of Hamburg, dir. Jenny Lee
2009, Prospero, THE TEMPEST, Shakespeare in Paradise, Nassau, dir. Patti Anne-Ali/Craig Pinder
2009, Woodcutter, Rashoman, RADA, dir. MinJae Kang
2008, Cecil B. DeMille, Sunset Boulevard, ATG, dir. Craig Revel Horwood
2008, Stage, Gurney, When Is A Door Not A Door, Central School of Speech and Drama , dir. Geoffrey Colman
2005, Hyram/Elder/Paypal, Micro Musicals, Stephen Joseph Theatre, dir. Laurie Sansom
2004, Rev Shaw-Moore/Principal , Footloose, UK Tour, dir. Paul Kerryson
2003, James Monahan, The Ballad Of Little Jo, Bridewell Theatre, dir. Carol Metcalf
2002, Sweeney Todd, Sweeney Todd, New Vic Theatre, dir. Chris Monks
2001, Tristram, Taking Steps, Mount Holyoke Summer Theater, dir. Susan Daniels
2000, Harry, Mamma Mia, West End, dir. Phyllida Lloyd
1999, The Marshall, Babydoll, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, dir. Lucy Bailey
1999, Calvin/Fielding/Lt.Waters/Devries, Life During Wartime, Lyric Studio, dir. Toby Reisz
1998, McBurney, Not About Nightingales, Alley Theater, Houston, dir. Trevor Nunn
1998, McBurney, Not About Nightingales, Royal National Theatre, dir. Trevor Nunn
1998, Karl, Popcorn, National Tour, dir. Lawrence Boswell
1997, Parson, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, Shakespeare’s Globe, dir. Malcolm McKay
1997, Macmorris / Rambures, Henry V, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, dir. Richard Olivier
1996, Sheldrake, Sunset Boulevard, Really Useful Group, dir. Trevor Nunn
1995, Rommel, Hands Up (For You The War Has Ended), New Vic Theatre, dir. Peter Cheeseman
1995, Banquo, Macbeth, Greenwich Theatre, dir. Mark Rylance
1995, The Mikado, The Mikado, New Vic Theatre, dir. Chris Monks
1994, Booth, Assassins, Manchester Library Theatre, dir. Roger Haines
1994, Capulet, Romeo & Juliet, Stephen Joseph Theatre, dir. Stephen Hirst
1994, Sir Toby Belch, Twelfth Night, Eye Theatre, dir. Tom Watson
1993, Frank, All My Sons, Palace Theatre, Watford, dir. Lou Stein
1993, Merchant / Practice, Comedy Of Errors/Little Murders, Royal Exchange, dir. Gregory Hersov
1993, Graham, Talking Heads (A Chip in the Sugar), Eye Theatre, dir. Tom Watson
1993, Cenci, The Cenci, Dead Poets, Lyric Studio, dir. Sydnee Blake
1992, Bobby, Company, Northcott Theatre, Exeter, dir. John Durnin
1992, Eric Bogosian Monologues, Drinking in America, Royal Exchange, dir. Chris Monks / Allan Pollock
1992, Prince/Louis, Romeo and Juliet / A View From The Bridge, Royal Exchange , dir. Gregory Hersov
1991, Shem, Children Of Eden, Prince Edward Theatre, dir. John Caird
1990, Rona Anderson/Shevardnadze, Moscow Gold, Royal Shakespeare Company, dir. Barry Kyle
1989, Amiens, As You Like It, Royal Shakespeare Company, dir. John Caird
1989, Miller/Curbishley, Singer, Royal Shakespeare Company, dir. Terry Hands
1989, Doctor/Madman, The Duchess Of Malfi, Royal Shakespeare Company, dir. Bill Alexander
1987, Lambert Le Roux, Pravda, Swan Theatre Worcester, dir. John Ginman
1985, Jean Valjean/Bishop/Bamatabois/Ensemble, Les Miserables (Original London Cast), Royal Shakespeare Company/Cameron MacIntosh, dir. Trevor Nunn/John Caird
1984, Cubitt, Brighton Rock, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, dir. Simon Dunmore
1984, Dan / Sgt. Major, THE HIRED MAN, Leicester Haymarket / Astoria Theatre, dir. David Gilmore
1983, Sandy, A TOUCH OF SPRING, Harrogate Theatre, dir. Mark Piper
1983, Powell, FIND YOUR WAY HOME, Off-Off Broadway
1982, David Bliss U/S, HAY FEVER, Kenyon Festival Theater Ohio, dir. Ted Walsh
1982, Sampson, ROMEO AND JULIET, Kenyon Festival Theater Ohio, dir. Ted Walsh
1982, Melchior, SPRING AWAKENING, Kenyon Festival Theater Ohio, dir. Charles Newell
1982, Len, THE DWARFS, Off-Off Broadway, dir. Rob Anthony
1982, Moon, THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND, Kenyon Festival Theater Ohio, dir. Charles Newell
1981, Ensemble, ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, Hartford Stage Company, dir. Mark Lamos
