A true MVP of the Toronto indie season, Prince Amponsah gave no fewer than three incredible performances in 2016- romantic quadriplegic Freddie in Safeword’s Contempt, enigmatic antihero Alistair in Storefront’s Hangman, and complex victim-turned-villain DeFlores in Desiderata Theatre Co’s brutal and challenging Changeling: A Grand Guignol for Murderous Times. He scored an Outstanding Actor nomination for the latter and stopped by the Nominee Interview Series to talk about his incredible year of theatre.
We last talked to you for the 2015 interview series. Catch us up on life since then.
All right. Since then, I did a few more plays here and there, and I also got back into school. I’m studying social work at Ryerson University now. Just started my first year of four, so I’ve got a long way to go, and I’m sort of scratching my head wondering what I thought I was getting myself into, but so far so good. The program’s pretty intense- not as intense as it’s going to get just yet, but it’s interesting learning topics that don’t really have to do with arts. Well, in a weird way, they kind of do, because arts and social work is all about having a message- actors use the stage to express that, and social work tries to do that one-on-one, through their community. So it’s interesting to see those relations there. I’ve actually come across a lot of people who have been affiliated with the arts and decided to get into social work as well, so I don’t know what that is.
And I did The Changeling, which I am very fortunate and happy to have been nominated for. I think since then, I did Hangman too, and Contempt, that was great. Other than that, I’ve just been living, having a good time, and making the most of every opportunity that’s arisen.
You reunited with your Lot and His God director Harrison Thomas for Changeling. What attracted you to the role of DeFlores?
I love Jacobean plays, and DeFlores in Changeling is one of the famous [Jacobean roles]. And Harrison was involved with it and he’s a magical person to work with. I just loved that the character was so dark, and people have their preconceived notions about it, so it’s interesting to find what drives him, and makes him be the way that he is. He has a strong lust and a strong attraction to a woman who just won’t be with him. It was interesting to find out why that emotion was so strong for her. And also what kept him around, what kept his desire going. I also got to have a pretty darn cool sword arm, which was really fun to play with. It sorta got my mind tweaked, and opened up all the other opportunities I can have, other ways I can play with that, in other roles and other characters.
The physicality of Changeling was very different with the harness and the sword arm. How did you adapt to that?
With Claire [Hill, designer], we definitely reworked it a bit, because the first harness we had was massive. We realized some fights would involve me landing on the ground, so that was just an injury waiting to happen. But we would play around with the harness and figure out what was best without harming anyone else, as well, because I didn’t want to accidentally turn around and slice somebody. But I was just extra aware of my space and my surroundings, and everyone else was aware too, so it was a really safe place where we took our time with it. And we had a great fight choreographer, so we were able to work on the nuance, as well.
There are a lot of ways to read the character and his level of villainy and victimhood. What’s your view on what drives DeFlores to do the terrible things that he does?
He’s a man who hasn’t been given a lot of opportunities. He’s been stripped of his proper identity in a way, and he’s been forced to become this slave, almost. But he realizes that he’s more than that. He’s a higher-standing man, and he believes in that and holds onto that no matter what he’s told of his position. So I think it’s just that strong desire to have that self-belief that he is worth it, that he is worth having her love. And that he doesn’t deserve the position that he’s been set up to be in. But also to be able to deal with it, within a world where he can’t do too much without getting into too much trouble, so he has to do things very stealthily. But he’s a very smart man, I find. He’s very smart and kind of elusive that way, so that’s also what drew me to him.
Lauren Horejda is also nominated for her role in Changeling. Tell us a little bit about working with her as your co-conspirator/tormentor/object of your affection/everything.
All the things. She’s a force to be reckoned with. I mean, every scene that I had with her, I was so eager to play. Because she is so eager to play, and always throws something new at you every time you perform. I can’t say enough about her talent, and her willingness to just be open to trying new things. And she’s daring. She’s fearless, too, with her role and her characters. I’m excited to see what else she does next, and I hope to have the opportunity to work with her again, because it’d be such a blast.
What were you hoping the audience would take away from that show?
Hopefully they would be able to experience a different world that they don’t see often, because I don’t think Jacobean plays get played that often. Now it seems like they’re getting performed a bit more, but when we were starting out with the play, I hadn’t seen a lot of Jacobean performances. So I hope people were able to really enjoy the gore, but also look past it and see what the true drives for these characters were. All the obstacles that were in their way, too. And hopefully they had fun, just had a good time. An hour and a bit of good show, or something they hadn’t seen before.
Did you have a favourite moment in the production?
That’s a tough one. Favourite moment of the play- I mean, one of my favourite parts is just having the darn sword. That was pretty cool, and having the choreography. But if I can give you a more diplomatic answer, it was really enjoyable to be able to play with people that I hadn’t gotten to perform with before, which is the main thing. And working with Harrison, obviously.
You worked on another couple of notable shows this year. What stands out in your memory about your experience with Contempt?
