In As You Like It‘s oft-overlooked but crucial role of Celia, Siobhan O’Malley was in a class of her own amidst The UC Follies with her bright and charming Shakespeare-in-the-Park performance.
Can you remember the first theatre production you ever saw?
I was 6 years old and my parents let me choose which of the shows at Stratford we would go to that year. I chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I can still remember how excited I was as I sat down in my seat in the magnificent Festival Theatre. From the moment the lights went up, to the moment the actors took their bows, I don’t think I moved a muscle. I was so swept up by the utter magic that was taking place on stage. From then on I was hooked.
What’s your favourite role you’ve ever played?
Juliet. Hands down. I felt, and still feel, a real connection with Juliet. We’re quite similar, both passionate, quick to love and possessing impulsivity tempered by practicality (she really is quite a bit more sensible than Romeo!). I deeply admire her resourcefulness and strength. She is incredibly human and goes through great pain and suffering, but still keeps an open and pure heart. I think we can all learn a lot from her.
Do you have a dream part you’d like to play one day?
A role I would love to play one day would be Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, or really any of the characters Tennessee Williams has written. And of course any of the wonderful Shakespearean women!
Had you played much Shakespeare before?
I haven’t performed in many Shakespeare productions (something I am quite eager to change!), but I have loved Shakespeare since I was young. I remember in grade six taking out a copy of Hamlet to read during our break time and getting some odd looks from my classmates. There was always something about his plays that utterly captured my imagination. After grade 7, I took a weeklong session with the Stratford Shakespeare School where we did a production of Macbeth. After grade 12, I returned to Stratford to participate in their incredible Theatre Performance Intensive program. I have been very lucky in that I’ve had wonderful teachers who have supported and encouraged my love of Shakespeare in a myriad of ways.
Which directors and actors have had a major influence on you throughout your career?
I think that everyone I’ve worked with up to this point has had a major influence on me. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with Edward Daranyi, Brendon Allen, Judith Macdonell, Alice Barnett and Angie Silverstein. These amazing artists have inspired me, taught me and been supportive in innumerable ways. I have also been greatly influenced by so many of my peers, especially Kwaku Okyere, Olivia Cygan and Matt Walker, all of whom are wonderful actors who have taught me to take risks, trust myself and love every minute of doing this work.
How did you get involved with The UC Follies?
It was all by chance, really. A friend told me about the auditions for the UC Follies summer season three days before I was supposed to leave for a family vacation in Ireland. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to audition for a Shakespeare play so I emailed the artistic director, Shak Haq, and he told me I could audition the very next day! I’m glad now I did.
What were some of the challenges of playing in a park? Were there many amusing mishaps?
There were many, many challenges. The space was huge and windy and we had to adjust so that the audience would be able to hear us. There was the issue of lighting the show, where to do costume changes, the noise from all the cars and the occasional roaring motorcycle. But the biggest challenge for me at least, was all the people walking past. It seemed as though many of the passersby didn’t realize we were in the middle of a performance and would come by yelling and laughing quite loudly. I remember one time I was waiting for my entrance behind our hut when a whole bunch of people came up and started asking me all these questions about what we were doing in rather loud voices. I was caught between answering their questions, trying to get them to shut up and leave, and listening for my cue. It was pretty hilarious!
Celia’s a character whose intelligence is often underplayed and who can be easily overlooked in favour of the flashier Rosalind. How did you approach overcoming those perceptions?
I definitely think Celia tends to be overlooked a bit, but one of my favourite aspects of working on this show was discovering her character. I tried to really listen to the text and base her character on what is in the script and not on any preconceived ideas. In doing that, I discovered that she is incredibly intelligent and witty. She uses language in a very skilled way and her teasing of Rosalind is wonderfully intelligent and biting. She is a girl who likes to enjoy herself, but her idea of fun is not just parties and entertainment. One of her favourite pastimes is verbal sparring, and she and Touchstone have quite a bit of fun testing each other’s wits. If you look at the text, Celia is also quite sensible and resourceful. She tends to be the one to warn Rosalind against some of her more foolish ideas and she is also the one who comes up with the plan to escape to the forest of Arden. To me, Celia is a passionate young woman who wears her heart on her sleeve, possesses a sharp intelligence and has a wonderful sense of humour, and it was an absolute joy to play her.
What were some of the unique elements that you brought to the role?
I really wanted to bring out Celia’s playfulness and wit. She has a great sense of humour and wants to enjoy life, whether that is through watching a wrestling match at court or teasing her cousin about Orlando. She has a brilliant line when she’s teasing Rosalind, “O wonderful, wonderful and most wonderful wonderful! And yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all whooping!” This was probably my favourite line in the whole show, as it captures her pure enjoyment and lively spirit.
Do you have a favourite moment in the production?
One of my favourite moments in the production was when Rosalind, Touchstone and Celia are in Arden for the first time. In our production, Rosalind came in first, obviously exhausted from our trek, then Touchstone followed her pulling a cart that contained all of our luggage and me, perched primly in a chair complete with a parasol. My first line was “I pray you bear with me. I cannot go no further.” We always got a big laugh at that.