In Part 3 of a series of interviews with the cast of The Pitmen Painters, we meet Alden Michels.
Why did you want to become a member of the cast of this production at 1st Stage?
I’ve been looking for exactly this kind of opportunity for years. It’s hard to get paid work as an actor if you aren’t equity. Finding a house that offers a good opportunity to do high quality work and get paid decently for it is a big deal. I didn’t know about 1st stage until a mentor of mine saw the production and sent the audition notice for this show to me. She knew this production would be right up my alley.
Introduce us to your character and how you relate to him/her?
I play George Brown. He’s a guy that loves to be in charge. He’s the union representative and he ends up being the organizational leader of the Ashington Group. He’s a royal pain to several members because he’s such a stickler for rules and procedures, but he’s also the guy that writes grants, shakes the right hands, and makes sure that the group can pay their bills. I can relate to George in that I helped found a community choir and serve on its board. That, plus my 6 years of experience as a classroom teacher, makes me intimately familiar with the grunt work that goes into artistic endeavors as well as the feeling of being the “bad guy” who has to confront people and enforce rules. I will say that George is quite more old-fashioned on social issues and propriety than I am, but on the whole I connect very strongly to him. It can get lost in all his bluster that George is a very self-sacrificing person who dedicates his life to his family and friends. I hope some of that comes across.
How did you preparing for your role? What kind of research were you doing?
I did a lot of work on the accent before the initial audition. British accents and dialects fascinate me, so I was looking forward to working on it. I talked to a friend of mine from England to get a sense of the important sounds and features of the Geordie accent. He also talked a lot about the connection that accent and way of talking has to that area of England; it was an immense help. I remember in the initial audition, I began reading a monologue and I was making a total mess of it. I sounded like someone modulating between Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Dorset… really anything but the right accent. Luckily, Stevie told me to just act and not worry about the accent. Wouldn’t you know, as soon as I stopped thinking about the accent, it all clicked in and the work I had done came through.
What scene is the most challenging to master and why?
There is a scene where George is dealt an enormous emotional blow early on but carries out his expected duties for the rest of the scene. It was difficult to find enough subtext to honor the character’s pain without it becoming so apparent that it interferes with the motion of the scene. I’m happy with the way it turned out. The other difficult scene is the one with the nude model. It’s a truly fun scene, but one in which George has a series of very strong reactions to what is going on. It was quite an undertaking to ground all of those in reality but honor the energy and pacing that a funny scene like that requires.
What is your favorite line from the play that you recite and what is your favorite line than another character recites and why are they your favorites?
I really love how the humorous lines in this play feel organic; they are funny because of where they are in the moment, not some canned witticism imposed on the play. So, most of my favorite lines are very plainspoken and unremarkable on their own, but they are incredibly playable and are just right for that moment. For example, I love the line, “How do we feel about green?” but that doesn’t do much for people who haven’t seen the show. I also truly love the lines at the end of Act I, about the transformitive power of art. I think all of us, as artists of a different sort, connect very strongly to those lines.
What do you want audience to take with them after seeing you perform in The Pitmen Painters?
I hope people leave the theatre smiling, entertained, but also talking about art and the meaning and value of it. I hope it inspires people to make art a bigger part of their lives and to see it as a way of building communities and more deeply experiencing the world around them. Not just visual art, but music, theatre, dance, anything really. I think that’s why Lee Hall wrote this play.
The Pitmen Painters plays through October 13, 2013 at 1st Stage Theatre – 1524 Spring Hill Road, in McLean, VA. For tickets, order them online.
‘The Pitmen Painters’ at 1st Stage review on DCMTA by Julia L. Exline.
Meet The Cast of 1st Stage’s ‘The Pitmen Painters’ Part 1: James Miller by Joel Markowitz.
Meet The Cast of 1st Stage’s ‘The Pitmen Painters’ Part 2: MiRan Powell by Joel Markowitz.
Meet Director Stevie Zimmerman of 1st Stage’s ‘The Pitmen Painters’ by Joel Markowitz,