With Contempt, it was the challenge of the physicality. It was really interesting to take on and try to tell the story of someone that is disabled, and what their love life is, and issues with intimacy that they have. All the judgments that some people can make, that people might assume that someone of a certain disability may not have a sex life, or may not be interested in having a sex life. So that was one thing that was really interesting to dive into and experience, especially as a disabled actor myself. Because I was able to relate to it a lot in that way, to do with new intimacy challenges and such. But that also helped my growth as well. I’m more comfortable in my skin than I was before, and it’s all part of that. I find strength in doing roles such as those– because every character has a strength, as well as a weakness, but I hold onto the strengths in each character too, in some way, I hope.
That character was unable to speak or really communicate in very many ways other than with his eyes. What were some of the things that you would have liked to have heard him say?
That’s a very good question. I guess I would have liked for him to be able to speak his mind and just to say what he really wanted. And to share his love for Tara, to just really be able to express his emotions for her. He would’ve just wanted to let her know how much he loved her, and how much he would have been able to treat her right, and treat her better than the way she was getting love from the other guy. That’s one thing that was pulled away from him, his ability to express himself through words. To be able to speak to Tara, that would be tremendous. And also to his mom, to share exactly what he wants, cause his mom would make assumptions. Harmless, you know, but unfortunately not everything was executed as well as she had hoped.
What was your reading of the ending- was it a dream, was it magic, or do miracles come true?
I can’t say that. When we started doing that in rehearsal, I was so surprised. It took me time to also register it, and make up my own mind about it, too. But I think Brandon [Crone, playwright/director] just allowed us to have our own experience with that, and make a little magical moment for everyone. But I don’t think I can say exactly what it was; I’ll get shot.
Then you took on the leading role in Hangman, also at the Storefront. Tell us a little bit about working on that character and working with the director Daniel Pagett on your interpretation of Alistair.
Danny Pagett is, first of all, awesome. I’ve known him for years. It was such a mysterious play, and my first reading of it- I didn’t even know if I could do it. I didn’t know if I could justify, or really play the character well. Just because it’s very poetic, and some of it could be hard to interpret, but Danny had a lot of belief in me and really pushed and encouraged me to go for it, to fight my fear of this role, and thank God he did. And the puppetry that came alive with Kaitlin Morrow, and the musicality as well, Danny created this whole wonderful experience, and used all these different levels of it to really bring out an interesting and strange story. But he was just, “go, go go”, and he had a hundred ideas, and some of them worked, some of them didn’t. But he would just try anything, and what came up at the end was, I think, a really magical moment with a beautiful cast.
You mentioned Kaitlin Morrow. In the first few scenes of the play, she played your hands. What was that experience like?
We threw out a bunch of ideas for that one because we didn’t know what we were gonna do. But I’m glad that we ended up doing that, just to bring that alive in that way. Because that’s something you don’t see much of either, right? Kaitlin Morrow, I graduated from George Brown Theatre School with, so we already had quite a built relationship, and I think that helped us in really becoming in tune with the movements and connecting them to proper emotions, to convey or express ourselves properly through that. She felt every emotion, and every drive that I had, and she had great intuition with that. I don’t know if anyone else could have done that, but with her experience with puppetry and stuff, she knows how to make things come alive, with the boy in the play too, to really give them human feeling, and connect with that. So when I was doing the scene with the boy, I didn’t see Kaitlin anymore, I just saw the boy. So the fact that she was able to do that and we were able to come to that together, was just great.
You also sang quite a bit in that production. Tell us a little bit about the development of those scenes and why Alistair turned to songs in those moments.
I think we all see in every day life, music is sometimes our best way to express those high emotions, and those things that we can’t really find words for. There’s a freedom in music, and expression. I was a little nervous about that too, because I’m not properly musically trained or anything like that. So we had to work that to make me sound good. I was really glad I went for it because, as nervous as I was at first, by the end of it, I just felt something- it was just a wonderful experience to be able to express myself musically.
I’m assuming you’re extremely busy with school. Do you have any other projects you want to talk about that are on the horizon?
I’m in a play called Sheets [on stage at The Theatre Centre until April 9], I’m very excited to be a part of that. That’s also a play about intimacy and the masks we put on in our outside world, and how we really are behind closed doors. Then I’m doing some Shakespeare in the summer, with Josh Stodart [of Ale House Theatre]. That’s it for now. We’ll see what else happens.
That must be The Tempest that you’re doing with Josh. Do you know much about that production yet?
All I can say is that I’m playing Caliban and Peter Wylde is going to be Prospero, so that’s going to be pretty neat. I’ve heard a lot about him, I’ve never worked with him, but I know he’s interesting and an amazingly talented individual, so I’m looking forward. I haven’t really dove into it, but I have some ideas racing around in the back of my mind, and once I get into the room with Josh, we’ll see what he comes up with too, because I hear he’s quite a genius with his ideas.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
I’m just super glad and fortunate to be nominated again. To be a part of this, My Entertainment World. I love what you guys are doing. Keep the reviews coming out, because it shows the art that we’re doing here.