The year is 1590 in beautiful, plague-stricken England, and the Bottom Brothers are desperate to write a play to undermine the success of Renaissance rock star The Bard! When the brothers enlist the help of the local fortune teller, they learn that the future of theater involves singing, dancing and acting – all at the same time! In a bid to bring down their rival, Nick and Nigel set out to write the world’s first musical ever. But amid opening night’s scandalous excitement, the Bottom Brothers realize that reaching the top means staying true to yourself, and all that jazz…
We chat with Carl Swanson, who plays William Shakespeare, about his role and the production.
How does it feel to have live audiences and theater again?
It feels incredible! This is my 4th show since theaters come back but I’m still so grateful for the chance to perform live again! There really is nothing quite like performing in front of a live audience and getting that instant reaction from them. During the pandemic I’ve been doing a lot more films and Zoom games and things like that, and while I enjoy making films, the feeling of having a collective experience in a room with a group of people is one that you don’t get in a lot of other places gets next theater.
What inspired you to keep performing?
The human experience fascinates me. How people think and why they make the decisions they make is something I think about a lot. Is there a better profession than acting? You have the opportunity to be so many different people and think about what makes them tick.
I will also say that it was an obvious option from an early age. Growing up I was always a pretty loud kid who loved attention. My parents love to tell stories of me entertaining the kitchen table just by talking about my day. When I started school, I got hit with achievement fever pretty quickly and knew this was something I wanted to pursue beyond high school. I attended University of WI – Stevens Point for a BFA in Acting and immediately after graduating moved to the Twin Cities and started working! I’ve been very blessed with consistent work in my time here, and the beauty of being an actor is that the training never ends. With every role there is always something new to learn.
How does this role compare to other roles you have played?
Shakespeare is quite different from many of the roles I’ve played. I’ve been cast many times as a sidekick or comedic supporting character or as a senior role. It’s a fun change of pace to play a character who tends to be narcissistic yet still find the moments of humor in him. It was also fascinating to play a character whose ego was being built by everyone around him and the pressure that comes with it.
How did you develop your character?
I always start with a character’s walk and voice. How they walk and move through space affects how they respond to people and how they see the world. As I said above, Shakespeare is the rock star and the center of attention in almost every scene he appears in. And so I thought, what better way to move through space than to strut. Lead with the legs and pelvis to always show the swagger that follows him.
Plus, it was fun playing with accents in this role. Although the play is set in London, Shakespeare is the only one with a British accent. The accent informs me, the other characters, and the audience of Shakespeare’s status. He has to be hovering over everyone and I hope I captured that.
But the most important thing in a ridiculous comedy like this is timing. The sheer volume of jokes on this show is ridiculous. Luckily we have an incredible cast of comedians all making this show sing!
Do you have a favorite song on the show?
There are way too many great songs on this show to pick just one:
Favorite song to perform: “Hard to be the Bard”
It’s so much fun to start Act 2 with and it’s a rare glimpse of Shakespeare when he’s alone and facing his insecurities.
I think this is the funniest song: “Black Death”
Honestly, this song’s lyrics mixed with Hannah and Scott’s staging make me laugh every time.
The song I would like to be part of: “A musical”
This is probably the song that people will remember the most when they leave the show. The blend of sheer spectacle and the hilarity of musical theater tropes and references make this a near-perfect, breathtaking musical number.
Did you have any challenges with your character or the production?
The biggest challenge for me was the fact that he isn’t from the show that much so you don’t get a lot of rehearsal time as there are much more pressing things like big musical numbers to rehearse and clean up.
Additionally, there are some very complicated subtle jokes on this show that just took some time to figure out the timing.
How was it working with the cast and creative team?
Scott Ford is a comedic genius! I love working with him because he just gives little ideas for bits and things to take and really run with. I also love the freedom he gives an actor in dreaming up the character while still keeping you in the world of his vision! Dear Scott!
It was so much fun learning and doing Hannah Weinberg-Goerger’s choreography, especially the tap dance parts. My favorite was the tap dance, which gave Kyler and I the freedom to create some comedic elements through tap dancing. It was a very cooperative process with her, which I really enjoy!
Working with Anna Murphy was also a blessing! She was great at taking the music for what it is and then tweaking things where needed to fit the voices of those playing the characters. She also just has a great ear and can always let you know when something could be better which I always love!
Kudos also to our incredible stage manager Jenna Hyde for piloting and slaying this beast of a show every night!
It was an absolute pleasure to work with this cast! The creative team did an incredible job casting not only a bunch of talented people, but a bunch of really fun people as well. We laughed so much in the process, both because of the ridiculousness of the show itself and simply because everyone is at the top of their comedic game in their performances! It’s also fun because everyone is such a clown and likes to make changes to keep the show fresh.
What do you hope audiences take away from seeing this production?
Honestly just that they had a great time! That’s the point of this show, to make people laugh and possibly get out of this shitty world we live in. I think our goal is to make someone’s day! To make her forget her problems, at least for a while.
What are your favorite local spots?
If you mean like places to eat? lol
A favorite spot of the cast is always Boston’s! Great food and drink at a reasonable price.
Other good places around the theater are:
Thank you Karl for your time!
For more show and ticket information, click the ticket button link below.
Photo courtesy of Lyric Arts