Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are often somewhat forgettable in Hamlet proper, saving their brilliance for Tom Stoppard’s wacky spinoff, but in Unit 102 Actor’s Company’s cinematic version of the play, Lauren Horejda’s fabulously snotty Rosencrantz appeared as a fully formed character with wants and needs and hangups far beyond delivering messages and spying on friends.
We caught up with Lauren to get the full scoop on her Outstanding Supporting Actress nominated role as “Rosie”.
Can you remember the first theatre production you ever saw?
I think I was pretty old by the time it happened so…I believe it was a Catholic High School production my older sister Alanna was in of a 60’s themed Everyman that managed to inject even more Christian overtones than already exist in that piece. I was probably 12 at the time. Maybe older, maybe younger. I grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan; theatre did not exist.
What’s your favourite role you’ve ever played?
Tough question. Everything I’ve ever played I want to play again because I’ve discovered something so integral once it’s far behind me and need to explore it again… I’d love to play Mercutio again, she was a real pistol. Hedda Gabler was engaging, and someone I think I could always pick back up again.
Do you have a dream part you’d like to play one day?
Many. Hamlet, I feel after playing Hedda who doesn’t let you in on any of her hows and whys it would be refreshing to tackle Hamlet who gives you the complete play by play breakdown as momentum(or lack thereof)is being navigated. Iago, because he’s so delicious, hateful, stunted and so open for interpretation and play. Kattrin from Mother Courage, in a heartbeat. Stella in Streetcar. Lucie Champagne in Polygraph by Robert Lepage and Marie Brassard. Vanda in Venus in Fur. If they ever did a stage version of Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, Hattie.
How did you get involved with Unit 102?
I had finished playing Portia in a production of The Merchant of Venice in Windsor. When I came back to Toronto I saw a posting 102 put up looking for guys for their upcoming Julius Caesar— which may be my favorite Shakespeare play. So I emailed the company saying I’m positive you’ve cast the two women in the show but I’d hate myself if I didn’t submit anyway because I love this play, so this is me. They called me in for an audition and ended up casting me as Calpurnia. Everyone within the company was involved in that show, so it was a great piece to see them work and really get to know them–and their first Shakespeare I believe– That was how I met those guys and started working with them.
Had you played much Shakespeare before?
I have. Not so much when I studied in Saskatchewan, but after I finished my undergrad I moved out to London, England and ended up living there for almost four years. During that time amidst the working, travelling, and backpacking I did some training as well. Working with Patsy Rodenburg at Guildhall, little of RADA, but most extensively at Bristol Old Vic. The Brits love their Shakespeare and really embrace what you need to root yourself– but more importantly that anything can be done, there is always something to mine, explore, something that’s never been thought of, another direction to take things (as long as you’re not a purist, of course), hence why we keep performing him after all these years. It’s not just the beautiful language. I’ve had the pleasure of playing Viola, Lady Macbeth, Portia, Calphurnia, Mercutio, Titania, and of course Rosie.
Rosencrantz is something of an under-written role; it’s up to the actor to really flesh it out. How did you go about filling in those gaps of who the character is?
I really enjoy seeing characters out of their comfort zone, failing– by that, a character fully committing to the jump and only realizing half way down there is no safety net and no one will catch them, and now what. That was a big exploration for Rosie in particular. Strutting in with Guildy all, “Girl, we run this shizz.” Only to completely misread the situation fully thrust into the chaotic power storm that is Hamlet’s court. It all starts very bare bones, watching other actors explore where they are coming from and the imprint on their character opens doors for me to see possibilities that they either do or don’t agree with, or I don’t even tell them about, but become apparent to me as they start making their impressions in the sand. After that it’s love based decisions, fully embracing the weird and flux of the character and finally keeping myself entertained. Building a large and convoluted life and world for Rosie so by the time we see her the symphony started awhile ago and it’s at max volume.
Anne van Leeuwen played your other half, Guildenstern. Tell us a bit about working with her as a unit and in differentiating your characters?
Anne and I had worked together a few times; I was the Mercutio to her Romeo, she was the Thea Elvsted to my Hedda Gabler, and I was the Titania to her Nicole Bottom. So when we came to Rosie and Guildy, we already had a huge trust and love in how the other works and we both work really well together. We immediately gravitated towards exploring Rosie and Guildy as a unit and embracing that- for instance- their character names always tend to be said together, Rosencrantz AND Guildenstern- can’t have one without the other. From there we broke down the symbiotic relationship between the two of us and had a lot of fun doing it. What each of them brings to the table to make the Frankenstein move. Imagining them pulling off elaborate griffs old school style, pushing rich men off the side of cruises in the night, romancing bank managers, which gets them to this place of: there isn’t anything or anyone the two of them can’t manipulate together-at least in their minds. Guildy’s the brains and Rosie’s the body. Then they arrive at Elsinore, and they have no idea what’s going on, fumble about while everyone is manipulating them and then it turns deadly…fun stuff.