1981, Stephen Blackpool, HARD TIMES, Heritage Theatre, dir. Thomas Luce Summa
1981, Ensemble, KEAN, Hartford Stage Company, dir. Mark Lamos
What are some of your most memorable moments in theatre? Good and bad. Many Bahamians speak fondly of the production of Romeo and Juliet that your were in. Can you speak to that production?
I immediately enrolled in the drama society and played Romeo in my first term at Reading University in 1971. Mik Bancroft somehow got wind of this and hunted me down at the workface when their Dundas production in Nassau in 1978 required the quick insertion of a Romeo. This production was indeed very special: it was a very lovely and diversely talented group. It was when I first began to realize that I simply needed to pursue acting in some sort of serious way, and most likely attempt to make a career out of it. It was really through this production, working with Audrey Grindrod, that I gained the confidence to audition for, and get into, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, and so start on that career course.
A high point for me at RADA was when I played Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. (Ironically, having finally reached the right age for the part, thirty years later, I am about to play this role again quite soon!)
Playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables in London was one of the most thrilling and challenging roles I’ve ever had the good fortune to experience.
A low point was perhaps performing in an off-off Broadway musical entitled ‘Living at the Raccoon Lodge’ (Hmm!) But I firmly believe that all experiences in theatre can teach one something, if only to try and somehow avoid making the same mistakes? And there have been many, many other high points. Each play and role presents their own set of challenges, that are almost always thrilling to undertake.
Many may not know this, but you were a Bahamian thespian first, describe some of your early years on the UK theatre scene after leaving The Bahamas.
I left the Bahamas to go to RADA in January 1979 and found it immensely exciting and fun. After leaving RADA in spring 1981, I was keen to try my luck in the acting world in New York, where I was based for two years. During that time I worked in a few theatres in and around the city (e.g. Hartford Stage, Kenyon Festival Theater etc.). However, after a couple of years I felt that I would be more at home in theatre in the UK, and so I returned. I began to get work fairly quickly in Repertory theatre in England: in 1984 I took part in a musical called ‘The Hired Man’ written by Melvin Bragg, with music composed by Howard Goodall. This musical ‘tragedy’ was really a fore-runner of the as yet unheard of musical version of Les Miserables, which opened at the RSC’s London theatre, The Barbican, in October 1985. After five auditions for this production, directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird, based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo, I joined the company. Last October I took part in the 25th Anniversary Celebration Concert at the 02 Arena in London. Since ‘Les Miz’ in 1988, I was very fortunate to be able to take parts in many musical theatre and ‘straight’ theatre productions in and around London’s West End, over the years.
How do you feel about theatre in The Bahamas? Theatre in the UK? Theatre globally?
Theatre in the Bahamas really seems to be having a recent resurgence of life. When I was acting in Nassau many years ago, I remember The Dundas having several diverse groups that kept the place alive. After leaving Nassau and looking at it from the outside, there seems to have been various periods and stages of ebb and flow of theatre activity over the years. An example of one of the more productive periods was during the repertory seasons run by Philip and David Burrows at the Dundas several years ago. And consistency seems to be taking root once again with fantastic events such as Shakespeare in Paradise beginning to establish themselves.
