Meet the Director and Cast of Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’: Part 2: Nick DePinto (Puck) by Joel Markowitz

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This is the Part 2 in a series of interviews with the director and cast members of Annapolis Shakespeare Company‘s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Meet Nick DePinto.

How did you become involved with this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? What did you perform at your audition?

Nick DePinto. Photo Courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.
Nick DePinto. Photo Courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.

I originally auditioned for the company as a bit of a general audition. I had missed their actual call for GAs, but a friend of mine had a good experience working with ASC and she encouraged me to reach out to them. I am glad I did! Sally & Kristin were both at my audition and they were both very charming, insightful, and warm to me. For my audition pieces, I think I performed a soliloquy from Henry VI and also a Hamlet piece, since I was interested in being Hamlet for them at the time.

Why did you want to play the role of Puck, and what is the most fun about playing him?

I was not actually auditioning for Puck. In fact the role of Puck was not even mentioned during my audition so it was a was a super pleasant surprise when Sally contacted me about playing the role. Now that I am playing the role I would have to say that Puck is such an extraordinarily mischievous character that any actor playing Puck is granted great artistic freedom to embody that mischief. If the actor enjoys pushing himself artistically, physically, and vocally then there is a lot of opportunity in the role to paint the character with as vivid a palette of colors as possible, and still be within the appropriate space of the character, i.e. to be vivid without stealing scenes or overacting. For me, the most fun thing about Puck is the artistic freedom that is granted by the character’s capacity for mirthful – occasionally darkly so – mischief.

What are some of the suggestions that Kristin has given you on playing Puck?

Overall, Kristin has been wonderfully supportive to my whole rehearsal process! She has been a particularly excellent guide when it comes to helping me navigate the artistic freedom that Shakespeare grants the actor playing Puck. She has pointed me in the direction of mirth more than darkness and also encouraged my own creativity to be focused on Puck’s innocence – his more wistful wiles – rather than his potentially cruel indifference to human suffering.

Nick DePinto as Puck. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
Nick DePinto as Puck. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

How does the design of the show affect your performance?

A great deal. Our A Midsummer is set in the robust, musical, and rebellious spirit of the 1990s. Some elements of Elizabethan England and some elements of Shakespeare’s show translate very well into this era and some elements do not. Elements that do not translate as well require more creativity from the actors to “sell” the reality of the show. One particularly tricky challenge to me is that in our production the Fairies are all impersonating humans. Puck has been moonlighting (sunlighting??) as Egeus, a mortal human man who has raised a little girl, his daughter, Hermia. At the beginning of the story Egeus declares that he will either see his daughter married to the man that he has chosen for her or he will see her put to death. Reconciling such sexist, patriarchal behavior and mentality to the mainstream American 1990s would seem to be a definite challenge – but actually to have the character that is making such a declaration be an immortal mischief-maker who might not have a deep concept of death’s permanence certainly helps. And then of course the question of a mirthful Puck vs. a dark Puck is answered largely by the world Puck inhabits – and that is largely created by the stage, lighting, and costume design!

When did you get the ‘Theater Bug’? Where did you get your theatre training? Have you appeared in other Shakespearean productions and who were your favorite roles?

I have always had the acting bug (which is different than the Theatre Bug, imho). Back in kindergarten I played a part in a school play and even at that age it all just made an effortless sense, the pretending. As a boy I never went through any kind of phase where I thought that the programs I saw on TV or the movies I watched were real. I always knew they were a production and I often had opinions about what I thought was good or bad about them. I still do!

For my undergrad I went to Wittenberg University, a liberal arts college and studied theatre there – which for me was fantastic – because at a liberal arts school you are expected to integrate all your learning from every diverse subject into your overall awareness of everything else – to see the connections between things .If you want to push yourself then a liberal arts school is an excellent place to go! It was there that I first performed Shakespeare (Lucio in Measure For Measure). Later I went to Grad school at the Hilberry Theatre, a rotating repertory company where I got to train and be educated by some truly gifted, dedicated, and inspiring instructors, while at the same time performing for the public almost every night and performing classics like Shakespeare, Shaw, Moliere, as well as Mamet, Simon, and Guare. During that time I also studied at The Moscow Art Theatre, as well.

Over the course of my life I have performed in a number of Shakespeare productions: Measure For Measure, Romeo & Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, Julius Ceasar, All’s Well That Ends Well, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, and Much Ado About Nothing. I do not have any favorite productions, really. In every show there are moments that are transcendent, some shows more than others, it is true, but all shows have some if you are open to finding, creating, and sharing them with others.

My favorite role is always the one I am living at the time; and that is not a glib answer. I honestly feel that every role I play is a real person that I am responsible for creating and safeguarding in their journey through the play. And as an actor, I try to never replicate a characterization that I have done before. If I have played a character that moved a certain way, breathed a certain way, laughed a certain way, etc. I make an effort to retire those qualities from my actor’s playbook and never use them again. Consequently, every character I play is unique to me  and refreshing, and a deep challenge.

 What do you admire most about your fellow cast members’ performances?

There’s a lot of good work going on in the production in my opinion – too much to list in entirety here. But I will list just a few of my favorite elements. Personally, I think Frank Vince who plays Bottom has created a character that is so sweet and kind-hearted and innocent that he is just a joy to watch. Also, I think Ashlyn Thompson’s interpretation of Helena is really funny! And some of the fairy/Athenians are not only funny, but extremely human, as well. Again, overall, the whole cast is really bringing the fire!

