Oh that someone were here to write him down an ass! Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Alex Foley is far from being an ass, but getting to embody one of the most backwardly hilarious characters in the Bard’s cannon made for a wildly entertaining interview. Sitting down with Mr. Foley taught me everything I could ever hope to know about this crazy character, getting the inside dish on Master Constable Dogberry.
Amanda: What made you interested in auditioning for Much Ado About Nothing?
Alex: When we started this process, the only character I wanted to be was Dogberry because he is the fool of the show and I love those roles because I have so much more fun doing them. I wouldn’t want to be Benedick or Claudio because they require a great deal of seriousness and they are great but they’re not what I do well. What I do well is very different from that sort of role. I was very excited to accept the challenge of Dogberry because he is such a challenge. His character is very very different for me. He did not start out as the drill sergeant/boy scout that you see in the production. What he is now wasn’t discovered until the halfway beyond point of rehearsals, and that’s when I really made him who he is now.
How did you shape Dogberry into the character you’ve created for him?
The show originally…and I’m talking about the very first ideas we were throwing around for it. The first meeting we had—which was back at Sally’s New Year’s Eve party, at 4 AM in the new year side of the party, the original theme that we’d come up with was pirates. We had talked about pirates— but not everyone was going to be a pirate. Those of us that were going to be pirates, myself, and the other two on patrol. And then there would be more subtle nuances for the other characters. So the idea was originally 1722 French Colonial Louisiana. With a Bayou theme for the set and then a voodoo twist for the villains, and the pirates for the watch. Like we were going to be redeemed privateers who had been hired by the crown, with the French soldiers marching through. So that was the idea that I went off to college thinking about.
Bu that idea changed the day before I came back to work on the project. So for a half a year I had been working on this notion of a pirate character to come back with only to get back and we were no longer being pirates. I would have loved that theme but I absolutely love this— I’ve never once thought, “Oh I wish we weren’t doing it this way!” because it’s so amazing and we’ve worked so hard to make it that amazing.
So because of that half year that I had been idealizing Dogberry as a pirate – it made it really challenging to find something new in him. And I thought, “Oh dear…what am I going to do now?” So for a while he was just a crazy man that was hiding out in the jungle. At the first readthrough I was really thinking, “How do I transpose Dogberry to really fit into this 1950’s theme?” He went through a pretty drastic evolution—his original costume; he had this big camouflage jacket and these big boots. And then he just sort of changed him to the scout master and I realized, “Oh my God!” I have a voice for this character—and this idea—he’s this Boy Scout Leader who has to use this drill sergeant voice to get things done to get people to listen to him, and it was just so crazy that it worked.
The first run through with this Dogberry I had them rolling with laughter, I’d like to think that I made Sally fall out of her chair. I was just so worried how I was going to find him because he just had so many ups and downs and transformations. But I’m very happy with what I got with him because he’s so very different from my usual approach to characters.
What is Dogberry’s favorite moment and does it differ from your favorite moment?
Dogberry as a character? His favorite moment is really his proudest moment and that’s when Leonato (played by Rob McQuay) turns to him right before the wedding scene and gives him that salute, and tells him to go away, giving him money. Because in Dogberry’s brain it’s this very enthusiastic acknowledgement. The salute, getting paid, and “Oh my God he respects me!” As a character he sees himself as mostly clever. He’s caught two criminals and brought them to justice therefore he’s done a good job.
Mine, my favorite moment, is when I can get the flag to make it’s popping noise. You missed it, actually because I know it didn’t pop the night you were there which is a shame because it’s really a great sound. Some nights it happens and some nights it doesn’t. I always get that note— make the flag pop. It’s one small thing you can’t plan but you discover by accident, and then it becomes your favorite.