As a suggestion for moving forward, I think there should be more of an exchange internationally with theatre groups in the Bahamas. Bahamian productions should travel abroad, and international companies should visit the Bahamas. I think this inter-active practice would enable theatre in the Bahamas to really grow, remain inspired and alive, while still holding onto their Bahamian roots.
The UK theatre environment is still exciting. There is a tradition of theatre practice in this country that informs contemporary practitioners and audiences alike. That said, funding cuts and, I believe, the rise of video media etc., have had a significant impact on live theatre. Many audiences are mainly comprised of older people, with the majority of young people tending to leave live theatre off their popular culture menu entirely. Even so, there exist in the UK many inspiring youth theatre groups that work tirelessly towards helping to create actors and audiences of the future. Many schools invite touring companies into their school environment with the hope that students will become inspired and help to make up the future theatre fabric. Of course one of the considerations for audiences attending performances is ticket prices, which can be prohibitive, especially in London. So you do tend to get a situation where only the well-off can afford to go to the theatre, in spite of subsidies to try to prevent this. So there tends to be a class barrier when it comes to theatre-going in the UK, where a lot of people at the lower end of the income scale will not attend theatre on a regular basis, if ever at all.
In terms of comparisons of style and as a broad generalization, theatre in the UK probably tends to be more verbal and less physical than it is, say, with its European neighbours. Many American actors gravitate towards the London stage, which for example, is given testament by Kevin Spacey, who has been Artistic Director at London’s Old Vic Theatre for several years now.
Perhaps the attractiveness of performing in London to Americans is the sense of integral kudos they get from it, combined with a ‘right to fail’, which doesn’t really exist on Broadway, and is imperative for progressive theatre practice.
Global theatre provides an eclectic smorgasbord of different theatre styles. The essential rudiments of human behaviour can often resonate with the observer more effectively when viewed through a specific cultural prism; i.e. fundamental ‘truths’ concerning the human condition can often become more clear when behaviour is expressed through the various cultural languages of the body. To give an example of the celebration of global theatre, in the UK next year the Royal Shakespeare Company is presenting a World Festival of Shakespeare Plays, which will involve participation from many different countries performing in their native languages. Relating this to theatre in the Bahamas, and as mentioned above, I passionately believe that inter-active international exchange would be an invigorating catalyst that would inspire the future development of a profound Bahamian theatre.
What do you do to prepare for a part?
I believe, and I’m sure most writers would agree, that the TEXT is King. In the beginning was the word… Not all theatre practitioners would follow this rule, many believe that ‘behaviour’ is more important, and I would agree that behaviour forms the essence of good acting. But, the text is the ‘blue-print’ of the play, and it is the written evidence, the manifestation of ‘behaviour’ left by the playwright, the creator of the whole world of the play: It tells you what happens in the play. Eminent theatre practitioner Sanford Meisner said that ‘an ounce of behaviour is worth a pound of words’. But…that pound of words gives you the clues to what that ounce of behaviour might be… so, ignore the text at your peril, I say.
All plays are different; all actors are different, as are all directors, designers, groups of actors etc. So there really is no definitive approach to preparing for a play or a part. I believe also that the various approaches should evolve constantly, never forgetting the main remits of the theatre practitioner such as ‘holding the mirror up to nature’ or ‘making the invisible visible’ etc. Here I will outline a general approach of my own, that may vary and shouldn’t necessarily be followed like a chef’s menu. Improvise and make your own process, but it often helps to know some of the ‘rules’ and what works for other people.
Most actors will probably tend to look at their own lines first, it’s a natural reaction when receiving a new script – you want to see what your involvement with it will be. Once skipping through this vanity stage, I read the whole play, and begin to build up a picture of the ‘world of the play’. I re-read the play, and repeat until I understand what is going on in the play. I scour the script for clues. I find out about anything I don’t understand, and gradually build up a specific idea of what is being said by the playwright through all of the characters. Then gradually and more specifically, I begin to focus on my character. I go through the play and see the world of the play ‘in terms of my character’. I underline things that ring out that are relevant to my character, and picture images in my mind created by the language and situations in the play, again, particularly from my character’s point of view. If I am playing a specific part, this is how I will be viewing the world, but I also need to get a sense of the whole world of the play and put my character into this context. So, all the time I’m balancing how my part fits into this whole. I try to remember that the lines are only what the character says, and not how or why they say them, and that there is much behaviour that will be unspoken.