What would you say is the most important conversation you had with your director Jesse Ryder Hughes in developing your interpretation of Rosencrantz?
Jesse is one of my favorite people, an extremely talented and insightful actor which is a huge gift to have in your director because he allowed me the trust to really run to the end of the idea. Even if it didn’t work he always allowed the opportunity to see it through to the end, which is invaluable to opening yourself up to other directions. Dealing with a massive cast as well, I didn’t want to put too much on him so being able to say “Let me just show you.” went a long way to finding Rosie. That sticks out for me. I also had a death in the family during the rehearsal process and had to fly back to Saskatchewan for awhile and Jesse was so strong, gracious and wonderful while I grieved and went through that.
Did you feel like the gender swap changed your role in the play or relationship to Hamlet at all?
Absolutely. I feel like Rosencrantz is definitely a woman when I read it. Just by them both being women it adds a sexuality that you can’t ignore (even if you try). I think it adds more layers to the Hamlet/Rosie/Guildy relationship, and also the Hamlet/Ophelia relationship to have them both be women. Certainly gives a new twist on a lot of lines, especially play me like a pipe. If Guildenstern is a man but Rosie is a woman, then maybe Hamlet and Rosie used to date, but now she’s with Guildenstern, maybe he cares, maybe he doesn’t, maybe Guildenstern cares etc, etc– that’s more layers to play with. Open doors. They’re just more interesting
Did you have a favourite moment in the production?
I love backstage moments, in particular I love death groans. Emphasis on groan. They are especially wonderful backstage because you only get the audio, so Luis Fernandes as Polonius getting stabbed behind the curtain in the closet scene was always just magic to listen to. That, and Anne and I teetering around in our heels trying to travel AND be silent backstage stick out for me.
Which directors and actors have had a major influence on you throughout your career?
Certain performances I’ve seen have shook me, they can influence you in this intangible way of wanting to consume everything and set the world on fire, or leave you sat beside yourself awash and incapable of rising from your seat. One that comes to mind as such an example is I saw the original Steppenwolf Company cast do August: Osage County at London’s National, then managed to claw for a rush ticket and lived off porridge for 2 weeks just to see it a second time. Worth it. The women in that production were witches, and I mean that as the highest compliment I can give them. Wandering the streets like a dervish afterward feeling full of power and feeling without direction.
First director that comes to mind is actually my Alexander Technique teacher, Oliver Lee. I think he made the biggest impact on me by allowing/noticing/pushing me to shed and become aware of layer after layer of…things/perspectives/definitions I had become attached to but in fact served no purpose to me in my life offstage and on. Also he utilized that technique that all great and insightful directors/teachers/mentors do when they convince you it was your idea to rid yourself of it all along, celebrate with you and then shed light on another precious and useless filter/idea you’ve clung to and identify with.
Do you have any favourite people to work with?
I have to say I moved to Toronto a few years ago and only knew two people. It was more difficult than I imagined coming here and having no one know you or your work, or having the built in network structure of comradeship and trust from having studied here, or grown up in Ontario. This city isn’t the easiest to acclimatize oneself to. So it feels really nice to be able to answer this with yes, and have a multitude to think upon. The gang at Unit102 Actors Company for seeing me and saying yes, I’d jump in the fire with any one of those guys in a heartbeat. Anne van Leeuwan’s company Leroy Street Theatre and their gender bending/large scale immersive and explorative productions. I loved working with Claire Burns on her original play Human Furniture that she wrote and directed for Red One Theatre Co, a fast paced sexual farce with so much energy and heart at it’s centre. I love working with Harrison Thomas at Desiderata Theatre Co. as he allows me so many strong contradictory choices, and opportunities to take everything you’d expect and completely turn it on it’s head. Just to name a few.
What are you doing now/ what’s your next project?
Playing the anti-heroine Beatrice Joanna in Changeling: A Pleasant Grand Guignol for a Murderous Time by J.R. Munds based upon Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s dark Jacobean play The Changeling for Desiderata Theatre Co. Directed by Harrison Thomas and slated to hit the stage in late May early June. It’s going to be very sexy, very dark and so very, very bloody.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
These were fantastic questions and covered a lot of ground. I’m very flattered and humbled by the company I keep so I’d like to thank everyone at My Entertainment World for the nomination, and for shining a light on the great work in this city.