The first time—OK, so I was Props Master on this show, the great Props Master Hobbit-Wizard Alex Foley. For this show and it’s a funny story— because I just walked into this church one day and I said “Can we borrow an American flag?” and they sort of said “Uh, alright.” And I of course promised we’d return the flag on August 19th, so that’s how we got the flag. When I brought it to rehearsal and I first pulled it out of its stand it just popped—it’s great! The whole room sort of gathers to watch 1-8 (act one scene eight) because it’s so funny. Thank you, happy accidents because that’s the soul of comedy, like the popping sound of this flag. You can plan comedy but then it’s planned, and it doesn’t always work. So having that really accidental comedy really makes me happy. When I hear that pop, me as Alex has that little moment where I just go “Yes!”
You talked a little about how you developed Dogberry, so did you have any specific references or inspirations for his physicality and his voice?
The physicality for me is the most important aspect of a character, and I know I’ve said that before, but I master it before anything else. Before I knew how he sounded I knew how he moved. Dogberry is a mixture of lots of things, like Gomer Pyle— the drill sergeant in that show and a little bit of Bob the Builder— that stiffness, you know the way he moves like that with just his arms in a vine the way they swing…the character is very potent. He strides. He doesn’t bumble like Orgon, who I’m still playing in Tartuffe, or like Angelo from Measure for Measure. He marches—marching or these long strides. The stiffness in his shoulders is like Bob the Builder, I said that. And he puts his hands, not on his hips but on his kidneys in the back. He doesn’t hunch but he definitely leads with his hair and shoulders.
His face is my very “My way or the highway” which jumps quickly from that to “What the hell is going on?” He’s just so befuddled and confused, it’s quite sad— like he never really understands why he’s at the wedding. And I don’t think anyone really does. Benedick (played by Grayson Owen) and the other guests at the wedding even interact with him a little bit trying to figure out what the hell he’s doing there. Chandish (who plays Beatrice) even says who is this guy or something like that. And I use that for the character because even if Dogberry did understand why he was there, I didn’t. And I play that into him, and he’s just sitting there going “What in the world?” He’s confused to the point of pain— and that’s where the look of potential constipation on his face comes from. And he’s just hopelessly lost with that look on his face because he’s just perpetually confused.
In Dogberry’s world what would be a fitting punishment for Don Jon and Borachio?
You know what? I don’t think that he really understand that Borachio is the true villain because he’s more mad at Conrad (played by Ben Lauer) for calling him ass. He understands that others are mad at Borachio, but in his world Conrad is the real villain. I’m trying to think, he doesn’t even know what to punish him for but he’s determined to get justice. So whatever punishment is as long as it recognizes that he was called an ass, I think he’s OK with it.
I can just sort of picture Conrad being forced to pick up trash on the highway side in a goofy orange jumpsuit, with Dogberry standing there with his arms crossed over his chest, with “the face” in place and holding his riding crop watching over him. I think that would be fitting.
Is Dogberry your dream role?
That’s an interesting question. Let me think a second. Where Much Ado is concerned with what’s there-Yes- Dogberry is the dream role within this show. But of any show of Shakespeare’s my dream role is Nick Bottom Weaver from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ve played him before, but he’s just so much fun to do so I’ve gotten to have fun with that. Oh boy…it’s tough to say why Nick Bottom Weaver is the dream. I think he’s similar to Dogberry but he ultimately has no inhibitions, and is happier for it. In many ways he doesn’t care who he is. Now he’s not necessarily as others would have him be but he doesn’t know that, and he’s having an absolute blast. That unrestricted character is so much fun to play because it gives you a chance at existing with no inhibitions and being that for a little bit is really fun. I did play him that way and he is forever my favorite Shakespeare character, but Dogberry is very like that so that’s why Dogberry is the dream role for Much Ado.
How do you think Dogberry fits in, or maybe doesn’t fit into the 1950’s theme?
Well I think in many respects he doesn’t fit into the period at all. Not that what we did with him didn’t fit into the play but just the way he’s written he doesn’t fit into the whole story, that’s part of what makes him funny. He’s the Community Watch and we put him there and there isn’t a Community Watch or the Boy Scouts in the Caribbean.
