An Interview with The Beaux’ Stratagem’s Eric Poch by Amana Gunther

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Swash-swash! Buckle-buckle! The clang of highwaymen’s swords are echoing asunder at Everyman Theatre in their production of The Beaux’ Stratagem. I got the chance to sit down with ensemble member Eric Poch, who plays one of the nefarious, albeit thick-headed highwayman and have a chat with this rising talent from the Baltimore area on what it’s like to be a part of this epic comic journey.

 Eric Poch. Photo courtesy of Everyman Theatre.
Eric Poch. Photo courtesy of Everyman Theatre.

Amanda: Can you tell us a little bit about your acting background and just how you found yourself here at Everyman Theatre?

Eric: Well I got my B.S. in theatre at Towson State University right here in Maryland, some of the company members studied theatre at Towson too, I think, so that already makes me feel just a little bit connected, like we have that in common. I’ve previously done productions at Towson, which included (in no particular order) Macbeth, The Bacchae, A Good Brain is Hard To Find…which is actually sort of like Frankenstein set in a dystopian future, it’s about a girl who is trying to be Frankenstein’s monster…um, and then I did Miss Julie, Elephant’s Graveyard, and The Adventures of Captain Neat-O Man. I also did a show at Pumpkin Theatre – Beauty and the Beast. It was a lot of fun working with them, they do really great children’s theatre.

As far as getting to be a part of The Beaux’ Stratagem, it was recommended that I come audition here, and I did. And they offered me a part, I accepted, pretty straight forward.

What was it like doing your first equity house/professional show audition?

I was really so very excited. I cannot begin to describe how exciting it was. I mean, it came out of nowhere, so it was thrilling, but also hella nerve-wracking because it’s this big professional theatre and I’m just an acting student who literally just graduated. So really a big mix of exciting and sort of scary, but scary in a good way. It’s actually a really funny story because there was this friend of mine that I took classes with at Towson, Alexander Kafarakis (who plays my partner in crime Bagshot in the show) who I hadn’t seen in forever, and when I showed up at auditions he was there too. And it was pretty awesome because here we were reuniting for the first time in a while and I asked him what he was here auditioning for and he told me that he was reading for the Hounslow/Bagshot role, and I was like “Oh my gosh, me too!” And then I thought, how awesome would it be if the two of us were cast together and got to play those roles together?

And it’s really funny because it took forever to hear from them. When you audition in college you hear back like the next day, so having this long period in-between doing the actual audition and then hearing from them, I’d actually forgotten all about it, and when I got the phone call it was like “Hey…you remember that thing you auditioned for? Do you want to be in it?” And of course, I was like, YES PLEASE! And then I got here and found out Alex had been cast as my partner and that just made it ten times better.

What has been your overall experience of working here at Everyman Theatre?

Gee, at first I was really worried because I knew it was going to be extremely different from anyplace I’d ever done theatre before. Everyman isn’t Towson or the kid’s theatre, it’s this big professional equity house and that made me really sort of nervous; it’s not working with fellow students anymore; it’s working with people who actually do this for a living. But the minute I got here everyone was just so nice and so friendly, they’re all so welcoming. It was a really smooth transition, the whole cast all just really clicked real well. I sort of just showed up with my own little coffee mug and was in awe. The theatre itself just blows my mind, they have all these different coffees and tea selections for us, and they do my laundry! It’s every actor’s dream come true. I’m amazed at how well they just take care of everything here, every little detail. Like getting the schedule. Every day we get the rehearsal schedule emailed to us, so you know exactly when and where you’re supposed to be somewhere. It’s great because it’s such a huge difference from acting at school where you just sort of asked around fellow people in the production to find out whether or not there was a rehearsal that day, hoping that someone had the answer. Here everything runs so smoothly, it’s just amazing. I was half expecting the “THIS IS A THEATER” <fistslam> sort of attitude, but it’s such a relaxed and safe atmosphere to work in, I love it. They make you feel right at home so that you can get the work done and still enjoy it at the end of the day. As far as a first professional experience, I couldn’t have asked for a better one.

Did you do any research to help you prepare yourself for your character?

