I am a huge fan of James Konicek – his acting, singing, and ‘that voice.’ Audiences are loving James’ performance in Folger Theatre’s Twelfth Night. I asked James about Sir Andrew Aguecheek and his career as a voice artist.
Joel: Who is Sir Andrew Aguecheek? What do you admire about Sir Andrew and what makes you shake your head in disbelief about the decisions he makes and the way he behaves?
James: Of the many qualities that Sir Andrew possesses, I feel the most distinctive is joy. He is an unabashedly joyful person with a tremendous capacity for love and trust… to a fault. He is fearlessly loyal, and has scant regret for anything… to a fault. He’s a puppy-dog of a person, constantly seeking attention and approval, and in return he showers others with unconditional love… to a fault. He is frequently quick to distemper, and continually confuses passion with aggression which results, rather fatalistically, in his rejection. This is a chronic flaw in his character. That being said, I truly love him. His capacity to love is uncommon. It is what drives him, and it is what devastates him.
I have heard people say that they didn’t know you were that funny. Do you have a great sense of humor? What other roles that you have performed were similarly funny?
I’d like to think I have comedic taste, or rather an appreciation of the intricacies of comedy. Humor is such a personal trait, unique to each individual. Shakespeare is a master at expressing the human condition, both in comedic and tragic senses, through a universally recognizable humor. What’s often funny, is a hair’s breadth from being tragic, and it is essential to approach them without distinction. I am infrequently cast as “comedic,” or rather I am frequently cast as “deplorable.” It’s exciting to have an opportunity to explore a lighter character, and it’s flattering to know that Sir. Andrew has surprised some. Andrew is not dissimilar to Lord Arthur Saville, a character I worked on at the Washington Stage Guild a number of years ago.
What makes this production of Twelfth Night so unique and so much fun to appear in and for the audience to watch?
This production has enormous heart to it. Shakespeare’s glorious text matched with the gifted craftsmanship of our director and perfect casting has made this production successful.
What is your favorite line or lines that you perform and what is your favorite line that another character speaks and why?
I do so love the lyrics (and Louis’ singing) to “Come Away Death,” there’s something so mortally visceral to it (“Youth’s a stuff, will not endure”) that seems wholly out of place in a comedy – a return to a previous answer – comedy & tragedy are much more closely related than expected.
When Robert Richmond first spoke to you about playing Sir Andrew, what suggestions did he make to you? What surprised you most about his vision of how he wanted you to play Sir Andrew? How has your performance evolved or changed and/or your impressions of Andrew?
Robert said to me early on, “He’s aristocracy… it’s all about inbreeding.” And while cheeky, this phrase spoke volumes to me. From the beginning, the direction was to keep it light, and avoid sadness. I had originally approached Andrew as a sort of pitiful character, whereas Robert encouraged me to release Andrew from any self-doubt or regret, and keep him hopeful. It made a world of difference.
You have a great duel scene with Viola (Emily Trask). How long did it take you to learn this scene and what did Fight Choreographer Casey Kaleba teach you about sword-fighting that will stay with you forever?
The fight was a challenge to create, but I think it has turned out quite well. It was difficult at first because we all felt it had to be comedic and silly. But before something is funny it needs to be real and generated from a place of reality. Honestly, it was about finessing the text around the fight, and making sure all of the points leading up to the fight informed the action of the swordplay. Casey was helpful in illuminating and interpreting our needs as characters, which additionally built a solid basis for the storytelling.
Tony Cisek has created a jaw-droppingly gorgeous and awesome set for the show. What impresses you most about it?
Tony’s work is continues to be impressive. That window is without a doubt most glorious.
If Sir Andrew could write a happy ending for his character – what would it be?
Sir Andrew already has a happy ending I think. His hopefulness will endure, and although rejected in this particular instance, his willful inability to dwell on the past keeps him moving forward. Ignorance is bliss… so… follow your bliss.
You have such an amazing speaking and singing voice, and you are a ‘voice artist.’ How would you describe your voice and vocal skills? How old were you when someone said to you, “Kid, you got a great voice! You could be the next Walter Cronkite,” or something like that. And who were some of the characters you impersonated when you were a kid?
Thanks. It’s a exceptional gift to have been given. I have a distinctive and resonant quality to my voice that is a great asset to my work on the stage and in the studio. I remember a director I worked with in undergrad after first meeting her she remarked that with the proper training I could have a career in the opera. Alas, I won’t be playing Don Giovanni any time soon, but I think I took that spark of encouragement, and am realizing the possibilities today in the theatre and elsewhere.
How does one train to become a voice artist? How did you train? When did you first know you could make a living because of your vocal talents?
I think I’ve been blessed to be around people in my life who have given me continual encouragement. I’ve been lucky enough to have been granted opportunities to use and develop my talents, and through these opportunities have gained confidence on stage and in the studio. Voice acting is just like any other job as an actor, it requires diligence and ambition, and constant practice.
You are the voice of Superman. Tell us about that and where we can listen to those episodes?
I’ve been playing Superman for Graphic Audio & DC Comics for a few years now. I’ve gotten much more attention from that role than I’d ever expected. Complete strangers have friended me on Facebook, and I’ve been contacted by fans asking for autographs. It didn’t take long for me to realize what an honor it was to voice this iconic character. We’ve produced about 7 or 8 titles thus far and they can be found online at www.graphicaudio.net.
What roles or characters would you love to lend your voice to that you haven’t done yet?
I’d love to get involved with animation, or narrate a television series. I grew up on public television documentary programming, so I’d be thrilled to have a chance to narrate something on PBS. I recently did some television promo VO work for a new cable network called EPIX. They’re very dramatic and over the top, and we had a blast creating those.
Tell us about your work with Books for the Blind.
I’ve been narrating titles for the Library of Congress for a couple of years now. I’ve had a lot of fun with books like The Vampire Diaries, and Year One (a chronicle of President Obama’s first year in office). I enjoy whatever title is assigned to me, and always look forward to recording. It’s a fantastic job for actors in DC who have to juggle multiple sources of employment.
Who are some of your influences and mentors?
I’ve met so many genuinely talented theatre artists in DC, and I have great respect for anyone who embraces both the art form and the sacrifices that go with the work.
What’s next for you on the stage and in the studio?
I’m headed to Imagination Stage this summer where I’ll be playing Captain Hook in a new Musical version of Peter Pan. And in the Fall my partner Susan Lynskey and I will be joining the cast of new play by Steven Dietz called Rancho Mirage at Olney Theatre Center. I’ll also be returning to Ford’s to reprise my role as the Ghost of Marley in next seasons A Christmas Carol. Beyond that… unknown.
What do you want audience to take with them after seeing you perform Sir Andrew in Twelfth Night?
Mostly, I’d like audiences to recognize that everyone, even an idiot, is capable and deserving of love.