Stephen Horst (Oberon) and Nick DePinto (Puck). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
Stephen Horst (Oberon) and Nick DePinto (Puck). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Which character in the play is most like you?

A great question! I suppose right now the answer would be: Puck! But that might not be that he is like me so much as I am turning into him. My wife says she likes to see me when I first come back from rehearsals because Puck has made me younger, and that my face has changed. She says I am still wearing a little bit of Puck when I come home. Then I take a shower and I am Nick again!

You were on the road in a National Tour when you first came to NYC and it turned into a long-term job. Tell us about that.

I moved to NYC in 1999, I was there for less than a year when i got cast in a National Tour – I didn’t even have an apartment yet, I was still sub-leasing and couch surfing, and that sort of thing. I thought to myself, “Well, I could stay in NYC and keep auditioning for local/NYC based jobs, get an apartment and be a New Yorker, or I could just hit the road and see the USA. The tour rehearsed in Boston – a city I had never been to at the time – and the pay was very good for a non-Union gig. I chose the tour with the logic being that I would go back to NYC afterwards. Instead, I just kept touring and doing regional theatre.

The neatest thing about that first tour was probably also the worst thing about it. I was brought in to be an understudy and do some light House Management duties on the road. The very first performance one of the other actors had a mishap and injured himself and so for the second performance they put me onstage. It was a 13 week tour and I went on for this guy 11 out of 13 weeks. That particular touring company had a policy that ‘Understudies are Understudies’ and they do not get to become actors, but because of my situation I was invited to return for another tour as an actor! I was thrilled! And I kept touring with that company for a few years. Because of that gig I had played in almost every state in the lower 48 by the time I was 26 years-old, and had many wonderful adventures along the way meeting dozens of fantastic people.

You live in Silver Spring now. What impresses you about the DC Metro area’s theatre community?

You said it: Community! The theatre market here is though of as small – and I guess it is compared to New York or London – but it is richly diverse, super active and stable yet with lots of room for new opportunities. The theatres here are largely niche-constructed and because DC is such a transient town (population-wise) the audience base is constantly re-saturating itself with new people. I also feel that there is a bit of a small town spirit here. Many of the folks in the theatre community know each other – or at least know of each other. Every year I like to attend the League auditions because it is like a big family reunion!

 What roles that you haven’t played yet are on your top 5 list?

Nick DePinto as Puck in Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream.' Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
Nick DePinto as Puck in Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

I do not have a top 5 list for roles. I am very happy to play what is in front of me to play. And I am not so in demand as an actor that I can often turn down much work – so I kind of have to be that way. While I sincerely enjoy the variety of character output that I can claim as mine – it sometimes feels mildly damning to my career because different directors, casting directors & theatres that I work with type me differently. In my opinion, this is real problem facing the future Amercian Theatre – the McDonaldization of the acting process and actors themselves. I believe the way forward is with a greater understanding of the craft of acting on the part of casting directors. Casting directors are at the center of the commercial theatre casting mechanism, the “Gate Keepers” as it were. My advice to casting directors is that in addition to looking for Leading Men/Women types, character types, Comedian types, etc., casting directors should also start typing “chameleons.” Of course to the CDs the problem with this is that chameleons adapt to new roles in new ways so you never can predict exactly what the end result will be. Ben Kingsley, Daniel Day-Lewis, Johnny Depp are all chameleons – that is their type. Often casting directors and directors lack faith in actors and prefer to keep things nice and predictable – even though the unanticipating journey of creation that chameleons bring into the threater not only yields a more thrilling experience of that one character, but also it frequently raises the bar for a whole production. The best actors that we all know are chameleons and they are the ones the spill off people’s lips when we discuss actors and acting – but on the local level they do not get hired nearly as frequently as actors with less range. I think this must be because casting directors seem to not know how to label us and that creates the fear of uncertainty – which is an illusion because there is certainty. The certainty is that chameleons are a type like any other and that some chameleons are more dependable than others just like some sopranos or comedians or jugglers are more dependable than others. This is all a long way of saying that my top 5 roles would be to have 5 shows booked in a row, five different styles and character types with no breaks between them.

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You are in a band called The Crème. What instruments do you play and where do you perform. What’s your next gig?

I am the electric guitar player and primary songwriter for The Crème. We are a DC-based Kensington funk band – which for folks who are not familiar with kensington funk: it is a fusion of funk, garage rock and a little bit of electronica that focuses on rump shakin’ and occasionally dark but literate ballads, very groovy, and very melodic. We play all around the DC area at the local clubs. It can be tough because DC is not a town that supports original music very well. And we live in an era when most music consumers prefer to consume via their headphones. At the moment, The Crème is mixing our first album and in an effort to raise our online profile we are in pre-production for some music videos of our songs.

What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

I guess I just hope they have a good experience with our production as a whole -which I am pretty sure they will. The production is shaping up to be colorful, fun to watch, easy to understand and honoring Shakespeare’s wit and depth! It is a perfect holiday show, really. Bring a friend!
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A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays from December 6-22, 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.

LINKS

Meet the Director and Cast of Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’: Part 1: Director Kristin Clippard.

Meet the Director and Cast of Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’: Part 2: Nick DePinto (Puck).

Meet the Director and Cast of Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’: Part 3: Meet Amanda Forstrom (Hermia).

Meet the Director and Cast of Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’: Part 4: Joel DeCandio (Lysander).