One of the best young actors currently with the Stratford Festival, Antoine Yared has proven in only two years (with scene-stealing performance after scene-stealing performance) that he’s here to stay. As the heartbreakingly simple and sweet Swiss Cheese opposite Seana McKenna in Mother Courage, Antoine gave his most layered and engaging performance yet.
Can you remember your first experience with theatre?
Chantal Goya, in Lebanon, 1989, I was four years old. She is a very famous French singer, who performed for kids, and often with kids, songs and musical comedy acts her husband Jean-Jacques Debout had written. Apparently she was the first artist allowed to perform in Lebanon after 15 years or so of civil war. The songs covered a very wide spectrum: some were about famous fictional characters like Pinocchio, Tintin or Cinderella, others were about Moliere or the Lumière brothers, and some were simply about flying away in a gigantic shoe, or sailing the seas on the back of a snail to a land of singing butterflies and bees. The costumes and set pieces were incredible. She actually flew in a shoe on stage, and rode a gigantic snail… It was magic, total escapism.
What actors and actresses have always inspired you? Are they the same today?
Growing up, Tom Hanks and Robin Williams always stood out for me. Something to do with the sensitivity they brought to their work, an open heart. Nowadays I find myself observing actresses all the time; on film and on stage. There’s something about the vulnerability and the emotional depth their characters are so often required to investigate that quite frankly fascinates me. I’m also obsessed with Maggie Smith, but that’s hardly my fault. The ones who inspire right this moment? Seana McKenna and Stephen Ouimette.
Where did you develop as an actor?
Dawson College, which is a Conservatory program, and then Concordia University. Those two combined make for a total of seven years studying theatre performance. My brother became a pharmacist in that amount time. But where’s the fun in that? The most important part of my development took place during my two years with the Stratford Birmingham Conservatory.
How did you get started at the Stratford Festival?
Martha Henry at the helm of The Stratford Birmingham Conservatory. I auditioned in 2011, got a call back in 2012. That phone call will always be one of the biggest turning points in my life.
You stood out in the 2013 season with three different small but sometimes scene-stealingly funny roles. How did you go about making your mark on those productions?
That was my first season at the festival and I went through a rollercoaster of emotions all summer. Let’s just say I fluctuated (sometimes daily) between feeling terrible every time school matinees laughed at Paris’ line “O, I am slain!” to feeling elated when I came off stage as the Prince of Arragon in The Merchant of Venice. I was not originally cast to play the part of Arragon, but due to certain circumstances I was asked to step in for the role a few weeks into rehearsals. The actor who was meant to play the part shared a little discovery he had made during his costume fitting. He told me the character’s shoes make a wonderful clicking sound. And that’s sort of where it started for me. The Spanish accent and the mustache helped of course.
Tell us about your My Theatre Award-nominated role in Mother Courage.
His name is Swiss Cheese “because he’s good at pulling wagons”… He is the youngest of Mother Courage’s three children. She describes him as stupid but honest. In retrospect I think fatally honest or homicidally loyal would have been more fitting.
Do you approach Brecht differently than Shakespeare or a more contemporary playwright?
From an actor’s standpoint, my concern is always to search for a truthful connection with my characters and their situation; something that will hopefully resonate with an audience in a relatable, recognizable way. I think that as long as what is happening to the actor onstage is anchored in some sort of truth, then the writing style and direction of the show will take care of the rest.
Tell us about working with Martha Henry.
It was a gift. Martha’s incredible talent, experience and compassion as an actor are undeniably linked to her ability as a director to draw out the hidden, or dormant, potential in an actor’s performance. She sees and hears things a lesser trained eye and ear may not catch, and her capacity for intuiting the inner workings of actors as well as their characters makes her an incredibly effective director. But most of all she truly understands the importance and necessity of respecting an actor’s process, and that is worth it’s weight in gold.
The Mother Courage cast featured a slew of great Stratford veterans, Seana McKenna first among them in the role of your mother. What were some of the most important or interesting things you picked up from them throughout the rehearsal process and run?
It’s a privilege to be able to share the stage with so many incredibly talented and seasoned actors. What I love the most is to watch them rehearse, watch them create. Seeing so many veterans at work reinforced my belief that the truly remarkable actors manage to combine an extremely rich internal life (emotional and imaginative) with a tried-and-true stagecraft and technique. What I learned from working with Seana McKenna for example is that no matter how hard I think I’m working, she’s working harder. She’s one of a kind, truly. The specificity of her work and the attention to every detail of her performance is uncanny. There is an emotional clarity and intelligence to everything she does that I find inspiring. I could sit and watch her rehearse all day, everyday. That sounds a little crazy, and it is, but it’s true.
Do you have a favourite moment from that production?
The last minute of the production. Mother Courage has lost her last child, her daughter Katrin, to the war. She is left alone to pull the cart and as she is adjusting the harness, she has a moment of realization: she must keep moving forward to survive, exhausted and alone. Watching Seana strain to pull the cart on her own before the final Soldier’s Marching Song began gave me the chills every time.
What’s your favourite role you’ve ever played?
The Prince of Arragon in The Merchant of Venice. I’d never felt so connected with an audience. Hearing people laugh from their bellies is one of the most rewarding experiences and I hope I get to experience something similar again.
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?
I’d love the challenge of having to play one of Shakespeare’s Women. I’d jump at the opportunity to play any of them but Beatrice and Cleopatra are at the top of my list.
What roles are you doing this season in Stratford?
I will be playing the role of Lysimachus in Pericles, directed by Scott Wentworth, Sergeant Guhl in The Physicists, directed by Miles Potter and Dapper in The Alchemist, directed by Antoni Cimolino.