In Part 2 of our interviews with the actors playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at Folger Theatre, meet Romell Witherspoon.
Sophia: Please introduce yourself to our readers. What are your favorite roles, and where did you get your training?
Rommell: I’m Romell Witherspoon…born and raised in Seattle, Washington. I like to think of myself as a coat of many colors. I have been fortunate enough to do a number of things, but I have a burning passion to do one thing in particular, and that’s acting. It has always been my dream to be a professional actor, but it’s been my goal to get my education paid for by way of a basketball scholarship. I was raised an athlete and competed on a high level. Enough to earn basketball scholarship offers to multiple colleges. After several visits to colleges, I fell in love with Savannah College of Art and Design. It was at SCAD where I honed my craft, developed my acting technique and got a glimpse of my future through education. I was able to play basketball at SCAD and make my dream and my goal a reality. My competitive edge and extreme work ethic in sports truly carries over into the world of acting.
My rehearsal process is never built on time. It is strictly based on my understanding of the character and the work at hand. Embodying the role is so paramount, that’s when I can begin acting, not when I have memorized my lines.
My favorite roles have been on TV’s Blue Bloods where I had the pleasure of having extensive dialogue with Donnie Wahlberg. Also, an episode on ‘Elementary’ where I got to shoot someone on camera for the first time and share a scene with Lucy Liu, Johnny Lee Miller, and Aidan Quinn.
Lastly, without a doubt the role of Rosencrantz in this production of R&G Are Dead tops them all. I have had the luxury of working with Director Aaron Posner who invested in me and introduced so much to me. The development of Rosencrantz is a journey and not a destination and that is why I am so entrenched in this project.
What is the show about from the point of view of your character?
From the perspective of Rosencrantz, the show is about depending on a handful of directions to lead he and Guildenstern to ‘freedom. ’Unfortunately, R&G don’t know for sure how they became the origin of hope for the king and queen. They have very vague remembrances of how they got to where they are and the mission they’re on. If only he can remember how it all started! He doesn’t seem to have any definitive direction as to why they are seeking Hamlet out to glean what afflicts him. Their lives depend on day-to-day instruction and they do NOT want to disappoint the king and fall short of his demands. Along the way however, life happens and they run into many interesting roadblocks and distractions. All R&G can do is keep pressing forward.
How do you relate to your character? Do you have any similar traits?
Before one must lead, one must first follow. In real time, I am a natural born leader. It is very difficult for one to persuade me into doing something I have no desire to do. I had to reach back into my former days in order to try and connect to Rosencrantz. When I followed, I didn’t always agree or understand, yet, I followed anyway. I followed my older brother, older cousins, friends, coaches, etc. Guildenstern seems to have more of the answers and more direction. Since Rosencrantz believes in him, he follows him. So I allowed myself to hang on to every word that I get from Guildenstern or anyone else, such as the king and queen, or even The Player. When one has no answers, any direction can seem logical.
One similarity I have with Rosencrantz is his ability to be a thinker. He thinks a lot. He makes a valid attempt to make sense of this world he is living in. He never gives up. He contemplates quitting, but he never gives in…he keeps fighting, in the hope that he finds his way. That is certainly my way of living at the core. I have absolutely no quit in my body. If I don’t have the answer, I will find someone who does.
How did you prepare for your role and what were its biggest challenges? How did you resolve them?
The preparation process for me required a lot of reading and research. I wanted to know every detail Mr. Stoppard had in mind for Rosencrantz. My goal was to take what is written and make it look, feel, and sound the best way possible. The biggest challenge for me was embracing the prodigious amount of wordplay. The scenes are extremely tricky, and they are based on timing and being a good story teller. The resolution was simple – “be confident and workshop it until it makes sense.”
You have performed in Madam Secretary and The Good Wife. What were the biggest differences for you between appearing on TV and a play like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead?
The biggest difference for me was the amount of work prior to actually showing up for work. Madam Secretary and The Good Wife were both two-day shoots. I did what I had to do to understand the content and texture of the show…learn my lines as quickly as possible and deliver them. R&G took me two and a half weeks to be completely off-book. However, that was only the beginning. Character development and movement followed. It required 10 times the effort than television and was much more time-consuming. On the TV set, if you drop a line, they cut and you do it again until they like what they have. On stage, of course, there is no cutting. You have your cast mates’ backs and keep moving forward with hundreds of people watching.
What is your favorite scene in the play that you are in? What is your favorite scene in the play that you are not in?
My favorite scene in the play is when I am playing at questions with my companion Guildenstern to get practice in before addressing Hamlet. They use a type of tennis scoring system to keep track of the wins. It is fast and competitive and…….I win the game. LOL!
My favorite scene I am not in is by far the ‘Dumb Show.’ It is pure comedy and I get a rare break on stage with no lines and simply get to watch as the Tragedians perform.
What do you admire most about your castmates’ performances?
I admire their unwavering confidence in me as one of the leads in this show. They are extremely supportive and that is priceless. Furthermore, I admire their relentless work ethic. I cannot think of one day where someone did not come ready to work. Everyone is fully invested all the time and that truly shows in everyone’s work. They create the balance of fun and they execute their roles to the max.
What were the most interesting suggestions Aaron Posner gave you that made your performance stronger?
STAY AMAZED!!! For instance, how in the world does this coin come down heads every single time?! Staying amazed creates a great pay off later in the play. I would say that was the primary thing that helped me the most. I had a tendency to drop my energy into regularity. He would constantly remind me that it’s not regular and I need to stay amazed to uphold the integrity of the moment.
What does Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead have to say to today’s audiences?
When and if you come to this show, you will be completely entertained and taken into a world of intrigue and confusion. It tells people to live your life to its fullest potential. Protect your vision and your future, and live everyday like it’s your last, because you never know what will happen next.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead?
I would like audiences to have a massive appreciation of the writing and work of this wonderful play. I hope that the quality of the work they witness blooms before them. Many times we find ourselves lost and don’t know how we got there in the first place. I want them to leave and say, “I want to go see it again.”
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead plays at Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library—201 East Capitol Street, SE, in Washington, DC, through June 28, 2015. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 544-7077, or purchase them online.
‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ reviewed on DCMTA by Sophia Howes.
‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ by Robert Michael Oliver in his column ‘Spine.’
In the Moment: A Chat with Director Aaron Posner and Scenic/Properties Designer Paige Hathaway at ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ at the Folger Theatre by David Siegel.