Before we announce the winners of the 2010 My Theatre Awards, we’re proud to present the My Theatre Nominee Interview Series.
The Independent Drama Society’s production of Romeo and Juliet is nominated in every category in the Local/Independent division of the 2010 My Theatre Awards: Best Production, Best Director (Sarah Gazdowicz), Best Actress (Megan Cooper) and Best Actor (Adam Lauver). Of the many award nominations the production has racked up since their September run, the vast majority of them have been for Adam, whose hilarious and touching portrayal of the nurse won’t soon be forgotten.
Read on for my conversation with the charming and self-effacing actor.
Can you remember your first experience with theatre?

The first formative experience was actually kind of lame I guess, in a sense. What really made me want to get into theatre was my high school production of Oklahoma. It was my junior year and a bunch of my friends were in it. I went to see it and it was very enjoyable, it was very funny. The audience was really into it, I was really into it and I remember feeling in awe of what was accomplished that night, these people on stage entertaining a room full of people. Primarily I felt jealous. That’s when I really started, I wanted to do that myself and I felt inside me that it was something I could do and that I really wanted to do. That next year, my senior year of high school, I auditioned for the first time and that was when I really started acting. I had seen some shows before that, on field trips, but those were just big musicals and not things I necessarily thought I could do. I mean, Oklahoma‘s a musical but it’s kind of different from Wicked and Hairspray. I don’t remember there being any parts in Wicked or Hairspray that made me think “I could do that”.

That’s relatively late to get started.

You meet a lot of people with a lot of experience who started when they were kids. And sometimes I wish I had started earlier because then I could have done so much more, but on the same token, I’m glad that I didn’t start until late because it makes me still feel like I’m new to acting. And that’s not a sense I want to give up. I want to retain that as long as I act, that this is something I’m new to. Whereas if I’d acted throughout my childhood I might be tempted to feel like “I belong here, I’m a theatre kid”. We all know them, and that’s great, it’s an enthusiasm, but it’s just not for me.

How do you choose your projects? What brings you in?

Availability, opportunity. I don’t feel like I’m at a point in my career where I can really choose my projects. If it’s there and I audition and the gig is available to me I take it. Words of advice that I received from a professor in college: “when in doubt, take the gig”. So I don’t feel like I can discriminate quite yet. At the same time I’m not going to do a show I don’t want to do. 

Are you specifically drawn to comedy parts?

I am, but more pragmatically than in terms of my preference. I feel like what I have to offer as an actor is very much in the vein of comedy. I think it’s where my strengths are more obvious. So as a struggling actor that’s where I sell myself is on my comedy. But I love to do dramatic acting as well, I just can’t sell myself on that. Maybe after I lose some weight, people don’t trust fat actors to cry and be dramatic. 

Which is so funny because your Act 4 scene 5 [in Romeo and Juliet– finding Juliet “dead”] was brilliant.

Thank you, I appreciate that. But part of that is the contrast that was set up in the show. 

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?

One part that is “on my list”, so to speak, is Bottom [from A Midsummer Night’s Dream]. People tell me “yeah, you should play Bottom”. So hopefully one day, before I die, I’d love to do that. Against type? I’ve always really wanted to play Hamlet… I’d love to try my hand at True West someday as either Lee or Austin, or Oscar in The Odd Couple when I’m old enough. I’d love to play Rosencrantz in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, or Guildenstern. And Tevye, I’d love to play Tevye someday [in Fiddler on the Roof]. 

Which directors and actors have had a major influence on you throughout your career?

My first director ever was a gentleman named Matthew Good, he directed me in a couple shows in high school. At the end of my senior year he came up to me after my audition for The King and I (I’d done a Frankenstein monologue, the monster) and he said to me “Adam, you should really do Shakespeare someday” and that was something I’d never thought about doing; Shakespeare was an intimidating sort of thing. But those words definitely stuck with me and when I had the opportunity to audition for some in college I went for it and I really took to it. He encouraged me and cultivated my talent in general, so he was really great.

The head of my college theater department, Tony Elliot, directed me several times and taught me a lot of what I know about theater. Primarily he instilled in me an appreciation for what I’d call the economics of the stage–just the importance of being aware of the forces that are at play in a production: the space, the movement, the rhythm, everything… All the basic elements that are going to really affect the audience’s experience. I like to think I can make bold choices as an actor, but there’s always a slightly more conservative base to my thought process that is always thinking, “But is this going to work and, more importantly, how?” Tony taught me an appreciation for that kind of precision and detail. 

On the other hand, I worked with a sketch comedy troupe in Lancaster, PA called Happy Time Explosion Show for a couple years, and that experience, along with our material and creative process, was very loose and zany and often quite offensive. My friends and collaborators in that troupe taught me the equally vital importance of risk-taking in performance–of at a certain point being able to say “Fuck it, let’s just do it and see what happens.” 

Last but certainly not least, most of my experiences with Shakespeare have been under the guidance of an extraordinary artist and director named Laura Howell. Laura taught me to love the language and spirit of Shakespeare, to see his plays as living entities to fully inhabit and explore. I’ll always be indebted to her for that.

What’s your favourite role you’ve ever played or production you’ve ever been in?