The choices and a balance of different acting techniques will also depend on how much time we have to rehearse. In Shakespeare, adherence to the clues given in the TEXT becomes paramount…it’s all in there. In modern, perhaps more ‘naturalistic’ plays, Meisner techniques which e.g. places your attention onto your acting partner rather than yourself, is useful for getting rid of self-consciousness and achieving a balanced and believable emotional tension in scenes. Also for emotional scenes, using Stanislavski/Strasberg emotional memory techniques can be very effective but need to be carefully monitored by actor and director to avoid dangerous emotional side-effects. Michael Chekov’s use of the imagination can be a very powerful source of invention and communication. I try to find ways of getting my character’s text into my acting body. To begin to do this effectively I need to allow my body to be relaxed, i.e. tension must be avoided at all costs (it is the enemy of the actor!) I use, and focus on my breath – it is my main source of energy for speaking and moving. I work on my voice and body…both of them must be free and relaxed if I am to create a character that will resonate on stage and have an effective impact on the souls of the audience.
I immerse myself in all of this and allow the character, through this information, my relative experience and my imagination etc., to take me over. I imagine myself in that character’s shoes, both physically and metaphorically.
I try to get on top of, and learn the text as quickly as possible. However, for me this can a bit of a ‘cart before the horse situation’ sometimes i.e. I like to know a bit about what and why I’m saying things before rigorously trying to learn the lines, but very often there just isn’t the rehearsal time that allows this indulgence…so then must just get on with it!
When preparing to go into performance: I try to Relax: Breathe: Radiate: I develop a sense of fun and play. Because after all, that’s what it is… a play!
Any advice for those who want to get involved in theatre in any capacity?
The first question I always ask a prospective actor who is thinking of going into the profession: Do you NEED to act? I.e. this need must be stronger than just casually wanting to do it, I think. There is a constant inner conflict going on with an actor: Effective acting requires that you are relaxed and open. On the other hand, with the strong need to succeed, when combined with the physical, emotional and mental demands required of an actor, you can quite easily tend to become fraught, tense and closed. It is a trap. If ways of solving this conflict cannot be developed to prevent the actor falling into this trap, then it will be difficult to achieve any sustainable success on stage. Added to these problems, as the hurdles of banality of ‘the business’ invariably present themselves at the various points along your career path, you may very well decide not to follow the folly of such a precarious profession.
However, if, once you’ve decided that a career ‘on the boards’ is the only route for you, then you must resolve be forever self–disciplined. By all means seek help: get some coaching; do some voice work; stay fit; go to a good drama school; get psychologically prepared for rejection and hard knocks and develop ways to bounce back quickly; develop networking skills for the business of acting; As Hamlet says: ‘The readiness is all’. Without these skills it will become very hard and probably deemed untenable. But through all of this… enjoy it! Acting is fun, and it really needs to be I think, for you and so for your audience.
I’m not very qualified to talk in any detail about other aspects of theatre, but based on what I’ve observed I would say the following:
A Director: is likely to be someone who needs to throw a party (as opposed to an Actor, who just needs to GO to a party!) but would rather have someone else pick up the bill (the Producer!)
I would say you need strong organizational skills. You’re the person that makes the final decisions about things that are to go on stage. I don’t think that a desire to be over controlling is necessarily good for the well-being of a production. I think the best directors trust their actors to experiment enough to find the inner life of their characters. The more help given to the actor that allows them to get the best out of themselves, the better for the whole production really. Directors should really love actors, and have the ability to gently persuade them towards their way of thinking, while making the actors believe in the value of their own contributions.
A Stage Manager: should probably have a strong desire to keep some sort of order in a world that is often illogical and chaotic! You need to be very tolerant of directors and actors…you tend to be the one who sets up, serves and clears up after the party. Again, even though you may be a very different mind-set from your actors, you should also care for them.
