Actor Emilio Vieira dreaming it and doing it in two completely different Shakespeare worlds

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Emilio Vieira

If you’re a Toronto resident, nothing says summer like watching Shakespeare under the stars in High Park. Since last year, Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in High Park (SiHP) has presented a repertory of Shakespearean plays: a comedy and tragedy alternating nightly through July and August, with members of the acting company playing different roles in each play. This year’s plays are the gender-bending pastoral comedy As You Like It, alternating with Shakespeare’s first (and bloodiest) tragedy Titus Andronicus.

As a member of this prestigious company, Emilio Vieira is living two dreams in one: playing Charles in As You Like It and Lucius in Titus Andronicus. Quite inspiring for someone who just graduated from York University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program in acting. Hard on the heels of his graduation he has become not just a working actor, but a member of the SiHP rep company’s vital Toronto theatrical tradition.

SesayArts caught up with Emilio to discuss these roles, his preparation for them and his inspirations. And if you yourself want to live a dream like this, he also has some sage advice for you.

1. This is your first professional show. What’s it like to be paid to do what you love? How does the fact that you are now a professional actor affect your approach to the work and preparation for your roles?

I am totally pumped to be in SiHP this year! Having the opportunity to do any gig straight out of school is something to be excited about, and for it to be with such a fantastic company like Canadian Stage and to work alongside inspiring and supportive directors, actors and crew is thrilling and humbling. Over the course of this project I have had my doubts and self-consciousness about the calibre of my work in comparison to that of my colleagues, but after getting to know all of these wonderful professionals through the rehearsal process, that nervousness has ended and I have come to realize the pressure I put on myself was not helping me in my work. . . I am very thankful to the cast and crew of SiHP for inviting me into the supportive environment of the rehearsal hall and helping me continue in my personal path of growing. The learning never ends.

2. Not many actors get the opportunity to work in repertory right out of school…Tell me about the experience of playing different roles in two plays, playing on alternate nights, and keeping it all straight.

Working in rep has been a great experience. Having to learn multiple monologues, scenes with different partners, all while performing a show at night while in training at York, I was confident in my ability to ‘keep it all straight’ when tackling these shows this summer. It definitely was a lot of work to develop two completely different Shakespeare worlds and live within them on alternating nights, but part of what helps me is how different they are, and how different my characters are in each show. The wonderful set and costume designs for both shows have been helpful too. I find a personal ritual in putting on the clothes of the character, which helps me to know what world we’re in and what story we’re telling that night.

There’s something in the magic of the park too. The weather lately has been oddly poignant, providing many a sunny afternoon for As You Like It, and greyer skies for Titus Andronicus. And there’s always the support of the cast. We often take part in line-runs or group warm-ups to land ourselves in that night’s performance, especially after being away from it for a couple days as is the case after a Monday night off. It has been such an informative challenge to tackle, and I have learned a lot about what I need for each show whether it be a specific warm-up or what to eat for dinner before the show!

3. Shakespeare in High Park has become a Toronto summer staple. I’m always happy to see families attend the shows. Some, though, still view Shakespeare to be remote, and are unsure about how and when to introduce his works to children. What advice do you have for parents or young people about this?

I know that Shakespeare’s texts didn’t really start making much sense to me until I was 16 or so, and I still go back and read the plays I read in high school, and I find new things I didn’t know were there before, and I have new appreciation each time for things that had previously gone over my head…. One of our jobs as actors is to be that contagiously-engaging force that draws audiences in, makes them perk up their ears to words not often heard, and invites them to understand and be moved by the story….

I think both of our shows, especially being 90 minute edits, have the profound ability to tell a clear story and entertain the audience. It is so rewarding to hear audience members of all ages laugh, cry, gasp and cheer at 400 year-old stories. It gives me some assurance that we are doing the stories justice, and that the themes of these classics can still be applied to our present world. At the very least, knowing that I’m a part of live theatre that is able to pull a child away from a screen for 90 minutes and entertain them is a very rewarding experience.

4. Can you offer us a glimpse or two into how this year’s productions Titus Andronicus and As You Like It (a crowd favourite!) are relevant to contemporary audiences, especially today’s young people?

Our production of Titus deals with the themes of revenge, strength of the family, and morality. Audiences are being asked to challenge the notion of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ because as the play develops we see that each character has difficult decisions to make, and no one is left unscathed by them. Though the play is probably best known for its violence and villainous characters, there’s an awful lot to be learned about nobility, honour and respect throughout the play. It has asked many times of me, “What would I do? How would I react?” and these characters’ reactions throughout the play are supported or opposed by the audience to various moral effect keeping them engaged to see where the next plot point will complicate the situation further, from a black or white area and smack dab into the middle of the grey.

Our production of As You Like It is a wonderful exploration into the theme of love. Love between brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, fools and shepherds and whoever else is enchanted by the tingly giddiness of it. That being said, the play is not without its more serious tones. It invites the audience to have a conversation about the environment and how we treat it, the meaning of life and the strength of the female in a society where she is perceived as lesser than the males around her. In short, both of these plays offer relevant and accessible themes to audiences both young and old, and I think it is important to experience them both to witness the sheer brilliance of Shakespeare’s ability to write completely different plays, and to have the added enjoyment of seeing the same actors tell such different stories from night to night.

5. If you could have a role in any play, what would it be? What 3 costars would share the stage with you? Who would direct you?

WOW. What a tough question!! Well, if you had said film or television I could have quickly answered, “GAME OF THRONES. PUT ME ON GAME OF THRONES!” But now that that outburst is out of my system…

There is a play I look forward to revisiting in my life and that is Jim Cartwright’s ROAD directed by the phenomenal Mark Wilson while I was at York. After finishing the short run of that show I felt that I had not yet finished my exploration of Scullery, the colourful character I played, and I think after some years in the business, I would love to return to that show with my classmates for cast mates, directed once again by Mark.

But since that’s a rather sappy answer to this question, I should also say I’d love to have the opportunity to explore more of Shakespeare’s classic characters: Macbeth, Hamlet, Iago, etc., some of whom I have to do a great deal of growing up to play. For castmates, I would have to pick stage actors that I have always admired such as Alan Rickman, Sir Ian MacKellen, Patrick Stewart, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Plummer and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. A guy can dream.

6. What’s next for you?

What’s next for me? Auditioning. I am currently seeking representation from agencies in the city and hope to continue making and participating in innovative and entertaining theatre. I look to continue honing my skills as a performer for film, television and of course the stage. My five-year plan is to still be professionally acting in five years and feeling great about it!

7. What advice would you give to aspiring artists?

My last nugget of advice to young aspiring artists, as cliché as it might sound, is to be true to yourself. I was once told at York that actors are, “Real People with Big Hearts who Dream Big and Fall Hard”. It took me a long time to begin trusting that my career choice was the right one, or to believe that I was any good at it. Trusting in yourself is the most important part about being an artist. Who you are is vastly more interesting than whoever you think you should be.

What: Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in High Park: As You Like It, directed by Nigel Shawn Williams and Titus Andronicus, directed by Keira Loughran

Where: High Park Amphitheatre, 1873 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON

When: As You Like It runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 pm until August 30

          Titus Andronicus runs Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 8 pm until August 31

Good to Know: Each performance runs 90 minutes without intermission, and is pay-what-you can (a suggested contribution is $20).

FYI: canadianstage.com

©2014 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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