I really actually didn’t have to. Vinny, our amazing director, told us that basically this play is not a play of subtext. That there really is no subtext. It’s all out there open and in the dialogue. You play up exactly what you’re saying, no hidden meanings or agendas. My character is very simple. He’s just there to rob the house with Bagshot, and screw stuff up, and then literally get the shit kicked out of him by the good guys. So I don’t have to worry about why he’s a highwayman, or what in his early life turned him to a life of crime. There’s no real backstory to this guy, he just is. And I get to have so much fun with that.

You know I basically just do what Vinny tells me. Hounslow is hired muscle, he’s not very bright— not the brightest candle in the chandelier so to speak. And it’s something that Alex (who plays Bagshot) and I have discussed a little bit. Just how grossly inept these two bumbling idiots really are. Because basically up to this point we’ve just been shaking down people on the road for their milk money. I hold them while he punches. But then we sort of get set up to rob a house. That’s so way more complicated than our big dumb brains can handle, so of course we screw it up.

What’s it like going from 3 or 4 shows a week to a full 8 shows a week?

Oh my god!! I don’t realize just how heavily it weighs on me until I get to that Monday off because I basically have to take a second and be like “Wow what just happened?” It’s crazy though because I get a day off and I almost get antsy, sort of like a fish, if I stop swimming I’ll die. I get so caught up in doing this show every day that when I get to Monday I almost don’t know what to do with myself. You don’t even notice that you’re going going going all week long until suddenly you’re not going and my brain just sort of panics and is like “when’s it going to start up again?”

During rehearsal there was this one day where we were there for like an hour, or at least I was, and then they turned me loose, I was done for the day. I went crazy and was like “WHY DID THEY LET ME LEAVE THE BUILDING??” I went and had an ice cream, and had beer, and I literally did not know what to do with myself. Being involved with this show has been so intense and so amazing that in those down-time moments it’s hard to understand that life is continuing to exist outside the show. That probably makes me sound crazy, but never having been involved in something that’s so active and really as fast paced as this is, that’s just what it’s been like for me. But I am so so very grateful for those Mondays off, my body thanks me even if my mind can’t process it right away.

What is it like getting to work with the three resident Everyman company members?

All of them are just really nice, they’re all very fantastic. Bruce Nelson is hilarious. And he’s very sweet. Megan Anderson is also very sweet. And Clint Brandhagen -he’s just funny as hell. They’re all so sweet and welcoming. There’s no pretention or anything like that; you sort of wonder what it’s going to be like, will there be a separation of “company members” and “the rest of us” but there’s not. They’re one of us, we’re one of them, and they’re just amazing. I’d have to say the resident company members are actually really warm, they’re like a family that just keeps growing as they welcome the rest of us on board. They all give off such a good vibe.

When we were first learning how to do the fight choreography, Megan had so little experience with fighting and swords but she picked it up really quickly. She just dove right into it and made it so much fun to work with her. I hadn’t swung a sword in a while and she was just really eager and excited about it, she didn’t even flinch and that made getting back into the routine that much easier and more fun. She just made it awesome.

Eric Poch and Katie Solomon. Photo by Stan Barouh.
Eric Poch and Katie Solomon. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Did you come into this show with any prior fight-training/knowledge and how did that fit into what you ended up doing with the fight choreography in the show?

I realized once I accepted the role that it had actually been about a half a year since I’d done any real fight choreography with a sword. So at first it was a little like sword-play 101 where I was like “Um, how do I swing a sword?” but after about a day of doing it, it all started to come back to me— ting, ting, ting, and clang, clang, clang. It got to the point where Lewis Shaw, our fight choreographer, was like “OK, this is what I need, go.” And I did.

I have actually taken a sword-fighting class with Lewis and passed with a “basic pass” in Broadsword and a “recommended pass” in Unarmed Rapier and Dagger. Think of it as getting an “A” for Broadsword and then getting an “A+” for Rapier and Dagger. And it’s actually really funny because I keep trying to get my grandmother to come and see the show, I have to keep reassuring her that yes it’s perfectly safe and that I’m a trained swordsman so I’m not going to poke my eye out or get hurt, but no matter what I say she’s like “I don’t like it. It’s not safe. It makes me nervous.”