I loved playing Algernon Moncrieff in The Importance of Being Earnest in college, that was so much fun, I’d love to play that again someday. And I was in Shakespeare Abridged, which was very fun, I’d jump at playing any of the three parts in that show again. Another one of my absolute favourite roles was Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing

But probably my favourite stage experience so far, and I say this completely honestly, was the nurse in Romeo and Juliet. If I ever get on something like Inside the Actors’ Studio, even if it’s 20 years down the road, I will probably still say that that was my best stage experience. The nurse was such a rich part in terms of showing the full range of human feeling. The first half of the play the nurse can be so funny, there’s so much you can do with it, there’s a lot of room for exploration and having fun with the audience. Then in the second half her arc is just so tragic, there’s a lot of sadness there. It’s a really interesting arc how she betrays Juliet but she does it really because she feels it’s the right thing to do- Juliet should marry Paris, it’s the practical thing to do. I think the nurse knows she’s betraying Juliet, on some level, but is still doing what she thinks is best. Then when she thinks Juliet is dead, that weight of responsibility, guilt. So I was able to demonstrate my comedic talents and then show off the opposite end too. 

The production used a frame device of actors putting on the play within the play. Did you develop your actor character as an extension of Adam or as a separate guy?

That was an interesting part of the process. I developed that with the help of Sarah and Abigail (our punk expert). I found it kind of difficult to have it be an extension of me because I’m more integral in my philosophy whereas punk is set up as opposing certain ideals. So I found it very hard to bring that rebelliousness out of me. But what I discovered was this idea of a player or persona who’s been a part of the punk movement his whole life and has had that rebelliousness in him but is reaching a point where he, like the nurse, is beginning to realize that practicality wins the day in the end- you can’t be young and rebellious forever. He’s coming out of that punk movement. He still feels it but also knows that this is real life and you have to settle down and confront reality on its terms sometimes. That way the punk player really kind of connects with the nurse- identifies with or understands Juliet’s love for Romeo and really wants to cultivate it and helps to cultivate it in that first half of the play, but at a certain point she knows that you have to be practical. If you want to be not miserable and exiled you have to just marry Paris. 

How did that affect your approach to the other roles (Montague and Abram)?

Sarah and I discussed the fact that these punk players would want to portray some of the adults in the play as caricatures. That punk energy, that rebelliousness is naturally going to have a sense of contempt for the adults in the play that are trying to repress the young lovers. So Montague, rather than being this realistic nobility figure, is sort of this sick, sniffling kind of weak character. When I found that idea of him having a cold, that’s when I knew “now I can play this guy”. Before that point I didn’t know, but the cold makes him seem like this disgusting, weak, snivelling guy and just really works. The other one was Abram, right there at the beginning with the thumbing of the nose, that was supposed to be more of that pure punk energy to bring the audience in to what we were doing. 

Your Nurse had a great relationship with Juliet (who’s also nominated for a My Theatre Award), did the camaraderie come easily?

It did. I think she mentioned in her interview that we were the two newbies to IDS and that certainly was a big part of it. Megan [Cooper] brought such a great, unique energy to Juliet. I felt very protective of her as the nurse and also as an acting partner, I started to inhabit that role of caretaker. I don’t know if I succeeded in that or if she felt like she was being cared for but that was a sort of offstage extension of that relationship. She’s great fun to work with. 

Do you have a favourite moment in the production?

Some of my favourite moments were ones I came up with so I don’t want to toot my own horn. I liked my “fond memories” one, and always will, talking about the “dug”, when she’s trying to remember which breast she put the wormwood on. I also liked the ladder scene; I think the reinvention of the balcony scene was really great.

What were some of the biggest challenges working on this production?

It was challenging figuring out the whole punk thing, especially in relation to the nurse because she isn’t the most obviously conducive to that element. So that was a challenge but I figured out a way to do it. 

Would you say that she’s one of the few adults in the show that escaped that caricaturization of the adult characters?

Yes and that’s something Sarah and I discussed too. Yeah, she’s one of the only adults in the show that’s more sincere and less of a caricature. And it’s easy to make the nurse a caricature and very over-the-top. That’s one of the bigger challenges that I faced, the nurse being such an iconic Shakespeare role, trying to fill the potential of the role without being too over-the-top. I like to think I tried to bring some subtly to it but at the same time it is the nurse, there’s got to be a quality of over-the-top-ness to it, in doses along the way. I wanted to keep her somewhat intimate despite her flamboyance. 

Tell me about IDS’s Glengarry Glen Ross. How was that experience?

Glengarry was a great experience. I played Baylen, the detective in the second act. It was such a different experience, obviously, going from a feminine role like the nurse to a very masculine role in a masculine show. It was an all-male cast. And a cast of very talented actors, which was why I was so excited to do it. I knew I’d be working with some really strong performances, playing off of them. It was a lot of fun. 

What’s your next project?

I’m going to be playing the Nasty Interesting Man/Lord of the Underworld in IDS’s upcoming production of Eurydice. After that, I don’t know. I’ve been telling people that I’m planning on laying low in theatre, transitioning into more film work. I did a feature film last year called Heavy Times which is being shopped around to festivals right now. That’s another practical thing- as much as I love theatre, right now if I want to start building my repertoire, film is a bit more practical because then you have a copy of it you can show people. I can tell people “I played the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, they told me I was good” but that’s not really telling them much. So anything to add to my demo reel is what I’ll do next. But I am always open to stage opportunities if I think it’ll be a good experience. 

Do you have anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for the nomination, I’m honoured. And good luck to the other nominees; I wish I’d seen more of the performances.