I have this whole back story concocted in my head for him; actually I have two of them. You want to hear them? Well Dogberry he was once a Boy Scout, maybe eight or nine years-old and the troupe went on some sort of missions trip to Jamaica or wherever they are at in the islands to do some sort of good work, build a house or something. And his troupe just left him there. So he grew up and just continued to do what he had always did, be a boy scout. I think that was better than the original back story which was at age 27 he wanted to be a Boy Scout but they wouldn’t take him, so he went off to the Caribbean to start his own chapter. And he makes money to support it by hiring himself out with his Boy Scouts as hotel security.
Of course Dogberry isn’t the sort that would remember his own back story. He’s very enigmatical and he doesn’t know what that word means—not now and not when Benedick says it during the wedding scene either—he’s from another planet. And it’s still all about what is he doding here? So it’s OK for him to not fit in.
If you could play someone else in Much Ado who would it be?
The Boy. Because I think me on a pogo stick would be absolutely hilarious. That or Verges. I don’t know that’s such a tough one. I look at this show – I’m made for Dogberry – so I don’t really want to be anyone else. And when I say ‘the boy’ I’m being a tad fictitious but I really do want to be on a pogo stick because it would be hilarious and disastrous. And I’d only want to be Verges because he’s in all the scenes with Dogberry. I like the other characters but I don’t want to be them. Grayson is an amazing Benedick; if I were Benedick I wouldn’t be that amazing. I’d give it my best shot but I was made for Dogberry and Dogberry was made for me.
What’s your take on the antics that unfold in Act I, Scene XI, also known as the ‘Benedick gulling scene’?
Oh I love one six! That song—Terry and the boys worked really hard on it and it came together so well. So seeing it get to performance is so great. Seeing that little shoulder thing they do—I can’t do it justice. And then Ryan dancing, he does this thing with his tongue hanging out he looks like a puppy. He’s forever getting the note “tongue in your mouth” and it’s just great. So watching him dance is just so great.
Anything else you’d like to share with the readers who will come see this show?
Just a major thanks to the creative team, especially the big four: Grayson Owen-our Company Manager, Stephen Horst-our Assistant Director, an our Dance Captain Alyssa Bouma.
That’s only three.
Well I didn’t want to sound arrogant and include myself as the Properties Master. But these four roles, just credited in the program really do everything they do for the show justice. You can see their names printed and know that they had some other part besides acting in it – but it doesn’t quite accurately capture what all went into actually making this production happen. Everyone involved, especially those three, have such a love and dedication to this production and to this cast that we were literally willing (and did) build half of that set. I pulled a 33-hour day and Alyssa and Stephen pulled a 44-hour day at one point. We were there to get it together to get that show into that theatre. I really hope that we’re communicating the dedication and love of this show and love of Shakespeare in our work and that that translates.
Alyssa gives so much, and her passion for this is astonishing. The same is true of Grayson and Stephen, and really just everyone involved. It’s a team effort, and if you just sort of read the program where Alyssa is credited as Hero and Grayson is Benedick it just doesn’t tell you how much they’ve really done to make this show a success. We traced and cut out all those leaves that flank the sides of the stage, we pulled an all nighter to finish that sign for the hotel. It’s just so much extra stuff that the audience doesn’t get to see. So
I really hope that we get a chance to just give credit where it is due because there is just so much love in this cast, we all get along so so so well on stage. There’s great chemistry on stage and we work so well together and it’s all because of the work that they do to make this all happen. We’ve all gone through a lot in this intense ride and we all survived and we’ve become great friends. So we all deserve that little shout out.
‘Much To Learn About’ Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Part 1: Choreographer Ken Skrzesz by Joel Markowitz.
‘Much To Learn About’ Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Part 2: Alyssa Bouma (Hero) by Amanda Gunther.
‘Much To Learn About’ Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Part 3: Michael Ryan Neely (Claudio) by Amanda Gunther.
Amanda Gunther’s review of Much Ado About Nothing.
Much Ado About Nothing plays through August 18, 2013 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company performing at The Bowie Playhouse —16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513, or purchase them online.