Working with Richard is great. He’s a blast. He’s so crass but in all the right ways. He’s Baltimore. He’s the classiest kind of…well, I’m not really sure where I was going with that, but he’s a very fun guy. He doesn’t put on airs, he’s just Lewis. He is unapologetically Lewis and he really knows his shit. I think he’s actually the reason I’m here. Had I not taken the class with him I wouldn’t have had all this foreknowledge for sword fighting when I showed up to audition, so yeah, I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to have taken the class with him and then really show what I learned back to him working with him here now.

It’s just great working with him because now he says to me “You’re the one that I really need to know your shit,” he actually says that to both Alex and I because Alex also took the class with him, but a year before I did, so he sort of depends on us to really get it together when the time comes. There are portions of the fight — it’s basic stage combat exchange in rapier-dagger that anyone who’s taken a class will know. We end up using it because it looks awesome and it really works. You see it all the time in old movies, it’s easy and it works so it gets used a lot. Coming into rehearsals knowing that really helped.

As far as injuries go, no one has gotten hurt. I know you hear about it on the movie sets all the time, but I don’t believe that any of them really know what they’re doing. We learned from the best and we know what we’re doing. I know how to prevent an injury when playing with swords so that even if someone slips up or I slip up no one gets hurt. Of course our swords are dull so we’re not slivering off skin or anything, but they could still be really dangerous if someone got ran through by one; we try really hard not to let that happen.

What are you doing before the show starts to get you pumped up and into character?

Well for the first act of the show I don’t really have anything that needs to get me going because I play a butler, who is actually really only seen during the scene changes, shuffling the furniture around. Wearing that costume does the trick because it forces me to stand up straight. It’s so stiff I can’t even slouch. So I get to turn my nose up, strut around like the most important servant of the household and move chairs.

But for Hounslow, that’s where the real fun begins. I get to do makeup, you know putting my black eye on, busting up my lip, adding little scrapes to my knuckles— which I know no one can see because they’re really tiny but on the off chance that anyone in the front row or so does see it they can get all excited that I look like a brute. I love gore makeup. So getting to do all of that really helps me get into the character, the grungier he is the better. The more disheveled he looks the more comfortable I feel. I keep hearing that I look like Kiefer Sutherland from Lost Boys, and also that I look a little like Billy Idol. I’m wearing a borderline mullet so I’m a little on edge, and just feel thoroughly disgusting, but in a really good way.

What’s the funniest moment that makes you just die with laughter in this show?

Oh God…um, uh, well there’s this one part that never fails to make me smile. It’s when the gun goes off at the end of act one. Meg (who plays Lady Kate Sullen) she screams in surprise, and it’s just so well timed. She spits out her line, and boom that ends Act I. I’ll be sitting in the green room and I’ll stop and just watch the monitor and can’t help but laugh. That’s one of the best things about being backstage a lot, the monitors that are everywhere so you can constantly see what’s going on. This show is actually really funny. And we have this running joke in the green room because the monitors are like little television. They’ll be off and someone will say “wonder what’s on…” and then of course you turn it on and the show is running and then we have to say “Oh…the restoration channel again…” it’s a funny little insider joke.

Do you plan on auditioning for Everyman Theatre in the future?

Oh hell yeah. I’m actually really sad that I just missed their open auditions for this upcoming season. And it’s funny because I had just gotten an email saying “Hey, would you like to come audition for The Glass Menagerie, for the role of Gentleman Caller?” And I was bummed beyond belief that I had to write back and say that, unfortunately, because I’m a hired member of “FightCore” (performing at The Maryland Renaissance Festival this fall), that I have to decline the audition, but to please please keep me in mind for future roles because I’ve loved working here so much. I mean, I do really enjoy working with FightCore, who wouldn’t enjoy wandering around getting paid to sword fight? But I’m really upset that it clashes with my chance to do another amazing show here at Everyman.

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Keep your eye out for this rising young talent in and around the Baltimore area. But for now Eric can be seen screwing up the house-robbery scene during The Beaux’ Stratagem which plays through June 30, 2013 at Everyman Theatre — 315 W. Fayette Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 752-2208, or purchase them online.

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Read my review of The Beaux Stratagem.