A Set/Costume designer: You create the atmosphere of the party. You should have a very visual, yet practical sense of how to manifest the world of the play on stage. You need to work through the text with the director and should be willing, in my opinion, to be flexible with individual actors, and include them to some degree with your design concepts.
A Lighting Designer: You also help to create the atmosphere of the party. You work with the text, through the director to create various specific and appropriate atmospheres for the different scenes of the play.
A Producer: needing to throw the party, lays on a cover charge, because he doesn’t want to pick up the bill if not too many people show up. If he’s smart he’ll actually get other people (angels) to invest, so he doesn’t end up losing his own money.
You should have a genuine love of the theatre to be really effective, I think. A firm understanding of business, and some sort of sixth sense for knowing what the public may go for certainly helps. Perhaps a smattering of mild contempt for anyone else involved who may mistakenly think themselves above their station (including actors, or even directors!) keeps you in pole position? My favourite Producer clichés are quotes from Max Bialystock in the film of The Producers: “You can’t do business without checky!” and “If ya got it baby, flaunt it!!)
Who were your mentors in theatre?
My first mentor was really my Dad, who was involved in the Nassau Amateur Operative Society for many years, and played many great parts to great acclaim.
At school when in my teens, English teacher Roger Kelty encouraged me to think about a career in acting after seeing and hearing me mimic Sir Laurence Oliver’s version of Henry V. At the time, I didn’t think a stage career would have ever been possible for me.
My most influential mentor, who I met when during Romeo and Juliet at the Dundas in 1978 and who helped me get to RADA, was Audrey Grindrod. She is a very gifted teacher and was a great source of inspiration to me.
At RADA, Principal Hugh Cruttwell was immensely encouraging and tirelessly supportive towards all his students. Also while at RADA, Malcolm McKay taught me to go to great depths with my acting.
Trevor Nunn is a guru to me. John Caird taught me much also.
Mark Rylance taught me many alternative ways of acting.
Mary Hammond really helped to develop my singing voice.
How do you see your future in Bahamian theatre?
Over the last few years, I have become involved with several projects in the Bahamas. I co-directed Oleanna at The Hub; I also co-directed and played Prospero in The Tempest, for the opening season of Shakespeare in Paradise. I was involved in both Bahamian films Children of God and Wind Jammers. Working at home in the Bahamas is the realization of a much desired long-term goal, and I would really welcome doing more in future. Four thousand miles of ocean and trying to run a career on the other side of it can have its logistical problems, but I don’t see why more opportunities shouldn’t present themselves in the years to come. I think there is an amazing pool of talent in the Bahamas, and I would really like to do more to facilitate that talent with realizing its full potential. Again, one way is with cross-cultural exchange. I have been recently involved with a successful Bahamian production of Othello which originated in the UK at The Nuffield Theatre, Southampton. It was directed by Yellowtale Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Robin Belfield, who is also Bahamian, and who also directed Dat Bahamian T’ing, which featured at Shakespeare in Paradise Festival’s second season. Othello has two Bahamian participants (myself and Robin), with the other two actors being black British; It has been adapted by Robin, is set in the Bahamas, and takes the title Othello or the Tragedy of Conchy Joe. We are in the process of trying to bring this production out to the Bahamas early next year. This would realize a part of my desire to help connect the theatre of the Bahamas with that of the outside world.
What is your favorite play?
Well there are so many… I usually try to make it the one I’m in at the time! I’m currently preparing to play Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman again after thirty years, and ironically it is probably one of my favorite plays. With the classics, it is probably Hamlet.
Can you speak to the assistance that the UK government gives to theatre, if any?
In the UK there exists a government funded body called the Arts Council which subsequently provides funding for many arts institutions throughout the country, which includes theatres and productions. There are also other, more local bodies, to which arts groups can apply. The government has also encouraged corporate sponsorship over the past several years. However, compared with many countries in Europe, government subsidies of the arts in general tend to be considerably less. This is ironic, since the income generated by theatres in the UK via the tourist trade etc. is quite staggering. I think all governments should realize the value of the arts not just in terms of revenue, but also in contributing to the fabric that makes up a harmonious society.